Thursday, November 14, 2013
This week is all about Red Hook. As I got on the subway this morning, I was handed a copy of Metro New York, the free paper for subway riders. Today's cover story: "Red Hook Community Justice Center Delivers Solutions In Lieu of Judgement." A nice read on my morning commute.
I was taking the train to east midtown to attend the Robin Hood Foundation's annual Heroes Breakfast. Alongside several other impressive organizations (Hometown Heroes, Success Academy Charter Schools, the Restaurant Opportunity Center), the Red Hook Community Justice Center was honored for its efforts to change the lives of criminal defendants. Judge Alex Calabrese spoke eloquently about how Red Hook's approach differs from standard operating procedure in the courts, saying that it was his goal to send kids in Red Hook to college instead of jail.
Judge Calabrese was joined on the podium by Tina Dixons, a former client who spoke about how she got her life together after decades of abuse and addiction. It was one of those "you-could-hear-a-pin-drop" speeches -- hundreds of business leaders on the edge of their seats listening to Tina talk about how she triumphed over adversity. I already know her story and I was moved. I can only imagine how it must have felt to hear her for the first time. Tina ended on a real grace note, encouraging her audience to pause every day to savor the beauty of life. She received one of the heartiest and most well-deserved standing ovations I've ever seen.
For more on Tina and the Red Hook Community Justice Center, it is worth taking a look at this video, which Robin Hood made as part of the Heroes breakfast.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
I spent the greater part of Monday at Moving New York City Forward in 2014 and Beyond, a conference organized by New York City Council Member Brad Lander and Professor John Mollenkopf, the director of the Center for Urban Research at CUNY's Graduate Center. The goal of the conference was to help flesh out a progressive government agenda for New York that focuses in particular on the problem of inequality.
I found it a mostly stimulating event. There was a palpable buzz of excitement in the air about Bill de Blasio's victory last week in the New York City mayor's race. While I worry that no mayor on earth will be able to meet the expectations that de Blasio has engendered among the advocates, academics, foundation executives, union officials, and non-profit leaders who made up the bulk of the attendees at the conference, I think he has already done something positive by sparking conversations like the one on Monday, which touched on issues of employment, education, and neighborhood development in a searching and thoughtful manner.
I spoke on a panel about participatory government. While I talked mostly about the Center for Court Innovation's approach to partnering with government, I couldn't resist saying a few words about the National Center for State Courts' evaluation of the Red Hook Community Justice Center, which was formally released to the world yesterday. (The photo above is taken from the groundbreaking ceremony in Red Hook. Note the broken windows behind the dignitaries.) Happily, the study documents that the Justice Center has largely succeeded in accomplishing its three primary goals: reducing reoffending, cutting the use of jail, and improving court-community relations. The authors of the study argue that the active ingredient at Red Hook was procedural justice -- that by improving defendants' perceptions of the justice system, the Justice Center helped encourage compliance with the law and positive social norms.
Unusually for us, we are going to spend a couple of weeks intensively trying to spread the word about the Red Hook results. Our motives are both mercenary and altruistic. I think the results are obviously good for the Center for Court Innovation -- we helped to conceive, plan, and implement a project that has achieved some difficult goals and we are proud of that. But I also think that these results offer important ammunition for those of us (and we are hardly alone in this) who care about making the system more fair, both in reality and in perception. I hope this study will encourage courts and other criminal justice agencies to take a long hard look at how they work with individuals -- be they victims, witnesses, probationers, parolees, or defendants -- and think about how they can serve the public better. I also hope this study will offer food for thought for those who end up staffing the de Blasio administration, encouraging them to invest in community justice and meaningful alternatives to incarceration.
Here are a couple of links to early press coverage of the study:
Huffington Post: Perceptions Matter -- A Roadmap to Reducing Crime
New York Daily News: Red Hook Community Court Is a Success
Thursday, November 7, 2013
One of the things that has kind of snuck up on me over the years is how much arts-related programming we do at the Center for Court Innovation. To give just a small sample:
- The Crown Heights Community Mediation Center organizes an Arts to End Violence festival.
