Christine Zozula, URI professor of sociology, has published her first book, Courting the Community: Legitimacy and Punishment in a Community Court. Explores quality-of-life crimes, specialized courts, and criminal justice reform efforts
KINGSTON, R.I. – Aug. 20, 2019 – Community courts have been a popular form of criminal justice reform over the last 25 years. These courts prosecute low-level crimes in hopes of safe-guarding quality of life in a community while also dispensing a more emotional, less detached brand of justice that focuses on rehabilitation.
But how is the reform working?
In her debut book, Courting the Community: Legitimacy and Punishment in a Community Court, University of Rhode Island Professor Christine Zozula provides the first behind-the-scenes look into community courts by a person outside of community court advocacy. Courting the Community explores the prosecution of quality-of-life crimes, the workings of individualized justice in community courts and how criminal justice reforms may not deliver on all they promise.
“With all the research I did for this book, I am very critical of the community court model. I don’t think it does what it’s intended to do,” says Zozula, an associate professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences whose research focuses on the practical and cultural processes of punishment. “But I also understand that a lot of the people who I met at the court were doing what they think is right. They have very noble goals and are working within a system that is inherently punitive no matter how much they try to make it more rehabilitative.”
Community courts, which exclusively handle low-level, quality-of-life crimes, are part of a larger specialized court movement. Over the last three decades, the U.S. has witnessed a proliferation of specialized courts to address such societal problems as drugs, domestic violence, gambling, guns, homelessness and truancy. The first community court in the U.S. opened in Midtown Manhattan in 1993. Today, there are about 70 of the courts in the U.S. dealing with crimes such as littering, disorderly conduct, noise disturbance, underage drinking, and prostitution.
The community court model explicitly draws from such criminal justice philosophies as “broken-windows theory,” which contends that the policing and punishment of small crimes prevents more serious offenses, and “therapeutic jurisprudence,” in which punishment focuses on rehabilitation over jail time, Zozula says.
“One of the reasons I think the community court movement is appealing is broken-windows theory,” says Zozula. “In the book, I call it the ‘stop drinking soda and lose 10 pounds in two months plan’ to crime prevention. Another reason the courts are appealing is because of the flexibility afforded in the model. The courts can claim to be both tough on crime and really trying to help defendants. That way, they’re able to make legitimacy claims to lots of different groups.
“Also, every outcome can be seen as a success. If I come in for a public drunkenness charge, I go to AA and I’m supervised for three months, and then you expunge my case, that’s a success. If I fail to follow my ordered treatment and I don’t show up for court and I go to jail, that’s a success. Everything that could possibly happen at a community court helps legitimize it.”
Zozula started researching community courts while an undergraduate at Fordham University at Lincoln Center. She was looking for an internship and her anthropology professor suggested Midtown Community Court. She carried that interest to graduate school at the University of Connecticut.
Over 11 months, between 2005 and 2008, Zozula followed the workings of “Greenville Community Court” – a pseudonym – sitting through court sessions and interviewing participants and community members to get a larger understanding of the system. In Courting the Community, published by Temple University Press, she documents daily case processing at the court, exploring how punishment and treatment work to legitimize the community court model.
Like other community courts, Greenville followed a model of providing individualized justice in a non-adversarial way. One judge oversaw the court docket, allowing defendants to build a relationship with the judge to reach a plea agreement, Zozula says. Defendants often would be sentenced to counseling or community service.
If defendants failed to comply with their court agreement, they would face jail time. The problem, says Zozula, was that defendants were jailed not for their original crime, but for their lack of accountability in following their ordered counseling.
For example, a defendant arrested for public drunkenness or a drug offense would initially be seen as having a substance problem. Instead of punishing him for his problem, the court would order three months of treatment, dismissing the charge when treatment was completed. But if the defendant failed to go to treatment or relapsed, he would be sentenced to jail.
“It’s striking to me that community courts so quickly shift from ‘you have an issue that can be fixed’ to ‘you didn’t fix the issue, so clearly you should go to jail.’”
Another problem arose when judges repeatedly continued orders for counseling, wrapping the defendant in court supervision for long periods for low-level offenses.
“There’s been a whole lot of work recently on what’s called administrative justice that looks at traditional criminal justice structures such as probation,” says Zozula. “It shows how people get caught up for very lengthy periods of court supervision for low-level things without ever being sentenced.”
