Supporting Innovation in Adjudication

Prosecutors, judges, and court personnel are looking for fresh approaches to adjudicating offenders that will lower recidivism rates, clear cases, and decrease court dockets. Crimes involving violent and nonviolent offenders require special efforts to ensure that these offenders are held accountable and that they return to the community with the help and supervision they need to avoid re-offending. BJA is committed to providing prosecutors, judges, and court personnel with the resources, training, and support they need to test new ideas.

Pretrial Justice Reform

BJA’s pretrial justice reform efforts coordinate and provide mentoring opportunities for jurisdictions engaged in pretrial reform. BJA worked with its TTA provider, the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), on these efforts, which include hosting and facilitating state and regional education sessions; providing peer-to-peer mentoring opportunities for criminal justice professionals engaging in pretrial justice reform; and managing and continuing the work of the national Pretrial Justice Working Group (PJWG) and its subcommittees.

In FY 2012, PJI accomplished the following:

Information about PJI and PJWG and its subcommittees can be found at

Success Stories

Judge Margie Enquist, District Court, 1st Judicial District of Colorado

For years, representatives from all of the major stakeholders in Colorado’s 1st Judicial District have been working to reexamine and improve how bail is administered. The district made some improvements; however, it did not have an adequate tool to determine pretrial risk. A BJA grant facilitated the gathering and analysis of information from 10 counties in Colorado and the conversion of that information into an effective risk assessment instrument. With this grant assistance, Colorado decisionmakers now have the Colorado Pretrial Assessment Tool (CPAT), an empirically validated multijurisdictional pretrial risk assessment instrument that is being implemented in several counties. Recently, Judge Enquist acted as cochair of the Colorado Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice’s bail subcommittee, which examined bail administration and pretrial practices across Colorado. The availability of CPAT allowed the subcommittee to recommend changes in the bail statute, so that bail decisions focus on risk (of re-offense and failure to appear) and not on a monetary bond schedule. Legislation is anticipated to be introduced in 2013.

Walt Smith, Court Administrator, 12th Judicial District of Florida

In 2011, Manatee County, Florida participated in a multijurisdictional study, funded by BJA, to develop an evidence-based risk assessment tool to assist judges in determining the risk that arrestees might fail to appear for court or be rearrested if they are released awaiting trial. Data were collected from Manatee County and five other Florida counties, and a risk assessment tool was developed. The Manatee County judges began using this tool in April 2012 and have indicated their satisfaction with it. Without the support of BJA and the expertise provided by PJI, evidence-based decisionmaking for pretrial release in Manatee County would not have been implemented.

Holistic Defense

In 2010, BJA supported the launch of the Center for Holistic Defense (, a national TTA resource center and a project of the Bronx Defenders, an award-winning public defender office in New York City. Since its inception, the center has established itself as a national TTA resource for public defender offices, individual advocates, policymakers, and other criminal justice stakeholders who seek information, guidance, and assistance in adopting a more holistic model of public defense representation.

Holistic defense is a client-centered interdisciplinary model of public defense that combines aggressive legal advocacy with a broader recognition that, for most indigent people arrested and charged with a crime, the criminal case is only one of the
many devastating consequences of criminal justice involvement. The key insight of holistic defense is that to be truly effective advocates for clients, defenders must broaden the scope of their representation to not only provide criminal representation but also address the underlying issues that play a part in driving clients into the criminal justice system, including related legal representation (e.g., civil and family), social work support, and advocacy in the client community.

Accomplishments for FY 2012 include:

Judicial Training

BJA has developed a successful partnership with NJC and collaborates on training topics and scans the field for emerging issues. They meet quarterly to discuss priorities and determine how to leverage existing resources to best serve state, local, and tribal judges. Through NJC, BJA reaches a vast array of judges with new judge training and education on pretrial reform and innovative leadership skills.

NJC’s accomplishments in FY 2012 include:

Mental Competence Best Practices Model Program: With BJA grant funding, NJC developed a best practices model for addressing mental competency issues in the criminal justice system. In January 2012, NJC launched the Mental Competency web site (, as well as a blog and Facebook and Twitter accounts. Three webcasts to discuss the contents of the best practices model were held in July, August, and September.

Innovative Leadership Skills for Leader-Manager Judges: NJC presented The Theory and Practice of Judicial Leadership, the first of two resident leadership programs contemplated under the BJA grant, in Reno, Nevada on April 23–26, 2012. During the following 6 months, NJC delivered the second resident program (Meeting the Leadership Challenge), developed web-based learning sessions, and released two white papers (one of which focused on pretrial reform).

