Community Courts: An Evolving Model

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1-Covers 10/11/00 3:59 PM Page grnC1U.S. Department of JusticeOffice of Justice ProgramsBureau of Justice AssistanceCOMMUNITY COURTSAN EVOLVING MODELMonographCOMMUNITY JUSTICE SERIES#2

1-Covers 10/11/00 3:59 PM Page C2U.S. Department of JusticeOffice of Justice Programs810 Seventh Street NW.Washington, DC 20531Janet RenoAttorney GeneralDaniel MarcusActing Associate Attorney GeneralMary Lou LearyActing Assistant Attorney GeneralNancy E. GistDirector, Bureau of Justice AssistanceOffice of Justice ProgramsWorld Wide Web Home Pagewww.ojp.usdoj.govBureau of Justice AssistanceWorld Wide Web Home grant and funding information contactU.S. Department of Justice Response Center1–800–421–6770This document was prepared by the Center for Court Innovation under grant number96–DD–BX–0090, awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S.Department of Justice. The opinions,findings,and conclusions or recommendations expressedin this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official positionor policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which alsoincludes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justiceand Delinquency Prevention, and the Office for Victims of Crime.

2-Main Body 10/11/00 4:03 PM Page iCOMMUNITY COURTSAN EVOLVING MODELOctober 2000NCJ 183452Prepared by Eric Lee, Deputy DirectorCenter for Court Innovation

2-Main Body 10/11/00 4:03 PM Page iiiFrom the DirectorThe community court movement has come a long way since the firstcourt opened in midtown Manhattan in 1993. The concepts pioneered bythat court have taken root across the country. Nearly a dozen communitycourts are now open in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, New York,Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas. Another 13 communities plan to opencourts in the near future.Midtown Community Court has succeeded by asking a new set of questions about the role of the court in a community’s daily life: What can acourt do to solve neighborhood problems? What can courts bring to thetable beyond their coercive power and symbolic presence? And what rolescan community residents, businesses, and service providers play in improving justice?The community courts that were established after Midtown are answeringthese questions in different ways. Most focus on one neighborhood, butothers are exploring ways to serve an entire city. Still others are expandingtheir scope beyond low-level criminal offenses to juvenile delinquency andhousing code violations.But these pioneering courts also seek a set of common, important goals.All have implemented a new way of doing business that imposes immediate,meaningful sanctions on offenders, truly engages the community, and helpsoffenders address problems that are at the root of their criminal behavior.The Bureau of Justice Assistance continues to support the efforts ofjudges, prosecutors, public defenders, and other local leaders who areusing community courts to transform the way justice is administered intheir communities.Nancy E. GistDirectorBureau of Justice AssistanceBUREAU OF JUSTICE ASSISTANCEiii

2-Main Body 10/11/00 4:03 PM Page vContentsI. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1II. Overview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3How Do You Plan a Community Court? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4Which Community Should Be Served andWhere Should the Court Be Located? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5How Should the Court Link Offenders to SocialServices?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6Can Punishment and Help Be Combined? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6What Kinds of Cases Are Appropriate for Community Courts? . . 6What Role Should the Community Play? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6Are Community Courts Creating System Change?. . . . . . . . . . . 7III. Community Court Profiles. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9Midtown Community Court, New York City . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9North/Northeast and Southeast Community Courts,Portland, Oregon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10Hartford Community Court, Hartford, Connecticut . . . . . . . . . . 11Hennepin County Community Court Calendar,Minneapolis, Minnesota . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12Hempstead Community Court, Hempstead, New York . . . . . . . 13West Palm Beach Community Court,West Palm Beach, Florida . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14Downtown Austin Community Court, Austin, Texas . . . . . . . . . 15Frayser Community Court, Memphis, Tennessee . . . . . . . . . . . 16Atlanta Community Court, Atlanta, Georgia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17Red Hook Community Justice Center, Brooklyn, New York. . . . 18IV. Conclusion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19BUREAU OF JUSTICE ASSISTANCEv

