Public-Empowering Justice: Arguments From Effectiveness, Legitimacy and Democracy

Diana R. Gordon, City University of New York

The adoption of community policing worldwide and the proliferation of restorative justice programs, taken together, suggest a sea change in perspectives on social ordering. A policy direction is evolving that empowers citizens--to the greatest extent consistent with the inherently coercive role of the state--to make crucial decisions about how crime and disorder will be handled in their communities and to have the freedom and the resources to assume major roles in making their communities safer. What are the primary justifications for this shift away from adversarial, state-centered criminal justice? Viewed individually, the arguments for public-empowering justice are all quite partial. But perhaps they can be creatively combined within a framework that applies with particular force to countries in transition to democracy.

This paper discusses several of those arguments in the context of the need for transformation of policing and judging in post-apartheid South Africa. Public-empowering justice in a country in chaos (as most democratizing countries are) cannot be expected to significantly reduce crime in the short term and is only marginally likely to increase understanding and appreciation of the formal justice system. But the experiences of partnerships with the state in providing a public service and leadership in advocating change in justice policy and practice can contribute importantly to the larger process of democratization.

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Updated 05/20/2006