Rikers Island is “a stain on our great city” and should be closed. That’s the headline-grabbing conclusion of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform. With influential leaders, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, in agreement, the next question is: Where do we go from here?
Court observation programs around the country send volunteers into courts to observe, collect data, and sometimes issue reports about what they've seen. Their goals include keeping courts accountable to the public and improving transparency, but not all courts are eager to receive public feedback. CourtWatch of King County, Washington, has worked closely with its local courts since the program's founding, trying to build a relationship that is more collaborative than adversarial.
New York City's incarceration rates have been dropping steadily, but a new report from the Center for Court Innovation, in collaboration with the Vera Institute of Justice, suggests the city’s jail population can still be brought significantly lower. The report looks in detail at key decision-points along the path from arrest through bail to sentencing making concrete suggestions for how to improve the system, especially for those defendants detained awaiting trial.
Judge Marcelita Haynes of the Los Angeles Superior Court talks with Matt Watkins about Community Collaborative Courts, the county's new approach to problem-solving justice. Judge Haynes says the courts look for long-term solutions to a range of problems—from mental health issues to homelessness—that can fuel repeat offending.
In this New Thinking podcast, Harvard Law School Professor James Greiner talks with Aubrey Fox about why he launched the Access to Justice Lab, which has researched topics as varied as how to provide self-help materials to defendants involved in civil debt collection cases to the effectiveness of commonly used pretrial assessment interview tools in criminal court. Greiner also discusses what he sees as a strategy for improving the legal profession's openness to evidence-based thinking.
In this New Thinking podcast, Raymond H. Brescia, associate professor of Law at Albany Law School, speaks with Aubrey Fox and Robert V. Wolf of the Center for Court Innovation about the role lawyers can play in addressing poverty and eviction, why New York City has been dramatically expanding funding to provide lawyers to respondents in Housing Court, debt collection cases as the next great issue for public interest attorneys, and how a good lawyer is like a patronus from a Harry Potter book.
In this New Thinking podcast, Ann Johnson, an assistant district attorney and the human trafficking section chief with the Harris County District Attorney's Office, discusses her office's strategies for combating human trafficking, including increased enforcement against traffickers and buyers, and diversion from prosecution for victims. One of the office's diversion program, SAFE Court, gives those ages 17 to 25 who are charged with prostitution the opportunity to clear the charge from their criminal records by completing a yearlong program of monitoring and social services.
Tshaka Barrows, deputy director of the Burns Institute, discusses his organization's collaborative and community-centered approach to addressing and eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system. Barrows spoke with Robert V. Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation, after participating in a panel on Race and Procedural Justice at Justice Innovations in Times of Change.
In this New Thinking podcast, Reuben J. Miller, assistant professor of social work at the University of Michigan, and his research collaborator Hazelette Crosby-Robinson discuss some of the criticisms that have been leveled against risk assessment tools. Those criticisms include placing too much emphasis on geography and criminal history, which can distort the actual risk for clients from neighborhoods that experience an above-average presence of policing and social services.
Mike Lawlor, Connecticut's under secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, discusses Governor Dannel P. Malloy's Second Chance Society, a series of justice reforms (including dramatic changes to bail and juvenile justice policies) that seek to reduce crime, lower spending on prisons, and help rebuild relationships between criminal justice professionals and the communities they serve.