University of Maryland Law Professor Terry Hickey discusses Baltimore's new Prostitution Court and other community justice initiatives.
The following is a transcript:
ROBERT V. WOLF: This is Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. I'm here today with Terry Hickey, who is adjunct professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and is deeply involved in an interesting project that they have been collaborating on, called the Community Justice Initiative. Terry, welcome to Brooklyn and the Red Hook Community Justice Center.
TERRY HICKEY: Thank you very much. Good to be back. It's my sixth time with the law school, I think out of eight times we've come.
WOLF: I thought maybe a way to start off is to ask you to explain to me, what is the Community Justice Initiative?
HICKEY: Sure. Well I think you guys know that one of the big questions everybody asks when they leave here is, gee, can we do this at home? The Community Justice Initiative I think started on that wave length. What can actually be done in Baltimore, you know, with our politics, with our government, and you know, within our judicial system and how big do you start? The law school at the University of Maryland had a clinical program where law students get a chance to practice real law with real clients, both individuals and communities. Professor Brenda Blom, who was the founder of the concept of the clinic wanted to see if there was some way we could take this community lawyering concept, marry it to problem-solving justice, create this community justice initiative, use law students, use resources from the law school, combined with all of the different agencies within the justice system, within our communities, bring them actually all together to the same table, and actually finally answer that question, can we do this where we are?
WOLF: I assume the answer is yes, it can be done because you've been doing it for many years. So I wonder if you could maybe describe to me how it's manifested?
HICKEY: Sure. It started by developing what we call the Community Justice Task Force. All told, I think there were over 100 plus entities, government agencies, and people involved in the task force. Building off of years of community discussion around prostitution, which has been epidemic in Baltimore, the law school, the task force, and many others that are actually on this trip now to Red Hook, were able to get together and form an advisory committee for the formation of a prostitution problem-solving court. We're probably within the last two months of being able to kick this off. A judge is being selected. The group has received funding for a full-time social worker to be the gatekeeper and the idea is to start out, literally, with the top three or four police districts for concentration of prostitution cases will be redirected to this court. The whole idea is to get offenders who plea into the court to be put on various tracks, to provide them with housing, job assistance, drug treatment, in exchange for going through that path, your case would not be included in record or would be dismissed. While at the same time enlisting the health department to start a Saturday school for johns, for instance, and to bring back programming in which neighborhoods can report license information and descriptions so the police department can send letters to the registered owner of the vehicles letting them know that their vehicle was seen in a high prostitution area, sending the message that communities are being proactive. So that's the community side of community justice. And then the court becomes the justice side of community justice.
What's been amazing about this, and I think this is what community justice has come to mean to me and several of us—you have prosecutors, vice cops, law students, law professors, community members sitting at the same table with advocates who work on the streets, with prostitutes, and refer to prostitutes as victims of what's going on, whereas the police may have referred to them only as offenders or perpetrators. And we've all done this amazing, I think, process of learning from each other and about all the elements. And it's never seen like this is a way of being soft on offenders. It's never seen like, you know, this isn't going to have any teeth to it, but the folks working with prostitutes know that this is gonna give them another option, and the folks in the courts know this is gonna stop the revolving door, and the police know that they can stop arresting people for their own good only to have them back on the street the next day, and nothing's happened. So like I said, this is a couple of months away from being reality and I think it really sprung from those initial sort of community justice thoughts that people got from coming here to Red Hook, combined with community members who have been sitting at the table for years saying, this has to stop. You put those two together and it's a real-life situation that looks like it's really gonna happen.
WOLF: Tell me about the role the students play in this, and just in general in the community justice initiative.
HICKEY: Sure. If you're a law student at the University of Maryland and you take this course, which is the Community Justice Clinic, it's a major, uh, they spend roughly 30 hours a week working on this. It's a major undertaking for them. They all receive a community client so on one hand they learn how to represent communities, how to work with community members by representing a wide range of transactional, you know, other things, incorporation issues, working with their Boards of Directors, the things that you wouldn't think of community lawyers doing.
WOLF: When you say community client, do you mean civic organizations?
HICKEY: A community association—
WOLF: Not a specific person?
HICKEY: Nope, nope, a community association—
WOLF: The community at large is their client.
HICKEY: Incorporated entities, neighborhood associations, community development corporations, groups such as that, you know, acting as their attorney, helping train their board of directors working on legal issues. But broadening that so that they can conceptualize these—how crime and violence and maybe a lack of impact of the justice system impacts those communities. And by learning those issues they're also placed in various other areas. A group of law students are working with the prostitution court. Another group is being split up to work either on liquor board cases representing communities in actions against problem bars and liquor stores. Another group is working on what's called a vacant house receivership program, where they're helping communities work with the housing department to have something done with vacant houses, which is, again, a significant cause of crime in neighborhoods.
One of the main reasons we keep coming back to Red Hook, even though some might say we've seen everything there is to be seen, when we come back we give these law students a chance to take this synthetic idea of community justice that they may have sort of heard about—it's a very interesting clinic and you'll get to do all these things in court—to, wow, this is really happening and this is something that I can see a little piece of at home. Or even just, okay I get it now. Let's get back to Baltimore and I want to get working on that project again. As you go through law school you tend to, uh, the inspiration tends to get dulled a little bit from when you come in and I think it's trips like this that expose them to the fact that there's so much more really going on out there. I think what's different now from the first time we came here is that in the beginning it really was a theoretical—boy I wish we could do something like that, but that's just never gonna work back at home. Now I think, through the Community Justice Task Force and the clinic and the hard work of everyone involved, I think we've got a foundation so you can take, you know, it was always inspirational—that's why we love coming here—but now I think we can take the inspiration of the day, get on the bus, take the long ride back to Baltimore, wake up the next morning, and actually engage them in something that's going on as opposed to trying to build something from scratch. And that's why I’m so hopeful moving forward.
WOLF: It sounds great, very interesting. I wish you the best of luck.
HICKEY: Thank you. We'll keep plugging away and eventually—every little bit, right?
WOLF: Well thank you and I've been speaking with Terry Hickey, an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland School of Law. This is Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. Thank you for listening.