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“What Future for Public Safety and Restorative Justice in Community Corrections?”

Smith, Michael E.
June 4, 2015

Source: (2001) Sentencing and Corrections, no. 11. Rockville, MD: National Institute of Justice.

As an objective for community corrections, “public safety” is best conceived as “the condition of a place, at times when people in that place are justified in feeling free of threat to their persons and property.” This view of public safety directly challenges offender-focused probation and parole case management, emphasizing instead the need for unofficial, naturally occurring guardians of people and places. Restorative justice rejects the criminal law’s focus on culpability and retribution and casts punitive responses to criminal conduct as aggravators of the harm already done. Under this new paradigm, the purpose of justice is to restore the victim and the victim’s intimates (who suffer the harm), the community (whose fabric is torn by the crime), and the offender (who will remain part of that community and represents a continuing threat to it if unrestored). The implementation of the public safety and restorative justice paradigms in community corrections is likely to be stronger to the extent that the two paradigms can be merged. They have enough in common to make this possible. Although many community corrections agencies are exploring one or both of these strategic ideas in practice, none has the operational capacity to pursue the ideas effectively. This is in part because their staffs lack many of the necessary skills and have been deployed for years in ways incompatible with public safety purposes or restorative justice practices.


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