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.