Oct 19, 2010

"A Long Strange Trip"

This week we are blogging from the first International Community Courts Conference in Dallas, Texas. The Conference brings together over 150 justice leaders from around the world. The Conference is sponsored by the Center for Court Innovation and the U.S Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance, with assistance from the Dallas City Attorney’s Office.

Begun in New York in the early 1990’s, community courts are neighborhood focused court projects that improve public safety by promoting offender accountability through the use of alternative sanctions and improved connections to social services.

The first International Community Court Conference opened today in Dallas, Texas, drawing justice system leaders from around the world. Greg Berman, Director of the Center for Court Innovation, described the “long strange trip” of the development of community courts as “swimming upstream.” “Crime like the weather was not something you could do something about,” according to Berman who helped spearhead the development of the nation’s first community court in Midtown Manhattan. Berman’s critique of crime policy highlighted two challenges  confronting justice reformers in the early 1990’s; first, the belief that the best response to crime was to arrest and lock up offenders, and, second, a belief that “nothing works” in rehabilitation of offenders which was derived from seminal research by Robert Marthinson and his colleagues in the mid 1970s. Today we are reaching a consensus on evidence-based practices that do work, indicated Berman. He highlighted the experience of New York City and State that has managed to significantly reduce incarceration and index crime rates. Berman outlined three contributions community courts have made to the justice reform movement: 1) Low-level offending matters and should be taken seriously, 2) Reducing crime and incarceration are not mutually exclusive goals, and 3) Local communities are “co-producers” of public safety and should be effectively engaged by the justice system.

The Conference also heard from U.S Attorney General Eric Holder via video, and Mary Lou Leary, Deputy Assistant Attorney General.