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Thursday, March 02, 2017

Supervised Release: The First Client

As a tribute (and throwback) to the start of Supervised Release in the Bronx, below is a reflection written last year by our court Resource Coordinator, Mabel Jerez, about her first days on the job.  

Supervised Release Staff (the early days)
In February, 2016, I was given an opportunity to be part of Bronx Community Solutions' Supervised Release program.  This new program is designed to provide supervision and assistance to individuals arrested for non-violent misdemeanor and felony charges but cannot afford the bail requested at their arraignment. Typically these individuals are sent to Rikers Island, the City jail, to await the next court hearing on their case. Unfortunately, languishing in jail for weeks or months at a time can have devastating effects on an individual and their family including job loss, the inability to parent one’s children and the possibility of being evicted and loosing housing.

When I found out the City decided to expand Supervised Release throughout the 5 boroughs, I applied for a position in my home borough: the Bronx.  As a long-time Bronx resident, I am familiar with many of the difficulties the borough has, including the high number of residents in the criminal justice system and  the highest poverty levels in the state.  On March 1, 2016, Bronx Community Solutions’ Supervised Release program took flight.  I am a member of a team of a 5-person team of “Resource Coordinators” who meet with individuals to screen cases armed with risk tools to see who is eligible for the program.  On our first day, I interviewed my first client.  In my initial meeting with "Mr. N", he was hungry and exhausted from the little sleep he was able to get the previous night in the court's holding cell.  I went into the holding pens and, through a wire screen, introduced myself and explained that I had been given permission from his attorney to come and speak with him.  I interviewed Mr. N, explained the terms of the program, made a call to his wife, and verified his other community connections.  I believed Mr. N was just right for the program.  Minutes later, the court officer called the case and Mr. N stood before Judge Grasso, the presenting judge that day.

I too stood before the court with Mr. N, the Bronx Assistant District Attorney and Mr. N’s defense counsel.  The judge decided to give Mr. N the opportunity and released him to the Supervised Release program.  Weeks later I bumped into him in the halls of the courthouse, and this time he was smiling and grateful to see me.  He looked much better, healthier and alert.  His social worker reports that he is doing very well and calls a couple of times each week.  Mr. N’s case is indicative of the initial success the Supervised Program is having – in less than one month, over 40 men and women are already in the program.  There will be many more Mr. N stories as we continue to provide this service to the Bronx community.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Expanding our Reach: Bronx Community Solutions' Year in Bail Reform


At a recent meeting at the Center, Jamaal Anderson, a client of our Supervised Release program, explained the difference the program has made in his life.  Speaking of his social worker, John Megaw, right, Jamaal noted, "having someone there to steer you in the right direction really was a big help for me.  I had to not let him 
down, as well as myself."  















Today Bronx Community Solutions celebrates the one year anniversary of its Supervised Release program.  Our Changing the Courts blog will pay special tribute to this program over the next week with posts that highlight its imprint and give voice to those on the front lines of its implementation and impact.

There are currently close to 10,000 inmates being held at Rikers, 75 percent of whom are awaiting trial and can not afford their bail (In New York City, the misdemeanor median bail is $1,000 and $5,000 for felonies).  Designed to reduce dependence on unnecessary jail time and costly monetary bail, Supervised Release allows lower-risk defendants to remain in their communities, jobs and families while awaiting trial.  In addition to their court-required check-ins, all defendants in the program receive a thorough needs-assessment from BCS social workers and are referred to needed services such as vocational programs, housing or substance abuse treatment.

With a dedicated team of court representatives and social workers, Supervised Release has directly touched the lives of hundreds of clients and impacted an extension of thousands.  By way of numbers, throughout the past year we have:
  • Supervised 485 cases 
  • Seen 272 cases closed
  • And 200 (74%) closed successfully (dismissed, plea taken and/or charges reduced)
The contributions of Bronx Community Solutions' Supervised Release staff and Supervised Release programs across the city have made it possible for over 2,800 New Yorkers to avoid the trauma of a trip to Rikers and instead return to their friends, family, neighbors and colleauges.  


New Partners in Service: Bright Temple AME Church

In need of some extra hands for a special cleanup project, Rev. James Sherwyn reached out to the 41st precinct's Sergeant Clarivel Socola for help.  Bronx Community Solutions has forged a long-time partnership with Sgt. Socola and the NYPD so she knew just the right people for the job.  Bright Temple AME Church, located in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx, has plans to open its doors as a food pantry to the homeless and those struggling to make ends meet.  But there was still plenty of work to be done in cleaning and preparing the space.  For three days Bronx Community Solutions clients went to work cleaning rooms, removing old carpet and rearranging furniture.  With assistance from Crew Supervisors Anthony Gonzales and Corey Hatton and BCS community service clients made great strides in transforming the church space to better-serve Bronx residents.  Check out the pictures below to see the fruits of their labor.  


