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Gary Younge
US community court cutting crime

In the end it was Patrick Daly's murder that did it. With its history of drug-related crime, robberies, murders and prostitution, the Red Hook area had long been the talk, if not the target, of urban renewal.

But when Mr Daly, an elementary school headmaster, was shot down in a drug-related gunfight more than ten years ago, after going in search a child who had left his school in tears, it was time to act.

Rudolph Giuliani was elected mayor of New York and his policy of zero tolerance began to get criminals arrested. But as the huge rise in police numbers was not matched by a similar increase in resources within the criminal justice system or in community support programmes, the underlying causes were never tackled. Those arrested were soon out of the system and back on the streets.

"There was no consequence to crime, because you had people pleading guilty and leaving court with no sanction whatsoever," says Greg Brennan, director of the centre for court innovation, a New-York-based think tank.

"That sends the message to offenders and citizens that the justice system is just a set of revolving doors."

Three years ago the centre for innovation set up the Red Hook community centre, a criminal court and justice facility.

What was an abandoned school is now home to an award-winning project, which attempts not just to pass verdict on the crime but to map out a holistic solution to prevent the criminal reoffending.

Where there was rough justice, now there is tough love.

The aim at the centre is threefold. First, to confront not just the crime but the criminal and his environment. Since three quarters of the criminal cases in the borough are related to drugs, defendants are often ordered into treatment and given counselling. There are also job placement programmes, mental health counsellors, family mediation services and domestic violence counselling.

The second aim is to deal with the petty crimes, like graffiti, street dealing, prostitution and domestic violence that often lead to more serious offences.

And third, to put all the services in one place so that the defendant is not pushed from pillar to post, through a bureaucratic maze in search of either justice or restitution.

"If you get to the addiction, as we try to do here, it's better for the defendant, for the community and the court," says Alex Calabrese, Red Hook's only judge.

When Calabrese worked in traditional courts, he said, "any of the cases were frustrating, because you knew the answer was not jail or release, but drug treatment that would stop the constant recidivism. I would send someone to jail with the belief that this person would be coming back because we had not got to the underlying problem."

The proof of its success is in the statistics. The year Daly was killed there were seven murders, 22 rapes, 490 robberies and 359 assaults in the 76th precinct, which includes Red Hook. Last year there was one murder, six rapes, 61 robberies and 46 assaults.

Changes being put forward
Police reform

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