Thursday, March 27, 2014

Celebrating Parolees in Harlem

Tonight, the Harlem Community Justice Center celebrated the latest class of graduates from its reentry court -- three dozen parolees who have managed to make it through the first portion of their parole term with the help of the extra structure and support that the Justice Center provides.

I've been to probably a half dozen or so of these graduations at Harlem.  A search of the archives reveals that I've written about them quite a few times on this blog.  I'm not sure I have anything  to say beyond what I've said before: these are without fail inspiring events that offer a powerful reminder of the human capacity for reinvention.  The participants in our reentry program have spent years, and in some cases decades behind bars.  Many are starting at zero in terms of education, employment and their family lives.  But they persist in the face of enormous obstacles.  Tonight was an opportunity to offer them a modicum of encouragement, while acknowledging that there are still plenty of challenges to come as they seek to make the transition to community life.

I thought I'd try to offer a little of the texture of the evening's festivities. Below are some notes I jotted down while listening to the speakers.  Some of the quotations hint at what makes the reentry program special -- the unique dynamic that exists between parolees and their supervisors in Harlem.

Chris Watler, Project Director, Harlem Community Justice Center: "We have a fundamental belief that each person can change."

Kelly O'Neill Levy, Presiding Judge, Harlem Community Justice Center: "How did you [program graduates] get here tonight?  You got here because of your courage, strength and determination...tap into the feelings of accomplishment as you go on to face new challenges."

Noreen Campbell, Administrative Law Judge, Reentry Court: "We have your back."  "This program is about problem-solving and making the right choices."  "This program is successful because of the synergy of all the members of the team."  "Our graduates learn to trust themselves."

Rev. Vernon Williams (keynote): "Be better today than you were yesterday."  "The only reason you are out of the belly of the beast is God."  "Now my family can look at me and say something other than 'jailbird' or 'drug dealer.'"  "Don't be afraid of success.  Don't be afraid of being different."

Various Participants/Graduates of the Program: "If you ain't positive, everything around you will be negative."  "This [program] ain't 40th Street [regular parole].  "Our challenge is getting people to see past that paper, that crime...that preconceived notion [of who we are]."  "[My parole officer] is like a little dad to me.  He's my surrogate father."  "I'm going to be starting college next semester."  "This program is like a exceeded all of my expectations."  "I have a job."  "I'm trying to stay on the right track."  "I just decided when I was in prison that I was ready, willing and able [to change."  "I got tired of being in the box."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Herman Goldstein and Problem-Oriented Policing

Awhile back, I provided an ad-hoc, incomplete list of my favorite criminal justice reform books and ideas.   One of things that I like about my job is that every now and again I actually get to interact with one of the authors from my personal canon.  Yesterday was one such day -- I spent an hour in conversation with Herman Goldstein, author of Problem-Oriented Policing.  

While obviously Goldstein's focus is policing, anyone who is interested in reforming the criminal justice system will find value in his work.  First of all, almost every policing reform innovation of the past generation (collaborative policing, predictive policing, broken-windows policing, hot-spot policing, place-based policing, etc.) owes an intellectual debt to Goldstein.  It is fair to say that his ideas have influenced the way that police departments work across the country (and around the world).  

But that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  Needless to say, the problem-solving court movement has also borrowed liberally from the Goldstein playbook, a fact that John Feinblatt and I tried to acknowledge in writing Good Courts.   

For me, the central insight of Goldstein's work is his encouragement that police departments (and, by extension, other criminal justice agencies) move beyond a reactive, case-by-case approach to their work.  In Problem-Oriented Polcing, he writes: 
The first step in problem-oriented policing is to move beyond just handling incidents.  It calls for recognizing that incidents are often merely overt symptoms of problems.  This pushes the police in two directions: (1) it requires that they recognize the relationships between incidents (similarities of behavior, location, persons involved, etc.) and (2) it requires that they take a more in-depth interest in incidents by acquainting themselves with some the conditions and factors that give rise to them. 
I like to think that our operating projects at the Center for Court Innovation, be they community courts, alternative-to-detention programs, violence prevention programs or what have you, embody this kind of approach to the world.

