Success of Community Courts in Washington, D.C.-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is http://media.csosa.gov.

Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2012/11/success-of-community-courts-in-washington-d-c-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Our show today is on special courts, and we are truly honored to have two principles who are really experienced in this concept of special courts, community courts. Russell Canan, he is the Presiding Judge of Criminal Division of the D.C. Superior Court. We also have Michael Francis, the Community Court Coordinator, again, the Criminal Division of D.C. Superior Court. The website for the D.C. Courts or D.C. Superior Court is www.dccourts.gov. They’re also on Twitter, on Facebook, and on YouTube. – And to Judge Canan and Michael Francis, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Judge Russell Canan: Hello.

Len Sipes: Your Honor, Judge Canan, let’s talk about community courts. Give me a definition as to what community courts are.

Judge Russell Canan: Community courts are an outgrowth of the drug court movement. Over 20 years ago when D.C. was overrun crack cocaine cases, we instituted a drug court to try to change the cycle of arrests, incarceration and release, and re-arrest, and the drug court movement was based on the principles of judicial monitoring, sometimes sanctions, and treatment and rehabilitation. The drug courts have proven to be a great success both in the District of Columbia and nationally. I think the research on drug courts clearly shows that it reduces the use of drugs and reduces recidivism for those who successfully complete the programs. With that in hand, the community court movement is a collaboration with our criminal justice partners – the Probation Department, Pre-Trial Services, the Defense Bar, the Prosecution, Metropolitan Police Department, the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Corrections – in order to reach low-level, non-violent offenders and try to change the cycle of arrest, incarceration, release, and re-arrest by providing a number of different elements. Number one, provide community service in the community where the crime took place, paying back that particular community by providing educational or employment opportunities, by having the judges become directly responsible for a particular community. So a judge would routinely on a monthly basis go to community meetings and talk about our program, answer questions, be more educated as to particular problems in a particular community. The defendants get an opportunity to have their cases dismissed if it’s a pre-trial case, that is a case that’s pending trial, if they’re eligible and the U.S. Attorney’s Office or a prosecutor set that forward. For defendants who are not eligible to get their case dismissed if they get complete their community service, some of them will be placed on probation, and we’ve done a lot of work now having probation reviews with the probationer, and it’s been proven that this one-on-one interaction between the judge and the defendant during the course of the case really has a significant factor in reducing recidivism and having individuals become compliant. Overall it’s an evidence-based program that is we’re relying upon proven programs that work to show reduction of recidivism and to reach out to the community.

Len Sipes: Right. Now I’m going to go to back the literature for a second and I want you to talk to me about this, is that a lot of the research that’s coming out of the Department of Justice, a lot of the research that’s coming out from universities is basically saying the judge-driven programs like community courts, other specialty courts, drug courts, seem to work. Some of them are suggesting that the magic ingredient is the judge himself or herself, that judges taking the lead in terms of these issues are solving a lot of problems for the criminal justice system. What’s your take on that?

Judge Russell Canan: Well, there are two aspects to that. One is that I believe the leadership of our courts for many years, with our drug court, our community court, and mental health court, has been really the focus of trying to get together our collaboration with our criminal justice partners, so I think the court being a part of that and being a leadership in that collaboration is critical. And second, I think you’re referring to the interaction between the judge and the defendant going outside the normal calling balls and strikes and just litigating a case. So a judge in a drug court or a mental health court or community court is more invested with the individual in trying to change behavior, trying to get the folks off this cycle of arrest and re-arrest, and trying to help lead and inspire that individual to change their lives. We call it coaching, cajoling, and congratulating, and it’s been proven to be successful.

Len Sipes: Right, but why is that? I mean, if the literature is basically saying, look, you know, you take a look of the research programs within criminal justice system, whether it be law enforcement, whether it be juvenile justice, whether it be corrections, and look at all these research programs that show that judges and specialty courts are having an impact, a greater impact in some cases – I’m referring to Project Hope in Hawaii – they have a greater impact than some of the mainstream efforts that we in the criminal justice system have been employing. So it just seems to me that the judiciary, instead of taking a back seat as it was when I came into the criminal justice system many decades ago, it seems to me that more judges are taking a leadership role in solving problems within their communities.

