Message from the Director

Photo: Rick Kopstein/New York Law JournalPhoto: Rick Kopstein/New York Law JournalAs I hope our website makes clear, the Center for Court Innovation is a unique institution. We are a team of researchers, planners, technologists, attorneys, social workers and others who have come together to advance a simple idea: that if given the right tools, the justice system can aid victims, change the behavior of offenders, and improve public safety.

We are committed to helping judges and other key players—defense attorneys, probation officials, prosecutors, clerks, police officers, and community groups—test new approaches to the delivery of justice. And we believe in the value of rigorous research. We use data to measure the effectiveness of new programs, documenting what works, what doesn’t, and why.

In short, the Center stands at the crossroads of action and reflection, doing and thinking. Our job is to dream up new ideas and then go out and test them in the real world.

We currently operate nearly two dozen demonstration projects, each of which is experimenting with new solutions to difficult problems like drug addiction, mental illness and neighborhood disorder. These range from large-scale reform efforts like the Red Hook Community Justice Center that handle thousands of cases each year to smaller experiments like the Brooklyn Mental Health Court that work intensively with a few dozen offenders at a time. Our projects also cover a wide range of topic areas, from juvenile delinquency to felony-level domestic violence.

Unlike some other organizations, the Center for Court Innovation aspires to make a difference both on the ground and in policy circles.  To give just a few examples of the cumulative impact of our work, the New York Times has credited our operating projects with helping to reduce the use of incarceration in New York City to the lowest rate in a generation.  Our research documenting the effectiveness of New York's drug courts was a key factor in the reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. And the White House has endorsed community courts as part of their national drug control strategy (indeed, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske made a special trip to our Red Hook Community Justice Center as part of the announcement).

Here are a few other recent highlights:

  • New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in his 2013 State of the Judiciary address announced sweeping reforms of the bail process in New York. We will be aiding this effort. Earlier, Lippman had this to say about the role that the Center has played in New York: “It's important to have an entity that is working just on research and development and is daring to think out of the box. It's been vital to our success in developing new ways of doing the judiciary's business.”
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed community courts on the campaign trail and chose the Red Hook Community Justice Center as the location for the announcement of Bill Bratton as the commissioner of the NYPD. His predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, appeared at our 15th anniversary event and said: “No group has been more effective at finding ways to reduce recidivism than the Center for Court Innovation.”
  • In 2013, Mayor Bloomberg named the Center one of the ten most innovative non-profits in New York City. This is the latest in a series of awards that the Center has won, including the Peter F. Drucker Award for Non-profit Innovation. In selecting us from more than 600 applicants, the Drucker Institute cited our track record for achieving tangible results, saying, “Through its work, the Center has literally changed the way that the major players in the system – judges, attorneys, criminal justice officials – think about their jobs and the impact they’re having."
  • We have brought together community justice practitioners from across the world for conferences in Dallas and Washington, DC.  In his welcoming remarks for the Dallas event, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder 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... I’ve seen this first hand...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.”

As proud as I am of these accomplishments, I think the best is still to come for the Center for Court Innovation.  We are constantly seeking out new challenges.  We are committed to studying the thorniest problems in the justice system and devising new solutions in response.  Are there better ways to handle young people with mental health problems than locking them up?  We are testing the efficacy of providing intensive treatment to troubled teens in Queens and the Bronx.  Can you reduce gun violence in a crime-plagued neighborhood? We are attempting to mobilize the local community to fight crime in Crown Heights and Brownsville and the South Bronx. Is it possible to improve perceptions of the justice system? We are exploring this idea on many fronts, including devising new ways to train judges in effective communication techniques.

This is just a small sampling of the new work on our plate.  In undertaking this work, we are building on a solid foundation: our track record of helping criminal justice agencies – both here in New York and around the world – improve the effectiveness and fairness of the justice system.

Thanks for your interest in our work. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Greg Berman

last updated January 15, 2014

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