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Monday, July 21, 2014

New Policies Regarding Drug-related Offenses

Here are two articles about drug-related offenses and the criminal justice system. The theme is a trend toward less punitive responses to drug crimes that is emerging at local and national levels. Will the Bronx follow suit?

Federal: Tens of thousands of federal drug prisoners will be eligible for early release, to address overcrowding concerns. US News: Early Release for Drug Felons

The new Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced last week that they will no longer pursue aggressive prosecution of low-level marijuana cases. Brooklyn Daily Eagle: DA Softening Approach to Marijuana Offenses

Friday, July 18, 2014

BCS Helps Out on 161st Street

The River Avenue storefront Mural! A home run.

The storefront Before - covered in Graffiti
In the first week of July Bronx Community Solutions was contacted by the Executive Director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District (BID), Cary Goodman. He asked us to be part of a graffiti clean-up event that consisted of scraping and then painting over business store gates in order to prepare for a mural to be installed on the storefront. Six BCS community service participants and two BCS community service Supervisors took part in the first part of this special project last Thursday, July 10. The first location was a storefront on River Avenue near 161st Street, and will extend to nearby areas over the next few weeks.

The mural will depict baseball players who lived and breathed baseball such as: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Reggie Jackson, Mariano Rivera and others, who changed the history of the game. Artists Lexi Bella and Danielle Mastrion are responsible for creating these awesome murals.

The storefront After - a blank canvas! 
BCS is honored to participate in such a great project!

- Moises Reyes, Coordinator of Community Service

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bronx Reentry Forum - Today!

This Thursday, July 17 the Bronx Reentry Working Group is holding its 4th Annual Reentry Forum at Hostos Community College. The forum will feature presentations by local service providers and a panel discussion with previously incarcerated individuals who were successful in navigating their transition after prison. Lunch will be provided. More information is below. We hope to see you there!

Friday, July 11, 2014

BCS Staff Attend Fordham Law School's Sex Trafficking Conference

On June 17th, 2014, Fordham Law School’s Feerick Center for Social Justice held its second annual Conference against Sex Trafficking, with this year's focus being developments for professionals working in the field. The conference was attended by a variety of stakeholders and professionals, including judges, defense attorneys, representatives from the district attorney offices, and service providers from all of the New York City boroughs. CCI staff from various projects were in attendance.

The conference provided an in-depth look at New York’s Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (also known as "AP-8" parts), which were implemented in October 2013, under the leadership of New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. One of the highlights of the day was the judges’ panel, on which Hon. Fernando Camacho, Hon. William O’Brien, and Hon. Toko Serita spoke about their experiences in the early days of creating “prostitution diversion” courts. Judge Camacho shared a poignant story of a young girl who repeatedly came through his courtroom, whom he began to recognize was not a “criminal,” but a child desperately in need of support. By hearing the stories of the defendants in their courtrooms and striving to understand their lives, these judges began to implement alternative sentencing practices that led to the official creation of the AP-8 parts. The judges discussed the challenges of the work, emphasizing that the goal of the intervention courts is not to rescue. Rather, the courts provide an opportunity for defendants to connect with legal and social resources, and to find support of their choosing.
Later in the day, The Center for Court Innovation’s Coordinator of Trafficking Programs, Miriam Goodman, moderated a panel on the impact of trauma on trafficking victims. The panel featured women from a range of professions, including nursing and medicine, social work, and psychology. Dr. Veronica Ades spoke about the Empower Clinic at Gouverneur Health, which offers low-fee services to survivors of sex trafficking and sexual violence. Jaime Hedlund of STEPS to End Family Violence spoke about the use of yoga and bodywork to aid in trauma recovery. Kate B. Nooner, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, gave a presentation on the effects of trauma in the brain. Although the presentation demonstrated how deeply trauma can impact a person’s psychological functioning and development, it offered a great deal of hope and insight into how resilient the human brain, mind and body can be when provided with social, familial, and clinical support.
Overall, the conference created a great deal of inspiration and hope. While we still have a long way to go, it was incredibly encouraging to be in a room filled with men and women from so many professional backgrounds, all working toward the prevention of commercial sex trafficking. With the advent of the Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, we seem to be in a time of significant change—both in policies and attitudes. While our courts are changing to help protect, rather than criminalize, victims of sex trafficking, they have also begun to recognize that all individuals engaged in sex work—regardless of whether they do so by choice or by coercion—are human beings of great worth who deserve respect, opportunity, and empowerment.
- Charlotte Weber, MSW
AP-8 Case Manager, Bronx Community Solutions

Monday, June 30, 2014

Success Story - Ms. R.

