Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Classic of Law & Society



As promised, Quid Pro Books has put one of my all-time favorite books back into print: Malcolm Feeley's classic Court Reform on Trial: Why Simple Solutions Fail.  (The e-book is available now.  Paperback will be available later this week.  I will share a link when it comes online.)

I was honored to be asked to write a brief foreword to this new edition.  Here's a short excerpt:
You might think a book devoted to failed court reform efforts would be a grim read.  But it isn't. Feeley's text is brimming with energy not resignation.  In sifting through the impacts and unintended consequences of a range of "planned change" efforts, Feeley offers reformers both sympathy (the obstacles to change are enormous) and hope (if we create more realistic expectations, it will be easier to recognize success).  My copy of Court Reform on Trial bears the marks of my endorsement.  Almost every page is heavily underlined and full of marginal exclamations.
Off the top of my head, I can't think of a book I would recommend more highly to anyone who is interested in reforming practice in the criminal justice system.  Any similarities between Feeley's book and Trial & Error in Criminal Justice Reform: Learning from Failure are purely intentional -- I took a lot of inspiration from Feeley.

I'm not sure I will ever fully repay my intellectual debt to Feeley, but I hope to at least partially accomplish this goal by helping Court Reform on Trial find a new audience.  Do yourself a favor and buy this book!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Leadership and Innovation


Today marks the release of our national innovation study, which offers results from a survey of over 600 senior criminal justice officials from a variety of fields: policing, courts, probation, and prosecution.  Here are links to the full report and selected highlights.

For me, the principal takeaway from the study, which we conducted with the support of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, is that the state of the criminal justice innovation is pretty healthy.  I think criminal justice leaders are getting the message that the "command and control" style of management doesn't always encourage new thinking in the ranks.  Rather than simply asking respondents whether they are innovative or not, our research team attempted to gauge their commitment to innovation by testing their endorsement of specific practices, including:

1. I work to create an agency climate where failure is openly discussed.
2. I rely on research and evidence to make programmatic decisions in my work.
3. I regularly share my agency’s data with other partner agencies.
4. I almost always use data when identifying priorities or crafting programs and policies.
5. I encourage my staff to take risks.
6. Driving system change is an important part of my job.
7. I routinely seek out consultants or technical assistance to help plan new initiatives.

The survey respondents reported high levels of support for each of these statements.  The survey also highlighted something that we've long suspected at the Center for Court Innovation: there is a link between research and innovation.  Leaders who reported greater use of research also reported higher levels of innovation at their agencies.

Towards the end of the survey, we got a little cute and asked criminal justice officials a series of open-ended questions.  For example, we asked them who was the most innovative figure in criminal justice.  The overwhelming answer was former police commissioner Bill Bratton.  We also asked them which new programs they were particularly excited about.  Answers were all over the map, but we found particularly high levels of interest in problem-solving courts, evidence-based sentencing reforms, and technological innovations.

I've been inspired by the innovation survey to write a couple of op-eds on the subject:

National Law Journal: Criminal Justice Reform and Risk Taking

Huffington Post: What Lessons Can Business Teach Criminal Justice?

Update: Speaking of leadership and innovation, today brings official word that the Vera Institute of Justice has hired my buddy Nick Turner to be their new president.  I am a biased observer, but Nick is a great choice to lead this wonderful organization.