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Early Issues and Concerns

Center for Court Innovation

ity community service sites, enter compliance information on-line, and facilitate assignment of offenders to neighborhoods where their crime took place. And thirdly, it provides Court actors, including the Judge and human services staff, with enhanced information about defendants’ needs and problems.

Flexible Response to Problems The project has been responsive to citizens’ con- cerns. Concern over excessive noise is an example. In the planning stages of the Court, the notion of creating a sanction tailored to violators of the City’s excessive noise ordinance was raised. Early on, planners considered having a “noise room” in the courthouse in which those who violate noise ordinances would be forced to listen to music that is noxious to them. Although the “noise room” proved too controver- sial to implement, the idea of having a sanction designed specifically for noise viola- tors was not abandoned. Instead, the Court began requiring excessive noise violators to view the good citizenship film, which emphasizes that loud noise is contrary to good conduct. Ultimately, the Court took community concerns seriously in two ways: by recognizing the need to respond to noise violations and by developing a sanction that fit the crime without pushing too far.

Before opening, Court planners were concerned with several issues. Would defen- dants agree to the alternative sanctions offered by the Court? Were there sufficient accountability mechanisms in place? During the planning process and early opera- tions several key issues surfaced that will merit further attention as the Court matures. These are reviewed below.

Accountability Project planners were concerned about two types of compliance: the initial appearance at Court for defendants released on their own recognizance, and compliance with alternative sanctions. Because the project expected to change both the frequency and the return date of municipal ordinance summonses, it was diffi- cult to estimate how often defendants would appear in Court on these cases.

Planners, concerned about potentially high no-show rates, focused on mecha- nisms to respond (e.g., warrant and rearrest procedures) to both failure to appear at arraignment and failure to comply with sanctions. They worked to ensure police cooperation in enforcing rearrest warrants. Over the first two weeks, compliance was good: 70 percent appeared at Court as required and only 10 percent failed to comply with alternative sanctions.

It is still too early to document how the Court deals with the chronic failures and no shows. Together, the experience of drug courts and the Midtown Community Court demonstrate the effectiveness of graduated sanctioning and certain conse- quences for non-compliance. Over the coming months, the Hartford Community Court will face the challenge of designing and implementing graduated sanctions for repeat offenders and appropriate responses for those who fail to comply.26

26 This is especially pertinent in regard to cases where a lengthy social service requirement (e.g., long- term drug treatment) is made a condition of an individual’s mandate.


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