Shifting the focus of criminal justice from case processing to community-mending is easier said than done. While a community's quality of life is eroded by waves of smaller offenses, the justice system does its work one case at a time. That tends to obscure neighborhood-specific patterns. Furthermore, communities are understandably reluctant to accept arrested offenders back onto their streets. While supporting the benefits of community service, neighbors worry that an impersonal justice system won't be sensitive to their concerns about supervision.
Discomfort With New Roles
While the need to bridge the gap between communities and courts seems obvious, some judges, attorneys and police may believe that greater involvement with the community will compromise their objectivity. In an effort to maintain impartiality, judges have traditionally insulated themselves from the communities and victims affected by the issues they adjudicate, while prosecutors and police have restricted the discretion of front-line attorneys and officers on the beat. In addition, most criminal justice professionals feel too overwhelmed by the daily pressures of their jobs to reach out to the community. They are reluctant to take on new responsibilities when they are unsure they will receive the tools they need to get the job done.
Reconciling Disparate Philosophies
The underlying assumptions and guiding philosophies of law enforcement and social service differ in fundamental ways. Criminal justice professionals are used to a system of escalating sanctions in which defendants are punished more severely each time they fail; criminal courts are not comfortable giving offenders a second chance. Treatment professionals, on the other hand, expect relapses and consider it critical that clients remain in treatment regardless. Addicts may have to hear the same message several times over before it finally sinks in. The community court's approach can work only if criminal justice and social service professionals are willing to adjust their outlooks and work in a coordinated way.
Providing timely and accurate information may also prove problematic. Although many criminal justice agencies are automated, their computers are rarely designed for courtroom use. Information managers typically organize and track transactions after they occur, rather than using information to improve the quality of decision-making as it takes place. Also, courtroom decisions often hinge on information maintained by several different agencies—police, the probation department, social service providers, the court—whose computer hardware and software may not be compatible. Finally, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, court clerks, and social service staff each need different sets of information, yet they must all be able to get it from the same system. To make matters worse, criminal justice staff rotate frequently, meaning that any system will constantly confront new users. There is a real need to encourage a greater level of comfort with technology—and a greater sense of community—among the diverse professionals who comprise the criminal justice system.
New Family-Related Concerns
Architectural innovation doesn't come easily. The space needs of the various criminal justice agencies are often in conflict; correction authorities, police, attorneys, court officers, and judges each have special needs for physical space. The planning of new courthouse space is sure to enliven these ongoing conflicts. And the need to accommodate outsiders, such as community groups and treatment and education professionals, further complicates the process.