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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mapping the homeless population

Click Here to view a fascinating mapping tool that tracks changes in the homeless population around "Skid Row," the Central City East district of Los Angeles, as counted by the LAPD during a recent six month period.

Some Respite, if Little Cheer, for Skid Row Homeless This article from today's New York Times gives a good account of the current situation

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New Reports on North Liverpool and Salford projects

Evaluation reports were released yesterday for the Salford and North Liverpool community justice projects in England (thanks to Julius Lang for the lead). You can view the reports here. To view the key findings, Read More...

- Strong judicial case management and close multi-agency collaboration has improved efficient court operation.

- Both projects developed a range of methods to improve public awareness of the work of the court, and increase the visibility of the judiciary and criminal justice agencies; as well as to directly involve local people in identifying priority offences and identifying local areas or facilities to be improved by offenders on unpaid work.

- Both projects focused on tackling the underlying issues which drive or perpetuate offending. The reports also found that increased direct engagement with defendants as well as the strong judicial leadership evident in North Liverpool has ensured a more tailored and responsive approach to offenders' needs.

- In both North Liverpool and Salford the judiciary, court staff and other professional stakeholders perceived that bringing offenders back to court for reviews of their community orders under Section 178 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 is effective in helping to motivate offenders successfully to complete their orders.

The North Liverpool section the City Of Liverpool website provides an interesting overview of urban development plans in the borough.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bronx News

I thought I'd end the week with two interesting Bronx news stories: a profile of the strange relationship between President Hugo Chavez and community development in the South Bronx, and coverage of a robbery pattern targeting Mexican laborers. Read More...

Last Sunday, the New York Times profiled the beguiling relationship between Hugo Chavez and the South Bronx. The Bronx has been one of the prime benefactors of Citgo (the national oil company of Venezuela)'s subsidized heating oil program for homes in low-income communities in several cities across the country. But in addition to the heating oil program, Chavez made generous, low-key, no-strings attached donations to some of the best programs and local organizations leading the way in the Bronx. The article interview several community leaders who have benefited from the donation and who were recently hosted in Venezuela as guests of Mr. Chavez. Many seem unsure what to make of these activities. The assistance is certainly making a big difference in the Bronx. However, is it all just intended to embarrass the U.S. government and U.S. businesses? And how are the poor in Venezuela fairing compared to people in the Bronx? Here's the article.

And this article details a possible emerging crime pattern: groups of young men have been robbing Mexican laborers at gunpoint, often on their way home from the subway, in Kingsbridge and other parts of the west Bronx. The Mexican workers are often undocumented, and carry cash instead of paychecks.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Using Text Messaging

Reporting from Britain: "A text alert scheme which reminds criminals to turn up for community service is to be extended to other types of court orders." Click here to read the full story.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Two Directions on Homelessness

Significant changes in city policies regarding homelessness were reported today in Los Angeles and New York, taking the two cities in very different directions. Read More... The City of Los Angeles and the ACLU announced a settlement today in a case filed by six homeless people in 2003 over an ordinance that prohibits sleeping on sidewalks, and which had been used by the Los Angeles Police Department to roust the homeless from Skid Row.

Under the terms of the settlement, individuals may sleep on the sidewalk from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. if they are at least 10 feet from business and residential entrances and are not engaged in criminal activity. The settlement will remain in place for at least several years, until the city builds 1,250 new units of supportive housing in the Skid Row area and other parts of the city.

In New York, the City announced that it will close a loop hole that allowed families who apply for benefits but are turned down to obtain emergency overnight housing. The city had allowed families who had been ruled ineligible to be given shelter for one night if they reapplied after 5 p.m.

Approaches towards homelessness vary markedly in America's major cities. Planners who are attempting to replicate New York's Midtown Community Court model in San Fransisco's Tenderloin District found that major differences in public opinion on the issue forced them to set aside some parts of the Midtown formula.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Update: Larry Craig

Hennepin County Judge Charles Porter issued his ruling yesterday Larry Craig will not be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea. From the New York Times: "Judge Porter wrote that there were 'no hints of a lack of guilt of the offense of disorderly conduct.' He called 'illogical' the argument that Mr. Craig was unaware of the facts to which he admitted guilt, saying the police report was attached to the plea petition and that Mr. Craig signed or initialed the pages. As for the argument that Mr. Craig did not enter the plea 'intelligently,' the judge said: “The defendant, a career politician with a college education, is of at least above average intelligence. He knew what he was saying, reading and signing.'... 'The defendant chose not to appear and to enter his plea by mail just so he could avoid publicity,' the judge wrote."

The full court order can be read here. How does this all compare to a typical misdemeanor plea? Read More...

Sen. Craig actually had exceptionally good circumstances under which to consider and enter his plea. Though not a lawyer, he is certainly a sophisticated operator, whose professional life consists of reading, debating and voting on legislation. Though not assisted by counsel, he was able to read over his guilty plea at leisure, in the comfort of his office.

Contrast that with the typical circumstances of a guilty plea to disorderly conduct in an urban courthouse. The defendant is a high-school dropout. He meets briefly with a lawyer while waiting in a crowded, fetid holding cell, after having been detained for 12-24 hours. His plea, which he enters before the judge in open court, usually happens very quickly. He may have the chance to ask his lawyer about the consequences of a plea, but this happens quickly, and there may be things he doesn't think to ask about, or his lawyer doesn't mention.

Regret is often a part of a guilty plea - even to a minor charge. Reading about this case reminded me of a message I received once on our office answering machine. An unidentified, sad sounding voice said, "I'm calling because I don't think I want to take this plea..." Of course, he'd already taken the plea, and his chances of ever taking it back were very small.

A Phoenix From the Ashes

Today is the 30th anniversary of President Jimmy Carter's historic visit to the South Bronx, in the same year that Howard Cosell famously declared, "Ladies and Gentleman, the Bronx is burning."

By the time of Carter's visit to Charlotte Street arson, crime, a lack of city services and abandonment and neglect by landlords had reduced much of the area to a near desert of abandoned buildings, vacant lots, and piles of broken rubble. Part of the street had even been taken off the City map. Read More...

The story of Charlotte street is a model of succesful housing redevelopment. According to the New York Times, "Today, Charlotte Street feels not so much like the southern Bronx but Long Island. Now primarily a mix of Asian, African-American and Latino families, it is a sleepy three-blocks lined with clean sidewalks and white-painted wrought iron fences. There are worn welcome mats at the front doors and pink flamingo and chipmunk ornaments in the yards." Over many years neighborhood activists and clergy, community development groups and local, state and federal officials used public subsidies, city-donated land and tax abatements to rebuild this and other areas of the South Bronx. Today, houses on the street are worth $500,000.

Click here to read the full article. Whether the South Bronx has truly outgrown its reputation for crime and lawlessness is hotly debated topic among observers of gentrification. Here is a long and heated argument in a discussion forum about the Mott Haven, Hunts Point, and Port Morris areas.

Human Trafficking in New York

You can read my latest article in the Gotham Gazette, on human trafficking in New York here.