On any given day, the Hartford
Community Court sentences 35 to 40 people to perform community restitution as part of
their sentences. Deborah Barrows has helped create the court’s robust community service program by harnessing
relationships developed during her long career, including 28 years with the Hartford Police Department. In this New
Thinking podcast, which was recorded at Community
Justice 2016, Barrows discusses how to build community partnerships, the importance of treating
program participants with respect, and how she helped launch “Footwear with Care,” an initiative that provides
free shoes to participants in need.
BARROWS: You want real community service? Invest in your participants, listen to them, value them. People don’t
want to be there but I thank you for coming. What? Thank you so much for coming. I appreciate you being here.
ROB WOLF: Hi, I’m Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation and I am
in Chicago at Community Justice 2016, where there are over 400 people from dozens of states, 6 countries, I think
over 100 jurisdictions, who are here to learn and talk about different aspects of community justice and court reform.
Right now I’m speaking with one of the invited speakers and also an attendee at the conference, Deborah Barrows,
who is the program manager of Community Partners in Action, which is an organization that’s been contracted
by Hartford Community Court to provide the community service which is an essential component of the Hartford Community
Court and of many community courts. So, Deborah, I wanted to start off asking you maybe you could actually explain
Community Partners in Action? What is your relationship to the court as a community based organization?
BARROWS: Thank you, and thank you so much for this opportunity. It’s exciting to be here. This is wonderful.
I’ve learned so very much. Community Partners in Action as a non-profit agency has been around over 100 years
and we work with individuals that have been involved in a criminal justice system to help them get re-integrated
into the community and doing so, under that umbrella, there are re-entry services. There is a program that deals
with women that have been incarcerated and help get them back into the society. There’s a component of basic
need, so there’s a lot of different programs under that umbrella.
WOLF: Your particular role
there is to work with the court and provide kinds of community restitution or community service projects that defendants
are sentenced to?
BARROWS: That is correct. Once an individual, it has been determined that an
individual will serve community service, that is where we take over and I oversee the community service component.
I have a staff of 7 individuals, 5 of which are in the field as supervisors, and we take our participants out on
a daily basis.
WOLF: Well, so tell me about some of the work you do because you guys put out a
newsletter and the descriptions of the kinds of community service you do, the range of it, the number of different
things that you do is kind of unusual. You’ve really been successful in terms of being creative with your community
service. I know you, in addition to a community garden, you’re involved in some environmental restoration projects
along the river. You work with a Jewish cemetery to help them maintain the cemetery. A lot of interesting things,
so maybe you could explain and give some examples of the kind of community service you’re doing, and maybe offer
some insight into how you’ve developed such a robust program?
BARROWS: I think what I need
to step back at is for 28 years I wore a hat with law enforcement, with the City of Hartford police department, so
I was a police officer operating a police cruiser and I managed to have some supervisory roles. It became very evident
then that we needed to do things differently. We needed to develop partnerships and collaborations with all of the
different entities, all of the different organizations within the community. So, when I was fortunate enough to be
offered this position as program manager of community service, my predecessor was gone so I had no one to really
show me the ropes. So, I reflected back on those partnerships and back on those collaborations, and thought, my goodness,
what a great idea to reach out to those individuals and say, “Hey, remember me. Here I am. I now have individuals
who I want to have become re-energized and re-invested in the community. I still have my police associations, my
clergy and all the different agencies, so let’s develop this collaboration and really do what we can to make
Hartford the beautiful place that we want it to be.” I attend community meetings. I stay involved in the community.
We have neighborhood revitalization zone meetings. In doing so, I’m going to individuals, I’m saying, “Listen.
On any given day I have between 35 and 40 people who are mandated to give back, so let’s really make this work.”
I find myself meeting with individuals, representatives, from the Jewish cemetery who say, “Hey. We need help.”
Absolutely. I find myself meeting with Riverfront Recapture. We have presence along the river. We have presence in
many of Hartford’s beautiful parks.
WOLF: So, what kind of- give some examples of what it
is the defendants are then doing in this scenario?
BARROWS: We are doing at Ebony Horse Women
which is a therapeutic equestrian center. We are working with horses. It’s also an educational component of
course. We’re doing some gardening. We are working along the riverfront and just cleaning the river, getting
it ready for the Dragon Races and cleaning out the trails, doing some gardening there. We have a presence in the
parks. We were just cleaning out the playgrounds and making it beautiful. Of course we have a presence on the streets.
So, just these collaborations and for me, it’s being able to say, “Listen. I don’t have all the answers
and until we come together and have this conversation about how all of us can fit in, how all of us contribute and
value the people that are involved, that’s when we make the real difference.”
