Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Brian Lehrer Show

It looks like I will end the month as I began it -- with a celebration of Judith Kaye. Today, she appears on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC to discuss her tenure and legacy. Among other things, she discusses the Staten Island youth court.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Staten Island Youth Court

I'm in Minnesota visiting my wife's family for the holidays. Before I left for vacation, I managed to sneak away to Staten Island for the groundbreaking of a new courthouse, which was presided over by Mayor Bloomberg and Chief Judge Kaye. If I am not mistaken, the groundbreaking is going to turn out to be Kaye's last public event as chief judge. Aside from my sentimental attachment to Kaye, the reason for my attendance was that the event doubled as an announcement of the new Staten Island Youth Court. Kaye and the local DA (Dan Donovan) both talked about the new initiative, which seeks to build on the Red Hook and Harlem models by handling cases referred by criminal court judges, family court judges, probation and police. We had more than a dozen kids at the groundbreaking. For their trouble, they got special pencils from Judge Kaye and their photo taken with the Mayor. All in all, it was a lovely way to kick off the holiday break. Congrats to Al, Raye, Jackie R., Jackie S., Melissa and everyone else who helped get the youth court going in record time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday Party

Last night's holiday party was a powerful reminder of both the talent and decency of everyone connected to the Center. The food was amazing. The office was utterly transformed. The conversation was lively and engaging. And Maggie didn't get trapped in an elevator. All in all, just about a perfect night. Thanks to everyone who helped to organize, cook and clean up. It really was a special event.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Judge Kaye's Example

Today's NYTimes has a nice editorial looking back on Judge Kaye's career and trumpeting her achievements, including her commitment to problem-solving justice. The editorial concludes by endorsing Jonathan Lippman to succeed her:

Beyond legal philosophy, the pressing issue for Governor Paterson is which candidate is most likely to continue Judge Kaye’s hard-won progress toward effective and responsive access to justice for all New Yorkers. There are a number of good choices, but we believe Jonathan Lippman, who presides over the intermediate appellate court in Manhattan, has the edge — because of his experience as the state’s longtime chief administrative judge and as Judge Kaye’s partner in reform.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

National Institute of Justice

I spent Thursday and Friday in Washington DC at a small roundtable convened by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). NIJ brought together a handful of criminal justice wonks (including the heads of the National Center for Victims of Crime, Vera Institute of Justice, Police Executive Research Forum and others) to brainstorm about how NIJ can do a better job of encouraging practitioners to read their research -- and change their practice as a result. As is often the case, I feel like I learned more than I contributed. Todd Clear, a professor at John Jay, wrote a briefing paper for the event that basically encouraged NIJ to "take a deep breath" and acknowledge they are doing a decent job of disseminating knowledge to the field. I left the event thinking that Clear was probably right, although there is always room for improvement, particularly when it comes to reaching practitioners (as opposed to academics).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More Judith Kaye

It is clearly going to be a month of (well-earned) Judith Kaye celebrations. Last night, I attended a Bar Association event in her honor. It couldn't have been a more star-studded occasion -- the featured speakers were Jonathan Lippman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg (among others). There were a number of nods to our work, including a photo from Bronx Community Solutions, a reference to the drug court stories book that the Center for Courts and the Community produced, and postive references (by Gov. Paterson) to drug court and domestic violence court. Judge Kaye herself was in fine form, giving a speech that was at once heartfelt and laugh-out-loud funny.
As if that were not enough, this week's New Yorker has a short piece on Kaye by Jeffrey Toobin.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Judith Kaye and the Youth Justice Board

Last week saw the opening of NYC's first "teen space" -- a designated space in the Queens Family Court for young adults with permanency cases.  Our youth justice board played an advisory role in helping to conceive and design the space, working in concert with the Permanent Judicial Commission on Children.  Above is a shot of Chief Judge Judith Kaye with two members of the youth justice board at the opening.

Speaking of Kaye, the tributes to her continue to come in as her term winds to a close.  This is a link to a long piece in the Law Journal that reviews her administrative accomplishments that includes references to the Center for Court Innovation, Midtown Community Court, drug courts, domestic violence courts, and the Staten Island Youth Court that we are currently planning, among other things.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gerry Schoenfeld

Just a quick post with my best wishes for a happy thanksgiving.  I also wanted to take a second to acknowledge the passing of Gerry Schoenfeld, one of the early supporters of the Midtown Community Court.   His vision and energy was crucial not only to establishing Midtown, but to the revitalization of Times Square.  Here's a link to his obit in the Times.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Report from Africa

The email of the week comes from Kristine, who reports from her recent trip to Africa:

Judge Tandra Dawson from Manhattan IDV Court and I went to Accra, Ghana to participate in the discussion on Gender Justice and the Role of the Judiciary in Promoting Gender Justice in Africa.  Over 25 African countries participated, with the highest level judges in attendance.  CCI's role there was an important one, to assist in the conversation of how the judiciary can work to improve women's access to justice.  They were fantastic discussions and exchanges of information! 

It was very meaningful for us to be there to serve as a facilitator in the conversations - particularly because many of the countries in attendance are looking at court reforms and violence against women.  Some countries are setting up specialized Sexual Violence Courts, while others are looking at identifying system gaps and seeking to harness the power of their community stakeholders in addressing domestic violence in light of new national laws.  CCI's participation, as an NGO (non-governmental organization) also served as an example of how the judiciary can and should draw upon system and non-system partners to improve court responses to domestic and sexual violence, and we had many tools and strategies to add to the dialogue.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mild Disappointment

Two of my favorite things are Spider-man and classic Nike sneakers.  So when I found out that Nike was releasing a special Dunk in honor of Spidey, I thought my brain might explode.  The result is kinda disappointing, I must admit.  

