Decriminalization or Decriminalisation is the abolition of criminal penalties in relation to certain acts, perhaps retroactively, though perhaps regulated permits or fines might still apply (for contrast, see: Legalization). The reverse process is criminalization.
Decriminalization reflects changing social and moral views. A society may come to the view that an act is not harmful, should no longer be criminalized, or is otherwise not a matter to be addressed by the criminal justice system. Examples of subject matter which have been the subject of changing views on criminality over time in various societies and countries include:
- breastfeeding in public
- drug possession, and recreational drug use
- public nudity
- steroid use in sport
While decriminalized acts are no longer crimes, they may still be the subject of penalties; for example a monetary fine in place of a criminal charge for the possession of a decriminalized drug. This should be contrasted with legalization, which removes all or most legal detriments from a previously illegal act.