Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kelling at John Jay


I spent this morning at John Jay College at a standing-room only lecture by George Kelling hosted by the National Network for Safe Communities and David Kennedy. Kelling has said nice things about the Midtown Community Court in the past and was even generous enough to blurb my book Good Courts, so take my opinion with a grain of salt, but I found his speech fascinating. Kelling essentially provided an overview of criminal justice policymaking in the U.S., with a particular focus on policing over the past two generations. One of the themes that he returned to again and again was the importance of establishing and maintaining legitimacy among agents of social control. Two of his lines struck a chord with me: "police are the people and the people are the police" and "in a democracy, you cannot police citizens unless they consent to be policed."

Kelling's focus is obviously the police, but his thinking resonates with our work within court systems and the lessons we are learning about the importance of procedural justice. In talking about the transformation of the New York City subway system in the 1990s, Kelling credited police with clearly articulating their enforcement strategy and then rigorously following through on that strategy. The more I look around, the more I think that this seemingly simple idea -- purposeful communication combined with a focus on implementation that encourages the system to live up to its intentions -- underlies many of the most intriguing innovations of recent years (HOPE Probation, the drug market intervention, community courts, etc.)