Hartford Community Court

Today's Hartford Courant has a front page article on the 10th anniversary of the Hartford Community Court that is worth reading. Click here.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I spent the last half of last week in Cooperstown, for the second-ever symposium of New York State problem-solving courts (not including drug courts).   The event, which was organized by Judge Kluger and her team, had a nice vibe to it.  It may be cheap pop psychology, but my sense is that the current economic climate has taken a little of the edge of the discontent that judges feel over their decade long wait for a salary increase.   The big plenary session was dedicated to the pharmacology of addiction, with break-out sessions on mental illness, sex offenses, domestic violence, probation and the ethics of problem-solving judging.  I guess the highlight for me was the session on mental illness, which was led by a former police sergeant who is also a mental health consumer.  He spoke passionately about the need for greater empathy among justice professionals who work directly with mentally-ill individuals.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

State of the Judiciary

Today marked Judith Kaye's final state of the judiciary address as chief judge of New York. In a change of pace, she chose to make her remarks in downtown Manhattan, at NYU, rather than the Court of Appeals in Albany. It definitely felt like the end of an era. As Kaye recounted her sense of the state of the judiciary, it was hard not to be impressed by the depth and the breadth of the reform that she has brought to the courts. We're going to miss her.
A number of Center for Court Innovation-related projects appeared in the address, including the teen space project that the Youth Justice Board is working on, community court, domestic violence court, mental health court, Staten Island youth court, drug court and the Center for Courts and the Community. She also mentioned the Center specifically, saying:
I would be remiss if I neglected to mention, and heartily applaud, the Center for Court Innovation, our public-private research and development arm...The Center enjoys the best of both worlds: inside knowledge, combined with outside perspective.
Here's a link to the entire speech.

Monday, November 10, 2008

New York Times Breakfast

This morning, I helped to convene a breakfast briefing on community justice at the New York Times. The featured speakers were Judith Kaye and Louise Casey, a senior advisor to the British Prime Minister on crime and justice. While I was mildly disappointed with the turnout (a number of people who said they were coming failed to show up), I was wildly ecstatic about the content. Judge Kaye spoke in a very personal way about the trips she had made to see community court in action and the participants she had met who had life-transforming experiences in court.

Louise, for her part, gave a spirited talk about how British policymakers had not only created their own network of community courts, but were also working to spread some of the key elements -- visible community payback schemes, investments in crime prevention, community engagement strategies -- across England and Wales.

Perhaps the most gratifying part of the event for me was seeing so many of the people from the early days of the Midtown Community Court -- Mary McCormick, John Feinblatt, Herb Sturz, Eric Lee, Michele Sviridoff, Bob Keating, Judy Kluger, etc -- all of whom remain committed to our work even after 15 years.
Special thanks to Veronica, Phil, Alan, Matt, Rob, Sharon and Julius for helping make today's briefing a success.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I spent last night in Philadelphia lecturing at the University of Pennsylvania's graduate program in criminology. I've done this for the past three years at the request of Laurie Robinson, the head of the program. I met Laurie in the 1990s when she served as the head of the Office of Justice Programs in the Clinton Justice Department. She has also served as an adviser to the Obama campaign on criminal justice issues. I think she (and Larry Sherman) have put together an interesting program at UPenn -- anyone interested in pursuing graduate work in the area should check them out.

Aiding Juveniles in Nassau County

Last week I sent around an email describing some recent work we've been doing in the world of Family Court. One project I neglected to mention is an initiative that Val and Dennis have been working on in Nassau County, with support from the US Department of Justice. Here's a short overview, courtesy of Dennis:

In October of 2007, the New York State Unified Court System received a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to implement a new kind of juvenile drug treatment court for substance-abusing juvenile offenders in Nassau County. The court will integrate the Reclaiming Futures model, developed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, into the juvenile drug treatment court program to help hundreds of troubled juveniles break the cycle of drugs, alcohol, and crime.

The goal of the project is to support the identification of juveniles requiring substance abuse treatment, expand the screening and assessment of respondents in juvenile delinquency petitions; and engage youth more effectively in treatment by increasing the number and range of effective treatment options. The Center for Court Innovation is providing coordination and technical assistance to the Nassau County Juvenile treatment Court, which opened its doors in May of 2008.

Monday, November 3, 2008


In October, the Center's award-winning website had 56,482 visitors and 25,781 downloads. The average number of page views per visitor was 4.81, which suggests that the site is "sticky" as they say in the trade. The five most-visited pages for October were as follows:

Thanks as always to Alina for her stewardship of the website.

Obama on Inner-City Crime

This is an exchange from an MTV interview with Barack Obama, courtesy of Julius:

Question: Mr. Obama, my name is Joseph Stort, and I come from Red Hook, Brooklyn. I know at least 40 people who were murdered because they grew up in a climate of hopelessness. How can we begin to inject hope into the inner cities, to those society has deemed unreachable?

Obama: It's a big problem and we are not going to be able to turn it around overnight. I don't want people thinking, "I'm president, and suddenly you don't have any gangs on the streets, and you don't have any drugs being peddled on the corners." But I think that over the course of eight, 10 years, we can start moving in another direction, and it involves starting when they are young, investing in early childhood education, making sure that our kids are getting a healthy start, having a comprehensive health care program, so that every young person is getting the checkups they need, if they need eyeglasses, if they have a hearing impairment, if they're getting their vaccinations, whatever it is, making sure they are healthy and happy when they start school. That is point number one. Point number two is improving K-12 education, improving our teachers, giving them higher salaries. Also giving them more support, having after-school programs and summer-school programs so that the kids have some place to go and having a criminal-justice system that is focused more on prevention and not just apprehending criminals. You look at, for example, the way we deal with nonviolent, low-level drug offenders, first-time drug offenders, it turns out drug courts that force them to go to rehabilitation, where they are carefully monitored, is actually much more successful in preventing them in going back into a life of crime than just throwing them in a jail somewhere, and if we have a smart approach and not just a tough approach, but also a smart and tough approach to how we deal with the criminal-justice program, that can have an impact as well.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hynes on Red Hook

Joe Hynes has a wonderful editorial on the Red Hook Community Justice Center in the Daily News today. Click here.
I spent this morning at QUEST. While I picked a lousy day to travel to Jamaica in terms of weather, once I got there, things couldn't have been better. Dave and the rest of the team are running a great program, with a compliance rate of 84 percent. We're also close to unveiling a new mental health initiative in Queens, to be known as QUEST Futures.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cleaning Up Queens

Email of the week comes from Manny in Queens, who writes:

On October 18th, 2008 thirty six volunteers came out in the cold to paint the Queens Boulevard Pedestrian Bridge. This was a long awaited project, not just by Queens Community Cleanup, but by many local officials, business and residents as well. This bridge connects many of the Long Island City buses and trains to Sunnyside, in particular LaGuardia Community College, and Aviation High School.

