Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Zimring at Vera

I spent a few hours this evening at the Vera Institute of Justice for a lecture by law professor Franklin Zimring, who offered a preview of a new book he is working on that looks at the crime decline in New York City over the past two decades. Zimring was unequivocal in hailing the decline, calling it the most sustained improvement in public safety that any city has ever experienced since crime rates began being measured. In his effort to explain what happened, he focused primarily on changes in police practice since 1990 -- more cops on the street, more aggressive policing, reforms like COMPSTAT and hot spots policing, etc. He also discussed something that I have found bewildering: while the drop in crime in New York City is well documented, a related phenomenon has gone mostly unreported: over the same period that incarceration rose by more than 60 percent across the U.S., the use of incarceration actually declined by 28 percent in New York City (it is worth noting that the population of the City rose by 11 percent during this period). His conclusion was heartening to those of us in the reform business. New York City has not changed in any fundamental way over the past 20 years when one looks at the population, employment, education rates and other demographics. And yet serious crime has gone down 80 percent. The most likely explanation to Zimring given these facts is that a series of policy initiatives and changes within government actually made a difference on the ground. A far cry from "nothing works." And another great event from Vera.

Friday, October 22, 2010

R.I.P. Elizabeth Sturz

Sad news today: the New York Times reports that Elizabeth Sturz passed away yesterday. I only knew Elizabeth glancingly, through my relationship with her husband Herb Sturz. As her obituary makes clear, she was a remarkable woman. Please join me in sending condolences to Herb and the rest of her family.

More from Dallas

The Justice Department has posted the speech that Mary Lou Leary, the principal deputy assistant attorney general, made at our community court conference in Dallas earlier this week. Among other things, she says: "Evidence shows that community courts simultaneously help to reduce crime, streamline the justice process, change sentencing practices, solve individual problems, and increase public trust in the justice system."

As an added bonus for public speaking buffs, here is a link to a recent speech by Nick Herbert, a justice minister in England, who recently spoke about sentencing issues in London. Herbert reference a recent visit to our QUEST program in Queens:

A few weeks ago in New York I went to a tough neighbourhood in Queens to see an innovative project which is offering courts an alternative to detention for young offenders. Run by the Center for Court Innovation from a church hall, an impressive team of professionals supervise and guide the juveniles, with rigorous after school courses (including sport) and checks to enforce their curfew. To date 84 per cent of participating youths have complied with court requirements, remain arrest free and have successfully completed the programme. Now the Center is also developing simultaneous mental health treatment to address the needs of young offenders while they are on the programme. I do not believe that rigorous sentences like these are soft options. I think they are smart options, giving courts a better choice of disposals. Where young offenders are turned away from committing new crimes, the public has been made safer. I heard no voices in New York calling for this programme to be scrapped.

Community Justice 2010: A Brief Report

Just back in New York after four days in Dallas, Texas for Community Justice 2010, the first ever international gathering of community courts. I'll probably send along some more thoughts about the conference later, but in the meantime I thought I'd share an excerpt from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's remarks:

Over the course of nearly two decades, since the very first community court opened its doors in Manhattan, combining punishment with assistance has proven to be a critical strategy in improving public safety...Community courts have been essential in guiding efforts to reduce crime, empower communities and create opportunities. I’ve seen this first hand...While the size and scope of our community courts vary, they have all proven the power of community involvement in strengthening public safety and public confidence in our justice system...I’m proud of the progress that we are making and of the investments we are directing to support our community courts and the Center for Court Innovation.

The Crime Report ran a short story on the conference and Rethinking Reentry also offered some live blogging.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

News from the UK

Two bits of news from England caught my attention today. The first was a report that the BBC is making a short-run daytime drama based on the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre.

The second was the news that the Youth Justice Board, a quasi-governmental body that was created during the Blair years to reengineer the juvenile justice system in England and Wales, is closing its doors. (Click here for an obituary of sorts by Max Chambers from Policy Exchange.)

I'm still trying to figure out what I think of both stories. The demise of the Youth Justice Board in particular has put me in a nostalgic mood. About a decade ago, with the help of the Rockefeller Foundation, we put together a US-UK exchange that brought together representatives of the Youth Justice Board with innovative American scholars and practitoners. While it was a one-time only event, it did have enduring reverberations for us as an institution. It was one of our first forays into the world of juvenile justice policymaking -- a field that now takes up a significant share of our time. Just as important, it helped us meet a range of influential people in England -- most namely the great prison reformer Rob Allen -- that continue to be our friends and partners to this day.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

People I Admire, Pt. 1

Earlier this week I was at an event put together by LIFT where I had a chance to talk about some people that have been particularly meaningful in my life -- people like John Feinblatt, Mary McCormick, Jonathan Lippman and Judith Kaye. It got me thinking about people that I admire professionally. I thought I'd start an occasional series spotlighting some of them. Here's a first installment.

Amy Ellenbogen, the director of our Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, who has been nominated for a Brooklyn Do-Gooder award.

Ben Rogers, a British intellectual who writes frequently about the relationship between government and communities.

Laurie Robinson, the head of the Office of Justice Programs, who recently gave a speech about the importance of community prosecution.

Jeff Butts, a researcher at John Jay College who specializes in youth justice.

Timothy Murray, the director of the Pretrial Justice Institute, who has been leading a national campaign to change bail practice.