Friday, December 2, 2016


The rapper Nas has helped to create an (intentionally) ugly sweater for the holiday season through HSTRY clothing.  A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Center for Court Innovation.  This is a rare coming together of my personal and professional passions.  I was fortunate to see Nas open for Gangstarr in 1994 in Providence, Rhode Island; Illmatic remains one of my all-time favorite hip-hop albums.   It was clear back then that Nas was a unique talent.  I'm not sure why he has chosen the Center for this honor, but I'm grateful.

Speaking of talent, I get an enormous kick out of seeing Center for Court Innovation alums go off to do amazing things in the world.  Today I had a chance to catch up with one such alum: Marlon Peterson.  Among other things, Marlon is promoting the idea of establishing gun-free zones, where both police and and local residents agree to disarm. 

Keeping on the talent theme, earlier this week I had a chance to visit the Manhattan headquarters of the design firm IDEO.  I enjoyed the tour, which culminated in a provocative discussion of how to advance the idea of procedural justice.  It was fun to brainstorm alongside professional brainstormers.  

I have written a lot about people that I admire on this blog.  One of the individuals I have mentioned the most is Jonathan Lippman, New York's former chief judge.  This week, I got to see Judge Lippman at his best, facilitating a panel on Housing Court at Fordham Law School organized by Poverty Justice Solutions.  Despite having just come back from an overseas trip and having basically no time to prepare, Lippman was able to weave together a broad-ranging conversation about the future of civil justice in New York City.  Lippman is nothing if not a quick study.  It reminded me of a quote I gave once to a reporter doing a profile of Lippman back when he was chief judge: "He's the chief of billions of dollars and employees, and a ton crosses his desk, but he knows my issues better than I do."

Finally, I call your attention to a piece I wrote a couple of weeks back for the Gotham Gazette: "Enhancing Fairness, Improving Outcomes: The Real Story of Problem-Solving Justice in New York."  At the Center for Court Innovation, we've been fortunate to attract a handful of thoughtful critics over the years -- people like Mae Quinn and Candace McCoy and James Nolan, among others. The latest in this line is Steve Zeidman, a professor at CUNY law school who wrote a disparaging piece about drug courts awhile back.   I mostly think it doesn't make sense to respond directly to critics, but I made an exception in Zeidman's case.  While I don't agree with him, I am thankful for his analysis, which offers important cautionary notes that all of us who are working to affect positive change within the justice system should remember. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

No Words

Tonight's vigil to honor the life of Lavon Walker, who was part of the founding team that helped to create Save Our Streets (SOS) Brooklyn, attracted several hundred family members, friends, community residents, and admirers.  The crowd overflowed the sidewalk in front of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center and spilled out onto Kingston Avenue.

I wish I had words to make sense of Lavon's loss, but I don't.

Thankfully, there were loved ones and co-workers tonight capable of stepping up to this most difficult of tasks.  Fittingly, the vigil felt like a combination of memorial service and rally.  There were calls for justice -- but "the right way." There were appeals to support Lavon's family.  (If you feel like donating, click here.)  Most of all, there were pleas to honor Lavon's legacy by continuing the work he dedicated the last several years of his life to -- combatting violence on the streets of Brooklyn.  Cries of "Stop Shooting Start Living" drowned out other noises on the block and echoed out into the neighborhood.

I didn't know Lavon well, but what I knew I liked.  He had warmth and charisma and style.  But underneath the jokes was a seriousness of purpose.  You can see both qualities -- his charm and his sense of calling -- on display in the short film we made describing the Center for Court Innovation.  Lavon appears briefly at around the 5 minute mark, passing out cards publicizing SOS.

My thoughts and prayers are with Lavon's family and those who worked alongside him in Crown Heights.  He will be missed.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Farewell Chris Watler

Today marks Chris Watler's last day as the project director of the Harlem Community Justice Center.  Chris is leaving us to take on a big new challenge: overseeing the Center for Employment Opportunities' New York operations.  Chris is leaving us one week shy of his 20th anniversary at the Center for Court Innovation -- he has been with us since the start of this enterprise.  Along the way, he has made important contributions to a number of initiatives.  This is a version of what I said at his going away party earlier this week: 
Over the course of these two decades, I’ve had a chance to see Chris operate in a variety of different settings – in Red Hook and Crown Heights and Harlem.  I’ve seen him make speeches and galvanize audiences at big national conferences.  I’ve also seen him in the clinches at small meetings in our offices as we have wrestled with difficult decisions.  

