Maintaining The Balance. Public Safety vs. Social Justice and Environmental Protection vs. Economic Expansion
Research Paper (undergraduate) 2015 9 Pages
From the beginning of the colonization of American to the urban unit of today, citizens of the United States how struggled with the concept of how best to organize the country in such a way so as to minimize costs while also expanding the economy and allowing growth. Attempts to achieve a balance between public safety and social justice as well as between environmental preservation and economic development have always fallen short in the past but there is hope that by the year 2050, the United States can be made over into an image of social and environmental justice that nurtures the quality of life in this country while balancing spending and the economy. Restorative justice and community justice are recently proposed methods for the reform of the justice system, utilizing community engagement to create change and deter crime. To further improve upon the urban unit is the idea of sustainability, which seeks to promote environmental justice with more efficient building standards and the facilitation of community life. With the combination of these two ideas, there is a hope that the United States can revitalize the norm of the urban unit, making it not only cost-effective, but able to serve the people in a better way.
Today's legal system is ill equipped to adequately manage the discrimination that is embedded into all aspects of justic. There are too many opportunities for officials in the legal system to corrupt the adjudication process under the stealth of authority, it is only with reformulating these practices and policies with community involvement that social justice can be achieved in conjunction with the goal of public safety. Restorative justice emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by crime through a cooperative process involving all stakeholders. It redefines the traditional relationship between communities and their government in responding to crime by using new programs that are categorized by four values: encounter, amends, reintegration, and inclusion. The victim, offender, and members of the community are allowed the opportunity to encounter one another through victim-offender mediation, family/community group conferencing, and sanctioning circles. The restitution is then agreed in the appropriate forum, favoring community service over incarceration so that they offender can make amends for the crime committed. Community members and social service agencies supervise the restitution process while offering support to facilitate reintegration of the offender while while simultaneously providing support to facilitate his inclusion in the community.
Victim-offender mediation is currently the most widespread restorative justice practice. In this model, offenders and victims meet with volunteer mediators to discuss the effect of the crime committed, their feelings and concerns, and to work out a restitution agreement. The primary goal is the safety of the community and personal growth wherein the restitution is secondary. It is believed that by developing an offender's empathy for the victim, there is a decrease in recidivism and when the victim is able to speak with the offender face-to-face, there is justice. This method is widely used in many countries such as Austria where it became an official part of the juvenile justice system in 1989. In practice, victim-offender mediation has proven successful for juvenile and adult petty crimes and arguably in more serious and even violent crimes on a case-by-case basis as proved in the legal system of British Colombia. Family group conferencing is based on the same rationale as victim-offender mediation, however it involves a broader range of people (family, friends, peers, coworkers) that are utilized to take collective responsibility for the offender carrying out his restitution. This ensures that the offender is held accountable for his actions while also tapping into the capacity of non-governmental (community-based) organizations to handle related public safety issues. This has been successful in Australia when it was founded in the 1990's, with family group conferencing being adopted in every state and territory, with community members taking on the tasks of the juvenile justice system completely in 1998. Sentencing circles may have some limited use as well in the restorative justice theory as shown in its' practice in some inner-city black communities in Minnesota. These circles are open to the public as well as the victim and offender so that citizens can express their concerns about the crimes committed and provide support for both the victim and offender. These methods: victim-offender mediation, family group conferencing, and sentencing circles; allow the victim to take an active role in the justice process and allows the offender to be socialized so as to replace his criminal ties with healthier social ties. Offenders in these restorative programs are more likely to complete the restitution program and are much less likely to re-offend because they understand their impact and have the reintegration services necessary to develop the skills to contribute to society.
Through the use of restorative probation and other citizen boards in place of traditional incarceration, probation, and other monitoring systems; cases can be taken on in a community setting at a faster pace with little preparation. In places where restorative probation is practiced such as in Vermont, a judge defers his probation decision to volunteer citizens of the Reparative Citizen Board whom draft an agreement for reparations and associated probation. This use has shown a great deal of promise in juvenile and minor offense cases such as drug possession and shoplifting. In the places where these types of community-based programs are used, there has been little problem with getting citizens to volunteer and the needs of the processes are adequately met with appropriate managerial supervision. Utilizing different sanctioning policies in place of incaraceration such as community service, drug treatment, education, and reintegration of the offender, the community as a whole can benefit from the legal system and crimes can be thwarted. When sanctions and mediation occur by one's peers, satisfation is greatly increased because the best people to meet the needs of the society are these peers themselves. Residents report that the system is more just than the traditional system due to the individualization in its' practice; citizens take control of the process of restitution and there is little opportunity for discrimination and corruption done under the guise of authority. When the reparative process simply imposes proportional costs to the offenders for the harm they have wrought instead of rehabilitation and reintegration, 75% of them are arrested again within five years. Through the use of restorative justice programs however, this statistic has been slashed in half.