- The Red Hook Community Justice Center has a youth photography program.
- The Brownsville Community Justice Center, in concert with Groundswell and other partners, creates a community mural.
- The Midtown Community Court works with MoMA on a project to help victims of trafficking express themselves through art.
This list just scratches the surface. Like many things, our arts-related work is not the product of some grand strategic plan, but rather the result of the vision and entrepreneurial energy of the staff at our operating projects, who are constantly looking for new ways to serve their clients and the local community. One of my goals for the year ahead is to get smarter about the intersection of criminal justice and the arts, reflecting back on what we have learned over the years at our own projects as well as the lessons that others in the field can offer us. Stay tuned for more on this subject in the months to come.
Note: The image above is a painting by the talented Brooklyn artist Jason Das, who has worked on a couple of projects with the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center. I was so impressed by his work that I commissioned a painting of the Midtown Community Court as part of our celebration of the Court's 20th anniversary -- we gave prints to the evening's honorees instead of the usual glass paperweights.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Lou Reed passed away yesterday. He was a generation older than me and his most revered music came out years before I began listening to music in earnest. Nonetheless, I still felt like I had a connection with his work -- a glance at my record collection reveals that I own all of the Velvet Underground's records and seven of his solo albums. I also saw him live a handful of times in the 1980s.
As I'm sure is true for many listeners, Lou Reed helped to define my relationship with New York City. When I was still a kid and New York was basically an abstraction for me, his tales of drug deals in Harlem and Greenwich Village eccentrics painted a vivid picture of a place that was both scary and exciting.
When I reached adulthood and was starting to think about where to begin my professional career, he released an album entitled "New York" that depicted a city out of control, marked by violence, economic inequality, tabloid politics, and racial animus (one of my favorite lines referred to the "Statue of Bigotry"). I don't want to give him too much credit, but I think this may have delayed my arrival in the City by a couple of years.
When I finally arrived in New York in my mid-20s, I moved to the east side of Manhattan, just north of the Village. I'm not sure where he lived, but Lou Reed was easily the celebrity that I saw most frequently on the streets during these years. I saw him on 3rd Avenue, at the movies, at bodegas, and at numerous local restaurants.
These were fun years to live in Manhattan, at least for me. By this point, the chaos and disorder years in New York had passed. Public safety had begun to improve. The economy was booming. And the City's population slide had started to reverse itself. Reading some of the obituaries today, I see that, for many people, Lou Reed symbolized a more dangerous time, when the Bowery was full of junkies and future artists seeking cheap rents rather than upscale hotels and fancy boutiques. And, to be sure, Lou Reed conjures up these years for me too. But I also associate him with the more benign 1990s and 2000s. I never got up the nerve to speak to him, but I always found his presence comforting in an avuncular kind of way. The music that accompanies these memories is not "I'm Waiting for The Man" or "Walk on the Wild Side" or any of Reed's most famous compositions. Rather, it is the relatively modest (and surprisingly upbeat) middle-aged work "New Sensations," which will always be my favorite of his records.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
This week brings disappointing news from England: the Ministry of Justice has decided to close the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre.
In truth, the handwriting has been on the wall for the Justice Centre for some time. The combination of the fiscal crisis and uncertain evaluations regarding the effectiveness of the project meant that the Justice Centre has been on the chopping block for the past several years.
Still, this doesn't make the decision any happier for those of us who care about the ideas that the Justice Centre was intended to embody: a justice system that takes minor offending seriously, that seeks out alternatives to incarceration wherever possible, and that attempts to reach out to defendants and the community in new ways in an effort to restore public faith in government.
North Liverpool was arguably the most prominent symbol of these values in England, but it wasn't the only one. Indeed, our British partner, the Centre for Justice Innovation, has recently published a great document, entitled Better Courts, that highlights examples of innovative practice across England, Wales and Scotland.
