"i Am Starting to Believe in the Word 'Justice'": Lessons from an Ethnographic Study on Community Courts

Tali Gal, Hadar Dancig-Rosenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


With the growing awareness of the crisis of mass incarceration and distrust toward the legal system, recent years have seen a rise in interest in specialized, problem-solving, and therapeutic courts designed to reduce incarceration and recidivism rates and enhance public trust in state authorities. Community courts have been operating in numerous jurisdictions worldwide, providing a non-adversarial platform in which repeat low-level offenders are offered a comprehensive rehabilitative and restorative intervention program. Alongside evaluations demonstrating the ability of community courts to reduce incarceration and enhance offenders' trust, some critics have suggested that community courts jeopardize offenders' procedural rights and result in over-criminalization of program non-completers. This Article provides a qualitative empirical examination of an Israeli community court model, inspired by the Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn, New York. Based on over 280 hours of observations of approximately 100 hearings and fourteen staff meetings, the findings provide an inside look at the ways in which Israeli community courts implement a range of evidence-based, democracy-oriented approaches to crime control, such as procedural justice, therapeutic jurisprudence, and community justice, in the context of community courts. The findings also point to a need to pay closer attention to how these courts continue their operation, within a broader adversarial legal framework of criminal justice. The challenges identified in this Article raise questions that are relevant to other community courts in the United States and elsewhere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)376-411
Number of pages36
JournalAmerican Journal of Comparative Law
Issue number2
StatePublished - 31 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
* Tali Gal is Senior Lecturer and Head of the School of Criminology, University of Haifa. Hadar Dancig-Rosenberg is Associate Dean for Research and Associate Professor, Bar-Ilan University Law School; Visiting Professor, U.C. Berkeley Law School (2017–2018, summer 2020); Visiting Scholar, the Center for the Study of Law and Society and the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies, U.C. Berkeley (2016–2018). The study was funded by Jewish Distribution Committee (JDC)-Ashalim (Grant No. 204169). We would like to thank the participants of the Stanford International Junior Faculty Forum at Stanford Law School 2018, the participants of the Conference on Empirical Legal Studies at Michigan Law School 2018, and the participants of the Association for Israel Studies Conference at U.C. Berkeley Law 2018 for enriching discussions and helpful suggestions on earlier drafts. Special thanks to Michal Alberstein, Kenneth Bamberger, Malcolm Feeley, Laurence Friedman, Rebecca Golbert, Manuel Gomez, Rosann Greenspan, Joanna Grossman, Deborah Hensler, Lisa Kelly, Shmuel Melamed, Jonathan Simon, and Eric Talley. We are also grateful to Gali Pilovski-Menkes for excellent research coordination and Shefa’a Abu-Jabal, Tamar Ben-Dror, Yarin Segev, and Talia Yehuda for outstanding research assistance. Last but not least, we thank Daniella Beinisch and Shlomi Cohen from JDC-Ashalim for supporting the project and providing significant insights and guidance throughout the research. Both authors contributed equally to this Article. † http://dx.doi/org/10.1093/ajcl/avaa017 © The Author(s) [2020]. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society of Comparative Law. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s) [2020]. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society of Comparative Law. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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