Recently we asked City Councilmember Eric Gioia what projects he would like to see completed in Long Island City, and graffiti removal on this bridge was top on the list. We then approached the Department of Transportation for permission to paint the bridge, and after a few emails, and phone calls, not only did we have permission they donated all the paint for the project as well.

At first we weren’t sure if we would have enough time or paint to cover the entire bridge, which mind you is a quarter mile long, the support columns for the elevated train are also part of the bridge, and there is a wall on both sides of the bridge. So we at first focused on just covering the graffiti, but when our strong group of volunteers finished in record time, and we had paint to spare, we decided to go back and make it look brand new. So by the end of the day we painted over a half miles worth of walls, equaling approximately 10,000 square feet.

I am very proud of the work we accomplished that day, and thankful for all the volunteers, and friends who came out and braved the cold to help make Long Island City, and better place to work, live and play.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Just a quick reminder that the folks at Midtown are organizing a benefit on Friday evening in an effort to help support their work with women caught up in the sex trade. It promises to be a fun event. For more info about how to attend, click here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Gladwell on the Nature of Genius

At home today recovering from strep and catching up on my reading.

Those who know me well often mock my affection (or is it affectation) for dropping references to Malcolm Gladwell into proposals, emails, casual conversation.  Now here comes a blog entry. 

Reading last week's New Yorker, I spotted a piece by Gladwell on "late bloomers" -- people who achieve greatness late in life.  The piece was typical Gladwell -- he takes some research findings and wraps a beautifully written story around it.  I even got kind of choked up at the end of the piece, when Gladwell calls for perseverance in the face of failure and describes the "love stories" behind late-blooming geniuses.

After the emotions faded, however, I began to look at his argument more critically.  Gladwell (and the economist David Galenson, upon whose research Gladwell bases much of his story) spend a lot of time distinguishing "old masters" from "young geniuses."  But are these really the only choices?  Can we really reduce all human accomplishment to a simple dichotomy -- early or late?  What about the middle?  For every teenage prodigy and octogenarian innovator, aren't there dozens of talents whose greatest accomplishments occur in the years between 30 and 50?  Indeed, in Galenson's review of the eleven most important poems in the American canon, six were written by poets in the years 30-50 (and only one in the years after).  And if we broadened our scope to look beyond the arts to other fields -- academia, business, architecture, etc. -- I dare say the proportion would be even greater in favor of the middle aged.  

Yes, I am middle aged. 

Click here for a New Yorker podcast with Gladwell. 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Trip to Crown Heights

I spent part of the afternoon today in Crown Heights, where the Mediation Center is on a roll.  In addition to the recent article in the Daily News about Ife, Amy and the rest of the staff there are cooking up a bevy of activity for the fall, including a new youth court, a reentry resource guide, leadership training for local residents and mediation training in schools.  Amy, in her usual gentle way, chided me for not having linked to Crown Heights new blog.  So, here it is. 

The other highlight of my day was a phone call with Louise Casey, a cabinet level official in the Brown administration in the UK.  She filled me in on a sweeping criminal justice reform agenda that she is spearheading, including a number of reforms -- an emphasis on community restitution as a response to minor offending, efforts to involve local residents in the process of doing justice -- that are very similar to things we are working on in NYC.   

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New York Times Story on Drug Courts

Today's Times has an A1 story on drug courts that mentions the Center for Court Innovation and New York's work in the area prominently.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Center Alumni Make Good

Nice piece in today's Times about Added Value, a Red Hook youth farming project created by two former staffers from the Red Hook Youth Court. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Waiting for the Debate

I'm at home waiting for the second McCain-Obama debate, full of nervous energy.   Blogging seems as good as way as any to burn it.  So here are a few thoughts and links:
  • Here is a link to a provocative piece in Slate that is critical of Obama's criminal justice positions.  
  • I spent the afternoon today with Sam Sullivan, mayor of Vancouver, as he toured Common Ground's Times Square project.   Sullivan is a fascinating figure: a quadripelgic (from a skiing accident as a teen) and a conservative with a deep interest in urban planning and novel approaches to crime control (including an emphasis on harm reduction).   More important, at least from my narrow, parochial perspective, Vancouver has just opened a community court that will hopefully serve as another model project for the world. 
  • Yesterday, Al and I spent a few hours with Denise O'Donnell, the commissioner of New York State's Division of Criminal Justice Services.   She seemed extremely interested in our work -- and extremely pessimistic about the state's current fiscal climate.    As if to underline her point, today's Times had a story on how non-profits are struggling.  Here's a link.
  • I didn't want to end on a down note, so here is a link that celebrates the reunion of one of my favorite bands from the 80s/90s: the Feelies.  

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Resolving Family Conflicts

Rob and I both have pieces in a newly-published book, Resolving Family Conflicts, from Ashgate.

