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.