Judge Russell Canan: Well, there’s no question that the research shows, and any judge who’s sat on these courts would be able to say as well, that this interaction between the defendant and the judge in the courtroom and the judge’s ability to inspire, to cajole if necessary and sometimes that includes incarceration, and to congratulate, to try to inspired them to change their lives. They’re not used to having this type of one-on-one time with the judge who’s clearly interested in their development and their rehabilitation, and it works. I mean, there’s no question about that. The drug court movement and the community court movement, the evidence now is overwhelming. I mean, the jury is in on that. They work, they’re successful, and that’s why many courts such as ours are expanding.

Len Sipes: Michael Francis, the Community Court Coordinator – your take on all this, please, Michael?

Michael Francis: Well, I think the research has shown that when defendants see that the judge is caring and there’s fairness, it impacts their behavior, so that’s I think a key aspects. There’s a psychological dynamic to this in terms of them altering their behavior and being willing to change their behavior based on that interaction with the judge.

Len Sipes: Um-hum, but it is also at the same time, as different people have pointed out, it’s a judge. It’s not a parole and probation agent. It’s not a pre-trial law officer. It’s a judge, and that judge does have the power to send you to jail and send you to prison so people are suggesting, “well, I’m going to pay a lot more attention to that person – that’s a judge – than I’m going to pay to a parole and probation agent.” That’s what some are suggesting.

Michael Francis: I see what you’re saying but the judge does make the decision in terms of whether they’re locked up or not so, I mean, that’s a key aspect. That’s part of the reality that exists.

Len Sipes: Now, Michael, you’re in charge of basically the nuts-and-bolts of the community court, and so you’re the person, the go-to person on a day-to-day basis. I would imagine that’s an immense undertaking because what you’re doing is seemingly taking – and correct me if I’m wrong – lower-level cases and to try to find a reasonable alternative rather than placing this person in the mainstream criminal justice system, so through community service through drug treatment through a fine, that what you’re trying to do is to say, “Is there an alternative say of dealing with this individual than the normal criminal justice process?” – Correct?

Michael Francis: Partially, I mean my office, one of the key aspects in terms of my office is assigning defendants to community service, and so we have 32 community service throughout the city. But also we have, as Judge Canan talked about, we collaborate and partner with other agencies so in terms of defendants that need substance abuse, they can be referred to pre-trial services of CSOSA, so my office doesn’t necessarily always make the referrals for somebody to get the treatment but we are a linkage and we partner with other agencies and we make referrals, so that’s a key aspect of it.

Len Sipes: And I do want to plug my own organization, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, a federal parole and probation agency providing services to the District of Columbia. We are supporting both of you in this role. So the community, somewhere along the line, again, talking about that concept of community. When I came in, the judges were god and goddesses who sat up high. We never spoke to them. We never dealt with them. It was, “Yes, your honor,” you know. We never openly disagreed with them, outside the court or inside the court; they were that lofty and that high. Now you’re attending a lot of community meetings. Now you’re listening to a lot of the sentiment within the community. Now you’re reaching out and now you’re interacting. That indeed is a big change. So it’s just not specialty courts, it’s really, this focus on community courts is a lot of involvement with community leadership. Your honor? Oh, Michael?

Michael Francis: Well, I just want to say, and the community really appreciates it when judges go out into the community to meet with them, to listen, to hear what they have to say, so it’s very beneficial. For instance so far this year we’ve attended, judges have attended over 38 community meetings, and the community lets us know, they’re so happy when judges come to talk to them, to hear what their concerns and their issues are, so it’s a key aspect in terms of that partnership and collaboration, and that we’re all in this together. I think that’s key when the community sees that everyone is concerned about what’s happening in their communities.

