Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cathy Potler

One of the things I like best about my job is that I get a chance to interact with dozens of public officials who put the lie to negative stereotypes about government workers.  Cathy Potler, the executive director of the New York City Board of Correction who passed away recently, was one such person.  Hard-working, thoughtful, energetic...Cathy embodied the ethic of government service.

I got to know Cathy through my service on the New York City Board of Correction.   Cathy shepherded me around Rikers Island several times over the past couple of years.  I always learned a lot from our conversations -- her knowledge of the facility was truly staggering.  Her knowledge was matched by her commitment to reform.  She was truly committed to helping New York City's jails live up to the highest possible standards -- and to advancing values like common sense, decency, and the rule of law.   She will be missed.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Still The Vision Lingers On

Last week I saw Billy Bragg in concert.  It might have been the fifth or sixth time I've seen him -- I can't remember for sure.  It was a memorable show since it happened to coincide with the referendum on Scottish independence, an issue that Bragg seemed to predict back in 2002 with "Take Down the Union Jack." The truth of the matter is that I've seen Billy Bragg perform in a variety of different political contexts -- on the eve of Obama's election, during John Major's reign as prime minister, etc. -- and he's always got something interesting to say.

From my perspective, there is much to admire about Billy Bragg's perseverance over the years.  Somehow, he has managed to simultaneously evolve while staying resolutely true to himself.

As is often the case with me, my thoughts about pop culture bleed into thoughts about work.

This week I also spent some time at the Midtown Community Court, now in its 21st year of operation.  The Midtown team seems nearly perfectly balanced to me -- a combination of old heads and new blood. The facility is undergoing a seemingly never-ending renovation at the moment.  While this poses all sorts of challenges for the staff, the quality of the work continues to impress.  Like Billy Bragg, Midtown is managing to stay true to its founding ideals while also continuing to innovate.

One example of this is the UPNEXT program which provides parenting skills and job training to non-custodial fathers, many of them with court involvement.  (One source of referrals for UPNEXT is our parent support program in Brooklyn.)  It is fair to say that the founders of the Midtown Community Court never dreamed of anything quite like UPNEXT.  But the program is entirely consistent with the  spirit of creative problem-solving that has animated Midtown since 1993.

Artwork created by UPNEXT participants is currently being featured in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.  (For more on Midtown's partnership with MoMA, click here.)  Here are a few quick photos from the opening of the exhibit on Friday:

With a major assist from artist/educator Shellyne Rodriguez, UPNEXT participants created silhouettes inspired by the art of Kara Walker.

Jeff Hobbs, one of the original Midtown Community Court staffers, and me.

Bo Twiggs spoke eloquently about the partnership between Midtown and MoMA.

Wall text explaining the artwork.

More than a dozen staffers from the Midtown Community Court and the Center for Court Innovation came to the exhibit, including three of the seven people who have served as Midtown project director.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Warrior of Procedural Justice

Tonight Victoria Pratt was sworn in as the chief judge of the Newark Municipal Court before several hundred people in downtown Newark.  I've admired Judge Pratt from the first time I saw her in action.  As part of our Newark Community Solutions project, she helps link low-level offenders in Newark to treatment and community service instead of fines and jail.  Judge Pratt is blessed with a courtroom presence that effortlessly communicates both compassion and respect for the law.  If procedural justice didn't exist, the idea would have had to be invented to describe what seems to come to her naturally.

The swearing-in ceremony had a distinctly Newark Community Solutions flavor.  It began with an invocation by Raul Hernandez, who oversees alternative sanctions for the project.  Nearly every speaker referenced Judge Pratt's leadership at Newark Community Solutions.  Mayor Ras Baraka spoke of how proud he is of the national and international visitors that come to see Newark Community Solutions in action.  Julien Neals, one of Judge Pratt's predecessors as chief judge, talked about how Newark Community Solutions was a "labor of love" for Pratt and that it demonstrated that "courts can be a place of construction."  He went on to predict that in the days to come, Pratt will spread the philosophy, energy and "positive action" of Newark Community Solutions to the rest of the courthouse.  Judge Fern Fisher from New York had perhaps my favorite line, labeling Judge Pratt a "warrior of procedural justice."  

It always nice to see good people and hard work rewarded.  Congrats to Judge Pratt and the rest of the Newark Community Solutions team.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Twenty Years

Today marks my 20th anniversary working at either the Center for Court Innovation or one of its associated programs.  The photo above isn't quite that old -- more like 16 or 17 years -- but it gives a sense of how young I was when I started working here.

I write a lot about the unique contribution that the Center for Court Innovation makes to the world. What I don't talk about so much is the impact that the organization has had on my life.  First and foremost, it has provided me with an institutional base as I have become a full-fledged adult.  Getting married, buying a house, having children -- I have been able to undertake all of these things (and more) thanks to an assist from the Center.  

More than this, the Center for Court Innovation has helped shape my personality and character.  I have had the honor of working alongside people of extraordinary talent and integrity for two decades. These include visionary thinkers, instinctive managers, effective communicators, amazing caregivers, relentless advocates, creative organizers and many, many others.  I have tried to incorporate the best of what I have learned into my life, both at home and at work.  

I've probably said more than enough already, but I did not want to let the occasion pass without acknowledging the huge debt I feel to my colleagues, both past and present.