The American Indian Film Festival Shines a Spotlight on Native American Stories

I’m thrilled that a video I directed on behalf of the Center for Court Innovation has been selected to screen at the 42nd Annual American Indian Film Festival, which is sponsored by the American Indian Film Institute. The video showcases the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Reintegration Program, which works with tribal members returning to home from incarceration.

The odds are often stacked against folks who need to find jobs, homes and to reestablish family and social connections after months and years in jail or prison. For many, the task is so overwhelming that they often end up committing new crimes and returning to jail. That’s why reentry programs like the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Reintegration Program are so important. The staff at the Reintegration Program provide emotional and material support, helping with tasks both large and small. For instance, they help clients get their driver’s license (crucial for getting and keeping a job) and clearing fines (crucial for establishing credit and having enough money to pay bills) as well as finding a job and housing.

I feel incredibly lucky to have worked on this project, which is run by wonderful people who are achieving amazing things. For four days last year, the staff of the Reintegration Program answered our questions, introduced us to their clients and collaborators, and allowed us to witness first hand how they’re changing lives.

What Does Reintegration Mean to You? The Muscogee (Creek) Nation Reintegration Program is screening on Nov. 5 in the Brave Theatre Center, 2781 24th Street in San Francisco from noon to 4 p.m.

Risk Assessment Tools are Good (but not without Risk)

A significant trend in criminal justice these days is the adoption of risk-assessment tools. These tools–usually short surveys administered to people who have been arrested or charged with a crime or are being released from incarceration–are used to predict the likelihood of recidivism make decisions about mental health/drug treatment or social services.

In a promising development, social scientists have been seeking to validate the effectiveness of these tools. If a tool is dubbed “validated” or “evidence-based” it means there is empirical research to show that its predictions about  the likelihood of recidivism or the appropriateness of a particular social service intervention have a high likelihood of being correct. (I write “high likelihood” because nothing is ever going to be 100 percent predictive).

The application of scientific methods to these tools is exciting; it holds out the promise of being able to remove bias from decisions in the justice system (which, as we know, is rife with bias) and relying on only objective facts to decide punishment. But these tools aren’t foolproof (what is, after all?) One of those dangers is that they can overlook bias so deeply embedded in our culture, they perpetuate it.

That’s one of the points that Professor Reuben J. Miller, assistant professor of social work at the University of Michigan, and his research collaborator Hazelette Crosby-Robinson made when I interviewed them for the Center for Court Innovation’s podcast series New Thinking. They outlined some of the criticisms that have been leveled against risk assessment tools. Those criticisms include placing too much emphasis on geography and criminal history, which can distort the actual risk for clients from neighborhoods that experience an above-average presence of policing and social services. “Geography is often a proxy for race,” Miller says.

You can listen to the podcast, which was recorded on Sept. 30, 2016, on the Center for Court Innovation’s site or iTunes.

A Day at Puyallup GREAT Camp

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/-UkyUCfUd9U?rel=0

I directed and edited this video about a very cool program created and run by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. Of course, I had a lot of help putting it together. My colleagues at the Center for Court Innovation, especially Adelle Fontanet and Leah Russell, played invaluable roles as co-producers, and the team that runs the Tribal Justice Exchange provided crucial advice and feedback.

The video features the natural wonders of the Puyallup community’s tribal land as well as the talents of cinematographer Juan Carlos Borrero. Composer and musician Dawn Avery gets credit for the fantastic soundtrack. But at the heart of the video are the folks who created the amazing GREAT Camp, both staff and students. They welcomed us into their lives and moved us with their stories. For their kindness, honesty and friendship, I will be forever grateful.

Below is a photo of Juan Carlos, me and Adelle interviewing a group of counselors during last summer’s shoot .

‘They Treated Me Like a Person: Inside the Red Hook Community Justice Center’

It’s rare when something evolves from a good idea to successful reality. I’ve been lucky to have witnessed part of that process when it comes to the Red Hook Community Justice Center, which was established in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2000 through the collaboration of many people, organizations and government agencies, including the Center for Court Innovation and the New York State Unified Court System.

I was at its opening ceremony in 2000 and was at its 15th anniversary celebration a couple weeks ago at the Brooklyn Museum. In the interim, the Justice Center has become an international model of justice reform by implementing innovative strategies that have reduced the use of jail, lowered recidivism and strengthened public confidence in justice.

A number of the people who make the Justice Center so successful are captured in this video, which I was lucky enough to direct.

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/dxdjnXpZgjI?rel=0

Making a Video in the Bronx

I spent the day with my colleagues at Bronx Community Solutions (including Ramon, top left, who supervises community service crews, and Robin, at desk in photo at right, the deputy director of the project).

Juan Carlos Borrero, the man with the camera, is helping me make a video about the project, which provides alternatives to incarceration to thousands of people a year. In other words, the initiative allows people who commit low-level crimes to stay out jail and receive important services like job-training and counseling. We spent a few minutes in the freezing (!) cold so Ramon could explain how offenders, as part of their sentences, helped paint these wall murals in the Hunts Point neighborhood.