Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

What the Data Shows

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

What the Data Shows

Article excerpt




Carl Baar Brock University

Steven Belenko The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse

Aubrey Fox Center for Court Innovation

Rachel Porter Vera Institute for Justice

Carl Baar Brock University

It is appropriate that I lead off the panel on what data shows by giving a speech that has no data in it.

I would stand up, except that my colleague here has his PowerPoint all set up there, so I think I will stay and speak to you from here.

What I am actually speaking to, or elaborating on, is a paper that is on the supplementary tables out there, called "The Role of Courts: The Two Faces of Justice," which I have written with Dr. Frieda Solomon, who is here in the room and who is a New York City Criminal Justice Agency person and a political science colleague.

What we wanted to do in this paper was raise some issues about problem-solving courts, actually even before they had the name. By the time the article was published, they were officially christened by the Conference of Chief Justices.

I guess, after listening to Judge Hoffman this morning, I think that we are probably in the agnostic category, and it is probably just as difficult being an agnostic at one of these sessions as being an atheist.

I think one of the problems is that I would actually argue that Judge Hoffman got the order of his criticisms wrong, because the first thing he said is, "We don't have any data. We don't know whether these programs are working or not."

One of the questions that I would raise is: If you knew they were working, would they still be good programs? And whether they are good programs or not depends upon what they are doing, not just in terms of whether crime is being reduced, recidivism is being reduced, people are being helped, but what are they doing in the context of the jurisdiction and the political and social system in which they occur, and how well are they doing? And what social, political, and economic functions are they performing? It is hard to get data on these things. I am going to use my few minutes with you to raise some of these broader questions.

I was reminded of this the other day because when I saw the earlier draft of the program, it indicated that one of the speakers on the first panel was the Judge of the Community Court in Austin, Texas. I heard some critical things about the debate at the time that court was organized, and I had a critical paragraph in the paper. I thought, "Oh my God, somebody is going to be here from there. I better try to update myself." And I contacted someone who was in court administration in that community and heard back. He said, "Oh, the court is really doing well in Austin. This judge is really providing important leadership. They have consulted with the community much more. They really improved their operations."

Then he paused and he said, "Oh course, they are still basically serving the interests of the downtown business community, and the homeless people who are no longer on the street in the central business district are now out on the streets in outlying districts just outside the jurisdiction of the Community Court."

And so I began thinking: Well, that sounds a lot like the same kinds of issues that have been raised both in New York City and elsewhere. They raise the question that even if you have a successful court, what functions is that court performing?

When I started thinking about Denver versus New York City, I thought: Well, we've really got to look at what is going on there, and we have to consider the fact not that Denver suggests there is a failure of the drug court model, but that that drug court model probably was not implemented as effectively as the one in New York.

I am finding myself in the same position, because my most recent work has been implementing delay reduction programs in a relatively hostile environment. …

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