Creating ‘community’ through criminal justice policy: Engaging citizens and determining responsibility




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


This thesis explores the claims of community justice initiatives to bring about a ‘sense of community’ for local citizens, through improving their quality of life, and engaging them in working with the state to deal with crime and disorder (Karp and Clear, 2000; Wolf 2007; Mair and Millings, 2011). This is a qualitative study to examine the experiences of both community and community justice, in a location (Middlesbrough) which was chosen to pilot the community court model, in 2006. In order to examine the claims and potential for community justice initiatives to create ‘community’, this thesis examines how this term is deployed politically, and the prominent theories associated with it. These theories include conservative and radical perspectives within communitarianism theory (Etzioni, 1995; Jordan 1998; Hopkins-Burke 2014); collective efficacy (Sampson et al, 1997), social capital theory (e.g. Bourdieu, 1986; Putnam, 2000; Coleman, 1990) and social cohesion (e.g. Mead, 1918; Rai, 2008). They provide important context to examine the assumptions made about the experience of community, especially in deprived areas where persistent inequalities and high levels of crime and anti-social behaviour regularly disrupt citizens’ quality of life. Middlesbrough was chosen as the site for the fieldwork, as one of the community court pilot locations, and because it presents an interesting case given its socio-economic history. To give some context to the qualitative data, ward level data produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) was examined to build a profile of the community under scrutiny. To reflect the focus of this study and as part of the profile of Middlesbrough, research literature, local news sites and social networking sites were used to map local community justice initiatives. The qualitative data was collected through interviews with professionals working within the arena of community justice (in the courts, probation service, police service and those working in restorative justice arrangements). In addition, volunteers and third sector staff in the local ward served by the courts and other community justice initiatives were interviewed, along with a small number of residents. This data was analysed using Layder’s (2006) social domain theory, to reflect the interaction between individual accounts, the relationship between citizens and the state and the impact of broader socio-economic circumstances. The findings demonstrate the continuing challenges for innovation in criminal justice in community settings. Those working in the police service, courts and in restorative justice under the remit of community justice emphasised the value of problem-solving approaches and of community engagement. They also acknowledged there were challenges to these innovations, relating to broader political changes, and the socio-economic circumstances of residents in Middlesbrough. These challenges also reflected different views among those living and working in Middlesbrough, about where responsibility for citizens’ safety lies. Participants across the sample expressed a view that their ‘community’ was being disrupted by continuing industrial decline, crime and anti-social behaviour. They also perceived that solutions to problems presented through innovations in dealing with crime and disorder in the community were fleeting due to lack of sustained investment and shifts in priorities. The findings demonstrate that policies which claim to create a ‘sense of community’ through the processes of justice remain limited in their scope due to the broader structural, political and social issues, which affect the daily lives of citizens. They further emphasise the need to understand the implementation of community justice through social domain theory (Layder, 2006), which offers a means by which to assess these innovations from a range of perspectives and experiences.





Research Institute