Red Hook Justice Center is Lauded as a ‘Laboratory of Reform’

Pauline Nevins, an honoree and former client of the Red Hook Community Justice Center, shares a moment with Judge Alex Calabrese. "If I had not come to Red Hook, I would still be on the other side—I would still be using drugs right now, or possibly dead," Nevins said.Pauline Nevins, an honoree and former client of the Red Hook Community Justice Center, shares a moment with Judge Alex Calabrese. "If I had not come to Red Hook, I would still be on the other side—I would still be using drugs right now, or possibly dead," Nevins said.

Red Hook Justice Center Lauded as ‘Laboratory of Reform’

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said he wants to "make sure every neighborhood in Brooklyn benefits from the Red Hook model."Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said he wants to "make sure every neighborhood in Brooklyn benefits from the Red Hook model."BROOKLYN, N.Y., Oct. 26, 2015—More than two hundred people gathered at the Brooklyn Museum to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Red Hook Community Justice Center.

Three people were honored at the event: New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman; Stuart W. Gold, a partner with Cravath, Swaine & Moore; and Pauline Nevins, a former client.

Featured speakers included Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, Judge Alex Calabrese, and Errol Louis of NY1 and the New York Daily News.

New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, NY1 reporter Errol Louis, Center for Court Innovation Director Greg Berman and honoree Stuart W. Gold.New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, NY1 reporter Errol Louis, Center for Court Innovation Director Greg Berman and honoree Stuart W. Gold.

Lippman praised the Justice Center for spearheading dramatic changes in the way criminal cases are handled. He noted, in particular, that the Justice Center had reduced the use of incarceration for misdemeanor offenders: “The old saying goes that when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Well, for too long, we treated jail as the primary tool in our box. But there is a tremendous cost to imprisoning someone, in more than dollars spent. You’re tearing someone away from their job, their family, and the community.”

Lippman called the Justice Center a “laboratory of reform,” noting that by “setting conditions of release for low-risk defendants, keeping them out of Rikers and connected to meaningful services,” Red Hook had offered citywide policymakers “a proof-of-concept” for bail reform

Nevins talked about her decade-long struggle with addiction. “I thought I would never get clean, that this was my life and one day I would die,” she said. But when Judge Calabrese sentenced her to drug treatment, “I had an epiphany. I realized that change was possible and that yes, I can get clean. If I had been in any other court, I never would have had the chance to reach that epiphany, because they would have given up on me long before that.”

Nevins has been sober two years and is pursuing a license in substance abuse counseling. “In fact, I emailed Judge Calabrese the other day to tell him I had just filled out three clients’ court reports and how good it felt to be sitting on this side of the table. If I had not come to Red Hook, I would still be on the other side—I would still be using drugs right now, or possibly dead,” she said.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said, “I’m determined … to make sure every neighborhood in Brooklyn benefits from the Red Hook model.” Citing his support for a community court in Brownsville, he added, “When we have a court like we have in Red Hook that treats everyone who walks in the door with dignity and respect, that seeks to reduce mass incarceration, and that seeks to prevent crime by investing in our youth, then that is a community court that anyone in our community—in Brownsville or anywhere else in Brooklyn—can look at and know that justice belongs to them.”

The celebration was hosted by the Center for Court Innovation and the Brooklyn Bar Association. A new video about the Justice Center, ‘They Treated Me Like a Person,’ premiered at the celebration.

Video: Remarks of Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson discusses the importance of restoring public trust and confidence in the justice system in his remarks at the 15th anniversary celebration of the Red Hook Community Justice Center.

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