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 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