British Invasion

Phil Bowen appreciates the shock value of being an Englishman in the Bronx.

"You don't hear many posh British accents here," jokes Phil, who's on loan for a year from the Home Office, which sets criminal justice policy in England and Wales in areas like policing, probation and antiterrorism.

In addition to giving Phil a taste of the intake office, he's helping us think about how Bronx Community Solutions can work with the more than 40 judges in the Bronx.

It's a tall order (most problem-solving court projects limit their work to a single judge or single courtroom), but Phil is optimistic about what the project has already accomplished. "I'm surprised at how quickly Bronx Community Solutions has become embedded" in courtrooms like the two daytime arraignment parts where the project began, says Phil.

He attributes this to the "charm offensive" of staff who work day-to-day in the courtroom. According to Phil, their presence not only shows that Bronx Community Solutions "won't disappear," but, by bringing good news back to judges and court staff while asking for their ideas and input, carries the message that the project is "responding to a real need in a creative way."

Phil's goal in spending a year in the Bronx is to bring a birds-eye view of problem-solving innovation back to the UK, which has entered a fertile period of court reform. The first community court in England opened in Liverpool in 2005, after policymakers made a number of visits to New York to see the Red Hook Community Justice Center and Midtown Community Court in operation.

According to Phil, there is already discussion of expanding the model throughout the country, and he sees Bronx Community Solutions as a good place to examine the challenges of attempting reform on a larger scale. "I want to learn how to address the cynical civil servant who rightly wonders, 'what is this going to cost?' Officials like me have to be clear that while we may not be able to put community courts everywhere, we could make smart investments in (parts of the problem-solving model like) judicial monitoring and limited social service intervention and referral" says Phil.

In the meantime, Phil is enjoying his year in the Bronx. "It's quite a thrill to come out of the tube stop and see Yankee Stadium," he says.