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Why Collaborate in Criminal Justice?

The criminal justice system is addressing problems that have become increasingly complex and rooted in difficult and complicated social issues. To a greater extent than ever before, criminal justice professionals are being called upon to provide solutions that address not only the immediate need to diminish criminal behavior and hold offenders accountable, but also have the potential to lessen the impact of criminal behavior on victims and the community, and improve long term public safety.

No single criminal justice agency has the authority or resources to provide such solutions alone, and many are turning to the nontraditional solution of collaborative justice as an effective strategy to address these issues. Collaboration is the process of working together to achieve a common goal that is impossible to reach without the efforts of others.

True collaboration requires more than simply engaging in networking activities (the exchange of information for mutual benefit); coordination (the exchange of information for mutual benefit and to achieve a shared goal); cooperation (the exchange of information, the changing of activities, and the dividing of resources for mutual benefit and to achieve a common goal); rather, it represents an appropriate and effective approach to problem-solving whenever the preferred goal is beyond the reach of any single entity.[1]

Creating collaborative efforts can be a challenging endeavor for a number of reasons. The American criminal justice system is based on a philosophy of separation of powers and adversarial engagement, and therefore criminal justice agencies have not traditionally collaborated in order to solve common problems. In fact, they may not believe that they share common problems—agencies may have conflicting missions and may see little, or too much, overlap in their efforts. Additionally, resources are often scarce, and collaborative partners may find themselves competing for the same funds. As such, criminal justice and even community agencies may approach any effort to share information and resources with suspicion or questions about motives.

As a result of these issues and the significant investment of time that building a collaborative entails, identifying collaborative partners who are willing to commit to the difficult work of finding common ground can be arduous. What will convince stakeholders to initially engage in and sustain these collaborative endeavors, however, will be the belief in and pursuit of a common and elevating goal and the promise of attaining a preferred future that cannot be realized without the efforts of everyone on the collaborative team.


1 Adapted from concepts in Creating Collaborative Advantage (1996), by Christopher Huxham, Ed. (London: Sage).