Monday, August 27, 2012

John Goldkamp, RIP

Sad news to report today.  My friend Tim Murray of the Pretrial Justice Institute tells me that John Goldkamp has passed away.   John was one of the leading criminal justice researchers in the country; he served for many years as the chair of Temple University's department of criminal justice.   

Unlike many of his peers, John was always eager to influence the world beyond academia.  While his research touched on many different subjects, I know John best from his work with drug courts.   When the field was still in an embryonic stage back in the early 1990s, John made several important intellectual contributions; among other things, he was the author or co-author of several studies that documented the effectiveness of drug courts.  At the Center for Court Innovation, we tabbed him on numerous occasions to participate in roundtables and to help us think through tricky research questions, including how to evaluate our technical assistance work with justice reformers around the country.

So John was a thoughtful academic who cared deeply about reforming the criminal justice system.   He was also a lot of fun.  I didn't get to hang out with him often, particularly in recent years, but whenever I did I had a good time.  I enjoyed his (sometimes sarcastic) sense of humor and appreciated his generosity in lettting me pick his brain.  (I think the fact that we both went to Wesleyan, albeit 20 years apart, maybe helped.)

It is difficult to convey John's unique personality in a short blog  posting.  If you are interested in getting just a taste of what John's voice was like, I encourage you to check out this interview that we conducted with him a few years ago as part of our failure project.   All of the trademark Goldkamp attributes are there, including his ability to look at the world from different angles and his capacity to marry scholarly insight to practical application.  I know I'm not alone in saying that I will miss him.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

This August marks the 50th anniversary of the first Spider-man comic book.  It may seem laughable, but I trace my interest in working in the non-profit sector to reading Spider-man as a kid.  For whatever reason, I was always struck by one of the core underlying themes of the Spider-man comics: Peter Parker's ability to rise above both challenges (his lack of a father, troubles with money) and temptations (the lure of celebrity) in order to do the right thing.  

In Spidey's honor, here are a few recent links from the Center for Court Innovation, many of which feature honorable people trying to do good work in difficult circumstances:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Report from Oxford

Last week, Jane Donoghue of the University of Oxford convened an international symposium on problem-solving courts and therapeutic jurisprudence.  It was a small, academic gathering, but several countries were represented nonetheless: Spain, England, Scotland, Holland, the US.  I was one of two Americans, along with David Wexler from the University of Puerto Rico.  (If you are interested in a look at Wexler's presentation, check out "New Wine in New Bottles.")

I've participated in a few academic gatherings devoted to problem-solving justice in my time.  I'm not generally a defensive person, but I often have to discipline myself not to feel attacked at these kinds of events.  In general, I find that many legal academics perform a similar maneuver when it comes to problem-solving courts: attempting to demonstrate how a putatively progressive idea is actually deeply regressive and harmful to defendants.  

The academic objections to problem-solving courts seem to boil down to two issues: first, a concern that, because of problem-solving courts, government money that should be given to community centers and social workers will instead be spent on the criminal justice system, and second, a concern that by unleashing judicial discretion, problem-solving courts give judges the freedom to run amok in a paternalistic effort to "cure" poor people and minorities.

These objections did indeed get expressed at Oxford, but I didn't find the tenor of the symposium overly negative. I think a lot of the credit goes to Eric Miller, a professor at St. Louis University School of Law, who aired many criticisms of problem-solving courts but did so in a manner that exhibited humor, warmth, and sensitivity.  In truth, I found myself agreeing with much of Miller's paper: he raises legitimate concerns about proportionality and due process and the unnecessary extension of state power that all problem-solving advocates would do well to keep in the back of their minds. 

Perhaps the most exciting part of the gathering for me was learning from Cyrus Tata of the University of Strathclyde about the growing interest in problem-solving justice in Scotland.   Also exciting was meeting so many people who had either visited one of our demonstration projects, read our written work, or met someone from the Center for Court Innovation at a conference -- it felt like the Center for Court Innovation truly has a global reach. 

In general, Oxford lived up to all of my best preconceived notions. The conference was at Balliol College, which is beyond lovely.  Jane Donoghue has gotten a book deal to publish the papers that were presented during the symposium, so soon enough you will be able to test my version of events against the written record.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Bit of Midtown History

As I wrote last week, I've been working on a paper for an international conference on problem-solving courts that will take place next week in Oxford.  As part of writing the paper, I've been spending some time sifting through the history of the Center for Court Innovation.  Among my discoveries was a file drawer full of early press clips from the Midtown Community Court.  The media coverage was almost universally positive.  What impressed me the most was that Midtown was endorsed by the editorial boards of all of New York’s daily newspapers, from the conservative New York Post ("the proposed community court represents a creative effort to render a neighborhood plagued by petty crime both safer and more conducive to commerce.") to the liberal New York Times ("Rather than impose fines or short jail terms...the new court would sentence many [minor] offenders to useful tasks like cleaning graffiti, helping at soup kitchens or sorting trash at recycling centers.").

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Brownsville in the News...

...for all the wrong reasons.  The headline in today's New York Daily News: "Held Hostage in Brownsville: Residents too afraid to leave their homes because of gun violence."  

Almost every week, I get an email from James Brodick, who directs our Brownsville Community Justice Center, about a new shooting or stabbing in the neighborhood.   Despite the depressing headlines, there's a lot of positive developments in the neighborhood, several of which the Daily News article makes reference to, including Brooklyn DA Joe Hynes' Back on Track initiative.   In conjunction with a range of government and neighborhood partners, we are in the process of launching a new anti-violence program that will focus on high-risk parolees.  To learn more, check out the Brownsville Community Justice Center blog for regular updates.