Bronx Community Solutions

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Culture to Culture

"I never been to a Broadway play and I can't wait to go again"

This is what the new partnership between Tickets for the People and Bronx Community Solutions is all about. Tickets for the People is a non-profit organization that gives free Broadway tickets to non-traditional theater goers.

Bronx Community Solutions has teamed up with this organization to bridge the youth culture (and others) with the theater culture to help educate Bronx residents about the wonderful experience of live theater entertainment. This is the first program of its kind which enables people who are disenfranchised to become empowered to leave their neighborhoods and go downtown to see fun and exciting plays.

Not only are the youth able to see these plays, but Bronx Community Solutions will be giving tickets to all the supporting agencies that help them help others. Those who attend the plays will be meeting with the performers afterward to discuss the experience and get autographs. One of the past participants stated "this is the first time I've ever seen a play and I loved it and I can't wait to tell my friends."

Monday, June 25, 2007

Getting Under The Hood With Grafitti (A Look At The Numbers)

What do arrests for graffiti charges really "look" like in the Bronx? To get an idea, we found out as much as we could about all 117 cases for 2007 so far that contained a graffiti charge. Read below to see what we found out.

First, these cases come from all over the borough. While some precincts stood out (especially the 52nd Precinct, covering University Heights, Fordham, Bedford Park, Norwood and the 43rd, covering Soundview and Castle Hill), all twelve precincts were a significant source of cases.

Second, two-thirds of these cases received Bronx Community Service dispositions. The District Attorney has a standing policy of recommending conditional discharge with five days of community service for many graffiti cases. We found that community service sentences ranged from two to ten and averaged 4.6 days. In addition to community service, 10% of the cases that went to us also included a requirement of social service.

This was a pleasant surprise for us. That means that a lot of graffiti offenders are performing community service that is directly paying back for the harm they have committed: Our "Tag Team" graffiti initiative works in partnership with the NYPD to repair graffiti damage at over twenty sites across the Bronx.

Other sanctions in graffiti cases included jail (20 days-6 months), fines or restitution ($500-$595), or probation (1 year). Some cases had not yet had sentenced imposed, or had been given straight conditional discharges, usually at the same time the defendant was pleading to a top charge or a more serious case.

One thing we were interested to learn from the Bronx District Attorney is that some vocal Bronx residents think "graffiti criminals" are not getting punished enough. In high profile cases of notorious artists, community residents are often demanding stiff jail sentences. I wonder if this is a problem that has a "power law" or a "bell curve" distribution, that is best addressed by focusing on a small number of the most serious cases or by working with the broad middle of the population. It's true that the high profile artists are prolific and do a great deal of property damage individually. However, I think that the true effect of graffiti is in its pervasiveness and its cumulative impact. Winning a high jail sentence for a handful of cases is important, but I'm glad we're experimenting with more meaningful sentences for the other 110 cases.

We're going to start by doing two things right away. We'll systematically flag all graffiti cases that go to Bronx Community Solutions for graffiti-specific community service. And we'll include participation in a graffiti-focused community impact panel as a requirement of a defendant's mandate.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Youth in an adult system

After work yesterday, I left our intake office and walked down the street to the Bronx School of Law Government and Justice to sit in on a session of a youth group being facilitated by one of my colleagues. Sitting in a classroom were three young men, ages 16, 17, and 18, being asked to tell "their story." As the facilitator posed questions, each of the participants reflected on the attitudes and decisions that had landed them before a judge.

The next day, I met these young men again to go out in the field with Bronx River Alliance's Conservation Crew to perform community service. The wonderful folks on the crew take a lot of pride in what they do, and they really enjoy teaching young people about the Bronx River. Watching a crew member show one of our participants how to get a shovel under the root of a Japanese Knotweed, or how deep to plant a maple sapling while spotting ducks and red-winged blackbirds along the riverbanks, was a nice change of pace from my usual responsibilities!

These types of age appropriate court mandates are difficult to do in a big traditional courthouse. Although many youth may be getting in trouble for the first time, and may still be very young in their emotional and mental development, their cases are handled in a system designed for adults. To keep up with the high volume most of our social service requirements must be kept general. Young people, often with minor charges, must participate in the same groups as older clients with more serious records and problems. Traditional community service is much more geared towards adults as well. Youth specific strategies can be more resource intensive but we also think this is a crucial population to reach.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Bronx Community Solutions in NYT

Click here to read an article about our basketball team, the Bombers, in the New York Times!

Step Street Clean-Up In The News

Check out this video piece by Lily Jamali, a reporter with WNBC and the Columbia Journalism school, on our initiative to address conditions at step streets in the Bronx.

Also, you can read more coverage of the political controversy over the Community Justice Center proposal in San Fransisco here, as the mayor's chief opponent on the Board of Supervisors (the equivalent of a city council) moves to block funding, and an editorial in response here. The judiciary is signaling their support - coverage here.