April 14, 2021
With a focus more on collaboration than confrontation, community courts are among the more common types of problem-solving courts. But how does a court or community set up such a program? And what are the benefits?
In Problem-Solving Courts: Models and Trends, NCSC Researchers Pam Casey and David Rottman describe community courts as one of the most prominent of their type. These courts “focus on closer collaboration with the service communities in their jurisdictions and stress a collaborative, multidisciplinary, problem-solving approach to address the underlying issues of individuals appearing in court.”
One of the pillars of community courts is community engagement. NCSC's review of one such court in Red Hook, Brooklyn examined this engagement. The report A Community Court Grows in Brooklyn: A Comprehensive Evaluation of the Red Hook Community Justice Center found that the court included both formal and informal community outreach activities, ranging from park cleanup efforts to meetings with local tenant associations. The report concluded this center “provides valuable insight on the importance of procedural justice and genuine community engagement to the successful implementation of a community court. More broadly, this evaluation adds to the body of evidence supporting the argument that the practice of procedural justice in interactions with individual representatives of the justice system... comprise highly effective criminal justice policies.”
When implementing a community court, the Center for Court Innovation stresses the importance of carefully defining a community court. Their report, What Is A Community Court? states that community courts should assume an active role in the life of the community and bring members of the community together to help find solutions to their mutual problems. Court administrators are encouraged to review their sentencing strategies and their effect on chronic offending in their community. They may also want to explore how members of the community such as residents, groups, or merchants can play a cooperative role in the administration of justice. Courts should also seek to link offenders to the services they need to avoid reoffending and explore the possibility of creating alternatives to incarceration.
Another example of a court system in the process of starting a community court is Renton Municipal Court in Renton, Washington. Renton is working toward a community court to better serve its citizens and reduce recidivism. In another city, Englewood, Illinois, defendants must do more in relation to their community. As a part of The Restorative Justice Community Court defendants in Englewood are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions which can include providing restitution and even writing letters of apology.
For more information, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.