Website Update

Our award-winning website continues to attract visitors. According to Alina, in September, we had 61,227 visitors who downloaded 19,333 publications. The top 5 downloads for September were:

1. Action Research: Using Information to Improve Your Drug Court
2. The State of Drug Court Research: Moving Beyond 'Do They Work?'
3. Principles of Problem-Solving Justice
4. The Brooklyn Mental Health Court Evaluation
5. Supervised Visitation
One of my favorite components of the website is our new podcast feature. Rob has been doing profiles of innovative projects and justice reformers that are available either on our site or via iTunes. Click here for the latest podcast.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Judith Kaye at Barnard

Here's a link to a story on Judge Kaye's recent appearance at Barnard, where among other things she talks about her commitment to problem-solving courts and finding new responses to domestic violence.
Also, here is a link to a Christian Science Monitor piece that undlerines my sense that the political winds seem to be blowing away from punitive responses to non-violent crime.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Avon Award

Linda at the Midtown Community Court is the winner of the Avon Hello Tomorrow Fund award. Linda will use the award to support Midtown's work with women engaged in prostitution. For more info, check here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Harvard Business School

I spent today at a summit on social entrepreneurship convened by Harvard Business School.   They invited a couple hundred non-profit directors to hear lectures and panels devoted to topics like "Appealing to the Next Generation of Philanthropists" and "Global Trends in Operating Entrepreneurial Social Ventures."  Given who was convening the event, it will come as no surprise that much of the content had a business bent: how do you adapt corporate branding strategies to the non-profit sector, how do non-profits recruit executives from the business world, how are non-profits using for-profit subsidiaries to raise money and extend their impact, etc.  I can't in all candor say that I learned anything that caused me to question what we are doing at the Center or that will change the way I approach our work, but it is always helpful to have the opportunity to step outside one's narrow world to think about the big picture.  My favorite session was one on strategic thinking that featured an apparently famous Harvard Business School professor that I have (perhaps shamefully) never heard of.  I was delighted to hear that he shares some of my skepticism about organizational mission statements, which tend to be so broad as to be meaningless.  That said, he encouraged the non-profit directors in the audience to be more rigorous in their strategic thinking and their articulation of the unique contribution to the world that their organizations make.   I found this exhortation an inspiring end to the day.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Channeling Larry King

Bits and bites from the past week or so at 520...Al and Raye and I have been having some preliminary meetings about the possibility of Staten Island youth court...Jackie has been working on a document that would publicize all of the community outreach work being done by courts across New York State...we are officially investigating the possibility of a youth justice board that would be devoted exclusively to foster care issues...Al has been named by Gov. Paterson to participate in a statewide blue-ribbon panel that will seek to promote juvenile justice reform...plans for Midtown's annual fundraiser are moving forward...I've been putting together an event with the New York Times Company Foundation to publicize the international community justice movement...the BBC has reached out to us because they're interested in filming some of the juvenile justice work we do...finally, Rob and Julius celebrated birthdays this week, so please join me in wishing them the best.

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Friend Steve

I have a friend.  Let's call him "Steve."  Last week, Steve found himself at the Red Hook Community Justice Center to answer a summons for a minor infraction.   Although I was in all candor slightly nervous and more than a little defensive, we had a long conversation about his experience at the Justice Center.  While Steve was annoyed at the behavior of the police officer who issued the summons (I won't go into the details) and slightly aggravated at having to wait in line to enter the Justice Center, in general he had positive things to say about his trip to Red Hook.  He talked about how everyone there to answer a summons (and according to court records, there were more than 650 summonses that day) was treated with decency and respect by staff at the Justice Center.  And he said that the class he attended made him take quality-of-life violations more seriously.   Both for his sake and the sake of our friendship, I'm hoping that this is the last time Steve finds himself in court.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Last night I was in Red Hook to hear a presentation by a group of Coro fellows -- a dozen young public policy wonks who spent a week studying the "logic" of Red Hook. (Full disclosure: I was a Coro fellow back in the day.) I was impressed by how much they learned about the neighborhood in such a short time. But what really impressed me was the composition of the audience. Among the 50 or so people in the room were tenants of public housing, local artists, court officers, representatives of local elected officials, staff from neighborhood organizations, a member of the Ikea management team, and numerous community leaders. I think it is a rare institution that can assemble such a diverse group to have a serious, high-minded conversation about how a neighborhood works and how it can be improved. But my favorite moment of the evening was when the Coro fellows asked the audience to stand up if they felt safe walking through Red Hook at night. Unless my eyes deceived me, every single person stood up. I can guarantee you that this would never have happened when we started working in Red Hook in the 1990s. I take it as a healthy sign of how far Red Hook has come as a neighborhood -- and New York as a city.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Community Justice in Vancouver

This week sees the opening of the Vancouver community justice centre, a project explicitly modeled after our work here in New York City. There's been a lot of local press about the project. Here is a sample:

an editorial from the local paper entitled "Community Courts and Safer Streets"

a television story entitled "Community Court First of Its Kind in Canada"

a column in the Vancouver Sun that says that 94 percent of local residents support the creation of the community court

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Street-Level Bureaucracy

I'm usually a single book kinda guy, but I'm currently reading several books at once, including Jane Mayer's The Dark Side and Arsenal: The Making of a Modern Superclub.  The book that I'm reading that is most relevant to work is Michael Lipsky's Street-Level Bureaucracy. I picked it up on the recommendation of Ron Corbett, who is the executive director of the Massachusetts Supreme Court.  The writing is a little dry and the examples are dated (the book is more than a generation old), but I think the general message is still a valuable one.

Lipsky basically argues that while much of the public and media attention is drawn to policy debates at the highest level of government (e.g. what Congress does), the reality is that a great deal of policy is made at the ground-level by front-line government workers -- police, teachers, social workers, judges, benefit administrators etc.   While many tend to think of these folks as simply implementing policies that are determined by those above them on the organizational hierarchy, the truth is that there are always gaps to exploit and numerous opportunities for discretion.   

