Sunday, October 6, 2013

Planting Seeds in Chicago


I spent the bulk of last week in Chicago at the invitation of Chicago Appleseed for Justice and the Council of Lawyers.  At the request of Malcolm Rich, who directs both groups, I came to Chicago to talk about criminal justice innovation.  With some trepidation, given the historical rivalry between the two cities, I chose to talk about New York City's remarkable success reducing crime and incarceration over the past twenty years.  (In preparing the speech, I drew heavily on the manuscript I have recently completed, tentatively entitled "Reducing Crime, Reducing Incarceration" for Quid Pro Books. I also made a similar case in a recent op-ed that I wrote for The Guardian.)

One of the points I tried to make in the speech is that some small part of New York's criminal justice success in recent years is due to the fact that the City has long supported a network of non-profit organizations that seek to reform the justice system in one way or another.  These include treatment providers, victims organizations, advocacy groups, alternative-to-incarceration programs, research agencies and others.  This is, of course, a somewhat self-serving argument since the Center for Court Innovation is a non-profit organization devoted to promoting justice reform.  But I really do believe in my heart that our work, when combined with the dozens of other organizations working to advance similar goals, has helped to push, poke, and prod the justice system in New York to live up to its highest ideals.

I think that the Chicago Appleseed for Justice and the Council of Lawyers are capable of playing a  similar role in Chicago.  Indeed, there is evidence that this is already happening.  While I was in Chicago, I visited Cook County Criminal Court and talked to a number of judges and administrators involved in a new effort to provide community-based treatment to a high-risk population of defendants that would otherwise be bound for prison.  Chicago Appleseed has helped move the project from the drawing board to the brink of implementation.  I'm looking forward to returning to Chicago and seeing the project once it is up and running.