Continuum of Criminal Justice Responses to Drug-Involved Offenders: Vision and Consensus: NJC is partnering with JMI, PJI, and APPA to determine the best and most effective responses to drug-involved offenders at points along the criminal justice continuum. During the first meeting, held in January 2012, stakeholders began to build a consensus on the best ways to create a systemic process for managing drug-involved offenders within the criminal justice system. The second meeting, which was held on June 26–27, 2012, reviewed the group’s work and finalized the continuum and consensus report.

Tribal Justice: Collaborative Training and Technical Assistance Project: The National Tribal Judicial Center ( at NJC is currently operating under two BJA grants with its partner, the Tribal Justice Institute at the University of North Dakota. The main purpose is to assist grantees of BJA’s Tribal Court Assistance Program (TCAP) develop, implement, and enhance their tribal justice systems. The partnership’s courses will cover core subject areas involving entry-, medium-, and advanced-level court-related subjects. Courses currently under development include:

NJC also:

Community Prosecution

Administered by APA, the Community Prosecution Initiative provides TTA for prosecutors’ offices to gain the skills they need to build partnerships with and define a role for the community in public safety. This initiative’s goal in FY 2012 was to identify evidence-based strategies for prosecutors to use to ensure public safety and increase community trust and confidence in the criminal justice system by implementing cost-saving programs that lead to a more efficient and effective justice system. APA accomplished this goal by establishing five new community prosecution initiatives around the country (Baltimore, Maryland; San Francisco, California; Anchorage, Alaska; Denver, Colorado; and Norfolk, Virginia) and assisting two offices with the improvement of their community prosecution strategies (Portland, Maine and Austin, Texas).

Accomplishments for FY 2012 include:

Southwest and Northern Border Prosecution Initiatives

The Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative (SWBPI) and the Northern Border Prosecution Initiative (NBPI) provide funds to eligible jurisdictions in the 4 Southwest border and 14 Northern border states for qualifying federally initiated and referred criminal cases. The programs reimburse jurisdictions for the prosecution and pretrial detention costs of cases that the federal government has declined and referred to the local or state jurisdiction. SWBPI and NBPI differ from many other BJA programs in that they are reimbursement programs for costs incurred by state and local jurisdictions rather than grants.

Visit the SWBPI web site at, and the NBPI web site at for more information.

Wrongful Conviction Review Program

In FY 2009, at the direction of Congress, BJA created the Wrongful Conviction Review Program to provide grant funds to public and nonprofit entities that represent potentially wrongfully convicted individuals in cases of post-conviction claims of innocence. The goals of this initiative are to (1) provide high-quality and efficient representation for defendants who may be factually innocent and wrongfully convicted; (2) alleviate burdens placed on the criminal justice system through costly and prolonged post-conviction litigation; and (3) identify, whenever possible, the actual perpetrator of the crime. The program supports the expenditure of funds to evaluate and litigate claims of innocence and may be used to help defray the costs of forensic re-analysis, expert consultation and testimony, screening/ evaluation, and litigation services, including hiring qualified attorneys. Through this program, BJA made 11 awards totaling more than $2.2 million in FY 2012.

In addition, BJA partnered with NIJ to provide $75,000 in support of IACP’s “National Summit on Wrongful Convictions.” BJA also awarded eight JAG awards to State Administering Agencies (SAA) totaling $617,000 to create a demonstration project that provides video recording equipment for use in taping custodial interrogations.

Finally, BJA continued to support the activities of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), its current national TTA provider, to grantees and other entities engaged in wrongful conviction review and representation activities. NACDL accomplished the following in FY 2012:

Court Reengineering

Severe budget cuts during the past several years have forced state courts to change how they operate. Grant assistance from BJA and the State Justice Institute (SJI) has enabled state courts, through technical assistance from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), to develop long-term solutions to these cuts rather than implement only short-term remedies. These reengineering solutions have improved many state court processes despite decreasing resources. BJA partnered with SJI on its State Court Reengineering Initiative to expand these efforts to three additional states: Arkansas, Maine, and Georgia.

In FY 2012, the following accomplishments were achieved:

Arkansas: NCSC assisted the Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts to establish five standalone court-based programs/ dockets to reduce probation violations by drug offenders. Based on the Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement program, Arkansas’ SWIFT Courts (which stands for “swift and certain sanctions”) are an outgrowth of that state’s work with the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. NCSC has assisted the SWIFT Court pilot programs in developing short- and long-term performance measures, assessing capacity to collect data related to these measures, and providing onsite implementation reviews at each of the five sites.

