After brief, often light-hearted, conversations with Hartford community court judge Raymond Norko, offenders are sent out of the courtroom to meet with counselors who determine if they need social services, says the Hartford Courant. It might be the first time they are offered help for the underlying problems that cause them to break the law. It’s been 10 years since Norko heard his first case. Almost every defendant is given a sentence of community service. When the court opened, it was only the third in the U.S. and the first such court to cover an entire city full time. It now operated out of the state judicial system budget.
The model, which started in 1993 in New York City, has caught on in the U.S. and abroad, and more than 60 community courts operate worldwide. Under President-elect Barack Obama, the idea may grow. “I think it’s poised to have a big future ahead of it,” said Greg Berman of the Center for Court Innovation, a think tank in New York. “Everything that Obama has said on the stump about crime suggests that this is the kind of approach he will eat up with a spoon.” Berman said the model provides new responses to low-level crime and draws in community members as stakeholders in the criminal justice system. “There has been a dramatic erosion in public trust to government, and it has certainly affected the justice system,” he said.