Designing a New Justice System

Posted by Erin Routson

Milliken, Colorado, may be a small town, but it is trying out some pretty big ideas when it comes to the justice system. This hamlet of approximately 3,000 residents is an hour north of Denver, and it’s led in part by town administrator and chief of police Jim Burack. As a former counsel and director of operations at the Police Executive Research Forum (a national think tank for police research and policy), Burack has observed many other communities, how their justice systems work, and the environments in which courts and policing are situated.

In a recent interview posted by the Center for Court Innovation, Burack describes how the need for a new police station provided an opportunity to redesign the service environment for the town’s justice system. As Burack explains,

I think that design has an impact. It sends a message both to the defendants and folks who are participating in the in the justice system at the local level, and it sends a clear message, I think, to the officers and participants that we believe in problem-solving and prevention. The beauty of it is that you can design this, what’s effectively a neighborhood-based police and court, for this clearly defined geographic area and deliver service on a personal retail basis, where there’s a high level of accountability, a high level of knowledge by officers about the community and about the customers and the families and the businesses we serve.

The new facility also places heavy emphasis on inter-agency collaboration. The complex is comprised of a police station, community court, and social services, right across from what will become the town square. The intention is that being in the same structure will hopefully lead to a more streamlined process when it comes to issues for agencies and citizens within the justice system.

Burack felt that it was important to change the dynamic of the service experience, to be less intimidating or casual to citizens coming in to deal with problems. The design plays a key role here, presenting environmental cues:

You even walk in and next to the service counter for the police department, there are two chairs at the counter. And what it does, I think it changes the dynamic of that interaction between the visitor to the police station and our personnel behind the counter. Because it instantly suggests to a visitor, “Please sit down. Let’s actually talk.” I mean, you’re not there to get a burger. You’re there to sit down and talk out a problem. And I think it ties to this procedure of justice. It’s not only how you’re treated, it’s those silent signals that the customer of justice services receives, that “I’m gonna be treated with dignity and respect, and be listened to, because my environment tells me that that’s what’s going to happen in this place.

To listen to the full interview with the Center for Court Innovation, click here. A transcript of the conversation is also available in PDF format.