Have you had resistance when you approach someone and say, “Oh, I’ve got some defendants here. They can
help.” Are some people, “Well, I don’t know. Is that safe?” I mean, I imagine people in addition
to the union issue, I imagine there’s a whole range of questions or concerns that might come up depending on
the kind of work you’re talking about.
BARROWS: Absolutely it is, and we sit down and work
though that. I think dialogue and communication is key, and letting people know what we bring to the table. We are
here to do this. This is what we’re offering. Ultimately, everyone wants people to get reconnected. This is
part of their community also. They may be offenders. They may be drug dealers. They may be prostitutes but for people
they deserve the right to be valued, to be respected and they are part of our community.
I imagine, as you said, it’s educational in some context. Some of the defendants perhaps have never-
BARROWS: Oh my goodness, yes.
WOLF: Interacted with a horse before, or been aware that
the river is an environmental concern and that it’s polluted or there’s trash along the river and that
it makes a difference to clean it up.
BARROWS: Hartford is such a rich, rich, diverse city in
its history, so each time our participants go out to these sites, there is an individual to sit and talk with them
about the meaningfulness of their work, and validating them as people so when they go up to the riverfront there’s
someone to talk about the river and its connection. When you go to the Jewish cemetery there’s someone to talk
about the richness in the cemetery. It’s one of the oldest, most beautiful cemeteries around. Just getting that
education, a lot of people have not gone anywhere other than their little front door, so they really don’t know.
Being able to do some of these things under this non-profit organization that’s helped people get back into
society is just amazing.
WOLF: It sounds like your experience, formally
as a police officer and at the police department, gives you a unique perspective. I mean, you spoke of the relationships
that you’d already had in the community and the ideas that you’d already developed in your career as a
police officer. I imagine that gives you a different kind of stature or credibility. When you’re approaching
people they feel, well she’s not putting us in danger. I mean, she’s someone who’s very knowledgeable
about the law and justice, and accountability.
BARROWS: As a police officer or as an in any field,
you’re only as good as your listening. If you’re an active listener and you can really tune into what people’s
needs are and what the community’s needs are, then that can just enhance you in your role in whatever it is
that you want to do. Being a police officer, I was not the one who had all the answers. I was the one that was generally
able to listen. I was looking at intervention and prevention years before it was taught, because I knew that we had
arrested everyone. It just didn’t work. I would sit in my cruiser on the corner and I would have made an arrest
of someone, and by the time I’m sitting here doing my paper the person would come by, “Hey, Officer Brown.”
I’m like whoa. To me, I wasn’t finished with my paper.
they were already released from –
BARROWS: Yes, they were already released. It was not working.
There was something else. The individuals that were standing on the corner. The answer was not to arrest them. Why
are they standing on the corner? What can we do? Do I need to collaborate with employment agencies? Is it a mental
health issue? Who do I need to collaborate with? I took those things and I’m doing the same thing as a program
manager overseeing community service. The individuals that work under me- I’m no nonsense. I believe in treating
people the way that they deserve to be treated because that’s when you really get your value, you get your work.
Community service is only as good as the individuals that are involved in it, so if you don’t engage and invest
them in the work, you’re not getting anything. You want real community service? Invest in your participants,
listen to them, value them. People don’t want to be there but I thank them. Thank you for coming. What? Thank
you so much for coming. I appreciate you being here. This is going to be a great experience. People are coming in
that are homeless. If you look down and someone needs some shoes, offer them a pair of shoes. You see someone has
tattered clothing, offer them some clothing. Take them aside, treat them with dignity and respect. Someone comes
to the window and says they’re hungry, okay I understand the importance of community service but you have a
food pantry. It’s okay to go get them a cup of coffee, a little bit of water and something to eat. Let them
know that you care about them as a person and you value them as a person. That’s what Community Partners in
Action does so very well.
WOLF: I know you started something related to a program specifically
about footwear because many clients don’t have adequate shoes. Maybe you wanted to share a little bit about
that program as well?
BARROWS: It’s funny. I talk about it and the tears flow down my eyes
because I think about where it started. Individuals come in and they don’t have adequate footwear. We want to
hold them accountable. We want them to perform community service but we’ve got to address their needs. Their
needs have got to be addressed. If it’s sub-zero degree weather, they can’t go out without a coat. They
can’t go out without adequate footwear. So, we had a small contingent of shoes and footwear there. In trying
to look at better ways, we’re always looking at how to cultivate relationships, how to do things better. An
individual, there is a police officer that is housed at city hall and he works with individuals- the shelters release
everybody early in the morning and the individuals, they meander around all day long. There is an individual who
works for another organization who works with people released from the shelter and he goes under the bridges and
tries to get people from living under the bridges to come and get the services they need. So, somehow we all talk,
and we all communicate. I’m thinking small and that’s another thing. Whatever your vision and your dreams
are don’t think small, think big because big becomes reality. I’m thinking small. I’m saying, you
know what? I can use a few pair of shoes. I can use a resource card that people can wear where they can get a hot
meal, a shower. So, I happen to talk with the officer. I happen to talk with the other individual. We convene a meeting.
