Communities and the Justice System: Turning the Relationship Upside Down

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My work on restorative justice over the past several years has taken me farther and farther down the road of thinking about community, the effect of crime on the community fabric, the responsibility of the community, the relationship of the community to all service systems. My thinking has been powerfully impacted by Tom Dewar, a colleague of John McKnight, who told a United Way committee that I participated in, "the net effect for communities of social services is negative," i.e. the way we have done social services has actually weakened communities. Subsequently, I found key writings by Tony Marshall and David Moore that describe how our increasing reliance on the criminal justice system has weakened communities. The question of redefining the relationship between communities and professional systems has become a central issue for me. I know that many people are struggling with these issues because I heard many of these ideas touched on in comments and questions which came from the audience in the last session yesterday. I will the use the word community broadly to refer to groups of people with some common interest and common experience who are not a part of the formal justice system. Let's start by examining what is happening in most communities today. Crime - fear - withdrawal - isolation - weakened community bonds - more crime. All of us, victims, offenders and community members, are caught in a downward spiral where more crime leads to greater fear and increased isolation and distrust among community members, leading to even more crime. Community safety depends primarily upon voluntary individual restraint on harmful behavior. The more connected community members are, the more likely they are to restrain impulses which would be disapproved by the community. As community bonds are weakened by fear and isolation, the power of community disapproval is

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