Center for Court Innovation
inal project planners from the Office of Alternative Sanctions and the City Manager’s Office assist, particularly with inter-agency coordination, neither is available full-time.
Some outside observers have suggested that the Court might benefit from a full- time coordinator. Overall operations in and beyond the courtroom might be ham- pered if the burdens of overseeing operations and hearing cases prove too much for the Judge to handle. If caseloads grow, the Judge’s courtroom responsibility might limit his administrative capacity.
In addition, judges in other community court sites see the project coordinator role as providing a valuable “buffer.” They worry that extensive community engagement might compromise their independence. Others see a need for a neutral party to coor- dinate the often complicated relationships among the various partners involved in community courts.
Shaping Community Expectations Finally, some community leaders were con- cerned that residents might have unrealistic expectations about the Community Court’s potential accomplishments. They were particularly concerned about expecta- tions that the Court would sharply reduce recidivism, an ambitious goal for any crim- inal justice project. Recognizing that community frustration with disorder had pro- duced enthusiastic support for the Court, they feared an erosion of community support if community members saw the same individuals repeatedly assigned to neighborhood work crews.
To address this issue, one community leader proposed efforts to review community expectations for the Court to ensure that they were not unrealistic.27 There was concern that Court representatives communicate the message that its abil- ity to break entrenched patterns of offending was limited. In the tradition of prob- lem-oriented policing (Goldstein, 1990), project planners seek to clearly spell out goals (e.g., to provide strict accountability; to provide consistent, meaningful sanc- tions; and to “pay back” victimized neighborhoods) and thereby minimize dashing unrealistic expectations.
Hartford is the nation’s third jurisdiction to attempt bridging the gap between com- munities and the court system by creating a community court. Court planners were ambitious in lobbying for legislation that authorized the Court to be created and expanded the menu of sanctions for municipal ordinance violations (e.g., drinking in public and excessive noise). They were also ambitious in their effort to be responsive to the City’s 17 neighborhood problem-solving committees, a task that requires coor- dination between the Court and the neighborhoods it serves.
To date, planners have successfully developed key components of their vision, establishing the newly renovated Hartford Community Court as a means of promot- ing community restitution and a gateway to services; creating a plea structure that is
27 Researchers at the Trinity (a local college) Center for Neighborhoods have submitted a proposal to study this issue – documenting expectations for the Community Court among both community members and criminal justice system professionals' (e.g., police officers, prosecutors).