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.