The Center for Court Innovation is an American non-profit organization headquartered in New York which helps the justice system aid victims, reduce crime and improve public trust in justice.
The Center for Court Innovation works closely with the New York State Unified Court System, functioning as the judiciary's independent research and development arm. In that role, the Center creates demonstration projects that test new ideas. The Center’s projects include the Midtown Community Court and Red Hook Community Justice Center as well as drug courts, reentry courts, domestic violence courts, mental health courts and others.
The Center also works closely with jurisdictions around the U.S. and the rest of the world, disseminating lessons learned from innovative programs and providing hands-on assistance to criminal justice practitioners interested in deploying new research-based strategies to improve the delivery of justice. The Center, which received an Innovations in American Government Award from the Ford Foundation and Harvard University, was founded in 1996. The Center's first director was John Feinblatt, who went on to serve as a senior advisor to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Since 2002, the Center has been led by Greg Berman.
The Center for Court Innovation grew out of a single experiment in judicial problem solving. The Midtown Community Court was created in 1993 to address low-level offending around Times Square. The Midtown Court combines punishment and help, sentencing offenders to perform community service and receive social services. The project’s perceived success in making justice more visible and more meaningful led the court’s planners, with the support of New York State’s chief judge, to establish the Center for Court Innovation to serve as an engine for ongoing court reform in New York.
The Center works within the court system, but is administered as a project of the Fund for the City of New York, a non-profit operating foundation. The Center works closely with court system staff but, as an independent organization, retains the perspective of independent observers. According to former New York State Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, "In creating the Center, we essentially adapted a model from the private sector: we chose to make an ongoing investment in research and development, and we chose to shield these functions from the daily pressures of managing the courts. The results have been unmistakable: the Center for Court Innovation has helped keep New York at the forefront of court reform for more than a decade."
Center planners also work with practitioners beyond New York. For example, they've worked with government leaders in Great Britain to replicate the Red Hook Community Justice Center in North Liverpool. Center planners have also worked with officials in San Francisco, who created a new community justice center to serve the city's Tenderloin neighborhood. Among other things, the Center helped court planners in San Francisco complete an extensive community planning effort, including a needs assessment.
The Center has received numerous awards for its efforts, including the Innovations in American Government Award from Harvard University and the Ford Foundation, the Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation from Claremont Graduate University and the Prize for Public Sector Innovation from the Citizens Budget Commission.
The Center for Court Innovation creates new programs that test innovative approaches to public safety problems. Underlying this work is the idea that, rather than simply processing cases, the justice system should seek to change the behavior of offenders and improve public safety. While the Center’s model projects cover a broad range of topics—from juvenile delinquency to the reentry of ex-offenders into society—the approach is always the same: rigorous, collaborative planning and an emphasis on using data to document results and ensure accountability. The Center’s projects have achieved tangible results like safer streets, reduced levels of fear and improved neighborhood quality of life.
Aside from the Midtown Community Court and Red Hook Community Justice Center, the Center’s projects include the Harlem Community Justice Center, Bronx Community Solutions, Queens Engagement Strategies for Teens, Brooklyn Treatment Court, Manhattan Family Treatment Court, Brooklyn Domestic Violence Court, Integrated Domestic Violence Court, Youthful Offender Domestic Violence Court, Youth Justice Board,Youth Courts, Newark Community Solutions, Brooklyn Mental Health Court, Parole Reentry Court, and Crown Heights Community Mediation Center.
The Center for Court Innovation works with jurisdictions in New York, the U.S. and internationally.
It began to offer technical assistance to other jurisdictions under grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the arm of the United States Department of Justice responsible for nurturing new ideas. In 1996, the Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded the Center a grant to help cities across the U.S. develop their own community courts. Over time, the Center has also won national “requests for proposals” to provide technical assistance in a growing number of areas, including community prosecution, domestic violence, drug courts, technology, tribal justice, procedural justice, and institutionalizing problem-solving justice.
The Center's technical assistance takes many forms. From 1996 to 2006, more than 1,800 visitors—including representatives from 50 countries—toured Center projects. These site visits to the Red Hook Community Justice Center, the Midtown Community Court and other projects are structured learning experiences that provide visitors a chance to interact with their peers and see new ideas in action. Notable visitors to Center projects include U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, New York City Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, and the home secretary, lord chief justice, lord chancellor and attorney general of England and Wales.
More than a dozen community courts have opened in South Africa, and staff from the Center have also worked with officials from Scotland, Japan, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Canada on adapting the community court model.
The Center has also sponsored roundtables, which have explored a wide range of topics, including ethical challenges facing lawyers in problem-solving courts, and how to improve communication between criminal justice researchers and practitioners.
The Center has published dozens of how-to manuals and best practice guides for criminal justice officials, culling the lessons from successful justice innovations and disseminating them to the field. The Center’s web site, www.courtinnovation.org, was named a "Top 10" web site by Justice Served .
The Center also regularly conducts trainings throughout New York for judges and staff working in problem-solving courts. In recent years, the Center has also helped organize trainings for judges in general court calendars to educate them about problem-solving principles. In 2005, for instance, the Center helped convene two dozen upstate judges for a day-long training exploring how approaches used in problem-solving courts might be adaptable to general calendars. The training was the first of its kind in the country.
The Center works closely with technologists at the New York State Court System's Office of Court Administration in an effort to promote the use of innovative technology and support the expansion of problem-solving justice. Among other things, the Center’s technology team is helping adapt elements of computer applications it has developed for problem-solving courts to a new system to be used by all criminal courts in New York State.
The Center publishes research about its own experiments and innovative initiatives around the United States and world. The purpose of the research is to identify best practices as well as strategies that don't work or can be improved upon.
Researchers from the Center spent three years documenting the performance New York’s drug courts. The resulting impact evaluation found significant reductions in recidivism at all drug courts (urban, suburban, rural) —an average of 29 percent over a three-year post-arrest period. When researchers looked at just drug court graduates, they found a 71 percent reduction in recidivism.
The findings, released in 2003 and reported widely around the country (including an article in the Sunday New York Times), were significant because they were among the few studies to track participants in multiple drug courts over a long (three-year) study period. In another study, Center researchers followed over 400 domestic violence offenders from the Bronx in a randomized trial and found that batterers programs had no discernible impact on recidivism. This finding, which calls into question the efficacy of batterer programs, could eventually lead to changes in how misdemeanor offenders are handled, not just in New York but across the country.
In another study, Center researchers explored whether problem-solving justice always requires a specialized court or if core principles and practices from these specialized courts are transferable to conventional courts. After interviewing judges, attorneys and representatives from probation departments and service providers, researchers concluded that a number of principles—such as judicial monitoring and linking offenders to services—could be transferable. The study, conducted in cooperation with the Collaborative Justice Courts Advisory Committee of the Judicial Council of California, was the first of its kind in the country.
Other Center research projects include a national survey seeking to determine how and why courts use batterer programs to hold domestic violence offenders accountable; a comprehensive evaluation describing the Brooklyn Mental Health Court model; an in-depth study of the implementation and early results produced by the Brooklyn Youthful Offender Domestic Violence Court; a study of the Suffolk County Juvenile Drug Court’s effects on recidivism; a study examining the degree to which criminal defendants processed at the Red Hook Community Justice Center believe they were treated fairly; and a five-year national study with the Urban Institute and the Research Triangle Institute that is expected to shed light on which aspects of the drug court model are most important.
In 2010, Urban Institute Press published Trial & Error in Criminal Justice Reform: Learning from Failure by Greg Berman and Aubrey Fox. In 2005, The New Press published Good Courts: The Case for Problem-Solving Justice. The first book to describe the problem-solving court movement in detail, Good Courts features profiles of Center demonstration projects, including the Midtown Community Court and the Red Hook Community Justice Center, portraits of practitioners in the trenches and a review of research findings. “Sociologists and those within the legal system will no doubt be intrigued by this accessible and provocative call for change,” Publishers Weekly said in its review. All authors’ proceeds from the book, which is being used in law schools and public policy classes, benefit the Center for Court Innovation. The book is already being used in law schools and public policy schools, thanks in part to a law school course on problem-solving justice that the Center piloted at Fordham Law School. The Center has also published the books Daring to Fail: First-Person Stories of Criminal Justice Reform, A Problem-Solving Revolution: Making Change Happen in State Courts, Documenting Results: Research on Problem-Solving Justice, and Personal Stories: Narratives from Across New York State.