Authenticity, Coherence, and Power Shifts: A Framework for Assessing Community Engagement Across the Criminal Justice System

Published date01 December 2020
Date01 December 2020
The Howard Journal Vol59 No 4. December 2020 DOI: 10.1111/hojo.12367
ISSN 2059-1098, pp. 400–422
Authenticity, Coherence, and Power
Shifts: A Framework for Assessing
Community Engagement Across the
Criminal Justice System
S. Rose Werth is a PhD student in Sociology, Northwestern University, USA;
Megan Comfort is Senior Sociologist for Youth, Violence Prevention, and
Community Justice, RTI International, USA; Matthew DeMichele is Director
for the Center for Courts and Corrections Research, RTI International, USA;
Pamela K. Lattimore is Senior Director for Research Development in the
Division for Applied Justice Research, RTI International, USA
Abstract: Criminal justice agencies increasingly use community engagement practices in
efforts to improve public safety and garner legitimacy. While crime rates can be measured,
improved legitimacy is harder to gauge. This article provides a framework to assess the
influence of community engagement practices in the criminal justice system on legitimacy
in three areas: authenticity, coherence in structure, and shifts in power dynamics. We
explore each component through case studies of community policing, consent decrees, and
community courts, respectively. We propose that this framework could be used to assess
or build the capacity of community engagement to repair relationships with marginalised
Keywords: community engagement; criminal justice reform; legitimacy; power
Plans for modern criminal justice agencies often invoke visions of an
engaged community working hand in hand with officers or prosecutors.
Many individual policies across the justice system like community policing
or restorative justice incorporate community engagement practices. The
policies have aims like increasing compliance with the law, increasing use
of alternative sanctions, or reducing recidivism. However, community
engagement practices are united by their focus on changing the public’s
relationship with criminal justice actors and intent to cultivate legitimacy.
This article develops a framework for assessing three core areas of
community engagement practices across the justice system. Academics
2020 The Howard League and John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK
The Howard Journal Vol59 No 4. December 2020
ISSN 2059-1098, pp. 400–422
and evaluators can use this framework to study any type of community
engagement effort within the criminal justice system, but especially those
that target marginalised communities. The framework can also be used
in accountability measurement. Criminal justice agencies could also use
it prior to implementation to strategically plan community engagement
efforts that hope to cultivate legitimacy.
Calls for policy changes across all criminal justice sectors are a signifi-
cant signal of legitimacy crises in many communities in the United States.
Incarcerated and supervised populations in the United States have in-
creased since the 1980s, and the risk of incarceration is highly stratified
by race and ethnicity and socio-economic background (Pettit and Western
2004; Phelps 2013; Western2007). Black Americans are stopped, searched,
arrested, and incarcerated more than any other population (Desmond, Pa-
pachristos and Kirk 2016; Terrill and Reisig 2003; Western 2007). Officer-
involved shootings in those same communities compound those effects and
have led to mass protests. These events directly challenge the legitimacy
of criminal justice agencies, particularly in low-income black and Latinx
Reform advocates and criminal justice leaders alike recommend com-
munity engagement practices (Institute for Law and Justice 2005; Jacobson
2015; National Institute of Justice 2017; TRC Staff 2019). Community en-
gagement can be broadly defined as any process that includes individuals or
groups of people in efforts that affect their well-being (Bowen, Newenham-
Kahindi and Herremans 2010). The health care, education, and busi-
ness fields study community engagement cohesively (Bowen, Newenham-
Kahindi and Herremans 2010; O’Mara-Eves et al. 2013; Warren 2005), but
the criminal justice field scatters examinations of community engagement
within specific literatures. A unified framework for assessing community
engagement would benefit these individual areas of study. To make this
case, this article begins by reviewing how community engagement became
a core approach in the criminal justice field, emerging from foundational
criminal justice theories that link community dynamics with levels of crime.
We also review legitimacy crises and underscore how community engage-
ment efforts often focus on marginalised populations.
This three-part framework can be used to assess community engage-
ment practices in the criminal justice field. We provide an example of how
the framework could theoretically be used through a case study applying
each component. The first area of the framework is ‘authentic’ engage-
ment, which we identify as a process parallel to procedural justice. A case
study of community policing discusses identifying what authenticity means
in a given context and measuring trust and legitimacy as outcomes. The
second area of the framework is coherence, meaning the internal logic
of community engagement practices. A case study of Obama-era police
reform under consent decrees provides an example of how identifying
a policy’s underlying logic can improve accountability. The third area is
power shifts. Community engagement interacts with power dynamics be-
tween criminal justice agencies and, quite often, marginalisedcommunities.
A case study of community courts demonstrates how to place engagement
2020 The Howard League and John Wiley & Sons Ltd

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT