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(The History of) Criminal Justice as a Morality Play

While Professor O’Hear believes Professor Bibas’s “morality play” concept has some resonance, he argues that Professor Bibas’s historical narrative glosses over much complexity. In response, Professor O’Hear suggests a counter‐narrative—“one that is no less oversimplified, but that may nonetheless prove illuminating.” Professor O’Hear’s narrative is also a story of insiders and outsiders; however, Professor O’Hear defines these groups not by reference to positions in the criminal justice system, but by reference to socioeconomic status more generally. In Professor O’Hear’s story, insiders use their political power to ensure that the criminal justice system closely supervises outsider groups, especially those outsiders who are deemed threats to public safety or social order. This agenda may have a moral edge to it, but according to Professor O’Hear, the dynamics are fundamentally different from those of Professor Bibas’s morality play.