Courting the Community

Legitimacy and Punishment in a Community Court

Christine Zozula
Book Cover

PB: $29.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1740-4
Publication: Jun 19

HC: $92.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1739-8
Publication: Jun 19

Ebook: $29.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1741-1
Publication: Jun 19

218 pages
6 x 9
1 tables, 1 line drawings

Exploring the practices and potential of criminal justice in community courts

Read the Introduction (pdf).


Community Courts are designed to handle a city’s low-level offenses and quality-of-life crimes, such as littering, loitering, or public drunkenness. Court advocates maintain that these largely victimless crimes jeopardize the well-being of residents, businesses, and visitors. Whereas traditional courts might dismiss such cases or administer a small fine, community courts aim to meaningfully punish offenders to avoid disorder escalating to apocalyptic decline.

Courting the Community is a fascinating ethnography that goes behind the scenes to explore how quality-of-life discourses are translated into court practices that marry therapeutic and rehabilitative ideas. Christine Zozula shows how residents and businesses participate in meting out justice—such as through community service, treatment, or other sanctions—making it more emotional, less detached, and more legitimate in the eyes of stakeholders. She also examines both “impact panels,” in which offenders, residents, and business owners meet to discuss how quality-of-life crimes negatively impact the neighborhood, as well as strategic neighborhood outreach efforts to update residents on cases and gauge their concerns.

Zozula’s nuanced investigation of community courts can lead us to a deeper understanding of punishment and rehabilitation and, by extension, the current state of the American court system.


Christine Zozula’s masterful ethnography of community courts provides a much-needed look at the criminalization of everyday life. Courting the Community documents the slow creep of such courts into communities, where their intense scrutiny of low-level offenders serves the primary purpose of criminalizing incivility. This book is a must-read for anyone concerned with how the idea of community is used to expand the system of punishment in the United States.”—Rebecca Tiger, Associate Professor of Sociology at Middlebury College and author of Judging Addicts: Drug Courts and Coercion in the Justice System

“In this deeply researched and accessibly written book, Christine Zozula lays bare the promises and potential pitfalls of community courts. She vividly conveys how these relatively new institutions, which combine treatment and penal logics to govern low-level crime and incivility, shape the very meaning of ‘community.’ This timely, rigorous, and engaging book establishes Zozula as a leading expert on community courts.”—Joshua Page, Associate Professor of Sociology and Law at the University of Minnesota and author of The Toughest Beat: Politics, Punishment, and the Prison Officers Union in California

Table of Contents


Introduction: Culture and Punishment
1. Broken Windows, Broken People
2. Ordering the Court
3. The Process of Punishment
4. Good Defendants and Good Courts
5. Ambivalent Justice
6. Justice for All? Marketing Justice to a Contested Community
Conclusion: Courting the Community

Methodological Appendix

About the Author(s)

Christine Zozula is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Rhode Island.