Procedural Justice: Treating Court-Involved People with Respect Brings Remarkable Results
Date:  07-09-2015

Newark Judge Victoria Pratt sets mandates that have kept 70% of those who followed them out of jail
People standing before Newark Municipal Judge Victoria Pratt get something that is absent in most courts, respect. From looking a defendant in the eye and inquiring about his or family, to mandating them to write an essay on how they see themselves in five years, and read it aloud in court, Judge Pratt shows those in her courtroom that they are people first, not just someone accused of a crime.

In Judge Pratt’s courtroom “procedural justice” is the norm. Pratt discovered that Red Hook Judge Alex Calabrese was providing positive outcomes by doing things differently in the criminal justice system. When the opportunity arose for her to preside over criminal cases, Pratt drew on Judge Calabrese’s model of justice. The Guardian writes:

“Calabrese was using what have become the four principles of procedural justice: first, that people who come before a judge trust that the process is impartial; second, that they are treated with respect; third, that they understand what is going on and what they are expected to do; fourth, that they have a voice. Defendants find the procedure fairer when they are allowed to state their views.”

Intrigued, Pratt began using Judge Calabrese’s model in her own courtroom. She also connects defendants with substance abuse and mental health problems to appropriate services, and claps sincerely when a person completes an assigned task. One of her most effective tasks is the mandated essay she assigns to those who stand before her. The essay is a stark reminder that dreams and goals can be fulfilled, and also that if a person doesn’t turn his or her life around, they may not live to see the next five years of their life. The people Judge Pratt offers a second chance to have not committed serious crimes, but still have jail time hanging over their heads.

The Guardian reports that seventy percent of those who complete Judge Pratt’s mandates do not go to jail. Procedural justice reduces the cost of incarceration, and because more people have faith in the fairness of Judge Pratt, more people show up for their court dates, greatly slashing the costs associated with re-arrests associated with failure-to-appear charges, including pre-trial detention. Less police officers looking for those who didn’t show up for an assigned court date also means more police are able to concentrate on more serious crimes.

Read how procedural justice can have a profound positive effect on the criminal justice system here.