Several of us from the JWFNY visited the Red Hook Community Justice Center on May 3rd, an area of NYC we knew little about – except for the Ikea and Fairway stores located in Red Hook. This facility is a multi jurisdictional court, serving three abutting districts with 200,000 residents. It includes family, housing and criminal courts. It is host to a youth peer court and Americorps. The Justice Center seeks a coordinated response to crime and disputes. The judge has an array of sanctions and services at his disposal. These include community restitution, educational workshops, GED classes, jail time, drug treatment and mental health counseling. The sanctions seek to look at many aspects of the offending person.
We were most interested in the Youth Court’s, part of the Community Court system. We were invited to observe the court in session. The judge, jury, prosecutor and defense attorney are all teens from the community who have successfully finished training for this volunteer work. They listened to the charges, the prosecutor and defense and then decided upon an appropriate sanction. This can be a specified number of community service hours, a letter of apology, cleaning local parks, painting over graffitti among others.
The results of the work of the Red Hook Community Justice Center have been startling. Crime has declined nearly 50%; it is estimated that over $600,000 worth of labor has been given by the Center; public trust in government is evidenced by a 94% approval rating; the rate of recidivism is 27% lower than offenders going through conventional court.
This approach to crime has been taking hold in many other communities, states and even abroad. The Red Hook Community Justice Center has become a model for other communities. It was a fascinating visit. Few of us have ever seen the actual workings of a court, especially one based in the community.
Submitted by Naomi Lazarus, JWFNY Advocacy and Policy Chair