I don't have much doubt that, with the help of the Centre for Justice Innovation, ideas like procedural justice and community payback and enhanced judicial monitoring will continue to survive and even thrive in the United Kingdom. But that's a story for another day. Today is a day to acknowledge the passing of the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre and the efforts of everyone who worked to get the project off the ground in the face of numerous obstacles.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
We are two weeks away from the 20th anniversary celebration of the Midtown Community Court and we are busy putting the finishing touches on what promises to be a great event.
The party doesn't have an official theme, but if it did, the theme would probably be public-private partnership. The Midtown Community Court would not exist were it not for the combined efforts of dozens of government agencies, non-profit organizations, and businesses, including the Shubert Organization, which will be honored at the October 21st event. If the list of people who have already bought tickets is any indication, we will have a good mix of all three sectors represented at the Morgan Library. Should make for an interesting gathering.
As is my wont, in the run-up to the event I have been thinking about the history of the Midtown Community Court, much of which I have had the pleasure of witnessing first hand. I thought I would share a few photos from our archives that strike a particular chord with me. The first is the photo above which comes from Midtown's 10th anniversary celebration, which we celebrated with a breakfast that featured the Lord Chancellor of England, who talked about how his country was adapting some of the ideas that began at the Midtown Community Court. The New York Times ran a nice piece on his speech. The photo above shows the Lord Chancellor on the bench with Julius Lang and Judge Eileen Koretz.
This is a photo of two of the behind-the-scenes players that made Midtown a success in its early days: Herb Sturz and Michele Sviridoff. The founder of the Vera Institute of Justice, Herb has played a number of influential roles in New York City, including helping to conceive of the idea of the Midtown Community Court in the early 1990s. Michele served as Midtown's original director of research. She literally wrote the book on Midtown -- she is co-author of Dispensing Justice Locally, which documented that Midtown helped to reduce local crime and improve public trust in justice.
This photo features John Feinblatt, Midtown's founding director, alongside Robert Keating (then the administrative judge responsible for New York City's criminal courts) and Richard Zorza (a technology guru who helped design the case management system for Midtown).
Finally, no review of the history of Midtown would be complete without mention of Judith Kaye and Jonathan Lippman, the two chief judges who have been responsible for not just sustaining the project, but promoting its values across the New York court system and around the world. In this photo, they are pictured along with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
First, as has been well-reported, the brilliant Bansky is currently in New York and blessing our streets and walls with some of his work. I made the pilgrimage to check out one piece (see above) which was located a few blocks from the Center for Court Innovation's headquarters on the west side. Alas, it had already been partially painted over.
My mother-in-law, Kathleen Vellenga, has published her first novel, Strangers in our Midst, a historical adventure that is loosely based on her family's history, dating back to the Mayflower days.
As a small acknowledgement of the passing of Elmore Leonard a few weeks ago, I decided to read his Western novel Hombre. It is probably the most banal observation I've ever made, but man, could that guy write. Anybody interested in the craft of writing -- not just fiction, but all forms of writing -- would do well to study his work.
I can't speak to the quality of this exhibition since it hasn't actually opened yet at the Jewish Museum in London, but I love the topic and I love the cheekiness of its title.
Speaking of football, after several grim years, Arsenal finally seems to be back on the right track -- they are currently sitting on top of the Premiership standings. There are a number of good soccer writers that I read on a regular basis, including ESPN's Roger Bennett and the Daily Mail's Martin Samuel, but my favorite to read specifically about Arsenal is the Guardian's Amy Lawrence, who typically manages to combine the passion of a true fan with the objective analysis of a good journalist.
Finally, I have been going through a little bit of a dry patch with regard to music of late. I like the new Arctic Monkeys album (AM) although it does feel like they have evolved into a very different band than the one that made the unbelievably good Whatever People I Say I Am, That's What I Am Not.
As I have gotten older, I have found myself gravitating away from the ambitious music that I favored as a kid (the Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Public Enemy), all of which seems faintly pretentious/preposterous to me at the moment. Instead, I have been enjoying bands with more modest aspirations. The album that I seem to be listening to the most at the moment is Everlast's Life Acoustic, which somehow marries acoustic guitar with a hip-hop sensibility.
