Apology in the criminal justice setting: evidence for including apology as an additional component in the legal system


  • Carrie J. Petrucci Ph.D.

    Corresponding author
    1. California State University, Long Beach, Department of Social Work, 1250 Bellflower Boulevard, Long Beach, CA 90840-0902, U.S.A.
    • California State University, Long Beach, Department of Social Work, 1250 Bellflower Boulevard, Long Beach, CA 90840-0902, U.S.A.
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    • Dr Petrucci is an assistant professor of social work at California State University, Long Beach. This article was prepared while the author was a doctoral student at UCLA's Department of Social Welfare.

  • The author would like to thank the following people for their generous contributions to drafts of this manuscript: Stuart Kirk, Bernard Weiner, Wendy Belcher, Dan Shuman, Richard Abel, Alfreda Iglehart, Don Hartsock, David Wexler, Bruce Winick, Joe Nunn, and two anonymous reviewers.


The criminal justice system has reached unprecedented scope in the United States, with over 6.4 million people under some type of supervision. Remedies that have the potential to reduce this number are continually being sought. This article analyzes an innovative strategy currently being reconsidered in criminal justice: the apology. Despite a legal system that only sporadically acknowledges it, evidence for the use of apology is supported by social science research, current criminal justice theories, case law, and empirical studies. Social psychological, sociological and socio-legal studies pinpoint the elements and function of apology, what makes apologies effective, and concerns about apology if it were implemented in the criminal justice system. Theoretical evidence is examined (including restorative justice, therapeutic jurisprudence, crime, shame, and reintegration) to explore the process of apology in the criminal justice context. Attribution theory and social conduct theory are used to explain the apology process specifically for victims and offenders. A brief examination of case law reveals that though apology has no formal place in criminal law, it has surfaced recently under the federal sentencing guidelines. Finally, empirical evidence in criminal justice settings reveals that offenders want to apologize and victims desire an apology. Moreover, by directly addressing the harmful act, apology may be the link to reduced recidivism for offenders, as well as empowerment for victims. This evidence combined suggests that apology is worthy of further study as a potentially valuable addition to the criminal justice process. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.