Q&A with Julian Adler of the Red Hook Community Justice Center

By Maureen Richey, Policy Analyst 

Center for Court InnovationAs the nation’s first multijurisdictional community court, the Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn has served as a neighborhood hub for clinical services, community service, youth programs, and other social supports since its founding in 2000.

By employing procedural justice practices—which are designed to increase the perception of fairness in law enforcement and the criminal adjudication process—the community justice center seeks to holistically address the cause of criminal activity and to treat defendants in the criminal justice system with dignity and respect. According to the Center for Court Innovation, of which the Red Hook center is a demonstration project, research has shown that when defendants and litigants perceive the court process to be fair, they are “more likely to comply with court orders and follow the law in the future—regardless of whether they ‘win’ or ‘lose’ their case.”

So how well does this multi-service, person-centered justice model work? Researchers from the National Center for State Courts conducted a long-term evaluation of the Red Hook Community Justice Center and examined outcomes—including juvenile and adult recidivism, cost-efficiency, and community perceptions—to conclude that the community court model and, more broadly, procedural justice practices, can lead to reductions in both juvenile and adult recidivism as well as increased participation in social and community services, among other outcomes.

Julian Adler, project director of the Red Hook Community Justice Center, shared some of his thoughts on the report and what it means for the future of the center as well as the application of procedural justice principles in the field.

CSGJC: How has the evaluation impacted your programming?

Julian Adler: Among other things, the evaluation underscored the importance of procedural justice. With support from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Center for Court Innovation is currently developing a brief clinical intervention informed by the principles of procedural justice (along with a distillation of other relevant evidence-based practices, such as the risk-need-responsivity model) for people charged with misdemeanors. The idea here is to expand the reach and positive potential of procedural justice into the realm of court-based clinical practice. The end result will be a nationally replicable alternative sentencing option for cases that would otherwise result in short-term jail stays.

The center has had great outcomes. Do you think other communities could replicate the success?

The short answer is yes, absolutely: the core of the model is readily transferrable. As the evaluation makes clear, the community justice center’s success is largely due to its use of alternatives to jail, including both pretrial detention and incarceration; its deep and sustained commitment to the principles of procedural justice; and its efforts at fostering meaningful relationships between the criminal justice system and the communities it exists to serve.

Is it enough to just provide alternatives to detention and incarceration? What about the role of fostering a high level of compliance?

Research shows that jail is criminogenic, so the use of alternatives has an inherent risk-reduction value. I would also argue that the use of meaningful alternatives to detention and incarceration contributes powerfully to the experience of procedural justice and increases the legitimacy of the criminal justice system in communities.

But yes, of course, the efficacy of alternatives turns on implementation—high-quality and targeted services paired with the appropriate level of supportive supervision and rigorous compliance monitoring. Predictability and structure are key ingredients to a successful program.

The community justice center has two researchers from the Center for Court Innovation assigned to offices on site, as well as experts in ethnographic analysis, implementation analysis, impact evaluation, and cost-efficiency from John Jay College who have had frequent contact with staff, program participants, community members, and other partners. Can you describe the importance of having a sustained relationship with research partners? 

Empirically-based practice is the way of the future, and research-practice partnerships are critical to ensuring that the knowledge base continues to grow in response to the most pressing needs of criminal justice decision makers and practitioners. In addition to assistance with post-implementation program evaluation, researchers can—and, when possible, should—collaborate closely with practitioners in the initial conceptualization, development, and implementation of data-driven justice reform strategies. 

Can you describe the center’s sustainability strategy, and has this evaluation changed the way you think about it?

One of the key elements of the center’s sustainability strategy has been in the development of programming to respond to the changing needs of the community, our partners, and the court system. Two recent examples include the development of Red Hook CARES, an on-site victim services program for community residents, and a brief trauma-informed group intervention for youth involved with the court who are 16 or 17 years old. While this overall approach has not changed, the evaluation certainly emphasized the importance of remaining responsive to complex and evolving needs on the ground.

What are the implications of this report for the criminal justice field at large, particularly when working on new research and tools focused on people convicted of misdemeanors? 

Again, the short answer: Jurisdictions can meaningfully and substantially reduce jail populations, reduce reoffending, and increase public safety by using alternatives to detention and alternatives to incarceration for a broad range of offenses. Procedural justice offers a highly effective and very generalizable framework for planning and implementing justice-reform strategies, to be used in conjunction with other evidence-based and promising approaches.

Red Hook Community Justice Center is a project of the Center for Court Innovation (CCI), a public/private partnership between the New York State Unified Court System and the Fund for the City of New York. CCI seeks to aid victims, reduce crime, strengthen neighborhoods, reduce incarceration, and improve public trust in justice. Harlem Community Justice Center, also a project of CCI, has received funding through the Second Chance Act to support its Harlem Parole Reentry Court. To learn more, please visit CCI’s research, articles, and other resources on procedural justice.