CJB volunteers work with the Pima County Attorney's Office. The program uses restorative justice techniques as an alternative to prosecution for 1st and 2nd-time, non-violent, juvenile offenders, bridging the gap between victims and offenders, and focusing on rehabilitation.
Problems and Purpose
In the early 1990s, juvenile crime rates in Arizona reached their peak with the population of detainees reaching a record level. In response, the juvenile court system as well as detention facilities were expanded to meet the growing need, and Community Justice Boards were created in 1998. The program offers an alternative for first and second-time, non-violent, juvenile offenders who would otherwise be prosecuted. Instead, the boards apply restorative justice techniques, attempting to bridge the gap between victims and offenders while holding the juveniles accountable for their crimes and applying individualized consequences focused on improvement. Upon completion of the program after fulfilling said consequences within 90 days, juvenile offenders have the option to have their records sealed to empower them to attain more positive futures. The program intends to prevent recidivism among juvenile offenders and generally decrease the level of juvenile crime in Arizona.
Background History and Context
American political history during the late 1990s was marked by an incessant competition among politicians to appear the most “tough on crime.” Such a competition was augmented by President Clinton’s support of the three strike rule which mandated prison time after a person’s third felony offense of any kind. In alignment with this ideology, Governor Fife Symington of Arizona in 1996 began by proposing a ”Stop Juvenile Crime” initiative titled Proposition 102 in response to rising rates of juvenile crime throughout Arizona. This proposition passed by popular ballot vote and amended the state constitution, mandating adult prosecution for juveniles of at least 15 years if they had committed murder, forcible sexual assault, armed robbery, or lesser crimes if they were repeat offenders. Fortunately, Proposition 102 also allowed county attorneys to generate community based alternatives to prosecuting less serious juvenile crimes. In response, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall initiated the Community Justice Boards in May of 1998, starting out in the three neighborhoods of Tucson with the highest rates of juvenile crime. Due to the success of this program, Yuma County in Arizona followed suit, using Pima County as a model for its own Community Justice Boards in January, 2005.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The initiative was born out of community demand following the imposition of harsher laws against juvenile crime. The Pima County Attorney’s Office organizes the Justice Boards and trains the volunteers of which they consist. Cases fitting the criteria for the Justice Boards are referred by the Juvenile Court to the Community Justice Boards.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
After a juvenile of age seven to eighteen years old commits their first or second misdemeanor, they are cited by the law enforcement. When they arrive at Juvenile Court, probation officers conduct an interview for referral to the Community Justice Boards as an alternative to prosecution. Acceptance into the program hinges on the offender admitting to their crimes and voluntarily agreeing, along with their parents, to participate. As of 2014, the boards had serviced over 4000 juveniles, 379 in that year. No information regarding the current amount could be obtained. In addition to juveniles and their parent or guardian, the victims of their crimes are also participants in the process.
The eighteen boards in operation throughout Pima County each consist of five to ten members comprising of volunteers from the community. Such volunteers, numbering approximately 100 in June 2017, freely sign up for an application/interview process and agree to a background check along with training and orientation sessions.
Methods and Tools Used
Community Justice Boards are an innovative form of legal decision making involving community members in the sentencing process. According to the Yuma County Attorney's Office, CJBs constist of "volunteers from your community who meet face to face in conferences with the victim, juvenile and parents or guardians [to] decide what consequences the juvenile will face." The process follows the principles of restorative justice in that it seeks to address the harm to all parties of the crime: offenders, victims, and family and community members.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
After an offender is cited for a crime, goes to Juvenile Court and is referred to the Community Justice Boards, admission of guilt is the next required step before participation. To begin the process, board members conduct family conferences wherein the victim is invited to attend. In the case of their absence, a victim liaison will speak on their behalf. The initial goal of this conference is to ascertain the underlying, fundamental issues that led to the juvenile’s offense. It is only after this step that an individualized plan to move forward is constructed. The conference attendants, often the juvenile and family, victim and a few board members, then collectively decide on consequences that the juvenile commits to completing within 90 days. Such consequences always include an apology letter to the victim, parents, police, teachers or even themselves and may include some combination of community service or monetary restitution for the victim. In addition, another aspect of the program is oriented towards empowerment and rehabilitation. Such efforts sometimes include a requirement of the participant to generate career and education goals, participate in family or individual therapy or complete programs designed to educate youth, teach life-skills and modify behavior. Follow up conferences are held to monitor the progress of participants and help them stay on track to completing the program.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The program website lists the following statistics as an indication of its success: 88% program completion, 98% parent satisfaction, and 4% recidivism but the time at which these statistics were obtained is not mentioned. One of the beneficial outcomes of the board is community service, which many juveniles are asked to do as part of their consequence plan, leading to greater connections between participants and their community. On the Pima County Attorney’s Office website, there is also a video which includes references to some of the positive outcomes on youth in the county. Members of the board and family speak highly of the program and the way in which it led participants that were defiant in school or at home to become more accountable and responsible.
In addition, in January 2005, another county in Arizona, Yuma County, created its own Community Justice Boards based on those in Pima County. As of August 8th, 2011, there were six boards in Yuma that had graduated 110 juveniles, with an average age of fourteen. Forty members had participated on the boards in July, 2011. The successful completion rate was 83% and the recidivism rate of 28%.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The Community Justice Boards seem to have a positive impact on the lives of teenagers who might otherwise have become recurrent offenders well into adulthood. The boards act as a systematic intervention, constructively influencing those in need.
With that being said, the board’s accountability requirement isolates those who may have been wrongly convicted of a crime and unjustly face prosecution. This, however, is not entirely problematic as the program aims to rehabilitate juveniles that have committed a crime and not those who have not and thus may not require any rehabilitation.
In addition, the need for the Community Justice Boards after Proposition 102 indicates a more pervasive problem regarding ballot measures such as public referenda and initiatives. Historically, these measures have allowed for punitive statutes to be signed into law while circumventing the customary legislative process. For instance, the infamous California Proposition 184, commonly known as the Three Strikes Sentencing Initiative was a ballot measure approved in November 1994 that drastically increased the number of prisoners in the state and legitimized mass incarceration. While a direct vote on future legislation appears to be unquestionably democratic, punitive ballot measures such as this one are also problematic because they are less structured and regulated. Often, poorly informed citizens base their votes on the politicians they support rather than their own beliefs, or don’t show up at all. Taking this into account, the Community Justice Boards can be seen as a method used to remedy the harm perpetuated by the initiative and ballot measure, in general.
 Innes, Stephanie. “'Violent' juvenile suspects to go straight to adult court.” Tucson Citizen, 6 Nov. 1996, tucsoncitizen.com/morgue2/1996/11/06/185399-violent-juvenile-suspects-to-go-straight-to-adult-court/.
 Davis, Shaq. “Pima County Attorney's Office seeking volunteers to work with at-Risk youth.” Tucson.com, Arizona Daily Star, 16 June 2017, tucson.com/news/local/pima-county-attorney-s-office-seeking-volunteers-to-work-with/article_450e94da-0455-52dd-98ae-8a1474e4b73e.html.
 Taub, Amanda, and Max Fisher. “Why Referendums Aren't as Democratic as They Seem.” The New York Times, 4 Oct. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/10/05/world/americas/colombia-brexit-referendum-farc-cameron-santos.html.
 White, Mary E. (2015). Community Justice Boards. Yuma County Attorney's Office. Retrieved from http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/beth06_white.pdf
Lead Image: Neighbours for Justice https://goo.gl/SU6ubU