Ask The Experts: A Roundtable on Community Prosecution, Part 1


Ask The Experts: A Roundtable on Community Prosecution, Part 1

Ask The Experts: A Roundtable on Community Prosecution, Part 1

A "virtual roundtable" of experts answers questions about community prosecution.

How would you define community prosecution?

Dr. Catherine Coles
Researcher and Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts

I see community justice as justice officials working directly with the community and giving high priority to the concerns and priorities of community members. Also, community justice attempts to build a capacity within the community for improving and maintaining public safety. Community prosecution is doing just that. There is a real commitment to citizen priorities. That means that citizen priorities can have an impact on the work that prosecutors do, whether it’s by affecting the weighting of cases that they process, the cases prosecutors choose to file and focus on, or how particular cases might be handled. To me, community justice also involves problem solving, carried out in a coordinated and collaborative fashion that involves justice agencies working together with various governmental bodies, the private sector, and citizens themselves. Citizens have described this to me as ‘a new way of government doing business in our community.’ So, I draw problem solving into the community justice framework, and see it as a central part of community prosecution as well. 

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Susan Motika
Former Director of the Community Prosecution Division
Office of the Denver District Attorney
Denver, Colorado

Community prosecution is a proactive approach like community policing. It's about forming a partnership with the community and not being merely in a reactive mode of reporting on the progress of cases. The goal is to support community capacity-building efforts so that neighbors can identify problems and come up with effective strategies for dealing with crime and quality-of-life problems. We involve the community as a partner to develop solutions, and we develop partnerships with community policing so that community prosecutors and community police have a unified strategy. 

Bart Dickinson
Former Community Prosecution Coordinator
Frayser County Community Court
Memphis, Tennessee

I'm from a small town where people know each other. The police know everybody and the prosecutor knows everybody. And really, in a big city, a community prosecutor is like a small town prosecutor. You get to know the people in the community; you get to know the people who are concerned with the community; and the people who are violators and defendants in the community, as well. 

Mike Kuykendall
Former Manager of the Community Prosecution Program
American Prosecutors Research Institute
Alexandria, Virginia

[Community prosecution is] a grassroots effort by the local elected prosecutor to get their assistant prosecutors, citizens, local government resources, police and other stakeholders in the community involved in identifying low-level criminal offenses and neighborhood livability issues and engaging in long-term solutions to those offenses. The emphasis is not on arrest and prosecution, but on learning new ways to prevent crime from occurring... That's the vision the federal government has embraced as have the majority of jurisdictions now practicing community prosecution...

We do on occasion see prosecutors who claim they're embracing community prosecution by putting lawyers in the field to do just drug prosecutions or other traditional prosecution, but that's not really community prosecution because that's not involving the community in solving problems that affect their neighborhood.

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How do community prosecutors communicate effectively with stakeholders?

Wanda L. Dallas
Former Assistant District Attorney
Atlanta, Georgia
Listening. When I go to meetings—and I go to 30 meetings a month—I don’t let them spend a lot of time complaining anymore. I used to in the beginning. What I realized is that the longer a person complains about what’s going on, the bigger it becomes in their mind, and they inflame the passions of the whole group, and by the time you’re done, you’re an hour into complaining and you’re no closer to the solution.

As community prosecutors, we’re supposed to be problem-solvers. So the first thing that I do, is I go in there and say, “I want one person to tell me what the problem is—the short version.” I get the short version. And now we have so many partners. We’ve got at least 30 partners. We’ve aligned ourselves with everyone we need to in the City of Atlanta to really do some things. So I listen, and I make an assessment. I’ll say, “This is what it sounds like your problem is. These are the solutions I think we need to explore. I’m going to get in touch with some people and I’m going to come back to you.” All of our dialogue has to be about solving the problem. If we can cut all of the complaining and get straight to the problem, we’ll have a lot more room and time to deal with the solution.

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