In evaluation studies of community courts, respondents have perceived the courts to be legitimate, Zozula says. Beyond that, she adds, the results are mixed. Studies show no clear evidence that the courts reduce recidivism or decrease quality-of-life crimes, she says, and none that prosecuting low-level crimes improve quality of life in the court’s jurisdiction.
“We are often sold criminal justice reforms,” she says. “I hope that people take away from my book that we have to be cautious about what the goals of these purposed reforms are and how we’re going to hold those goals accountable.”
Andrea Voyer is a former sociology professor at University of Connecticut. She received BA of Russian Civilization and MA of Social Administration from University of Chicago, and PhD of Sociology from University of Wisconsin-Madison. During her time at UConn, Prof. Andrea Voyer taught courses in theory, culture, and qualitative methods. Her Publications include Strangers and Neighbors: Multiculturalism, Conflict, and Community in America (Cambridge 2013)
Professor Andrea Voyer conducted an analysis of historical changes in Emily Post’s Etiquette for the understanding that manners provide into the nature of American class relations. Focuses on processes of social inclusion and exclusion on the basis of immigration, race, and class. Uconn Today has recently published an article providing some insights on Professor Voyer's research.
This week, on UConn 360: The UConn Podcast, Prof. Andrea Voyer explains what the collected advice of Emily Post can tell us about society. Starts with how etiquette fits into the world of sociology, then further explores the significance of Emily Post's encyclopedia of Etiquette.
UConn Podcast: Our Manners, Our Selves
The Sociology Department provides a challenging and engaging environment for students entering into our Graduate program. Entering cohorts typically range from 5-12 students per year.
This year we welcome five new students to our program.
Madison Danton has a B.A. in Psychology with a Sociology minor from the San Diego State University and is completing a M.A. in Social Psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno. He is interested in: demographic predictors of political attitudes and behavior, LGB political experience, influence of religion on understandings of political issues, social identity approach, and statistical methods.
I have a BA in history and sociology with a minor in women’s studies from St. Joseph’s College. My undergraduate thesis focused on the effectiveness of the social features in the popular first person shooter video game Overwatch. I am interested in studying culture, especially pop culture, gender, race/ethnicity, and intersectionality. I think pop culture is a useful tool for analyzing social issues and norms.
Chase Lonas received his BA in Middle East Studies/Arabic from Brigham Young University. His undergraduate studies allowed him to study in Jordan, which greatly influenced his research interests in culture, narrative, religion, nationalism, and political sociology.
Cassie Quattropani is a 24-year old Connecticut native. She is a graduate of Saint Anselm College (c/o 2017), majoring in sociology. Broadly, her research interests are in the area of gender inequality. Opposingly, her personal interests are much more specific, and include spending too much money at Barnes and Noble, livestreaming April the Giraffe, and waiting for new music from Taylor Swift. She looks forward to continuing her academic career in sociology at UConn, and figuring out the next steps as they come.
I am from Kolkata, India. I have been a student of English literature in BA, MA and MPhil. In 2018, I submitted my doctoral thesis on social media surveillance and privacy at the School of Media, Communication and Culture, Jadavpur University. At present I teach English literature at an undergraduate college in Kolkata. I usually teach John Milton, Literature of the English Revolution, Postcolonial Literature and Critical Theory. I’m also interested in Digital Humanities, Media Studies and Cultural studies.
However, my passion for interdisciplinary research has driven me to pursue another doctoral program. It is my privilege and honor that the Department of Sociology has accepted me as a student. I look forward to having intense academic and cultural interaction and collaboration with the professors and students at the University of Connecticut.
Beyond academic engagements, I read a lot of crime fiction. PD James and Raymond Chandler are my favourite authors. I am also interested in film criticism and vocal music.
Bandana Purkayastha is Professor of Sociology and Asian & Asian American Studies. She served as Head, Sociology, at the University of Connecticut (UCONN) from 2011-2016 Leadership. Her current research interests focus on human rights/human security, migration and migrants, intersectionality, and violence. Her earlier research on ethnicity, racism, gender, violence and peace has been published in many countries.