Similar to restorative justice, community justice seeks to build a parternship between government agencies and the affected community through the inclusion of the common citizen. Although still largely only a theory, this idea ideally consists of loosely related, innovative projects and programs that operate at the community level. Both restorative and community justice share a concern for the victims, prioritizing reparations and amends over imprisonment punishments and associated fines. When justice is served on a neighborhood level, each community can be individualized in their practices. It is assumed that all citizens: offender, victim, and otherwise, have an obligation to the community based solely on their residence in it and therefore must be expected to take responsibility for public safety. Volunteerism may allow for some governmental agencies to be combined and some positions within them to be matrixed, facilitating the improvement of coordination and cross-fertilization of ideas. Compacting the necessary government agencies involved in the justice system considerely decreases state and federal spending for staffing, offices, and day-to-day budgets. Community justice is rooted in the idea that the U.S. is a democratic nation, and all citizens therefore have a duty to become involved in the community. This proposal provides citizens opportunities to practice this democracy by fulfilling such duties as providing support to crime victims, assisting offenders in reintegration back into community, and carrying out community crime prevention activities. With these services operating at a local level, communities can become self-regulating and further reinforce legal norms and laws to decrease crime and encourage responsibility.
Community justice seeks to utilize four main processes in order to achieve its' ideal: system accessibility, community involvement, reparative processes, and re-integrative processes. By facilitating greater accessibility to services through the informality of such methods as foot patrols, citizen surveys, resident-driven search warrants, and victim-offender mediation; community involvement is encouraged due to the inherent ease of access in these methods. Operationally, community justice means thinking in terms of blocks of space instead of cities, counties, and states. Criminal justice activities will be tied to these localities and will be free to adapt to the individuality of community life there. The geospecific information generated based on these blocks of space help to organize the localities into priorities so that high-crime areas can receive greater attention and greater investment of state and federal resources. Budget money can thereby be delegated to those areas most in need so as to facilitate the most efficient spending. The prominence of de jure segregation in most neighborhoods allows members of the community to be policed and mediated by their peers who may be of the same race and upbringing which serves to reduce discrimination based on age, race, and sex within the community. The traditional legal system has a very low satisfaction rating, but in places where community justice is used like New York City's Midtown Community Court, these satisfaction ratings prove to increase significantly. When peers are determining appropriate restitution requirements for offenders and aid in support of the victim, the justice system is unbiased and fair to all involved. Community justice devolves the decision-making process while empowers residents and encouraging active participation in maintaing public safety.
The physical atmosphere of a community may be related to its' crime rate as was proven in the renovation of New York City's Bryant Park, when beautification projects transformed it from an open-air drug market to a family-friendly atmosphere. Through simple additions such as increased lighting, better visibility, and planting greenery, crime can be prevented adverted and public safety can be fostered. These beautifcation projects serve to make urban units more equitable, healthy, and sustainable; while simultaneously serving environmental justice.
In the environmental justice movement, the uneven distribution of toxic, hazardous waste facilities is addressed through community engagement in planning and land use decision thereby promoting public health and strengthening existing communities. Trees and flowers are just part of a bigger sceme that involves making priorities that balance economic preservation and economic expansion. The key to prosperity in the United States is learning to set these prioritis wisely, at any one time we have unlimited wants and needs but only a limited amount of resources for achieving them. Firms and consumers are not paying the full costs of their actions, dishonestly burdening taxpayers with the costs and future generations and their governments with the long-term environmental consequences. In order to ensure that those who profit from the destruction of the environment immediately pays for it, the economic “Hartwick rule” theory mandates that a percentage of the profits from using non-renewable resources such as oil and minerals be invested in alternative market assets in order to ensure a sustainable environment and economy. The bulk of environmental protection depends on the development of technology to reduce pollution of water, toxic waste, and emissions which leaves the question of what to do in the mean time. After priorities are set, what else can we do besides wait? The most viable proposal is in investing in the sustainable preservation of existing buildings and resources, implementing green practices to strengthen these existing communities instead of continuing urban sprawl.