A concept used widely but frequently rather loosely. In social work, probation work, or psychiatry, the term may be used as part of the vocabulary of practice to refer to some form of community care, therapy, or treatment (often forming part of a process of decarceration), or with reference to schemes such as Intermediate Treatment, Community Service Orders, or home-detention monitored by electronic tagging. In criminology and social control theory it may be used in a broader sense, to draw attention to the ways in which control systems become part of the fabric of the community, such that communities and individuals come to be controlled and to control themselves through mechanisms of surveillance, regulation, and reporting of rule-breaking. This scenario is best drawn by Stanley Cohen in his essay, ‘The Punitive City: Notes on the Dispersal of Social Control’, Contemporary Crises (1979). Cohen's essay, and the writing of others on the exercise of social control through community agencies, is heavily influenced by the work of Michel Foucault, notably his volume Discipline and Punish (1977).
Critics have suggested that use of both terms—community and control—is too broad and vague, prone to romanticism, and often employed for purposes of polemic. However, the idea of community control seems usefully suggestive to many writers, and is increasingly fashionable among those involved in making social and government policy. See also social control.