But in thinking about what I wanted to say tonight, my first thought wasn’t about any of these moments.  Rather, my mind went back to something we did in the early days of relationship, outside of work. 

Most of you probably don’t know this, but for a bright, shining moment, Chris and I played on the same basketball team.  In the early days of our relationship, we played in one of the urban professional leagues that holds games around the city.

I’m someone who believes that sports reveals character.  So what did I learn about Chris from playing ball with him? 

I think it is easy when thinking about Chris to think big.  He’s a big man with a big personality.  He lights up a room.  He’s a charismatic presence. 

But what his game revealed, and what I truly cherish about the guy, was his commitment to doing the little things.  Chris was one of those players that was willing to the tough, unglamorous work of a basketball game: setting picks, blocking out, throwing a quick outlet pass.  With Chris, you never got the sense that he was worried about how many points he scored or how cool he looked.  Unlike me.  There was a purity about how he approached the sport and his commitment to the team.

I think all of you who have worked with Chris will recognize the quality that I’m talking about.  To steal a line from Hillary Clinton, Chris is great because Chris is good – a good man with a good heart who is committed to doing good in this world.

I will miss him. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Twenty Years

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Center for Court Innovation.  We’ve got a lot going on at the moment, so we are choosing not to mark this anniversary with a capital campaign or a gala fundraiser or anything like that. 

But we would be remiss if we didn’t pause for a minute or two to acknowledge how far we’ve come since 1996.  So over the next month or so, we will post a few features on our website – videos, photo galleries, testimonials – to celebrate our history.

I have been blessed to work at the Center for Court Innovation for all 20 years of its existence.  Back in 1996, the Center had only a handful of assets – the vision of our founding director John Feinblatt, the reputation of the Midtown Community Court, a strong relationship with the New York State court system, and the entrepreneurial energy of a core group of a couple dozen committed staffers.  Today, we are an organization of several hundred people, with operating programs in all five boroughs (plus Newark plus Syracuse plus Westchester), a research department with an international reputation, and a consulting practice that takes us around the world providing assistance to justice reformers.

I wish I could say that our growth has been the product of a carefully crafted strategic vision that we have pursued with rigorous discipline.  In truth, our expansion has been fueled primarily by luck and opportunism (in the best sense of the word, I hope). 

As we have grown, we have had to adapt and change.  I think it is fair to say that we have become a more hierarchal and bureaucratic institution.  If I am honest, I feel some ambivalence about this, but we have found it impossible to run an operation like ours without introducing formal structure and policies and procedures.

We have also had to respond to changing conditions in the world around us. 

We were born at a moment when conservative ideas about criminal justice were in ascendance in the US.  The country was in the middle of a 40 year expansion of the use of incarceration. New York had a Republican mayor and governor.  Against this backdrop, we attempted to make the case for meaningful alternatives to incarceration, increased use of data, respectful treatment of both defendants and victims, and community engagement by justice agencies. 

In many respects, we are still making the case for these ideas.  But the world around us has changed.  There is a growing recognition, across a fairly broad political spectrum, that the US has gone too far in the use of incarceration.  There is also an increasingly powerful movement, both outside and within the justice system, that is focused on addressing our country’s legacy of racism and the continued disparities in how people of color are treated.    

At the Center, we have changed with the times.  When we started, our work was focused primarily on what happens after someone has been adjudicated, providing judges with alternatives to jail sentences and fines (and, in some cases, nothing at all).   In recent years, we have been placing more and more attention on the pre-adjudicatory process.  This includes offering supervised release to reduce the use of bail and pre-trial detention and diversion programs to help keep young people out of the system entirely.  And it includes making a deeper investment in crime prevention, including providing a broad range of community-based youth development initiatives and fighting violence through street outreach and community education campaigns.

Acknowledging that the justice system can do a better job of creating a level playing field, the Center has placed an institutional bet on two other key areas of practice: access to justice and procedural fairness.  In truth, both of these issues have been with us from the start: our first project, the Midtown Community Court, was, after all, an effort to bring justice back to the neighborhood level while providing individual attention to each case.  But in recent months, we have tried to kick our work in these areas into a different gear, testing new ways of helping unrepresented civil litigants and spreading the concept of procedural justice to criminal courts across the country.

