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Community Courts and the Process of Accountability: Consensus and Conflict at the Red Hook Community Justice Center

NCJ Number
American Criminal Law Review Volume: 40 Issue: 4 Dated: 2003 Pages: 1573-1593
Date Published
21 pages

This paper uses the example of the Red Hook Community Justice Center to show how its location in a neighborhood improves court operations, and it also describes how the court has developed various ways to improve its courtroom and sanctioning procedures, ways that reflect the "democratic experimentalism" model of drug courts advanced by Dorf and Sabel.


The unifying feature of community courts is their preoccupation with the "quality of life" in local neighborhoods. This refers not only to local problems such as noise, trash, poor services and urban blight, but also particular problem behaviors in the neighborhood that undermine the quality of life desired by the majority of residents. This paper reports on the findings of a 15-month ethnographic field study of one community court, the Red Hook Community Justice Center (RHCJC). In creating the court, community leaders focused on four issues: the court's provision of social services for both defendants and residents; the court's ability to provide resources for youth in the community, including education services and job training; requiring defendants to participate in local community service projects; and the court's ability to assist the community in improving public safety. In pursuing these goals, the RHCJC has created a network of informal community partners that can advise and work with it. It has mechanisms in place that force the court to acknowledge local needs and concerns. If community courts are promoted as a larger policy initiative, however, they must find an effective means of establishing their accountability to the community and the dominant aspirations of residents for an improved quality of life. There are no formal criteria for measuring a community's quality of life. This means that each community court must develop its own criteria for measuring its effectiveness in terms of improved quality of life. 48 notes

Date Published: January 1, 2003