At the Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn, says the American Bar Association Journal, don't expect to be sent to another building and another bureaucracy downtown in a few weeks to make arrangements for community service. March upstairs now for an assignment, like painting over graffiti or cleaning up the park down the street. Got a logistical problem because of your kids? There's a child-care center on site. “We do in four hours what takes four to six weeks downtown,” says Robert Feldstein, center director. “It's very real. We're changing the conversation back to 'What are we doing with these cases?' ”
As both a court and a community center for various social services, the center is the next step in the evolution of problem-solving justice that got its start with treatment-oriented drug courts in the late 1980s. As the number of drug courts has grown to more than 1,000 nationwide, spinoffs have emerged. Now, specialty courts deal with domestic violence, mental health, family treatment, and other mixes of social problems and crime. The latest twist is the community court bringing together many concerns. Red Hook is pushing an even more holistic approach to address the social problems that lead to crime. On-site are teachers who offer GED courses and job training for teens, a job developer, social workers, and drug counselors. Though it is voluntary and hasn't developed a large docket, there is a Youth Court in which peers deal with low-level offenses by juveniles, usually in their first brush with the justice system.