Even as we have adapted to changing times, some things have remained constant at the Center for Court Innovation. 

Our institutional culture is what has enabled us to endure and expand over the past two decades.  It is always difficult to talk about the culture of a place without lapsing into abstraction or self-flattery. But if I had to highlight the key values of our agency that I have tried hard to protect and preserve over the years, I would point to these six:

1. Creativity – We are not an Internet start-up.  We don’t have foosball tables or pinball machines in any of our offices.  But we do have the audacity to put “innovation” in the name of our agency.  Along with that comes a clear institutional mandate to test new ideas and to try to make a unique contribution to the world that is different from other agencies.

2. Practice – Our contributions to the world are reality-tested.  We run programs that work with challenging populations – chronic misdemeanants, parolees who have committed serious offenses, and traumatized victims, among many others.  And we work in challenging environments, including crime-plagued neighborhoods and overwhelmed centralized courthouses.  We know how difficult it is to change broken systems and to repair damaged neighborhoods because we are doing this work alongside our partners in the justice system and in the community each and every day.   We think our grounding in practice lends nuance and credibility to our thinking about reform.   

3. Modesty – As much as possible, we have tried to avoid making grandiose claims and setting utopian goals.  Instead, we have sought to achieve more modest aims – transforming specific neighborhoods and particular courtrooms and discrete populations of victims and defendants.  We think that there is virtue in starting small and providing carefully targeted interventions.  We also believe that successful pilot programs can lead to major change if you are patient enough to see them through. (Yes, I recognize the irony that I am bragging about our modesty.)

4. Details – We believe that the little things matter enormously.  This is why we work hard to repair conditions of disorder at the neighborhood level.  This is why we are focused on how judges and attorneys and police officers communicate with the public.  This is why we spend time thinking about the wording of documents and the architecture of spaces.  Sweating the details of implementation is one way we demonstrate our commitment to excellence.

5. Diversity – Despite being in the legal reform business (broadly defined), we have never been an agency staffed primarily by lawyers from elite schools.  Rather, we have sought to attract a diverse array of people to the challenge of justice reform.  This includes hiring a diverse staff along the lines of race, gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, political affiliation, etc. It also includes bringing together people of disparate professional training and background – not just lawyers but social scientists and technologists and victim advocates and social workers and community organizers and journalists.  At the end of the day, all we offer to the world is the strength and depth of our team.

6. Reflection – The act of reflection is built into our daily work.  When our technical assistance team makes site visits to other jurisdictions, they don’t come pretending that they have all the answers.  And they don’t come to conduct didactic lectures.  Rather, they come to ask questions, to listen closely to the answers, and to help local leaders figure out how to solve local problems.  In a similar vein, we engage our research team in examining our own operating programs on a regular basis to help us find new ways to improve our practice. 

The values I have listed here are not the only ones that matter to us.  I’m sure if you asked a dozen Center for Court Innovation staffers, you’d hear them point to our commitment to love and kindness, our belief in the human capacity for change, our non-ideological and non-partisan approach to reform, our business model of working in partnership with government, and a variety of other elements that make us unique.  But these are the primary values that have guided my efforts on behalf of the Center for Court Innovation. 

I am enormously proud of what we have accomplished over the past two decades.  I am mindful of all of the partners we have relied upon along the way – there are so many individuals and agencies that it is impossible to do justice to them all here.  Finally, I am grateful to work alongside colleagues who are decent and fair and funny and committed to making the world a better place.  

I am looking forward to seeing what the next twenty years brings...

Friday, July 8, 2016

An Object Lesson

For those of us who care about the fate of the American justice system, the past few days have been tough ones.  

I wish I had something wise or original to say about the events in Texas, Louisiana, and Minnesota.  But I don't.  All I can do is echo the words of better writers than me.  

Like Jelani Cobb

"This week has become a grotesque object lesson in gun culture, one that points to a conclusion that we could have and should have drawn long ago—that the surfeit of weapons at our disposal and the corresponding fears that they induce create new hazards."

"By having a widely armed citizenry, we create a situation in which gun violence becomes a common occurrence, not the rarity it ought to be and is everywhere else in the civilized world. That this happened amid a general decline in violence throughout the Western world only serves to make the crisis more acute; America’s gun-violence problem remains the great and terrible outlier."