It probably goes without saying, but one of the implications is that if you want to change the behavior of any institution (say, the justice system), it is not enough to win over the commissioner, since many of the real decisions that affect people's lives the most are made not in the executive suite but by street-level bureaucrats. 

Friday, August 29, 2008

Rob Hulls

This morning, I met with Rob Hulls, the attorney general of Victoria, Australia. Hulls was one of the prime movers responsible for replicating the Red Hook Community Justice Center in Melbourne.   Hulls was in New York with a handful of key staffers looking for new ideas -- and to share some of the lessons of their experience.  Brett organized a jam-packed schedule for them, including a visit with Judge Kaye, trips to the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center and Bronx Community Solutions, an arrest-to-arraignment tour of 100 Centre Street, and a meeting with Kristine to talk about family violence and other issues.   I can't speak for Hulls, but I came away from my time with him impressed by his energy and commitment to serious, lasting reform.  

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

It is the dog days of August, so please forgive me another post on a non-work topic. Last week, I went to see a band called Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. I liked 'em, so I thought I'd share this video.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

East Harlem for Sale

Just a quick shot from "East Harlem For Sale: A Youth Perspective on How Gentrification is Changing the Community" -- an art installation put together by the Harlem Community Justice Center. The installation is the result of a summer research project by participants in the Hard HATS program that sought to examine how the East Harlem community is changing, in both positive and negative ways. Kudos to Chris and Ivan and Kate and the rest of the Harlem crew for putting it together -- and to Gene for his typically outstanding photography work.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lolita Conference

At the risk of taxing your patience with a topic that has nothing to do with courts or criminal justice or the Center for Court Innovation, I wanted to recommend a conference that the New School is putting together on Nabokov's Lolita. My wife is the chair of the humanities at the New School and has been working on this conference (which is free of charge and open to the public) for the past six months. Here's a link to a short piece in the New York Observer on the conference.

Friday, August 15, 2008

E-Mail of the Week

This is from Amy in Crown Heights:

I was on the 3 train last night heading home and a young woman across the aisle started to talk to me. She was interested in moving to Brooklyn but wanted advice about the neighborhoods. I started to respond to her, but a man on the other side of the train jumped in, "You should go to the Mediation Center, have you tried them?" Again, before I could say anything, a woman across the aisle from him said, "Oh yeah, you should go by them- that place is great." Then the two of them started to talk about how helpful the Center was. Although I was tempted to just silently listen in, I told them that I worked there. The gentleman told me that he had gotten help from us and frequently checked our window to find out about local events. Just recently he learned about the free concerts in the park. He's also had relatives get information from us about the low income apartments. He said he always refers people to us and that he knows five people who regularly get assistance from us. I always love it when strangers in New York start helping each other out on the subway, but it is even better when they are (literally) shouting our praises.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Youth ECHO

Last week, Youth ECHO, our effort to enlist teen leaders in the Red Hook Houses in marketing anti-crime values to their peers, held a large public event in Coffey Park. Several hundred local residents stopped by to eat hot dogs and burgers, to catch a talent show and to watch a short documentary about the Youth ECHO participants. Youth ECHO's message is a simple one: "Dealing Drugs: It's Not Worth It." They have chosen a wide array of vehicles to transmit this message, including t-shirts, stencils, a myspace page and a downloadable ringtone. Independence Community Foundation has been a principal force behind-the-scenes with Youth ECHO, encouraging us to test a new approach to preventing youth crime and helping to link us with useful partners. Congrats to Elise and Ericka for rising to this challenge!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Report from Kentucky

James is in Louisville for the National Criminal Justice Association's annual conference. He is there on behalf of the Red Hook Community Justice Center to accept NCJA's award for outstanding criminal justice program. With a couple of small tweaks for clarity, here's James' report:

Today was award day. After receiving the award, I was allowed to say a few words. My thank you went somthing like this: On behalf of Judge Calabrese and the entire staff at the Red Hook Community Justice Center, I want to thank NCJA for this honor. In the '80s, Life magazine called Red Hook one of the 10 most crack-infested neighborhoods in the US. In 1995, the first time I went to Red Hook, taxi drivers refused to go to the neighborhood. In 2008, Ikea opened one of their largest stores in North America in Red Hook. The Queen Mary 2 docks just three blocks from my office. And folks can get to Red Hook by water taxi. This shows how the community has changed.
One of the reasons for the change is the Red Hook Community Justice Center. From the very beginning the Justice Center had two objectives. First, courts need to come up with better outcomes. That means holding people accountable for their crimes, while at the same time offering programs and services to get people back on track. Second, we have worked closely with our community to have them part of the planning process, assisting with tackling problems. The Justice Center believes that courts have a responsibilty to the community they serve. I hope courts can continue playing this critical role and I once again thank NCJA for this award.
Congrats to James and Alex and the rest of the team in Red Hook for this wonderful and well-earned recognition. Here's a link to the press release about the award.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

USA Today Reader Reaction

I thought i might share a handful of the comments that have been posted on USA Today's website in response to the article they ran a couple of weeks ago on the growth of community courts. I've eliminated a handful of supportive comments, but the bulk of comments were as follows:

These people are a waste of dna. I think it is extremely naive to assume just sending them off to counseling will modify their full-time petty criminal status. It may be less expensive than jailing them- but it's not in a billion years going to change their ways- they are career idiots as well as career criminals- and will be so until they die.

If you get arrested 10 times in your life you should be thrown off a cliff.

Vote for Obama so we can use our tax dollars to pay for these people's booze.

Arm yourself america....because as you see..the system has failed.....join the NRA

Force them to work jobs illegal aliens are happy to do. Make them pay taxes too.
Give their brain a turn, and make them learn.

Incarceration IS the only answer..period.....THROW AWAY THE KEY!!!!!!

Hey i got an idea...why not just send them to some island and let them kill each other...that way we dont have to deal with them...better yet...they can take the ACLU with them.

If you've been arrested more than 200 times, I doubt you're going to change your behavior.

