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Principles of Community Justice: A Guide for Community Court Planners

NCJ Number
Greg Berman
Date Published
20 pages
Using New York City's community courts as a foundation, along with other successful examples from across the Nation, this guide presents common principles that govern community courts.
New York City's Midtown Community Court was envisioned by a small group of criminal justice planners who had the novel idea that a neighborhood-based court that would handle only minor offenses could do a better job of showing the local community that the justice system is responsive to local concerns. The location, architecture, and technology that characterized the Midtown Community Court were all designed to address the problem of low-level street crime on the West Side of Manhattan. The court has largely achieved its primary goal, which is to combine punishment and help in order to stem the chronic offending that was demoralizing local residents, businesses, and tourists. Although subsequent community courts have each been unique in their efforts to address specific community issues, there are six common principles that characterize the problem solving justice associated with community courts. These common principles are enhanced information, community engagement, collaboration, individualized justice, accountability, and outcomes. The features and implementation of each of these principles is addressed in this guide. This is followed by advice on how to address various obstacles likely to be confronted in the establishment of a community court. These include defining roles, reluctance to look at neighborhood-specific crime problems as a court concern, legal and professional concerns, tension between social work and criminal justice, limited resources, and tailoring technology to court objectives. The guide concludes with an overview of strategies that have proven successful in building community courts. They pertain to outreach, political and financial support, alternative sanctions, staffing, and analysis of quality-of-life issues in the community. 5 suggestions for further reading