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Thursday 17th of October 2019

Press Room

IJJO Interviews- Nancy Fishman. Project director for Youth Justice Programs.Center for Court Innovation. United States

Thursday 9th of January 2014 | National, United States

In this interview, Nancy Fishman describes the activities and the programs undertaken by the Center for Court Innovation, as well as the innovative methods employed. This institution, based in New York City and whose main goal is to reduce the level of crime, has helped to lower the deprivation of liberty rates of this city. In these lines, she will, among other issues, tell us about the projects against youth armed violence that are being carried out, as well as about the programs that have been devised to address a problem that adolescents have to face in this city, namely that of being treated as adults before the judicial system.


Nancy Fishman is the project director for Youth Justice Programs, overseeing the coordination and development of the Center's early intervention, prevention and diversion programs for young people. Her work also includes direct supervision of some of the Center's youth court, truancy, and youth development programs, as well as technical assistance on youth court development and other youth justice issues. Prior to joining the Center, she served as project director for the Criminal Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project at the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a national initiative focused on improving how the criminal justice system responds to people with mental illness. Ms. Fishman previously worked as the senior law and policy analyst and director of the Equal Justice Initiative for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, where her work focused on community and economic development and criminal justice policy reform. She has taught at New York University School of Law, and was a Skadden Fellow at the Legal Aid Society of New York. Ms. Fishman received her J.D. and B.A. from Yale University and also received an M.A. in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University.

 

Could you please give us a brief description of the working approach of the Center for Court Innovation? Which are the most outstanding programs and activities on intervention with young and adolescents in conflict with the law?

Founded as a public/private partnership between the New York State Unified Court System and the Fund for the City of New York, the Center for Court Innovation helps the justice system aid victims, reduce crime, strengthen neighborhoods, and improve public trust in justice. The Center combines action and reflection to spark innovation locally, nationally, and internationally. The Center’s working approach involves three components: demonstration projects, expert assistance, and research.

Demonstration projects: The Center creates new programs that test innovative approaches to public safety problems. Underlying this work is the idea that, rather than simply processing cases, the justice system should seek to change the behavior of offenders and improve public safety. While the Center's model projects cover a broad range of topics—from juvenile delinquency to the reentry of ex-offenders into society—the approach is always the same: rigorous, collaborative planning and an emphasis on using data to document results and ensure accountability. The Center's projects have achieved tangible results like safer streets, reduced levels of fear, and improved neighborhood quality of life.

Expert assistance: The Center provides hands-on, expert assistance to reformers—judges, attorneys, criminal justice officials, and community organizations—around the world. Our staff provides guidance on assessing public safety problems and crafting workable, practical solutions. Having launched dozens of innovative criminal and juvenile justice initiatives in New York, we know first-hand the nut-and-bolts steps of getting a new project off the ground—from performing a rigorous community needs assessment to figuring out how to measure impacts. We are currently working with innovators both in the United States and internationally to help create new responses to problems like drugs, domestic violence, delinquency, and neighborhood disorder.

Research: Research, evaluation, and dissemination play an essential role in the Center 's brand of justice reform. The Center uses a variety of research methodologies to evaluate whether new initiatives are successful or not, to identify areas for improvement and to document lessons for innovators around the world. The Center's research department contains more than a dozen social scientists who perform quantitative and qualitative studies. The Center shares its findings in a variety of formats, from academic publications geared to a research audience to how-to manuals for busy frontline justice system professionals to op-eds intended for the general public. While the means of dissemination may vary, the underlying goal is always the same: to use information to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the justice system.

The Center currently operates a number of programs that work with young people involved in the justice system, including:

Youth Court: Youth courts train teenagers to serve as jurors, judges and advocates, handling real-life cases involving their peers. The goal of youth court is to use positive peer pressure to ensure that young people who have committed minor offenses learn accountability and repair the harm caused by their actions.  Youth courts direct lower level cases from the formal justice system. A variety of justice agencies refer cases to youth courts with the goal of preventing further involvement in the juvenile or criminal justice systems.  Youth courts can also be an integral part of a school’s disciplinary process, serving as an alternative to traditional disciplinary measures such as suspension and detention.  The Center launched its first youth court in 1998 as part of the Red Hook Community Justice Center and currently operates seven youth courts in Brownsville, Brooklyn; Greenpoint, Brooklyn; Red Hook, Brooklyn; Jamaica, Queens; Harlem, Manhattan; Saint George, Staten Island; and Newark, New Jersey.

