Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Near Westside Peacemaking


Yesterday, I spent a lovely spring day in Syracuse touring the Near Westside neighborhood. Only a short walk from downtown, the Near Westside is a community with a reputation for poverty and crime.  It is also a place of rebirth.  In recent years, Syracuse University has made a significant local investment through vehicles like the Near Westside Initiative and UPSTATE.  Amidst vacant lots and boarded-up buildings, there are abundant signs of life in the Near Westside -- beautiful parks, public art, and new development.

I am hoping that in the months to come, the Center for Court Innovation will make a significant contribution to progress on the Near Westside.  With a wide array of partners, we are in the process of planning a peacemaking project in the neighborhood.  The project grows out of our Tribal Justice Exchange, which seeks to encourage the sharing of ideas between tribal justice systems and state courts. One focus of this work has been encouraging local justice systems to adapt peacemaking practices pioneered by Native Americans. We've already got one such adaptation up and running in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  Now, with the support of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, we are attempting to bring the model to Syracuse.

There's lots of work still to be done (among other things, we need to hire staff, find a location, finalize caseload, etc), but I left Syracuse feeling excited about the possibilities. Syracuse is a very different place than New York City, but the Near Westside reminded me a lot of neighborhoods where the Center for Court Innovation has done work in the past -- places like Crown Heights and Red Hook and Brownsville. I'm hoping that we will have a similar impact in Syracuse as we have in these other neighborhoods.