I spent the bulk of last week in Chicago at the invitation of Chicago Appleseed for Justice and the Council of Lawyers. At the request of Malcolm Rich, who directs both groups, I came to Chicago to talk about criminal justice innovation. With some trepidation, given the historical rivalry between the two cities, I chose to talk about New York City's remarkable success reducing crime and incarceration over the past twenty years. (In preparing the speech, I drew heavily on the manuscript I have recently completed, tentatively entitled "Reducing Crime, Reducing Incarceration" for Quid Pro Books. I also made a similar case in a recent op-ed that I wrote for The Guardian.)
One of the points I tried to make in the speech is that some small part of New York's criminal justice success in recent years is due to the fact that the City has long supported a network of non-profit organizations that seek to reform the justice system in one way or another. These include treatment providers, victims organizations, advocacy groups, alternative-to-incarceration programs, research agencies and others. This is, of course, a somewhat self-serving argument since the Center for Court Innovation is a non-profit organization devoted to promoting justice reform. But I really do believe in my heart that our work, when combined with the dozens of other organizations working to advance similar goals, has helped to push, poke, and prod the justice system in New York to live up to its highest ideals.
I think that the Chicago Appleseed for Justice and the Council of Lawyers are capable of playing a similar role in Chicago. Indeed, there is evidence that this is already happening. While I was in Chicago, I visited Cook County Criminal Court and talked to a number of judges and administrators involved in a new effort to provide community-based treatment to a high-risk population of defendants that would otherwise be bound for prison. Chicago Appleseed has helped move the project from the drawing board to the brink of implementation. I'm looking forward to returning to Chicago and seeing the project once it is up and running.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Over the past couple of weeks, Mark Kleiman, UCLA professor and author of When Brute Force Fails, has been on my mind a lot.
First, Phil Bowen and the Centre for Justice Innovation helped facilitate a series of meetings in London for Mark. Part of the Centre's mission is to serve as a conduit between the US and the UK, bringing new ideas in criminal justice reform from one country to the other. Mark has some ideas about how to use swift, certain, and relatively mild sanctions to promote more effective community supervision of offenders. Phil pitched in to help ensure that Mark's ideas reached both local and national policymakers in England.
Following his trip to London, Mark participated in a roundtable discussion at the Vera Institute of Justice alongside a handful of other academics and non-profit types, including me. In my preparation for that meeting, I stumbled across an essay that Mark had written for the Democracy Journal entitled "Smart on Crime." Of all the things I've read by Mark, this is probably my favorite. As anyone who has spent time with Mark knows, he is a big personality who takes delight in provocation. He is also a deft writer who knows how to turn a memorable phrase. He brings all of these qualities to bear in "Smart on Crime." The whole essay is worth reading, but here are a handful of excerpts that I particularly liked:
The debate over criminal-justice policy often seems to take place between the disciples of Michel Foucalt and the disciples of the Marquis de Sade, with the Foucaldians winning the academic debate even as the sadists mostly get their way in the real political world.
Why do some people keep committing crimes, to their own evident disadvantage? Because they're present-oriented and impulsive...If you're looking for a single "root cause" of crime, look no further: The cause is bad decision-making by offenders.
As Machiavelli warned...a reluctance to punish comes naturally with good-heartedness, but those unable to overcome that reluctance are as unfit to rule as those who have no such reluctance to begin with.I don't always agree with Mark, but I always learn something from listening to him and reading his work.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
This morning at a special breakfast convened by Richard Aborn and the Citizens Crime Commission, New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced a new initiative designed to improve how the courts handle cases involving victims of human trafficking. The centerpiece of the initiative is a series of human trafficking intervention courts that will attempt to aid women arrested on prostitution charges, offering them the prospect of non-criminal case dispositions and providing them with the kinds of specialized services needed to escape life on the streets.
These new courts will build on a foundation established by the Midtown Community Court, where we've been attempting to forge a new approach to prostitution cases that relies on trauma-informed care as an alternative to jail. For more on our work with this vulnerable population, check out Prostitution Diversion Programs, a pamphlet written by Danielle Malangone, Sarah Schweig, and Miriam Goodman.