Monthly Archives: April 2014

After 5 Years, the San Francisco Community Justice Center Continues to Adapt

Judge Braden C. Woods of the San Francisco Community Justice Center discusses the practical implications
of expanding the court’s caseload to include low-level felonies, and he reflects on his first year on the job. (April


JUDGE BRADEN WOODS: This is a great assignment
because every day I’m enthusiastic about going to work and trying to help somebody get out of the system instead
of just recycling themselves at the hall of justice and at our county jail.

I’m Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation, and I am in San Francisco today
at Community Justice 2014. I am lucky to be speaking right now with Braden C. Woods, who is the presiding judge of
the San Francisco Community Justice Center.

JUDGE WOODS: Thank you for having me, it’s great
to be here, great to be at the Summit.

WOLF: I thought it would be interesting to talk to you
about both the five year evolution of the San Francisco Community Justice Center and also your more recent experience—you’ve
been the presiding judge for the last year. Let’s talk about how the San Francisco Community Justice Center
has evolved from a court that initially accepted just misdemeanors, to one that now is dealing with low level felonies.
Why the change and what does it mean?

JUDGE WOODS: We’ve learned, stolen from other programs
that are doing a great job, and we felt comfortable enough after doing just misdemeanor cases for approximately two
and a half, almost three years, that we could expand the program when there are so many other people who are catching
felony cases, low level felony cases, that need the same support, services, that we’ve been giving the folks
on misdemeanors. And our program was established with our partners from the Department of Public Health. They gave
us more resources to expand the program, more case management resources, and with that added help, we were able to
start taking on more cases, more serious cases of folks who are now committing felonies.

And what kinds of felonies?

JUDGE WOODS: So we take pretty much all low level felonies here in
California—that would be car break-ins, commercial burglaries, car theft, all drug cases, low level drug cases, mostly
folks who are selling their own legal prescription to get money to buy other drugs, multiple priors can make a theft
case a felony, so we’ll take them into our program.

WOLF: And are you applying the same strategies
and tools, and principles of punishment and help, and having people do community service while also linking them
to services? Or are there additional features or strategies that come with working with low level felony offenders?

JUDGE WOODS: Same strategies on its most basic level. We’re dealing with a harder population. Some
of these folks have mental health issues, even more long-term drug addiction issues, so the program is the same,
but folks are in the program much longer than on some of the misdemeanor cases. We don’t transition them to
our community service portion until we’re really on solid footing in terms of their drug or alcohol addiction,
abuse issues. So the programming in terms of classes and meetings is much longer before we feel confident and comfortable
to then transition them to the prosocial community support, community give back portion of it.

And someone asked a question when you were on a panel this morning about—when you were on the panel that focused
on the next generation of community courts. And someone asked, how did you work with the community to prepare them
for the fact that you’re going from misdemeanors, that maybe people felt less threatened by, or less concerned
about how they were treated, or could be enthusiastic about giving them services, and maybe some people were less
enthusiastic about offering the help to people who had committed more serious crimes.

Communication is the key and so we did give the community a heads up that we were going to maybe go down this path,
and we sought their input. Some folks were like no, forget about it, felons have to go to jail. But a lot of folks
were on board, wanted to give it a try because those are the felons, these low level felony folks, who are hurting
themselves and hurting community, and not individuals. And they were open to the idea of getting these people into
services to help break the cycle. So based upon the charges that we were gonna do, and handle, a lot of folks were
enthusiastic about it because those are the people—some of these lower level felony people, who were affecting the
community directly, and who they were seeing on a daily basis, or maybe a weekly basis. They see the police arrest
them, the person would come back a week later and they’d go to their police captain, or go to the district attorney’s
office and go, what happened? The person plead guilty, he accepted responsibility. He’s on probation and he
did his time. And they’re like, well he’s doing the same thing. And so by shifting them to our community
justice center and getting them into treatment and services, we’re trying to break that cycle. And so when community
members see the person and they’re not up to no good, they’re anecdotally like oh, it’s working, as
opposed to just the recycle of jail, out, jail, out.