2-Main Body 10/11/00 4:03 PM Page viCOMMUNITY COURTS: AN EVOLVING MODELV. Resources on Community Justice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21VI. For More Information. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23vi

2-Main Body 10/11/00 4:03 PM Page 1I. IntroductionIn recent years cities and townsacross the country have embarkedon an experiment to test the proposition that courts can play a rolein solving complex neighborhoodproblems and building strongercommunities. Since the 1993 opening of New York City’s MidtownCommunity Court, the nation’s first,dozens of cities have begun planning community courts. Elevencommunity courts are now operating in communities across thenation, and six more will open bythe end of 2000. At their outset,each court must address the following set of questions: Can courts assume a problemsolving role in the life of a community, bringing people togetherand helping to craft solutions toproblems that communities face? How can courts address theimpact that chronic offendinghas on a community? Can courts improve the qualityof life in a community? Can local voices—residents,merchants, community groups—engage in the administration ofjustice?To answer these questions, community courts have developedindividual programs that differ inimportant ways. Although mostof these new courts focus on oneneighborhood, several jurisdictionsare exploring ways to serve anentire city. Many community courtshandle criminal cases only, butothers are experimenting with abroader range of matters, includingjuvenile delinquency and housingcode violations. Some communitycourts were initiated by courts, andsome have been championed by adistrict attorney.These differences reflect a centralaspect of community courts: theyfocus on neighborhoods and aredesigned to respond to the particular concerns of individual communities. Moreover, community courtsare shaped by the particular political, economic, and social landscapes in each community.The Center for Court Innovation(CCI), with support from the Bureauof Justice Assistance (BJA), hasprovided technical assistanceAbout the AuthorEric Lee is deputy director of the Center for Court Innovation. Research,ideas, and text were contributed by Courtney Bryan, Jimena Martinez, BridgetRegan, and Robert Wolf of the Center for Court Innovation.BUREAU OF JUSTICE ASSISTANCE1

2-Main Body 10/11/00 4:03 PM Page 2COMMUNITY COURTS: AN EVOLVING MODELto each community court anddocumented the emergence of thisfield. This monograph provides a2snapshot of these early communitycourts and explores emergingissues in their development.

2-Main Body 10/11/00 4:03 PM Page 3II. OverviewIn January 1998, the MidtownCommunity Court was the onlycommunity court in the UnitedStates. By March 2000, nearly adozen had opened across the country in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia,Minnesota, New York, Oregon,Tennessee, and Texas. New YorkCity and Portland, Oregon, eachhost two community courts, andorganizers in both cities intend toopen a third court in 2000. Another13 jurisdictions, in California,Colorado, Delaware, Florida,Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, NewYork, Oregon, Pennsylvania, andTexas, plan to establish communitycourts in the near future.Community courts grow out offrustration. Observers have notedthat justice has become remotefrom communities and the peoplewho live in them. Community residents have reported feeling out oftouch with courts. They want courtsto address low-level crime that ispart of daily life. The MidtownCommunity Court offered a modelfor addressing these problems byemphasizing the following: Locating the court in the community, close to where crimestake place. Repaying a community damagedby low-level crime by requiringoffenders to compensateBUREAU OF JUSTICE ASSISTANCEneighborhoods through community service. Using the leverage of the court tosentence offenders to completesocial services that will helpthem address problems such asdrug addiction or involvement inprostitution. Bringing the court and the community closer by making thecourthouse accessible, establishing a community advisory board,and publishing a quarterlynewsletter. Using the court as a gateway totreatment and making social services available to offenders rightat the courthouse.The Midtown model was thoroughly documented in an independent evaluation conducted by theNational Center for State Courtsand in publications prepared by theU.S. Department of Justice (see p.21 for a list of publications on community justice). With a well-definedand carefully documented model inNew York City, community courtplanners elsewhere faced questionsabout whether the Midtown modelwould meet the needs of theirjurisdictions. Planners in other jurisdictions have made significant departures from the Midtown model,reflecting both the distinct needs oftheir communities and the practical3