Bright Temple AME Church


Rev. Sherwyn consults with the community service team

All in a day's work

Bronx Community Solutions staff member Tiffany Barksdale, Anthony Gonzalez and
Moises Reyes with Rev. James Sherwyn

Hard at work


A job well done!

     

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Partners in Politics: Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner

Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner with Bronx Community Solutions' staff
Today we had the pleasure of hosting Bronx Assembly Woman Latoya Joyner.  Assemblywoman Joyner represents the 77th District, which includes the Claremont, Concourse, Highbridge, Mount Eden and Morris Heights sections of the Bronx and happens to be our neighbor with an office just blocks away from the courthouse.  During her three years in office, she has fought for tenants rights, increased access to education and more bilingual services in the courts.  A Bronx native and former court attorney, Assemblywoman Joyner has been instrumental in pushing for New York state to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18.  As she stated in a recent press release:
I am happy to join my colleagues in raising the age, as we must ensure that youthful transgressions do not lead to the lifelong stigma of a permanent criminal record. All New Yorkers must be given the opportunity for a second chance and the first step is to guarantee that future generations do not end up in the tangled web of our criminal justice system.  
Assembly Member Joyner and her Office Manager Michael Giardina met with Bronx Community Solutions staff who introduced our services and office space.  They then had the opportunity to meet with Judge Grasso, Bronx Criminal Court's Chief Administrative Judge who also presides over AP10, the court part that oversees criminal cases from 16 and 17 year-olds.  Assemblywoman Joyner thanked Judge Grasso for his work and expressed her support and interest in creating similar interventions for young people outside of the criminal justice system.

Bronx Community Solutions is grateful for political leaders and allies like Assemblywoman Joyner and we look forward to partnering and joining forces in Changing the Courts.


Assemblywoman Joyner and BCS Project Director, Maria Almonte-Weston, meet with Judge Grasso,
Chief Administrative Judge





Friday, September 09, 2016

Partnerships in Action: BCS and NYPD Team Up to Clean Up

by Moises Reyes, Community Service Coordinator


Bronx Community Solutions' work in action.
(mailbox graffiti before and after)
Today, the community service team, along with police officer Clarivel Socola from the Bronx's 41st Precinct, headed to Prospect Avenue to assist with painting over graffiti on residents' mailboxes.  This clean-up was requested by two longtime Bronx residents at a recent precinct council meeting attended by BCS staff members.  The project succeeded with the help of BCS Crew Supervisors Anthony Gonzalez, Corey Hatton, Omar Camacho, UPNEXT Intern Samuel Torres and three Bronx Community Solutions clients.  We were able to paint 15 mailboxes along Prospect Avenue and the residents were very pleased to see their mailbox looking like new again.  Projects like these point to the solid partnerships Bronx Community Solutions has built over the past 11 years and how those enable us to best-serve our clients and community.  The positive relationships that have been cultivated with our local police precincts enable BCS's community service team to address the Bronx's most pressing needs and for our clients to give back in practical, restorative ways.   









BCS Crew Supervisor Anthony Gonzalez assists a client with painting


Friday, August 12, 2016

National Night Out

by Moises Reyes, Coordinator of Community Service & Initiatives


On Tuesday August 2, 2016, Bronx Community Solutions' Community Service Crew went to Longwood Avenue and Southern Blvd to support the NYPD's 41st Precinct with National Night Out, an annual nation-wide community building campaign that promotes and brings together precincts and their communities.  Music, food and games are provided for residents of every age.  Bronx Community Solutions assisted by sweeping the sidewalks and removing trash.   

The Community Service team then moved on to join the 44th precinct at 169th St. and Jerome Avenue where they helped with clean up around the area and the parking lot, making sure National Night Out was safe and clean for all children and families coming to the evening event.