WOLF: And so let’s talk about your evolution
as a jurist. What was it like for you beginning to reside over this court? What have you learned over this past year?

JUDGE WOODS: It’s been a great year. I’ve actually been a judge just for a year, also. This was
my first assignment as a judge and we sometimes rotate every year to new assignment, and when the presiding judge
asked if I wanted to stay, enthusiastically I was like, very much so. I have unfinished business, as they say. But
I was a local prosecutor here, in San Francisco, I live here in the city. I’ve lived here for 15 years and I
got to see the difference between hard core criminals who are hurting other people, and low level criminals who are
hurting themselves, and see sort of the spectrum. And this is a great assignment because every day I’m enthusiastic
about going to work and trying to help somebody get out of the system instead of just recycling themselves at the
hall of justice and at our county jail. So the evolution, for me, has been a good one to see it from a different
perspective, and I hope to continue to expand our current program, as well as some other programs here in San Francisco.

WOLF: And what do you think are the biggest challenges to evolving the criminal justice system so that it
incorporates evidence-based strategies, procedural justice, these things that we know work, but perhaps the system,
for lack of funds or lack of training, or just habit, is maybe slow to incorporate?

The biggest challenge is trying to get everybody to the table. We’re slowly but surely getting there in San
Francisco. We’re sort of there in terms of district attorney, public defender, the police chief, the mayor’s
office, which funds, obviously, a lot of the programs that we use here in San Francisco and the non-profits Trying
to just get everybody in the same boat and rowing in the same direction. So we’re good with that. The biggest
challenge I see with us, I think it’s nationwide, is dual-diagnosis, the mental health issue. We’ve spent
a lot of money and time and best practices trying to figure out drug and alcohol issues in programming and best practices,
and we do a good job of that, but trying to find this other niche, folks with mental health issues, as well as drug
and alcohol, is something that I find to be a challenge, just in terms of finding programs, and enough beds, and
enough people who have training in both. One size does not fit all when it comes to mental health and drug and alcohol
issues. So that’s where the challenge of melding those two and working together.

WOLF: What
do you think is going to happen if and when you move on to a different role as a judge? Are you going to take some
of these strategies or things that you’ve learned with you into new settings? And what if it’s a setting
that isn’t—if it’s not a community justice center that doesn’t immediately have the tools to assess,
or to link to services, or send someone to community service? What would you do?

No offense to them, I’d educate some of my other public judges at the hall of justice, in terms of you can get more
bang for your buck with a huge segment of population that does come through the hall of justice into the criminal
system. So just exposing them to what I’ve been doing for the past year, it’ll be at least two years before
I see them again, and some of the other judges who have come before me, have run the community justice center, and
just giving our knowledge to our other brethren who have only been at the hall of justice, or only been at the civic
courthouse, and just let them know that there are alternatives and better ways of doing things. Even though I’m one
of the junior members on the bench, I think I can educate some of my brothers and sisters on the bench.

WOLF: Judge Woods, thank you so much. I really appreciate your sharing your insights and your experience
with me. It’s been very interesting.

JUDGE WOODS: Rob, thank you very much. I really appreciate

WOLF: I’ve been speaking with Braden C. Woods, who is the presiding judge of the San
Francisco Community Justice Center, and we are both here today at Community Justice 2014, it’s being held, actually,
at the office of the California Courts, here in San Francisco. I’m Rob Wolf, director of communications at the
Center for Court Innovation. To find out more about the Center for Court Innovation, visit our website at
You can also listen to our podcasts there, and you can also find us on iTunes. Thanks for listening.

Evidence-based Practices, Reducing Unnecessary Incarceration are Priorities for Bureau of Justice Assistance

Denise O’Donnell, director of the Bureau
of Justice Assistance
, discusses the Bureau’s strategic mission and holistic approach to justice reform.
She also outlines the Bureau’s new suite of Smart on Crime programs.

