Source: US Dept of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Community courts close the gap between courts and communities by bringing justice back to neighborhoods. They are much more than local branches of centralized court systems. Broadly conceived, they expand traditional notions about the role of courts and test their ability to serve as a catalyst for social change in a neighborhood. The concept of community courts stems largely from national interest in the experience of the Midtown Community Court in New York City, which was launched in October 1993 by a coalition of civic and government leaders. Recently, Hartford, Connecticut, became the second jurisdiction (after Portland, Ore.) to follow the Midtown Court's example and open a community court. The Hartford Community Court opened on November 10, 1998. Two characteristics of the Hartford Community Court distinguish it from the Midtown Court. First, it is centralized, serving the entire population of Hartford (approximately 130,000 citizens in 17 neighborhoods). Second, Hartford planners lobbied to pass legislation that enables the court to dispense alternative sanctions for ordinance violations; these cases previously always received a small fine or were dismissed outright. Overall, the court has promoted community restitution and developed other community service sentences; it has created a plea structure that is likely to transform "going rates" for low-level offenses. Further, it has developed electronic links to neighborhood problem solving committees. Additional documentation of the project is needed to determine whether preliminary expectations have been realized.