BCS's Community Service Team helps the 44th precinct (above) and 41st precinct (below) prepare for National Night Out

43rd Precinct National Night Out (below)


Families and residents enjoy the climbing wall, moonwalk and other fun and games


BCS Community Service team members (left to right) Anthony Gonzalez, Tiffany Barksdale and Corey Hatton


 


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

BCS to the Rescue

by Anthony Gonzalez, BCS Crew Supervisor

On the morning of July 5, 2016, BCS Community Service crew members Corey Hatton, Intern Jamal Carmichael and I, along with three BCS clients, set out to one of our regular work sites.  While riding in the van on Jerome Avenue, we noticed an enormous amount of trash and debris left behind by crowds of people celebrating 4th of July the previous day.  Even though this was not our original destination it was obvious Mullaly Park was in desperate need of extreme clean up.  I asked the park supervisor (one of our partners from Parks Department District #4) if we could lend a hand.  They were very grateful to utilize our assistance and we were grateful to take advantage of the chance to help our partners, neighbors and Bronx community.  

Mullaly Park in the aftermath of July 4th celebrations (3 pictures below)



Back to pristine condition after the BCS Community Service Crew took
charge (3 pictures below)






Monday, May 23, 2016

Bronx Community Solutions Hosts Appreciation Breakfast for Our Partners

by Shlomit Levy, Clinical Coordinator

On Friday May 20, 2016, Bronx Community Solutions hosted an appreciation breakfast to personally thank those agencies who have partnered with us over the years.  Our partners range from employment training, substance abuse treatment, Department of Veteran’s Affairs, health education services, Planned Parenthood, CASAC training institute, Community Service sites, and various other agencies.  Our preferred partners assist in providing group facilitation to our menu of social service groups, provide outpatient treatment and support services, and refer interns who are seeking learning opportunities.  The providers had the opportunity to hear from all of Bronx Community Solutions’ program coordinators as well as network and learn about each other’s roles at BCS.  Awards were presented to three providers that have served the clients of BCS for over 10 years: Arms Acres, Vertex and World Vision.  One provider stated “I never realized how many clients Bronx Community Solutions served and how many programs you have”.  
For more pictures of the event, check out the slide show above.   

Arms Acres drug treatment program received a certificate as one of BCS's longest partnerships

Monday, May 16, 2016

Talking Bail Reform at the Schomburg Center

by John Megaw, Director of Special Initiatives

The Vera Institute of Justice and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice hosted a forum on bail reform last week at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The forum, titled “Resetting Bail: the Price of Justice in New York City”, took a hard look at the current bail system – how it works, strategies for improving to make it more fair and effective and the pioneering practices already in place to inspire enduring change.

Speakers included Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, Miriam Popper, Program Director of Alternatives to Detention and Incarceration at the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, Nicholas Turner, President and Director of the Vera and Honorable George Grasso, the Supervising Judge of the New York City Criminal Court Arraignments.

One of the pioneering practices highlighted is the new Supervised Release program that began on March 1 in Criminal Courts in all five boroughs.  Over 500 men and women who might otherwise be languishing on Rikers Island awaiting trial have already begun in the program in less than three months!  A video highlighting some of the success stories from the program, including a Bronx Community Solutions client, was well received by the 250 criminal justice reformers and community members who attended the forum.
 


 

National Reentry Week


by Ramon Semorile, Intake Specialist

April 24-30 was National Reentry Week--a week focused on bringing awareness to the needs of individuals returning home from prison.  On April 28th, Reentry Anonymous, a support group for returning citizens, was invited to participate in a forum called, "I'm Home, What's Next?" for inmates who were nearing the end of their sentences.  I represented Reentry Anonymous on the panel and answered inmates' questions.  Common questions were how to avoid negative people, places and influences and how to cope with the anxiety of supervised release, career and confronting old habits. 

Most of what I witnessed was the inmates' courage--the courage to change their lives.  I saw this in how they nodded their heads in approval and hearing what they believed or were attempting to achieve as returning citizens. 

The two other panel members were returning citizens and became inmates again but they recognized their mistakes.  They told the other inmates what errors they have committed, recognizing they needed another approach to keep themselves out of jail.  It was a great event  and I can't wait to go back for another opportunity to speak.  It is just as important to give returning citizens the opportunity to become productive members of society as it is to close prisons and jails. 
 



Friday, March 18, 2016

NYPD hosts BCS at Annual Community Partners Appreciation

by Moises Reyes, Community Service Coordinator and Jennifer Petersen, Deputy Project Director

On Monday night, BCS was escorted by 44th precinct Detective Carmen Tejada to the NYPD Community Partner Appreciation Day.  The event focused on thanking organizations like BCS for building and improving the relationship between police officers and the community through the NYPD's Community Partner Program.  The program assigns new Police Academy graduates to work with a group of local community partners who orient the officers to their assigned neighborhood--local leaders and the policing issues of greatest concern to residents and businesses.  Officers must introduce and get to know constituents of all ages and backgrounds in their patrol area, building trust and a sense of safety among residents.  

