The “systems approach” has been used, improved, and refined over time to improve safety and reduce errors in a variety of complex, high-risk industries, including health care, aviation, and manufacturing, among others. Such an approach targets the system for improvement rather than specific individuals within the system, and seeks to provide an environment that maximizes each participant’s ability to act safely and in a way that achieves the goals of the system. It prizes a non-punitive culture of disclosure to identify errors, gathers and applies data to understand the causes of the error, and tests systems changes to prevent future errors. This focus on system improvement, rather than on individual punishment or blame, unites all participants around objective criteria and allows each participant to do his or her job more efficiently, accurately and safely.
While the challenge of preventing errors in well-meaning complex systems is neither new nor unique to criminal law, the need for error reduction in the criminal justice system is clear. This document advocates for the application of a systems approach to reducing errors in the criminal justice system, generating reform in a fashion that will unify well-intentioned but professionally adversarial participants around an objective shared by all: the integrity of investigations, prosecutions, and adjudications, and the elimination of known and currently unknown errors that undermine the fair administration of justice. It then sets forth requirements for the successful application of a systems approach, and a model for interaction among researchers, reformers, and practitioners in the criminal justice system – including prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and law enforcement officials – that will allow for more rigorous analyses of the criminal justice system and the design, testing, dissemination and implementation of successful best practices that will improve the fair administration of justice.