Between a building and a parking structure on Washington Street, you can see a small strip of land where a bounty of vegetables was grown. A few months ago, the “Justice Garden” was installed by CPA’s Community Service Program at Hartford Community Court. Over the years, the program’s various community gardens have grown hundreds of pounds of food donated to organizations addressing food insecurity in the Hartford area.
Amongst the vegetables in the new Justice Garden, you could also see little white signs with words like “Hope, Love, Voice, Neutral, Equality, and Fairness.” They are words heard over the years from participants about their positive experiences at the court.
Tom O’Brien, Senior Assistant State’s Attorney, said, “At Hartford Community Court, we practice ‘Procedural Justice’ where the expectation is to treat people fairly, give them a voice, and treat them with respect.” It is a practice that permeates everyone working there, including CPA staff, judges and attorneys, and court employees. “We want people coming to the court to feel safe, supported, and have a positive experience,” said Deb Burrows, CPA’s Program Manager for the Community Service Program.
People appear at Hartford Community Court for committing “quality of life” offenses and are mandated to complete community service hours. However, as a “Court for the Community,” it is not unusual for people to also show up without a case to request help or just to check in with staff.
That’s why it was hard for the Community Service Program and Hartford Community Court to be closed to the public during the state shutdown. Tom said, “We were probably the only Court during the shutdown to get calls from community groups and the mayor asking us to please open again.” (The court reopened in July 2021.)
Even during the shutdown, court employees and CPA staff continued to assist people who showed up outside the court building. Deb said, “We also continued to reach out to those living under bridges and residing in homeless shelters with clothes, winter wear, hygiene products, and COVID-19 safety items.”
It is no wonder that Justice Garden reflects the positivity people feel from everyone they encounter at Hartford Community Court. “Hope, Love, Voice, Neutral, Equality, and Fairness” is what we all want to feel and grow in our world.