Bandana Purkayastha was awarded the 2018 Sociologists for Women in Society’s Feminist Mentoring award. The mentoring award was established in 1990 to honor an SWS member who is an outstanding feminist mentor. In establishing the award, SWS recognized that feminist mentoring is an important and concrete way to encourage feminist scholarship.
In 2019 Professor Purkayastha was awarded The biennial Research Excellence Award. UCONN College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Research awards recognize national and international prominence in research. The recipients of Excellence in Research awards are honored for a research program that has gained national and international distinction and impact in their field of study. For more please see https://clas.uconn.edu/faculty-staff/excellence-awards/
Bandana Purkayastha is also a member of the International Sociological Association, Executive Committee. International Sociological Association is an organization of sociologists with members from 126 countries. Bandana Purkayastha was elected to the 16 person executive committee which oversees the general operations of the organization along with the officers.
– Kenneth Best – UConn Communications
While researching the cultural processes of inequality in community organizations, sociologist Andrea Voyer found that manners and etiquette often are noted in racial, ethnic, class and gender exclusion.
In studying a parent-teacher group in a public school, for example, white and wealthy PTA parents rejected the efforts of volunteers of poor and Latinx parents who they considered “rude.” And within an elite black church, more affluent church members determined that lower-income newcomers were “not the right kind of people” for the church based on their use of language and more casual dress sitting in the pew.
Such examples led Voyer to a new area of study.
“I realized that expectation of manners made it acceptable to judge and exclude in ways that were reproducing social inequality,” says Voyer, a research professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and an associate senior lecturer in sociology at Stockholm University. “As a result of that research I decided to study etiquette itself.”
Voyer is studying “Emily Post’s Etiquette,” the book written by the doyenne of manners first published in 1922 and currently in its nineteenth printing with the most recent update, “Emily Post’s Etiquette: Manners for Today,” published in 2017. The 19 editions include more than 7 million words and 90,000 pages of text. The research is supported by a two-year grant from the National Science Foundation.
Voyer is taking an innovative approach to the study of etiquette by utilizing the emerging research approach known as computational sociology, which uses computer science to study the social world. Computational sociology can take two major forms — big data analysis, which follows established models of social network structure and analysis by gathering as much information as possible; or a data science approach, which focuses on content analysis. Voyer is using the content analysis approach.
“By adopting a study of multiple editions of the same book what I get to do is look at exactly what changed, from edition to edition,” she says. “The benefit is that the research is almost like a panel study. Each time a new edition is written, it’s written in some relationship to the book that came before. When I see a change across editions, I can identify it much more easily but I can also try to find out where it came from.”
Voyer will have access to the archives of The Emily Post Institute, which the writer established in 1946 and has continued to publish new editions of the book by Post’s family since her death in 1960. Correspondence between Post and her publisher could provide insight on changes from edition to edition, Voyer says. The Institute has a website with etiquette information and programs for business, weddings and children. It also publishes etiquette columns and created the “Awesome Etiquette” podcast.
“The language [in the book] has changed, the structure of the book has changed but in addition to that the underlying ideas of manners have shifted as well,” Voyer says. “The biggest, most obvious example of that is that in the early books Emily Post begins with a discussion of what she considers a reference group that she calls ‘Best Society.’ The point of the book is to describe what the best people do so other people can learn and emulate that. Over the years what you see is the emergence instead of this idea that manners are for everyone and you don’t have to have some reference group that is the social elite of society; that there is this common sense courtesy and kindness. You see this happening over the course of the different editions of the book.”
In noting some of the changes in language over the years, for example, Voyer says in the 1922 edition of “Etiquette,” verb words used to discuss manners are the more rigid “can” and “ask,” while in 2011 the verbs change to the more flexible “allowed” and “permitted.” The guidelines for smoking for “gentlemen” and “ladies” in locations such as “ballroom,” “table” and “drawing room” appear throughout the first edition of the book, along with indications for the time and place for smoking. In more recent editions, there are more definite circumstances in which smoking is allowed or permitted.
Voyer says using this approach to research in social sciences was not an option during her training as a scholar so she has attended seminars to learn how to utilize the methodology to both explore new areas of research and transfer knowledge to graduate students assisting her with her research.
“One of the great things I’m excited about with this research is providing the opportunity for students to get trained in this approach and gain facility in computational sociology,” she says. “It’s my hope that there will be students who will want to do substantive work with their own questions.”
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