Greg Berman reflects on his time as chair of the Centre for Justice Innovation, a role he has held since the creation of the organisation in 2011.
There’s an old saying that it is better to be lucky than good. I’m not 100 percent sure I agree with that, but when I think about the history of the Centre for Justice Innovation, I do see a long line of lucky breaks. Three in particular stand out:
Lucky Break #1: It’s 2003. I’m sitting at my desk at the Center for Court Innovation in New York City, when I get a call from the chief judge of New York State. She tells me that Harry Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, is in town and has a few hours to kill. Would I be willing to arrange a tour of the Red Hook Community Justice Center for him?
I don’t remember the specifics of the tour that day, but it went well enough that when Lord Woolf came back to London, he started talking about the experimental court he had seen in Brooklyn. If you follow the dominoes, Lord Woolf’s visit helped spark a wave of interest in problem-solving justice, including visits to New York by Michael Gove, Jack Straw, David Blunkett, Louise Casey, Peter Goldsmith and a number of other high-ranking British officials.
Lucky Break #2: 2008 was a pivotal year. It began with the publication of a report by the Young Foundation that called for the creation of a Center for Court Innovation for the UK. Also that year, the think tank Policy Exchange asked me to investigate the state of problem-solving justice in England and Wales. As I performed that work, I discovered that the Young Foundation wasn’t alone. It turned out that a lot of people thought that the UK could use something like the Center for Court Innovation.
Phil Hulme of the Hadley Trust was one such person. Under his leadership, the Hadley Trust decided to take a chance on the idea. Their planning grant enabled Aubrey Fox to spend a couple of years in London, scoping out a mission, raising money, and laying the essential groundwork for the Centre for Justice Innovation.
Lucky Break #3: Lucky Break #3 actually happened back in 2006. That was when I met Phil Bowen, who was spending a year on leave from the civil service in New York. Five years later, when we were looking for someone to lead the Centre for Justice Innovation, Phil was the first person we called. His decision to join the Centre was a crucial turning point. As board chair, it has been a real pleasure to watch how Phil and the rest of the team have taken the Centre to greater and greater heights, year after year after year.
So what conclusions do I draw from this weird, unlikely series of lucky breaks?
The first is about the power of a simple idea. We originally created the Center for Court Innovation in New York in the 1990s to advance reform by working in partnership with the justice system rather than in opposition to it. The goal was to put practitioners and evidence -- rather than politics and headlines -- at the heart of justice reform. This is an idea that makes sense not just in the US, but in the UK as well.
But as powerful as this idea is, it means nothing without people. At the end of the day, the story of the Centre for Justice Innovation has been written by dozens of staffers, board members, funders, and institutional partners. It is the story of a group of decent people coming together to help advance a system that achieves justice not just in word but in deed.
I think the Centre has just experienced another lucky break. I am so pleased that Karyn McCluskey has agreed to serve as the organisation's new chair. Karyn embodies the best values of the Centre for Justice Innovation. She is both a practitioner and an intellectual. She has made a difference on the ground, reducing both violence and incarceration in Scotland. She has also had an impact in the world of ideas, making the case for relentless innovation and reform within the justice system. In many respects, Karyn reminds me of Tom Cruise’s character from the Mission: Impossible movies – she is “the living manifestation of destiny,” an unstoppable force when she puts her mind to something. I think she has the precise combination of vision and drive necessary to take the Centre for Justice Innovation to the next level.
My stint as chair of the Centre for Justice Innovation has been has been one of the highlights of my career. The inspiration for the Centre may have come from New York, but the goal from the start was to build a lasting institution with deep local roots that was capable of making an enduring contribution to justice reform in the United Kingdom. It has been a joy to work with so many talented people, many of whom have become dear friends, to achieve this goal. Special thanks to all of the trustees I have served with: Liberty Aldrich, Courtney Bryan, Mark Blake, Aubrey Fox, Simon Fulford, Shauneen Lambe, Karyn McCluskey, Heather Munro, Geraldine O'Hare, Gordon Wasserman, Mark Woodruff, and Robert Zara. Special thanks also to Phil Bowen, who has been a wonderful thought partner and co-conspirator for more than a decade.
As proud as I am of what has been accomplished so far, I think the best is yet to come for the Centre for Justice Innovation. I look forward to seeing what happens next.