Encouraging the Evolution of Innovation in Criminal Justice

By: Kim Ball, BJA Senior Policy Advisor

“One of the coolest ideas I have seen in my eight years in the Bureau of Justice Assistance,” is the first response that comes to mind when asked about my involvement with the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA) Innovations in Criminal Justice Summit. I have seen a lot of great progress and great work over my time, but the unique thing about this event is that I have witnessed its evolution – from an idea that was tossed out during a discussion with colleagues to execution of the second Summit in 2013. When APA Vice-President Steven Jansen conceived the idea for this event, we all knew that it was exactly what we needed to do to encourage those innovative, cost-effective interventions that had demonstrated promise in improving public safety and providing alternatives to incarceration.

The Innovations in Criminal Justice Summit was developed as part of an effort to support practitioners in tackling a range of challenges – from limited attention to support program development and replication to a lack of resources to ensure successful program implementation. Often, the innovative practices that pave the way for more widespread and systemic reform are locally grown and lack both the attention and concrete evaluation data to demonstrate the positive outcomes achieved. In partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Center for Court Innovation (CCI), APA hosted the Summit as a means to not only bring attention to these promising practices, but also to help other communities replicate those practices within their own communities.

The first Innovations in Criminal Justice Summit was held in 2011, bringing together a multi-disciplinary group of practitioners, including prosecutors, judges, public defenders, law enforcement, and service providers. During this event, ten innovative criminal justice practices were presented to the audience – each had been vetted through a rigorous selection process and selected by a blue ribbon committee that was comprised of members from a range of local and national agencies. The program presentations sought to not only raise awareness of these innovative programs and practices, but also to provide attendees with the resources and tools to implement these programs within their own communities.

Building upon the foundation established by the first Summit, the Innovations in Criminal Justice Summit II took place in the spring of 2013. During the second Summit, APA partnered with BJA and CCI to present ten new innovative criminal justice practices to an audience of over 170 thought leaders and innovators. I again had the fortune of being involved in this event and was able to witness how the second Summit built upon the success of the first. As attendee D.C. Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert Morin stated, “the Summit offered a fascinating look at how jurisdictions across the country are using new and creative strategies to make their systems more effective and better meet the needs of their communities. We came away with a fresh perspective of what is possible, particularly valuable in this time of challenging resources."

It is important to increase awareness of the innovative strategies presented during each Summit and to share resources and tools to help attendees replicate success in their own communities. For me, however, this is not the only value of the Summit. As Judge Morin said, it gives participants a newfound perspective of what can be done in their communities and fosters a spirit of innovation. After all, significant change can only be born out of a willingness to take risks, fail, learn from past mistakes, and try again. In my opening remarks for the first Summit, I said, “it takes a long time to implement innovation – and it’s not easy.” With each Summit, however, we are able to not only celebrate those innovations that have yielded success today, but also encourage criminal justice leaders to take risks that will uncover the innovative strategies to address the challenges of tomorrow.

For more information on those ten innovative practices presented during the Innovations in Criminal Justice Summit II, please click here. To read the conference report from the Innovations in Criminal Justice Summit, please click here. The conference report from the Innovations in Criminal Justice Summit II will be available soon, so be sure to check back for the full report.

To submit the work of your organization or jurisdiction for consideration to be featured in a future TTA Today blog post, please email nttac@bjatraining.org.