Since 2005, Bronx Community Solutions has maintained a positive relationship with the 44th precinct through the precinct's Community Affairs department, led by then-Officer (now Detective) Carmen Tejada.  Joint projects have included BCS clients assisting the precinct in graffiti cleanup, trash removal and event setup.  


Captain Brienza, 44 Precinct; Dr. Cary Goodman, 161st St. Business Improvement District;  Marie Forbes, NYC Housing Authority, Detective Carmen Tejada, 44 Precinct, Elyse Allbee, Daughters of Jacob Nursing Home; Jennifer Petersen, Bronx Community Solutions; Moises Reyes, Bronx Community Solutions; Cory Shaw, West Bronx Recreational Center; Officer Santos Collazo and Officer Brian Ortiz, 44 Precinct


Along with remarks from Commissioner William Bratton, we heard from an NYPD recruiter about their efforts to make the city's police force more culturally and ethnically diverse. The event closed with the night's community partner honoree, Music With a Message. This talented group of young people is spreading positive messages through song and has even recruited musically-inclined local NYPD officers to join their band.  Though many issues still need to be addressed, it was encouraging to see the results of NYPD's recent efforts to outreach and address the concerns of their community. 



Bronx-Based "Music With A Message" performs at the NYPD Community Partner Appreciation




Monday, March 14, 2016

Supervised Release: Bail Alternative Program Proves Early Success for Clients and Community


BCS's Supervised Release team: John Megaw, Latoya White, Elizabeth Swan-Taylor, Tracee Paige, Rosa Aguirre, Anibal Cortes and Mabel Jerez (not pictured: Shaina Adjei and Doreen Gonzalez)
Mayor De Blasio's citywide focus on bail alternative programming has allowed Bronx Community Solutions to expand its court presence through a new initiative called Supervised Release.  Designed to reduce dependence on unnecessary jail time and monetary bail, Supervised Release allows lower-risk defendants to remain in their communities, jobs and families while awaiting trial.  In addition to their court-required check-ins, all defendants in the program receive a thorough needs-assessment from BCS social workers and are referred to needed services such as vocational programs, housing or substance abuse treatment.

Early Success
David* was mandated to BCS's supervised release program through a charge for criminal possession of a controlled substance.  During his initial intake, the 28-year old male revealed that he was unemployed and was expecting his first child.  With a baby on the way and no employment prospects, David wanted to focus on creating a resume and finding a job.  BCS Director of Special Initiatives, John Megaw, referred him to Employment Works, a longtime BCS partner who assists individuals with criminal histories in finding employment.  Though David was mandated under "level 1" supervision requiring once per month contact, he chose to meet with John weekly to receive additional support and work toward his goals.  David was also without medical insurance and was able to meet with a Blue Cross Blue Shield representative at BCS's office to enroll in Medicaid.  Within a month of his initial intake with Supervised Release, David proudly reported that he had created his first resume and started full time work at a retail store in his neighborhood with the help of Employment Works.

David is just one of the 90 clients already assigned to Supervised Release and an early indication that bail alternatives can be a win for both individuals and the public. 


*name has been changed

To learn more about the citywide rollout of Supervised Release, visit
http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/336-16/mayor-de-blasio-citywide-rollout-17-8-million-bail-alternative-program

Friday, February 05, 2016

Career Talk With Our Court Clerks

Senior Court Clerks Jackie Oates and Anthony Dorsey (middle) with our BCS interns
The following post was written by Bronx Community Solutions' Compliance Coordinator, Lovis Nelson-Williams.  Among the many hats she wears, Lovis organizes a quarterly "Career Talk", an opportunity for BCS interns to learn about the many career opportunities within our court system. 
 
“Upward mobility”, “job security” and “lifelong friendships”.  These are key words used by Senior Court Clerks Jackie Oates and Anthony Dorsey to describe working for the New York Unified Court System.  Ms. Oates and Mr. Dorsey were invited to speak with Bronx Community Solutions’ interns as part of a quarterly career talk hosted by BCS.  The two clerks provided an overview of how they came into their careers and insight into their role in the courts.  Oates and Dorsey have both previously worked in the private sector and were able to lay out many benefits to working in the public sector.  From amazing health benefits to unionized protections (that provided job security even during the economic downturn), both recommended that our interns seek out employment in the court system.  In addition, BCS interns learned about the promotional exams that allow for a tremendous amount of room to grow in the profession of court clerk (which includes financial as well as task-oriented growth).

