Criminal Justice – Restoring the Community

Knitting together a fractured criminal justice system

Community CourtThere is quite a bit about reforming the criminal justice system in the news these days and much of it focuses on the overcrowded jails and harsh punishment for non-violent crimes as well as targeted groups of people. One reason a person desires to work towards a criminal justice degree is to possibly make a difference. There are also many different criminal justice degree jobs in which a person can work. While some may argue there is not much reform happening on a larger scale there are those who are making a difference in what is called community courts.

According to Wikipedia; “In the United States and several other countries, a community court is a neighborhood-focused problem –solving court that applies a problem-solving approach to local crime and safety concerns. They can take many forms, but all strive to create new relationships, both within the justice system and with outside partners such as merchants, residents, churches and schools. Community courts emphasize collaboration, crime prevention, and improved outcomes, including lower recidivism and safer communities. They can also be referred to a neighborhood justice centers.”

In 1993 in New York City the first community court was launched. Midtown Community Center was launched to try new approaches to reduce both crime and incarceration. “According to the Center for Court Innovation, (Wikipedia) there are six key principles at work.

• Restoring the community
• Bridging the gap between communities and courts;
• Knitting together a fractured criminal justice system;
• Helping offenders deal with problems that lead to crime;
• Providing the courts with better information; and
• Building a physical courthouse that reflects these ambitions. “

As of today there are several dozen around the country that are either in operation or being planned. One such court is the Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn.

Red Hook Community Justice Center handles misdemeanors and low-level felonies,-everything from drug possession to grand larceny- this accounts for around 80 percent of state court cases in the U.S. today. The justice center is also multi-jurisdictional which means the judge, Alex Calabrese, doesn’t only hear criminal cases but also disagreements between tenants and landlords as well as some family-law cases.

In 2013, there was a federally funded study done by the National Center for State Courts and they found that the Red Hook Justice Center cut recidivism by 10 percent over two years as compared to traditional criminal courts. Also the center sent 35 percent fewer offenders to jail. They used alternative sentencing like drug treatment and trauma counseling most of the time. The Justice Centers methods produced $15 million in savings. The study showed that the defendants who failed to follow their initial treatment plans administered by the court ended up receiving longer jail sentences than they would have downtown.

The center offers: Carter’s youth court, a housing resource center, art programs, training for young people in the community; it brings court and community together and does so in a way that is successful. You would see differences in the courtroom of this community court like the judge’s bench is at eye level so Calabrese can talk with defendants from a position of equality. The court officers greet everyone with a smile and with value. When a defendant comes before the judge he may give them two options, treatment rehabilitation or jail time. Then he lets the defendant choose. Calabrese says, “You come into court with the issues of addiction or mental health problems and you come out of the system with the issues. No one is addressing the underlying problems-it’s not a problem-solving approach in the traditional court system,” Since this Justice Center has been in operation “it has succeeded in reducing fear and disorder and in making southwest Brooklyn as safer place,” according to Bill Bratton, New York Police Department Commissioner.

The Justice Center’s staff and officers work on connecting to Red Hook community. The defendants are treated with respect and when seen around town by staff they make a personal connection if possible. The Justice Center has a goal, to help those less fortunate to find a way out of poverty, crime or addiction and to stand behind anyone willing to change. Judge Calabrese wants those that are brought before him to succeed in life and get out of the cycle of breaking the law. Working with the center are prosecuting attorneys as well as defending attorneys. There are court reporters and even paralegals working these cases. So if you are looking into a degree in criminal justice there are some very good examples of those doing a common good for their community.

Community court provides a refreshing opportunity for criminal justice degree jobs. If you’re considering a career in the legal field the form below is a great way to get started. Find local schools offering online degrees in criminal justice.

Author Jackie Lautt

Freelance Legal Writer