Alternative to Detention (ATD): The Center’s Alternative to Detention programs, QUEST (Queens Engagement Strategies for Teens) in Jamaica, Queens and Project READY (Richmond Engagement Activities for Determined Youth) in Saint George, Staten Island, are community-based programs that provides an alternative to detention for youth who have open delinquency matters pending in Queens Family Court and Richmond Family Court. Both ATD programs provide judges with timely, accurate and comprehensive information regarding young people assigned to the program, and offer meaningful instruction to participants and their families to help young people meet their court obligations and pursue law-abiding lives. Services available through the two include homework help and academic assistance, community service, recreational activities, cognitive-behavioral groups, and informational and educational seminars on assorted topics.

Futures: As a component of the QUEST ATD, the Center also operates QUEST Futures, which works with young people who have a diagnosed mental health disorder beginning as early as possible in the delinquency process and continuing as long as they have an open delinquency case or are on probation. More specifically, QUEST Futures serves as a resource to families and as a bridge between the juvenile justice and mental health systems, providing screening, assessments, treatment planning, service coordination, case management and supervision. The Center also recently launched an iteration of the Futures program through the Bronx Community Solutions called Bronx Futures.

Adolescent Diversion Program (ADP): The Center operates five ADP pilots, one in each of the five boroughs of New York City. These ADP pilots provide judges in Criminal Court hearing the cases of 16- and 17-year-olds with special training and access to an expanded array of dispositional options. Judges hearing cases involving 16- and 17-year-olds receive training in topics such as adolescent brain development, trauma, substance abuse, mental health, co-occurring disorders, education, and family issues. They also have access to expanded dispositional options, including community service and short-term social service interventions like sessions devoted to conflict resolution, civic responsibility, and vocational and educational goal setting.  By satisfying the conditions imposed by the court, participating defendants are able to earn an outright dismissal of charges or reduction to non-criminal violations.

With regards to the research and technical assistance undertaken so far, what are the main projects and programmes that you would like to underline in the current IJJO Interview? What about the ones on an international level in cooperation and technical assistance?

At the forefront of the Center’s work are demonstration projects that focus on improving public safety, promoting community engagement and helping to build trust in the justice system.

Community courts are neighborhood-focused courts that attempt to harness the power of the justice system to address local problems. They can take many forms, but all focus on creative partnerships and problem solving. They strive to create new relationships, both within the justice system and with outside stakeholders such as residents, merchants, churches and schools. And they test new and aggressive approaches to public safety rather than merely responding to crime after it has occurred. The first community court in the country was the Midtown Community Court, launched in 1993 in New York City. Several dozen community courts, inspired by the Midtown model, are in operation or planning around the country. International interest in community courts is also increasing. For example, community courts are already in operation in South Africa, England, Australia and Canada.

Launched in June 2000, the Red Hook Community Justice Center is the nation's first multi-jurisdictional community court. Operating out of a refurbished Catholic school in the heart of a geographically and socially isolated neighborhood in southwest Brooklyn, the Justice Center seeks to solve neighborhood problems using a coordinated response. At Red Hook, a single judge hears neighborhood cases from three police precincts (covering approximately 200,000 people) that under ordinary circumstances would go to three different courts—Civil, Family, and Criminal. The Justice Center also works to connect court-involved youth to strengths-based programming, including art projects and peer education programs. The Red Hook story extends far beyond what happens in the courtroom. The Red Hook Community Justice Center also has a robust AmeriCorps program called the New York Juvenile Justice Corps.