Denise O’Donnell, director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, delivers the keynote address at the opening
        of Community Justice 2014.Denise
O’Donnell, director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, delivers the keynote address at the opening of Community
Justice 2014.



DENISE O’DONNELL: We see reducing recidivism and
reducing unnecessary confinement as going hand in hand with making our communities safer.

V. WOLF: Hi, this is Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. I am here today in
San Francisco at Community Justice 2014, and our national summit focusing on community justice, and I am very pleased
to welcome Denise O’Donnell, who is the director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, part of the Department
of Justice, who gave a keynote address here this morning at the opening of the conference. Welcome to the New Thinking

O’DONNELL: Well it’s great to be here, Rob, and it’s great to be at this conference.
The room is electrified. There’s so many innovators in the room, judges who’ve been working and championing
community justice programs and community courts, district attorneys, prosecutors, service providers, and representatives
from 10 countries who are really focusing on community justice, so it’s a great summit. 

WOLF: Well, in your opening remarks, you laid out what the Bureau of Justice Assistance has been most recently
interested in, and I heard you describe sort of an evolution in the Bureau’s thinking, and what you’re
focusing on. I thought maybe you could share some of that now with our listeners. 

O’DONNELL: Well thank you. you know, BJA adopted a new strategic plan last year that I think does refocus
our mission more holistically on justice systems reform and our mission overall is to reduce crime recidivism and
unnecessary confinement, and support a safe and just criminal justice system. And that’s changed and evolved
over the years, where we see reducing recidivism and reducing unnecessary confinement as going hand in hand with
making our community safer. And so we’ve taken an approach that really looks at the research that we have, amassing
the data that we have available in the criminal justice system, and forging creative and innovative solutions that
make our community safer.

WOLF: You have a whole suite of new initiative, pre-trial is one of
the focuses, and calling the initiatives smart prosecution, smart pre-trial. So maybe you could explain a little
bit about what those are, and a little bit about your interest in tackling pre-trial issues.

Sure. Well, we have created a smart on crime suite of programs, and a few years ago, BGA started an initiative called
the smart policing initiative to really pair police departments with criminal justice researchers to develop new
strategies for fighting crime that are based on research and evaluations, and produce outcomes. And that has been
enormously successful. Police departments focus on a whole gamut of issues, everything from violence reduction to
procedural justice programs, and we are really seeing some of the outcomes, so we feel that it’s growing the
evidence, it’s growing willingness on the part of police departments to innovate. And so given this holistic
approach that BGA has taken, to look at just assistance reform, we decided to expand the smart policing initiative
into a suite of programs. So we now have, for the first time this year, a smart pre-trial program, we have a smart
prosecution program, that was actually supported in the budget this year by Congress, and we have a smart supervision
for probation and parole program. We originally also had a program aimed at indigent defense, called answering Gideon’s
call, and next year we’re going to turn that into a smart defense program. So we’ll have covered the whole
gamut of the criminal justice system, and they have some features in common. First of all, they’re data driven,
so we really look at the data to see what are the drivers in the criminal justice system in all of those areas. Secondly,
they all require a practitioner research partnership, both to help analyze the data but also to evaluate the outcomes
of the program, and third they do require an investment in evidence-based, or at least promising strategies, so that
we can grow the evidence about what works in the system. I think pre-trial is such an important area for everyone
to consider nationwide. 60 percent of the people in our jails, many of which are overcrowded in the country, are
there before trial, and before they’ve been adjudicated guilty. And I think that’s a number that astounds
a lot of stakeholders in the criminal justice system, and certainly the public.

WOLF: We’re
talking about jails as opposed to prisons, so the local facilities.

