Community courts have been successful in large part because of “their focus on making the justice system credible and relevant to the people it serves,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Laurie Robinson told an international conference on community justice today in Washington, D.C. The conference was organized by the New York City-based Center for Court Innovation. Robinson credited former Attorney General Janet Reno with starting the first drug court in Miami. In 1994, there were only 11 drug courts; now there are more than 3,500 “problem-solving” courts in the U.S., Robinson said.
“Community courts, drug courts, mental health courts, reentry courts, and the rest really exemplify American innovation,” Robinson said. She noted that New York City’s Midtown Community Court, which began in the 1990s, has been proved by research to have reduced local crime and revived public trust in the justice system. Robinson also mentioned the emphasis on collaboration in community courts, citing the South Dallas, Tx., Community Court and its “entire community center offering a variety of services for both defendants and community residents – things like health care, job training, housing, and benefits assistance. These are the resources that help prevent individuals from returning to court again and again – and this type of coordination is typical of community courts.” Robinson said community courts operate on a “procedural justice” model that makes offenders “feel like they've been treated with respect,” making them “more likely to accept court decisions – even those that go against them.”