Monday, May 28, 2012

Drug Courts on the March

This week marks the 18th national drug court conference, convened by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

The week got off to a rousing start with an appearance by US Attorney General Eric Holder at a drug court graduation in Washington DC.  In his remarks, the Attorney General called drug courts “an essential part of our larger national strategy for ensuring public safety, protecting the American people from crime and violence, and giving better outcomes for those involved with the criminal justice system. This Administration, and my boss, President Obama, remain deeply committed to expanding [drug courts].”

As we usually do, the Center for Court Innovation is sending a small contingent to the drug court conference, led by Valerie Raine who oversees all of our drug court work.  Mike Rempel, our research director, will have a particularly prominent role this year, participating in numerous panels to present findings from the multi-site adult drug court evaluation.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sweet Sorrow

This week brings news that Raye Barbieri is leaving the Center for Court Innovation to join the Bloomberg administration as Deputy Commissioner at the Administration for Children's Services.   At ACS, Raye will help oversee the implementation of Close to Home, a major new juvenile justice initiative that moves much of the responsibility for young people in placement from the State to the City.

Raye is not the first person to leave the Center of course.  Our alums can be found in an array of important  positions, including leading national campaigns against guns (John Feinblatt), overseeing criminal justice policy for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (Liz Glazer),  overseeing city planning for Mayor Bloomberg (Amanda Burden), running successful consulting firms (Eric Lee), etc.  (I'm just scratching the surface here -- maybe this will motivate me to do another one of my infrequent alumni round-ups.)

While I feel no small amount of pride in all of these success stories, the truth of the matter is that if I had my druthers all of these people would still be at the Center.  I feel the same way about Raye.  Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of impact she makes in city government.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Media Roundup

A few recent bits and pieces from around the world wide web:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Crime, Place, and the American City

Robert Sampson, a professor at Harvard, has written a book called Great American City that is the product of a decade-long study of the neighborhoods of Chicago.  Today at the Vera Institute of Justice, Sampson gave a presentation on his findings.

Sampson's work affirms what many of us have long suspected based solely on our lived experience: place matters.  There were enormous differences among the different communities that Sampson studied (his presentation today focused primarily on poverty, crime and forms of community engagement).  Moreover, these differences tend to persist for generations.

Sampson is perhaps best known for his work on collective efficacy, which, to the extent I understand it, measures whether residents in a given neighborhood have the kind of social cohesion and mutual trust that they need to get important things done as a group. Lo and behold, neighborhoods that don't have a great deal of collective efficacy tend not to be very safe.

Much of Sampson's presentation had the force of common sense, but there were several nuggets that I found pleasingly counter-intuitive.  For example, he spoke briefly about the broken windows theory.  While he didn't dismiss broken windows entirely, he seemed to argue that there is a need for more nuanced thinking about the relationship between disorder and crime. Sampson used the expression "believing is seeing" to underline that perceptions of disorder are profoundly contextual, varying from place to place and group to group. For example, whites consistently perceive there to be more disorder than other ethnic groups.

Also of interest to me were Sampson's remarks about the importance of non-profit institutions to the health of communities, the inverse relationship between faith-based organizations and trust in public institutions (neighborhoods with more churches tended to have more distrust/cynicism about government), and the fact that neighborhoods with high voter turnout don't necessarily score high in collective efficacy (which, after all, is a group measure rather than an individual measure like voting).

Apologies to Sampson if I have gotten any of this wrong...I didn't take notes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Breakfast with the Manhattan DA

I was invited to hear Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. speak at a breakfast event this morning.   From my perspective, Vance hits all the right notes, talking in equal measure about his responsibility to improve public safety, promote innovation, and ensure the fundamental fairness of the justice system.  I was particularly struck by his commitment to self-reflection, which is one of the things that the Center for Court Innovation has attempted to promote through our study of the trial-and-error process.  Among other things, Vance talked about engaging the Vera Institute to analyze the data about how his office wields discretion in order to discern whether there is any unintended impacts on racial/ethnic minority groups.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

I spent the weekend in my hometown of Washington DC celebrating Mother's Day with my wife, my mother, and my sister-in-law.  It got me thinking about all of the women who have played a role in my career: people like Alice Shabecoff, author of Poisoned for Profit, who gave me my first job out of college; Aviva Meyer of the New Israel Fund, who taught me so much about fundraising; and, of course, former New York State Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, who helped inspire the creation of the Center for Court Innovation and has been a stalwart support of the organization over the past 15 years.

Speaking of the Center, I particularly wanted to highlight the debt that I owe to my former colleague Michele Sviridoff.  Michele easily ranks among the smartest and most hard-working co-workers I have ever had.  Among other accomplishments, she wrote the book pictured above, which documented some of the early impacts of the Midtown Community Court.  Over the years, Michele has taught me an enormous amount about research, the non-profit sector and the criminal justice system.  But what I admire the most about her is her selflessness (she never seeks the limelight) and her generosity (she is remarkably giving of both her time and her ideas).  I don't know how successful I've been, but I do my best to emulate both of these qualities.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Growing Older

The aging process has been on my mind.  I celebrated a relatively major birthday this week and tomorrow my eldest daughter gets bat mitzvah'd.   While enjoying these kinds of events is the positive side of growing older, there is a negative side as well, which was brought home to me by the news of Adam Yauch's passing earlier today.

It will probably surprise no reader of this blog that the Beastie Boys are one of my all-time favorite musical acts.  Indeed, the photo above (from Heeb magazine) is framed above my desk at home.  I've yet to read an obituary, but I'd be surprised if most of the tributes don't make reference to the remarkable arc of Yauch's public life: from boorish and hedonistic teenage behavior to thoughtful political action as an adult.  Yauch and the rest of the Beastie Boys aged much more gracefully than anyone could have imagined back when they first emerged in the mid-1980s and were dismissed as one-hit wonders.   I'm sorry that we won't get a chance to see a third act from Yauch given how remarkable his first two were.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Public/Private Ventures

This week brings the sad news that Public/Private Ventures is closing its doors after 35 years of operation.  To be honest, there hasn't been a lot of formal interaction between the Center for Court Innovation and P/PV, although at various points in our history we have tapped staff at P/PV to serve on roundtables, editorial boards and the like.  While P/PV didn't have a direct influence on our development, I have long been aware of the organization and its work.  In some ways, P/PV was a precursor of the Center for Court Innovation.  As a non-profit dedicated to researching social programs (including criminal justice innovations) and creating demonstration projects, P/PV was mining similar territory to the Center.  I don't know the back story about how or why they fell apart, but it is sobering to see them go.   It certainly makes me want to redouble my efforts to ensure that the Center's roots are strong.