Wednesday, October 31, 2012

More on Sandy

Today was a day to assess the damage that Sandy has wrought.  Perhaps predictably, the news was both good and bad.  Several Center for Court Innovation projects managed to get up and running, albeit imperfectly.  While we were open for business at Bronx Community Solutions, Brownsville Community Justice Center, QUEST, and the Harlem Community Justice Center, several projects remained closed, including the Staten Island Youth Justice Center, Midtown Community Court, Newark Community Solutions, and the Red Hook Community Justice Center.

Red Hook, which is located in southwest Brooklyn a short walk from the waterfront, has been the hardest hit.  A torn banner is the least of our worries (thanks to Brett Taylor for the above photo); in addition to having no electricity, the building also has several feet of water inside.  I fear it will be some time before the Justice Center is back to full operations.

In the meantime, our team in Red Hook is still working to make a difference in the neighborhood.  According to Jessica Colon, the deputy director of the Justice Center:

This morning, we canvassed Red Hook to identify areas and people in assistance. The volunteers worked with the New York City Housing Authority to reach out to home-bound, frail, and elderly residents in Red Hook's public housing development. Volunteers are also working with another local organizations, including the Red Hook Initiative which is giving out supplies and food to local residents.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Recovering From Sandy

Like the rest of the New York metropolitan area, all of us at the Center for Court Innovation are recovering from yesterday's storm.  Unfortunately, because public transit has been suspended, it has been difficult to assess what we will be facing as we look to get our operations back on line.

I've had several reports from Red Hook, which was one of the coastal areas that experienced major flooding yesterday.  Thankfully, the exterior of the Red Hook Community Justice Center appears undamaged (save for the banner), but no one has been able to go inside to see what kind of damage the water did.   Red Hook in general appears to be a "mess" according to our staff there -- strong smell of sewage, lights out, debris everywhere.

Other than that, not too much to report.  The exterior of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center appears to have been damaged by the winds.   At least one Center staffer lives in Zone A and had to be evacuated.  Several are still without power.

Clearly, it is going to take some time for us to be back at full strength, both as an organization and as a City.  But we have been through a lot in recent years -- 9-11, the blackout of 2003, Hurricane Irene, the financial collapse of 2008, etc -- and I know we will get through this too.

Friday, October 26, 2012

My Cousin (Twice Removed)

We're in the midst of the World Series so baseball is on my mind a little more than it usually is.

In truth, it has been years since I actively followed major league baseball.  I grew up in Washington DC and was a fairly rabid Baltimore Orioles fan back when the O's fielded stars like Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken and regularly competed for championships.  Since moving to New York City in the early 1990s, I've left behind my loyalty to the O's, but I have never managed to summon much enthusiasm for my adopted hometown's teams;  the Yankees and the Mets tend to be either unlikable or unwatchable -- and sometimes both.

In recent years, the slim line keeping me tethered to our national pastime has been a family tie.  It turns out that my grandmother's cousin was a big-leaguer: Morrie Arnovich.  Arnovich is remembered by few without a blood link to him, but he played for several seasons in the 1930s and 1940s, even making the All-Star team.  I like to joke that he's the 5th greatest Jewish baseball player of all-time, since most people can only name two famous Jewish players (Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg), but the truth is that Arnovich was nowhere near that good.  (See, for example, this list of the best 18 Jewish ballplayers of all-time, which scandalously fails to even mention my first cousin twice removed.)

Anyway, I've started to compile a small collection of Morrie Arnovich cards and paraphernalia.  (I realize it is a banal observation, but it is amazing what you can find on eBay.  I just paused to do a quick search and found multiple Morrie Arnovich autographs on sale, although the price tags -- typically around 150 bucks -- deterred me from making an impulse buy.)

The Internet is also a great place to find the occasional Morrie Arnovich anecdote.  Here's my favorite: the story of how Arnovich, who was mostly a singles hitter and weighed in the neighborhood of 170 pounds, hit the longest home run in baseball history.  I desperately want to believe this story is true.

Addendum: Sadly, just hours after I wrote the above post, I learned that one of the biggest baseball fans that I have ever known, Jimmy White, passed away.  Jimmy was a hard-core Boston Red Sox supporter.  He lived through decades when this meant an annual dose of misery, not to mention derision from other teams' fans.   Jimmy lived most of his life behind enemy lines in Washington DC, serving as a lawyer at the Department of Energy -- and a close friend of my parents.   I loved talking baseball with Jimmy -- his love for the game was infectious.  He brought a wry sense of humor to the Red Sox' foibles, and to the rest of his life as well.  I will miss him.

Probation Exchange

Today marks the final day of a four-day visit to New York by Heather Munro, the head of the London Probation Trust, and a team of her senior staff.   The trip was organized by the Centre for Justice Innovation and included visits to a number of our demonstration projects (Red Hook, Brownsville, Newark, etc.) as well as to New York City Probation. 

