Defendants at Brooklyn's Red Hook Community Justice Center are significantly more likely to be alternative community or social service sentences than at the nearest court and much less likely to be sent to jail, according to a new study by the National Center for State Courts and the Center for Court Innovation.
The Justice Center handles misdemeanors, summonses for non-traffic violations, and juvenile delinquency cases. The court aims to test elements of the “Broken Windows” theory that suggests that taking low-level crime seriously can deter more serious behavior.
Researchers for the study conducted 52 structured group and individual interviews with court staff and stakeholders; observed courtroom activities and staff meetings; reviewed documents and analyzed case-level data from 2000 through 2009.
Compared to a comparison group at Brooklyn's criminal court, the Justice Center issued far fewer jail sentences, but also allowed far fewer to “walk” (receive a sentence such as a fine or time served) “without any ongoing obligation.”
Just one percent of Justice Center defendants were sentenced to jail, compared to 15 percent in the comparison group; roughly three quarters (78 percent) received alternative community or social service sentences, compared to 22 percent in the comparison group.
About one in five defendants, 20 percent, at the Justice Center “walked,” compared to nearly two out of every three, 63 percent, in the comparison group.
“Approximately five percent of Red Hook defendants receive drug treatment mandates of 30 days or longer,” researchers wrote.