“Let's be clear: there’s no possible justification for these kinds of attacks, or any violence against law enforcement.”

"We must change the laws and the culture that has led to our country having a gun murder rate that is 25 times that of other developed nations."

Like these and other commentators, I deplore the incidents in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and St. Paul.  I grieve for those directly and indirectly affected by violence. And I pray that we as a society can change the dynamics that have led us to this point.  This includes the easy availability of firearms.  This includes inflammatory political rhetoric that encourages extremism.  And this includes the steady drumbeat of tragic cases involving the use of force against people of color.  
It is easy to draw a line connecting Alton Sterling and Philando Castile with Michael Brown and Freddie Gray and Eric Garner and so many other cases where it seems like our justice system has done the exact opposite of what it is intended to do.  (And we shouldn't forget that over the years, there have been hundreds of less well-documented cases of bullying, harassment, and excessive force that have not gone viral. These victims are no less real just because they are unknown.)
I must confess that at moments like these I find myself struggling to keep at bay feelings of outrage, despair, and cynicism.  To protect and serve?  Courtesy, professionalism, and respect?  Fair and equal treatment?  These slogans can seem like cruel jokes when compared to the real-life workings of a justice system too often defined by brutality and bigotry. 
But I have found that I cannot work effectively from a place of outrage, despair, and cynicism.  Indeed, I have found that the only way to achieve positive change is by being positive. 
And so, at the risk of sounding naive or out of step with the current moment, here are a few things that I feel positive about: 
I think that all of these efforts seek to enhance the administration of justice, reduce potential sources of conflict, and make the world, however marginally, a better place. And all of these efforts disproportionately benefit people of color.  (I'm also proud to say that the Center for Court Innovation is playing a supporting role in many of these initiatives.)
It is a cliche to quote Martin Luther King Jr., so I generally try to avoid it. But at low moments, I find myself drawn to one of the lines from the famous "How Long, Not Long" speech that he delivered fifty years ago in Montgomery, Alabama: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."  
Despite the events of the past couple of days, I have faith that this is true.  And that is why I work at the Center for Court Innovation.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Just Another Thursday

Just another Thursday at the Center for Court Innovation.  Well, except for:

  • The Association for Conflict Resolution honored us with its 2016 Achievement Award for our commitment to finding creative ways to resolve conflicts.  Among other things, the Association highlighted the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, our efforts to promote peacemaking, and our work with parolees at the Harlem Reentry Court.  When it was my time to speak, I talked about how much inspiration we took in the early days of the Center from restorative justice, community mediation, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution.  Indeed, many of the hallmarks of the Center -- a willingness to rethink the adversarial process, a commitment to treating individuals with dignity and respect, an emphasis on engaging the public in doing justice -- can be traced back to the alternative dispute resolution movement.
  • Speaking of the Reentry Court, tonight was another successful graduation ceremony for parolees in Harlem, highlighted by a keynote speech from Glenn Martin of JustLeadership USA.

  • Meanwhile, in Red Hook, we hosted a graduation ceremony for the Red Hook Youth Court with a guest appearance by City Council Member Carlos Menchaca.  The event also honored the Target Corporation for its work to promote innovative public safety partnerships.
  • Finally, there was a farewell gathering today for Patricia Henry, who has been a friend to the Center for Court Innovation for almost the entire history of the organization.  Over the years, Pat has held numerous positions of influence, including stints in the NYC Criminal Justice Coordinator's Office and the Office of Court Administration, and years on the bench as a judge, including her work at the Brooklyn Integrated Domestic Violence Court.  In all of these roles, Pat worked hard to do the right thing.  And she did it with smarts and a keen sense of humor.  She was also unflappable.  I experienced this first-hand when I flew out to Reno with her for an event convened by the National Judicial College.   We missed our connection and ended up taking a small plane late at night.  The crew announced before the flight took off that there would be no food service and no bathroom usage due to extreme turbulence.  As the plane bounced around in the midst of a thunderstorm, I must admit that I was on the brink of panic.  I didn't want Pat to see me in a state of high anxiety so I avoided eye contact with her until we took a particularly big lurch.  At that point, I felt I had no choice but to look over to check in on her.  I needn't have worried: Pat was sleeping like a baby.  She is one cool customer.  We'll miss her. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

The High Priestess of Justice

Last night, I went to a farewell party to celebrate my good friend Michele Sviridoff, who is retiring after I don't know how many years of public service.  I was asked to make a toast to Michele.  This is what I said:

I first met Michele back in the early 1990s when I joined the Midtown Community Court.