Maine: The use of technology is a key aspect of improving operations in the state courts. NCSC worked with the Maine Supreme Court and Administrative Office of the Courts to evaluate their technology infrastructure, operations, and goals. A new strategy was established, and Maine Judiciary has started to use technology to reduce costs and improve operations.

Georgia: Working with the Fulton County Court Improvement Task Force, NCSC presented and facilitated the first ever Joint Leadership Session of the Fulton County Superior and State Court Judges. This forum resulted in the adoption of a charter and the election of a Joint Governance Committee to plan for administrative efficiencies and service improvements that were identified  in the previously released task force report.

Harvard Executive Session for State Court Leaders in the 21st Century

BJA, in partnership with SJI and NCSC, sponsored the Harvard Executive Sessions for State Court Leadership in the 21st Century. Hosted during six meetings over 3 years (2008–2011) at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, subject-matter experts met to develop and answer questions that U.S. state courts will face in the foreseeable future. This project sought to clarify what leaders of state courts can and should do to distinguish their role in our system of democratic governance.

In FY 2012, the following project goals were accomplished:

Problem-Solving Justice Initiatives

The Center for Court Innovation (CCI) works in close partnership with BJA in many areas in the criminal justice system. Three ongoing priorities for BJA and CCI are to foster problem-solving innovation within the justice system, promote procedural justice, and encourage thoughtful risk-taking among criminal justice officials.

FY 2012 accomplishments include:

Problem-Solving Justice Training and Technical Assistance

The Problem-Solving Justice Training and Technical Assistance initiative helps innovators around the country plan, implement, sustain, and evaluate problem-solving initiatives that link addicted offenders to treatment and services and improve outcomes for communities. In partnership with BJA, CCI provides a wide range of services to promote the implementation of community-based criminal justice reforms.

Accomplishments in FY 2012 include:

Improving Courtroom Communication

In close collaboration with court system leaders in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (including Milwaukee Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers, District Court Administrator Bruce Harvey, District Attorney John Chisholm, and First Assistant State Public Defender Tom Reed), CCI and NJC implemented a national demonstration project designed to test whether improved communication practices in the courtroom can improve perceptions of justice and compliance with court orders.

In pursuit of this goal, researchers from CCI have conducted a combination of defendant interviews, structured courtroom observation, and compliance tracking to harvest pre- and post-training data about Milwaukee defendants’ perceptions of their court experience as well as their compliance with court orders (e.g., successfully completing a term of probation, paying a fine) and their compliance with the law generally. This was followed by an intensive training for judges and other Milwaukee court participants that covered five modules: (1) the role of procedural fairness, (2) verbal communication, (3) nonverbal communication, (4) considering special populations, and (5) implementing procedural fairness.

Researchers conducted a post-training focus group with the judges who attended the training to solicit guidance on how the curriculum could be improved going forward. A recurring theme was that the training helped justify practices that many judges already strive to implement. The pilot curriculum is available at CCI’s Procedural Justice page: The final research report will be published in early 2013 with a list of suggested best practices to improve courtroom communication.

Trial and Error Initiative

Initiated by CCI with the support of BJA, the Trial and Error Initiative is a multifaceted inquiry designed to promote thoughtful criminal justice reform and honest self-reflection among criminal justice agencies. It does this by examining previous efforts to improve the criminal justice system that may not have achieved the intended results and by attempting to identify lessons learned and promote innovation going forward. In FY 2012, the initiative focused on two products:

Innovation Survey: More than 600 top-level officials (including chief judges, chief court administrators, district attorneys, and local and state police chiefs and sheriffs) from across the nation participated in a survey designed to highlight the state of criminal justice innovation in the United States. The study gathered quantitative data from agency leaders about the innovation process: Where do leaders look for new ideas? What are the barriers to innovation? Do agency heads have access to research? The survey findings will be distributed nationally in 2013.

Qualitative Interviews: Project staff conducted interviews with a wide variety of criminal justice leaders, including A. Gail Prudenti, New York State’s Chief Administrative Judge; Alex Busansky, director of NCCD; Jerry McElroy, executive director of New York City’s Criminal Justice Agency; Paul DeWolfe, head of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender; Chief Justice Herb Yazzie of the Navajo Nation; and Vincent Schiraldi, commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation. These interviews highlight the trial and error process, helping tomorrow’s innovators learn from the experiences of today’s leading criminal justice practitioners and thinkers.

For more information and to access project publications, visit