The Centre for Justice Innovation

Work with Offenders profiles a charity dedicated to new ideas in the justice system.

This is the sixth in our occasional series on key independent organisations operating within the criminal justice sector.

American history

The Centre for Justice Innovation is a UK spin-off of the Center for Court Innovation, a not-for-profit in New York that has been at the vanguard of justice reform in the USA since 1995. The US parent organisation was originally founded as a public/private partnership between the New York State Unified Court System and the Fund for the City of New York. The Center for Court Innovation creates operating programmes to test new ideas and solve problems, performs original research to determine what works (and what doesn't), and provides expert assistance to justice reformers around the world. In the UK it is perhaps best known for the Red Hook Community Justice Center which features a courtroom in which a single judge hears cases that under ordinary circumstances would go to three different courts—Civil, Family, and Criminal. The tools at the judge’s disposal include community restitution projects, short-term psycho-educational groups, and long-term treatment. Beyond the courtroom, the Justice Center offers an array of unconventional programs that work to improve both public safety and trust in justice. It seeks to involve the local community in helping solve local problems and has been replicated across New York and been replicated in different jurisdictions.

A focus on innovation

The UK Centre for Justice Innovation (CJI) was founded in 2012 and has a vision to build a justice system which commands the trust of local people and which is characterised by four key principles:

  1. Problem-solving: Seeking to resolve the factors that underlie crime and social harm;
  2. Procedurally fair: Ensuring that those who go through the justice system understand what’s happening to them and that they feel treated with humanity;
  3. Proportionate: Seeking to do no harm, concentrating on the right intervention at the right time with the right people and no more;
  4. Innovative from the ground up: Sustainable innovation is best developed in response to local context and capacity.

The charity champions practice innovation and evidence-led policy reform in the UK’s justice systems by three main means:

  • Identifying, designing, supporting and spreading innovative practice to solve problems and test new ideas.
  • Promoting evidence and innovative practice in justice policy reform, helping policymakers remove the barriers to innovation experienced by practitioners.
  • Sharing ideas and practice across jurisdictions.

CJI focuses on seven key areas where it looks to pilot new approaches:

  • Community sentences
  • Court reform
  • Diversion
  • Family drug and alcohol courts
  • Improving fairness
  • Mapping innovation
  • Problem solving

CJI has a strong reputation for basing its recommendations for innovative practice on a strong evidence base. Unlike many think tanks which also operate in the arena of justice reform, CJI prioritises defining a problem before testing out a range of solutions rather than recommending approaches because they fit with a particular political ideology.

The charity is also well-known for working closely with practitioners and championing practitioner-designed approaches rather than parachuting in theoretical models.

Another characteristic much appreciated by people working in the sector is that CJI maintains its focus on these seven key areas, rather than constantly looking at different aspects of the justice system. This tends to mean that practice in a key area – such as problem-solving courts – tends to be followed up and will evolve over time in line both with developing best practice and changes in policy and legislation.

The charity also publishes a range of toolkits and other resources many of which are focused at supporting frontline practitioners’ work. Having established a body of best practice, CJI also offers hands-on practical support to different geographical areas looking to establish such initiatives as a Family Drug and Alcohol Court or a new youth diversion scheme.

You can find out more about the work of the Centre for Justice Innovation here.