I call the chief of police who’s a friend of mine. Chief Rovella, why don’t you come in for a minute. Let’s
talk about this footwear thing and thus, we have a couple of volunteers that came in and now we have something called
Footwear with Care. Started last week where the Hartford Police Department provided two cruisers, two officers, one
of them the city hall officer, and the individual who owns a sneaker store in West Hartford. She was able to secure
donations from several different vendors, The Northface, Sockanese, New Balance, and all of these sneakers were stuffed
into these police cars. In addition, a second piece of it was utilizing the media. For this particular day, people
were allowed to come down, you take a picture of the cruiser, you take a picture with the officer, but bring a pair
of gently worn sneakers. Clothing is always available. Footwear is not. So, we have another hundred and something
pairs of sneakers that were donated. People that came by that didn’t bring sneakers wanted to make donations,
so it’s that collaboration. It’s the police. It’s the shelters. It’s the hospital, the podiatrists.
It’s just great. It’s the churches.
WOLF: It’s amazing what you can do when you
bring a few-
BARROWS: It is amazing.
WOLF: Caring people together to focus,
concentrate on a problem or issue and the solutions you come up with.
BARROWS: It’s amazing
the number of individuals who want to make a difference. There are a lot of people out there who we don’t tap
into their energy who want to make a difference, that want to do something and are just waiting on being asked.
WOLF: Well, sounds like there’s some good advice there for anyone who wants to replicate what you’re
doing. Think big. Don’t have small dreams.
BARROWS: Don’t have small dreams.
WOLF: Go out and ask people who maybe want to help.
care. We had a situation a few weeks back where an individual came in. He was in a shelter. He had ended up going
and using the bathroom at a private facility and ended up getting arrested. He came to court and he was nodding.
He was obviously under the influence of something and he’s nodding back and forth. I’m at the window at
that particular time and I’m talking to him, and I’m talking to him. “Well, I got this ticket, and
this and that.” I validated his feelings. “I hear that you should have not gotten a ticket. However, you
were someplace where you should not have been.” “Well, you know, nobody cares. I have this problem. I’m
using 10 bags a day.” I said, “We have services here. There’s some resources here.” I said, “They’re
immediate.” I said, “I have a social worker here. I have individuals here that will talk to you. I could
get you some help. If you want a bed, they will get you a bed immediately.” We’re talking and of course
they’re crying and they’re nodding, and you know, we talked for about 20, 25 minutes and then they leave.
Came back 2 weeks later. “Where’s Ms. B?” So, they come and get me. How you doing Sir? How are you?
“Well, I’m not too good. I OD’d.” I said, “What do you mean?” “They had to give me
Narcan. I almost died.” So, I said, “Well tell me about that. Let’s go get some coffee. Let’s
talk about that.” At that point I’m not a social worker, but I don’t have time to go grab the social
worker because I have this conversation. I have this dialogue.
WOLF: That’s the listening
you were talking about?
BARROWS: Yes, yes. The immediate thing is of course, go get the social-
but I can’t. I have him right now. “Well, tell me about that experience?” “Well, you know, they
tell me they had to resuscitate me and you know … ” I let him talk and he went on, and, “I’m ready.
I know I need to get some help but I can’t go today. I just can’t go today.” “Tell me more.”
BARROWS: Talk for another 15 minutes. Left. Came back
a week later, “Where’s Ms. B?” Thank goodness I was there. “I’m ready now. I’m ready
now.” It was just wonderful.
WOLF: Well, that is remarkable.
To make a difference.
WOLF: There’s a lot in that story.
something so small, just listening.
WOLF: Being patient, and letting people on their own schedule
in this instance.
BARROWS: Each one of us can make a difference. Each one of us can save a life
and there are lives to be saved. I don’t have all the answers.
WOLF: Well thank you very
much for taking the time to share your experience.
BARROWS: Thank you.
I’ve been speaking with Deborah Barrows, the program manager of Community Partners in Action, which provides
the community service component at the Hartford, Connecticut Community Court and we’ve been chatting together
at Community Justice 2016, the international summit on community justice here in Chicago. (music) I’m Rob Wolf,
director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. You can find out more about the conference. You can
find out more about Hartford Community Court. We’ll also provide a link to Community Partners in Action on our
website, and thank you very much for listening.