Sunday, September 29, 2013

Smart on Crime

Over the past couple of weeks, Mark Kleiman, UCLA professor and author of When Brute Force Fails, has been on my mind a lot.

First, Phil Bowen and the Centre for Justice Innovation helped facilitate a series of meetings in London for Mark.  Part of the Centre's mission is to serve as a conduit between the US and the UK, bringing new ideas in criminal justice reform from one country to the other.   Mark has some ideas about how to use swift, certain, and relatively mild sanctions to promote more effective community supervision of offenders.  Phil pitched in to help ensure that Mark's ideas reached both local and national policymakers in England.

Following his trip to London, Mark participated in a roundtable discussion at the Vera Institute of Justice alongside a handful of other academics and non-profit types, including me.  In my preparation for that meeting, I stumbled across an essay that Mark had written for the Democracy Journal entitled "Smart on Crime." Of all the things I've read by Mark, this is probably my favorite.  As anyone who has spent time with Mark knows, he is a big personality who takes delight in provocation.  He is also a deft writer who knows how to turn a memorable phrase.  He brings all of these qualities to bear in "Smart on Crime." The whole essay is worth reading, but here are a handful of excerpts that I particularly liked:
The debate over criminal-justice policy often seems to take place between the disciples of Michel Foucalt and the disciples of the Marquis de Sade, with the Foucaldians winning the academic debate even as the sadists mostly get their way in the real political world.
Why do some people keep committing crimes, to their own evident disadvantage? Because they're present-oriented and impulsive...If you're looking for a single "root cause" of crime, look no further: The cause is bad decision-making by offenders.
As Machiavelli warned...a reluctance to punish comes naturally with good-heartedness, but those unable to overcome that reluctance are as unfit to rule as those who have no such reluctance to begin with.  
I don't always agree with Mark, but I always learn something from listening to him and reading his work.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Justice for Trafficking Victims

This morning at a special breakfast convened by Richard Aborn and the Citizens Crime Commission, New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced a new initiative designed to improve how the courts handle cases involving victims of human trafficking.  The centerpiece of the initiative is a series of human trafficking intervention courts that will attempt to aid women arrested on prostitution charges, offering them the prospect of non-criminal case dispositions and providing them with the kinds of specialized services needed to escape life on the streets.

These new courts will build on a foundation established by the Midtown Community Court, where we've been attempting to forge a new approach to prostitution cases that relies on trauma-informed care as an alternative to jail.  For more on our work with this vulnerable population, check out Prostitution Diversion Programs, a pamphlet written by Danielle Malangone, Sarah Schweig, and Miriam Goodman.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Transition to Fall

Apologies for the radio silence of late -- for whatever reason, I have found the transition to autumn more challenging than in previous years.   I now have my kids in two separate schools which has added more schlepping and time commitments to my life (essentially doubling the amount of parents nights, school fundraisers and other events that my wife and I have to attend).  Also, if I am honest, I think that some of my new media energy is being taken up by Twitter -- I started tweeting over the summer. (Check out my feed here.)

Despite the distractions, there is an enormous amount going on at the Center for Court Innovation that I have not reported on in a major way, either on Twitter or via other avenues.  This includes the upcoming release of an evaluation of the Red Hook Community Justice Center by the National Center for State Courts and a 20th anniversary celebration for the Midtown Community Court.  (For more on this, and to order tickets, click here.)   I have also been busy preparing for the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice annual luncheon, which I am speaking at next week in Chicago.

I will have more on all of these events in the days to come.  But for now, I thought I'd just catch you up on some recent press activity:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Tim Murray Steps Down

Last week brought news that Tim Murray will step down as the head of the Pretrial Justice Institute in 2014.  This is a big loss for the field -- and for me personally.  I've mentioned Tim in passing on this blog in the past as someone I admire, but this just scratches the surface.

I first met Tim during the Clinton years, when he served as the deputy director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance in the US Department of Justice.  He had been a key player in setting up the first drug court in Florida.  My first encounters with him were part of a concerted effort to get BJA interested in the Midtown Community Court.   As a drug court guy, Tim might have viewed the community court model with suspicion.  But that isn't how Tim views the world -- he isn't a narrow thinker.  Instead of competition, he saw John Feinblatt, Eric Lee, and the rest of us at the Center for Court Innovation as allies and comrades in arms.  

As I got to know Tim better, I saw that this was typical of him.  While he is capable of sarcasm and a certain world-weariness that probably comes from operating at a high level in government and the non-profit sector for decades, behind that is a genuine idealism and a generosity of spirit.  Over the years, I have been the beneficiary of both of these qualities.  Tim has given his time whenever I have asked it of him -- to be interviewed as part of our study of criminal justice leadership, to facilitate a roundtable on statewide coordination of problem-solving courts, or to pick his brain on various controversies of the moment.    

Tim was particularly important to me when I first became the director of the Center for Court Innovation 12 years ago.  He was still at BJA at that point.  I made a special trip down to Washington DC to reassure him that the Center was in good hands and that our work in partnership with BJA would continue.  I don't remember the details, but I do remember that he gave me a hard time for the first 30 minutes -- testing my knowledge, seeing how I reacted to a stressful situation -- before ending with a note of real support and encouragement.

That particular meeting set the pattern for our relationship.  I have always found Tim challenging in the best sense of the word -- he continually challenges me to be the best leader of the Center that I can be.  I will miss him and I wish him nothing but the best going forward.