Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Catching Up On My Reading

Last week was basically a wash for me at work as my whole family struggled with the flu. The only good part was that I got to catch up on my reading. Among other things, I spent some time with the work of Frank Zimring, author of The City That Became Safe. I visited Tom Tyler and Kevin Burke's new website devoted to procedural justice. And just for fun I also read this provocative essay by William Deresiewicz on the disadvantages of an elite education.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

State of the Judiciary

I spent today in Albany attending New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's annual state of the judiciary address. These events always feel a bit like reunions to me. It is a good reminder of how our work intersects with so many different people and parts of the state. In his remarks, Lippman highlighted seven priorities for the year ahead, including one that the Center for Court Innovation has been deeply involved in: reforming the way that courts handle criminal cases involving 16 and 17 year olds.

Juvenile Justice Reform

Al Siegel and I have a short piece in the New York Law Journal today under the headline "Time Is Ripe for Reforms in Juvenile Justice." Here's an excerpt:

Numerous studies have documented that community-based programs are demonstrably cheaper and more effective than incarceration, but these programs aren't free. Which raises an important question: in a time of fiscal uncertainty, will government be willing to put its money where its mouth is? Is it possible to generate the political will necessary to allocate scarce resources to providing delinquent young people with the structure and support they need to get back on track?

Unfortunately, there is evidence that the answer may be no. The current budget being negotiated in Albany eliminates the Community Reinvestment Program, which provides $4 million each year to support community-based alternatives for young people charged with delinquency.

These programs, which include one that our agency runs in Queens, are helping hundreds of vulnerable New Yorkers receive desperately-needed mental health care, drug treatment and other services.

In many ways, the stars are aligned for significant juvenile justice reform in New York—it is not every day that the mayor, the governor, and the chief judge are all in agreement. But experience has taught us a crucial lesson when it comes to reforming complex government systems. While it is important to have buy-in at the top from key government decision makers, real change can only happen at the ground level. This is not the time to consider scaling back our commitment to community-based services for troubled youth.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hank Pirowski, RIP

Earlier today, I received the sad news that Hank Pirowski had passed away after a long illness. Hank was a pioneering figure in New York State. He was an early believer in drug court and played a key role in bringing a number of different problem-solving courts to Buffalo. My favorite project of his was Buffalo's C.O.U.R.T.S program, which helped to inspire our own Bronx Community Solutions.

I wasn't particularly close to Hank -- all told, I probably only spent a few hours in his company. But I think I was one of many who admired him from afar for his creativity and his industry, to say nothing of his quirky sense of humor. My favorite moment with Hank was a lunch we had together a few years back during a visit I made to Buffalo. After a tour of C.O.U.R.T.S, he took me to a local lunch place and graciously shared stories of his brief experience as a player at the Washington Redskins training camp. He will be missed.

CEO Wins Innovations Award

Congratulations to Mayor Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs and the Center for Economic Opportunity for winning the Innovations in American Government Award from Harvard University. The Center for Court Innovation was fortunate to win this award back in 1998 and it made a big difference, providing us with a sense of credibility, heft, and exposure that it might have taken us years to establish through normal means.

Breakfast with Cantor

This morning I was invited to hear Majority Leader Eric Cantor speak at a breakfast convened by the Association for a Better New York. Cantor talked about his connections to New York City (he went to grad school at Columbia and met his future wife on a blind date here) before briefly sketching three broad themes that he said would be at the heart of the Republican Party's legislative agenda this year: opposing tax increases, opposing regulations that would hinder America's ability to compete in the global marketplace, and supporting America's role as a global superpower/policeman for the world. No surprises there. The only thing that I really found notable about Cantor's remarks were what he didn't say: the words "President Obama" and "Democratic Party" did not pass his lips once. I think this is a sign of election year politics and the heightened partisanship on Capitol Hill generally. It is also worth noting that public safety did not come up at all either in Cantor's speech or the question-and-answer period that followed -- another indication that crime has fallen off the political radar in recent years.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why I Watch Sports

I once asked Herb Sturz about what drove him to do public interest work. I can't remember his exact words, but he told me that his instinct was always to fight for the underdog and that he always sought out opportunities in his career to do just that. The pull of a good underdog story is one of the primary reasons that I follow professional sports. They don't come along very often, alas.

Happily, this weekend saw two unbelievable stories involving two of my favorite teams: the Knicks and Arsenal. The Knicks story is basically inescapable if you happen to live in New York: with their two most heralded players out of the lineup, the Knicks have gone on an unexpected winning streak led by the cast-off point guard Jeremy Lin. Lin is a true rarity in the NBA: a Harvard grad and an Asian-American. The odds that he would lead the Knicks in scoring for the past week must have been astronomical. Happier still, Lin is a pass-first guard whose high basketball IQ seems to have infected the rest of the team. The two adjectives I would have used to describe the Knicks prior to Lin's emergence were "selfish" and "unwatchable." No longer.