Len Sipes: But do both of you buy into my premise that at one time, the judiciary was not that way?

Judge Russell Canan: Well, I think that’s not quite accurate.

Len Sipes: Okay, go ahead. Please.

Judge Russell Canan: I mean, judges have traditionally gone out to community meetings when asked and invited. I’ve been going for many years. We’ve now routinized this so a particular judge who’s sitting in the third district, third district cases, in our third district, will go out to the third district and to various different types of community meetings, and so that judge will be well known in that particular district because she’s a presence and they know her, and she’s there to answer questions. – And that’s a big part of it too, just letting people know what’s really go on in the criminal justice system. There’s a lot of misinformation out there and people don’t always truly understand the working of the court, and how when people do get arrested and they go through the system, they oftentimes don’t understand the full complexities of the law, and the judges are there if for no other reason to explain those things but also to show that they care about the community and are willing to work with them.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Michael Francis: And I just want to add, when the community sees that the defendants are being held accountable, for instance having to do community service back in their communities where the alleged offense occurred, they think that’s very important in terms of trying to help their communities.

Len Sipes: Three things that I want to get to: number one, give me a sense of the other specialty courts within the criminal division; number two, give me a sense as to the mechanics as to how community courts work; and then I want to get to – probably that will be the second half of the program – I want to get to the fact that you’ve been studied. You’ve had a piece of research, and recidivism has gone down. So let’s start off with the other specialty courts so the audience throughout the country can get a sense as to all the different things that you guys are involved in.

Judge Russell Canan: Well, as is said before, we’ve had a drug court for over 20 years now, and the success of the drug court then led us to create what we call the East of the River Community Court which was a community court that dealt with two of our police districts east of the Anacostia River, and we’ve had that program on for 10 years. That was the program that was evaluated in the last couple of years by an independent research organization, which showed a significant and substantial reduction in recidivism, up to 42% for the comparison group. We also now have a mental health community court, and one of the things that we’re trying to do is to work all these courts in union with each other, so for instance when an individual comes in, that person is going to be assessed. So if the person’s real problem is going to be mental illness or being involved in the mental health system, then we’re going to refer that person to the mental health court. If the person’s main problem is drugs, drug addiction, then we’re going to refer that person to the drug court. If the person is not otherwise addicted or mentally ill and requires those core services, then they may be eligible for our community court.

Len Sipes: Okay, the mechanics of this, within the community court, what levels of people are you going after? So a person convicted of a violent crime is not going to go to community court.

Michael Francis: That’s correct, and I do need to mention that we also have what’s called the D.C. Community Court that was actually our first community court that started in January of 2002, and that handles the lowest level of misdemeanors, what we call D.C. misdemeanors and criminal traffic offenses. So that community also exists also exists. My staff are very involved as far as assigning community service as well as we have staff that actually does assessments of defendants that are locked up to see what their social service needs are and to try to actually link them with services whether it be mental health, educational services, vocational. So I just wanted to mention that’s a community court that we’ve had for a while.

Len Sipes: Sure. But the average person going into the community courts within the District of Columbia, again, they’re lower-level offenders, they’re misdemeanants, they’re –.

Michael Francis: U.S. misdemeanors, for our community court expansion project and the community courts that consist of the first district community court, the two [PH 0:14:43] DF, second district-fourth district community court, third district community court, fifth district community court, sixth district and seventh district community court, they handle U.S. misdemeanors. We’re talking about offenses such as prostitution.

Len Sipes: What is a U.S. misdemeanor?

Michael Francis: Prostitution, illegal dumping, simple assault, simple drug possession – there are many more but that’s some of the core U.S. misdemeanor offense, and Judge Canan, I don’t know if he wanted to elaborate on that.

Len Sipes: All right, but hold on. The judge sitting in Milwaukee right now is going, “What are they talking about, a U.S. misdemeanor? What is s a U.S. misdemeanor?

