Just Emotions? The need for emotionally-intelligent justice policy

Cyrus Tata, Fiona Jamieson

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What are the Obstacles to a Rational Criminal Justice Policy? It is often wondered why we do not have a more rational, evidence-based system of criminal justice. All the evidence points towards a more targeted use of imprisonment, a joined up system of criminal and social justice and improved resourcing for community penalties and community services. Yet a key reason which prevents justice policy from proceeding rationally is the fear of looking ‘soft’ in the eyes of the public. People feel let down and angry about a system which seems uninterested in showing justice to be done, publicly recognising the wrong, encouraging the wrong-doer to to face up to the wrong, and make amends. Is there any way out of this policy quandary? Here we propose that a key public frustration, which drives cynicism and penal populism, lies in the failure of criminal justice to engage, and be seen to engage, in emotionally-intelligent communication. Too often the process appears sterile, lacking emotional meaning and participation. Mention of ‘emotion’ in law sometimes rings alarm bells. Our argument, however, is that emotionally-intelligent communication is not opposed to, but essential to, rational and progressive policy.


  • sentencing
  • public confidence
  • judgement
  • prosecution
  • problem-solving
  • courts
  • restorative justice


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