The nation's first multi-jurisdictional community court, the Red Hook Community Justice Center seeks to solve neighborhood problems in southwest Brooklyn.
Operating out of a refurbished Catholic school in the heart of a geographically isolated neighborhood in southwest Brooklyn, the Justice Center takes a restorative approach to justice, using sanctions and services to address the needs of victims, the community, and offenders.
The Red Hook story extends far beyond what happens in the courtroom. The Justice Center’s programs include peacemaking, community service and a youth court where teenagers are trained to resolve real-life cases involving their peers. The Center also has a housing resource center that provides support and information to residents with cases in housing court.
Key features of the Justice Center include:
The Justice Center handles low-level criminal cases (including selected felonies), as well as Family Court and Civil Court matters. In hearing these cases, the Justice Center recognizes that neighborhood problems do not conform to the arbitrary jurisdictional boundaries of the modern court system. By having a single judge handle matters that ordinarily are heard by different decision-makers at different locations, Red Hook offers a swifter and more coordinated judicial response.
By mandating defendants to restore the community, the Justice Center makes justice more visible to local residents and acknowledges the harm that crime does to the fabric of a neighborhood. Restitution projects include painting over graffiti and beautifying local parks. Red Hook also operates a peacemaking program, building on a Native American approach to justice, facilitated by trained volunteers from the community.
By linking defendants to drug treatment and by providing on-site services, the Justice Center seeks to help individuals avoid further involvement with the court system. Services are not limited to court users but are available to anyone in the community wishing to avail themselves of them.
Compliance with social service and community restitution sanctions is rigorously monitored by the Red Hook judge, who requires litigants to return to court frequently to report on their progress. State-of-the-art technology helps ensure accountability.
The Justice Center actively seeks to resolve local problems before they become court cases. For example, the peacemaking program empowers community members to resolve their own conflicts without intervention from police or courts. And by engaging local at-risk and justice-involved youth in a range of programming including a youth court, the Justice Center works to prevent crime and foster youth leadership. An independent evaluation found a sustained decrease in both felony and misdemeanor arrests in the precincts served by the Justice Center.