I was led down this particular rabbit hole by John Feinblatt.  I don’t know if he did it on purpose or not, but John seemed to have overlooked a few telling facts during the interview process.

First of all, he didn’t tell me that he intended to carve out an office for me out of the staff lunchroom, immediately guaranteeing that I would be the least popular employee in the building.  And he certainly didn’t prepare me for the personalities that I would encounter.  In addition to lifelong frenemy Eric Lee, there was the world-famous city planner who was stationed in a temporary desk by the copy machine.  And there was the former embezzler who ran the office with an iron fist until it turned out that maybe he wasn’t as rehabilitated as we thought.

In this mix, Michele stood out as a beacon of sanity and warmth.  For reasons that are obscure to me, she took an immediate interest in my well-being and helped me to learn how to navigate the workplace.

As I got to know her better, I learned that Michele was just as mysterious as everyone else at  Midtown. She was the czar of research, but when I asked her about her educational background, it turned out she was a literary theorist and not a criminologist or a statistician.  She seemed to have no interest whatsoever in making money, but she somehow knew the value of every piece of real estate in Manhattan.

But most intriguingly of all, even though she was the most rigorous thinker I had ever met – a distinction that she still holds, by the way – she also was someone who did regular Tarot card readings for the people in her life.

So in honor of Michele, I created this Tarot Card: The High Priestess of Justice.  This is the inscription:

The High Priestess of Justice represents Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding.  The High Priestess signifies both academic rigor and deep empathy.  She has a profound mastery of data and the justice system that she uses to influence policy and advance significant reforms.  She also possesses a keen understanding of people that she uses to teach and nurture.

Anyone who is fortunate to draw the High Priestess of Justice tarot card will find their intelligence and creativity increased.  All hail the High Priestess of Justice!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Art and Science

This past week was a busy one for the Center for Court Innovation:  

We hosted a gathering of state drug court coordinators at our headquarters in Manhattan. 

The MacArthur Foundation announced the 20 winners of its Safety and Justice Challenge.  Alongside a handful of other organizations, we are providing technical assistance to the winning jurisdictions as they move to implement plans to reduce their local jail populations.

Former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman convened the first meeting of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration.  We are helping to support the Commission by providing research and strategic advice. At the first meeting, our research team offered the Commission members an overview of the history of Rikers Island. 

The US Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance announced that 10 cities had received funds to launch or enhance community courts.  We helped BJA to implement this grant solicitation as part of our ongoing effort to spread the idea of community justice. 

Speaking of community justice, perhaps the biggest event of the last week was Community Justice 2016, the international summit that we convened in Chicago.  More than 400 criminal justice reformers representing more than 100 jurisdictions attended the conference.  It was the fourth such summit that we have put together, each one a little bigger than the one before.  

As part of my welcoming remarks, I talked a little bit about what originally attracted me to this field  more than two decades ago: 

In the early 1990s, I moved to New York City to help plan a community court in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

I made this choice then  and I have continued to make this choice ever since – because I believe that reforming the justice system is both an art and a science. 

Make no mistake: to do this right, we need to be nerds.  We need to be clear thinkers who look at the data and consult the latest social science, particularly when it comes to risk and needs assessment.

But we also need to be guided by compassion and remember that the justice system isn’t an abstract process or a series of numbers on a page – it is a collection of people.  And no matter what role they have been assigned in this drama – be they police officers or perpetrators, concerned citizens or community corrections officers  all of these actors are driven by the same motivations and idiosyncracies that always drive human behavior. We can never hope to improve justice unless we wrestle with this messy reality.

I think Community Justice 2016 honored both sides of the art/science divide.  Several sessions were devoted to encouraging jurisdictions to adopt programs and practices with a solid research foundation. And we also spent a fair amount of time talking about how justice agencies can engage the public effectively, with a particular focus on the challenges of communicating effectively with communities of color with low levels of trust in government.  I left Chicago feeling hopeful about the possibilities of advancing a brand of criminal justice reform that is both thoughtful and humane.  At least, that's what we are committed to trying to do at the Center for Court Innovation. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Humor, Dignity and Thoughtfulness

Funeral services for my sister-in-law, Anne Louise Bayly Berman, were held this past Sunday at Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington DC.  Here is what I said in my eulogy:

When I first met Annie Lou, I was mildly suspicious of her.

