Editorial: The Ideals of Community Justice

Published 15/03/2015
Type Editorial Comment
Author(s) Jean Hine
Corresponding Authors Jean Hine, De Montfort University

Several of the papers in this issue got me to thinking about the key concept for this journal – community justice. As Brian Williams said in our very first editorial, we aim “to encourage debate about the contested meanings of the concept of community justice, with a view to clarifying the issues” (Williams, 2002:1). For many people community justice is essentially about community sentences – those non-custodial sentences of the court which require some supervision in the community. For others it is about the actions of all criminal justice agencies which take place in the community, particularly the police and probation, and for yet others the remit is much broader and is about involving the community more directly in all aspects of criminal justice. This journal inclines to the latter position, and, as can be seen from the wide ranging papers which have been published over the years, explores aspects of criminal justice broadly within a remit of social justice.

Perhaps the most comprehensive statement about what community justice is and should be is the work of Karp and Clear (2000). In this piece they describe community justice as “a vision of justice practices with particular concern for the way crime and justice affect community life” (p.324) and talk about a partnership between the formal criminal justice system and the community. The term community is itself widely debated as to its meaning though all at their root have the notion of people coming together in some way. In relation to community justice this is often about place and issues of localism, and frequently about neighbourhoods. Karp and Clear explicitly state that for them it is about local geography and the work of ‘police, courts and corrections’ in those places, what they call ‘blocks of space’. A key element of this process is that the neighbourhood or community should be identified by the people living there, not determined by administrative boundaries which frequently do not match people’s lived experiences (Camina, 2004). This is not just about criminal justice agencies however, as they argue that other agencies, such as local authorities, have a responsibility to reduce local ‘criminogenic conditions’, some of which (e.g. housing) will be outside the remit of criminal justice agencies. In this vision the community builds the capacity to exercise informal social control and thus reduce crime. What Karp and Clear (2000) present is an ideal type model. They acknowledge that this will be difficult to achieve, but offer seven principles which can act as ‘guideposts’ for taking small steps towards this end: norm affirmation, restoration, public safety, equality, inclusion, mutuality, and stewardship – themes which are present in the papers in this issue.

A fundamental requirement of the Karp and Clear (2000) model is that “criminal justice agencies must make themselves accessible to the community, and the community must take an active role in the justice process” (p.352), both of which they acknowledge are difficult to achieve in practice. Very little research has been undertaken into community perspectives on criminal and community justice, especially in those areas most affected by crime. Tony Bottoms addressed this issue in his McWilliams lecture in 2007 (Bottoms, 2008), reflecting on a study of public opinion and crime which he and a colleague had recently undertaken in two similarly high crime areas (Bottoms & Wilson, 2004). They found a generally high commitment to the ‘redeemability’ of offenders in both areas, but a significant difference between them in terms of their ‘punitiveness’. Public space was posited as the underlying reason for these differences, where “disturbances in public space… [lead] to feelings of risk and insecurity” (Bottoms, 2008:150) which in turn feed punitive attitudes. He goes on to discuss the potential for unpaid work and probation supervision to engage with communities and better understand and address the real concerns of the people who live there and the way in which “different crimes and disorders might have differential effect” (Bottoms & Wilson, 2004:386). They argue that if community residents have a sense of social control and safety in their area they will be less anxious and thus less punitive (ibid:391). Rob Canton’s work on the emotions of punishment (Canton, 2015) identifies a distinction between retributive and restorative responses to wrongdoing. These generally occur together but with a different balance depending on context. Maybe it is this sense of safety and ontological security (Giddens, 1984) which influences the balance of these moral emotions.

