We are working with six courts across the United States to conduct public engagement pilot projects aimed at improving public trust and confidence across minority and economically- disadvantaged communities. The six courts are Puerto Rico; Nebraska; Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Franklin County, Ohio; and Massachusetts.
- Puerto Rico: The Puerto Rico Judicial Branch’s objective is to learn how youth (middle school and high school age) and adults view conflict in their communities, and how the courts might help communities with such conflicts (e.g., through education and support). Among their engagements, Puerto Rico organized groups of youth members, drawn from students involved in an alternative school and from The Boys and Girls Club. They utilized an engagement format similar to a world café consisting of simultaneous smaller living room conversations/conversation cafes. They also successfully incorporated NCSC’s graphic novels into their youth engagements.
- Nebraska: The Nebraska Supreme Court’s objective is to engage Native Americans in identifying and discussing court-system problems experienced by that community. Nebraska’s public engagements involved tribal, state, and federal judges. Problems identified so far relate to coordination of cases, court services, and court order enforcement across jurisdictions (tribal, state, federal). Meetings were culturally-attuned (e.g., included a prayer by Native American elders).
- Texas: Texas engaged the public in small facilitated discussions around the results of Texas’s prior engagement efforts which involved surveys of public trust and confidence and a “Beyond the Bench” summit that involved court actors and stakeholders. Taking these prior results to the broader public for discussion allowed the court system to gather general public feedback on the causes of distrust and to hear the views and ideas of the various publics themselves. The three geographic areas selected (Alpine, Brownsville, and Houston) provided a cross-section of rural, mid-sized, and highly populated urban locations, which Texas hopes will ensure diversity of public opinion.
- Kansas City, Missouri: The Kansas City team engaged the public in identifying problems affecting underserved and low-income populations and working on solutions to those problems. They utilized a multi-pronged approach involving surveys by litigants, monthly meetings with community leaders, and facilitated small group discussions with the public, to promote a full and comprehensive identification and appreciation of the problems faced by the community. Several of the discussion groups included law enforcement. The Kansas City Municipal Court invested in implicit bias training for all participants. They convened one additional youth engagement at a local high school.
- Franklin County, Ohio: The Franklin County team convened a community conversation hosted by a local pastor (Rev. Frederick V. LeMarr) with a panel of judges and Franklin County Municipal Court staff.
- Massachusetts: The Massachusetts Trial Court engaged the public at state and local levels in discussion of race and bias issues. For example, the Holyoke and Springfield courts focused on barriers to participation by drug offenders (and particularly minorities) in substance abuse treatment. In the three Massachusetts pilot sites, the focus has been on involving community leaders, local court officials, lawyers, and representatives of organizations involved in the criminal justice system (particularly those focused on substance abuse). Each pilot site has actively sought to engage community leaders to participate in devising methods for involving not only frequent parties before the court but also members of the general public.