Criminal Justice

Thinking about criminal justice has undergone a major transformation over the past decade.  At the core of the shift has been a rediscovery of the importance of community.  “Community policing” has become the byword of police departments in numerous cities big and small. Many observers argue that these new police methods–which, among other things, emphasize the importance of order in public spaces and rely on stronger cooperation between police and neighborhood communities–bear at least part of the responsibility for the recent significant declines in crime.

Communitarians have long stressed the importance of the community as a powerful “third force” operating in the middle terrain between the individual and the government. Community norms can often be more effective than laws in regulating conduct. Indeed, without the support of the community’s “moral voice,” laws and law enforcement can often be unavailing. Transforming a high-crime neighborhood into a livable community usually requires more than police action. The community itself must will a change.

The concept of community policing grew out of an important article by political scientists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling called “Broken Windows” (see below). In recent years communitarian-oriented sociologists and political scientists have contributed to the development of a broader concept of “community justice,” which integrates insights from criminology with communitarian themes. An important collection of essays on the emerging concept of community justice was edited by David R. Karp, formerly of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies and now an assistant professor of sociology at Skidmore College.

For Further Exploration

Harris, George C . “The Communitarian Function of the Criminal Jury Trial and Rights of the Accused.” Nebraska Law Review 74 (1995): 804-42.

Kennedy, D. M. “Pulling Levers: Chronic Offenders, High-Crime Settings, and a Theory of Prevention.” Valparaiso University Law Review 31 (1997): 449-84.

Massaro, Toni M. “Shame, Culture, and American Criminal Law.” Michigan Law Review 89 (1991): 1880-1944.

Sampson, Robert J. “The Community.” In Crime, eds. James Q. Wilson and Joan Petersilia. San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1995.

Sampson, Robert J., S.W. Raudenbush, and F. Earls. “Neighborhoods and Violent Crime: A Multilevel Study of Collective Efficacy.” Science 277 (1997): 918-24.