Saturday, January 23, 2016

Victims and Jail Reduction

This week, with an assist from the MacArthur Foundation's Safety+Justice Challenge and the law firm of Mayer Brown, we convened a national roundtable to discuss the relationship between the victims movement and current efforts to reduce jail populations across the U.S.  Participants included a mix of policymakers and practitioners, including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, victim advocates, and police officials from across the country (New York, Texas, Idaho, Washington, Illinois, Colorado, Kentucky,  California, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia).

While the conversation was wide-ranging, it focused mostly on pre-trial supervised release programs and victims of domestic violence.  The Center for Court Innovation has a foot in both of these camps:  we are deeply engaged in reducing the use of pre-trial detention -- and in figuring out better ways to ensure the safety of victims of domestic violence.

From my perspective, there were two principal themes to the conversation.  To quote one of the participants in the roundtable, I would summarize the first theme as "This is the time." There was a palpable sense in the room that we are living through a unique moment of possibility, a time of real momentum for criminal justice reform in general, and jail reduction in particular.

To quote another participant, my second theme of the day was: "It's complicated." The roundtable highlighted a number of tensions that advocates of jail reduction will need to navigate in the days ahead if they hope to improve safety and win community support.

One obvious tension is the potential conflict between protecting the safety of victims and protecting the constitutional rights of the accused.  There was a significant amount of conversation about the necessity/desirability of attaching conditions of release to participants in supervised release programs who have been accused of domestic violence offenses.

Another topic that generated some debate was the use of risk assessment instruments -- How accurate are they?  What can an actuarial analysis tell us about any single defendant?  Are pretrial service agencies screening for lethality when there is a targeted victim?  How well do risk tools take into account the historic oppression of racial and ethnic groups in the United States?

The challenges of race and gender and sexual orientation/identity came up in numerous ways over the course of the day-long conversation.  Some participants underlined a concern that black communities in particular have a long history of being over-policed and over-criminalized in the U.S.  At the same time, there was an acknowledgement that these same communities have been under-protected from the threat of victimization.

The roundtable did not come to any concrete conclusions about how to address these challenges.  But we didn't expect it to.  At the risk of being a cockeyed optimist, I thought it was a valuable exercise to surface these issues in a trusting, supportive environment.  Indeed, several participants expressed a desire to continue the conversation when they returned to their hometowns.  I came away from the day feeling that there is a real appetite among jail reformers to figure out new ways to include victim voices, perspectives and concerns in creating and strengthening supervised release programs.  Now we just have to figure out how to give them the tools and support they need.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Judith Kaye (1938-2016)

I've written about Judith S. Kaye a lot on this blog.  There's a good reason for that: the Center for Court Innovation would not exist but for her support and advocacy.

Back in 1996, it was not exactly a slam dunk that a new organization devoted to promoting justice reform, with a special focus on working with the New York court system, would succeed.  Judge Kaye's endorsement -- and her willingness to invest in us -- was really what made the idea work.

I'm not 100 percent certain why Judge Kaye chose to make this leap.  Certainly one of the reasons was her faith in John Feinblatt, our founding director.  But, in general, the willingness to take (calculated) risks was one of Judge Kaye's hallmarks.  In a conservative profession (with a small "c"), she stood out for her intellectual curiosity, her sometimes subversive humor, and, most of all, her sustained appetite for reform.

In the process, Kaye left a mark not just on New York, but on the world.  She was willing to use her bully pulpit to advance a broad array of causes -- reforming the jury process, rethinking the approach to domestic violence cases, and forging a new response to addiction, to name just a few.  Many states around the country answered her call and adapted her ideas.  Along the way, she helped define the field of problem-solving justice -- if I am not mistaken, her editorial in Newsweek ("Making the Case for Hands-On Courts") was the first mainstream use of the expression.

I am just scratching the surface of Kaye's accomplishments because I know that the Internet will fill in the rest for anyone who is interested.  But I cannot close without acknowledging my huge personal debt to her. When John Feinblatt left the Center back in 2001, Judge Kaye was willing to take another big chance, this time on me.  In blessing my appointment as director, she was placing her bet on a young and untested leader at a vulnerable moment in the agency's history.  Having made this decision, she was unfailing in her support of me over the years -- offering advice, making useful connections, and championing the Center whenever she got a chance.  My last two interactions with Kaye were typical: she sent me an email congratulating me on a recent article about the Brownsville Youth Court (youth courts were a particular area of interest for her) and she made a generous personal donation to support our work.

I will miss her.

PS, I just came across New York City councilman Rory Lancman's statement about Kaye, which includes a nice mention of the Center for Court Innovation:
Judge Judith Kaye was a trailblazer as Chief Judge, who never stopped blazing trails even after she left the court. She pushed New York forward on specialized courts for drug addiction, mental health and domestic violence, and instituted historic reforms making jury service fairer and more efficient. The Center for Court Innovation, established on her watch, is the envy of judicial systems across the country and at the vanguard of today’s effort to reform our country’s justice system. In her retirement, Judge Kaye was a fierce advocate for ending the school-to-prison pipeline and continued to impact our judiciary as Chair of the Commission on Judicial Nomination. Her passing is a tremendous loss for our state.
And the New York Times obituary mentions the Midtown Community Court prominently:
As an administrator as well as a judge — “each of these jobs took 80 percent of my time,” she said — she was instrumental in the creation of courts devoted to specific problems, like drug abuse, as well as locally focused courts, including the Midtown Community Court in Times Square, which has dealt with panhandling, prostitution and other neighborhood issues.
And here is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's statement:

Judith Kaye was not only the longest serving Chief Judge in New York State history, and not only the first woman to hold the post; she was also one of the most respected judicial innovators of our time. Her early and strong support for problem-solving courts, such as the Midtown Community Court that helped clean up Times Square, played an important role in making New York a national leader in reducing crime and recidivism. I was lucky to call her a friend, and the city and state will benefit from her leadership for decades to come.      
And here is John Jay College President Jeremy Travis:
We pay tribute to Judge Kaye’s clear-eyed and elegant judicial opinions in which she cut back on the death penalty, supported gender equality and promoted juvenile justice. We applaud her leadership in creating a national movement supporting problem-solving courts.  In fact, the Center for Court Innovation, which she launched as a vehicle for these courts, in now a significant employer of John Jay alumni and students who are attracted to this vision of justice.