Engaging Judges in Criminal Justice Reform

By JSP Team

The Honorable Ron Reinstein, Arizona Supreme Court (Retired) and member of the JSP’s Board of Directors moderated a panel entitled A Dialogue with Judges: Engaging the Judiciary in the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) at a recent SJC Network Meeting in San Diego, CA on May 8, 2019. Judge Reinstein was joined by participants from three SJC sites, including the Honorable Cheryl Albrecht, Multnomah County Chief Criminal Court, Honorable Bobby Carter, Shelby County Criminal Court, and Honorable Timothy C. Kuhlman, Toledo Municipal Court.

Judges play a key role in system change. They act as conveners; support effective pretrial by using assessment tools in decision making; contribute to effective jail use by managing case processing timelines; and support the use of evidence-based community supervision.

During this panel session, the participants discussed their role in policy and practice changes, and things to consider when approaching and engaging judges. The judges described the role they play in the SJC initiative and why they got involved, what the most important piece of the SJC work is in their jurisdiction and why it was important to them. They finally explained how people can best approach and communicate with their judges to encourage their engagement in the SJC.

Judge Kuhlman expressed that, as a judge, he can be very effective in getting partners to the table for discussions, while maintaining impartiality. He explained that he has used that leverage to convene discussions around reducing the jail population in response to significant budget deficits. Judge Kuhlman also discussed how critical it has been to monitor and regularly report on case processing and jail utilization data, stating that working together with partners to manage these resources ensures transparency and accountability.

Judge Albrecht articulated commitment to supporting the work of reducing the jail population and engaging and participating in related conversations. She talked about the importance of examining goals, tracking progress, and learning from other jurisdictions. She also stressed that the judiciary’s independence supports their role as stewards of public resources. Judge Albrecht discussed how participating in a robust public safety coordinating council, educating the court regarding assessments, and creating bench guides for judges have helped to overcome some challenges around collaboration and implementing research-based practices. The Multnomah County judiciary has led a series of community listening sessions, and Judge Albrecht described how and why those chose to do this, as well as the outcomes, which included building trust and making them better judges.

Judge Carter described that his constituents understand that the judicial process should be focused on making smart, efficient and fair decisions. He discussed how the true meaning of setting bond has lost its purpose and stressed it is important to make decisions on release or detention for the correct reasons. Judge Carter noted how showcasing successful practices, such as an effective case management system, can influence and create more buy-in with the judiciary.

During the question and answer period, participants heard that a jurisdiction’s jail reduction efforts can be enhanced by engaging a judge as a champion and change agent. Judges are in a position to communicate with all partners and have a role to play in criminal justice reform efforts. The judges also articulated the importance of working collaboratively to achieve success, accessing judges and other court staff to participate in reform efforts, and being transparent by sharing data with stakeholders and the public.

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