Jan 11, 2008

San Francisco visits Red Hook

Last summer, eight community representatives from San Francisco participated in a site visit sponsored by the Mayor's Office to a community court located in Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY.
These individuals have continued to work with the Community Justice Center Steering Committee, representing a variety of interests, like community and faith-based organizations, businesses, residents and the community courts in the Tenderloin and SOMA neighborhoods.
We asked the representatives to provide feedback with their own perspective of the trip and what they thought about the Red Hook model in relation to the possibility for San Francisco’s Community Justice Center. Here are some of their responses:

Tomiquia Moss, Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Coorporation:
“The Mayor’s office and partners sponsored a delegation of community stakeholders from the Tenderloin on a trip to Brooklyn’s RedHook community court. I found the trip incredibly informative. There were several aspects of the community court that were unique to the workings and make up of the Redhook community. The predominant housing stock is public housing and the neighborhood had very few formal social services for the community. The RedHook justice center serves as a vital resource for the community as the catchment area was expanding to include other neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The court has many on site services such as medical services, employment services and substance use counseling and others. These services are not only available to the folks coming to court; they are also available to the broader community.
The tour was very comprehensive and we were able to talk to not only the people running the court but also to those that were participants in the court. Most of the feedback was positive and people felt like the court filled a need for the RedHook and surrounding neighborhoods served by this justice center. Other aspects of the court that are appealing were that the judge that presides over the court has frequent contact with the community and seems to utilize that feedback in decisions he makes regarding the court. Additionally, the prosecutor and the public defender assigned to the court have consistent communication with the police department, probation, and other departments in an effort to streamline the services that a person would receive.
It was difficult to compare the Tenderloin neighborhood to RedHook. This observation was one of the most helpful aspects of the trip. Every community court has to be modeled around the specific dynamics of that neighborhood. There is not a one size fits all model for a community court. The Tenderloin’s needs are unique and require a model that responds and supports the needs of the community. There were aspects of the RedHook model that were very exciting. The youth programming as well as the AmeriCorp component that does community outreach are great ways to respond to the needs of the community. These are great ideas that we could explore. It is imperative to conduct a community needs assessment for the neighborhood to determine what the community needs and how this court can serve as a community benefit. It is also critical that all departments affiliated with the community court work together if the project will be successful. There has to be a coordinated and consistent structure for all city departments to ensure that people do not fall between the cracks.
Lastly, there has to be a level of transparency and inclusion for the community throughout the development of a community court. I was amazed at how well RedHook executed this. The community not only endorsed the community court but participated in its design and implementation. Therefore, they were already invested in making this be a community resource.”

Rob Black, Vice President/Public Policy, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce:
“The main issue that stuck me about the Redhook Community Justice program was its emphasis on accountability, both personal and governmental. The court attempts to hold individuals accountable for their actions while providing them tools to get their life back on track. As well, the Redhook model allows the community to hold the government accountable when the criminal justice system is not effective in protecting the neighborhood. Through this community based accountability model, crime in Redhook has dropped by 70% and the court system has gone from a 12% favorable opinion among residents to a 75% favorable opinion.”

Dina Hilliard, Tenderloin Community Organizer, Safety Network:
“What struck me most about Red Hook Justice Center was the feeling of “community” that permeates throughout the Center. The clients seemed to be a central part of a team at Red Hook, a team that strives to improve and benefit the entire Red Hook community. The center itself has a childcare facility, a medical clinic, a GED classroom, youth art center, a tenant/landlord mediation center, and access to numerous support services…all in one building! The staff showed a genuine concern for their clients and acted more like personal cheerleaders than government workers! The staff has done an excellent job of seeing past a person’s negative actions and instead, interpreting them as urgent needs.”
Jeoflin Roh, community activist:
"What we saw at Red Hook was an extraordinary outreach of municipal resources in partnership with community ... and it works, works well. How we can transplant the parts of their successful program to San Francisco ... well, it won't be the same thing, but it can be modified, especially through the leadership of Commissioner Albers and the guidance of the folk from Center for Court Innovation to become a transcendent change, and opportunity to introduce City courts to Restorative Justice.
Offering opportunity to offenders to identify & deal with the underlying life issues that lead to errant behavior, and to the offense, is proactive.
I believe that, if parented well, this whole CJC effort can make a difference. The 'hood needs a new light."
Elaine Zamora, Tenderloin Community Benefit District:
“I was very impressed with many things the Red Hook Community Justice Center had to offer the community it served. I was impressed by the number and quality of the social services, classes, and information it had available. I was impressed by the approach to and treatment by the court room personnel toward the people who came before them and the cooperation among the people who comprised the workings of the Justice Center. But I was struck most by the two women who spoke to us about the formation of the Justice Center. Their bravery, in the face of being called snitches, their intelligence and insight to the value of the Justice Center and what it would bring to their families and community was inspiring and humbling. If we can duplicate this for the Tenderloin we would see real, effective and productive change for the people of the Tenderloin. I will do all that I can to see that kind of vision is realized for our neighborhood. Thanks, for allowing us to experience Red Hook, first hand.”


Anonymous said...

This is an awesome web site and a terrific resource to the San Francisco Ccommunity!!

Anonymous said...

What is the goal of this new center? The blog does not make clear whether this will be another social service or whether the goal is to actually reduce drug dealing and use in the streets of the tenderloin and the attendant crime and quality of life problems. Those that live and work in the tenderloin are constantly faced with crack and heroin use as well as dealing out in the open. The sidewalks are filled with human excrement and vomit. How will this new center address these public health and safety problems?

Alexandra Lampert, Program Coordinator said...

Those are excellent questions!

The goal of the new center definitely includes reducing drug dealing and crime taking place in the Tenderloin and surrounding areas. Time after time, in community meetings, drug use and dealing ranked as the highest concern of community members. The CJC planning committee took this concern very seriously -- because so many drug charges are felonies, the CJC decided to include felonies in those cases heard at the center, too, rather than just "low level" types of crime.

The CJC will not be just "another" social service, but will be a transformation of the criminal justice system. By co-locating social services, drug treatment, counseling, vocational services, GED classes, etc. on site with the court, individuals will be able to go directly to classes or support services from court, rather than a few days or few weeks later, which reduces the likelihood that they'll make it to their classes, or get the support they need.

By linking defendants to services to address the root causes of why they are engaging in illegal activity to begin with (drug addiction, mental illness, poverty or lack of education/vocational skills), the CJC hopes to reduce crime in the long run. No one says this will be easy - drug treatment, counseling, etc. are no quick fix for entrenched social and economic problems. But, we hope that it's a step in the right direction - to make a more lasting impact on individuals and the community than simply cycling people in and out of our jails.