Community Courts are designed to handle a city’s low-level offenses and quality-of-life crimes, such as littering, loitering, or public drunkenness. Court advocates maintain that these largely victimless crimes jeopardize the well-being of residents, businesses, and visitors. Whereas traditional courts might dismiss such cases or administer a small fine, community courts aim to meaningfully punish offenders to avoid disorder escalating to apocalyptic decline.
Courting the Community is a fascinating ethnography that goes behind the scenes to explore how quality-of-life discourses are translated into court practices that marry therapeutic and rehabilitative ideas. Christine Zozula shows how residents and businesses participate in meting out justice—such as through community service, treatment, or other sanctions—making it more emotional, less detached, and more legitimate in the eyes of stakeholders. She also examines both “impact panels,” in which offenders, residents, and business owners meet to discuss how quality-of-life crimes negatively impact the neighborhood, as well as strategic neighborhood outreach efforts to update residents on cases and gauge their concerns.
Zozula’s nuanced investigation of community courts can lead us to a deeper understanding of punishment and rehabilitation and, by extension, the current state of the American court system.