Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Community Justice -A personal View by Teena Lashmore

The UK's current prison population has topped over 84,000 people. While the debate rages on about being tough on crime, little is heard of recent changes to one of the key stakeholders involved in managing crime and diverting offenders away from criminal behaviours: probation.

As of April 2010 the Probation Service became a Probation Trust. Criminal justice services will now be delivered locally - mirroring the boundaries of Local Authorities. The change is designed to allow Probation to 'commission services' with other public and/or third sector organisations or voluntary agencies such as educational services and training providers. Links that help reduce further offending.

For people in Hackney, these fundamental changes in the criminal justice process create the possibility of a shift of emphasis towards community justice. This change has seen little political debate, or discussion on what it means (or could mean) for our communities. Anti-social and criminal behavior affects local communities and it is hoped that these changes in the Probation service will ensure offenders sentenced to community sentences will 'pay-back' locally to their communities for their offending.

If these changes are to be successful then the communities of Hackney need to participate in the process; for example, nominating meaningful and useful projects for offenders to undertake as part of their punishment. Meanwhile, community groups that seek to divert young people from offending will need to gear up for the inevitable changes in funding arrangements.

As communities we will need to find ways to participate in local crime reduction partnerships so that the crime strategy for Hackney is focused locally. We can achieve different outcomes by diverting young people away from criminal behavior by breaking the patterns that exist in poor education, social exclusion, lack of employment and training and offending.

Community and restorative justice can be an effective way of reducing reoffending. Perhaps we in Hackney need to discuss how our communities play a role in ensuring that the policies that are adopted are the ones that work for Hackney rather than being imposed by 'opinion formers' elsewhere.

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