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Soliciting community involvement and support for restorative justice through community service

September 26, 2013

Along with RCS, between 1999 and 2005, the court adopted several programs and interventions under what it called a “restorative framework.” Among these were victim-offender mediation (VOM), a victim services program (Victim Impact Program, orVIP), an offender competency curriculum (Victim Impact Offender Competency Education, or ICE), the use of Community Accountability Boards (CABs), as well as retraining of probation staff. RCS was seen by the court as an important part of this restorative framework in terms of limiting the punitive aspects of community service associated with work crews, involving community organizations in the design and implementation of community service that met identified community needs, and encouraging interactions between youth offenders and volunteers in service settings.

Unlike the involvement of victims and/or youth offenders in VOMs, VIP, ICE, and CABs, community involvement in RCS was achieved not at the case level (i.e., volunteers did not become involved in RCS via specific cases at the court), but rather through the active recruiting of community organizations to serve as RCS sites, and community volunteers to work alongside youth in service settings. The aim of the court was to include as many organizations and volunteers from within Clark County as possible to achieve broad community support for, and participation in, the court’s use of RCS specifically, as well as for its larger adoption of other restorative justice practices.

…The primary questions addressed in this research are how and why the CCJC was able to solicit a high level of community involvement in RCS and support for restorative justice within roughly 5 years. While there is ample scholarship on community involvement and participation within restorative justice programs and interventions, there is far less research on how and why community organizations or individuals become involved in such practices. This research, therefore, seeks to contribute to the scholarship on “empirical determinants of community participation in justice decision making” , as well as the “practical issues involved in implementing a restorative justice vision”.
A secondary question is how this case study may contribute to the debate within restorative justice regarding the use and potential restorativeness of community service programs. Because the court’s strategy of community buy-in depended so heavily on RCS, this is an appropriate question. More broadly, however, community service has been promoted by some advocates of restorative justice as a means of involving community members in justice practices, and a means by which offenders can “restore” harms caused to the community.
However, unlike VOMs, Sentencing Circles, Family Group Conferences (FGCs) and other types of restorative conferencing or interventions, community service represents rather a type of sanction or outcome that has its roots in nonrestorative justice paradigms. Thus, there is debate within restorative justice as to whether community service can in fact be restorative, and if so, under what conditions? This paper explores some of these debates and draws from the case study of the CCJC to suggest possible limits of the restorative potential of community service, as well as one particular strength of the use of RCS, namely, the requirement that community organizations working with the court provide volunteers to work alongside youth in community service settings.
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