As you read this the results of the 2015 general election will be known, but as I write the build up to the election is at full pitch with the various political parties trying to outdo themselves with promises for a brighter future on the one hand and blamings for the sombre current picture on the other. Crime and justice is not making the headlines as it has in previous elections, though it is in the manifestos where much of the talk is about police numbers and concern for victims1* but nothing as radical as the suggestions from the authors in this issue. Ontological security is addressed by notions of neighbourhood policing but otherwise there is scant recognition of the ideals of community justice, which is “localized and flexible rather than centralized and standardized” (Clear & Karp, 2000:21), and “changes the focus of justice from what is to be done about people (offenders) to what is to be done about the places in which people live and work” (ibid: 22). Moving towards community justice is not just about criminal justice agencies working in and with local neighbourhoods, it’s about all aspects of social policy, and particularly about encouraging the genuine participation of ‘communities’. Fitzgibbon and Lea (2010) highlight how there has been a “rapid decline in the number of ‘blue lamp’ police stations, which like GP surgeries and post offices provide some point of contact between poor communities and State and local services” (p.223), a trend which has only exacerbated with the retrenchment of public services since the financial crisis of 2008. It is hard to engage with communities where there is little or no physical presence. Criminal justice agencies not only need to communicate with individuals, and importantly with communities, to facilitate the desistance of offenders, but to involve them as co-producers of criminal justice services (Weaver, 2009; 2011). Thus community justice is about effective criminal justice as well as the moral good. The papers in this issue offer thoughts on the steps which can be taken to achieve this.

The first article in this issue is second of Roger Hopkins Burke’s papers about radical communitarianism. Communitarianism is about the balancing of individual rights with social responsibilities and obligations. In his first paper (Hopkins Burke,2014) it was argued that in the neo-liberal model of communitarianism the balance had swung too far to a focus on the responsibilities of the individual to ‘community’ with too little attention to human rights and equal opportunities, which could be seen as the responsibilities of the community to the individual. That paper set the scene for the need for a different approach, which is described in this second paper. Following a brief history of the development individualism and its different European roots he draws on the ideas of Emile Durkheim that the free play of individual interests would lead to instability rather than harmony creating the potential for anomie. Hopkins Burke draws on Durkheim’s vision to argue for a political approach “which actively promotes both the rights and responsibilities of individuals and communities in the context of an appreciably more equal division of labour”: radical moral communitarianism. He goes on to identify the policy implications of this consensual interdependency and its ideals, though how to achieve them is less clear. In one way or another the identified topics are key themes in the current debates between political parties, but perhaps not so clearly informed by the moral foundation that Hopkins Burke might hope. Whether you agree with the arguments or not, these two papers provide much food for thought.

In Hopkins Burke’s model the community would take some responsibility for the integration of offenders, a theme which is taken up in the paper by Almond et al. about Circles of Support. The paper gives a brief history of the development of circles of support, whereby a group of volunteers support sex offenders in their resettlement following release from custody. Their aim is to work with the offender (core member as s/he is called) in a participatory relationship of trust to achieve constructive reintegration into the community. This paper is based on a small study exploring why volunteers choose to be involved in this challenging work, where they are involved in a double edged-relationship balancing the tension between supporting the core member and holding them to account for their actions. Volunteers describe a mix of motives, both personal and social, in some small way displaying key characteristics of communitarianism.

The Circles of Support approach is the antithesis of the approach outlined in our next paper in which Creaney talks about the ways in which the English youth justice system works with ‘involuntary clients’. He describes the lack of opportunity for young people to contribute to the design and delivery of the criminal justice sanctions to which they are subject, and argues for a more participative approach which considers the rights of the child. He identifies the potential of referral orders to allow a circle of family and friends to work with the victim and young person to identify the most appropriate way for the young person to atone for their criminal activity, an approach rooted in the ideals of community justice.

