Common Justice develops and advances solutions to violence that transform the lives of those harmed and foster racial equity without relying on incarceration.
Locally, we operate the first alternative-to-incarceration and victim-service program in the United States that focuses on violent felonies in the adult courts. Nationally, we leverage the lessons from our direct service to transform the justice system through partnerships, advocacy, and elevating the experience and power of those most impacted.
Rigorous and hopeful, we build practical strategies to hold people accountable for harm, break cycles of violence, and secure safety, healing, and justice for survivors and their communities.
Common Justice Model
Breakthrough Local Solutions
In Brooklyn and the Bronx, Common Justice operates an alternative-to-incarceration and victim-service program. It is a rigorous, cutting-edge response to serious and violent felonies, including assault and robbery, based in restorative justice principles. If—and only if—the survivors of those crimes consent, Common Justice diverts the cases into a process designed to recognize the harm done, honor the needs and interests of those harmed, and develop appropriate responses to hold the responsible party accountable.
Supporting Those Harmed
Common Justice offers survivors the opportunity to have their needs validated and addressed, to participate in shaping the consequences for the harm they survived, to co-create and carry out a wraparound service plan, and to develop strategies to cope with and come through the trauma they experienced.
Restorative Justice Circles
After extensive preparation, responsible parties sit with those they have harmed (or surrogates who take their place), people who support both parties, and a trained facilitator in a restorative justice “circle.” This circle provides those most affected by a crime with the power and opportunity to address questions, impacts, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and foster accountability. Together the circle participants reach agreements about what the responsible party can do to make things as right as possible.
Accountability Without Incarceration
Program staff monitor responsible parties’ adherence to the circle agreements—which may include restitution, extensive community service, and commitments to attend school and work—while supervising their completion of the 12- to 15-month intensive violence intervention program. Responsible parties who successfully complete both their commitments to those they harmed and the violence intervention program do not serve the jail or prison sentences they would otherwise have faced.
In cases in which incarceration does not serve the public interest, Common Justice provides a safe, effective option that seeks to repair rather than sever communal ties in the aftermath of serious crime. Common Justice knows that accountability and healing are not mutually exclusive—they are in fact interconnected. Just as we hold people accountable for the violence they commit, so too must we take collective accountability for the conditions that give rise to violence in the first place. The program therefore aims to address the underlying causes of violence and help foster a long-term process of transformation for individuals and communities.
Shifting The Narrative About Violence
Our national story about violence has helped give rise to mass incarceration. The United States incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world. At the same time, there are grave inequities in our treatment of crime victims, who pay the price for prison’s failure to deliver on its promise of safety. To talk responsibly about violence, it is essential to place the people who survive it at the center. This does not currently happen. Legislators have enacted draconian criminal justice laws in the names of survivors. Others have drawn on crime victims’ stories to motivate sympathy, horror, and outrage. But the one thing rarely done is to ask the full range of survivors what they want.
Common Justice is committed to telling the truth about violence—about the people who survive it, the people who cause it, and the strategies that will work to end it. We are sharing what we have learned in our decade of work addressing violence without prison. We are working with our partners to establish a new way forward. In doing so, we know no one can tell these stories better than the people whose lives are at stake, so we are working to create broad new platforms to elevate their voices and leadership from the block to the Capitol.”
Accounting for Violence
The United States faces two distinct but interconnected challenges: violence and mass incarceration. Ensuring safety is an urgent and essential responsibility of a society and is a core dimension of delivering on the promise of justice.
The United States has been remiss in attempts to fulfill that responsibility because of an overreliance on incarceration as the primary pathway to ensuring safety.
Substantially reducing violence will require acknowledging the limitations of prisons as a strategy to deliver safety or justice. And ending mass incarceration in America will require taking on the question of violence. Mass incarceration cannot end violence.