Greg Berman, Director Center for Court Innovation
Earlier this week, with the help of the U.S. Department of Justice, The Center for Court Innovation held its first ever international conference of community courts in Dallas, Texas. In attendance were criminal justice officials from dozens of American cities as well as delegations from England, Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico.
The conference began with videotaped remarks from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who said:
Over the course of nearly two decades, since the very first community court opened its doors in Manhattan, combining punishment with assistance has proven to be a critical strategy in improving public safety...Community courts have been essential in guiding efforts to reduce crime, empower communities and create opportunities. I’ve seen this first hand...While the size and scope of our community courts vary, they have all proven the power of community involvement in strengthening public safety and public confidence in our justice system. I’m proud of the progress that we are making and of the investments we are directing to support our community courts and the Center for Court Innovation.
The conference highlighted the work of existing community courts both in the U.S. and abroad, including three community courts in Dallas that served as hosts for the event.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Mary Lou Leary, in her keynote remarks, said that “evidence shows that community courts simultaneously help to reduce crime, streamline the justice process, change sentencing practices, solve individual problems, and increase public trust in the justice system.” She went on to encourage participants to continue to innovate and to think of themselves as “evidence-generating” programs.
In keeping with this theme, the conference featured a number of cutting-edge community justice initiatives that are breaking new ground for the field:
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams described his plans to build on the existing community court in Philadelphia to create a network of locally-based courts in the city.
Initiated by Mayor Cory Booker, Newark Community Solutions will re-engineer how the city responds to low-level crime, emphasizing community restitution and social services instead of fines and incarceration.
Chief Justice Herb Yazzie outlined his intention to create a community court for the Navajo nation that would incorporate traditional tribal practices.
Portland District Attorney Michael Schrunk described a new initiative to co-locate a community court in a supportive housing facility for formerly homeless individuals.
All in all, it was an inspiring event that highlighted how far our ideas have traveled and how far we have come as an institution. As rewarding as this was, the best part for me was the uniform excellence of everyone from the Center who participated in the conference, whether as organizers, presenters, facilitators or documenters. Kudos to the entire Center team.
In the days to come, we will have photos and videos from the conference to share. In the meantime, here is a link to a short story on the conference from The Crime Report: http://thecrimereport.org/2010/10/20/community-courts-called-good-for-public-safety-in-budget-crisis/