Judge Russell Canan: Well, that’s sort of a creature of the District of Columbia.

Len Sipes: Thank you.

Judge Russell Canan: We have two prosecuting authorities. The U.S. Attorney’s Office handles most of what generally is considered state court crimes such as theft, possession of drugs, prostitution, etc. The city prosecutes in the city’s name some of what we think of generally as quality-of-life crimes – possession of an open container of alcohol, operating after suspension, driving offenses – and there’s a separate court for those in those cases as well.

Len Sipes: Okay. We’re halfway through the program and let’s stop here and just reintroduce the two of you and get to a bit more explanation and get over to the research which I find phenomenal. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re dealing today with the topic of community courts. At our microphone is Russell Canan. He is the Presiding Judge of the Criminal Division of the D.C. Superior Court. Also before our microphones is Michael Francis. He is the Community Court Coordinator, again, Criminal Division for the D.C. Superior Court. The address, web address – www.dccourts.gov. www.dccourts.gov. – Also on Twitter, also on Facebook, also on YouTube. So we’re going back to the conversation, Judge Canan, okay, so crimes committed on federal land that are —

Judge Russell Canan: Well, not federal lands, it’s D.C., in the District of Columbia.

Len Sipes: Okay, but when you say U.S., I mean, we’re talking about D.C. code violations as well, are we not?

Judge Russell Canan: They are all D.C. code violations.

Len Sipes: They are all D.C. code violations. Okay, that’s the point that I wanted to get to. Okay, so because you guys don’t handle the U.S. federal [INDISCERNIBLE 0:16:57].

Judge Russell Canan: Well, we’re getting a little, ah.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Judge Russell Canan: The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Milwaukee, for instance, would handle federal crimes. The state court would handle state court crimes such as robbery or assault etc. In D.C., because D.C. is an unusual jurisdiction, our U.S. Attorney would handle federal crimes in the federal court and the state court crimes in the Superior Court.

Len Sipes: Okay, but they’re D.C. code violations, that’s the thing that I wanted to get across. Okay, the evaluation – most of the evaluations that I’ve seen, and I read just about everything that comes out, you’re going to find reductions in the range of 10% to 20% when you find reductions at all. Most of the reductions in terms of the interventions that happen throughout the United States are modest in terms of their return. Some are better, some are promising, and we’re learning an awful lot about it but we’ve been told not to over-promise in terms of the impact of what we do in terms of community corrections. You guys on the other hand, sort of like Project Hope in Hawaii that turned out wonderful results, turned out wonderful results in terms of your evaluation for the D.C. community courts, correct?

Judge Russell Canan: Yes.

Len Sipes: And what was it, in the range of what, 40%?

Judge Russell Canan: 40% of those who graduated from our community courts in the sixth and seventh district had a 42% less chance of recidivism when compared to similarly situated defendants in the fifth district.

Len Sipes: That’s a phenomenal result. It’s a phenomenal result. It’s an unusual result. Why did you get such a large reduction?

Judge Russell Canan: Well, we like to think that is the judicial leadership with our criminal justice partners, and the program that we set forth, and the investment of time that everyone has put into this, with the assistance of the community that has helped bring these results. Now our report didn’t measure the reasons for the reduction of recidivism but we now have authorized to do another report on our new project because armed with this success, we have now expanded our community courts city-wide so –.

Len Sipes: Right. That’s the other exciting thing here. So you’re going from experiment to a citywide endeavor.

Judge Russell Canan: Right. So instead of just the sixth and seventh district, the people who get arrested in the first district will be going to the first district community court, and the third district, etc. So this is a pretty vigorous and robust change in our practice in the courts but we’re very hopeful. Our results so far have been superb. We’re really excited by it. We have hundreds and hundreds of hours of community service. 80% of those who enter into our agreements to do community service, over 80% have completed them successfully. We go out, and Mike has done a great job in the community in bringing community service, nonprofit organizations, churches, etc., and we interact with then on a daily basis. We bring them into the court. We debrief them. They’ve been extremely pleased with our efforts. So so far, right now we’re having about for instance 200 new defendants enter into community court program. Last year we probably had about 50 to 60 so we’ve doubled that amount and we’ve quadrupled, qu8ite frankly, the amount of community service hours, and so we’re very excited that so far, so good.

