The social organization of criminal justice processing: An event history analysis

John Hagan*, Marjorie S. Zatz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Crimes are social events that involve citizens and control agents interacting over time. Prior work neglects the dynamic and interactive qualities of these criminal events. Drawing from the work of Hawley and others, it is suggested that the processing of criminal events is a routine activity socially organized in time and space. Dynamic modeling techniques developed by N. Tuma are applied to longitudinal data collected on over 10,000 criminal events in California cities and used to model rates of transition from arrest to case disposition resulting from police release, prosecutor denial of complaint, or going to court. As the work of Hawley predicts, city size has much to do with the way criminal events are processed. For example, in larger cities it is demonstrated that crime specialists are processed more slowly than nonspecialists, and that each successive police processing of crime specialists results in slower rates of transition relative to nonspecialists; in smaller cities, it is demonstrated that black suspects are processed more quickly than whites, and that each successive police processing of black suspects results in faster rates of transition relative to whites. The former findings are explained in terms of rationalized intelligence gathering, the latter in terms of stereotyping and the harassment of minorities. The systematic form of the observed temporal changes, notwithstanding a large number of legal and extralegal variables taken into account, leads us to believe that we have identified important patterns of police activity. These and other findings convince us that the social organization of criminal justice processing deserves further study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-125
Number of pages23
JournalSocial Science Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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