Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Beginning Is The Most Important Part of the Work


Over the past two decades working at the Center for Court Innovation, I have played a role in helping to launch dozens of new programs.  One of the things I have learned is that origins matter.  In my experience, the narrative of how a program gets started tends to shape its trajectory for years to come.    It is incredibly difficult to overcome a bad start.

Evidently, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio shares this belief.  Today, I was privileged to be invited to attend a speech by the Mayor at Cooper Union celebrating his first 100 days.  Quoting Plato about the importance of good beginnings, de Blasio catalogued early wins for his administration on a number of fronts: paid sick leave, universal pre-K, stop-and-frisk, traffic fatalities, and educational testing.

This was the first time I had seen de Blasio speak in person as the Mayor.  I was struck by how different his presentation is from his predecessor.   The theme of his speech was returning New York City to its rightful place as the "heart of progressive America."  "We believe in the grassroots," said de Blasio, emphasizing the value his administration will place on listening to the voices of the people.

Criminal justice came up on only a few occasions.   The Mayor said that keeping New Yorkers safe was "job one."  He also made the point that aggressive policing was not incompatible with treating all New Yorkers with dignity and respect.

My favorite moment was probably an unscripted one.  Someone in the crowd cheered loudly at the mention of the Bronx at one point in the speech.  "The Bronx is in the house," ad-libbed the Mayor, cracking a smile.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What to Read


So much to read, so little time.   Here is my latest effort to make things just a little easier -- a small sampling of interesting news and information related to the Center for Court Innovation from around the world wide web.

Problem-solving is the name of the game for Robert Feldstein -- The Seattle Times profiles former Red Hook Community Justice Center director who is now working for the mayor of Seattle.

Pretrial Research: A Solid Foundation and Growing Field -- Our friends at the Pretrial Justice Institute convene a congressional briefing on bail reform; Melissa Labriola from the Center for Court Innovation is one of the featured speakers.

Why Do So Many Leftists Want Sex Work To Be The New Normal? -- The Nation's Katha Pollitt writes about a generational divide among feminists and cites Liberty Aldrich from the Center for Court Innovation.

Strengthening the Relationship Between Law Enforcement and Communities of Color Forum -- The Department of Justice convened this discussion at the Ford Foundation; Chris Watler of the Harlem Community Justice Center facilitated the conversation.

Senescence: The Passage of Time -- Alain Bourgeois photo exhibit opens May 6; all proceeds to benefit the Center for Court Innovation.

Justice D'Emic Gets Plaudits Along with Key Post -- Brooklyn Eagle report on the appointment of the Brooklyn Mental Health Court's Matthew d'Emic to serve as administrative judge for criminal matters in Kings County.

Q and A: Acting Supreme Court Justice Alex Calabrese -- New York Law Journal interviews Alex Calabrese, the presiding judge at the Red Hook Community Justice Center.

If Gun Violence Is a Disease, These People Might Just Be the Cure -- Daily Beast article on the gun violence prevention work being done by Save Our Streets Crown Heights.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Celebrating Parolees in Harlem


Tonight, the Harlem Community Justice Center celebrated the latest class of graduates from its reentry court -- three dozen parolees who have managed to make it through the first portion of their parole term with the help of the extra structure and support that the Justice Center provides.

I've been to probably a half dozen or so of these graduations at Harlem.  A search of the archives reveals that I've written about them quite a few times on this blog.  I'm not sure I have anything  to say beyond what I've said before: these are without fail inspiring events that offer a powerful reminder of the human capacity for reinvention.  The participants in our reentry program have spent years, and in some cases decades behind bars.  Many are starting at zero in terms of education, employment and their family lives.  But they persist in the face of enormous obstacles.  Tonight was an opportunity to offer them a modicum of encouragement, while acknowledging that there are still plenty of challenges to come as they seek to make the transition to community life.

I thought I'd try to offer a little of the texture of the evening's festivities. Below are some notes I jotted down while listening to the speakers.  Some of the quotations hint at what makes the reentry program special -- the unique dynamic that exists between parolees and their supervisors in Harlem.

Chris Watler, Project Director, Harlem Community Justice Center: "We have a fundamental belief that each person can change."

Kelly O'Neill Levy, Presiding Judge, Harlem Community Justice Center: "How did you [program graduates] get here tonight?  You got here because of your courage, strength and determination...tap into the feelings of accomplishment as you go on to face new challenges."

Noreen Campbell, Administrative Law Judge, Reentry Court: "We have your back."  "This program is about problem-solving and making the right choices."  "This program is successful because of the synergy of all the members of the team."  "Our graduates learn to trust themselves."

Rev. Vernon Williams (keynote): "Be better today than you were yesterday."  "The only reason you are out of the belly of the beast is God."  "Now my family can look at me and say something other than 'jailbird' or 'drug dealer.'"  "Don't be afraid of success.  Don't be afraid of being different."

