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The Hartford Community Court

Center for Court Innovation

housing a broad array of social services on-site, they also promote voluntary service participation among defendants and community members.

Increasing Community Involvement Community courts give neighborhood mem- bers a voice in the justice system through advisory boards, which offer input into programs and identify pressing community needs, and community conditions pan- els, which draw together local stakeholders to develop solutions to hot spots of crime and disorder.

Solving Community Problems Court-based mediators take advantage of the court setting to address individual and community-level disputes. By convening interest- ed parties and facilitating discussions as an objective third party, many chronic, quality of-life and interpersonal problems in a community never reach a courtroom.

Promoting Accountability Community courts use the tools of modern technology to provide urban Judges with information that would be readily accessible in a small town courthouse (e.g., whether or not a defendant completed community service or attended drug treatment).

Influencing Community Norms Community courts are committed to restoring community confidence in the justice system. By demonstrating that courts can be responsive to community concerns, they attempt to increase respect for legal norms and compliance with the law and to involve community members in setting local norms.

Currently, more than twenty community court replications are in various stages of development in jurisdictions throughout the country.

Recently, Hartford, Connecticut, became the second jurisdiction (after Portland, Oregon) to follow the Midtown Court’s example and open a community court. Two characteristics of the Hartford Community Court distinguish it from the Midtown Court, and make Hartford’s experience informative for other jurisdictions. First, it is centralized, serving the entire population of Hartford (approximately 130,000 citi- zens in 17 neighborhoods). Second, Hartford planners lobbied to pass legislation enabling their court to mete out alternative sanctions for ordinance violations — cases that previously almost always received a small fine or were dismissed outright. As other jurisdictions work on developing community courts, the experience of the Hartford project will be of national significance as it tests: (1) the extent to which a centralized court can respond to neighborhood-specific problems; and (2) the impli- cations of changing the court system’s approach to ordinance violations that affect the community’s quality of life.

The Hartford Community Court opened on November 10, 1998, after two years of intensive planning. This paper chronicles the origins, creation and initial operations


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