Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Great Night for Midtown


Yesterday night the Midtown Community Court held a special event to honor the graduates of its on-site job training program, Times Square Ink. A packed house -- I can't remember the last time the courtroom was so crowded -- heard Manhattan DA Cy Vance talk about the importance of the justice system giving formerly-incarcerated individuals a second chance and watched a preview of "Being August," a short film made by John Jay College that profiled one of Midtown's graduates. As is almost always the case, the highlight of the evening for me was the speech by one of Midtown's graduates who has overcome enormous odds to change his life and become a productive member of society.

Last night had a special resonance for me. I haven't been around for the Midtown Community Court's entire history, but I've certainly experienced most of the ups and downs -- I recently celebrated my 16th year working at the Center for Court Innovation. Last night felt like it achieved a difficult balance, simultaneously honoring the past and celebrating the present. In his remarks, John Jay President Jeremy Travis talked about the origins of the project and traced Midtown's impact on the administration of justice not just in New York but across the country. On hand were a number of important figures from the early days of Midtown -- people like Jeff Hobbs, Eric Lee, Greg Steinberg, Julius Lang, Judy Harris Kluger, Eileen Koretz and others.

As nice as it was to see Midtown's history honored, the bulk of the event looked forward, not back. New partners were honored. New staff members had prominent speaking roles. Midtown is no longer a scrappy little experiment. It is no longer under constant attack from skeptics and critics. It has a history and a significant reputation now. But the animating spirit of the project still burns bright. It is still a place of energy and creativity. This is nothing to take for granted. One of the key lessons I learned during the writing of Trial and Error in Criminal Justice Reform is how easy it is for even the best innovations to collapse over time as political winds shift and leaders move on to other posts. Midtown's longevity and continued vitality is something to marvel at and be proud of.

PS, While I'm on the topic of community court, here's a link to a column in the Baltimore Sun from yesterday calling for a community court in Baltimore.