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Who Collaborates in Criminal Justice?

Collaborative justice seeks to overcome the limitations in traditional approaches to criminal justice issues by bringing together teams of stakeholders to share information, work toward the development of common goals, and jointly create policies to support those goals. Stakeholders are defined as those who have the power to influence the outcome of the problem at hand and have a demonstrated investment in doing so.

Ideally, teams should be comprised of the criminal justice agencies and community organizations that impact, or are impacted by, decisions that will be made by the collaborative team. Who should become part of the collaborative team will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and will be influenced by the specific issues targeted by the team. Teams should think critically about their membership, and include individuals with the power to create change within their own agencies and organizations, or become “agents of change” within their communities. Representation by court community and criminal justice professionals is critical to the effectiveness of any criminal justice collaboration: judges, court administrators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation and parole representatives, corrections personnel, and law enforcement officers all play a part in the administration of justice, and bring valuable information, resources, and perspectives to a collaborative endeavor.

In addition to criminal justice system players, community and service providers should also be active participants in the collaboration in order for it to effectively address the complex social, behavioral, and health issues that are linked inextricably to the administration of criminal justice. Public and private treatment providers (substance abuse and mental health practitioners), victims’ rights organizations, and victim advocates all represent crucial perspectives in an integrated and collaborative response to criminal justice problems. Federal, state, and local agencies providing housing resources, workforce training, educational assistance and veterans’ benefits should be considered when forming a collaborative team, as each can bring unique ideas and resources to the solution of the identified problem. Community and faith–based partners can also bring different resources to the resolution of criminal justice issues, as well as a wealth of knowledge about the community. Representation by offenders, ex–offenders, or offender rights organizations can also positively impact the effectiveness of a collaborative team because of their unique perspectives.

Criminal justice collaborations can be, and have been, initiated in many ways. An increasing number of collaborative teams are formed as a necessary condition for federal or state funding. Others develop from informal partnerships among criminal justice systems agencies that, when effective, are gradually expanded to include all of the relevant stakeholders. Still other teams arise from the determined efforts of one charismatic leader or through the leadership of a core of criminal justice system players. Regardless of the method of their inception, effective collaborative teams have one thing in common: a commitment to the success of the collaboration demonstrated by shared resources, shared information, and a shared sense of obligation to pursuing common goals.

Clichés such as “two heads are better than one” are in fact rooted in truth. Working together, collaborative teams can achieve a level of change and success that is far beyond the reach of any single agency working alone. A collaborative team’s ability to analyze complex problems from myriad perspectives, gather information from a host of relevant sources, and bring joint resources to bear on the solution, makes it an undeniably powerful tool in addressing the multifaceted issues facing the criminal justice system.