Sunday, December 22, 2013

Managing Transition

Our final staff meeting of the year, which took place on Friday, was devoted to a session called "Ask Greg Anything."  The first question I received was about managing transition.  We are currently going through several at once.  The biggest is obviously the transition from Bloomberg to de Blasio as mayor of New York City.  But just as important to us as an institution are Ken Thompson replacing Charles J. Hynes as district attorney in Brooklyn and Barry Kamins replacing Judy Harris Kluger as the chief of policy and planning at the Office of Court Administration.

Change can be unsettling, to be sure.  And with Bloomberg exiting stage left, we are also seeing highly-placed Center for Court Innovation alumni like Amanda Burden and John Feinblatt move out of city government and on to new endeavors.   Nonetheless, I am optimistic about the future.  If the campaign season is any indication, both de Blasio and Thompson will be interested in thinking about enhancing the legitimacy of the justice system in the eyes of New Yorkers.

As it happens, this is one of our institutional sweet spots.   Our community-based programs are testing a variety of ways -- some formal, some informal -- to bring justice agencies together with local residents.  This ranges from convening offender notification forums with the NYPD and the Brooklyn DA's Office in Brownsville to working with parole officers in Harlem to ease the transition of individuals returning from state prison to creating a host of less structured vehicles for interaction (youth courts, community advisory boards, summer baseball leagues, etc).   I'm eager to see if we can do more of this kind of work going forward -- and help others to do the same.

While the transitions to a new mayor and a new Brooklyn District Attorney are being well covered in the local media, I would be remiss if I didn't say a few words about the departure of Judy Harris Kluger, who is leaving the court system to run Sanctuary for Families, one of the leading domestic violence organizations in New York.  Judy has been one of our key allies for two decades.  She was the first judge at the Midtown Community Court and then went on to occupy several important positions at the Office of Court Administration, including overseeing all of New York City's criminal courts and supervising problem-solving courts across New York State.  In all of these roles, she has used her influence to do good in the world -- and done so with grace and intelligence. While we will miss her voice at the Office of Court Administration, the one consolation is that she is going to an agency that we work with all of the time, so she will still be part of our world.  I wish her nothing but success going forward.  And, in the likely event that this is my final post of 2013, I wish you nothing but health and happiness in the new year.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Community Justice in Red Hook (and Beyond)

I wish I could give you a detailed, first-hand report from last week's announcement by mayor-elect Bill de Blasio that he had selected Bill Bratton to be the next commissioner of the New York Police Department.  Alas, at the moment that the press conference was taking place at the Red Hook Community Justice Center, I was stuck in Scotland, the victim of gale force winds that grounded my flight out of Edinburgh.  So I had the somewhat strange experience of following the event online and via Twitter and email.

Despite the sense of dislocation, my dominant emotion was one of pride.  If you listen to the mayor-elect (the New York Times has a video of the entire event here), he talks at some length at the start about the symbolism of holding the announcement at the Justice Center, a project that embodies the values of strategically reaching out to local residents and engaging communities in "doing justice."

New York is not the only place that is interested in these ideas, as my trip to the United Kingdom indicates.  I spent time in both Scotland and England.  In both places, there is real momentum toward  criminal justice reform.  In Scotland, the government has released an RFP to local criminal justice authorities seeking to encourage them to create problem-solving courts in 2014.  To help educate the local judiciary about the concept, the Scottish Judicial Institute organized a seminar that brought New York State Chief Administrative Judge Gail Prudenti together with a number of key court administrators from across Scotland.  I thought it was a productive session; Judge Prudenti was able to communicate that problem-solving courts have helped the New York courts accomplish a number of important goals.  For a more detailed look at what is going on in Scotland, check out this article: Courting Favour: Problem-solving court model slowly taking shape in Scotland.

Meanwhile, in England, the Centre for Justice Innovation has been busy advancing the idea of neighborhood justice panels -- restorative sessions that engage local citizens in providing meaningful diversion options for low-level offenders.  For more on the model, check out the Centre's great look at court reform across England and Wales, Better Courts: Cutting Crime Through Court Innovation.