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Directors of Center for Court Innovation release road map for reducing mass incarceration

Brooklyn BookBeat

March 9, 2018 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Greg Berman, co-author of “Start Here” and director of policy at the Center for Court Innovation. Photo by Michael Falco
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Released on March 6 from The New Press, “Start Here” has been called a “clearly written, optimistic road map for moving beyond mass incarceration.” Authors Greg Berman, director of the Center for Court Innovation, and Julian Adler, director of policy and research at the Center for Court Innovation, provide a concrete blueprint for reducing incarceration while increasing public trust in justice that can be applied right now.

The co-authors both got their start in the Red Hook Community Center, and continue to do work in Brooklyn through the Center for Court Innovation. From violence interrupters in Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant to involving teens in local development projects in Brownsville, “Start Here” points to these local reforms as one of the leading ways to end mass incarceration.

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Looking at successful reforms in New York, Berman and Adler propose that the trick to addressing violent crime starts at the grassroots level, with creative strategies for community-based prevention, including the violence interrupter model, place-making projects and youth development work with high-risk teens.

They offer personal stories from the Center for Court Innovation’s own progressive work, as well as that of local partners, operating in and around Brownsville — infamously known as New York’s “murder capital” — where these strategies have helped young people avoid the violence and trauma that can lead to high rates of arrest and incarceration.

With money bail reform picking up steam across the country — from Philadelphia to NYC, Los Angeles and across the South — and the closure of Rikers, one of the country’s most notorious prisons, “Start Here” is an urgent and timely primer on the approaches that are working and don’t require federal approval or political revolution to end one of the most pressing justice issues the country faces today.

In the opening chapter, Berman and Adler argue that the real work of reducing incarceration will come to bear on the local level. Despite the popular discourse around mass incarceration and the need to reform federal sentencing policy, they note that only about 200,000 people are held in federal prisons compared to more than 2 million people in local jails and state prisons. 

Berman and Adler see this as a boon in the current climate: starting with local reforms requires neither approval from a gridlocked Congress nor a battle against the Trump administration’s tough-on-crime stance. What follows is a hopeful, pragmatic road map outlining some of the most successful reforms urgently in need of adopting, and the states and cities leading the way. 

Ultimately, “Start Here” calls for states and cities to create ambitious goals with real-life, actionable plans to change the day-to-day operations of the justice system. Berman and Adler argue this is a three-fold mission to: 1) orient our system to prevent crime rather than reacting to it 2) treat every defendant and victim with dignity, respect, and empathy and 3) expand the array of sanctions available to judges and prosecutors so they do not default to incarceration because it is the simplest, easiest option.


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