Saturday, March 31, 2012

PASS Awards

Each year, the National Council for Crime and Delinquency honors a handful of writers and journalists who do good work on topics of criminal justice with PASS Awards. This year, the Center for Court Innovation pulled in three separate PASS Awards in three different media: one for our podcast series, New Thinking; one for our community justice video, Testing New Ideas; and one for Learning by Doing, our comic book guide to criminal justice demonstration projects. Lots of people worked to make these products special. I can't name them all here, but I did want to mention Robert V. Wolf, our director of communications. Rob has been with us for more than a decade and has played a crucial role in both maintaining our unique corporate voice and pushing us to explore new means of getting out our message to the world.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wesleyan Center for Prison Education

Last night, I participated in an event to raise funds for the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education, a great program that provides a liberal arts education to inmates in a Connecticut prison. One of the reasons why I have chosen to support the program (I am on their advisory board) is that I feel like the liberal arts is a wonderful tool for teaching both empathy and perspective. Those are two of the things that I think I took away from my undergraduate education, at least.

I recently read a Rolling Stone interview with Bruce Springsteen that underlined this point for me. In the piece, Springsteen says (cursing deleted by me):

The guys at Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers forgot...that they are a part of a continuum of history and it's not about the buck that you make today at whoever's expense. If there's not a sense of continuity, a sense of some sort of communal obligation and responsibility, a sense of a future involved in what you're doing, and a sense of being beholden to the past, you end up being one shallow, greedy mother*****, just trying to get all you can get.

Springsteen's obviously talking about white collar crooks rather than the kind of inmates that participate in the Wesleyan program, but I think the underlying logic is the same.

To learn more or to donate to the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education, click here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Addressing Youth Violence

Today has been dominated by Crown Heights. I started the morning at the New School, where the Center for New York City Affairs hosted a talk by David Kennedy. Kennedy was followed by a panel on combating youth violence that featured Reean Charles from our YO S.O.S. project. While the subject of the event was grim (the overlapping problems of excessive violence and incarceration in poor, minority neighborhoods), the mood was anything but. Kennedy offered a shortened version of the argument that he makes in his book Don't Shoot, which details the remarkable work he has done to bring law enforcement and community groups together to deter gun violence. The other panelists, who included city councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito and NYPD assistant commissioner Kevin O'Connor, also offered hopeful notes about a range of efforts currently taking place on the ground with very little fanfare.

This afternoon, I spent a couple of hours at the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center talking with a few of our staff who are working to respond to gun violence in the neighborhood. (For more details of what we are up to, check out "From Chicago to Brooklyn".)  Unfortunately, there have been a couple of shooting incidents in Crown Heights in the past few days, including one involving a relative of one of our outreach workers. As part of our SOS initiative, the Mediation Center responds every time there is a shooting, mobilizing community residents to send the message that violence is unacceptable. Tonight's response starts at 6pm at the corner of St. John's and Kingston.

The Nonprofit 1 Percent

I spent last night at Coro New York talking with a group of young fellows about one of my favorite subjects: the non-profit sector. One of the things I discussed was my sense that there were two related trends currently at work in the non-profit sphere: the first a movement toward more and more out-sourcing by government to non-profits and the second a movement toward holding non-profits to higher and higher standards of accountability. (While in general it is hard to argue against accountability, I expressed a concern that if we tighten the screws on non-profits too much, we will ameliorate the very advantages that make non-profits better able to deliver services in many instances than government.) Anyway, I was walking to the subway this morning when I spied the latest issue of the Village Voice which has the provocative headline "The Nonprofit 1 Percent." The article, which focuses on a single non-profit that paid its CEO a salary that the Voice deems to be excessive, isn't really worth reading, but it is worth paying attention to: it is an expression of a growing backlash against non-profits that those of us who work in the sector would do well to keep our eyes on.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


A few things that caught my eye today:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

7 Habits of Highly Effective Public Servants

I was lucky to be asked this year to serve on the selection committee for the Sloan Public Service Awards, which are given out to six New York City employees (out of more than 300,000 workers) each year. As Mary McCormick, the president of the Fund, explains, "people take public service for granted." The awards are a way of drawing public attention to exemplary performance by the men and women who teach our children, clean our streets, create our parks, and perform all of the other tasks that keep our city moving forward each day. While there is an element of pain to being on the selection committee (choosing among worthy candidates can be very difficult), there is mostly a great deal of pleasure in being able to honor unsung heroes.

Today, the Fund for the City of New York organized a bus trip to present the six winners with their awards (including a $10,000 check) at their place of work. It is a wonderful way to experience some of the greatness and diversity of New York City. The sites varied from the high-tech command center for the Office of Emergency Management to a gritty bus depot in East New York. The winners were a varied lot too, coming from the fields of science, education, health care, historic preservation, and transportation.

