Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Public Enemy

Yesterday's Providence Journal had a story on Rhode Island's efforts to create a specialized domestic violence docket that quotes our own Rebecca Thomforde Hauser. Our national technical assistance efforts continue to bear fruit...

At the risk of over-sharing, my first thought on reading the piece was not of domestic violence but of my own brief history writing for the paper known as the "ProJo." Back in the early 90s, I lived in Providence for a short spell. I cobbled together different part-time jobs to stay afloat, including writing grants for local non-profits. What I enjoyed the most, however, was doing freelance music criticism for the ProJo. This was back in the days before the Internet, so sadly none of my work seems to be available on the web. But here is a scan of a piece that I wrote for the paper on Public Enemy just for the historical record.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What If the Secret to Success Is Failure?

A few things have put the subject of failure back on my mind of late. My brother-in-law Tom (who runs an organization called Heartland Democracy) pointed out that The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story a couple of weeks ago -- "What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?" -- the title of which is a neat summary of the argument that Aubrey Fox and I were trying to make in Trial & Error in Criminal Justice Reform: Learning from Failure. (For those few of you who haven't already read the book, Criminal Justice magazine recently published a slightly adapted version of one of the chapters, which they entitled, "Why Good Programs Go Bad.") Then Dall Forsythe at Atlantic Philanthropies sent me a link to a story in the Non-Profit Quarterly about how an overreliance on accountability may actually undermine confidence in public institutions. I find the whole issue of public-government relations fascinating. Part of what we tried to say in the Trial & Error book is that in the world of criminal justice, officials are often guilty of articulating unrealistic goals and then failing to meet them -- and that this dynamic tends to lead to public cynicism about government.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lippman on Juvenile Justice Reform

At a breakfast speech at the Citizens Crime Commission this morning, New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman called for New York State to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. This would effectively transfer some 45,000 cases involving 16 and 17 year olds from criminal court to family court. From my perspective, this is one of the rare policy announcements that is simultaneously a bold move and a conservative play. It is conservative because New York has somehow gotten out of step with the rest of the country on this issue; only one other state (North Carolina) sets the age at 16 and they are apparently about to change it. So it isn't exactly a radical notion that Lippman is advancing. Having said that, every issue needs a champion and Lippman is certainly taking a valuable leadership role here. Among other things, Lippman's speech called for careful study of the financial implications of raising the age, legislative change in Albany, and the creation of pilot projects in criminal courts where judges will receive specialized training and access to enhanced sentencing options for 16 and 17 year olds. The Center will have a role in working with the courts to make these projects a reality. New York Times coverage of the speech can be found here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Various and Sundry

A few things from around the Internet that caught my eye today, most involving friends of mine or organizations that we have worked with in the past:

Judge Kevin Burke, a leading light in the fight for procedural justice and newly installed as president of the American Judges Association, has started a new blog.

I've been so busy shilling for the Center's upcoming 15th anniversary event that I thought I'd give it a rest for a day and highlight the Center for Urban Pedagogy's upcoming benefit on Oct. 13th. Keen readers of this blog will remember that we partnered with CUP on one of my favorite projects of the past couple of years: a comic book guide to the juvenile justice system for young people arrested in New York.

A New York Times editorial quotes research by John Jay's Jeff Butts to make the case that states should incarcerate fewer juveniles and use more community-based alternatives -- exactly what programs of ours like QUEST and the Red Hook Community Justice Center and the Staten Island Youth Justice Center have been doing for years.

Sticking with the Times, the paper also covered the race for district attorney in San Francisco with an emphasis on the candidates' support for restorative justice. Potentially good news for the community court in San Francisco?

My buddy Glenn Markman's wife, Jan-Testori Markman, has an art opening this Thursday. I like the stuff that's featured on her website.