Len Sipes: Now on the mechanics of this, if they successfully complete community court, what happens, either one of you?

Judge Russell Canan: Well, there’s two parts to it. For the lower-level offenders with a modest criminal history, they’re going to get their case dismissed.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Judge Russell Canan: That’s the end result for the defendants, and yes, the interaction between the judge is a great thing but the incentive to have their case dismissed is great, and my hat is off to our U.S. Attorney’s Office, our prosecutors for being very flexible and a full partner in all of this because none of this would happen without the full partnership with our prosecutors, the United States Attorney’s Office. The other class of defendants are those whose records are not as modest but still eligible for probation and they’re placed on probation, that is they’re not going to jail but they are being placed on probation by supervised by your agency but now the judges are meeting them, not waiting for a time where all of a sudden there’s some problem and they bring the defendant in four or five months later with a problem which might lead to revocation of probation. We’re going to see that defendant 30 days after they’re placed on probation so that they know the judges mean business, so they know they’re going to be watched over extremely carefully, and this is brand new. We’ve just started this part in July, but so far it looks like it’s promising. The Probation Department, your agency is enthusiastically – it’s more work for everyone – enthusiastically coming to court, bringing the defendants there, and our goal quite frankly in this part of the project is to substantially increase those numbers of defendants who successfully complete probation.

Michael Francis: And if I just may —

Len Sipes: Please, please.

Michael Francis: And when we refer to districts, we’re actually referring to in the city there are seven police districts so when we have a first district community court, it coincides with those defendants that are arrested within the first district. Also it’s important to realize that the community courts are physically, for instance, located at the D.C. Superior Court Headquarters Main Office Moultrie Building. Some community courts are actually in specific neighborhoods but some actually are centrally located like ours.

Judge Russell Canan: Well to be clear, we do not have individual courts, community courts, in the first district or the fifth district, for instance. Everyone comes to the main courthouse. In some community courts around the country – in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Manhattan Midtown – it’s literally, the courthouse is in the community.

Michael Francis: In the community.

Judge Russell Canan: But that was just physically not possible for us.

Len Sipes: Okay. Back on the mechanics of all of this, now look, there are waiting lists in this city and every city in the United States for drug treatment, for mental health treatment, for cognitive behavioral therapy. I mean, how do you get people involved in the programs that they need to be involved in?

Michael Francis: Well for instance, the Pre-Trial Service Agency as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office are involved, and they actually screen the defendants in terms of their appropriateness for perhaps drug court or mental health court, and in fact if that may be the case, their cases could actually be referred over to the mental health court or the drug court for services.

Len Sipes: Yeah, but are the services there? The average person sitting there throughout the country listening to this program is going to say, “Well, you all have resources that we don’t have. If I want to get somebody into drug treatment, they’re put in the queue and three months later, they’re called up, and it’s forever to get somebody involved in drug treatment.” There are budget cuts throughout the United States so how is that working in D.C.?

Michael Francis: It works because they’ve actually received the services. Pre-Trial Services provides a linkage to drug treatment programs as well as providing drug treatment services themselves, as well as your organization CSOSA. We also have actually linkages as part of the partnership with the Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration, which is part of the D.C. government Department of Health, the agency responsible for helping defendants with substance abuse issues. They actually have staff at the court where actually we can make referrals to as well as they actually will go to those that are locked up and do screenings for the need for substance abuse, so yes, we actually have those services and they can link to those services.

