Principles we stand on

Community justice activities are underpinned by equality and democracy. 

If you have read the overview of community justice, you'll remember we touched on the challenges of finding solutions to social issues that bring everyone along so members of the community aren't excluded from the vision. 

The principles of democracy and equality are critical to this vision.  

Democratic principles

Community justice argues that all parties impacted by crime have a role to play to repair harm done, rehabilitate the wrongdoer, and prevent crime from happening again.

Further, civic participation is key to developing the long-solutions that improve community life.

To this end, three democratic principles attend to rights and responsibilities of participants―victim, offender, onlookers, lawyers, judicial officers, the community at large, and other invested parties―in the justice process. These are:

Affirm social norms

The community's standards of appropriate behaviour must be restored, and respected. This happens when:

  • People who offend are accountable for their actions
  • Justice send the signal to the broader community that its norms remain paramount to community life.

Norm affirmation is more than an intuitive sense of right from wrong; it is a conscious process that articulates standards of behaviour, and provides justification for their integrity. 

You can sum this up with: 'you broke it, you pay for the damages, and we don't tolerate you breaking our things again'.

The Reparative Probation program is a terrific example of this.

Smart, long-term solutions

Vermont's Department of Corrections (USA) Reparative Probation program steers adults convicted of minor and non-violent offenses away from jail by providing the opportunity to make amends.

Ordinary folk sit on community sentencing boards. They develop sentences that satisfy and compensate the victims, and community through formal apologies and reparation.

To enter the program, the person who offends first appears before a judge and pleads guilty.  The judge suspends sentencing and allows the offender to go before the community board for sentencing.

The board members determine how amends are made.  For example, someone who vandalised property may repair or pay for the damages, a  drug dealer may be directed to work in a homeless shelter. Many people are directed to write letters of apology to the people they've harmed.

Having completed the community board's sentence the person is clear of the criminal justice system. Those who fail to comply head back to court.

This approach connects the offender to their community and victims, and sends a strong signal about the standards of behaviour the community respects and expects.

The Reparative Probation program is based on the understanding that it is better for everyone in the long run if people who offend make amends. Simply punishing offending behaviour fails to restore (and jail, all too frequently, turns people into hardened criminals).

Repair harm done

Community justice activities repair the damages caused by crime, without inflicting proportionate harm on the offender.

This approach is in stark contrast to retributive sanctioning wherein offenders are punished, but not held to make amends to victims and the community at large. 

Youth conferencing, run in Australia by the Jesuit Social Services, is a great example of repairing harm done without recourse to punitive retribution.

The Youth Justice Group Conferencing program brings together young people who have offended with their victims, and the wider community.

The program diverts young people from further or more serious offending by giving all parties the opportunity to discuss how the young person can make amends for the harm done.

Through conversation, the young person learns to see how their actions have hurt others.  And the program focuses on restoring relationships between all parties.

Youth Justice Group Conferencing is based on principles of restorative justice, which balance the needs of offenders, victims and the community.

Community justice carries restorative justice practices in it's eclectic toolkit of problem-solving activities.

Safeguard public safety

Offenders will not cause additional harm to community members, and community-oriented responses to crime will address these concerns by taking steps to enhance formal and informal controls so the community is safe.

This sounds obvious until compared to the prevailing justice system.  Mainstream justice deals with the offender, to some degree the victim, but does not involve itself with enhancing public safety more generally.

Community justice does. Place-based justice is fundamentally about enhancing formal and informal controls. 

Egalitarian principles

Four egalitarian principles,  sit beside the democratic principles, to shape community justice, grassroots activities. 

Equality of resources

Socioeconomic disparity must be eradicated. 

This  begins with considering the community’s capacity to respond to crime and the resources it has to provide for its welfare.

Communities hardest hit by crime nearly always suffer extreme levels of poverty and disorganisation, and lack the resources to address their  problems.

Community justice activities involve increasing the necessary resources for disadvantaged communities to  build self-reliance and self-determination. 


No one is left behind.

Much of the pressure for longer prison sentences is predicated on a “kinds of people” attitude: there are good people and bad people, and the sooner the bad people are removed from the public domain, the better.

Working in high impact locations challenges justice to engage people existing on the margins of community life, and to value this group as potential resources for community development. 

Instead of isolating 'dubious' residents, we find way to include as many community members as possible in efforts to improve community quality of life.

If you haven't read about a music festival held by 'dubious' residents to reduce social disorder, take a few minutes to do so.


As an ethical minimum, community justice stands for peaceful coexistence and cooperation in the pursuit of mutually beneficial social improvement.

Mutuality takes a push-pull approach, in that it:

  • Enhances prosocial behavior: think performing community service, working on police-led crime prevention campaign, playing basketball with at-risk young kids, or being part of school repair project
  • Disincentivises antisocial behaviour: wrongdoers actively make amends, and criminal targets are helped to be less vulnerable.

The mutuality principle counteracts rational incentives that underlie criminal activity, in particular the perception that no one cares enough to intervene.

The best approaches alter criminal incentives without increasing coercion; freedom is preserved, but the attractiveness of criminality is diminished.


Stewardship of the community, builds community.

Stewardship calls on citizens to view themselves as responsible for their needs and interests, and the needs and interests of their fellow community members, particularly people who are disadvantaged or vulnerable.

In this, we are all responsible for managing for our schools, parks, array of services, libraries, and streets. These must be well maintained and resourced, and the benefits spread among the members of the community.

Stewardship of public goods can be hard to achieve in highly individualistic societies divided into public and private responsibilities. Thus, stewardship is a principle that, like a good park, needs ongoing cultivation among community members to take root and grow.

Read more

We recommend Community Justice by T. Clear, J. Hamilton, JR, and E. Cadora.  ISBN 9780415780278