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What is Collaborative Justice?

It is commonplace to speak of the “criminal justice system” in America as if it were one distinct entity organized in pursuit of a single goal. In fact, the American criminal justice system is built on a philosophy of separation of powers, and the fundamentally adversarial nature of criminal law means that no such entity really exists.

As the problems facing the court community and criminal justice professionals have increased in both complexity and size, the limitations of the current system have become both more evident and more critical. Issues such as domestic violence, pervasive drug use, gang violence, and a growing concern for the impact of crime, have presented the criminal justice system with new challenges in balancing the often conflicting needs of offenders, families, victims, and communities.

Recently, the exponential growth in incarcerated individuals, coupled with high recidivism rates, have presented the criminal justice system with yet another dilemma—the successful reintegration of offenders following incarceration. Offenders entering or re–entering the criminal justice system put additional strain on an already over–burdened system. Many have severe substance abuse and mental health problems, and have been victims of physical and sexual abuse. Others have significant life skills deficits which make living productive, crime–free lives in the community impossible. Given the severity of these challenges, it is clear that no single entity can address and resolve them alone.

Collaborative justice is a unique and promising approach to criminal justice that seeks to work toward the more effective resolution of these problems. Rather than relying on single agencies to solve their respective problems, it recognizes that many criminal justice problems are systemic and require a coordinated and collaborative response to the most pressing issues facing our justice system today. Collaborative justice partnerships—and the ability to share information, develop common goals, and create compatible internal policies to support those goals—have significant potential to positively impact crime, increase public confidence, and reduce costs throughout the justice system. Court community and criminal justice professionals join forces to analyze problems and create responsive solutions; and judges, court administrators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation and parole representatives, corrections personnel, victim advocates, law enforcement officers, and public and private treatment providers reach out to one another to forge partnerships that will enable them to address complex medical, social, fiscal, and behavioral problems that pose significant threats to the safety and well–being of our communities.

The successful implementation of a collaborative justice approach often faces many challenges, including:

The success of a collaborative team relies upon the desire and willingness of each participant to dedicate themselves and their time to the collaborative process; to set aside individual agency agendas in pursuit of a shared and larger goal; and to recognize that collaborative justice is a long term process, requiring the establishment and maintenance of solid collaborative partnerships with other agencies and community stakeholders. The long–term benefits of the collaborative approach—including a shared ownership of, responsibility for, and success in solving justice system problems—will undoubtedly make the investment worthwhile.

“No individual is wise enough by themselves.”
Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BC—184 BC)