Founded as a public-private partnership, the Center for Court Innovation (CCI) is a non-profit organization that aims to create a more effective and humane justice system. CCI’s programs address a range of challenges, such as reducing gun violence and aiding troubled teens, and include community-based violence prevention projects, alternatives to incarceration, and re-entry initiatives. CCI’s model is focused on collaboration; the initiative continues to partner with a broad range of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and community groups, including a strong relationship with the state court system. CCI is working to embed a culture of innovation in the courts and the justice system in NYC. It designs and implements programs that test new ideas to solve existing problems. CCI has managed to balance the interests and concerns of stakeholders, including prosecution, defense, and judges, while maintaining community support. It has gradually introduced new interventions that have been transforming the courts’ approach to issues, such as alternatives to incarceration for young defendants.
The criminal justice system in the US has adhered to the same model for generations, even as society’s concerns have shifted over time. Courts and criminal procedure are rarely seen as opportunities for innovation or civic engagement. Access to legal services is not democratized in the same way that access to a voting booth or a public meeting may be. Moreover, the judicial process is highly technical, and by its nature, intimidating. Navigating the system can also be complex and particularly burdensome to young people, low-income people and other marginalized groups.
How’d They Do It?
Founded as a public/private partnership between the New York State Unified Court System and the Fund for the City of New York, the Center creates operating programs to test new ideas and solve problems. The Center’s projects include community-based violence prevention projects, alternatives to incarceration, reentry initiatives, and court-based programs that seek to promote positive individual and family change, and many others. CCI takes what has historically been one of the most challenging areas in which to innovate, and partners with the New York City police department, district attorneys, the Department of Criminal Justice Services and others to create a streamlined, simplified way of accessing city resources.
How’s It Going?
In 2015, Brooklyn Justice Initiatives handled almost 800 cases. The most frequent charges were assault, theft, and prostitution. That same year, social workers at Brooklyn Justice Initiatives made almost 700 referrals to voluntary services, including drug treatment, job training, and counseling. Today, Brooklyn Justice Initiatives has five principal program components and in 2017, handled over 4000 cases.
An evaluation found that Brooklyn Justice Initiatives’ Supervised Release Program has been a significant force in reducing pre-trial detention through a model of regular check-ins with a social worker or case manager and voluntary referrals to community service providers. Program participants were far more likely than a comparison group to remain in the community before trial (77 percent for participants compared to 12 percent for the comparison group). Defendants who are detained pretrial are often in the position of accepting a plea deal in order to go home. Participants in the Supervised Release Program were almost twice as likely to avoid a criminal conviction and three times as likely to avoid jail time.
In 2017, Brooklyn Justice Initiatives served over 2,100 young adults aged 16-24 in the Brooklyn Young Adult Court Part. This court part seeks to reduce the use of incarceration for young adults through alternative sanctions and positively impact the direction of their lives. Alternative sanctions include individual counseling and a menu of group work designed to meet the needs of this age group. Community service and work with outside service partners are also available. The part has greatly expanded since it launched in early spring of 2016 and in 2017 saw 95% of participants successfully completing their court mandates.
How can we continually innovate in the criminal justice sphere, while maintaining integrity, public safety and a commitment to rehabilitation and reduced recidivism?
Who should cities and court systems consider partnering with to design innovative alternatives to incarceration and the criminal justice system?