While each Sloan Award recipient is of course unique, it was possible to discern some common traits among the group. I'm not sure any of this rises above the level of cliche, but these were things that I thought the winners had in common:

1. All of the winners communicated a palpable love for New York City.

2. Jefrick Dean, a bus operator who was profiled by Sam Roberts in the New York Times yesterday, talked about the difference between doing one's job whole-heartedly and half-heartedly. All of the winners seemed wholly committed to their work and unafraid of hard work.

3. Donna Lena Gordon, director of palliative care at Coney Island Hospital emphasized her belief in life-long learning, something that was exhibited by all of the other winners as well.

4. All of the winners displayed a remarkable degree of graciousness and humility, taking pains to deflect attention, credit others for their success and acknowledge those who had helped them along the way.

5. The quality of empathy and the ability to listen came up repeatedly in the remarks that others made about the winners.

6. Clare Bauman, a teacher at the High School of Telecommunications Arts & Technology, hailed her principal, Phil Weinberg, for his use of language, talking about how he uses words (including an annual letter of gratitude) to motivate students and create a sense of community at the school. Jefrick Dean is also clearly a master communicator, able to defuse tension on his routes and to minister to his fellow bus drivers back at the depot.

7. Finally, all of the winners seemed driven by their own internal standard of excellence -- their motivation clearly did not come from a desire for public acclaim or at the urging of their supervisors.

So there you have it: seven habits of highly effective public servants. Kudos to the winners and to the Fund for the City of New York for organizing a remarkable program.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Thinking About Crime and Justice has a good piece entitled "New York courts revisit juvenile justice" that looks at New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's efforts to rethink how the courts handle cases involving 16 and 17 year old defendants. The article focuses on the new diversion options being offered at our Bronx Community Solutions project.

Speaking of rethinking conventional wisdom, today marks the 20th anniversary of The New Press, which published Good Courts: The Case for Problem-Solving Justice, the book that John Feinblatt and I co-wrote back in 2005. In addition to Good Courts, The New Press has published an array of provocative books about criminal justice by writers I like, including such authors as Marc Mauer, David Cole, David Troutt, David Anderson, and Alex Papachristou. I encourage you to check out their backlist and maybe order a book or two to celebrate their anniversary.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Notes from England

I spent last week in London checking up on our office there. We continue to deepen our understanding of the local culture, broaden our pool of allies and friends, and strengthen our track record of delivering quality product. Among other things, on this trip Aubrey and I met with the leadership of the Labor Party, checked out our new office space at the Barrow Cadbury Trust, met with all three of our core foundation supporters, advised a woman creating a new charity to advocate for judicial change in the UK, reviewed the progress that a team of researchers have made evaluating drug courts in England, and attended a 10th anniversary event for our partners at the think tank Policy Exchange. Aubrey and Anton then left me in London and went to Bristol where they participated in a national probation conference.

Much of whatever free time I had on this trip was devoted to Charles Dickens. My wife, who is working on a Dickens-related book, came over to join me for the weekend and we checked out Dickens exhibits at the National Portrait Gallery, the Dickens Museum and other venues.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Conversation with David Onek

David Onek is someone I know from growing up in Washington D.C. Through sheer coincidence, he has also found himself in the business of trying to change the criminal justice system. He has worked both in the non-profit sector and in government, most notably helping to run the criminal justice system in San Francisco under former Mayor Gavin Newsom. He recently ran an underdog race for district attorney in San Francisco, ultimately finishing second. Onek is now at Berkeley Law School where, among other things, he hosts a great podcast series. He was kind enough to invite me to chat earlier this week. Click here to listen to the conversation, which touches on community courts, procedural justice, and the lessons that Aubrey Fox and I learned during our research for Trial and Error in Criminal Justice Reform: Learning from Failure. To see other conversations from Onek's podcast series, click here.

James Q. Wilson, RIP

Two pieces of sad news to report this week: first is the death of James Q. Wilson, co-author, with George Kelling, of "Broken Windows," the seminal Atlantic magazine article that transformed law enforcement both here in the U.S. and abroad. I never met Wilson, but I have been fortunate to spend some time with Kelling. As an institution, the Center for Court Innovation owes them both a debt: the broken windows theory is one of the ideas that animated our community courts.

Unfortunately, Wilson's was not the only death to touch the Center recently. A week ago, Michael Rothenberg, the executive director of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, passed away. Michael, whose career included a stint at the Vera Institute of Justice working on jury issues, was a fellow traveler in the world of justice reform. He will be missed.