The term "conflict model" describes the workings of a criminal justice system that is based on a competitive approach to bringing about justice. Many criminal justice systems have several different organizations that often overlap in duties and jurisdictions. In the conflict model of criminal justice, the organizations and the people who work for them have more to gain from competing with the other organizations and individuals than they do from cooperating with them. In contrast to this model is the consensus model of criminal justice. In the consensus model, the various parts that make up the criminal justice system work cooperatively to bring about justice.
Some believe that the conflict model of criminal justice is superior to the consensus model because it encourages a competitive approach toward justice. Those organizations and individuals that have the greatest success reducing crime benefit from better funding, advancement opportunities, and a variety of other incentives. This model also often leads to disputes between different organizations or groups of organizations, particularly when legal issues are involved. Some, for instance, cannot take certain law enforcement actions without prior approval from a judge. This form of conflict, though it may slow or disrupt the law-enforcement process, ensures that no particular group within the criminal justice system gets too much power or autonomy.
Others are opposed to the conflict model and believe instead that the consensus model of criminal justice is the best organizational system for promoting justice. Different organizations would be able to work together freely by pooling manpower and other resources and by sharing important information. As opposed to the conflict model, the consensus model does not offer any particular incentive for individuals or groups to try to perform better than others. This model, therefore, requires that individuals and organizations are truly dedicated to the notion of "justice," as there are likely fewer incentives for particularly high performance.
In some cases, the term "conflict model" is used to describe the specific conflict that often exists between crime control and due process in criminal justice. Those who primarily support crime control hold crime reduction as the most important role of a criminal justice system. Many, however, hold due process, or fair treatment under the law, as a criminal justice system's most important role. In many cases, the various legal processes relating to due process inhibit crime control, so conflict exists. Many of the actual organizational conflicts in this model are related to the inherent clash between due process and crime control.