Sometimes at BCS we are asked by judges or attorneys to help a client by finding a unique solution appropriate to their situation. Special attention to individual cases is something that we are able to offer the court. One such case was brought to our attention a couple of weeks ago - Ms. R. The case had garnered some media attention, heightening the sense of urgency to respond to it appropriately. Ms. R. was facing a charge of child endangerment after an incident that occured while she was under the influence of narcotics. Though her lawyer was eager to get some help for Ms. R. because, as it almost always is, the details of the case tell a complicated story.

Ms. R. revealed to her attorney that she has been battling substance abuse for two years. The attorney felt strongly that jail would not be the best option for her due to a long history of trauma with which she was struggling to cope. We coordinated with a colleague at CCI who works with women who have experienced trauma. She knew of a treatment program that provided substance abuse treatment to women who have also experienced intimate partner violence.

The referral process is not always as straightforward as making a call and showing up, especially when the client in question is incarcerated and cannot simply show up at the program for an intake. Ms. R. would only be released on the condition of us finding her a program that would treat her, and her going directly to that program. We had to be sure ahead of time that she would be accepted by that program. Consent forms needed to be signed and sent to all parties (BCS, the client, Riker's Island, and the program), evaluations needed to be acquired and conducted, and then of course the court parties had to all agree that this would be an acceptable disposition. BCS was able to do this but it pulled in many staff members - three social workers, two resource coordinators, and even our Project Director stepped in.

Ultimately we were successful in enrolling Ms. R. in the treatment program, and the court was willing to offer her a mandated treatment program as an alternative to jail. We don't yet know how Ms. R.'s story will end, if she will turn a corner at this point in her life and make the necessary changes to stay sober, cope with her traumatic history and avoid future arrests. But I felt certain that at the very least we had done everything we could to give her an opportunity to make that change. Spending a year in jail would not likely have afforded her that chance.

- Robin Berg, BCS Deputy Project Director

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

BCS Helps Out in the 41st Precinct

Bronx Community Solutions is able to respond to specific requests by community partners who require assistance in improving the appearance of various streets and neighborhoods. Sometimes this strays from the usual litter cleanup and graffiti removal projects in which we have become specialists. This week we were asked by the 41st Precinct to assist with a special project near the police station, where we expanded our painting expertise. Moises Reyes writes about it below:

"BCS has being working with the 41st Precinct for around eight years. We have done many projects together such as graffiti removal and supporting events in the community, and we have built a strong relationship with them. On June 2nd Bronx Community Solutions did an unusual project, consisting of painting lanes on the parking lot of the precinct and giving a new coat of paint to the posts protecting gasoline pumps on the same lot. This job was requested by Lt. Betances. Of course we do not have any experience doing this type of work, but with a little creativity on behalf of both the precinct and BCS, and a good crew who did careful work, we were able to make it happen. Matthew Usher was the crew supervisor for this project. Matthew, thanks for the hard work you put into this project. I think it looks awesome."

- Moises Reyes, Coordinator of Community Service

The parking lot Before...

...and After, with bright new lanes
The posts Before their new coat of paint, looking spotty
...and After, looking spiffy

Brownsville Community Justice Center Cleans Up

Our sister project, the Brownsville Community Justice Center, recently tackled a longstanding neighborhood eyesore, succeeding where other attempts had failed. It's a great story that illustrates how complicated it can be to do something as seemingly simple as a clean-up project, and how rewarding it is to make a visible change for the better in a neighborhood. It involved collaborating with community and municipal agencies as well as a lot of ad hoc monitoring of the site itself. Bravo to BCJC staff for going the extra mile!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Justice Center coordinates massive, multi-agency clean-up in Brownsville