Anyone interested in learning more about problem-oriented policing should check out the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing's website.    

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Community Justice in San Francisco

The San Francisco Community Justice Center recently celebrated its 5th anniversary.  This article by Heather Knight at the San Francisco Chronicle offers a good take on the history of the project.  The Justice Center had many critics at the start, but it seems to have won many of them over, including the local defense bar.

The success of the San Francisco Community Justice Center is just one reason why we (in concert with the Bureau of Justice Assistance) have chosen to hold an international summit on community justice in San Francisco.  Another reason is that we have long enjoyed a productive partnership with the California Administrative Office of the Courts.  Together, the judicial systems in California and New York, have really been international leaders in advancing ideas like problem-solving justice and procedural justice.   At the Center for Court Innovation, we have learned a lot from what California has done in the area of court reform -- and we have worked together wherever possible to advance common goals.

While it is still more than a month away, I am looking forward to the summit (which takes place April 22-24), for reasons both personal and professional.  It is always energizing to compare notes with friends from other parts of the country (and the world).  Misery loves company, I guess, but I find it helpful to see how other places are grappling with problems like human trafficking, prescription drug abuse, and the misuse of incarceration.

Our community justice technical assistance team has put together a great program for the summit.  It is probably horrible form to single out just a few of the presentations, but I am particularly eager to hear Ed Latessa speak about risk and needs assessment again.  I'm also looking forward to the panel on the latest research on community courts and the panel about enhancing the legitimacy of the justice system.

If you are interested in learning more about Community Justice 2014, check out this link.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Leadership Issues

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the 20th annual William J. Brennan lecture at NYU Law School.   This lecture series focuses on social justice and the administration of state courts.  I've been to a few of these addresses in the past and they always seem to bring out the A-game of whoever is speaking (usually, state court chief justices).  This year was no exception as New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman gave a spirited defense of his advocacy on behalf of civil legal aid to the poor.  I am not an unbiased observer, of course -- I consider Judge Lippman a friend and mentor -- but I think that what he has done in this area is nothing short of remarkable.  It certainly goes well beyond what one would typically expect of a state court chief judge.  For anyone who hasn't followed this issue closely, the speech is well worth a read, since it summarizes five years of effort on multiple fronts to close the justice gap.

Speaking of leadership, yesterday New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the remainder of his criminal justice team.  (Remember that he announced Bill Bratton as New York Police Department commissioner in December at an event held at the Red Hook Community Justice Center.)  The team includes Ana Bermudez as Probation commissioner and Joseph Ponte as Correction commissioner, and Vinny Schiraldi in a new role focusing on improving the school disciplinary process and rethinking how the justice system works with young adults.  Finally, de Blasio selected Liz Glazer to serve as the criminal justice coordinator.   Forgive me a moment of organizational pride, but she is the second alum of the Center for Court Innovation to serve in this role, following on the heels of John Feinblatt.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

Streetcraft in the UK

I spent the bulk of the last week in England.  One highlight of the trip was participating in a conference entitled "Reducing Reoffending: Transforming Rehabilitation" held in Winchester, a small city in Hampshire about an hour's train ride outside of London.

The conference was organized by Simon Hayes, the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner, and Rupert Younger, the High Sherriff of Hampshire.  Also participating was Steve Brine, the local MP for Winchester.

What I liked best about the conference is that it confirmed one of the central tenets underlying the work of our British partner organization, the Centre for Justice Innovation, which has argued that if you look beyond Whitehall and Westminster, there is a good deal of innovative practice going on at the local level in the United Kingdom that needs to be nurtured and tested and spread more effectively.  In Winchester, dozens of probation officials, police officers, corrections professionals, and non-profit types gathered to talk about innovative efforts to change the behavior of offenders.  It was, in many ways, an inspiring display.

In general, the Centre for Justice Innovation seems to be going from strength to strength these days, including this recent piece in the Huffington Post by Anton Shelupanov, which highlights Streetcraft, a new monograph that contains several dozen first-person interviews with local criminal justice innovators from England, Scotland and Wales.