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Exporting U.S. Criminal Justice
Yale Law & Policy Review (2011)
  • Allegra M. McLeod
In the years leading up to and following the end of the Cold War, the U.S. government embarked on a new legal transplant project, carried out through the foreign promotion of U.S. criminal justice techniques, procedures, and transnational crime priorities. Over the course of the 1990s, U.S. foreign criminal justice development initiatives rapidly expanded. This Article addresses a set of questions, which to date remain largely unaddressed in the relevant scholarly literatures: Why, in the Cold War’s wake, when the U.S. criminal justice system had come to be viewed in significant respects in terms of failure, did U.S. criminal law development programs take shape and proliferate? What have been the associated outcomes? This Article illustrates how U.S.-sponsored foreign criminal justice reform has functioned in the post-Cold War period as a mode of “global governance through crime” whereby various global social concerns have come to be regulated in terms of transnational crime control, criminal law, procedure, and punishment. Yet, following two decades of reform, there is no evidence that U.S. criminal justice development assistance has achieved its professed aims of increased stability, efficiency, and prosperity. Among the reforms other limitations, internal evaluative frameworks substitute means for ends, and otherwise neglect to meaningfully explore the impact of ongoing efforts. Competing accounts of project outcomes in Central America, the region most intensively and longest targeted for reform, suggest that at best U.S. criminal justice assistance has been ineffective on its own terms, and that it may have exacerbated inter-personal harms and legal systemic dysfunction (analogous to that of the U.S. criminal justice system) in recipient states. This Article proposes that the lessons learned from this experience ought to attune analysis of criminal justice administration to the role of resource distribution and social inequality in determining the appropriate scope of legal mechanisms implemented to regulate criminalized conduct.
  • Legal Transplants; U.S. Criminal Justice; Adversarial System; Global Governance
Publication Date
Citation Information
Allegra M. McLeod, Exporting U.S. Criminal Justice, 29 Yale L. & Pol'y Rev. 83 (2010).