For as long as anyone can remember, the space behind the fence in the Langston Hughes parking lot has been a dump site. For well over a decade, a homeless man had made it his encampment and accumulated literally tons of trash and debris behind it. The site has been an eyesore and health hazard in the community. It smelled of urine and feces, children in the adjacent playground were afraid to go near it, and no one would park in the spots nearby because the man was known to vandalize cars. Even though everyone wanted it gone, there was no a quick fix. The dumping was actually on private property (behind a Belmont Avenue sneaker store), but the property owner didn't have access because NYCHA had put up a fence and he had no rear entry. The lock on the fence had long rusted over and Sanitation could not gain access. As far as NYPD jurisdiction, while the parking lot was policed by PSA 2, the dumping site was technically precinct turf. There was also great concern from all parties about how the homeless man would react if the site were cleaned which had stalled previous efforts.

The solution to this problem required a commitment from all city agencies involved to work very closely together. Luckily in Brownsville's community district 16, we have phenomenal partners committed to going above and beyond to get the job done. This project would not have been possible without NYCHA and Langston Hughes Property Management, Dept. of Sanitation BK 16, NYPD's 73rd precinct and PSA 2, Common Ground's homeless services outreach team, and Ms. Viola Greene-Walker, our Community Board 16 District Manager.

At the end of the day, the project was a success on multiple levels. Not only did it show us that no job is too big if we work together, it removed a huge symbol of blight and disinvestment from the community. Throughout the morning, dozens of Langston Hughes residents stopped by to express their excitement and relief that the site was being cleaned. One even leaned out the top floor of the 21-story development to shout, "Yay! It's finally being cleaned. Thank you!"

The clean-up was an initiative of the Justice Center's Belmont Revitilization Project and Operation Toolkit. Operation Toolkit takes a problem-solving approach to tackling discrete neighborhood problems, particularly hotspots and conditions of disorder that impact public safety. To learn more or to suggest an Operation Toolkit project, contact Viviana at 347-404-9940.
Before the cleanup. The dumping measured 22 feet wide, 4 feet deep and between 6-9 feet tall.
NYCHA's welder was the first to arrive at the site.
Soon after, NYCHA property management, NYPD conditions officers from the 73rd precinct, and Common Ground street outreach workers arrived
along with the Department of Sanitation BK16 cleaning and field officers.
NYPD was effective in engaging the homeless individual to leave the site voluntarily and without incident.
After NYPD used their bolt cutter, the welder began to dismantle the fence.
The garbage was so compacted it did not fall with the fence.
DSNY surveyed the site as their sanitation truck arrives.
The first half of the fence comes down.
And the clean-up begins.
First to go were the corrugated metal and wrought iron fences.
NYCHA, NYPD, DSNY and Justice Center staff look on.
NYCHA provided two "front-loader" bobcats to assist with the clean-up.
DSNY strategize with their district superintendent.
It got a lot dirtier before it got cleaner.
Ready for the second half of the fence to come down.
NYCHA and DSNY survey the second half.
Like the first half, it was so compact it did not fall.
NYCHA hard at work breaking up the debris.
The NYCHA Borough Administrator for Property Management and BK16's Cleaning Officer track progress.
At one point 3 cats ran out of the site.
A few rats, and many, many roaches.
More than 6 tons of debris were removed.
NYCHA returned after this to sweep the premises and exterminate, DSNY came through with their street sweeper and NYCHA will power wash the wall.

NYCHA will not replace the fence so the dumping problem does not recur. The Justice Center will work with the property owner to finish cleaning the site, scrape and repaint the wall, and monitor it to prevent future dumping. The Justice Center, property owner, and NYCHA will develop a project to permanently reclaim and beautify the space - possibly planter boxes of flowers and a mural.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Monday, May 05, 2014