Len Sipes: People are sitting back throughout the country and going, “Wow, within the District of Columbia, there’s just a level of involvement and a level of services that we don’t have here in Milwaukee or Honolulu and throughout the country.” Now you all hosted the National Community Court Conference this year, right?

Judge Russell Canan: Well, no, we participated. The National Community Court Conference was hosted by the Center for Court Innovation, and I’d like to give them a shout-out as well. They’re based in New York. They’re the ones who started or helped to organize the two community courts in New York, Red Hook and Manhattan Midtown, but part of their work is to assist courts like ours to help develop these programs. So they were the hosts of that program and happened to be in Washington D.C. but they’ve been really good partners with us as well in assisting us and giving us advice and technical assistance as we’ve gone forward.

Michael Francis: And just going back too, I think it’s important regarding services and resources, we actually have what is called – and it’s very unique and may be the only one that exists in the country – we have what’s called the Urgent Care Clinic which is a collaboration with D.C. Superior Court, the Department of Mental Health, and Pathways to Housing, where actually there are staff from Pathways to Housing, including a psychiatrist that’s physically located at the court that can provide services to people with mental health issues so that’s really key. So when people may have mental issues that have cases before the court, they can be referred to the Urgent Care Clinic for screening and then to long-term linkage. They see a psychiatrist; assessments are done, so that’s a unique aspect that we have. We’re also working with developing a relationship with the Department of Employment Services here in D.C. to actually be able to refer defendants for a work force, not just defendants but the people that come through D.C. Superior Court for various issues, for work force development services. This is all part of the whole importance of collaboration and partnership, the whole community concept.

Len Sipes: First of all, I do want to thank you guys for taking the leadership in terms of D.C. Safe Surrender. You were able coax a whole mess of people, with warrants, to voluntary surrender at the court. We did it the first time around in terms of doing it in the church and we were told, “No, no, no. You have to do it in a church if you’re going to entice people to voluntarily surrender in warrants,” and you did it within the court setting, so congratulations. You guys are taking a leadership role in lots of different areas. I’m not quite sure anybody fully understands the complexity and the leadership roles that the Superior Court is taking within the District of Columbia but we all do understand, I think, that this is a fundamentally thing, in the final minute of the program. There’s a fundamentally different way of approaching problems within the criminal justice people. People have mental health issues. People have substance abuse issues. They’re not fully committed to the criminal justice system where in the past they would have ended up in the mainstream criminal justice system. You’re trying to assist them, you’re trying to help them escape that cycle, and you’re trying to get them out of the criminal justice system not in, correct?

Judge Russell Canan: Well, of course. Of course there are a number of individuals, who constitute a clear danger to the community and constitute a public safety hazard, and unfortunately those individuals oftentimes need to be incarcerated but they are fortunately in the minority. There are many other people who, if you give them the appropriate services in mental health, housing, employment, education, etc., that we can turn them around and make a real difference so they don’t come back to court and so that they can really stand in their community and be an asset to their community.

Len Sipes: Michael, 30 seconds?

Michael Francis: And it’s important because the community often asks, “Well, are you coddling these folks?” Defendants are held accountable. We try to link them and provide them some assistance and provide services for them if they want them. They have to do community service. But if they don’t take advantage of it, they are held accountable, so that’s key. So it’s important.

Len Sipes: Go ahead.

Judge Russell Canan: Well, I just want to add to what Michael said, the law enforcement is really behind our programs, the Metropolitan Police Department, the prosecution, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the office of the Attorney General. They are full partners in all this.

Len Sipes: Gentlemen, I really want to thank you for being with us today. Ladies and gentlemen, our program has been on Community Courts. We’ve had two guests with us today, Russell Canan, the Presiding Judge of the Criminal Division of the D.C. Superior Court, and Michael Francis, the Community Court Coordinator, again Criminal Division D.C. Superior Court. The website is www.dccourts.gov. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook and YouTube. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms. We appreciate any feedback that you have to provide us, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

Share

Speak Your Mind

*

%d bloggers like this: