Center for Court Innovation
put it, “if the person has a horrendous prior record, say a record of violent crimes, I’m not too sure we’d want to put that person in a Community Court setting where they might be painting an elderly person’s house.” Project planners report that the list of excluded cases might be modified over the first year.
The Hartford Community Court’s case processing procedures include: streamlining the arrest-to-arraignment process; emphasizing alternative sanctions; “paying back” the community; assessing defendants for social service needs; linking defendants to Court-based social service providers; and using a Management Information System (MIS) that enhances information-sharing among Court personnel. The MIS also pro- motes accountability by tracking sanctioning and treatment decisions, and by moni- toring compliance with alternative sanctions.
Expedited case processing is a goal of the Community Court. The period from arrest to arraignment has typically been two weeks; the Community Court has reduced it to 48 hours. In addition to handling misdemeanor charges, the Court receives cases through police issuance of summonses.12 In order to move cases before the Judge within 48 hours, the police must get arrest and summons informa- tion to the courthouse within 24 hours, so that it can be entered into the Court’s MIS. Accurate police information is essential to having defendants “pay back” the neighborhood in which they committed their offense. The Court needs a precise record of arrest location and a reliable description of the offense to match community service sentences to places and offense type. (For example, a graffiti artist may be sentenced to clean graffiti.)
Preliminary Assessment When a defendant arrives at the courthouse, a staff mem- ber from the Bail Commission conducts a pre-arraignment interview, which contains information about defendants’ substance abuse, education, employment, health and housing problems. He enters criminal history information into a notes field in the Court’s computer application. He also flags individuals who appear to have acute human services needs (e.g., a visible or self-reported drug problem). Individuals who are flagged report to the social service staff for assessment, including a battery of questions about their needs, before they come before the Judge. Through this process, the recommendations of the human services department are available to the Judge before he makes his sanctioning decision.13 After the Bail Commission inter-
12 There are two other potential ways cases might be funneled to the Community Court. First, they could be diverted at the police station after arrest. In this scenario, a perpetrator would be released at the police station on a Promise To Appear (PTA) and docketed at the Community Court. Bail Commission interviewers at the station would identify Community Court-eligible cases before they are sent to Superior Court. Second, some cases from the Superior Court could be transferred to the Community Court, also by means of a PTA.
13 Those who are not flagged go before the Judge first, then are sent to the social service staff, where the social service instrument is administered.