Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Video on Demand



Telling stories is a big part of what we do at the Center for Court Innovation.  We often find ourselves trying to communicate complicated justice reform ideas to skeptical audiences, whether they be funders, community groups, or system insiders.  In recent years, video has become a larger and larger part of our communications effort.  This reflects improvements in technology that have made it easier and cheaper to create and disseminate short films.  It also reflects the talents of our communications director, Robert Wolf, who has become an adept filmmaker.   

You can see the latest videos from the Center by checking out our YouTube channel.  To give you just a taste of what you will find, here are the top 10 most viewed videos from our website over the past year:

1.  Drug Courts: Personal Stories -- first-person interviews with drug court graduates from across New York State featuring former New York State Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye.

2.  Family Voices in Juvenile Justice -- a guide to Family Court for parents whose children have delinquency cases.

3.  Changing Lives: The Story of the Center for Court Innovation -- an introduction to the Center that premiered at our 15th anniversary celebration featuring two of our program graduates. 

4.  Why Procedural Justice Matters: Tom R. Tyler at Community Justice 2012 --Yale Law Professor Tom Tyler's presentation at our community justice conference in Washington DC.

5.  Fundamentals of Procedural Fairness -- a "Procedural Justice 101" presentation that seeks to explain the basic principles. 

6.  Testing New Ideas: Evidence, Innovation and Community Courts -- created with the help of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, this video highlights community courts across the US.

7.  Justice That Works: The Midtown Community Court -- a description of the Midtown Community Court, created as part of the 20th anniversary celebration of the project.

8.  Attendance Video -- a look at an experiment that we launched to address chronic truancy in Harlem.

9.  Talking It Through: A Teen-Police Dialogue -- created by the Youth Justice Board, our after-school youth leadership program, this video seeks to encourage police-youth conversations.

10.  Failure: Public Policy’s Stepladder to Success -- an excerpt from a panel convened by the Urban Institute as part of the roll-out of the book Trial & Error in Criminal Justice Reform: Learning from Failure.

Monday, July 28, 2014

More Informed Decisions


When the Midtown Community Court was first launched in the 1990s, technology played an important role in the design of the project.  Together with our partners at the Vera Institute of Justice, we designed a brand-new application that sought to help the judge and others manage cases, track compliance with alternatives to incarceration, and document results.  The resulting application received the Windows World Open Award for public sector innovation.

The next iteration of the Midtown technology was called the Justice Center Application and was designed to accompany the development of the Red Hook Community Justice Center.  This cutting-edge case management system leveraged two technologies that were new at the time: the Internet and a web browser interface.

Remarkably, with regular tweaks and modifications, we have been able to use the Justice Center Application as our primary case management system for more than a decade, not just in Red Hook but in multiple other locations.  Each year, it has enabled us to keep tabs on thousands of defendants and others performing a broad range of services in a variety of different settings. The application has served us enormously well, but its days are basically numbered.  The technology landscape had changed substantially since we developed the Justice Center Application.  Cloud computing and the ability to use files and applications over the Internet now allows organizations to purchase computing, storage and applications on an as-needed basis.  In addition, there are now more flexible ways to develop software that enable technologists to fix bugs and add features on the fly.


With the help of Cahoot Court Systems, we are currently working to take advantage of these advances.  Together, we are building a new case management system that will (knock wood) not only serve the needs of multiple Center for Court Innovation programs, but also be a tool that will be useful to problem-solving courts and alternative-to-incarceration programs across the country and around the world.



Among other features, the new application will be able to maintain multiple assessments for each client, enabling clinicians to know, at any given moment, how many times a person has been assessed, the assessment instrument that was used, and the answers that the client provided.  Where underlying licenses allow, the application will be able to import questions from 3rd party-created assessment instruments, eliminating the need for duplicate data entry.  Scanned copies of documents, images and electronically delivered attachments (criminal histories, arrest reports, orders of protection) can all be attached to case files.  All of which will deliver more complete information to case managers and others who are responsible for tracking client progress. 

Crucially, the application will be adaptable to phones and tablets, allowing for portability and flexibility -- frontline staff will not be tied to a desktop computer.  And a dashboard feature will give managers and researchers real-time access to the metrics and information they identify as important.

We are hoping to pilot test the new application this fall.  Stay tuned for more updates as we proceed...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Youth Court in Brooklyn


The timing was unfortunate (smack in the middle of the US-Belgium World Cup game), but this afternoon's youth court graduation ceremony in Brooklyn was a special one for a few reasons.

It was, to my knowledge, the first time that we have done a joint event bringing together our youth courts from Brownsville and Red Hook.  As a manager, cross-pollination makes me happy, particularly when it isn't forced from above but bubbles up organically from the ground level.  The combined ceremony made for a bigger event, with more graduates, more inductees, and a larger audience.

The other thing that made the event special was the setting (a beautiful ceremonial courtroom in the federal courthouse in Brooklyn) and the keynote speech by Judge John Gleeson of the US District Court.

Gleeson addressed the teen youth court members as his "little brothers and sisters in the administration of justice."  He called youth court "a breath of fresh air" for its emphasis on restoring the community, treating respondents with respect, and providing opportunities for young people to interact with the justice system in a positive way.  And he closed by making the case that youth courts could help play a role in changing perceptions of justice and addressing the problem of over-incarceration. "Too many people think of courts as portals to prison," said Gleeson.  I'm not sure I've ever heard a better articulation of the power and potential of the youth court model.

Gleeson's remarks were echoed by several of the youth court members who spoke.  One in particular talked about how he had initially joined the program to satisfy community service requirements for school but soon realized that the youth court was teaching him "how to be a better citizen."

Several dozen teenagers from Red Hook and Brownsville participated in the ceremony today.  I have no idea how many will end up becoming lawyers when they grow up.  But I don't have much doubt that many of them have become and will remain active participants in their communities as a result of their involvement in youth court.  And that's something to feel good about as an American, no matter how the US-Belgium game turned out.