Sunday, June 23, 2013

On Media Coverage

I'm just back from a few days in London with my friends at the Centre for Justice Innovation UK, which we have now spun off into a separate charity.

One of the issues that we discussed was whether the Centre should try to raise its public profile.  In my experience, to be effective, a non-profit has to have a certain visibility -- otherwise, it is impossible to get people (funders, government officials, potential partners, etc) to return your phone calls.  At the same time, it is easy to confuse media attention with impact -- not every agency that appears in the papers on a regular basis is actually doing a good job.  I also like the old quotation, attributed to Harry Truman, that goes something like this: "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit."  Indeed,  at the Center for Court Innovation we often make the strategic decision to cede public credit to our partners, particularly those in the public sector.

But not always.  In recent months, we have sought to attract more attention to some of our research reports.  These efforts seem to be paying off, including a New York Times story by Jim Dwyer ("Turning Lives Around and Saving Money") and an Associated Press story by Jake Pearson ("Easing NY's Tough Drug Laws Saves Money") on our study of the impact of New York's Rockefeller Drug Law reforms.  

Here are some other recent press clips:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Reaffirming the Risk Principle

June is graduation season not just for schools across the US but for the Center for Court Innovation.  For the past several weeks, our calendar has been dominated by celebrations -- youth court graduations, attendance achievement program award ceremonies, an open house to celebrate QUEST moving to new and better space, the opening of a youth photography exhibit by the Red Hook Community Justice Center, a farewell party for a beloved staff member moving to Chicago, and other events.

Today's big event was a research briefing for a select group of criminal justice officials in New York City unveiling the findings of a new research study that examines the results of the New York State Court System's adolescent diversion program.  Created by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman last year, the adolescent diversion program features pilot programs in nine New York counties dedicated to refashioning court outcomes for 16 and 17 year old criminal defendants. (New York is one of only two states that handles these cases in adult criminal court rather than family/juvenile court.)

Our report examined the first six months of implementation of the adolescent diversion program.  Among other things, our research team documented that the nine pilot sites succeeded in assessing and linking hundreds of young people to services.  Crucially, the adolescent diversion program did not jeopardize public safety.  Indeed, the data suggests that the program actually reduced felony level re-arrests.

The study also affirmed the "risk principle": put simply, the kinds of interventions offered by the adolescent diversion program (treatment, education, etc) were more successful with high-risk young people than with low-risk young people.  This is consistent with other research documenting that intensive interventions can actually have a negative impact with those participants who are at minimal risk of re-offending.  This has important implications for how the adolescent diversion program and other similar initiatives should proceed in the days to come, suggesting that rigorous screening is crucial and that resources can be most effectively targeted to high-risk participants.

I'm hoping that today's event was a step in that direction.  The attendees -- including representatives from the court system, various district attorney's offices, and the mayor's office -- were certainly engaged and interested in teasing out recommendations for future practice.  Meetings between researchers and practitioners don't always go smoothly, but this one left me encouraged that there is a healthy community of criminal justice officials in New York City with an active interest in responding to the evidence.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Photo of the Week

One of my favorite parts of the Center for Court Innovation's website is the Photo of the Week feature.  Each week, thanks to our ace communications team, we feature an image that highlights something interesting that happened either at the Center or, more frequently, at one of our demonstration projects. (The shot above, the latest entry, comes from the Gracie Mansion award ceremony for the NYC Innovative Nonprofit Awards.)

Quite often, the images are strikingly beautiful, like this shot of an anti-violence march that the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center organized in Brooklyn:

Sometimes, the images are inspirational, like this photo of the Red Hook Community Justice Center raising its banner and returning to business as usual following the destruction of Superstorm Sandy: 

And sometimes the photos document key strategic partnerships or the culmination of successful projects, like this shot from Brownsville, where we unveiled a giant mural with the help of New York City Probation Commission Vinny Schiraldi, the arts organization Groundswell, and other partners: 

The archive goes back to April 2012 and features photographs from many (although not all) of our demonstration projects.  Stay tuned for more in the weeks to come. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Back in 2006, we made a commitment to “new media” when we launched Changing the Court, a blog that documented the planning and implementation of Bronx Community Solutions, a program that sought to change sentencing practice for misdemeanor offenders in the Bronx.

In the years since then, the Center for Court Innovation has become increasingly devoted to blogging.  Today, we support no fewer than fourteen blogs (click here for complete list).

The Center’s blogs reflect the diversity of our organization.  A quick scan of recent posts reveals
before-and-after photographs of graffiti removal projects in Red Hook, a description of an arts-to-end violence program in Crown Heights, a rich interview about the intersection of juvenile justice and mental health, and a story about Law Day activites in Newark.

While each of the Center’s blogs has its own editorial voice, what they all have in common is a commitment to involving readers in how we do our work -- revealing not just the final product but the process of how we got there.

As a manager, I sometimes worry about the proliferation of Center-related blogs (to say nothing of our Twitter accounts or Facebook pages).  When I first started in this business, a typical non-profit would have a monthly newsletter that would be its primary (if not exclusive) vehicle for spreading its institutional message.  Each story could be tightly controlled, each word carefully weighed and vetted.

In the post-Internet age, this kind of communication strategy doesn’t make much sense.  At the Center, we have embraced a less centralized approach that encourages our programs to communicate directly with their communities.  I see drawbacks to this approach.  There is the potential for duplication of effort.  It is harder to do meaningful quality control.   And, at a basic level, I have less control over the messages that we send out.  But, for an organization like the Center for Court Innovation, which is committed to open communication and reaching out the public in new ways, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives.