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Project Origins

Hartford Community Court

of the Hartford Community Court — how system actors and the community together coordinated its design and implementation.2 It explains the quality-of-life conditions that spurred a united planning effort to create the Court, drawing together system actors and community members. It also documents the Court’s expected caseload, as well as the way it is designed to process cases, how its innovative approach differs from “business as usual,” and how the Court’s sanctioning policies are expected to radically change the “going rates” for low-level offenses. Finally, this paper high- lights the accomplishments of the Court, and points out potential problems.

In the early 1990s, serious gang- and drug-related crime was ravaging Hartford’s neighborhoods. In 1993, in an effort to help the City combat its crime problem, the federal government awarded Hartford a $2.2 million Comprehensive Communities Partnership (CCP) grant. This money was designated to improve coordination among law enforcement agencies as well as between the criminal justice system and the communities it serves. Components included money for community policing and anti-gang initiatives.

The CCP program facilitated collaborations at many levels. The Community Planning and Mobilization Committee, with members drawn from the community, City agencies and the police was created to solve problems for the City.3 In recent years, as Hartford witnessed a dramatic decrease in serious crime, communities set their sights on addressing quality-of-life concerns that are widely recognized as precur- sors to more serious forms of deviance (Kelling and Coles, 1996; Wilson and Kelling, 1982). The idea for a Community Court arose after CCP participants agreed that qual- ity-of-life crimes were having a significant negative impact on their communities and the existing system did not adequately address many quality-of-life offenses..4

The search for a collaborative solution was galvanized by a speech Attorney General Janet Reno made in Hartford in May 1996. The idea of creating a Community Court in Hartford was the product of a meeting between the City, the State’s Attorney for Hartford, and the State of Connecticut’s Judicial Department. Soon after this conference, a small group from Hartford toured the Midtown Community Court. On the heels of this visit, coordinated planning began to build on

2 The information contained in this report comes primarily from interviews with Hartford Community Court planners — both system actors and representatives of Hartford’s neighborhoods — conducted before the Court began operations. Hartford system actors interviewed include: the Court’s inaugural presiding Judge, the State’s Attorney, the police chief, and representatives of the Bail Commissioner, the Office of Alternative Sanctions, the City Manager’s Office, and the Sheriff’s Department. Interviews were also conducted with those overseeing the Court’s alternative and social service sanctioning components, as well as a designer of its management information system. Additional information about the project was gathered during the first few months of operations.

3 As one community activist explained, the communities existed naturally before, but some were more active than others; some had established organizations that were relatively inactive; some were character- ized by infighting between organizations. Funds from the CCP grant helped to “shape up” all 17 commu- nities.

4 Specialized courts, including drug courts and domestic violence courts, are popular in the State of Connecticut. The City of Hartford is also home to a juvenile drug court.

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