A Brooklyn “youth court” where teens judge each other on low level offenses is one of dozens of examples across the nation of people attempting to use community pressure to control crime in their neighborhoods, the Boston Globe reports. In some cases, those appearing before community boards are referred to the system by judges or prosecutors. In most cases, they must agree to appear. When adults are involved as members or offenders, the panels are called community accountability boards and are sometimes said to rely on the “grandma effect” because relatives, neighbors, and local ministers are used to deter offenders from getting into trouble again.
Since starting in Vermont a decade ago, the movement to engage neighborhood residents in meting out justice has spread to Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Colorado, and Massachusetts. Offenders agree to meet with the citizen panels, discuss how their unlawful actions hurt the entire neighborhood, and comply with whatever sanctions they impose, often an apology or a stint of community service. The goal is to shame the behavior but embrace the individual as a neighbor. “It gives that authority back to the community but the purpose is not to punish people, but hold offenders accountable, and it gives the victims a voice,” said Carolyn Boyes-Watson, an associate professor of sociology at Suffolk University. The community court model, also known as restorative justice, focuses on repairing the harm caused by a crime and meeting the needs of victims. Sociologist David Karp of Skidmore University says that more than 227 accountability boards and youth courts operate across the nation.