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Introduction

HARTFOR D COMMU N ITY COU RT

Origins, Expectations and Implementation

Traditionally, courts have not been concerned with neighborhood conditions or solving community problems. In a typical centralized court, low-level crimes are treated as isolated incidents rather than an ongoing quality-of-life problem. In con- trast, community courts promote constructive responses to low-level crime and provide service and feedback to the community (Feinblatt et al., 1998; Sviridoff et al., 1997; Feinblatt and Berman, 1997; Kelling and Coles, 1996; Anderson, 1996; Rottman, 1996).

Over the past five years, a growing number of urban jurisdictions have begun to rethink the roles that community-focused courts can play in responding to neigh- borhood problems. This stems largely from national interest in the experience of the Midtown Community Court, launched in October 1993 by a coalition of civic and government leaders.1 The Midtown Court arraigns misdemeanants arrested for quality-of-life crimes in the neighborhoods of Times Square, Clinton and Chelsea. The Court’s problem-solving agenda extends beyond the courtroom, transforming the courthouse into a place where both defendants and community members can get help for underlying problems and community stakeholders can address pressing local issues. Community courts have become a central part of the Justice Department’s community justice agenda.

Community courts close the gap between courts and communities by bringing justice back to neighborhoods. They are much more than local branches of central- ized court systems. Broadly conceived, they expand traditional notions about the role of courts and test their ability to serve as a catalyst for social change. As exemplified by the Midtown Community Court, they are dedicated to:

Paying Back the Community Community courts sentence offenders who have com- mitted low-level crimes to perform community service — cleaning graffiti, main- taining local parks — thereby “paying back” the community.

Using the Court as a Gateway to Services Community courts use their coercive power to sentence defendants to participate in treatment and other services. By

1 Community courts stem partly from the effort in the 1970's to create neighborhood justice centers to bring local dispute resolution capacity to communities, often as an alternative to formal case processing (McGillis, 1997). Community courts bring both formal court processing and informal dispute resolution mechanisms into urban neighborhoods.

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