Established in October of 2010, the New York Juvenile Justice Corps is an AmeriCorps service program that seeks to prevent young people in New York City from becoming enmeshed in the criminal justice system. AmeriCorps is a federal program that offers opportunities for adults of all ages and backgrounds to serve through a network of partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups. The New York Juvenile Justice Corps works throughout New York City with a focus on youths currently involved, or at risk of becoming involved, in the justice system. Juvenile Justice Corps members help to address the educational and social needs of vulnerable young people.

The New York Juvenile Justice Corps builds upon the legacy of the Red Hook Public Safety Corps. For 15 years, the Public Safety Corps program played a critical role in transforming Red Hook, Brooklyn from a neighborhood once notorious for crime and neglect to one characterized by economic development and hope. The Juvenile Justice Corps takes the Red Hook model to the next level, serving young people across New York City.

Currently, New York is one of only two states where 16 and 17 year olds are treated as adults. What kind of advocacy activities have you undertaken to change this situation? How does the Court System Pilots approach, based on the special training for the judges, deal with these young offenders?

In 2012, Chief Judge of the State of New York Jonathan Lippman announced the launch of the Adolescent Diversion Program (ADP) as part of the New York State Court System. The program assigns the cases of 16-and 17-year-olds to judges in Criminal Court who have received special training and have access to an expanded array of dispositional options. The ADP encompasses pilot projects in nine New York State counties, including the five boroughs of New York City. The Center for Court Innovation operates these five ADP pilots through its justice centers and community courts, including the Staten Island Youth Justice Center, Bronx Community Solutions, Midtown Community Court, Red Hook Community Court, and Queens Engagement Strategies for Teens.

Under the initiative, judges hearing cases involving 16- and 17-year-olds receive training in topics such as adolescent brain development, trauma, substance abuse, mental health, co-occurring disorders, education, and family issues. They also have access to expanded dispositional options, including community service and short-term social service interventions like sessions devoted to conflict resolution, civic responsibility, and vocational and educational goal setting.  By satisfying the conditions imposed by the court, participating defendants are able to earn an outright dismissal of charges or reduction to non-criminal violations.

The IJJO is highly concerned about the mental health needs of young offenders. According to its MHYO project, an inadequate training of professionals and a lack of collaboration between the health and justice sector is a common occurrence. Could you please explain how Mental Health courts deal with the mental health needs of young offenders?

The Center for Court Innovation would agree that inadequate training (training of justice professionals on mental health issues and training of mental health professionals on the justice system and the factors that put young people at risk of justice system involvement) is a problem and that lack of collaboration between the two sectors is common. The Center doesn't actually operate any mental health courts for young offenders, although there is a growing number of juvenile mental health courts around the country (around 60 now in operation).  Our approach has been to create clinical teams that serve as a resource both to the young people and their families and to the justice system players.  The clinical teams conduct mental health screenings and comprehensive assessments, develop individualized treatment plans, and provide intensive case management and family support for as long as a young person is involved in the juvenile justice system.

Programmatically, the Center operates QUEST (Queens Engagement Strategies for Teens) Futures in Jamaica, Queens, a component of the larger QUEST program, an alternative-to-detention (ATD) program launched in June 2007 for youths with pending juvenile delinquency cases in the Queens Family Court who were determined to be at moderate risk of re-offending or failing to appear in court. QUEST Futures works with young people who have a diagnosed mental health disorder beginning as early as possible in the delinquency process and continuing as long as they have an open delinquency case or are on probation. The program launched in October 2008 in collaboration with the New York City Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator, the Queens Family Court, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the New York City Department of Probation, and other juvenile justice and mental health stakeholders. QUEST Futures is the first of its kind in New York State. Using the clinical team approach articulated above, QUEST Futures serves as a resource to families and as a bridge between the juvenile justice and mental health systems, providing screening, assessments, treatment planning, service coordination, case management and supervision. The Center also recently launched an iteration of the Futures program through the Bronx Community Solutions called Bronx Futures.

How the Center for Court Innovation deals with the topic of gun violence? What kind of violence interruption and prevention projects are dealing specifically with young gun violence?