Less of a long shot than Lin but still utterly surprising and delightful is the story of Thierry Henry's return to Arsenal. Henry left Arsenal five years ago as their all-time leading scorer. He briefly went on to greater glory with Barcelona but then time and age seemed to catch up with him. His performances for the French national team were unexceptional and soon he found himself in the soccer backwater of New Jersey playing for the Red Bulls in MLS. With Arsenal toiling through a mediocre season and struggling to score goals, they sent out the bat signal for Henry, bringing him back just for a month during the MLS off-season. No one quite knew what to expect of his return. There were many who worried that he would tarnish his legacy by playing poorly. But just the opposite has happened: the legacy has been burnished by three goals in substitute appearances, including yesterday's game winner in the 90th minute at Sunderland. It has been a rough year for supporters of Arsenal, but Henry's goal put a spring in my step all weekend.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Internal v. External

Putting the finishing touches on a busy week dominated by internal meetings...

One of the tricky things to get right as the executive director of a non-profit is finding the right balance between internal and external. I've seen executive directors err in both directions. Spend too much time trying to raise money and develop new projects and your organization can run into the ground. On the flip side, devoting too much attention to internal management can come at the expense of getting real work done in the broader world.

While this week was largely devoted to meetings at the Center for Court Innovation, they all felt purposeful and productive. In particular, I met with the directors of all of our operating projects to discuss a number of important topics, including how we use social media and how best to create a sense of connection between our off-site projects and our central headquarters.

Of the external meetings I had, the one that stood out was a conversation with folks at the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs Office of Financial Empowerment. They have found that providing individual financial counseling can not only help participants improve their financial situation (e.g. reducing debt, increasing savings) but can also act as a "super vitamin," improving other social service interventions. That is, helping people get their financial house in order can also help them find a job, get sober, locate housing. I'm interested in thinking through how this kind of intensive financial counseling might get integrated into criminal justice programs.

For more information on what the Department of Consumer Affairs is up to, check out this report.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Diverting Adolescents

Today's New York Law Journal has a piece on New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's new adolescent diversion initiative, which seeks to forge a new response to 16 and 17 year olds with criminal cases. The goal is to help these adolescents get the help they need -- and leave court without permanent criminal records, wherever possible. On the heels of Community Justice 2012, one of my favorite things about this initiative is that it underlines the ongoing value of New York's community courts; the Midtown Community Court, Red Hook Community Justice Center and Bronx Community Solutions are providing services and supervision to support participating young people.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Report from DC

A quick report from the first two days of Community Justice 2012 in Washington DC, where representatives from 7 countries and 75 different jurisdictions have come together to share their wisdom with one another and learn from experts in the field:

The capacity crowd of approximately 300 participants includes a good mix of newcomers and old friends. I was particularly gratified to see a good contingent of Center for Court Innovation alums on hand -- people like Derek Miodownik and Juli Ana Grant and Kate Krontiris who have gone on to greater glory but still have managed to stay involved with the world of court reform.

When the Center is at its best, one of the things that I think we do well is bridge the worlds of theory and practice. The agenda for Community Justice 2012 was a good example of this: panels on nuts-and-bolts subjects like how to implement an effective community service program were mixed in with more academic material on the relationship between crime and place and the dimensions of procedural justice.

While it isn't healthy to put too much stock in praise from officialdom, it is always nice to hear good things said about your agency. In this case, Community Justice 2012 presented an opportunity for people like Washington DC Mayor Vincent Gray, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, and Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson to highlight the contributions that the Center for Court Innovation has made to criminal justice reform in the U.S. (Kerlikowske's humorous plug for Daring to Fail was particularly appreciated.)

Last night, the DC court system and Target helped us host a reception for the attendees at the conference. As part of the event, we recognized the contributions of a number of folks, including longtime Seattle community court judge Fred Bonner, the founding team behind DC's East of the River community court, and Midtown Community Court judge Richard Weinberg who has recently been moved to a new assignment.

From my perspective, the spirit at the conference was notably upbeat. Despite the general mood of austerity, which includes the current federal restrictions on food expenditures (which meant that we couldn't provide guests with coffee let alone a meal) and the reality that many local jurisdictions are having to make some hard budgetary decisions, there was a general sense of optimism in the room. I think some of this may be attributable to the fact that the ideas that community courts embody -- treating defendants with dignity and respect, crafting meaningful alternatives to incarcerations, reaching out to local residents to bolster their confidence in government -- seem to be gaining traction in a lot of places. It is also worth noting that very few of the community courts represented at the conference are dependent on federal funding -- most are supported by state and local government.

While we throw a lot of events during the course of a typical year -- trainings, roundtables, open houses, etc -- this conference is one of the biggest we have put together. Many different departments played a role -- communications, technical assistance, operations, research, etc. If you'll forgive me a paternal moment, I couldn't be more proud of the team. Julius Lang and everyone who works in community justice technical assistance deserve enormous credit for pulling off a complicated undertaking with grace, style and a minimum of aggravation.