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Designing the Court

Center for Court Innovation

nity service crews. Second, in cases where defendants failed to comply with the man- dates of their alternative sanctions, the police would be responsible for enforcing war- rants. Members of the planning team report, based on early operations, that line- level police officers (like their chief) are accurately recording key information on summonses, making the police a cooperative partner of the Court. Yet it is still too early to tell whether the police are effectively going after warranted “no shows.”7

The Community Residents of Hartford’s communities, as represented by the Community Planning and Mobilization Committee, also lobbied vocally for the cre- ation of the Community Court. Community support for the Court was spurred by perceived inadequacies in the way the court system handled low-level crime. Residents were dismayed that those who committed low-level crimes and nuisance offenses faced no consequences; the system lacked accountability. They saw the criminal justice system as an entity removed from, and unresponsive to, the citizens it purported to serve. By contrast, the impetus for the Community Court was a prod- uct of the City listening to its neighborhoods. As one representative of the City put it, the Court was “implemented from the ground up.” Citizens were active advocates of the Court; several community members took personal time from work to testify in support of the legislation enabling its creation.

Planning for the Hartford Community Court was undertaken with an eye towards the Midtown Court. Hartford planners decided early on to adapt many of the Midtown Court’s features to their jurisdiction, including offering defendants help with under- lying problems by serving as a gateway to social services, promoting accountability through use of a custom-designed management information system, and focusing on community restitution by having offenders “pay back” the neighborhoods in which they offend through community service.

Yet, as discussed below, the Hartford Community Court departs from the Midtown Court’s example in several ways. First, whereas the Midtown Court handles only arraignments, at the Hartford Community Court, a case can be held over several appearances (until disposition or trial). Second, the vast majority of its cases are non- custodial. Third, it has no impartial resource coordinator in the courtroom to help screen cases for appropriate social services and to scan the “rap” sheet.

Perhaps the most significant way in which the Hartford Community Court devi- ates from the Midtown Court’s example is that it is centralized. The Court’s commu- nity focus is not limited to one or a handful of communities. It extends throughout the entire City of approximately 130,000 residents. Court planners recognized that the effort to use alternative sanctions to craft solutions to the problems of 17 diverse neighborhoods was a considerable challenge. They needed a mechanism to ensure

7 Some system actors, citing a considerable existing backlog of unserved warrants, questioned whether low-level warrants would be enforced by the police. This raises interesting operational questions. Before the Court opened, planners considered an alternative response to noncompliance: issuing "capeus writs," that are enforced by sheriff's deputies, instead of warrants.


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