District Attorney Cy Vance speaking at Times Square Ink graduation
Midtown Community Court
Launched in 1993, the Midtown Community Court targets quality-of-life offenses, such as prostitution, illegal vending, graffiti, shoplifting, farebeating and vandalism. Typically in these cases, judges are forced to choose between a few days of jail time and nothing at all—sentences that fail to impress upon the victim, the community and the defendants that these offenses are taken seriously. In contrast, the Midtown Community Court sentences low-level offenders to pay back the neighborhood through community service, while at the same time offering them help with problems that often underlie criminal behavior. Midtown's judge has an array of sanctions and services at her disposal. These include community restitution projects, short-term psychoeducational groups, and long-term treatment such as drug treatment, mental health treatment, and trauma-focused psychotherapy; for a list of current social service programs, click here. Midtown features an on-site clinic staffed by social service professionals who use trauma-focused, strengths-based, and evidence-informed clinical approaches to assess and connect individuals to appropriate services. The Midtown Court celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2013.
How It Works
The Court achieves the following:
Making Justice Visible: Wearing bright blue vests, quality-of life offenders at Midtown pay back the community through visible community service projects—painting over graffiti, sweeping the streets, and cleaning local parks.
Making Justice Swift: Immediate sentencing sends the message to offenders that crime has consequences and that they will be held accountable for their actions. Offenders often begin their sentences within 24 hours of appearing before the judge.
Engaging New Partners: The Court works with local residents, businesses, social service providers and other government agencies to forge creative, collaborative solutions to neighborhood problems. The Court houses an array of non-traditional programs, including community mediation, GED classes and job training for out-of-school youth, and homeless outreach.
Offering Social Services: The Court uses arrest as a gateway to treatment, engaging defendants in on-site drug and mental health treatment, and job training.
Providing Better Information: The Court's award-winning computer application helps the judge craft individualized sanctions for each offender and monitor compliance. The system also provides police officers with regular feedback about the outcomes of their arrests.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has hailed the Midtown Community Court for helping to revive Times Square. The Midtown Community Court was also the subject of an independent evaluation by the National Center for State Courts. According to the National Center, Midtown's compliance rate of 75 percent for community service was the highest in the city. Offenders performing community service contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of labor to the community each year. In conjunction with aggressive law enforcement and economic development efforts, the Court has had an impact on neighborhood crime: prostitution arrests dropped 56 percent and illegal vending was down 24 percent.
There are currently dozens of cities around the world that have opened or plan to open community courts based on the model of the Midtown Community Court. The Court has received awards from the National Association for Court Management, Municipal Art Society, Encore Community Services, the 9th Avenue Association, Windows World Open and the Broadway Association. To read more about research results, including caseload, sentencing, compliance and other outcomes, click here.
The Court is operated as a public/private partnership among the New York State Unified Court System, the City of New York and the Center for Court Innovation. During the Court's pilot period, funding came from a mix of sources, including the federal government, local government and dozens of foundations and corporations. Social service and community service partners include dozens of community-based and government agencies.
The Founding of the Court
The Midtown Community Court was created in the early 1990s, a time of rising crime and disorder in New York City. Housed on a busy midtown side-street, the Court focuses on minor, non-violent offending, emphasizing alternatives to jail wherever possible.
VIDEOS: John Feinblatt, who led the team that planned the court, talks about the principles that guided its founding. New York City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden talks about the people who helped plan the court. Former New York State Chief Judge Judith Kaye discusses the night before the court opened. And Herb Sturz, who first broached the idea of the court, explains the role demonstration projects play in testing new ideas.
PODCASTS: Longtime staffer Jeff Hobbs recalls what conditions were like in the neighborhood when the Court opened.
NEWS: The New York Times, as well as other New York City daily newspapers, endorse the Midtown Community Court.
The Midtown Community Court has had five judges since its founding in 1993. Currently presiding is Judge Felicia Mennin.
Judge Judy Harris Kluger (1993 to 1996) is chief of policy and planning for the New York State Unified Court System.
Judge Rosalyn H. Richter (1996) is now associate justice of the Appellate Division, First Department.
Judge Eileen Koretz (1997 to 2006) is now a judicial hearing officer in Supreme and Criminal Courts in New York.
Judge Richard M. Weinberg (2006 to 2012) is now presiding judge of Part N (Felony/Misdemeanor Narcotics) in Manhattan.
Over the years, the Midtown Community Court has been the subject of many articles on justice reform:
Veterans Initiative Unveiled at Midtown Community Court, from DNAinfo, profiles the Midtown Community Court's new program to aid defendants who served in the military.
Penalty for Rule-Breaking Bicyclists: A Remedial Class, from The New York Times, on the Midtown Community Court's program promoting bicycling safety.
MoMA Exhibit Puts Spotlight on Women Arrested for Prostitution, from DNAinfo, on artwork made by clients of the Midtown Community Court on display at the Museum of Modern Art.
A Dignitary Examines Community Court, from The New York Times, covers a visit to the Midtown Community Court from Lord Chancellor, the highest-ranking judicial official in Britain.
Midtown Community Court on the Hunt for a Wall, from DNAinfo, profiles the Midtown Community Court's fatherhood program and its mural-painting project in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art.
Midtown Court Helps Ex-Criminals Become Better Dads, from DNAinfo, on how the Midtown Community Court helps fathers with criminal histories.
Midtown Community Court Helps Teen Prostitute Escape 'the Life', from The Crime Report, about how the Midtown Community Court, is starting to recognize that many underage sex workers are victims of exploitation.
Co-Author of 'Broken Windows' Theory Explains How New York Became Safe, from City Journal, explains how the restoration of public order, through innovative institutions like the Midtown Community Court, helped fuel a decline in crime.
In New York City, a ‘Community Court’ and a New Legal Culture, published in 1996 by the U.S. Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice, describes the Midtown Community Court, the nation's first community court.
Community Courts Across the Globe: A Survey of Goals, Performance Measures, and Operations, describes the international community court movement.
Clear Channel promotes the work of the Midtown Community Court with a slideshow in Times Square.
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