Various Participants/Graduates of the Program: "If you ain't positive, everything around you will be negative."  "This [program] ain't 40th Street [regular parole].  "Our challenge is getting people to see past that paper, that crime...that preconceived notion [of who we are]."  "[My parole officer] is like a little dad to me.  He's my surrogate father."  "I'm going to be starting college next semester."  "This program is like a dream...it exceeded all of my expectations."  "I have a job."  "I'm trying to stay on the right track."  "I just decided when I was in prison that I was ready, willing and able [to change."  "I got tired of being in the box."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Herman Goldstein and Problem-Oriented Policing


Awhile back, I provided an ad-hoc, incomplete list of my favorite criminal justice reform books and ideas.   One of things that I like about my job is that every now and again I actually get to interact with one of the authors from my personal canon.  Yesterday was one such day -- I spent an hour in conversation with Herman Goldstein, author of Problem-Oriented Policing.  

While obviously Goldstein's focus is policing, anyone who is interested in reforming the criminal justice system will find value in his work.  First of all, almost every policing reform innovation of the past generation (collaborative policing, predictive policing, broken-windows policing, hot-spot policing, place-based policing, etc.) owes an intellectual debt to Goldstein.  It is fair to say that his ideas have influenced the way that police departments work across the country (and around the world).  

But that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  Needless to say, the problem-solving court movement has also borrowed liberally from the Goldstein playbook, a fact that John Feinblatt and I tried to acknowledge in writing Good Courts.   

For me, the central insight of Goldstein's work is his encouragement that police departments (and, by extension, other criminal justice agencies) move beyond a reactive, case-by-case approach to their work.  In Problem-Oriented Polcing, he writes: 
The first step in problem-oriented policing is to move beyond just handling incidents.  It calls for recognizing that incidents are often merely overt symptoms of problems.  This pushes the police in two directions: (1) it requires that they recognize the relationships between incidents (similarities of behavior, location, persons involved, etc.) and (2) it requires that they take a more in-depth interest in incidents by acquainting themselves with some the conditions and factors that give rise to them. 
I like to think that our operating projects at the Center for Court Innovation, be they community courts, alternative-to-detention programs, violence prevention programs or what have you, embody this kind of approach to the world.

Anyone interested in learning more about problem-oriented policing should check out the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing's website.    

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Community Justice in San Francisco


The San Francisco Community Justice Center recently celebrated its 5th anniversary.  This article by Heather Knight at the San Francisco Chronicle offers a good take on the history of the project.  The Justice Center had many critics at the start, but it seems to have won many of them over, including the local defense bar.

The success of the San Francisco Community Justice Center is just one reason why we (in concert with the Bureau of Justice Assistance) have chosen to hold an international summit on community justice in San Francisco.  Another reason is that we have long enjoyed a productive partnership with the California Administrative Office of the Courts.  Together, the judicial systems in California and New York, have really been international leaders in advancing ideas like problem-solving justice and procedural justice.   At the Center for Court Innovation, we have learned a lot from what California has done in the area of court reform -- and we have worked together wherever possible to advance common goals.

While it is still more than a month away, I am looking forward to the summit (which takes place April 22-24), for reasons both personal and professional.  It is always energizing to compare notes with friends from other parts of the country (and the world).  Misery loves company, I guess, but I find it helpful to see how other places are grappling with problems like human trafficking, prescription drug abuse, and the misuse of incarceration.

Our community justice technical assistance team has put together a great program for the summit.  It is probably horrible form to single out just a few of the presentations, but I am particularly eager to hear Ed Latessa speak about risk and needs assessment again.  I'm also looking forward to the panel on the latest research on community courts and the panel about enhancing the legitimacy of the justice system.

If you are interested in learning more about Community Justice 2014, check out this link.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Leadership Issues


Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the 20th annual William J. Brennan lecture at NYU Law School.   This lecture series focuses on social justice and the administration of state courts.  I've been to a few of these addresses in the past and they always seem to bring out the A-game of whoever is speaking (usually, state court chief justices).  This year was no exception as New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman gave a spirited defense of his advocacy on behalf of civil legal aid to the poor.  I am not an unbiased observer, of course -- I consider Judge Lippman a friend and mentor -- but I think that what he has done in this area is nothing short of remarkable.  It certainly goes well beyond what one would typically expect of a state court chief judge.  For anyone who hasn't followed this issue closely, the speech is well worth a read, since it summarizes five years of effort on multiple fronts to close the justice gap.

