Friday, January 28, 2011

Catching Up With the New Yorker

Like a lot of people who subscribe to the New Yorker, I often find it difficult to keep up with the weekly schedule of the magazine. Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours with the Dec. 13th issue, which included a fascinating piece by Jonah Lehrer entitled "The Truth Wears Off." Lehrer writes about "the decline effect" -- scientists being unable to replicate the positive effects of a given trial in subsequent experiments. The key passage, at least from my perspective, appears at the end. Lehrer writes:

The decline effect is troubling because it reminds us how difficult it is to prove anything. We like to pretend that our experiments define the truth for us. But that’s often not the case. Just because an idea is true doesn’t mean it can be proved. And just because an idea can be proved doesn’t mean it’s true. When the experiments are done, we still have to choose what to believe.

This certainly jibes with some of what we are learning through our own study of the trial and error process in the criminal justice system. Speaking of which, next month I am going to appear at Policy Exchange in London for a conversation with John Prideaux of The Economist that grows out of our new Daring to Fail book.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Daring to Fail: Reaction

Daring to Fail has been generating a nice response on the Internet. Three links in particular are worth highlighting:

The book is currently featured on the home page of the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs.

The Informant, an interesting Bay Area website that deals with criminal justice issues, wrote a nice story on the book.

A Canadian legal research blog featured the book, with this admonishment to readers: "Canadians, learn from the mistakes of our neighbours."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Courtroom Communication

I spent the bulk of the day today in a working group devoted to discussing how to improve communication in criminal courts. We have a grant from BJA to devise a demonstration project that would involve going into an urban criminal courthouse and working with judges and administrators to revise signage, improve written documents and train courthouse staff in how to improve their listening skills, verbal and non-verbal communication techniques. The working hypothesis is that if you improve communication, you will not only enhance perceptions of fairness but also court attendance and compliance with court orders. We're doing the project in partnership with the National Judicial College. Together, we have convened a dozen judges, lawyers, court administrators, communication specialists and scholars to put flesh on these bones. The participants include a couple of academics whose writings have had a particular influence on our work at the Center: Tom Tyler of NYU (author of Why People Obey the Law) and Malcolm Feeley of Berkeley Law School (author of The Process Is the Punishment). It has been a productive session, thanks in no small part to Emily and Mike who have been the primary facilitators. While there are huge obstacles ahead for this project, including the not-insignificant challenge of finding a suitable location, I am encouraged that if we get it right, the potential ramifications are far-reaching.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

State of the City

In today's state of the city address, Mayor Bloomberg gave us a nice shout-out, with a (somewhat oblique) reference to our efforts to create a new community court in Brownsville. Here is what he said:

"We can't keep every young person out of trouble - but we can do more to get them back on track. This year, we'll work with the judiciary and the Center for Court Innovation to develop a Youth Justice Center that will handle delinquency and criminal cases for young people up to the age of 21, engaging the community in preventing crimes."

Here's a link to the speech.

Monday, January 17, 2011

An Anniversary of Sorts

Today marks nine years since I became the director of the Center for Court Innovation. It seems inconceivable: the years have gone by quickly. One of the things that has sustained me at the Center over these years (and I haven't even mentioned the time I spent at the Center before becoming director) is the fact that our work is constantly changing. There are always new challenges to address and new ideas to explore. These days, I'm feeling particularly energized by the release of Daring to Fail, our new collection of interviews with criminal justice leaders, the progress James and Al are making toward establishing a new community court in Brownsville and the work Emily is doing along with our partners at the National Judicial College to launch a pilot project to improve communication techniques in criminal court. More to come on all of these topics in the days ahead.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Happy New Year

Apologies for the lack of posts of late -- life has felt particularly hectic here in New York since the start of the new year. Here are a few recent items that pricked my interest:

The Drucker Institute newsletter covers the innovation forum that I participated in at the end of last year.

Outgoing San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom picks a new district attorney based in part on his support for the local community court.

The New York Times writes about the bail bond industry and prominently features Tim Murray of the Pretrial Justice Institute.

The National Criminal Justice Association hosts a webinar based on our book, Trial & Error in Criminal Justice Reform.