Hartford Community Court
likely to transform “going rates” for low-level offenses; developing a customized MIS to support judicial decision-making and ensure accountability; building electronic links to neighborhood problem-solving committees; participating in monthly meet- ings to ensure continued community collaboration; and maintaining an ongoing planning capacity to tailor alternative sanctions in response to specific offenses and offender problems.
Yet several questions remain unanswered. Further documentation of the project is needed to determine whether preliminary expectations about the Court have been realized. Basic operational questions include: How do caseloads and case outcomes change? Are system efficiencies realized? How often are low-level offenders sentenced to long-term social service interventions? How often do defendants fail to comply with community service and social service mandates? Is non-compliance higher for social service mandates? Is the extent of non-compliance linked to differences in sentence length? How does the Court ultimately respond to non-compliance?
There are also broader questions about the two distinctive features of the Hartford model: its centralized approach and its effort to transform the system’s response to municipal ordinance offenses. These are discussed below:
Centralized Approach The Hartford model raises questions about how a centralized Community Court can identify and respond to the existing and emerging problems of multiple neighborhoods. Future documentation should examine several ques- tions: How does the project resolve the conflict between paying back victimized neighborhoods through community service and concerns about distributing work crews equitably to all neighborhoods? How is the collaboration between the Court and Hartford’s 17 neighborhoods operationalized? Does it go beyond the identifica- tion of local priority problems and responsive community service projects? Do monthly advisory board meetings provide a sufficient forum for sharing information between the Court and residents about project accomplishments and developing neighborhood problems?
“Defining Decency Up” An increasing number of American cities are rethinking their approach to low-level offenses in response to community concerns about disor- der and low-level crime. At the same time, there is new and growing concern that increased enforcement of low-level offenses might unfairly target some groups (e.g., the homeless, the mentally ill, ethnic minorities). Future documentation should review whether and how these issues surface during the early operations of the Hartford Community Court.
Further documentation should also address the following questions: How do offenders respond to the changes in sanctions? Are community court sanctions seen as more or less punitive than fines? How do defendants respond to court-based serv-