How long will it be before "petty crime" is no longer viewed as crime?

Oh, I forgot: When OsamaObama is coronated in 2009, everything will immediately be fixed. Sunshine and lollipops for everybody!!!

""how do we make sure that the petty criminal does not end up in jail?". Well with our eroding family values and youths growing up that "can do no wrong", and their sense of entitlement to everything under the sun - with no consequences ever being taught.... that will be a tuff one.

As usual, the liberals have led us astray. The obvious solution: Chain gangs.

The three strikes and your out rule should apply everywhere.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Joe Strummer

I've just finished reading Redemption Song, a 600 page (!) biography of Joe Strummer, the lead singer of the Clash who died in 2002. I regret having picked the book up for a couple of reasons. First, much as I love the Clash, 600 pages is a bit much, particularly given how leaden much of the prose is. More than this, I regret reading the book because of how horribly Strummer is depicted. Preening narcissist...sex addict...coward...drug addict...neglectful father...unfaithful husband...the list goes on and on. Talk about knocking a guy from his pedestal! It was almost enough to make me forget the amazing things that Strummer accomplished and the positive values that he communicated in many of his songs. Anyway, reading the book made me remember an email I sent around when Strummer died, which I reproduce here for posterity:

>>> Greg Berman 12/30/02 12:42PM >>>
In addition to being a frustrated comic book artist, I'm also a bit of an amateur rock critic, so I didn't want to let the passing of Joe Strummer - the lead singer of the Clash, who died last week of a heart attack at the age of 50 - go by without a comment or two.

The Clash have always been a favorite band of mine. What I loved most about them was their creative energy. Although the Clash emerged out of the British punk movement in the mid 70s, they refused to be confined by the rigid expectations of the punk scene. Rather than confine themselves to the three chord aggression of most punk rock, they experimented with different styles, tempos and rhythms, trying out ska, dub, rockabilly, dance and hip-hop (although they are rarely credited for it, the Clash were among the first white bands to attempt a rap-rock hybrid, with 1981's "Magnificent Seven"). They even attempted a love song or two.
I think the Times' article about Strummer's death got it right - what separated Strummer from his peers was his capacity for reinvention, his ability to manufacture a second act for both the Clash and for himself as a solo artist. This stands in marked contrast to other punk bands like the Sex Pistols or the Ramones, which never could manage this difficult trick.

When Joey Ramone, the lead singer of the Ramones, died a year and a half ago, I was similarly moved to write a short piece about the Ramones. I thought it worth sharing with you (some of you may have seen it the first time), since it eventually works its way around to a few thoughts about the Center for Court Innovation.

Joey Ramone, arguably the most influential musician of his generation, died on Sunday. The lead singer of the Ramones and one of the originators of punk, Joey's influence can be felt on just about every "alternative" band playing today (artists that owe a particularly large psychic, musical and stylistic debt to the Ramones include the Clash, Sex Pistols, Green Day, Blink 182 and Nirvana). Despite his accomplishments, Joey merited only a short obit in Monday's Times, which ran under a smart-ass headline that identified him as a "yelper" (an unnecessary diss that was, thankfully, rectified when the Times re-ran the obit on Tuesday).

This got me to thinking about the fleeting nature of public acclaim and the challenges of innovation. I'll spare you my thoughts about fame, but I did want to communicate a couple of ideas about innovation.

The Ramones had one genius idea. They were the perfect antidote for a late 1970s pop music scene dominated by disco, progressive rock and "supergroups" like Led Zeppelin. Instead of the bloated ten minute jams that appeared on many albums of the era, the Ramones took a streamlined approach, stripping their songs down to the basics - they were five albums into their career before they recorded a song longer than three minutes. Instead of the self-serious pretension of "rock operas" and "concept albums," the Ramones were funny and self-deprecating. (Their song titles accurately conveyed their lyrical obsessions: "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue," "Suzy Is a Headbanger," "I Wanna Be Sedated"). Instead of emphasizing musicianship (extended solos, massive overdubs, etc) the Ramones reveled in their limited musical talent, playing all of their songs the same way: fast and loud. And instead of the glitter and glamour of the prevailing rock fashions of the time, the Ramones wore the same get-up (leather jackets, torn jeans) to every show.

Unfortunately, although they kept at it for more than two decades, the Ramones never came up with another good idea - they simply rode their one original concept until they dropped. Their final years as a band were marked by internal dissension, shoddy records and declining ticket sales as they slid inexorably towards irrelevance.

So what's the moral of the story? Are the Ramones a case study in success or failure? I think there are two lessons to be learned from their career. The first is how far you can go with just a single good idea. The Ramones got two dozen albums, a feature film, several books and more than two thousand concerts out of theirs. Not bad for a couple of drop-outs from Queens.
On the other hand, the Ramones are probably not going to go down in history with the greats of their genre - the Beatles, Elvis etc. What separated them from the top echelon in their field was their inability to constantly re-invent themselves. There was no second act for the Ramones, only the first repeated ad nauseum.

I don't want to draw any pat conclusions about the Ramones or facile parallels with the Center for Court Innovation. But I will say that we owe it to ourselves to push our good ideas as hard as we can for as long as we can, because, after all, good ideas are not so easy to come by. At the same time, if we want the Center to be an enduring institution, we need to always be aggressively thinking about what comes next and where our next good idea will come from.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Failure in the UK

Aubrey and I wrote an op-ed for the Guardian (UK) that offers advice for community justice planners in the UK based on our investigation of failed criminal justice programs here in the US. Click here to see the piece.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Miller-McCune magazine, a new public policy magazine, just published a long and well-researched piece on problem-solving courts that can be found here.  It includes numerous references to the Center for Court Innovation.