Speaking of leadership, yesterday New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the remainder of his criminal justice team.  (Remember that he announced Bill Bratton as New York Police Department commissioner in December at an event held at the Red Hook Community Justice Center.)  The team includes Ana Bermudez as Probation commissioner and Joseph Ponte as Correction commissioner, and Vinny Schiraldi in a new role focusing on improving the school disciplinary process and rethinking how the justice system works with young adults.  Finally, de Blasio selected Liz Glazer to serve as the criminal justice coordinator.   Forgive me a moment of organizational pride, but she is the second alum of the Center for Court Innovation to serve in this role, following on the heels of John Feinblatt.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

Streetcraft in the UK

I spent the bulk of the last week in England.  One highlight of the trip was participating in a conference entitled "Reducing Reoffending: Transforming Rehabilitation" held in Winchester, a small city in Hampshire about an hour's train ride outside of London.

The conference was organized by Simon Hayes, the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner, and Rupert Younger, the High Sherriff of Hampshire.  Also participating was Steve Brine, the local MP for Winchester.

What I liked best about the conference is that it confirmed one of the central tenets underlying the work of our British partner organization, the Centre for Justice Innovation, which has argued that if you look beyond Whitehall and Westminster, there is a good deal of innovative practice going on at the local level in the United Kingdom that needs to be nurtured and tested and spread more effectively.  In Winchester, dozens of probation officials, police officers, corrections professionals, and non-profit types gathered to talk about innovative efforts to change the behavior of offenders.  It was, in many ways, an inspiring display.

In general, the Centre for Justice Innovation seems to be going from strength to strength these days, including this recent piece in the Huffington Post by Anton Shelupanov, which highlights Streetcraft, a new monograph that contains several dozen first-person interviews with local criminal justice innovators from England, Scotland and Wales.


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Friday, February 28, 2014

A Winter's Day in Brownsville


I spent the bulk of this afternoon in Brownsville, checking in on the Brownsville Community Justice Center.  I'm not sure that it was the coldest day of the winter, but it certainly felt like it.  While the streets were freezing, our headquarters were full of warmth.   I might have been a bit cranky as I came in off Pitkin Avenue, but it was hard to stay in a bad mood as I heard about all of the  good works currently happening under our auspices -- computer labs, public art campaigns, community service projects at local food kitchens, partnerships with the NYPD and the NYC Department of Probation...the amount of activity was truly staggering.   Congrats to James Brodick and the whole team for their hard work and good cheer in difficult circumstances.

A few other bits and bobs that caught my eye from around the Internet:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

State of the Judiciary 2014


Another day, another chance to attend a speech by a major criminal justice figure in New York.  This time the venue was the Court of Appeals in Albany, where New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman delivered his annual state of the judiciary address.  (In the photo above, you can see the back of my head in the foreground on the right side of the picture.)

The focus of the speech, which is sure to garner headlines in the New York Times tomorrow, was Lippman's continued effort to improve the provision of civil legal services for the poor in New York.   In past years, Lippman has focused on documenting the gap in access to justice and reserving money in the judiciary budget to help make up for funding shortfalls among civil legal service providers.

This year, Lippman was particularly creative -- he sought to address the crisis in civil legal services while solving a couple of other problems at the same time.  He will launch a new program (Pro Bono Scholars) that will enable selected law students to sit for the bar in February of their third year.  Instead of taking classes in their final semester, these students would then perform full-time pro-bono work in order to prepare them to enter the legal market.  If it works, the program should bring additional manpower to tackling the legal problems of the poor, while significantly reforming legal education and helping to instill an ethic of service in young lawyers.  A win-win-win situation.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Bratton at Citizens Crime Commission


I spent Friday morning at a Citizens Crime Commission breakfast, part of the organization's consistently interesting lecture series.  Last week's featured guest was police commissioner Bill Bratton.

Bratton didn't break any big news -- he is, after all, only a few months into the job and is still assembling his team.  Still, he did offer a window into his thinking about how he will approach public safety as a key member of the de Blasio administration.

If it were possible to do a word search of the speech while it was in progress, I would guess that the two words that appeared most often were variants of "partnership" and "collaboration."  Among other things, Bratton went out of his way to introduce his new deputy commissioner of collaborative policing, Susan Herman, who has been charged with reviewing how the NYPD interacts with victims from top to bottom.

Bratton touched quickly on a number of controversial topics including stop-question-and-frisk and Operation Impact.  And he re-affirmed his belief in the broken windows theory and confirmed that he is talking to George Kelling about consulting with the NYPD.

Undergirding Bratton's remarks were Sir Robert Peel's nine principles of policing, a set of guidelines that the former prime minister and home secretary of England articulated in the 19th century.   Bratton proclaimed that the principles were as relevant today as they were when they were first introduced.  Two principles in particular seemed to animate Bratton's vision of policing:
  • "The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder."
  • "The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it."
In general, the breakfast offered a reminder of why the national survey of criminal justice leaders that we published last year identified Bratton as the most innovative figure in the field.