Conference looks at Community Justice concept

Posted: Thursday, October 12, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Alaska is beginning to embrace the community justice concept, which means preventing crime rather than simply reacting to it.

That was the substance of a two-day conference here charting crime-fighting changes around the state.

''It's a different way of thinking and it's a different way of doing business,'' keynote speaker Anne Seymour said Tuesday.

Fairbanks was just one stop in a weeklong series of conferences scheduled for Anchorage, Kenai and Juneau.

The conference provided an avenue for discussions about ways to continue carrying out the change.

In the community justice system's way of thinking, the victim, the community and the offender are involved in the quest for a balanced approach to justice.

The objective is directed at holding offenders accountable, helping victims heal and getting the community involved in crime prevention.

The concept has had some positive effects in Alaska in the three years since the program's implementation, Seymour said.

''I can only liken it to a miracle,'' she said.

The success of the new program has been attributed to cooperation among law enforcement, correctional, victim advocacy, judicial and social services agencies.

All were represented at the conference, whether in the audience or as participants in panel discussions.

''The goal of community justice is to make our state and local community healthier and safer,'' Corrections Commissioner Margaret Pugh said. ''The power to reach that goal rests in the hands and feet of each member of the team.''

A number of community members also attended the conference. Many related how their lives were impacted by crime.

As part of the community justice system, the goal is to put the victim at the center of the process in resolving a crime.

''Go out and ask how a crime affects them (victims) and invite them into the accountability process,'' Seymour said. ''We have to have victims define the harm.''

That step was taken recently by a number of youth courts across the state. The courts began inviting victims to testify in efforts to make juveniles aware of the harm they'd inflicted.

Crime has a domino effect, harming not only the victim but also the families of the offender and victims and even the community where the misdeed was committed, Seymour said.

''The community is the ultimate customer and partner in community justice,'' she said. ''The community is where we should be looking for crime prevention.''

''We need the community to say 'I want to help offenders,' '' by helping them learn something from the wrong they caused, Seymour said.

Some of the ideas that have bridged the gap between offender and community is sentencing perpetrators to community service, whether it's picking up trash on the streets or painting over graffiti on buildings.

One panel focused on insufficient resources and crimefighting needs in Alaska's rural areas.

''(People in the Bush) need to empower themselves,'' probation officer Tammy Axelsson said. ''They need to be handling the small things themselves.''

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