2-Main Body 10/11/00 4:03 PM Page 4COMMUNITY COURTS: AN EVOLVING MODELreality of what they believed theycould accomplish given localresources and local support.The following sections examinethe questions that planners askedas they designed their communitycourts and how they resolved them.How Do You Plan aCommunity Court?Community courts are complexprojects that involve rethinkingcourt operations, raising substantialresources, and building partnershipswithin and without the justice system. Decisions about who shouldlead the planning of a communitycourt varied from state to state.Judges or local court administratorsled the planning effort in 4 of the11 operating courts. Planning foranother five courts was led by elected district attorneys. Notably, allfive of these courts run communityprosecution programs and the district attorneys’ interest in community courts was sparked by hearinghow dissatisfied their constituentswere with the justice system’s insufficient attention to quality-of-lifeproblems. The local mayor’s officeand a countywide criminal justicecommission initiated the community court effort in the remaining twocities.Many projects recognized earlythat a dedicated planner would beneeded to move the community4court from conception to implementation. This approach reflectsthe complexities of raising money,building community participation,developing sanctions, establishingpartnerships, and so forth. Six ofthe operating community courtswere staffed with a full-time coordinator during the planning period;the planning of three courts was ledby a staff person who dedicated amajority of his or her attention tothe project. To ensure that the partnerships necessary for successwere established early in the planning process, nine jurisdictions convened formal planning committees.The committees typically includedrepresentatives from the courts,district attorneys’ offices, policedepartments, social service agencies, and communities. Publicdefenders were included on five ofthe planning teams. In the projectsthat did not create planning committees, lead planners worked informally with other stakeholders.The scope of the communitycourt project, the readiness of localplayers to support the concept, andthe planners’ success in garneringfunds and in-kind support all affected the length of the planning process. Three jurisdictions openedcommunity courts within a year ofbeginning the planning process.Although the average planning period was 2 years, some jurisdictionsneeded 3 or more years to plan acommunity court.

2-Main Body 10/11/00 4:03 PM Page 5OverviewWhich Community ShouldBe Served and WhereShould the Court BeLocated?The Midtown Community Courtserves the central business districtof America’s largest city. One challenge faced by planners outsideNew York City was whether the concept of a community court isapplicable to smaller cities andother types of neighborhoods.The community court approachwas recognized as a promisingsolution to quality-of-life problemsby many different communities.Today, 6 of the 11 operating community courts serve inner-cityresidential neighborhoods facingserious problems, including highcrime rates, property abandonment,and conditions of disorder. Twocommunity courts serve downtownareas and tackle the low-level crimeand public disorder that can be barriers to social and economic revitalization of city centers. One courtis located in a suburban area withpockets facing problems similar tothose of its urban neighbors. Finally,two cities are testing the idea of acommunity court that serves anentire medium-size city. In one, thecity has been divided into 17 neighborhoods, each with a committeedesigned to promote a close working relationship between the community and the court.Another decision planners facedwas selecting an appropriate building in which to locate the communityBUREAU OF JUSTICE ASSISTANCEcourt. The decision involved balancing community court goals suchas visibility and accessibility to thepublic with the need to find sufficient space for onsite partners.Expense and the logistical issues ofprocessing defendants also wereconsidered. The projects arrived ata variety of solutions. Three courtscurrently operate within centralizedcourthouses. One of these projectsplans to relocate to a dedicatedbuilding in the near future; the othertwo hold open the possibility ofrelocating to separate space in thefuture. Another project holds proceedings in the central court andconducts other community courtactivities such as community service, social services, and community meetings in the neighborhoodbeing served by the court.Seven courts are located in theneighborhoods they serve. Threeprojects have adapted existingspace in the community: two inneighborhood centers and one ina strip mall storefront. Four undertook significant renovations to create a space for their communitycourts.The decision about court locationis closely tied to a program’s focalpoint. All of the planners, and manycommunity members, describecommon goals such as establishingcommunity norms and creating anenvironment supporting revitalization efforts, but the focal point ofthe programs vary with neighborhoods and the problems confrontingindividual communities. Courts in5

