Management Styles of Criminal Justice

Assorted books on shelf inside building.jpg

Like any organization, state and local criminal justice agencies must cope with issues of organizational management and employ the management styles that best allow them to achieve their objectives of crime prevention, adjudication of criminal offenses, and punishment of offenders. Management science has, over the years, developed different styles of management that could apply to law enforcement agencies, criminal courts, and correctional facilities and departments.

1 Scientific Management

Management theorist Frederick Taylor outlined his principles of scientific management in the 1940s. Sometimes known as “Taylorism,” scientific management emphasizes developing routines for carrying out tasks, training workers for these routines, and matching workers with the appropriate job assignments based on skills and abilities. Data and analysis play important roles in scientific management. Managers act as decisionmakers who train workers in the standards developed and provide incentives for boosting organizational output. Scientific management also emphasizes management-centered planning, based on data, as a way to guard against interruptions in the organization’s operations.

This style of management may work well in some criminal justice organizations, such as police and correctional facilities, which use a hierarchical system of organization. Police departments, for example, have a quasi-military system of organization in which officers hold certain ranks. However, a study cited by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service cautions that scientific management procedures, with their emphasis on developing routines, should not substitute for experienced leaders who understand practical issues of police work. Scientific management often deemphasizes the perspective and experience of workers. Correctional officers in prisons and patrol officers in police departments often provide valuable insights that could guide leadership decisions.

2 Human Relations Management

Despite their similar-sounding names, human relations management differs from human resource management, which involves the day-to-day management of personnel in an organization. On the other hand, human relations management, in contrast to Taylor’s scientific management approach, emphasizes the morale, values, and feelings of workers as important elements of an organization’s dynamics. This management style is sometimes referred to as democratic or participatory management, in which supervisors act as mentors and counselors to workers, rather than as micromanagers concerned only with boosting production. It may conflict with the hierarchical culture of some criminal justice agencies, such as police departments and prisons. However, its recognition of the importance of employee morale presents an important consideration for criminal justice organizations.

3 Systems Management

Systems management requires a holistic approach to organizational leadership, which involves not only management of personnel, but also of organizational knowledge. A systems approach to management recognizes the complexity of modern organizational processes. In this perspective, organizations function based on the information and data that employees can access. A successful agency must properly manage all of these elements. Features of systems management include specialization within components of a larger system and coordination among different components. Systems management could serve criminal justice agencies well, and some organizations exhibit elements of this approach. For example, many large law enforcement organizations have specialized divisions, such as homicide, gang enforcement, vice, and others, but with cooperation among these different units.

Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.