To cap off the visit, we had a wide-ranging conversation here at the Center's headquarters covering such topics as risk-needs responsivity, cost-benefit analysis, and peer mentoring.  Heather described how her agency is adapting to a changing landscape in England, particularly the growing interest in contracting out some government functions to private providers and testing "payment by results" commissioning schemes. 

Over the past few years, we have worked on several projects that involved Probation officials in England and Wales.  (For example, see Phil Bowen's recent piece on Intensive Alternatives to Custody.)   One of the things that I like about the relationship that we have developed is that it feels like a genuine two-way street: there is a great deal going on in England that we would do well to emulate here in New York.  For example, one of the initiatives that Heather described was UserVoice, an effort to give probationers a formal, organized voice within Probation.  Building on the similar work we've done with the Youth Justice Board, this feels like an idea we should be looking at closely.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Reflections on Jane Jacobs

Great news from our friends at the Rockefeller Foundation: Rosanne Haggerty, the founder of Community Solutions and the Brownsville Partnership, is one of the winners of the Jane Jacobs Medal for her contributions to urban life in New York City.

I've known Rosanne for more than a decade and have always admired her drive and ambition.  In fact, the Center for Court Innovation made an institutional commitment to Brownsville largely because of Rosanne's advocacy -- she has been relentless in trying to attract dollars, programming, and political will to the neighborhood.  The Center is just one of many organizations that she has cajoled into action.   I'm grateful for her friendship and excited about this latest feather in her cap.

As it happens, I've been thinking about Jane Jacobs' classic book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities a lot recently as I've tried to work out my feelings about the new Brooklyn Nets arena around the corner from my house.  What would Jacobs have thought of the Barclays Center?  It is impossible to say, of course.   On the one hand, as an advocate for the street grid, she may have loathed the sheer size of the project and the impact it has on the flow of pedestrians between Park Slope, Prospect Heights and Fort Greene. On the other hand, as a believer in mixed use, she may have championed the way that the building is bringing new audiences and new activities into the center of Brooklyn.

As a special bonus, here's a link to Rosanne Haggerty writing about Jane Jacobs.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Different Sort of Court

The New York World takes a deep look at a part of the justice system that rarely gets much attention: how summonses are processed.  The Red Hook Community Justice Center is featured prominently.  Speaking of Red Hook, one of the Justice Center's latest experiments is an effort to adapt some of the restorative peacemaking ideas that have long been a feature of tribal justice systems to southwest Brooklyn.  The Red Hook Star-Revue has an early look at the project, which is very much in its infancy.  Finally, our research director, Mike Rempel, offers a blog posting on "Social Science Space" about the impact of drug courts.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Young Men's Initiative

Scott Millstein, the executive director of Coro New York, recently sent me a link to the annual report for Mayor Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative.  While Scott was sending it around because Coro's youth leadership council is prominently featured, I couldn't help thumbing through the entire document, which details the city's effort -- in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and Open Society Foundations -- to alter the life trajectories of young black and Hispanic men across New York.  It is an ambitious program that touches on issues of health, education, employment, and justice. 

The Center for Court Innovation has been an active partner in several pieces of the Young Men's Initiative, including its efforts to reform probation (NeON, Justice Community), create new alternatives to incarceration (AIM), and ease the reentry process (Justice Corps).  Indeed, one of the participants in our Brownsville program is featured on p. 39 of the Young Men's Initiative annual report.

One of our goals at the Center is to serve as a resource for reformers in local government.  Sometimes this means working in far-flung locations, in places like Alaska or Australia or Saudi Arabia or Scotland, training judges and providing advice to officials trying to make their justice systems more effective.  Closer to home, in New York City, we play a similar role but also go a step further, operating programs that attempt to make a difference in the lives of thousands of New Yorkers.  Our work with the Young Men's Initiative is a good indication that local policymakers continue to see us as a valuable partner.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Innovative Judging

The title of this year's American Judges Association conference, which took place this week in New Orleans, was "Innovative Judging."  The event had a decided Center for Court Innovation flavor.  Rebecca Tomforde Hauser led two sessions, one on how judges should handle pro se protective orders and the other on how rural judges are grappling with domestic violence.  Aubrey Fox led a session with judge Steve Alm from Hawaii on the HOPE Probation model.  And I facilitated a panel on community courts that featured Courtney Bryan of the Midtown Community Court, Russell Canan of DC Superior Court, Victoria Pratt of Newark Community Solutions, and Thomas Gove of the Vancouver Community Court.

One of the themes that ran through the entire conference was the value of procedural justice.   For those of us who care about this idea, this is good news: as persuasive as external advocates can be, if procedural justice is going to take deep root in the judiciary, it is crucial to have judges convince other judges to re-think their approach on the bench.  Full credit goes to Kevin Burke and Brian MacKenzie for their commitment to procedural justice and for organizing the conference.