Thursday, July 31, 2014

Political theory & public policy

Political theorists can offer invaluable insights for policymakers. This may be surprising – and strike some readers as an oxymoron: what could sound, evidence-based policy gain from theorists? The answer is three things. First, political theorists can provide conceptual clarity. Their craft is to probe such questions further: what does it mean to ‘restore’ and what precisely is restored through restorative justice? Secondly, political theorists bring perspective. It can be easy for policy analysts to work in a disciplinary vacuum and fail to take stock of the larger picture. Political theorists specialise in the ability to connect abstract ideas to reality such as bringing together sentencing theory with its practice. Finally, political theorists are especially sensitive to theoretical consistency and its application. This can lead to some unexpected results, such as the idea that if restorative justice is about restoring offenders to law-abiding citizenship, then why should prisons or other forms of hard treatment never be considered where they could enable restoration? Criminal justice policy is one of many areas where political theorists can and should contribute to the policymaking process. The question should not be whether political theory matters, but rather which political theorists should be engaged.

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