Source: (2008) International Review of Law, Computers and Technology. 22(1&2):65-76.
The Harlem Courthouse has towered over East 121st Street since the late 1800s – stately and elaborate, with arched windows and soaring pinnacles. Until 1961, the courthouse housed the Municipal and Magistrate’s Courts; after New York City’s courts were centralized, the building fell into disuse and was largely forgotten. Decades later, when court planners were looking for a location for a new community court, the courthouse – with its ornate architecture and status as a once vital community institution – seemed an ideal location. Today, the Harlem Courthouse is again a vibrant neighborhood resource. Gone are the boarded up windows, empty courtrooms, and unused office space. Instead, the courthouse is home to an unusual experiment in neighborhood justice, the Harlem Community Justice Center. The center features a multi-jurisdictional courtroom that hears a mix of Family and Housing Court cases, along with an array of unconventional programs – including mediation, community service, and reentry initiatives – that extend the Justice Center’s reach well beyond the courtroom doors. While a traditional court usually has one heartbeat, as the center’s former director Raye Barbieri puts it, the Harlem court ‘has dozens’. This paper tells the story of this unique experiment in community justice, from planning to ongoing operations. Along the way, it highlights the key lessons of the Harlem experience, offering vivid testimony that a court and community can work together to spur neighborhood renewal.(author’s abstract)
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