The Community-Based Approach to Criminal-Justice Assessments - the full guide in pdf

This operational guidance note (OGN) provides advice on how to conduct a community-based assessment (CBA) of the criminal justice system under real-world constraints. An assessment is a process of gathering and analysing information on needs to inform decision-making on programming. The criminal justice system refers to the practices and institutions directed at preventing crime, sanctioning those who commit crimes, making efforts to rehabilitate them, and providing reparations to the victims.

In the criminal justice field, assessments often start with the defects of criminal justice institutions such as the police, the courts or the prisons. Such an actor-focused assessment looks for the reasons why the institutions are ineffective or inefficient in what they do. But it does not ask whether these institutions actually do what they should do. Programming developed on the basis of an actor-focused assessment will address certain institutional defects but may miss out on the problems and needs of communities. Programming on this basis helps institutions to do things right but not necessarily to do the right things.

A CBA, on the other hand, starts with identifying the criminal justice needs of communities, then asks what institutions should but do not do to respond to these needs, and finally looks for the reasons that account for why these institutions do not deliver services to meet the needs. Such an approach grounds programme decisions in the needs of communities, links needs with institutions, and ensures a service orientation for criminal justice activities. Programming on this basis helps institutions to do the right things right.

Assessments are usually more complex than anticipated, especially in fragile and post-conflict contexts. Assessments are politically sensitive, time consuming and resource intensive (for general guidance on how to plan and conduct assessments see the ISSAT OGN series on security and justice assessments). Moreover, the assessment team often has to operate under serious time and resource constraints. This CBA tool aims to provide easy methods on how to conduct quality assessments under such real-world constraints. One technique used in this tool is mapping, which is a process of gathering just thebasic facts on the objects of interest, for instance on all criminal justice actors. Mapping is broad and complete but not deep and not detailed. A good mapping process produces a complete inventory and provides a bird’s-eye overview of all objects of interest.

The CBA consists of five stages: mapping needs, mapping actors, linking needs with actors, identifying the institutional causes that account for why the needs are not met, and analysing the CBA findings. This OGN describes step by step the five CBA stages and provides tools and templates to facilitate the CBA process.


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