Monday, September 10, 2012

Newark Community Solutions – What are we trying to do? (Part I)

Now that you’ve read about Newark Community Solutions in action, I thought it might be helpful if I explain what we are trying to achieve. In this post, I’ll focus on three broad goals we share with other community justice initiatives. In the future, I’ll discuss others that we developed with our court partners and the community.  So here goes…

When the topic of discussion rolls around to crime and justice, it probably will come as no big surprise to learn that Newark has the same concerns and preferences as other communities; we want to make our neighborhoods safer, we want an unbiased judiciary, and we want to improve relationships between police and courts.  

Make Newark feel safer: Decades of research clearly indicate that most communities are concerned with low-level “quality of life” and youth crime. So, in addition to working within the court system to develop effective and innovative judicial responses to low-level offending, NCS engages private citizens, merchants, churches and schools to work with law enforcement to develop strategies and responses that prevent crime before it starts.   

Improve the public's trust and confidence in justice: Recent studies demonstrate that all experiences with legal authorities, even relatively trivial interactions like those you might encounter in a municipal court setting, from the question asked of the police officer at the court entrance to the dialogue between offender and judge, are important and impact individual perceptions of trust and confidence in the justice system. So, it’s ultimately in the best interest of all justice stakeholders, including NCS, to encourage positive, respectful interactions between staff and the public.

Provide a greater sense of procedural fairness: Procedural fairness is a pretty interesting concept.  It states, in part, that an offender’s perception of  how their court matters were handled has a greater influence on their willingness to comply with the judges order than the actual outcome. So, despite what we might be inclined to believe, most offenders are not fixated on whether they “beat the rap.” They want a fair process. Tom Tyler, professor of law and psychology at Yale University and a leading authority on the study of institutional legitimacy, characterized four basic aspects of procedural fairness.

·         Voice – People want to feel like they have been given an opportunity to tell the court “their side” of the story.
·         Neutrality – People want to view judges as unbiased decision makers who will ultimately make decisions based on rules and not their personal opinions.
·         Respect – People want to feel like their concerns and issues are being taken seriously by the legal system.
·         Trust – Studies of legal and political authorities consistently show that the central attribute that influences the public’s perception of legal authority is how they view the character of the judge.

If you want to learn more about procedural fairness, please check out this presentation which Professor Tyler gave at the 2012 International Conference of Community Courts:

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