I'm writing this from Anaheim, California, where I'm attending the National Association for Court Management's annual conference.  I'm here to do a panel on partnership -- how to build effective inter-agency collaborations.   The panel is actually part of a problem-solving court track that I helped to organize.  Since misery loves company, I've also hooked up Mike to do a presentation on research, Brett to do a presentation on working with the defense bar, and Adam to do a panel on failure.  So far so good: it is a well-run and well-attended conference and the response to our panels has been positive.  

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Prison Reform

I met today with an independent commision that is studying how to reform the prison system in England. Created by the Howard League for Penal Reform, a 100 plus year old British charity, the commission is looking for creative ways to reduce the growing prison population in the UK. The president of the commission is Cherie Booth, a barrister and the wife of former prime minister Tony Blair. The commission is in New York to visit interesting projects and meet with American criminal justice experts. I had a particularly interesting conversation with them about how to market alternatives to incarceration to policymakers of all political stripes. Their report is not due until 2009, so we'll see what they come up with. In the meantime, a similar commission from Scotland has just released a report devoted to reforming the Scottish justice system. Scotland's report, which can be found here, includes a section on their visit to New York and several Center for Court Innovation projects.

Monday, July 7, 2008

New Yorker of the Week

New York 1 has selected the Harlem Parole Reentry Court as its "New Yorker of the Week." This is wonderful recognition for a program that

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Trip to Red Hook

I spent this afternoon at Red Hook. First I spent some time with the participants in Youth ECHO, our new youth program that is putting teen leaders to work crafting an anti-crime campaign for their peers -- under Elise's able direction, and with the pro bono assistance of some professional marketers. I was particularly impressed by their ideas for using new media, including ringtones and YouTube, to get their message across.

Next, I attended the first-ever graduation of the Red Hook attendance court. It was one of those feel-good events where you see first-hand our ability to bring together community residents, the justice system and assorted partners behind a common cause -- in this case, helping truant students learn to attend school. I'm not sure what the highlight was for me. It could have been when the keynote speaker, former judge Michael Corriero, explained to the participants in the program that a diploma would be their secret weapon/source of power like Peter Parker's spider bite. Or it could have been when the principal of PS 27 talked about how she'll say yes to any idea that the Red Hook Community Justice Center brings to her. Or it could have been the palpable connection between Brett and Leroy, who serve as the judicial hearing officers, and the kids in the program. I could go on, but you get the picture. But I suppose my lasting memory, sucker that I am for collective enterprise, will be the sense of teamwork and mutual appreciation between the folks in Red Hook and the Center for Courts and the Community crew. Thanks to James, Jackie, Dory, Susanna, Gene, Phil, Melissa, Kate and everyone else who helped make this evening a success.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Attendance Court on ABC

Here's a quick link to a nice story on our new attendance courts, featuring footage from both Harlem and Red Hook. The attendance courts are a good example of what the Center for Courts and the Community is all about. In this case, Susanna and Jackie and Dory took an idea that had been tested in Buffalo and successfully adapted it to NYC. If you want to get more of a sense of what attendance court is all about, Red Hook is hosting its first graduation on Tuesday.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Comings and Goings

One of the very few things that I don't love about my job is having to watch talented, likable people leave the Center. Today it is time to say goodbye to Crista from the development team and Katherine from QUEST. While both have been with us for a relatively short time, they each have impressed me with their smarts and their commitment to change. I'll miss them both. I hope you'll join me in wishing them well.

On the flip side, one of the real pleasures of having worked at the Center for as long as I have is that I get to watch staffers, particularly young staffers, grow and develop. I was thinking about that tonight as I attended the graduation ceremonies of this year's Youth Justice Board class at the Harlem Community Justice Center. It was a lovely event that included mini-speeches from each of the Youth Justice Board members, who spoke eloquently about their experience on the Board. But what really made an impression on me were the remarks by Dory, Linda and Matt each of whom was poised, charming, articulate, funny...I could go on and on, but you get the picture. It really is marvelous to work with such great people on such meaningful work.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Responding to Mental Illness

Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg held a press conference to announce the release of a set of recommendations from a combined City/State review panel that was created in the wake of recent police shootings of people with mental illness. The recommendations cover a broad range of topics. Of most immediate interest from our own narrow parochial perspective is the recommendation to expand mental health courts across the state. It is unclear how much political momentum (read: dollars) is behind this recommendation, but it is still a powerful endorsement of the problem-solving approach to cases involving mentally-ill defendants. The panel's report can be found here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Community Justice in San Francisco (And Other Links)

San Francisco Chronicle article endorsing the idea of a community justice center.

USA Today piece on the rise of community courts.

JK Rowling Harvard commencement address on failure.

The latest on the fight to create a community court in San Francisco.

Obama vs. McCain on crime.

Community justice in Scotland.

Grants, Grants, Grants

The bulk of my time this week has been spent on grant proposals. The Bureau of Justice Assistance has released a far-ranging request-for-proposals and we are busy formulating new ideas in response. These include investigating the collateral consquences of drug courts, exploring the possibility of creating a consolidated resource center that would share clinical resources among different types problem-solving courts, dreaming up new ways to expand the capacity of drug courts, convening a roundtable on reentry court in concert with John Jay College, holding a major community court conference among other ideas. While I am excited about what we've come up with, my enthusiasm is muted just a bit by the knowledge that this will be an intensely competitive process. BJA has very little money to spend and there will be hundreds of proposals for them to sift through. We'll have to keep our fingers crossed. In the meantime, I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the hard work of the development team. Jill, Maggie, Amy and Christa have managed to keep up their usual good cheer even in the face of demanding, non-negotiable deadlines. Kudos to them and to everyone else involved in cranking out our proposals.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Drug Court Conference

Last week, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals held their annual conference, an event that attracts thousands of participants. This year, the Center sent a contingent of about a dozen folks, headed by Val, who also serves on NADCP's board of directors. Center staffers spoke on numerous panels on topics such as domestic violence, community justice, and failed criminal justice reforms. To coincide with the conference, the Urban Institute released a study suggesting that if all addicted defendants were offered drug court, the savings could be as large as $46 billion. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of the estimated 1.5 million addicted arrestees end up in a drug court each year. Click here for press coverage of the conference and report.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Attendance Court

