Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Newark and the Challenges of Sustaining Demonstration Projects

Yesterday, I spent part of the morning being interviewed about the sustainability of demonstration projects. The conversation was part of a research project being conducted by the Rand Corporation at the behest of the U.S. Department of Justice. The project is just starting, but the goal is to help the Justice Department make more informed decisions about which start-up projects are likely to continue once federal funding expires. We'll see how the project turns out, but at this point it sounds like a good companion piece to some of the research we've been doing at the Center into the lessons of failed criminal justice reforms.

One of the things that I said during the interview is that, in my experience, the demonstration projects with the best chance of surviving over the long haul are those that a) target a clear and pressing need, b) have a strong local champion, and c) enjoy early buy-in from key government agencies. I was reminded of these qualities quite forcefully today when I took a trip to visit our newest project: Newark Community Solutions.

It is still early days in Newark: we don't officially launch the project till next month, when Mayor Cory Booker will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Still, we are already starting to handle cases as we gear up toward full implementation. The goal, as with Bronx Community Solutions, is to bring the community court model into a centralized courthouse, providing additional sentencing options so that judges don't have to default to incarceration or fines when someone is before them on a misdemeanor offense.

Already, it is clear that Jethro and his team have become well integrated into the Newark courthouse. I had a chance to spend some time with judges, court administrators and city officials who all were uniform in their appreciation of the project. Like all demonstration projects, Newark Community Solutions confronts an uncertain future -- there are no guarantees in this business. But it is fair to say that Newark seems to have many of the key elements in place for long-term sustainability.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Three Policymakers

Three policymakers are on my mind today.

The first is Barack Obama, who issued a statement in support of national drug court commencement week (who knew there was such a thing?). Among other things, Obama says: "Drug courts help participants recover from addiction and prevent future criminal activity while also reducing the burden and cost of incarceration."

The second is Cy Vance, the Manhattan District Attorney. This morning, I attended a breakfast in his honor. In his speech, Vance touched on a number of issues that are important to the Center for Court Innovation, including his support for the Manhattan Mental Health Court, geographic prosecution, and the strengthening of penalties for those who commit acts of domestic violence.

Finally, I've been thinking of Judith Kaye, the former chief judge of New York State. The New York Bar Foundation has established a fund in her honor that supports youth courts across New York State. Yesterday, Susan Lindenauer came to our office on behalf of the Bar Foundation and delivered two checks to support our youth programming efforts. Even though she is no longer in office, Kaye continues to make an impact...

Friday, May 13, 2011

I'm No Good

I'm no good at lots of things, but one of my most obvious flaws is that I find it difficult to be a regular presence at all of our operating projects. That's why yesterday was such a treat for me: I spent the morning in the Bronx Criminal Court visiting our Bronx Community Solutions team. To fight for system change in the face of a crumbling physical plant, an overwhelming volume of cases and an uncertain fiscal climate is not easy task. Maria and the rest of the crew deserve an enormous amount of credit. One of the newest projects that Bronx Community Solutions has been working on is a reentry task force. To find out more about a recent reentry fair they held in the Bronx, check out their blog.

Bronx Community Solutions is hardly the only Center for Court Innovation project that has been humming along of late. Also this week, the Brownsville Youth Court inducted its first class of members. Not to be outdone, the Red Hook Community Justice Center held a summer job fair that attracted more than 350 people. And the Harlem Community Justice Center put together a workshop with the Children's Aid Society that described the many youth programs available at Harlem.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Drifting Between Worlds

Ben Chambers, who blogs frequently about juvenile justice and other topics, recently posted a piece on "Drifting Between Worlds: Delinquency and Postive Engagement Among Red Hook Youth", a short study that we published a little while back that looks at youth attitudes toward crime and anti-social behavior. The bottom line: it's complicated. Even young people who were engaged in pro-social youth development programming continued to engage in some illegal behaviors.

While I'm at it, here are a few other recent links:

An article about sex offender courts in Pennsylvania that quotes Rebecca Thomforde Hauser of the Center for Court Innovation.

The Prison Service Journal in England includes an interview with the Center's Aubrey Fox.

The Red Hook Youth Court has started a blog.

NESTA, an institution dedicated to promoting social innovation in the UK, has a paper entitled Evidence for Social Policy and Practice that includes a section on the Center for Court Innovation.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Working With Academia

A recent Internet search turned up an article from the Washington University Journal of Law and Policy entitled "Lawyering and Learning in Problem-Solving Courts." Written by Paul Holland of Seattle University's School of Law, the piece makes the case for greater engagement between law school clinics and problem-solving courts.

The article got me thinking about all of the ways that the Center for Court Innovation is involved with academia. We are currently putting the finishing touches on a new curriculum for public policy schools based on our trial and error work. This comes on the heels of our work to create a law school class on problem-solving justice, which we piloted at Fordham Law School and which continues to be taught at places like Brooklyn Law. In addition, many Center for Court Innovation staffers have taught courses at local schools based on their individual areas of expertise. (See, for example,Danielle Malangone's recent class at the New School on human trafficking.) And this doesn't include all of the guest speaking that Center staffers do at graduate and undergraduate classes or all of the internships or research projects that we facilitate for area students.

Partnership with academic institutions isn't always easy though. Most of our work with universities has felt episodic and, frankly, hit-or-miss. One of the most consistent relationships that we have developed is with John Jay College of Criminal Justice. This has been a multi-faceted partnership that has included joint research, community service projects and, perhaps most notably, a special Steamboat Fellowship initiative.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Public Health Approach to Public Safety

In recent months, we've done a few things with the COPS office at the Department of Justice. On our end, this has been driven almost entirely by Julius Lang, who for years has been talking about the need for those who are interested in community policing, community prosecution and community courts to share information and resources. Most recently, Julius worked on a project with the COPS office that also included the California Endowment -- an effort to determine what law enforcement can learn from the world of public health. The COPS office recently posted a blog entry that offers some more details, which can be found here. In addition, we have posted a couple of podcasts related to the roundtable. The first is an interview with Anthony Iton of the California Endowment. The second is an interview with Mallory O'Brien, a researcher at Duke University.

PS, Speaking of interesting events, my wife recently organized an event on Jewish humor at the New School. I've forwarded a link to the video to several people who found it amusing.