Community Justice: Definition & Services

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  • 0:03 Community Justice Defined
  • 1:33 Suitable Offender Types
  • 2:16 Traditional vs.…
  • 3:08 Community Justice Services
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Community justice is a unique approach to crime prevention. This lesson focuses on defining community justice and provides examples of services offered through community justice programs.

Community Justice Defined

John is a 20-year-old high school dropout who is down on his luck. Homeless and unemployed, his main source of income comes from peddling for change on city street corners. One day is particularly bad for John and his attempts to beg for money are futile. He sees a nicely dressed woman walking toward him and decides to run off with her purse. John is quickly arrested, and in court, the judge orders John to restorative justice. Restorative justice is the concept of rehabilitation occurring through the cooperative effort of all parties impacted, with emphasis on repairing the harm done. In our example, this involves John meeting with his victim and a third party to demonstrate the impact John's actions had on the victim.

Restorative justice programs such as the one John was ordered to complete are a form of community justice, which seeks to integrate communities, government, and law enforcement agencies as an alternative response to, or for prevention of, criminal behavior. The primary focus of community justice programs is on outcomes that are directly related to the community. Community justice has several goals, including but not limited to:

  • Changing the relationship between law enforcement and citizens
  • Changing citizens' perception of law enforcement
  • Shifting the focus to the common good of all involved
  • Demonstrating genuine concern for crime victims
  • Repairing the harm done by crime
  • Preventing crime

Suitable Offender Types

Not all crimes are suitable to be addressed through community justice programs. For example, a violent offender accused of robbing someone at gunpoint is probably best served in the traditional justice system. Community justice programs tend to be most effective when:

  • The offense is not violent in nature
  • The offense is committed by a juvenile
  • The perpetrator shows remorse for his or her actions
  • The perpetrator is a first-time offender

Due to the nature of some community justice programs, the victim at times also has to agree to be involved, such as in John's case where the judge ordered restorative justice. In this case, if the victim would not be willing to confront the offender, the program would not work.

Traditional vs. Community Justice

We know traditional justice as the 'get arrested, go to trial, get sentenced to prison' approach. Traditional justice is focused on the power asserted by both government and law enforcement agencies to punish offenders. It doesn't focus on the community or the victim. This in turn can lead crime victims and other members of the community to feel estranged from law enforcement and to question their sincerity.

Community justice, on the other hand, focuses not just on punishment but on underlying issues of criminal behavior, such as:

  • How was a person victimized and how can they be compensated for loss?
  • How can we rehabilitate the offender?
  • How can a sense of security be restored within the community?
  • What actions can the offender take to demonstrate atonement for his or her behavior?
  • What can be done to prevent the offender from committing similar acts in the future?

Community Justice Services

Communities who have community justice programs typically use different types of services. In addition to restorative justice as was used in John's case, the following services are also defined as community justice initiatives.

Re-entry Programs

Re-entry programs are designed to successfully reintegrate ex-offenders back into society after they are released from incarceration. Services offered by such programs might include arranging for appropriate mental health counseling, housing assistance, educational services, and employment search assistance.

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