I spent the afternoon at an East Harlem middle school sitting in on one of our newest experiments: an attendance court designed to combat truancy.   I left feeling enormously proud. Susanna, with help from Jackie, Dory, Chris, Judge Koretz and others, has managed to get a complicated undertaking up and running in remarkable time.  The school administrators that I talked with clearly view the attendance court as a valuable tool in creating a productive learning environment in the school.   And if the half dozen cases I witnessed are any indication, the program seems to be making an impact on participants' attendance.  The challenge these cases present is an altogether unsurprising one: truancy is just the tip of the iceberg in many of the families I saw today.  Domestic violence, divorce, mental illness, joblessness are just a few of the problems that these kids and their parents are facing.   While I'm not sure we (or anybody else) has the answer to these kinds of issues, I do feel like we have just begin to explore the potential of the attendance court model to make a difference in students' lives.  

Monday, May 12, 2008

Brooklyn Mental Health Court on TV

Channel 7 did a story on the Brooklyn Mental Health Court. Video can be found here.

Mayor's Press Conference

I spent the morning today at City Hall for a press conference announcing a new set of juvenile justice reforms. I was there because one of the reforms that Mayor Bloomberg highlighted was the City's new alternative-to-detention program, with a special focus on our program in Queens. We supplied four former participants from QUEST, all of whom had a life-transforming experience in our after-school program. The kids did great, even with dozens of cameras and microphones in their faces.

Unfortunately, much of the press coverage emphasized a separate initiative to hold weekend arraignments in criminal court for young people charged with delinquency, but that's life.

Here is the press release from the Mayor's Office.

Here is the story on NY1.

Here is the story from AP/1010 WINS.

Here is the story from Metro.

Here is the CityRoom blog from New York Times.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Centre for Court Innovation for the UK?

Yesterday's London Times has a story about a recent report from the Young Foundation, which among other things, calls for the creation of a Centre for Court Innovation modeled after us.   Here's the article.  

Alternatives to Detention

I spent the better part of this morning at the Vera Institute of Justice attending a meeting about New York City's new alternative to detention program for young people in Family Court on delinquency charges.  Vera is helping to coordinate the project, which, when it is fully implemented, will include after-school/monitoring programs in each borough.  

Our role has been to plan and implement the Queens program (QUEST) and to help provide the technology that all of the programs will ultimately use.  The early results (less than a year into the project) have been encouraging: a reduction in the use of detention by Family Court judges (and when detention is being used, it is targeted more directly to high-risk juveniles) and low rates of re-arrests among participating young people.   

More globally, the whole enterprise feels like the best kind of public policy-making: the strategic deployment of limited resources, the creation of a multi-faceted partnership among various government agencies (the Mayor's Office, Family Court, the Department of Juvenile Justice, Probation, Corp. Counsel, etc) and non-profits (us, Vera, CASES and others), and the rigorous use of data to both analyze the problem and assess the effectiveness of the attempted solution.  I left feeling proud to be a part of it. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Aubrey has written a great op-ed for Newsday about the foreclosure crisis in New York and how courts might be part of the solution. It can be found by clicking here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


One of the projects that falls under the umbrella of the Center for Courts and the Community is a new website for young people in New York. The idea is to create a single place where students and teachers can go to learn about the courts and innovative civic education programs. With the help of technology staff at OCA, Jackie and Dory have been tweaking the site for the past year. It is now ready to go live. I encourage you to check it out by clicking here.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Trouble Funk

Last week, Christine's brother, who covers popular music for the New York Times (among other publications) wrote an obituary for the keyboardist of Trouble Funk, one of my favorite bands when I was growing up in Washington D.C.   It is difficult to remember now, but in the early 1980s there was a big debate in the press over which new fad would be triumphant -- hip-hop or go-go.  I guess we know how that battle turned out.  While go-go never ended up being more than a DC phenomenon, it is still one of the most irresistible genres of music imaginable -- especially when played live.  And Trouble Funk was, at least to my ears, the best of go-go.  I encourage you to check them out.  

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Statewide Coordination of Problem-Solving Courts

I was in DC today for a roundtable that we put together with the Bureau of Justice Assistance. We convened a group to discuss an emerging phenomenon: the statewide coordination of problem-solving courts. Included at the table were state leaders from Utah, New York, Vermont, California, Maryland, Idaho and Indiana, along with representatives from some of the major national groups in the field, including the Council of State Governments, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, the National Center for State Courts and others. To my knowledge, it was the first-ever gathering of its kind. I'm still processing the experience and am finding it difficult to distill into bite-size, blog-worthy nuggets. What I can say with a fair degree of confidence is that the roundtable underlined that there is a great hunger in the field for more thinking about what the goals of statewide coordination should be and how they might be achieved. We've got some work to do before we come up with the answers to these questions. Anyway, kudos to Julius, Brett, Alan and Val for their roles today.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Fordham Law Class

Tonight I taught a class at Fordham Law School.  A few years back, we designed a course on problem-solving courts with the help of a handful of law professors and other smart people.  Fordham has generously allowed us to offer the class for the past three years -- first with Val teaching it as an adjunct, and this year with Adam.   Adam asked me to lecture about the future of problem-solving justice.  It was a good time, mostly because the students seemed thoughtful and well-versed (kudos to Adam, by the way).  I think in its own small way the course is an important contribution to the future of problem-solving justice, actually.  We've sent the curriculum around to judges and academics around the country and a handful of them have adapted the course in their local law schools.   I think this is another sign that our ideas are starting to spread into formerly unchartered waters (in this case, academia).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Youth Justice Board

Yesterday, City Limits ran a good piece on young people participating in their own Family Court cases that included a number of references to our Youth Justice Board.  The article is here