When I was invited to contribute this chapter to an examination of the relationship between ‘community safety’ and ‘community justice’, my first reaction was that both terms seem to have the kind of inexact and disputed meaning that characteristically accompanies the word ‘community’. We all like to use the word, generally in a positive way, and there is a constant risk that we will imagine we mean the same thing when in reality we could be unwittingly following completely different paths in a network of concepts which may be only loosely related. Taking just a few examples from the field of social policy, we might mean ‘not in institutions’ (as in ‘care in the community’ or ‘community nurse’), or ‘in small institutions rather than large ones’ (‘care in the community’ again), or ‘provided largely by non-professionals organised on a neighbourhood basis’ (as in ‘community social work’). In our own field we have ‘community sentences’ (meaning outside prison), ‘community policing’ (meaning more communication between the police and the public) and many others. The very popularity of the word stands as a warning that it is expected to carry the weight of many different and perhaps conflicting expectations. As Robert Pinker put it in a discussion of ‘community social work’:
It is one of the most stubbornly persistent illusions in social policy studies that eventually the concept of community – as a basis of shared values – will resolve all our policy dilemmas. The very fact that this notion is cherished from left to right across the political spectrum makes it highly suspect.