We learned that court clerks are also considered peace officers, can perform arrests and are able to carry firearms.  Mr. Dorsey and Ms. Oates work together in the Bronx’s arraignment court, which handles everything from approving search warrants to general arraignment work (seeing defendants upon their first contact with a judge).  Court clerks are known as “New York’s Smartest” because of the comprehensive knowledge required of the role; clerks must be well-versed in civil, criminal and housing court procedures.

Ms. Oates and Mr. Dorsey, like many court employees, have years of experience working in the court system.  In this time they have forged lasting friendships and familial bonds.  They expressed an appreciation for a work environment that “doesn’t even feel like you’re going to work.”  As with any family, there will always be rough patches but the general consensus is that embarking on their careers in the courts has been one of the best decisions that they have ever made.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Community Service Crew Brings Relief after Winter Storm

The mornings of January 25-29 were cold yet prosperous days for Bronx Community Solutions' Community Service crew.  The staff assisted in removing the snow that paralyzed the Bronx during the first blizzard of the season, and one of New York City's largest in history.  The areas of focus included the 161st Street and Sheridan Avenue strip.  With six BCS clients in tow, crew supervisor Anthony Gonzalez and intern Parnell Farrow took the lead in clearing snow around fire hydrants, opening paths for the handicapped to navigate and providing sidewalk space for pedestrians to travel smoothly and safely to their destinations.   

Snow removal at community partner site, West Bronx Recreational 

 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Taking a page from Midtown Community Court's playbook.


Last wee, Bronx Community Solutions met with court and community stakeholders to discuss concerns regarding the policing of the trans community in the Bronx Fordham area. The meeting was organized by Judge Poust-Lopez, the Bronx HTI Court judge and was attended by representatives from Bronx Defenders, Legal Aid, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, Anti-Violence Project (AVP), Monroe College, Congressman Serrano’s office, NYPD’s 52nd Precinct, and Councilman Ritchie Torres’ office.
Judge Lopez convened these stakeholders as a way to address a particular ‘condition’ in the neighborhood a strategy she learned from her time at Midtown Community Court,  participating in monthly conditions meetings.
The meeting provided an opportunity for officers and community representatives to share concerns of safety issues in the neighborhood, while Legal Aid, Bronx Defenders, AVP and BCS discussed reports from clients of unfair targeting for prostitution arrests and experiences of transphobic behavior during arrests. The meeting laid a foundation for continued collaborative efforts from all parties to fairly address concerns from both sides. In the following meeting, we hope to include additional representatives from the Bronx LGBT community in order to plan street outreach and preventative measures to improve issues in the neighborhood as an alternative to relying solely on policing

A special thanks to Charlotte Webber, our dedicated Safety & Empowerment social worker for nudging the judge and making this meeting happen.

Friday, October 30, 2015

BCS Launches DAT-Y Initiative!

We’re going into our third week of the DAT-Y (Desk Appearance Ticket-Youth) Program here at BCS and we couldn’t be more excited about the success we’ve seen so far!  The DAT-Y Program, modeled after the successful programing at BJI (Brooklyn Justice Initiatives), is an early diversion initiative specifically designed for adolescents' ages 16 and 17 years old issued a desk appearance ticket for non-violent offenses. This program allows compliant participants to receive a same-day  dismissal and seal for successful completion of DAT-Y programming!

Cases will be screened to ensure the appropriate DAT-Y eligibility criteria which includes: current non-violent arrest (including marijuana possession, theft of services, petit larceny), cases not involving orders of protection, cases with no current open misdemeanors or felonies, and cases with no warrant history or prior conviction.

Elizabeth Swan, Willie Bernardez, Justin Briggs, and Omar Camacho have all been vital BCS additions to our ADP program when it comes to facilitating and ensuring the success of DAT-Y. Elizabeth and Willie have been tasked with screening each case to determine further eligibility, explaining the initiative and compliance criteria, and identifying additional special needs. All cases accepted into DAT-Y programming are then adjourned for a 4pm second call. In the interim, all participants join in on the 3-hour (plus lunch) session with BCS staff. The 1st session includes components of community mapping (led by Omar and myself) and the 2nd session focuses on cognitive behavior and motivation for youth using illegal substances (led by Justin and myself). Within our first two weeks, we’ve had 25 program graduates from the DAT-Y Program. We look forward to bringing the success that BJI initiated in Brooklyn to the Bronx, and beyond!


-          Serena Powery, Youth Justice Social Worker