Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Maggie Cassidy

Last week brought sad news for those of us at the Center for Court Innovation -- we learned of the premature passing of our former colleague, Maggie Cassidy.  (See here for obituary.)  

Maggie stopped working for us a few years ago (to attend medical school), but she left behind a powerful legacy.  She was an important player in our growth and maturation as an agency.  As a member of our development and fiscal teams, Maggie was responsible for ensuring that our operating programs had the resources they needed to serve their clients well.  Sometimes there is a disconnect in non-profit agencies between those who do the work on the ground and those who have administrative jobs.  That wasn't the case with Maggie: she was someone with an instinctive understanding of the difficulties of working with challenging populations, be they defendants, victims, or community residents.  She was fiercely committed to facilitating the work of our program staff and was an advocate for them both internally and externally. 

Her work ethic was one reason why Maggie was a particularly beloved staff member around here. The other reason was her personality.  Put simply, Maggie was smart as hell and funny as heck.  She was a quick study, capable of cutting through complicated rhetoric to understand the root of problems. Her intelligence was complimented by the brightness of her smile and her ability to see the humor even in difficult situations.  

We will miss her.  We send our thoughts and best wishes to her family. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

"We Will Pull No Punches"

Yesterday, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito delivered her annual state of the city address in the Bronx.  The big news is that Mark-Viverito has launched an independent commission, to be chaired by former NY State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, to create a new "blueprint for justice for New York City."  Specifically, Mark-Viverito charged the Commission with reducing pre-trial detention, "utilizing more community courts," and getting the population of Rikers Island "to be so small that the dream of shutting it down becomes a reality."

To state the obvious, this is an ambitious agenda.  But I can think of no one more equipped to take this on than Judge Lippman.  "We will pull no punches," Lippman told reporters yesterday. "We will look at Rikers like it's never been looked at before, and with no preconceptions. It's important that the criminal justice system be viewed as fair and that crime and punishment is done the way it should be."

The Center for Court Innovation will help support the work of the Lippman Commission by providing research and strategic advice.  Here is my quote from the City Council press release:
“New York City has made real progress in recent days toward reducing the use of jail and bolstering the legitimacy of the justice system. The Commission created by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and chaired by Jonathan Lippman has the potential to take this work to the next level, advancing a new vision of justice that emphasizes community-based alternatives to incarceration and treating individual defendants and victims with dignity and respect. The results achieved by projects like the Red Hook Community Justice Center suggest that this approach can help reduce crime and improve public trust in justice. At the Center for Court Innovation, we applaud the Speaker's leadership and look forward to supporting the efforts of the Commission in any way we can.”
Will this Commission lead to fundamental change of the justice system in New York City?  To be honest, the obstacles will be enormous -- political, financial, logistical, etc.  But it is worth pausing at least for today to appreciate that one of the most powerful elected officials in the City has put her weight behind reducing incarceration and advancing community justice.  No small thing.  

Some press coverage: