Friday, April 25, 2014

Thoughts on Community Justice 2014

I have just returned to New York after four days in San Francisco for Community Justice 2014, the international summit that we put together with the California court system and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.  This was the third such gathering that we have hosted in recent years, following similar events in Dallas and Washington DC.  

There were only a few hundred participants in the conference, but the diversity was staggering -- seven countries, dozens of different cities and a wide variety of disciplines (judges, prosecutors, defenders, probation officials, community groups, academics, etc) were represented in San Francisco.  This was no accident.  One of the things that we were trying to communicate when we created the agenda was a broad-minded vision of community justice.  Rather than creating a rigid definition of community justice and then patrolling the borders, our approach has been to try to open our doors and welcome in a variety of programs using diverse means to pursue similar ends.  In San Francisco, this meant incorporating speakers devoted to diversion, restorative justice, and crime prevention through environmental design among other topics.  Indeed, the community courts that attended were each unique in their own way.  Some handle minor offending while others adjudicate more serious cases.  And some focus on discrete neighborhoods while others take on whole cities as their catchment area.

For all the diversity on display in San Francisco, there was a palpable sense of community at the summit.  While the various speeches and panels were informative, I think much of the value of the conference took place in the hallways and during the breaks as attendees compared notes, shared war stories, and brainstormed solutions to common problems.   Awhile back we did a survey of criminal justice leaders and learned that old-fashioned face-to-face encounters remain the primary way that new ideas spread from one place to another.  At one level, this is kind of depressing given the undeniable cost and effort that go into putting together an event like Community Justice 2014.  On the other hand, I find it somewhat heartening that even in an era of cell phones and video technology, people still want to come together and connect with one another.  

For my part, I am proud to be part of a small but energetic international community that is attempting to reform the justice system and repair damaged communities by making greater use of alternatives to incarceration and enhancing the treatment of defendants.  I look forward to our next gathering.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Beginning Is The Most Important Part of the Work

Over the past two decades working at the Center for Court Innovation, I have played a role in helping to launch dozens of new programs.  One of the things I have learned is that origins matter.  In my experience, the narrative of how a program gets started tends to shape its trajectory for years to come.    It is incredibly difficult to overcome a bad start.

Evidently, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio shares this belief.  Today, I was privileged to be invited to attend a speech by the Mayor at Cooper Union celebrating his first 100 days.  Quoting Plato about the importance of good beginnings, de Blasio catalogued early wins for his administration on a number of fronts: paid sick leave, universal pre-K, stop-and-frisk, traffic fatalities, and educational testing.

This was the first time I had seen de Blasio speak in person as the Mayor.  I was struck by how different his presentation is from his predecessor.   The theme of his speech was returning New York City to its rightful place as the "heart of progressive America."  "We believe in the grassroots," said de Blasio, emphasizing the value his administration will place on listening to the voices of the people.

Criminal justice came up on only a few occasions.   The Mayor said that keeping New Yorkers safe was "job one."  He also made the point that aggressive policing was not incompatible with treating all New Yorkers with dignity and respect.

My favorite moment was probably an unscripted one.  Someone in the crowd cheered loudly at the mention of the Bronx at one point in the speech.  "The Bronx is in the house," ad-libbed the Mayor, cracking a smile.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What to Read

So much to read, so little time.   Here is my latest effort to make things just a little easier -- a small sampling of interesting news and information related to the Center for Court Innovation from around the world wide web.

Problem-solving is the name of the game for Robert Feldstein -- The Seattle Times profiles former Red Hook Community Justice Center director who is now working for the mayor of Seattle.

Pretrial Research: A Solid Foundation and Growing Field -- Our friends at the Pretrial Justice Institute convene a congressional briefing on bail reform; Melissa Labriola from the Center for Court Innovation is one of the featured speakers.

Why Do So Many Leftists Want Sex Work To Be The New Normal? -- The Nation's Katha Pollitt writes about a generational divide among feminists and cites Liberty Aldrich from the Center for Court Innovation.

Strengthening the Relationship Between Law Enforcement and Communities of Color Forum -- The Department of Justice convened this discussion at the Ford Foundation; Chris Watler of the Harlem Community Justice Center facilitated the conversation.

Senescence: The Passage of Time -- Alain Bourgeois photo exhibit opens May 6; all proceeds to benefit the Center for Court Innovation.

Justice D'Emic Gets Plaudits Along with Key Post -- Brooklyn Eagle report on the appointment of the Brooklyn Mental Health Court's Matthew d'Emic to serve as administrative judge for criminal matters in Kings County.

Q and A: Acting Supreme Court Justice Alex Calabrese -- New York Law Journal interviews Alex Calabrese, the presiding judge at the Red Hook Community Justice Center.

If Gun Violence Is a Disease, These People Might Just Be the Cure -- Daily Beast article on the gun violence prevention work being done by Save Our Streets Crown Heights.