Monday, December 18, 2017

At This Moment

Last week we held our annual Center for Court Innovation holiday party.  It was a good moment to reflect on where we are as an agency.  

We have grown significantly over the past several years.  Since 2015, our budget has almost doubled.  We now touch the lives of tens of thousands of people on an annual basis through our youth development, crime prevention, reentry, alternative-to-incarceration, and court-based programs.  The holiday party was a visible symbol of our reach -- there were hundreds of people there representing our programs in all five boroughs plus various points outside of the city. 

Even as we have grown in size, we have attempted to remain artisanal, for lack of a better word.  What I mean is that we have tried to forge an approach to justice reform that is unbureaucratic and homespun.  The holiday party offered a symbol of this as well.  For more than two decades, we have hosted a baking competition as part of our holiday party.  The bake-off is one of my favorite Center for Court Innovation traditions -- there is something powerful and generous (and of course, hand-crafted) about the act of baking.  The entries this year were bananas -- see below for a particularly over-the-top example.

We are coming to the end of a year unlike any other that I have experienced at the Center for Court Innovation.  I cannot claim that this has been one of my favorite years.  The external environment has been stressful, to say the least.  We are living through a time of uncertainty and division.  The outrageous has become commonplace.  

All of this has raised challenging questions for the Center for Court Innovation.  Do we need to adapt to changing conditions in the world around us?  In many respects, we have done exactly this. We have sharpened our focus on racial disparities in the justice system.  We have engaged in an ambitious effort to encourage the City of New York to close Rikers Island.  We have tried to advance the idea of diversion, providing meaningful off-ramps so that many cases never have to come to court at all.  And we have dramatically expanded the reach of our alternative-to-incarceration and alternative-to-detention programs, serving hundreds of additional people each year. 

But even as we have shifted to meet the demands of our current moment, we have also attempted to stay true to the underlying values that have been at the core of our work since our origin.  These include a commitment to working in concert with reformers within government, a belief in the value of incremental change, and a dedication to research and careful, evidence-driven program planning.  

One of our most important values is a faith in the possibility of positive change.  At the Center, we are trying to advance an affirmative vision of what justice can and should look like.  Each day, we are working alongside judges, attorneys, law enforcement officers, probation officials and others to nudge our government closer to realizing this vision.  This work is hard.  It can be unglamorous and messy.  It is almost always full of compromise.  But it is real. And it is desperately needed.

As the director of the Center for Court Innovation, my role in all of this is primarily facilitative and administrative.  I do not provide services to any defendants.  I don't work directly with any young people.  But I am motivated in no small part by my admiration and respect for those who do.  I have written in the past about the importance of love to the daily work that goes on in our programs.  This year, more than any other, I have been inspired by the generosity of the case managers and outreach workers and violence interrupters and other frontline staffers who have chosen to devote their time and energy to the Center for Court Innovation.  If you would like to help support their work, I encourage you to make a year-end donation, as I have.