The first three weeks of March were devoted
to final conference preparation. Registrations were returned,
and conference confirmations were mailed out. Each of the
95 presenters received confirmation of the time, location,
and description for his or her workshop. Facilitators for
the large group meetings were primed on their roles. Representatives
of the 45 agencies taking part in the resource fair received
directions and confirmations. Supplies for participant packets
and brainstorming sessions were ordered, and the packets were
assembled. A participant roster, accurate through March 16,
was prepared and duplicated. Door prizes were ordered, and
the number of box lunches was confirmed.
A good problem was the number of people
who wanted to attend the conference. It became clear that
substantially more than 200 people (our original guess about
attendance) intended to come. The coordinator made the decision
not to exclude anyone interested, which meant reworking the
budget figures in order to pay for the food for those who
wanted to come.
On March 21,2001, the Courts and Community
Counterparts Conference took place at Greenfield Community
College. Almost 400 people attended the conference, participating
in 55 workshops and a resource fair of approximately 45 agencies
and organizations. The energy at the conference and the feedback
were very positive.
A goal of the conference was to encourage
individuals to talk with people they didn't already know,
to exchange ideas, and to gather information. According to
the 36 evaluations turned in, the conference succeeded in
its goal. Fifteen individuals also took part in the "scavenger
hunt," which involved talking with individuals and finding
out enough about them to be able to answer questions on a
scavenger sheet. Nine individuals asked to be kept apprised
of ongoing discussions or work on particular topics. A common
thread in response to the conference was surprise and excitement
at the number of people who are committed to Franklin County
and a sense of hope for future collaborative work.
Since 1994, the Franklin County Reinventing
Justice Project has developed a number of collaborative programs,
based on input about problems and priorities perceived by
the public. Much of the work since the 1994 Town Meetings
has focused on how the courts do their work. As the Franklin
County Project has matured, project leaders have identified
arenas where the courts need community responses. The "Court
and Community Counterparts" conference gave participants an
opportunity to identify needs that court users have that cannot
be met by the courts. New liaisons have begun as a result
of the conference that are collaborative explorations into
ways that community groups respond to the work of the courts
and needs of court users.
Convened by the Reinventing Justice Project,
an ad hoc task force group started meeting in April to brainstorm
ways to develop community support for youth and for positive
intergenerational exchanges. Currently the ad hoc group is
collecting information about local community groups (women's
clubs, garden clubs, bridge clubs, Councils on Aging, etc.)
and about local youth programs to see if there are programs,
presentations, performances, or other events that youth and
adults might share. The Attorney General's Office has volunteered
to provide information about resources and to give presentations
as part of the new initiative.
Another issue discussed at the conference
is court users' need for affordable and adequate housing.
An ad hoc group has been meeting under the auspices of the
Franklin County Resource Network to identify the complex web
of issues that affect housing. They have developed a survey
for the Landlords' Association newsletter to gather information
and begin a dialogue about ways to address the shortage of
housing for low-income and court-involved individuals.
In May, the Franklin County Probate and
Family Court expressed interest in encouraging local programming
for parents. Because of the networking at the March conference,
research about local offerings has been simplified, and individuals
from various agencies who met court personnel at the conference
have been very receptive to developing some kind of collaborative
approach to meet the need identified by the court.
Organizers of the District Court Judges
Conference attended the Franklin County conference and witnessed
the positive and productive exchanges between court and community
groups. Several Franklin County judges and the community relations
coordinator have been asked to give a presentation at the
June 2001 Judges Conference about the principles and practices
of working with the community to share the experience with
other courts and allow judges from other jurisdictions an
opportunity to ask questions about how to engage the community
in collaborative efforts.
The impact of the "Courts and Community
Counterparts" conference on the Franklin County courts and
the public's perception of the courts has been subtle and
can be demonstrated anecdotally only. The mini-grant proposal
did not involve an evaluation component. The goal for the
conference was to create a positive exchange of information
and ideas among various courts, agencies and organizations.
The planning process set the tone by involving multiple courts
and agencies in defining what the conference program would
be. Different courts volunteered to help with proofreading,
with copying and with collating, as did community members.
At the conference itself, steering committee members and others
volunteered to take care of last-minute details. A sense of
teamwork developed among steering committee members, which
The mood set at the conference has affected
attitudes and sparked interest in improved collaboration.
In addition to the examples described in Question 2 above,
Literacy Project teachers recently offered to hold a forum
for probation officers and family service officers to describe
the upcoming changes to the GED exam and the specific programs
of the Literacy Project. The teachers have realized that communication
between teachers and probation officers has been flawed at
times, and the instructors are interested in working with
probation staff to provide useful information to the courts
about common clients in a convenient, systematic and timely
Since the conference, approximately 10
conference participants new to the Reinventing Justice Project
have expressed interest in volunteering in a range of capacities.
In addition, three agencies have contacted the Reinventing
Justice Project to discuss the possibility of future collaborations.
One court department has asked the Reinventing Justice Program
to organize a forum to discuss a shared problem with social
service agencies and social workers. Several community members
who sit on restorative probation boards and who attended the
conference were inspired by the mood of the conference and
the hope it generated. After consultation with the Reinventing
Justice Project, they have approached the vestry of a local
church with a proposal to hold a follow-up conference to be
offered by the Interfaith Council, the coalition of social
service agencies, and, perhaps, the Reinventing Justice Project.
The purpose of the follow- up conference would be to bring
members of local faith communities together with social service
agencies and Reinventing Justice to exchange information and
ideas, to publicize volunteer opportunities, and to discuss
ways that community members can address the social justice
issues underlying crime in Franklin County. The community
volunteers presented the idea to the Interfaith Council at
the end of June. Whether or not the proposed conference takes
place, the concept and the commitment of one church demonstrates
the impact that the "Courts and Community Counterparts" conference
has had locally.
During and following the conference, participants
responded very favorably to the organization and flow of the
day. Several small aspects might be changed (i.e., include
a vegetarian lunch option and have outside signage). The steering
committee spent time and attention developing an Open Space
Technology option, which no one used, so that option could
be eliminated. In the future, the House of Corrections print
shop would be willing to print conference materials. The Franklin
County Reinventing Justice Project has used conferences in
the past as opportunities to build collaborative working groups
committed to implementing an action plan. Courts newly engaging
the community in collaborative initiatives might plan time
at the end of a conference for groups to gather and commit
to working on a project together.
Future directions growing from the conference
in Franklin County will involve forums, workshops and presentations
involving court, social service, and community groups who
have a common interest.