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.