In a similar way the paper by Buchanan argues that the current approach to dealing with the issue of drugs is misguided. Drawing on his personal experience he presents a history of drug policies in the UK and other Western countries over the last fifty years demonstrating how, not only has prohibition been ineffective, but it has actually caused harm globally, locally and individually. It has had a disproportionate impact on the poor and minority ethnic groups, and enabled drug testing businesses to profit. He talks about the hypocrisy of a system which criminalises some drugs but legalises others such as alcohol and tobacco which also cause considerable harm. At the same time the users of illegal drugs are not protected against contaminated substances and the development of new drugs which have unknown consequences. He believes that the UK should learn from countries which have introduced some reforms and move towards an approach which promotes harm reduction and emphasises human rights, the first of which should be the right to consume what you wish.

The role of one of these legal drugs, alcohol, is examined in the next paper by Javaid in relation to its role in intimate partner, often called domestic, violence. This paper presents the results of a small scale study exploring professionals’ views about the role which alcohol plays in the cases of domestic violence which they have been involved with. The problems of definition and the question of gender and power as presented in the literature are addressed before describing the study and presenting the results. These results show how the professionals in the study frequently hear from both the perpetrators and the victims of domestic violence that alcohol is the reason for the violence. Professionals describe how alcohol seems to make unacceptable behaviour acceptable, allowing the perpetrators to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. This in turn makes working with them to change this behaviour difficult. The paper proposes that a restorative approach which brings together both victim and offender together to actively participate in addressing the issue is a more effective approach.

In the final paper in this issue, Honeywell presents the world of the ‘Lifer’, several of whom had murdered an intimate partner in a violent incident. As a prisoner himself he undertook a piece of convict criminology about the lifers who were his friends and fellow prisoners. They had a subculture within the prison that was different to other prisoners, in part because many of them were first time offenders. They frequently tussled with the emotional difficulties of losing relationships with children and spouse, and coming to terms with a long prison sentence. There was greater conformity with the rules of the prison and greater familiarity with prison officers. In the latter stages of their sentence they struggled to develop a ‘normal’ non-criminal identity whilst at the same time having to maintain a ‘prison’ identity whilst they were inside. Achieving a ‘normal’ identity is very much related to the community response upon their release and resettlement.

1* The blogging of Frances Crook of the Howard League helpfully details the stance of each of the parties on justice issues, together with her thoughts on the proposals:


Bottoms, A. E. (2008) The Community Dimension of Community Penalties, The Howard Journal, 47 (2): 146-169.
Bottoms, A. E. and Wilson, A. (2004) ‘Attitudes to Punishment in Two High Crime Communities’, in A. E. Bottoms, S. Rex and G. Robinson (Eds.) Alternatives to Prison: Options for an Insecure Society. Cullompton: Willan.
Camina, M. (2004) Understanding and Engaging Deprived Communities. On-line Report 07/04. London: Home Office.
Canton, R. (2015) Crime, punishment and the moral emotions: Righteous minds and their attitudes towards punishment, Punishment & Society, 17(1): 54-72.
Clear, T. R. and Karp, D. R. (2000) Toward the Ideal of Community Justice, NIJ Journal, October 2000: 21-28.
Fitzgibbon, W. and Lea, J. (2010) Police, Probation and the Bifurcation of Community, The Howard Journal, 49(3): 215-230.
Giddens, A. (1984) The Constitution of Society. University of California Press.
Hopkins Burke, R. (2014) The Case for a Radical Moral Communitarianism, British Journal of Community Justice, 12 (3): 1-18.
Karp, D. R. and Clear, T. R. (2000) Community Justice: A Conceptual Framework’, in C. M. Friel (Ed.) Boundary Changes in Criminal Justice Organisations: Criminal Justice 2000, Vol 2: 323-368. Washington: Department of Justice.
Weaver, B. (2009) Communicative punishment as a penal approach to supporting desistance, Theoretical Criminology, 13(1): 9-29.
Weaver, B. (2011) Co-producing Community Justice: the Transformative Potential of Personalisation for Penal Sanctions, British Journal of Social Work, 41: 1038-1057.
Williams, B. (2002) Editorial: the Meanings of Community Justice, British Journal of Community Justice, 1(1): 1-10.