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This paper re-examines some of the current theoretical models and paradigms of criminal justice in England and Wales based on an analysis of national arrest statistics between 1981 and 1997. The data show that there has been a large increase in the number of arrests in the period but the number of people prosecuted has declined. An increasing number of people are being arrested and released without any further action. The principal argument is that there has been a radical shift in power away from the formal open and public system of justice towards a more informal closed system. The paper concludes that while these trends lend support to a number of theoretical perspectives on the criminal justice process, particularly Choongh's social disciplinary model, the radical transformation which has taken place in the form of criminal justice can only be understood within the broader politics and economic structures of modern Britain.