The origins of modern bureaucracy are set in the work of the sociologist Max Weber. Weber’s process of bureaucracy is based on his wider theory of rationalisation. He described how the modern western societies were dominated by an increased rationality, based on efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control (non-human technologies) (Weber, 197 8). The rationalisation model for Weber was the bureaucracy, whereas for Ritzer (2004) was the paradigm of the fast-food restaurant, McDonalds. Thus, McDonaldisation is a reconceptualization of Weber’s theory of rationalisation. The process of McDonaldisation has proved to be inexorable, expanding through impervious organisations and institutions, such as the Educational system, Health and Care System and the Criminal Justice System.

Weber claimed that the Western societies developed a distinctive kind of rationality, respectively formal rationality. Formal rationality is defined by the premise that the search of optimum means to a given end, is based on social structures, regulations, and rules (Weber, 1978). He suggested that people are using institutionalised regulations, that will dictate what they are ought to do. Hence, ‘formal rationality allows individuals little choice to means to and end’’ (Kaesler, 2017). For Weber, bureaucracy was the most efficient way of handling numerous tasks in large numbers. The presence of regulations will also lead to predictable behaviours, with no surprises. This will result in the replacement of the human thought with rules, transforming the individuals into ‘human robots’ (Kellner, 1998)). Ultimately, bureaucracies gain control over their customers by offering certain services only. Similarily, in the modern society, the McDonaldisation process is based on the same characteristics.

According to Ritzer (2014, pp 23-24), ‘’McDonaldisation is the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world.’’

As a result of globalisation, McDonaldisation emerged in the UK, impacting the Criminal Justice System, respectively punishment. In his work, ‘Delivering McJustice? Robinson (2018), had focused on the Probation Services in England and Whales. He suggested that the probation work is subjected to an operating system which carries all the characteristics of McDonaldisation. He suggested that the proximate factors leading to McDonaldisation  in the field of Probation work are a result of the intersection of reform programmes such as Transforming Rehabilitation and Transforming Justice- which focused on the increasing of efficiency of criminal proceedings.. The same characteristics of bureaucracy were suggested to be present within the British Probation Services.

Robinson concluded that this had both, positive and negative results. For example, the creation of specific departments and specialised individuals, presented clear evidence of a higher attention to efficiency and of improvement at the policy level in the team’s organisation and division of labour (Robinson et al, 2014).Ritzer described the calculability issue as a ‘’zeal for speed’ and Robinson concluded that the pressures of deadlines and targets have made the work within the service more quantitative than qualitative, and this presented negative outcomes for the defendants and court processes (Robinson 2017; Nellis 2002).Moreover, in terms of predictability, the pre-sentence reports were usually predictable and  in favour of community sentences. These sentences were imposing participation in rehabilitation programmes, community work or paying fines. However, quite often, if the defendants did not meet the standardised criteria for these actions, no individualised alternatives were provided. Further on, relying on computerised systems and ‘everything digital’ is making things easier for the employees, but it is also dehumanising the process of pre-sentencing and functions similar to an assembly-line (Robinson, 2014).

Another aspect of Punishment that has been McDonalidsed, is the ‘Three strikes’ policy in the USA. David Schichor (1997) described how Ritzer’s characteristics penetrated the Incapacitation policy. In terms of efficiency, the three strikes policy ensures the maximum incapacitation for offenders that are deemed dangerous. The incapacitation is considered efficient due to it stopping the offenders from committing other crimes. Moreover, the calculation of the sentence is easily done and based on the seriousness of the offence and the previous record of the offender. Additionally, the three strikes policy offers a predictability regarding the extend and the nature of the penal sanctions by the elimination of judicial discretion. Thus, there are no differences in sentencing amongst different jurisdictions. As a result, the measures are representing the ideal of retributive thought- uniformity in punishment (Robinson, 2002).

Ultimately, the policy also provides full control over sentencing (by following the Minnesota Guidelines) and the implementation of sentencing made by computer programmes when relevant information is provided (Robinson, 2018).

‘The same pattern has been followed by the UK in 2015 when the Two Strikes Policy for individuals carrying a knife has been introduced.  Similarly, the third conviction for domestic burglary is based on the same pattern’ (UK, 2017).

Another aspect of punishment that has been ‘compromised’ is the plea bargaining. To gain efficiency (speed and finality), crime control advocates prefer the plea bargaining (UK, 2017). This illustrates the interrelationship of all of Ritzer’s characteristics. Successful plea bargains permit the quick disposal of cases, predictably and without challenges, reduces the high costs of years-long trials and enhances control (Ritzer, 2004)

Similar thought was also given when the UK introduced the electronic tagging. The curfew or location tags were designed to monitor the conditions of a court or prison order. Research has shown that there are many issues with the monitoring system. The lack of signal in different locations, the false/missed readings of the devices were present every three days for each offender (Ministry of Justice, 2013). Moreover, offenders learned to blame the device when taking liberties. This also served as a decrease in motivation of compliance due to faulty devices. Thus, ticking Ritzer’s characteristics became problematic in terms of all, efficiency, predictability, costs, and control.


The McDonaldisation of punishment in the UK is the result of broader political interests and the desire to handle crime efficiently. Bohm (2007) stated that McDonaldisation is based on rationality, but paradoxically, it produces irrationality. Its characteristics are often counter-productive and can present inefficiency (prolong the process), poor quality of work (quantity over quality), unpredictability (slow, confused employees), and loss of control (faulty computerised devices, etc).

Unfortunately, by adopting measures such a the tree strikes policy, there is a tendency to provide unfair sentences for minor offences, breach the human rights of the individuals, unnecessarily over-crowd prisons and dehumanise the process of sentencing and punishment (Garland, 1991).

In conclusion, it is obvious that the Criminal Justice system has been the ‘victim’ of the McDonaldisation process. England and Whales have not been avoided by this inexorable process and more and more institutions are becoming McDonalised.  The long-reaching arm of bureaucracy and McDonaldisation are visible and slowly becoming omnipresent in the modern society with the spread of Globalisation and technological advancement (Ritzer, 2011).

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