Thursday, December 10, 2009

Red Hook Community Justice Center

The Red Hook Community Justice Center is the first multi-jurisdictional community court in the United States. The term “multi-jurisdictional” refers to its simultaneous hearing of criminal, family, and housing cases under one roof and with one judge. Named in LIFE Magazine as one of the nation’s 10 most crack-infest neighborhoods in 1988, the community of Red Hook has long suffered through conditions of drug usage, gang violence, economic and state abandonment, and police-community mistrust. One of the primary goals of the Red Hook Community Justice Center is to reconcile the residents of Red Hook with a comprehensive court system that the community previously perceived as a criminalizing and marginalizing agent. Another goal is to force the justice system away from the “McJustice” trend that New York City saw during the 1990’s under Mayor Rudy Giuliani with his policies of heavy policing and the record number of arrests that resulted. The Center wishes to build a strong community foundation for the community to serve the community.

The idea and need for the Justice Center were realized in 1993, when a Red Hook high school principal named Patrick Daley was gunned down as he searched for a truant student in the Red Hook projects. The first steps for the Center included focus groups, surveying of community residents, establishing an Americorps program designated to hire and train individuals from the Red Hook community, and general open discussions on people’s resistance and attitudes towards court systems in America. The site for the Center was selected by a focus group of community residents who wanted to see this abandoned school building converted into an active community space.

The court and all of the services provided continues to run with federal and private funds allocated to the Center each year. Groups like the Robin Hood Foundation, an anti-poverty organization provides money for the services that are much needed in the community.

Today, the court takes low-level misdemeanor arrests from 3 different precincts in Brooklyn. Run under the jurisdiction of one judge, the court seeks to provide a comprehensive analysis and approach to every case that comes to the Justice Center. From Youth Court to GED courses to drug rehabilitation to health services, the Red Hook Community Justice Center is a community organization first and a court system second. The Center is designed to help build a healthy and informed community and education efforts that empowers the youth to the elderly. Classes on understanding your rights as a citizen are offered by the Center and involve the police in these discussions to create a more open dialogue for understanding. One of the most important aspects of this Center is - you don’t have to get arrested to use the facility, it is open to the community and focuses more on prevention of crime rather than crime stopping.

- Lilly Padia and Michael Charles Staab

Works Cited:

Berman,G. 1998. Red Hook Diary: Planning a Community Court. New York, N: Center for Court Innovation.

Berman, G. and Fox, A. 2005. “Justice in Red Hook.” The Justice System Journal, 261(1):77-90.

Frazer, M.S. 2007. Examining defendant perceptions of fairness in the courtroom. Judicature, 91(1): 36-37.

Henry, K. and Kralstein, D. 2009. Community Court Research: 2009 Update. New York, NY: Center for Court Innovation.

Karafin, D.L. 2008. Community Courts Across the Globe: A Survey of Goals, Performance Measures and Operations. Open Society Foundation for South Africa.

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