The objective of this assignment is to enable you to demonstrate your ability to develop a court management policy proposal that addresses the key factors that should be considered to ensure that legal requirements and best practices in management are observed. You will craft a policy proposal designed to address problems of case backlog and excessive delay in calendaring of hearings that have resulted from the growing workload in state courts. You will select the U.S. state court system of your choosing as opposed to a hypothetical or generic state court in an effort to make this deliverable more realistic and to enable the use of information for your research that may be available through actual court administration offices (e.g., via their Web sites or publicly available research reports).
The environment in which this policy proposal is being generated is one characterized by several realities:
- State budgets for managing necessary services are shrinking.
- The political environment is somewhat unstable because of lack of consensus on how to address various types of social problems, including crime.
- Property-related crime is on the rise, including collateral offenses against persons.
- Court systems are so overwhelmed that there is growing public perception that public access to timely dispute resolution has become severely constrained.
- Correctional facilities are over-crowded, and problems of recidivism have accelerated.
- Plea bargaining and out-of court settlement of cases has increased in part as a way to side-step lengthy and expensive court trials.
- Certain alternative dispute resolution programs have been operating successfully in many circumstances and jurisdictions.
You will produce a policy proposal from the perspective that you are a senior policy analyst employed by a state’s Administrative Office of the Courts. In this role as a senior policy analyst, you have been assigned to draft a proposal for the court administrator recommending viable options based on the legislature’s interests and objectives. The background information that you have been given by your employer is that the Judicial Committee of the State Legislature is very interested in a policy proposal that weighs options for new programs and/or approaches to dispute resolution designed to satisfy the legislature’s stated objectives to do the following:
- Reduce case backlog
- Shorten the average time for court hearings to be calendared and for decisions to be rendered
- Avoid the expense of expanding the number of court houses, judges, and associated court staff and/or detention facilities and associated staff
- Minimize the need for funding of new programs
- Consider the viability of “community burden-sharing” through partnerships with private (where private includes both profit and nonprofit) organizations and resources
In addition, the judicial committee has specified that it would like to look at a policy proposal that focuses on dispute resolution options related to juvenile offenders that address the legislature’s objectives as a “pilot test” of new approaches to managing court-related services in the existing environment. Thus, the court administrator has asked that the policy proposal be narrowly focused on the juvenile justice division of the state court system.
The policy proposal should exclude considerations of whether any proposed new programs or expansions of existing programs meet existing statutory requirements. For purposes of this project, you are to assume that once the proposal is presented to the Judicial Committee of the State Legislature, that committee will charge the Office of Legislative General Counsel to determine what, if any, statutory changes would be necessary.
Questions the proposal would need to address include the following:
- Would it cost the state less to implement a victim offender mediation (VOM) program for juvenile offenders than it would to expand the courts and corrections staff and facility infrastructure?
- Would it take the state less time to implement a program such as this than it would to expand the courts and corrections staff and facility infrastructure?
- To what extent could a VOM program reduce court case backlog and thereby shorten the average time between arrest and case disposition?
- What is the “track record” of one or more comparable VOM program(s)?
- What are the social benefits and social costs of a VOM program for juvenile offenders both to the offenders themselves and to the larger community?
- Are there particular types of cases that are appropriate, as opposed to others that the legislature might want to exclude?
- What are the major challenges that will be faced by the Administrative Office of the Courts in implementing this proposed policy in terms of the following:
- Program development
- Training and credentialing of mediators
- “Selling” it to potentially supportive community resources that could become partners with the state in this effort
- Case flow and records management
- Security issues related to cases being mediated outside of court facilities