Jack Straw, the United Kingdom’s justice secretary and lord chancellor, experiences a judge’s-eye view of the
courtroom, quizzes staff about operations, and meets with a group of ex-offenders who have gotten their lives back
on track during a visit to the Red Hook Community Justice Center in February 2008.
V. WOLF: The courtroom of the Redhook Community Justice Center is, in many ways, like countless courtrooms.
There’s a gallery for witnesses and litigants waiting to appear before the judge, there are court officers.
There are defense attorneys on one side, prosecutors on another. But then you hear this:
WOLF: That was Judge Alex Calabrese leading the courtroom in a round of applause
for a defendant. Calabrese was congratulating the defendant for doing well in drug treatment, which he’d ordered
her to participate in. Another unusual thing is that Judge Calabrese often isn’t alone at the bench. He often
hosts visitors interested in learning about the justice center. Today, he’s joined by Jack Straw, Great Britain’s
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, who stopped by to see the Red Hook Community Justice Center in
JACK STRAW: I’m looking at how this justice center works
to see whether we could replicate it in England. We’ve already got one, two projects—one of which was prompted
by Red Hook, which is a similar sort of area to Brooklyn—port area, and has its share of problems, and it’s
quite a tough waterfront sort of place.
Straw met with staff, planners, and also had a chance to meet face to face with a group of ex-offenders who explained
how their contact with the justice center changed their lives.
I was a heroin and crack addict and I was in the streets for about eight or nine years.
WOLF: Tina went on to explain that Judge Calabrese ordered her to participate
in drug treatment. Although Tina got sober, eventually she relapsed and, after a series of arrests, asked to be brought
back to the Red Hook Community Justice Center.
I asked to come back to this court as opposed to going to central booking. And so the police had brought me, they
brought me here. And that day he, Judge Calabrese—Judge Calabrese afforded me the opportunity to go back to that
treatment facility, but I would remain there for a year. And I was glad that he said that. I went and I never looked
back, and I stayed in the program for three years because that’s what it took for me. And now I work for that
WOLF: Before he left the Red Hook
Community Justice Center, Straw reflected on what he learned.
I’ve got a sort of sense of the texture of this court. Visits like this help to both give you information about
models that could translate across the Atlantic and indeed to some extent are, but also just get you to see things
about your own system in better perspective, so a couple of days across the Atlantic or just looking at other people’s
systems really can help to clear the mind.
The day after his visit, Straw had an op-ed in the Guardian, noting how Great Britain had opened
a justice center modeled after Red Hook first in North Liverpool, and later 12 other sites across England and Wales.
“We should not be so proud that we are unable to learn lessons from others,” Straw wrote. “In New York
they have recognized that the courts cannot do it alone. Without the cooperation of the community, many offenders
simply repeat the cycle of offending and detention.”
To the justice center’s staff, Straw’s visit was all in a day’s work, according to James Brodick,
director of the Red Hook Community Justice Center.
BRODICK: We host visitors on a weekly basis from all around the country and around the world. And
as you know, Red Hook has been a model for many jurisdictions, both in the U.K. and Canada. So we’ve had a lot
of visitors come through the justice center’s doors.
This is Rob Wolf, director of Communications at the Center for Court Innovation. To learn more about the Red Hook
Community Justice Center or the Center for Court Innovation, visit our web site at www.courtinnovation.org.