Debates revolving around the criminal justice system can typically be reduced to a set of arguments that, while their importance and, in some rare debates, the arguments themselves may change, give general guidance asto the factors that must be considered in this style of debate. Debates around the criminal justice system are all topics involving penalties for criminals or changes to practices of the judicial system.


  • That juvenile criminals get off too lightly
  • That we should punish parents for the crimes of their children
  • That we should introduce the death penalty
  • That we should shut down juvenile detention centres
  • That we should institute mandatory sentencing
  • That we should institute mandatory minimums in sentencing


Note: as distinctions between the affirmative and negative are often useless for this type of debate, it has been separated into the side in favour of strengthening laws and the side in favour or relaxing them. This should be fairly easy to determine based on the topic.

Strengthening Laws Relaxing Laws
1.1-Imperative argument-Claim that the status quo has failed, as rising crime rates have been seen. In many cases, this becomes a 'streets of crime'-style argument-suggest that crime has been rising exponentially and that the streets are no longer safe. 1.1-Unnecessary Argument-Claim that the status quo has succeeded due to falling or soon-to-fall crime rates. Attempt to use statistics and detailed reasons why crime might have fallen. Furthermore, discuss why the punishments already in place are sufficient.
1.2-Principled argument-Criminals of this sort of crime deserve to be punished/punished more. Running this argument requires a highly negative characterisation of criminals as the scum of our society, as having to be horrendous people to commit such a heinous crime. 1.2-Principled argument-This argument requires a much more sympathetic outlook on criminals-suggest that they are, in many cases, the result of their society and that the current punishments in place are sufficient. In many cases, argue that the newly proposed punishment does not fit the crime.
1.3-Practical argument-This argument is normally a Practical (Deterrent) argument-that crime will decrease due to the extra deterrent given to criminals. Explain why criminals will be too afraid of the new punishments to commit these crimes. 1.3-Practical argument-this argument can vary greatly depending on the topic. Typically it either involves why this will lead to wrong decisions, why the deterrent effect won't work, or why rehabilitation will be damaged.
2.1-Practical argument-The benefit this model will bring to rehabilitation. Claim that rehabilitation programmes work better in custody than outside because they are compulsory, and that thus rehabilitation will work better when laws are strengthened. 2.1-Practical argument-this argument will normally be one of the other arguments provided above.
2.2-Practical argument-this argument is normally the effect on victims of the crime feeling that justice has been done 2.2-Either Practical argument about the effect on victims of crime or a second Principle argument.


In this type of debate, a third speaker will usually discuss:

  • Whether the crime deserves punishment
  • Whether the punishment will increase or decrease crime, taking into account its actions as a deterrent and its effects on rehabilitation
  • How it will affect the victims of crime