The U.S. Justice Department will discuss how to learn from failures in the criminal justice system at conferences in 2008. Greg Berman, director of the New York City-based Center for Court Innovation, calls for “a probing examination of the kinds of failures in which decent, well-intentioned people attempted to achieve something noble and difficult – like reducing recidivism among mentally ill offenders or tackling drug crime in a public housing development – but fell short of their objectives.” Writing in the National Law Journal, Berman says that “nearly every criminal justice agency has attempted projects that have fizzled or failed to meet expectations. If we want to encourage police, prosecutors, judges and others to test new ideas and challenge conventional wisdom, we need to create a climate in which failure is openly discussed.”
At a program this year, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) assembled judges, probation officials, prosecutors, police chiefs, and defense attorneys from across the U.S. to discuss lessons they have learned from projects that did not succeed. These projects included efforts to change the behavior of prostitutes, promote drug treatment for addicts and strengthen the supervision of probationers. The goal, says Berman, “was to send the message that failure, while not desirable, is sometimes inevitable and even acceptable, provided that it is properly analyzed and used as a learning experience.” The subject will be discussed during BJA conferences in Salt Lake City Jan. 8-10, Hartford Jan. 29-31, Indianapolis Feb. 12-14, and Atlanta Mar. 11-13.