The Center operates two Save Our Streets (S.O.S.) programs in the South Bronx and in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The S.O.S. programs are community-based efforts to end gun violence in those neighborhoods. Both programs work closely with local organizations, neighborhood churches and pastors, community residents and the individuals most likely to commit a shooting. The staff of the two S.O.S. programs prevent gun violence from occurring in their respective catchment areas in the South Bronx and Crown Heights by mediating conflicts that may end in gun violence and acting as peer counselors to men and women who are at risk of perpetrating or being victimized by violence. The programs works closely with neighborhood leaders and businesses to promote a visible and public message against gun violence, encouraging local voices to articulate that shooting is an unacceptable behavior.

The Center also operates Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets (YO S.O.S.), a youth development program in Crown Heights that aims to empower young people, ages 14-17. to become community leaders and organizers. YO S.O.S. participants work with S.O.S staff in Crown Heights, bringing the ever-vital youth voice to this pressing community issue. Through a combination of experiential workshops and service learning opportunities, YO S.O.S. participants will develop a the skills needed for tomorrow's leaders, such as community organizing, networking, public speaking, job training and real-world work experience. Participants' youth development activities will be supplemented by one-on-one case management to provide additional services when needed. Participants who successfully complete the initial program components will receive a stipend and will be placed in paid summer employment opportunities.

At which stage is the Center for Court Innovation concerned on the topic of gender issues? Are there any specific projects on adolescent and young adults girls?

The Center for Court Innovation devotes considerable time and resources to the issue of domestic violence, running specialized domestic violence courts that are designed to improve victim safety and enhance defendant accountability. The Center also helps jurisdictions plan and operate domestic violence courts both in the United States and around the world. In the U.S., the Center for Court Innovation offers free technical assistance, supported by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, to jurisdictions across the country interested in creating or expanding existing domestic violence court projects. For example, the Center has helped jurisdictions with victim safety issues, domestic violence case identification and calendaring, and the use of program mandates. The Center helped establish New York’s first domestic violence court, the Brooklyn Domestic Violence Court, which has served as a model for dozens of courts in New York State. The Center has also helped New York State disseminate the integrated domestic violence court model, in which a single judge handles criminal domestic violence cases and related family issues, such as custody, visitation, civil protection orders, and matrimonial actions.

With respect to projects particular to adolescent and young adult girls, the Center for Court Innovation runs a Youthful Offender Domestic Violence Court. Launched in Brooklyn in late 2003, the Youthful Offender Domestic Violence Court was the first court to address exclusively misdemeanor domestic violence cases among teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19. Despite statistics showing that women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of domestic violence and sexual assault nationwide, overwhelmed court systems have not been able to respond effectively to the problem. Defendants usually receive no targeted services aimed at preventing further abuse, and victims receive little in the way of services and counseling. In contrast, at the Youthful Offender Domestic Violence Court a dedicated judge and court room staff are equipped to address the unique needs that teen complainants bring to court. And by linking victims to a specialized services and offering a free 12-week program to teen batterers, the court attempts to engage teenagers and provide services designed to halt the violence. 

Having in mind that the New York Times credited your operating projects “with helping reduce the use of incarceration in New York City to the lowest rate in a generation,” what are some of the Center for Court Innovation main challenges and difficulties encountered so far?

Serving as the research and development arm of the New York State Unified Court system, the Center for Court Innovation tests new ideas to determine what works and what does not work and using the lessons learned for future problem-solving approaches. Limited resources and sustainability continue to be a challenge for many of the Center’s innovative projects. Recognizing that resources are usually limited, the Center continues to seek strategies to sustain these programs over the long haul. Although the Center for Court Innovation has been successful in mobilizing community support for many of its projects since its inception, the Center continues to struggle with gaining institutional buy-in from various political players while working to change public perceptions and mistrust of the justice system, another rising challenge. Developing successful projects in other U.S. jurisdictions has been noted as another challenge, specifically working through bureaucratic hurdles and focusing on building capacity.


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