Which is more important offense or defense? My favorite soccer blog, Missed A Sitter by my buddy John Bostwick, takes on this eternal debate.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Don't Shoot

A busy day today: I spent this morning at 100 Centre Street walking through the arrest-to-arraignment process with our friends at the Criminal Justice Agency, had coffee with Alison Stewart who will serve as MC at our upcoming 15th anniversary celebration, participated in a remote board meeting for the Australian Centre for Court and Justice Service Innovation, and attended the Vera Institute's annual fundraiser. I also noted that long-time friend of the Center David Kennedy is fast approaching the publication date for his new book, Don't Shoot. He has generously posted an excerpt on his website if you are interested in giving it a test ride.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Helping Parents in Brooklyn

I spent this afternoon in Brooklyn Family Court. Going to Family Court isn't always a happy experience. After all, it is a place of broken marriages, juvenile offenses and family dysfunction. But not today. Today was a graduation ceremony for a unique family support program that we have been piloting with the help of the Family Court and the Human Resources Administration (the City's welfare agency). The goal of the program is to help parents (dads, really) make their child support payments and learn how to interact with their children more effectively. Four men graduated from the program today. Together, they were responsible for making more than $16,000 worth of child support payments. But clearly the program is about both dollars and sense (forgive the horrible pun). As one of the graduates said when he spoke, the initiative is really about "helping the judicial system see beyond the money to the person behind the case." All in all, an impressive day. I'm hoping we can build on this foundation in the days ahead. Kudos to Liberty and her team for organizing.

PS -- Here's a link to a nice photo commemorating the Red Hook Community Justice Center's visit to a firehouse.

PPS -- Center staffer Sarah Schweig has just released her first book of poetry. Haven't read it yet, but if its anything like the work of hers that I have read, it is worth checking out. Click here to order.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Five Years Ago

In the run-up to our 15th anniversary celebration on October 4th, I've been going through our archives and choosing some interesting photographs from the history of the Center for Court Innovation. Today's shot was taken at our 10th anniversary, and features Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the podium as the last two New York State chief judges -- Judith Kaye and Jonathan Lippman -- look on. The 10th anniversary party, which took place at the City Bar and featured the release of our Documenting Results book, was a great bash. Here's hoping that the 15th is even better...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Discretionary Justice

Yesterday saw the return of Leslie Paik to the Center for Court Innovation. An alum of the Center, Leslie is now a professor at the City University of New York and has written a book, Discretionary Justice, that grows out of more than a year's worth of ground-level field research at a juvenile drug court in California. Leslie's presentation was about the challenges of defining and responding to non-compliance in a juvenile drug court setting. She emphasized that the messy realities of teenage life in problematic families don't easily conform to the rules and structure of the justice system -- even in a setting like drug court that is supposed to be more flexible and understanding than conventional courts. Leslie made a big contribution to the Center while she was here; it is nice to see her making a contribution to academia as well.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The New York Miracle

Today's New York Law Journal has a great op-ed by two people I admire: New York City deputy mayor Linda Gibbs and NYC probation commissioner Vinny Schiraldi. Gibbs and Schiraldi write about a new mayoral initiative to change the trajectories of young black men. Along the way, they discuss what I think is still an under-reported story: New York City's remarkable track record in reducing both crime and incarceration. The article itself is behind a pay wall, but I'll spare you the effort of trying to get past it by quoting my favorite lines here (emphasis is mine):

New York's unique, dual success in reducing both crime and incarceration has been attributed to a number of factors, including innovative police practices, a concerted effort to eliminate poverty and one of the nation's most robust networks of alternative to incarceration programs. We've taught the country that locking up African-American and Latino youth and throwing away the key is short-sighted, ineffective and expensive. While incarceration will always be an unfortunate necessity...it is increasingly our criminal justice system's backstop, not its backbone.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

17 Years and Counting

Tomorrow marks the 17th anniversary of the day I started working at the Midtown Community Court. This photo of John Feinblatt and me was actually taken a year or two later, but it gives a sense of how young we both were back then. As an added bonus, here is a link to one of the first articles about the Midtown Community in the New York Times. While the piece describes the fact that both Legal Aid and the Manhattan DA at the time opposed the project, there's no escaping the topic sentence: "Justice has never looked so fabulous."

PS, thanks to Cynthia, Bill and the folks at the Wesleyan alumni magazine for providing the above photo.

PPS, to complete today's dose of nostalgia, here is a link to a great post on the egotrip website about the making of Boogie Down Productions' "My Philosophy" video, which was one of the songs that kindled my interest in hip-hop back in the 80s.