"The Community"

While approaches and protocols for dealing with offenders and victims have been well established, the role of "the community" has been given far less attention (McCold). What do we mean by "the community"? How does "the community" fit into the RJ framework? What are the needs of communities arising from criminal conflict? How can "community" be utilized in a society - and especially a society as pluralistic as Canada? Above all, what is the role of charitable and non-profit organizations within "the community" component of RJ?

Nils Christie's seminal paper in the literature on RJ, "Crime as property," published in 1977, set the tone for debates about "the community" He argued that a criminal act is an injury to personal relationships. This injury is the "property" of those involved, namely, the victim, the offender and the community. According to Christie, the criminal justice system has "stolen" this property from local communities. Hence, the argument that the state, represented by the courts, functions as a barrier and prevents offenders and victims from discussing, resolving and making restitution for circumstances that led to the criminal act.

In his paper Restorative Justice: The Role of the Community (1995), Paul McCold describes the community's needs and responsibilities. He argues that communities need:

  • A sense of justice when criminal conflict occurs;
  • The power to resolve conflicts;
  • The ability to re-establish peaceful relationships and reintegrate the victim and the offender;
  • A sense of safety and hopefulness;
  • Concrete actions to prevent the reoccurrence of similar conflicts.

McCold also describes a number of promising models that can be utilized to achieve these objectives.

But how can citizens become engaged in resolving criminal conflict in their community, Raymond Shonholtz asks, when contemporary justice only occurs after an incident has violated a criminal statute? How is "the community" to act when the criminal justice system becomes very actively involved, for example, in instances of extreme violence? Shonholtz points out that the focus of prevention is distinctly outside of our current legal system. Are public policies sufficiently developed for the creation of citizen-based community justice?

Roger Cotterell (1997) offers some clarification regarding the role of government. He states that since law is intended to have application throughout society, it must be reconfigured in more pluralistic terms. This will help to re-conceptualize the law in several new ways. He advances the argument that postmodern "society" is viewed as "a vast, endlessly shifting diversity of interests, values, projects and commitments of individuals, expressed and pursued through multiple, transient memberships of collectivities of many different kinds" (Cotterell 77). This view of society is really a description of political society - "a territorially defined area of social interaction regulated by a specific political system." This concept of society then becomes unwittingly connected with the state and the functions of the state. Borrowing from Anthony Cohen's work, The Symbolic Construction of Community (London: Routledge, 1985), Cotterell prefers to think of "community" not as a social structure but as "a web of understanding about the nature of social relations" (78). Community, the legal concept of community, viewed in this way is much more compatible with the "community" described by advocates of RJ.

These remarks suggest that much more work is required to outline the functions of "community" and its responsibilities within the context of Restorative Justice. As far as the role of charitable organizations and non-profit societies is concerned, our work in this regard has only begun.


Canada. Solicitor General Canada. Restorative Justice: Directions and Principles - Developments in Canada. By Robert B. Cormier. Solicitor General Canada, 2002.

Christie Nils. Crime as property. British Journal of Criminology 1977; 17:1-15.

Cotterell Roger. A legal concept of community. Canadian Journal of Law and Society 1997; 12(2):75-91.

Levinson David, ed. Encyclopedia of Crime & Punishment. 2002, Volume 3. Sage Publications, 1388-1389.

McCold Paul. Restorative Justice: The role of the community. International Institute for Restorative Practices [1995] Online: http://iirp.org/library/community3.html.

Shonholtz Raymond. The citizen's role in justice: Building a Primary Justice and Prevention System at the Neighborhood Level. Annals of the American Academy of Political & Social Science, 1987; 494 (November): 42-53.

Virgo Graham. The Principles of the Law of Restitution. Clarendon Press Oxford, 1999.

Zahr H. Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice. Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1990.

Staff Update

We are pleased to announce the appointment of Bev Tweedle as Office Manager/Executive Assistant of the John Howard Society of Alberta. Bev joined the office in November 2003, stepping into the vacancy created by the departure of Sharon Wilson. Bev came to JHSA from the Elizabeth Fry Society of Edmonton and brings, in addition to her considerable office and administration skills and experience, a Diploma in Social Work, and experience as a case worker in the human services field.

graphic photo of Bev Tweedle