Taking a chance

Tony* smiled and said, “Thank you, your honor” as Judge Gonzalez handed him his certificate of completion.

“No Tony, thank you," the Judge replied. "Now that I gave you a chance and you were successful, this has paved the way for me to give chances to others.”

For problem-solving courts like drug courts and mental health courts, this type of judicial encouragement is nothing new. What is new is applying these problem-solving principles in a busy court system that arraigns 50,000 annual misdemeanor cases.

Tony was one of those cases. He had multiple arrests on his record, bringing Tony closer to a cycle of arrest and short-term jail.

Yet when he appeared in arraignment after an arrest for jumping the turnstile (attempting to get into the city's subway system without paying the fare), Judge Gonzalez saw more than just the instant matter and prior arrest record.

She saw a kid in need of intervention. Tony, like so many Bronx Community Solutions clients, has a complicated life. Eighteen, unemployed with a learning disability, out of school for four years, Tony was living on the streets for four months prior to being reunited with his estranged mother.

Working with Bronx Community Solutions, the judge mandated Tony to 20 days at a youth program, The Door with a 45 day jail alternative if he did not comply.

The Door is a youth development that offers young people 12 to 21 one-on-one tutoring, mental health counseling, job-training and group recreational activities. Tony went every day, even after completing his mandatory 20 days.

As Tony stood before the judge, he gleamed with anticipation, knowing that this was a huge accomplishment. “So you’re back and I have been hearing so many good things about you,” said Judge Gonzales. Almost instantaneously, and with a huge smile, Tony burst out, “Thank you for giving me another chance, your honor.”

Some critics may say that the criminal justice system should not be a place to resolve social and or behavioral issues. In an ideal world, individuals would seek out needed services on their own. The unfortunate reality is that individuals like Tony often don’t know how to access these services and instead languish in the criminal justice system. The good news is a little push is sometimes all a person needs.

Just ask Tony, he continues to receive vocational tutoring that will assist him toward acquiring his GED, as well as one-on-one counseling sessions. His mother is very happy that he has completed his criminal mandate.

Tony is not the only one to benefit from the referral. Whether you are a judge, attorney, court clerk or court officer, working in a busy urban courtroom can be a tough grind. It’s easy to get cynical about human nature when you see the same case day after day. That’s why positive moments with individuals like Tony are so important.

*Tony is not his real name.