This was due primarily to my natural protective instincts on behalf of my kid brother MJ.  Like many older siblings, I want the best for my brother. Translated, this means that I tended to view his romantic partners through a particularly critical lens.

But I must confess that part of my skepticism was related to Annie Lou’s personality.  I think it is fair to say that I had never met anyone as relentlessly positive and upbeat as Annie Lou.  Anything my kids did, no matter how annoying, she greeted with enthusiasm.  Any idea I floated was a decent one.  She was game for just about any plan.

When it quickly became apparent that MJ was serious about Annie Lou, I took my parents aside and expressed my concern: “When do you think we will meet the real Annie Lou?” I asked.  “No one could possibly be this nice all the time.”

As I got to know her better, I realized that I had indeed met the real Annie Lou.  At her core, she was a person who, unlike me, constantly sought to identify the best in people.  She really was that nice. 

Now, sometimes, we use the word “nice” as the faintest of praise, to denote someone who is mild and inoffensive.  But Annie Lou was anything but milquetoast.  In appearance, Annie Lou might have blended in seamlessly with the other young moms of Northwest DC.  But beneath that exterior was someone with a unique sense of style and broad interests, including culture both high and low.

Annie Lou was, in a word, cool.

But beyond her coolness and her affability, what I respected most about my sister-in-law was her integrity.  Her sense of decency extended both near and far.  She was a generous and warm protector of her family and others in her immediate orbit.  She was also interested in promoting the greater good, be it the Horace Mann school community or Baby Love DC or her hometown of Washington, which she loved so dearly. 

Over the years, my mom, the great Michele Berman, has talked about how Annie Lou changed the Berman family.  Now, I wasn’t aware that anything in particular needed changing – I thought we were doing pretty good before Annie Lou came along. 

But my mom, as always (or nearly always), was correct: Annie Lou was a binding agent.  She not only created special individual connections with each of us, she also actively sought to strengthen our connections with each other. She was, to paraphrase Reggie Jackson, the straw that stirred the drink, the dynamic force that brought disparate elements together.  

The word I have heard used most often over the past few days with regard to Annie Lou’s passing is “unfair.”  And when we are confronted with events that don’t square with our sense of justice, we often turn to religion to help us make sense of them. 

Unfortunately, I am not a religious man.  What little spirituality I have is an ad-hoc mixture of Judaism, Quaker ideas I picked up in high school, and mumbo jumbo lifted from cheesy science-fiction films like Star Wars. 

But here are three things I believe.

I believe that in her own small way, Annie Lou was a light unto the nations, a moral exemplar for those of us who had the good fortune to see her kindness in action.

I believe that all of us gathered here today will carry a little spark of Annie Lou forward with us, whether it be her generosity of spirit, her relentless search for beauty, or her strength in the face of adversity.

Finally, I believe that the force is particularly strong with these ones.  Charlie, Teddy, Scottie and Nell – I envy you.  I envy you because of all the people in the entire world, you have the most Annie Lou inside of you.  In the days to come, I know that you will tap into this secret super power to become the best people you can be.

One of things that I have always loved about my father is his clear thinking about what success in life looks like.  Although he was and is a successful businessman, he never sent the message to MJ or me that we should measure ourselves by the money we made.  This is a trait that Annie Lou shared.  In the mission statement that she created for her family, she made this abundantly clear.  “With humor and dignity and thoughtfulness you can have a great life,” she wrote.  Humor, dignity and thoughtfulness.  Annie Lou’s time with us was too short, but by embodying the values of humor, dignity and thoughtfulness, she showed us what it means to lead a great life.     

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Annie Lou

My sister-in-law, Annie Lou Bayly Berman, passed away on Easter Sunday at the age of 40.  She was one of my favorite people.  But this doesn't make me unique: she was among the most popular and well-loved people I have ever met.  This affection was well-earned -- Annie Lou was, in my experience, unfailingly upbeat, warm, and interesting.  She was a lot of fun.  And she had exceptional friendship skills -- she was generous with both her time and her praise.  She had an ineffable quality -- one felt special to be in her orbit.  I tried to capture a bit of this in the obituary that I put together with her sister Johanna.  Here is an excerpt: 

Anne Louise Bayly Berman, who was known as Annie Lou, passed away on Easter Sunday at her home in upper Northwest Washington.  

