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Lessons From Community Courts: Strategies on Criminal Justice Reform From a Defense Attorney

NCJ Number
Brett Taylor
Date Published
30 pages
After reviewing his experiences and lessons learned from being a defense attorney with the Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn, NY, the author of this paper outlines lessons learned from community courts that can be applied in lower-level cases processed in any court system, so as to improve outcomes for communities, victims, and offenders.
One feature of community courts recommended for low-level offenses and offenders is the use of assessment and screening tools. In order to make informed sentencing decisions and match offenders to appropriate interventions, community courts have incorporated screening and assessment tools to evaluate defendants' individual needs. A second feature of community courts is the monitoring and enforcing of court orders through the use of compliance hearings. Participants are periodically required to return to court to provide updates on their compliance. A third community court practice is the use of sanctions and rewards in managing the behaviors of offenders in accordance with case mandates. A fourth community court practice is the promotion of information technology to improve decision-making. Reliable, relevant, and up-to-date information is essential for judges in making decisions that influence desired outcomes for offenders. A fifth community-court practice is the enhancement of procedural justice, which involves conversational interactions between judges and offenders and the nurturing of respect, trust/neutrality, and understanding. The sixth community-court practice is the expansion of sentencing options that involve some form of community-based treatment instead of incarceration. The seventh community-court practice is engaging and informing the community about what the courts are doing and why, so residents will understand why incarceration is not the answer for reducing nonviolent criminal behaviors. 7 notes