Student perspective: Attending an international conference

Fifth-year Law and Commerce student Olivia Hyland recently attended the annual Forum on Criminal Justice held in Arlington, Virginia. She tells us about the experience.

Olivia Hyland at the Forum on Criminal Justice

The conference this year was titled, “Moving Criminal Justice Forward Through Research, Policy and Practice.” With around 600 attendees from throughout the USA and abroad, there was much to be learnt from the incredible diversity of experience in the room, and I was able to have some really valuable conversations.

Key themes that arose from the symposia and workshops were racism and bias within the criminal justice process with a particular focus on Risk Assessment Tools, the need for a better system for 18–24 year olds, and how to make criminal justice reform a truly bi-partisan issue (amongst presentations on specific initiatives). A highlight was hearing Judge Sheila Calloway (the elected Juvenile Court Judge in Nashville, Tennessee) speak. Her approach to what “justice” really is was truly inspirational (her podcasts and TED talk are well worth a listen). She ensures that the court process for juveniles in her county includes their family and that community resource is provided to them when required (which is often). Attending the conference was an incredible experience and a privilege.

My time in Virginia was followed by a tour of Brooklyn Justices Initiatives, part of the Center of Court Innovation in New York. The team at Brooklyn Justice Initiatives have created multiple reform initiatives that use the pre-trial period as a window of opportunity for service provision in a person’s life. This focus was inspiring to see and confirmed the potential and importance of the period. Located within the court building, the team of social service providers and court-based resource coordinators provide judges and lawyers with meaningful alternatives to bail, fines and jail sentences. The space they have created for this type of service feels many miles away from the formal grandeur of the Brooklyn Criminal Court. As I’ve been part of the Welfare Advocacy Project in the Wellington District Court for the last four years (and the team leader for the last two), seeing what they have managed to achieve gave practical and meaningful insight into what can be gained by embedding health, employment, housing and other services into the District Court.

Including this provision of service at the pre-trial stage is something that I have argued for in two recent New Zealand Law Journal articles, which I co-authored with Dr Ian Lambie, the Chief Science Advisor to the Justice Sector (“Opportunity of a Lifetime”—July issue, and “I’m more than a piece of paper”—September issue). The Chief Justice has since referred to our first article (pdf) stating that she also thinks that these early appearances in our courts provide an opportunity “to intervene in a defendant’s life and build a bridge away from offending.” With this momentum in mind, it was fantastic to then chat over pizza and a diet coke with Adam Mansky (the director of the Center for Court Innovation’s Criminal Justice Programmes). I really loved this discussion as he had an understanding of where we are at in Aotearoa after speaking as an international expert at the Hāpaitia te Oranga Tangata Criminal Justice Summit last year.

It has been an incredible four years as a volunteer for the Wellington Community Justice Project and I am so grateful to the Borrin Foundation for allowing us to place the work we have been doing in the Wellington District Court in an international context by providing me with a grant for this trip.