Smart, funny, and outgoing, Annie Lou was a connector -- someone who made matches, knitted people together, and created community wherever she went. She did this first and foremost among her immediate family, which included her husband MJ Berman and her beloved children Charles (Charlie), Theodore (Teddy), Louisa (Scottie), and Helene (Nell).  

In the mission statement she created for her family, Annie Lou wrote, "Our family believes in a life of kindness, adventure, humor, beauty, and love, thoughtfully and responsibly lived."

Annie Lou more than lived up to this pledge.  A 3rd generation Washingtonian, she was passionately committed to her city. According to an interview with Washingtonian magazine, Annie Lou felt the most romantic spot in Washington was "the crumpled-down aqueduct near Key Bridge.  It's where I got engaged.  We went on a bike ride, got engaged, went to Cafe Milano and then went swimming.  It was a perfect day for me."

Annie Lou's commitment to Washington was manifest in her professional life as a writer, event planner and tastemaker.  And it was manifest in her charitable work as well. 

Annie Lou was the founding editor of Daily Candy DC.  Her work at Daily Candy involved offering daily recommendations about shopping, food, and culture to thousands of subscribers -- including tips for last-minute Christmas shopping at CVS (a stunt that was covered by USA Today). 

Before joining Daily Candy, Annie Lou was active in the Washington art world.  This included her work at the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art, where she was responsible for conducting oral history interviews with a range of important contemporary artists such as Kehinde Wiley and Shepard Fairey.  She was also a significant volunteer contributor in the early years of Artomatic DC, the annual non-profit arts festival. 

In addition to Artomatic, Annie Lou's voluntary efforts included her service as a founding member of BabyLove DC, a non-profit that provides baby gear and supplies to those in need.  She also served on the board of directors of the DC Public Library Foundation and Blue Igloo Playgroup.  She was active in the PTA of Horace Mann Elementary School and was a teacher for Roots of Empathy.

Annie Lou was born on Christmas Day 1975.  I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that she was born on Christmas and died on Easter.   

She is a real loss for my family -- and for the city of Washington.

Annie Lou was an early adopter of the Internet, creating a variety of web content including videos, blogs, and other written material.  I have assembled a few of Annie Lou's greatest hits here.  Taken together, I think they offer a sense of what was special about her. 

Quick Picks from a Drugstore Santa -- Annie Lou goes shopping with USA Today 

Stop Nader -- Video of Annie Lou as a repentant Nader voter

Favorites -- Washingtonian magazine interview

"Depends on the lighting" -- Fishbowl DC interview

Sweet Smarts -- Baltimore Sun story

Shepard Fairey -- Annie Lou oral history interview

...For Ladies -- Annie Lou's series of instructional videos 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Blueprint for Justice

Today marked a big step forward for former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's effort to study the feasibility of closing Rikers Island: he announced the two dozen members of his independent commission.  (See here for coverage and the list of members.)

As part of the announcement, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said, "I gave this Commission a difficult but critically important mandate to create a blueprint for justice in New York City...I know the task ahead will not be easy."

I agree with the Speaker -- the obstacles are enormous.  (See this Newsday article for a glimpse of just a few of the challenges.)  One of my very real concerns for the Lippman Commission (its official name is the "Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform") is that it has engendered hopes that will be exceedingly difficult to meet.

The City of New York isn't closing Rikers Island any time soon.  Before the City can even begin to wrestle with the difficult logistical issues (where would you place smaller jail facilities?  how would these be paid for?), there is a need to figure out how to continue to reduce the jail population, which, by the way, is already lower than it has been for more than a generation.

Despite the challenges, we at the Center for Court Innovation have signed on to assist the Lippman Commission in any way the judge sees fit to use us.  In many respects, the Lippman Commission is a logical next step for us.  Many of our operating programs (such as the Midtown Community Court, Bronx Community Solutions, and Red Hook Community Justice Center) have been working to provide alternatives to jail for years.  And we are currently working with the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice on a number of new initiatives, including supervised release programs in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and the Bronx that are attempting to reduce the use of pretrial detention.  (See this piece from Vice.)  Is it possible to crank these kinds of efforts up to a level that would be sufficient to even begin to contemplate closing Rikers?  We look forward to finding out.