Early Signs Of Success For Improving “Procedural Justice” In Newark Court


“If you're lost in a big-city court, you'll stand there until you're kicked out at the end of the day by the security guard,” says Kevin Burke, a Minneapolis judge and a critic of the humiliations inflicted by the U.S. court system. “Even Walmart has a greeter.” The Guardian reports that things are done differently in the Part Two courtroom in Newark, N.J., where Judge Victoria Pratt is a pioneer of procedural justice, an idea that has become central to the debate about reforming the criminal justice system. The idea is that people are far more likely to obey the law if the justice system does not humiliate them, but treats them fairly and with respect. That begins with the way judges speak to defendants.

Procedural justice is advocated by the Center for Court Innovation in New York City. Does it get better results than the practices employed in traditional courts? The center is just beginning the first formal evaluation of Part Two, but Kelly Mulligan-Brown of Newark Community Solutions, which finds social services for Newark defendants, said that an average of 70 percent complete their mandates and avoid jail, a very high level of compliance with court orders. Another important marker is the drastic reduction in arrest warrants that the judge issues for no-shows. Pratt said that in a traditional court she would sometimes issue dozens of warrants per day. Now she is down to three or four per day.

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