Thursday, November 14, 2013

Just for One Day

This week is all about Red Hook.  As I got on the subway this morning, I was handed a copy of Metro New York, the free paper for subway riders.  Today's cover story: "Red Hook Community Justice Center Delivers Solutions In Lieu of Judgement."  A nice read on my morning commute.

I was taking the train to east midtown to attend the Robin Hood Foundation's annual Heroes Breakfast. Alongside several other impressive organizations (Hometown Heroes, Success Academy Charter Schools, the Restaurant Opportunity Center), the Red Hook Community Justice Center was honored for its efforts to change the lives of criminal defendants.  Judge Alex Calabrese spoke eloquently about how Red Hook's approach differs from standard operating procedure in the courts, saying that it was his goal to send kids in Red Hook to college instead of jail.

Judge Calabrese was joined on the podium by Tina Dixons, a former client who spoke about how she got her life together after decades of abuse and addiction.  It was one of those "you-could-hear-a-pin-drop" speeches -- hundreds of business leaders on the edge of their seats listening to Tina talk about how she triumphed over adversity.  I already know her story and I was moved.  I can only imagine how it must have felt to hear her for the first time.  Tina ended on a real grace note, encouraging her audience to pause every day to savor the beauty of life.  She received one of the heartiest and most well-deserved standing ovations I've ever seen.

For more on Tina and the Red Hook Community Justice Center, it is worth taking a look at this video, which Robin Hood made as part of the Heroes breakfast.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Moving New York City Forward in 2014 (and Beyond)

I spent the greater part of Monday at Moving New York City Forward in 2014 and Beyond, a conference organized by New York City Council Member Brad Lander and Professor John Mollenkopf, the director of the Center for Urban Research at CUNY's Graduate Center.  The goal of the conference was to help flesh out a progressive government agenda for New York that focuses in particular on the problem of inequality.

I found it a mostly stimulating event.  There was a palpable buzz of excitement in the air about Bill de Blasio's victory last week in the New York City mayor's race.  While I worry that no mayor on earth will be able to meet the expectations that de Blasio has engendered among the advocates, academics, foundation executives, union officials, and non-profit leaders who made up the bulk of the attendees at the conference, I think he has already done something positive by sparking conversations like the one on Monday, which touched on issues of employment, education, and neighborhood development in a searching and thoughtful manner.

I spoke on a panel about participatory government.  While I talked mostly about the Center for Court Innovation's approach to partnering with government, I couldn't resist saying a few words about the National Center for State Courts' evaluation of the Red Hook Community Justice Center, which was formally released to the world yesterday.  (The photo above is taken from the groundbreaking ceremony in Red Hook.  Note the broken windows behind the dignitaries.)  Happily, the study documents that the Justice Center has largely succeeded in accomplishing its three primary goals: reducing reoffending, cutting the use of jail, and improving court-community relations.  The authors of the study argue that the active ingredient at Red Hook was procedural justice -- that by improving defendants' perceptions of the justice system, the Justice Center helped encourage compliance with the law and positive social norms.

Unusually for us, we are going to spend a couple of weeks intensively trying to spread the word about the Red Hook results.  Our motives are both mercenary and altruistic.  I think the results are obviously good for the Center for Court Innovation -- we helped to conceive, plan, and implement a project that has achieved some difficult goals and we are proud of that.  But I also think that these results offer important ammunition for those of us (and we are hardly alone in this) who care about making the system more fair, both in reality and in perception.  I hope this study will encourage courts and other criminal justice agencies to take a long hard look at how they work with individuals -- be they victims, witnesses, probationers, parolees, or defendants -- and think about how they can serve the public better.  I also hope this study will offer food for thought for those who end up staffing the de Blasio administration, encouraging them to invest in community justice and meaningful alternatives to incarceration.

Here are a couple of links to early press coverage of the study:

Huffington Post: Perceptions Matter -- A Roadmap to Reducing Crime

New York Daily News: Red Hook Community Court Is a Success

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Arts and Criminal Justice

One of the things that has kind of snuck up on me over the years is how much arts-related programming we do at the Center for Court Innovation.  To give just a small sample:

This list just scratches the surface.  Like many things, our arts-related work is not the product of some grand strategic plan, but rather the result of the vision and entrepreneurial energy of the staff at our operating projects, who are constantly looking for new ways to serve their clients and the local community.  One of my goals for the year ahead is to get smarter about the intersection of criminal justice and the arts, reflecting back on what we have learned over the years at our own projects as well as the lessons that others in the field can offer us.  Stay tuned for more on this subject in the months to come.

Note: The image above is a painting by the talented Brooklyn artist Jason Das, who has worked on a couple of projects with the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center.  I was so impressed by his work that I commissioned a painting of the Midtown Community Court as part of our celebration of the Court's 20th anniversary -- we gave prints to the evening's honorees instead of the usual glass paperweights.