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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Symposium on tested, creative justice reform aims to maintain local momentum

Most communities would jump at a chance to reduce crime while keeping more people out of jail. Julian Adler is coming to Spokane to show them how it’s done.

Adler is one of two keynote speakers at Spokane’s upcoming Smart Justice Spokane Community Symposium on Nov. 15 at the Gonzaga University School of Law. The symposium, organized by a coalition of local advocacy and community groups, will bring people together to talk about addressing root causes of crime and continuing to implement reforms in law enforcement.

It’s a process Adler knows well. He directs the Red Hook Community Justice Center in south Brooklyn, New York, which combines court activities with social services and programs to take a neighborhood approach to solving crime.

“The goal is to promote alternatives to incarceration,” Adler explained.

Red Hook combines a criminal, family and civil court under a single judge, allowing people to resolve multiple issues in one place. That judge can hear misdemeanor cases, landlord-tenant disputes and juvenile delinquency cases from three police precincts with a total of about 230,000 residents, many of whom live in the Red Hook public housing project.

Social workers at the center connect people to services like drug treatment or mental health evaluation immediately after they’re arrested. By the time they see a judge the next day, many people already have a treatment plan in place, and only 1 percent are sentenced to jail at arraignment.

When Red Hook opened its doors in 2000, only 12 percent of residents had a favorable view of the court system. Crime and recidivism were high, and the area had a bad reputation.

“It was considered a place that most people didn’t want to be,” Adler said.

Last year, an independent study by the National Center for State Courts found Red Hook reduced jail sentences by more than one-third. Crime in the area was down, and adults were 10 percent less likely to reoffend in Red Hook than in surrounding areas.

It’s a success story organizers want the Spokane community to know about.

“We were trying to find people who are doing things that are innovative, but also very effective, and that might provide some inspiration to the attendees,” said Rick Eichstaedt, the director of the Center for Justice, which helped organize the symposium.

Adler’s talk will focus on several themes for smart justice that he says apply in every community: creating procedures that are transparent and treat people fairly, using data to guide effective and unbiased policy, and reducing incarceration.

The symposium also features a talk by Jennifer Kim, a policy director for the Oakland, California-based Ella Baker Center, a human rights organization that advocates investing in education, jobs and other community solutions instead of incarceration.

Following Kim and Adler, participants can choose from a slate of workshops on topics like contacting elected officials, treating mental health issues outside of jail, and addressing root causes of misdemeanor crime.

Eichstaedt said Spokane has made a lot of progress in justice system reform over the past few years. The symposium is a way to keep that conversation going

“The goal is to really continue the momentum … and to share information with community members” who may be less involved in reform groups like the Regional Law and Justice Council, he said.

The symposium is free and open to the public, though preregistration is encouraged to make sure there are enough meals. More information and a schedule is available on the Smart Justice website – smartjusticewashington.org.

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