Reflections from the Centre for Court Innovation

In view of the current discussion about reducing the age for recognising domestic abuse to 16, or even lower, I thought that this email from Greg Berman at the Centre for Court Innovation was interesting and relevant, as we are likely to be finding more perpetrators of domestic abuse who are also under 18.  This example relates to drug offences, but perhaps some of the same considerations need to be taken into account for domestic abuse.

Dear Friends:
At his annual state of the judiciary address, New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman unveiled a plan to re-engineer how the court system handles 16- and 17-year-old youths charged with minor offenses.Judge Lippman called for a hybrid approach to these cases that would combine the advantages of Family Court with the due process protections of Criminal Court. “This approach puts first and foremost an emphasis on rehabilitation for adolescents, rather than incarceration,” Judge Lippman said. “The present punitive approach turns children into hardened criminals and must be changed.”

To demonstrate the kind of change Judge Lippman hopes to achieve statewide, the court system has created pilot adolescent diversion courts in nine counties, including all five boroughs of New York City.

Working alongside Judge Judy Harris Kluger, the Center for Court Innovation is helping to support and evaluate this initiative. In New York City, the pilot programs build on a foundation established by the Center’s community courts and youth justice projects. For example, in Brooklyn, services for 16- and 17-year-olds are being coordinated by the Red Hook Community Justice Center.

James is a typical case. A 16-year-old arrested in Brooklyn on a misdemeanor charge of drug possession, James spent much of his youth in foster care and had a history of truancy and poor performance in school.

With the consent of his attorney and family, James was referred from the downtown criminal court to the Red Hook Community Justice Center, where clinical staff conducted a screening and recommended individual counseling, a comprehensive mental health assessment, and drug testing. The Brooklyn DA’s Office agreed to dismiss the case provided that James completed the services as ordered by the court. If all goes according to plan, James will not only receive the help that he needs, he will also leave court without a criminal record—a fact that could be crucial to his future prospects.

There are no guarantees in life, of course. James’ future is uncertain, as is the future of thousands of other 16- and 17-year-old New Yorkers who find themselves arrested for low-level offenses. But the new adolescent diversion program offers these teens a chance, along with the structure and support they need to succeed. I’ll keep you posted as we learn more.


Greg BermanGreg Berman

5 Comments to “Reflections from the Centre for Court Innovation”

  1. This is an issue for Sheffield at the moment. We have had a couple of cases, both high risk, where it is a young person under 18 who is the perpetrator of violence to their mother but they cannot be referred to MARAC and realistically are not seen as a top priority by Social Services as the risk of serious harm is to an adult. How are other areas dealing with this issue?

    • I brought this up at a recent meeting with CAADA and other Leading Light service managers. The unanimous answer was to refer to Marac, which is what we have done in Cumbria. I have some concerns about young men being labelled as perpetrators when they are only children themselves, our case was 14 or 15years old, but the risk was very high. With the right people sat around the table at Marac (Youth Offending Team, Connexions, Youth services etc.) this could be guarded against. Other interventions or a strategy meeting could take place outside Marac to look in detail at the support measures for the young person as well. There is also the option of a safeguarding referral to Adult Social Care depending upon the specific issues of the case.

  2. I am very interested in the outcomes of this approach. It would indeed, be useful for under-age perpetrators of abuse. It may be particularly relevant for mothers whose son’s are abusive toward them, as the possibility of appropriate interventions being available could help to secure positive outcome for many families.

  3. I am interested in this approach too – when we trained Family Intervention Project workers at CAADA we talked about working with young people who are being abusive to parents and how we challenge and support them at the same time. We trained that we need to see young people ‘in the round’ rather then labelling them as just ‘victim’ or ‘perpetrator’. As a youth worker I saw many young people who had lived with violence as a child and were also being violent. I am interested in what Camila Batmanghelidjh said in a documentary about domestic violence and the impact on children – she said that “children dont come out of the cot violent” In Devon we have a programme called Linx which is aimed at these young people which is a great start but something i often hear when i am involved in multi agency training is ‘what are we doing in schools about healthy relationships?’ – my response sadly depends on where i am in the country and it feels like this is too important to leave to geography.

  4. I think this is a hugely important area for debate. I find it troubling that we recognise why a child might show agressive or abusive behaviours, but as soon as that child is in their late teens there is a tendency to label them as a perpetrator & expect a change without considering the resources that yp has to modify their behaviour. Its important to support responsibility taking but that has to come with support to address the underlying issues. From working with young victims of domestic abuse & in the Probation service, my observation is that not seeing the whole person can lead to them feeling alienated, defensive & ultimately entrenched in feeling that they are the victim & justified in their actions. I think we need to improve work in schools and also our understanding of resiliance factors.

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