Friday, February 28, 2014

A Winter's Day in Brownsville

I spent the bulk of this afternoon in Brownsville, checking in on the Brownsville Community Justice Center.  I'm not sure that it was the coldest day of the winter, but it certainly felt like it.  While the streets were freezing, our headquarters were full of warmth.   I might have been a bit cranky as I came in off Pitkin Avenue, but it was hard to stay in a bad mood as I heard about all of the  good works currently happening under our auspices -- computer labs, public art campaigns, community service projects at local food kitchens, partnerships with the NYPD and the NYC Department of Probation...the amount of activity was truly staggering.   Congrats to James Brodick and the whole team for their hard work and good cheer in difficult circumstances.

A few other bits and bobs that caught my eye from around the Internet:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

State of the Judiciary 2014

Another day, another chance to attend a speech by a major criminal justice figure in New York.  This time the venue was the Court of Appeals in Albany, where New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman delivered his annual state of the judiciary address.  (In the photo above, you can see the back of my head in the foreground on the right side of the picture.)

The focus of the speech, which is sure to garner headlines in the New York Times tomorrow, was Lippman's continued effort to improve the provision of civil legal services for the poor in New York.   In past years, Lippman has focused on documenting the gap in access to justice and reserving money in the judiciary budget to help make up for funding shortfalls among civil legal service providers.

This year, Lippman was particularly creative -- he sought to address the crisis in civil legal services while solving a couple of other problems at the same time.  He will launch a new program (Pro Bono Scholars) that will enable selected law students to sit for the bar in February of their third year.  Instead of taking classes in their final semester, these students would then perform full-time pro-bono work in order to prepare them to enter the legal market.  If it works, the program should bring additional manpower to tackling the legal problems of the poor, while significantly reforming legal education and helping to instill an ethic of service in young lawyers.  A win-win-win situation.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Bratton at Citizens Crime Commission

I spent Friday morning at a Citizens Crime Commission breakfast, part of the organization's consistently interesting lecture series.  Last week's featured guest was police commissioner Bill Bratton.

Bratton didn't break any big news -- he is, after all, only a few months into the job and is still assembling his team.  Still, he did offer a window into his thinking about how he will approach public safety as a key member of the de Blasio administration.

If it were possible to do a word search of the speech while it was in progress, I would guess that the two words that appeared most often were variants of "partnership" and "collaboration."  Among other things, Bratton went out of his way to introduce his new deputy commissioner of collaborative policing, Susan Herman, who has been charged with reviewing how the NYPD interacts with victims from top to bottom.

Bratton touched quickly on a number of controversial topics including stop-question-and-frisk and Operation Impact.  And he re-affirmed his belief in the broken windows theory and confirmed that he is talking to George Kelling about consulting with the NYPD.

Undergirding Bratton's remarks were Sir Robert Peel's nine principles of policing, a set of guidelines that the former prime minister and home secretary of England articulated in the 19th century.   Bratton proclaimed that the principles were as relevant today as they were when they were first introduced.  Two principles in particular seemed to animate Bratton's vision of policing:
  • "The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder."
  • "The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it."
In general, the breakfast offered a reminder of why the national survey of criminal justice leaders that we published last year identified Bratton as the most innovative figure in the field.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

More Reflections on Alfred Siegel

I wrote a short piece for the New York Law Journal about Alfred Siegel, which appears today.  Here is what I wrote: 

Alfred Siegel, the deputy director of the Center for Court Innovation, had a heart attack and died on Jan. 16 at the age of 62.

Those of us who were his friends and colleagues mourn the loss of a man who played a key role in building our agency and who was a daily source of humor, kindness and wisdom.

Over the years, Alfred helped to plan and implement numerous alternative-to-incarceration programs, community clean-up efforts, and youth development projects for the Center for Court Innovation. These programs, which include Bronx Community Solutions, Harlem Community Justice Center, Youth Justice Board and Queens Engagement Strategies for Teens, have provided thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers with pathways to a better life.

As keenly as we feel Alfred's passing at the Center for Court Innovation, his loss affects more than just our organization. Indeed, his passing is felt by the entire criminal justice community in New York.
Alfred's resume, which includes eight years as deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation and stints as an inspector general and assistant district attorney in the Bronx, only hints at the extent of his influence. Over the years, he repeatedly served as an important behind-the-scenes advisor to criminal justice reformers, both locally and nationally.

Sometimes this was formal, as when Governor David Paterson selected Alfred to serve on a statewide task force devoted to transforming the juvenile justice system in New York. More often, this was an informal process as numerous commissioners, elected officials, academics and non-profit executives sought out Alfred's insight and counsel.

Why did the great and the good beat a path to Alfred's door? It was because Alfred possessed a rare combination of qualities. He had the detailed knowledge of an inside operator and the vision and perspective of an outside observer. He understood the challenges that frontline judges, attorneys, probation officers and case workers face each day. And he also understood that the status quo is not good enough and that, with a little bit of cajoling, the justice system is capable of improving the way it serves victims, defendants and the general public.

At the risk of being reductive, this was what drove Alfred Siegel: a desire to make the justice system better. Unlike many people (even in the public interest sector), he was not motivated by money or public attention. An avid sports fan, he wanted simply to put points on the board, to help make a difference in the lives of real New Yorkers struggling to get by, to stay sober and to take care of their children. Lots of people talk about doing such things. Alfred was one of the rare few who actually delivered on this promise. The criminal justice system and the City of New York were just a little bit kinder and gentler as a result of his efforts. He will be missed.