Violence remains one of the most intractable struggles facing low income communities across the country and a core driver of mass incarceration.

The criminal justice system as we know it all too often fails to meet the needs of people harmed by crime, and incarcerating the person responsible often fails to alleviate the trauma and pain of those harmed. Similarly, in addition to the impact of incarceration on those in prison and those they love, recidivism rates show time and time again that incarceration is limited in its ability to secure public safety.

As a consensus emerges across the country in support of criminal justice reform, we have to recognize that United States will not end mass incarceration with an emphasis on non-violent offenses alone.

We will have to tackle the question of violence. Common Justice aims to do just that.

Common Justice develops and advances solutions to violence that advance racial equity, meet the needs of those harmed, and do not rely on incarceration. Its core program is an innovative victim service and alternative to incarceration program for serious and violent felonies. It is based in participatory justice principles.

Common Justice aims to take on serious felonies in a way that holds people accountable, helps those who are harmed heal, and creates an opportunity for people to halt the cycles of violence. This cutting-edge project is the first in the country to divert cases like these in the adult court away from prison and into participatory processes.

Common Justice aims to demonstrate through research and practice that a non-prison-based response to violent crime can: (1) break the cycles of violence that tear our communities apart, (2) improve the mental health of crime victims through our trauma-informed model, (3) provide for more equitable services for young men of color and other under-served crime victims, (4) avert the damaging effects of incarceration, and (5) increase people’s experience of fairness and safety in the aftermath of harm.

Common Justice also recognizes that prison reform on the whole, while deeply admirable, has yet to include energetic advocacy for those who commit violent offenses, and that efforts to enact significant change are often stymied by the lack of viable, safe, alternatives to incarceration—particularly for cases of violence. In order to transform the criminal justice system in this country and dismantle our failing reliance on incarceration, Common Justice aims to play a central role in broader efforts to effect change by providing the uniquely impactful supporting evidence and practice that only a successful and rigorously evaluated model program can provide.

Central to this effort is Common Justice’s commitment to elevating the voices and perspective of underserved victims of crime in this national conversation. The victims who have been engaged in the broader national dialogue about criminal justice practice and policy represent a relatively small and—both demographically and in terms of their needs and preferences—often non-representative sample of the broad range of people who survive violent crime in the United States.

Common Justice believes that by elevating the voices of the full range of victims of crime, we can achieve two significant shifts in the national criminal justice landscape: (1) that we can begin, finally, to meet the needs of all victims, regardless of their race, class, and gender, and begin to repair an extraordinary, long-standing, and damaging inequity in the criminal justice system; and (2) that in listening to the full range of victims of crime, we will hear demands for a wider variety of responses to harm beyond what is currently available in the criminal justice system as it stands, including demands for alternatives to incarceration articulated from the standpoint not of defendants, but of the people harmed by crime.

In broadening the range of stakeholders advocating for alternatives to incarceration to include victims—a group so universally misunderstood to be unfaltering proponents of draconian sentencing policies—we can shift the national conversation about the appropriate place and scale of incarceration in our country and move together toward solutions to violence that work.

About the author

Danielle Sered

Danielle Sered envisioned, launched, and directs Common Justice. She leads the project’s efforts, locally rooted in Brooklyn but national in scope, to develop and advance practical and groundbreaking solutions to violence that advance racial equity, meet the needs of those harmed, and do not rely on incarceration.