O’DONNELL: Right, we’re
talking about the local jail. We know that our current system doesn’t work. So high risk, even dangerous offenders,
can get out on bail, and many low level, non-violent offenders stay in jail pre-trial, at great cost and expense,
and certainly not getting any programming or any services that would be of value to them. So this year, through our
smart pre-trial initiative, we’re actually funding pilot programs to take a comprehensive look at their pre-trial
program. Again, using data from looking at researchers who are researching now about what works in the pretrial area.
There are risk assessments, instruments that have been developed and validated in many jurisdictions so that we can
be smarter about the decisions about who should be detained before trial, and certainly some individuals should be,
for community safety, and who should not be. And certainly rectifying any situation where people stay in jail simply
because they can’t afford to post a low level bail for a minor offense.

WOLF: And there are
a lot of negative collateral consequences to being held in jail pre-trial, aren’t there? Especially for people
who are only there because they can’t make bail.

O’DONNELL: It’s true. The Arnold Foundation
has recently published a research study that I think has caught a lot of attention in the criminal justice community,
which indicates that it’s more likely individuals who are detained and will be sentenced to longer periods of
incarceration, even for similarly situated people, depending on their particular individual dangerousness to the
community, and more likely to recidivate, which is also another dimension that we really haven’t looked at before.
And so we can really be making people worse – low risk offenders – by actually keeping them detained on a pre-trial
basis. So there’s a lot of good reasons, I think, for community safety to examine our pre-trial programs nationwide.

WOLF: Let’s talk a little bit about community courts, which is a significant focus of the summit here
in San Francisco. How do you see community courts fitting into the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s goals as you
described them, to reduce recidivism and reduce unnecessary incarceration. Do they fit in here?

I think they are a wonderful innovation and it’s really gratifying to see how the concept has taken off, because
we have a number of mentor community courts represented here, at the summit, and the jurisdictions that they have
worked with, who have started other community courts as a result. It’s also interesting that the first community
courts in Midtown Manhattan, and then in Redhook, that the Center for Court Innovation obviously was instrumental
in starting, are really focused at low level and quality of life offenders, and it’s been fascinating to see
how the concept has grown, and that jurisdictions essentially kind of mold the concept to fit their unique circumstances.
So some of the courts that we’ve heard from, now are focusing on non-violent felony offenses because they think
that there is a lot of opportunities to intervene with low level and non-violent felony offenders, rather than go
through the entire incarceration and adjudication process, and also the fact that it’s so much more productive
in terms of individuals who are addicted, individuals who have other kinds of mental health needs, and so many opportunities
that can be achieved through a community court, that the focus on the community engagement and how the community
is invested in what goes on in their community courts is also so important. And then there’s really exciting
new research and evaluations that show the contribution that community courts make in the whole area of procedural
justice and fairness, and while maybe that wasn’t the original concept behind community courts, it certainly
has been part of the DNA that community judges are very engaged with the community, they interact with the people
before them, many times look at their entire family circumstances, so it’s understandable that the evaluation
is showing that people that go through the community court experience are more likely to succeed, have lower recidivism,
and are more engaged in the outcome of the system.

WOLF: Well, I thank you so much for taking
time to talk with me. I’ve been talking with Denise O’Donnell, who is the director of the Bureau of Justice
Assistance at the Department of Justice, and we are at the Community Justice Summit 2014 in San Francisco. I’m
Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. To learn more about community justice, visit, and you can listen to our podcast there and on iTunes. Thanks for listening.


Teenagers Learn about the Law as They Grapple with Cases of Bias & Bullying

The Stopping
Hate and Delinquency by Empowering Students (SHADES) program
is a teen court focusing on bullying and bias
incidents. The program is run as a partnership of the Los Angeles Superior Court, Department of Probation, and the
Museum of Tolerance. In this episode of New Thinking, David S. Wesley, presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior
Court, and Camilo Cruz, director of community relations for the Los Angeles Superior Court, discuss the growth of
the city’s teen court program and unique features of the SHADES program.

David S. WesleyDavid
S. Wesley
Camilo CruzCamilo Cruz