BCS Helps Out in Brownsville

Good morning everyone,
On April 17, Bronx Community Solutions community service crew supervisors (Ramon, Omar and myself) teamed up with staff from other Center for Court Innovation projects to participate in a special youth clean up project to support the Brownsville community. We combined our strength and passion for community clean-up with staff from the Brownsville Community Justice Center, the Red Hook Communtiy Justice CenterMidtown Community Court and Newark Community Solutions to help work toward a better and safe community. The clean up took place on Belmont Avenue with more than 100 volunteers coming out to provide their support. The work done that day included cleaning sidewalks, painting over graffiti, garden upkeep and picking up litter. It was great working again with our sister projects. Thank you, Brownsville, for including us in this awesome project.
- Moises Reyes, Coordinator of Community Service
You can read more about this event on the Brownsville Community Justice Center's blog, linked here and pasted below with more pictures: Youth take the lead at the Belmont Service Day

Friday, April 25, 2014

Youth take the lead at the Belmont Service Day!

On Thursday, April 17, 2014, the Belmont Ave business corridor buzzed with renewed energy and excitement. Over 100 volunteers came to lend a hand at the launch of the Brownsville Community Justice Center's latest initiative through the "Brownsville: Stronger Together" campaign: the Belmont Revitalization Project. The largest demographic of volunteers to lend a hand were Brownsville youth under 24 years old! Leave a comment to show your support of their hard work! Read more below!

The completed mural that a group of young people worked on alongside artists from Xmental during the Belmont Service Day! You can find this mural on the side of C-Town on Belmont Ave and Thatford Ave!
The launch of the Belmont Revitalization Project was a large service day that included street cleaning, graffiti removal, a church clean-up, greening of a vacant lot and the removal of dumping from side streets. The Justice Center and our volunteers were hosted by Pastor Derrick Harvey at the Total Recovery Worship Center!

Over 100 volunteers were signed in and assigned to a clean-up project!
The service day was a huge success that would not have been possible without great partners, which included: the New York City Housing Authority's greening crew, the Department of Transportation's Plaza Program, the Belmont C-Town Supermarket, Community Board 16, Mark Morris Dance Group, Sound Vaderz Entertainment, the Pitkin Ave BID, the NYC Dept. of Sanitation, the 73rd Precinct Community Affairs, the Brownsville Partnership, Made in Brownsville, the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Neighborhood Improvement Association, Xmental, Inc., and the Langston Hughes Senior Center.

GRAAFICs youth crew helped out with the Belmont service day along with Monique Minter, a BAVP campaign advisory board member!
We were extremely happy to see youth take the lead on taking back their community. Of the 100 volunteers, more than half were youth and young adults under the age of 24 years old. We want to thank several volunteer groups that lent their staff and/or Brownsville youth to the service day. Shout out to: the CUNY Corps, John Jay College Office of Community Outreach, GRAAFICS, A Rose is Still A Rose, The "Do You" youth group, the NYPD Explorers, and the New York Restoration Project.

The NYCHA greening crew came to help out! They did an amazing job in a vacant lot on Thatford Ave and Belmont Ave!

Officer Cruz brought out her Brownsville young women's youth group "A Rose is Still a Rose" to join us in service!
With out a doubt, youth enrolled in all of our Justice Center programs showed up and showed out by taking the lead on several of the clean-up projects.What a job well done! Youth also worked closely with the Justice Center's long time teaching artists Patty and Ralph of Xmental, Inc to complete another amazing community mural the day of the event!

We are also in great gratitude to the all of our sister projects at the Center for Court Innovation. Service crews came all the way from Midtown, Red Hook, Newark and the Bronx to supervise service activities and got down and dirty with the rest of us! Team work makes the dream work!

Our sister projects from the Center for Court Innovation came by to show us some love and lend a hand!

Cleaning crews filled the Belmont Ave business corridor!
A few of the crew worked on green tree pits with Rebecca, a volunteer from the New York Restoration Project!
Youth set-up and began cleaning the "One Day Plaza" for music and fun activities at the Belmont Service Day!

John Jay College service corps came to lend a hand!

BEFORE: the lot on the corner of Thatford was an overgrown dumping ground.
AFTER: it transformed to a beautiful garden to finally due justice to the Langston Hughes monument it houses!

BEFORE: the side of the building and grate were marred with graffiti
AFTER: brightened with a fresh coat of paint, all we left behind was a mountain of trash bags for Sanitation! Evidence of a hard days work!