Feb 1, 2012

Procedural Fairness and Community Courts

We are blogging from the 2nd Annual International Community Courts Conference in Washington D.C.

Tom Tyler is discussing Procedural Justice theory and its relevance to the Community Courts movement. According to Tyler, the key question we must ask is: What do people want when they engage the courts?
The answer, based on his work, is Procedural Justice.

Procedural Justice is a theory of justice that posits perceptions of fair treatment is strongly associated with acceptance of outcomes compared to positive or negative decisions rendered by authority figures (courts, police, supervisors). While people are not happy when they don't "win" in court, they are more likely to accept the outcomes if they were treated fairly. The effects of Procedural Justice are "robust" even in circumstances where the monetary stakes are high, the matter is emotionally charged (i.e child custody), or when important ethical or moral values are at stake. The positive effects of Procedural Justice cut across racial and class lines. The effects are also durable with some research showing lower rates of re-offending years after a decision. 

Regarding reentry, Tracey Meares work has shown that a single two hour meeting with offenders that is procedurally fair reduces recidivism rates compared to other interventions -- provision of social services, traditional community supervision.

Tyler suggest that a "systems level model" of Procedural Justice is needed  This approach would incorporate the following elements:

  • Voice: Help people to to have a chance to state their case in decision making;
  • Neneutrality: Decisions based on facts and rules and helping people to understand that this is happening (transparancy);
  • Respect: Take concerns seriously and acknowledge rights, using courtesy and politness;
  • Trust: A belief that an authority is "sincere and caring" and acting in the interest of parties, not their own intrests.