2-Main Body 10/11/00 4:03 PM Page 6COMMUNITY COURTS: AN EVOLVING MODELresidential neighborhoods are morelikely to address housing issues andyoung offenders as well as low-levelcriminal offenses, whereas thosein downtown areas prioritize issuessuch as homelessness, illegalcamping, and disorderly conduct.How Should the CourtLink Offenders to SocialServices?All planners agreed that makingsocial services available to defendants who appear at communitycourt is important, but they havemade different decisions aboutwhether to locate these servicesonsite. Of the 11 community courtsnow operating, 6 provide servicessuch as drug treatment, counseling,and assistance with entitlementsonsite, as well ongoing case management by project staff for defendants mandated to services suchas long-term treatment. Three sitesprovide referral to services plusongoing case management; twoprovide referral to social servicesonly.Can Punishment and HelpBe Combined?All of the nation’s communitycourts are experimenting with thebroad use of both community service and social service sanctions.Mandating defendants to social services is universally accepted as alegitimate sentence to curb recidivism. However, for several, the integration of social service sanctionshas been gradual. Judges in some6jurisdictions have questioned theappropriateness of using social service as a sanction. How, asked onejudge, could a service designed tohelp an individual with personalproblems also serve as punishment? Community members andothers on the advisory board havebeen emphatic about the need toaddress underlying problems suchas drug addiction.What Kinds of CasesAre Appropriate forCommunity Courts?Five of the community courtsare exploring ways to expand theirmandates beyond hearing criminalcases. These experiments rangefrom a judge in one courtroomhearing criminal, civil, and familymatters, to judges with criminalcourt calendars working closelywith the police and prosecutors onmatters such as housing code violations, to two judges sitting jointlyat one court of which one hearscriminal cases and the otherreviews environmental matters.Two jurisdictions are exploringways to handle youthful offendersat community court.What Role Should theCommunity Play?Although all the projects recognized that community involvementwas a critical goal, planners grappled with how and when to involvethe community, raising the question: Who is the community? Formost court planners, the answer

2-Main Body 10/11/00 4:03 PM Page 7Overviewincluded residents, social serviceproviders, beat cops, and local merchants. Community members participated in the planning of all of thecourts, but in different ways and todiffering degrees.Planners used a variety of tools toestablish community participation.In every community, plannersattended neighborhood meetingsand conducted interviews with abroad range of stakeholders. Allbut two courts created a communityadvisory panel during the planningperiod, and most of the projectsheld community meetings to determine priorities for the new court.Five projects held focus group discussions to better understand community members’ concerns andrecommendations. In Portland,Oregon, community memberswere involved in shaping sanctioning options. In Brooklyn, New York,community members chose thebuilding in which to locate thecourt.Since opening, each court hastaken a different approach toinvolving the community. Eightcourts have convened a communityadvisory board that meets regularlyand a ninth is forming such aboard. Eight community courtshave mechanisms for solicitingcommunity involvement in makingcommunity service assignments,and four have committees thatdevise ways to use communityservice to address hot spots andother neighborhood problems.Two community courts conductBUREAU OF JUSTICE ASSISTANCEdoor-to-door surveys to determinepublic safety concerns and prioritiesof neighborhood residents. Threecourts distribute a newsletter togive community members visibleevidence that the court is accountable to the community.Are Community CourtsCreating System Change?Community courts are changingthe way court systems conductbusiness within the court itself and,more broadly, within the justice system. In the two cities where community courts have been open thelongest, New York City and Portland,the lessons of community involvement in the administration of justicehave begun to spread to the rest ofthe system.In Portland, the success of theNorth/Northeast Community Courthas convinced the district attorney,the courts, and other justice agencies to open two other communitycourts that together will serve everyneighborhood in Portland. In NewYork City, the succe

Many community courts handle criminal cases only, but others are experimenting with a broader range of matters, including juvenile delinquency and housing code violations. Some community courts were initiated by courts, and some have been championed by a district attorney. These differences reflect a central aspect of community courts: they focus on neighborhoods and are designed to respond to .

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