Thursday, February 21, 2013

Brushes With The Law


Another good event from our friends at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School this morning: Brushes with the Law: Young New Yorkers, Neighborhoods and the Criminal Justice System.  The Center for New York City Affairs has consistently been a force for good in local public policy, helping to lay the groundwork for significant juvenile justice and child welfare reform in New York City.  The event was timed to coincide with the release of a new edition of the Child Welfare Watch, which, as it happens, touches on a number Center for Court Innovation projects, including our work in Red Hook and Brownsville and our efforts to assist with NY Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's adolescent diversion program.  (Indeed, the artwork that the Center for New York City Affairs used to promote this morning's panel -- featured above -- is a mural at the Red Hook Community Justice Center.)

In some respects, it was tempting to view today's event at the New School as the culmination of years of work by the Center for New York City Affairs and by the dozens of advocacy groups, non-profit service providers, government agencies, and foundations that were represented in the audience.  Despite NYC Administration for Children's Services commissioner Ron Richter's contention that the overhaul of the system will never be complete because new needs will always be emerging, today's panel was a healthy reminder of just how far we have come in New York City.  Almost every indicator that came up -- from the number of young people in detention to the number of cases adjusted out of the system to the number of new programs being put in place to serve troubled teens -- is pointing in the right direction at the moment. I'm proud that the Center for Court Innovation has played a small, supporting role in all of this.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Canon


A few weeks ago, on a lark, I tried to write down the books and ideas that I thought had influenced the development of the Center for Court Innovation.   Above is a photo of the list that I compiled.

In the days since I came up with this impromptu canon, it has been pointed out to me that my list is profoundly flawed.  And, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that the list does not accurately reflect the diversity of our work.  Entire fields of knowledge that are central to our mission -- domestic violence, reentry, victims rights, juvenile justice, you name it -- are completely missing, as is the work of numerous important scholars.

In truth, it is impossible to narrow down the people and ideas that have influenced the Center to a tidy list of ten.  If you polled everyone who works at the Center, I'm sure you would identify dozens, if not hundreds, of different books than the ones I have listed.  So I proffer my list not as representative of the Center as a whole, but simply my own idiosyncratic take on what I have found particularly compelling over the twenty years that I have been working in criminal justice.

Here's the list along with links to the work in question:

Problem-Oriented Policing -- Herman Goldstein: The idea of problem-solving courts owes a huge conceptual debt to the pioneering work that Goldstein did with police.

Broken Windows -- George Kelling and James Wilson: It is impossible to imagine the Midtown Community Court happening without Kelling and Wilson making the case that minor crime needs to be taken seriously.

Pulling Levers -- David Kennedy: A great, thought-provoking read.  The article that launched hundreds of  crime prevention programs.

The Criminology of Place -- David Weisburd: Weisburd's scholarship didn't directly influence the development of community courts, but he articulates the value of focusing on the intersection of crime and place as well as anyone.

The Process Is The Punishment -- Malcolm Feeley: I can remember quoting liberally from Feeley's description of life in a low-level criminal court in numerous early funding proposals.

A Kind of Genius -- Sam Roberts: This biography of Herb Sturz describes his unique approach to social change, starting with the Vera Institute of Justice.  It contains a good chunk of our history as well -- the book covers the founding of the Midtown Community Court and touches on the subsequent creation of the Center for Court Innovation.

The City That Became Safe -- Franklin Zimring: Zimring's piece is a nice counterpart to Robert Martinson's infamous "nothing works" essay that reverberated throughout the field of criminal justice for so long; Zimring makes a persuasive argument that the actions of criminal justice agencies do in fact make a difference on the ground.

Bowling Alone -- Robert Putnam and Neighborhood Collective Efficacy -- Felton Earls, Robert Sampson, et al: In the early days of the Red Hook Community Justice Center, we spent a lot of time thinking about what makes neighborhoods safe and how to promote voluntary compliance to the law; these two theories particularly resonated with me.

Procedural Justice and Legitimacy -- Tom Tyler, Tracey Meares et al: I think the idea that criminal justice agencies are facing a crisis of legitimacy and that there is a need to re-engineer the way they interact with communities is at the core of much of what we do at the Center for Court Innovation.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

State of the Judiciary


Today in Albany, New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman presented his annual state of the judiciary address.  I've been lucky enough to attend a number of these speeches over the years and they always manage to strike a chord with me, for a number of reasons.

First and foremost is the setting: the Court of Appeals in Albany is a beautiful space that offers a living connection to the history of government and jurisprudence in New York (see above for a quick shot of the space, taken from my phone's camera).  Second, unless I am mistaken, the chief judge is under no constitutional mandate to make such an address.  Rather, Chief Judge Lippman (and Judge Judith Kaye before him) have chosen to make these remarks as an exercise in public transparency and accountability.  I'm always happy to be a witness to acts of good government.

Finally, like any "state of" address, these speeches offer a brief glimpse into what's on the mind of the judicial branch and its leadership.  For many years, Chief Judge Lippman and Chief Judge Kaye used the state of the judiciary address as a bully pulpit to argue for judicial salary increases.  Thanks to their advocacy -- and the efforts of the governor and legislature -- this issue has been taken off the table.  The energy of the system has returned to reform.   Chief Judge Lippman spelled out an ambitious agenda that touched on issues of civil legal services, commercial litigation, wrongful convictions, cameras in the courtroom and other topics.  He devoted a healthy section of the speech to the idea of reforming how courts handle cases involving 16- and 17-year old defendants -- an effort that the Center for Court Innovation is helping to implement and evaluate.

But the headlines tomorrow will undoubtedly be devoted to Lippman's call for bail reform.   Lippman spelled out a number of problems with New York's current approach to bail, including the fact that judges are not allowed to take public safety into consideration when making bail decisions.  He pointed out that the system relies heavily on for-profit bail bonds companies, which often operate with a different set of values than other justice agencies.  And he called for new investments in supervised release programs, including a proposed pilot program for misdemeanants in New York City that he has asked the Center for Court Innovation to help plan.  We've got a lot of work to do on this, but I'm eager to get started.