Jump to:Page Content
What is Community Prosecution? The ideals of prosecutors who support the development of community prosecution, and the practices they are crafting around the country, share three common features: (1) a new mission or definition of the business of prosecution, (2) new tactics that support the business, and (3) new relationships with other justice agencies and community members.
First, the prosecutors are adopting a broadened mission of prosecution that includes preventing and reducing crime as well as prosecuting cases effectively and efficiently. The mission rests on a comprehensive definition of the crime problem--one that now recognizes the importance of low-level quality of life offenses, as well as index crimes. The redefined mission and approach to crime are driven by a new commitment to pursuing the priorities of citizens themselves, and in doing so to consider the linkages between the public's fear of crime, and crime itself. Translated into concrete activities, the broader mission leads prosecutors to emphasize those cases and offenders that citizens themselves identify as high priority--whether it be street prostitution, a drug dealer whose activities disrupt peace on a residential street, or intimidating youths.
Second, prosecutors are moving beyond tactics that rely solely on criminal law to build a "problem-oriented prosecution" strategy into their operations. When the goal becomes eliminating or managing a problem rather than prosecuting a case, civil remedies such as nuisance abatement (used in gang prosecutions), stay-away or restraining orders (to keep troublesome offenders from returning to particular neighborhoods), prosecutions based upon trespass statutes, and health and safety code enforcement can all be extraordinarily effective when used creatively. Non-lawyer specialists are joining the staffs of prosecutors' offices, bringing skills in public health, substance abuse treatment, social services, public relations, community organizing, marketing and journalism, and crime prevention. Prodded to think "outside the box," prosecutors are moving out into the community to establish multi-agency drug and community courts, domestic and sexual abuse trauma centers, diversion programs, day report centers for substance abusers, and government-funded projects that target crime, depressed economic conditions, and quality of life in local neighborhoods and housing developments. The watchwords are a larger and more varied "tool kit" in which criminal law and criminal prosecution are brought to bear as part of the arsenal, problems defined locally and within a neighborhood context, and targeted problem solving.
Finally, community prosecutors are pursuing closer collaboration with other justice agencies, the private sector, as well as with citizens themselves. They see their role as one that can be performed most effectively by working with citizens and other agencies to identify priorities jointly; by improving their prosecutorial skills through greater understanding of crime problems within community contexts; and by lending their expertise to problem-solving collaborations that seek to reduce and prevent crime.
For American prosecutors these elements represent a fundamental re-ordering of existing priorities, the adoption of new goals, as well as substantial expansion in the scope and substance of their activities. In institutional terms, such changes signal the emergence of a new organizational strategy in prosecution, one that redefines the business of prosecution, the organizational configuration and tactics necessary for carrying out the business, and holds out a new conception of proper relationships among police, prosecutors, and other justice actors in the local environment. This strategy is described in detail in Catherine Coles, Prosecution in the Community: A Study of Emergent Strategies: A Cross-Site Analysis and "Community Prosecution, Problem Solving, and Public Accountability: The Evolving Strategy of the American Prosecutor".
One of the first attempts to engage in a dialogue concerning emerging trends in prosecution took place in meetings convened through the Executive Session for State and Local Prosecutors, held at the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, from 1986 to 1990. Participants included prosecutors from around the country. Discussions focused on the current state of prosecution, including differing conceptions of the role of the prosecutor. Writing about these conceptions, Zachary Tumin described "institution building" prosecutors as those who processed cases, assessing case value by considering case strength, heinousness of the crime, and depravity of the defendant, while also taking into account the value of the institution threatened or damaged by the act, and the potential benefit of prosecutorial action in its favor. Institution builders were problem solvers, and used their position as chief law enforcement officer in the community to bring together and direct all available criminal justice resources in a coherent effort (see Criminal Justice Working Paper #90-02-05 "Summary of the Proceedings: Findings and Discoveries of the Harvard University Executive Session for State and Local Prosecutors at the John F. Kennedy School of Government (1986-90)").
Beginning in 1995, researchers in the program, Research Associate Catherine Coles and Research Fellow George Kelling, conducted two studies of community prosecution funded by the National Institute of Justice. The first, Prosecution in the Community: A Study of Emergent Strategies: A Cross-Site Analysis, completed in 1998, examined new strategies developed by district attorneys and city attorneys in several major U.S. cities as part of a movement toward community-based prosecution, crime prevention and order maintenance. The second, currently being completed, is a study of Boston's Safe Neighborhood Initiatives (SNIs), community-oriented collaborations involving the District Attorney's Office, the State Attorney General's Office, police departments, and citizens in local neighborhoods. The goals are to explore what is meant by a "partnership with the community," to create a model for establishing such partnerships in other cities, and to assist the SNIs in developing indicators for measuring outcomes of SNI activities.
Coles, Catherine M, Brian Carney, and Bobbie Johnson. "Crime Prevention Through Community Prosecution and Community Policing: Boston's Grove Hall Safe Neighborhood Initiative." In Problem-Oriented Policing: Crime-Specific Problems, Critical Issues and Making POP Work, vol. 3, ed. Corina Solé Brito and Eugenia E. Gratto. Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum, 2000.
Coles, Catherine M. and George Kelling. "Prevention Through Community Prosecution." The Public Interest 136 (Summer 1999).
Coles, Catherine M. and George Kelling. "New Trends in Prosecutors' Aproaches to Youthful Offenders" In Securing Our Children's Future: New Approaches to Juvenile Justice and Youth Violence, ed. Gary S. Katzmann. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2002.
Coles, Catherine M., George Kelling, and Mark Moore. Prosecution in the Community: A Study of Emergent Strategies: A Cross-Site Analysis. Read the Executive Summary.
Criminal Justice Working Paper #02-02-06
Coles, Catherine M. "City Attorneys and Corporation Counsel: The Original Community Prosecutors and Problem Solvers"
Criminal Justice Working Paper #02-02-07
Coles, Catherine M. "Community Prosecution: District Attorneys, County Prosecutors and Attorneys General"
Criminal Justice Working Paper #00-02-04
Coles, Catherine M. "Community Prosecution, Problem Solving, and Public Accountability: The Evolving Strategy of the American Prosecutor"
Criminal Justice Working Paper #90-02-05
Tumin, Zachary. "Summary of the Proceedings: Findings and Discoveries of the Harvard University Executive Session for State and Local Prosecutors at the John F. Kennedy School of Government (1986-90)"