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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Blogging As Crime-Fighting

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes sometimes walked past 346 and 348 93rd Street, between Third and Fourth Avenues in Brooklyn, near his own home in the neighborhood, but he didn't notice the signs of criminal activity that were going on there. It took a group of concerned citizens, who connected over a website, to add up the details and realize that the property was a location of ongoing drug activity.

According to an article in today's New York Times,

A core group of seven people who met through the blog brought the case to the attention of the community board and met with the authorities. “A group of people who did not know each other came together and traded information,” he said.

Katherine Khatari, 47, who owns a coffee shop in Bay Ridge, said she learned of the complaints about the houses on the blog. “You check and see what’s going on in the neighborhood,” she said “People don’t like to fight alone. There’s strength in numbers, you know? There’s more of us than them.”

For other posts about citizens who are using the internet as a tool to track crime and other conditions in their neighborhood and organize their neighbors, read previous posts here and here.

I wonder if something similar might ever happen in the Bronx...?

Here's another example of citizen's using blogs to shine a light on crime: Holla Back NYC, an online forum for visitors, mostly women, to post photographs and stories about their experiences being groped, catcalled or otherwise sexually harassed in public.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Who Will Replace Judge Judith Kaye?

After 15 years as New York State's Chief Judge, Judge Kaye is retiring, and yesterday, New York State made the official announcement that it is seeking her replacement. This article from today's New York Sun explains the selection process and mentions at least three people who will be likely to apply for the position.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Book Review

A Phoenix in the Ashes, by John Mollenkopf.

After almost three years working in the Bronx Criminal Court (most of it spent running our intake department, assisting hundreds of our clients, attorneys, court officers, judges, and the public), I'm still fascinated by my job. I enjoy being a student of criminal justice and operations of a large public bureaucracy. In a course I recently took at Baruch College, I studied Bolman and Deal's "Four Frames." Each frame, the structural, human resource, political, and symbolic, respectively, provides a different way of understanding how an organization functions. While I think that I am naturally inclined to view organizations from human resource and symbolic frames in my own work, I have, while working in the Bronx, gained a better appreciation for the structural and political frames.

The political frame is the view that organizations are an arena for the healthy competition of various factions and groups. Reading Mollenkopf's masterwork on the operation of contemporary New York City politics (covering its evolution from the late nineteen-seventies to the early nineteen-nineties), gave me a rich context for attempting to understand a large organization like the Bronx courts in the political frame. Chapter Three, especially, provides a concise summary of growth, decline, competition, and cooperation between New York's various major demographic groups and economic sectors.

Next, I'll review Street Level Bureaucracy by Michael Lipsky.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mayor Announces Mental Health Initiative

Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg held a press conference to announce the release of a set of recommendations from a combined City/State review panel that was created in the wake of recent police shootings of people with mental illness and cases such as that of accused murderer David Turloff. The recommendations cover a broad range of topics, including the expansion of mental health courts across the state, and the introduction of mental health screening in Criminal Court for individuals sentenced to community-based sanctions, which the city plans to test in the Bronx:

"NYC should expand post-arraignment mental health screening in the Bronx Criminal Court to identify appropriate individuals, sentenced to brief community-based programs, for mental health assessments, intensive engagement, and voluntary case management as an alternative to the original court mandate. This pilot would help evaluate whether brief mandatory engagement efforts promote longer-term participation in mental health services."

Here is a PDF of the report.

And here is an article in the NY Sun.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Summer Events

Here is a partial calender of upcoming Bronx Community Solutions events...

Bronx Community Solutions Annual Staff Picnic

DATE: June 20, 2008
TIME: 1p.m to 6p.m
LOCATION: Mullaly Park

Theme is "Child's Play"


Juvenile Accountability Court Graduation

DATE: June 30th
TIME: 5:00pm
LOCATION: Bronx School of Law Government and Justice

Parents, family, friends, probation officers, judges, law guardians, corporation counsel and program partners welcome!

Bronx Community Solutions Community Advisory Board Meeting

DATE: July 16th
TIME: 5:30-7:00pm
LOCATION: Bronx School of Law Government and Justice

Meeting agenda: Partner Recognition Ceremony

Play Streets

DATE: July and August TBD

Theme: "Greening the Bronx"

Nat'l Night Out Against Crime

DATE: Aug 5th

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

USA Today: Community Courts Growing

Cities and counties increasingly are creating innovative community courts to deal with the growing number of habitual petty criminals that police call "frequent fliers."

Criminals who are arrested repeatedly for crimes such as public drunkenness, trespassing and panhandling are crowding jails and sapping police resources, officials say. The cost of handling small-time criminals who cycle in and out of jail is becoming a more pressing problem for communities as budgets tighten and jail populations swell.

The new courts sentence "frequent fliers" to treatment plans and social services, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, instead of jail.

"It's the new frontier," says Amy Solomon, who studies criminal justice at The Urban Institute in Washington. "There is a new realization and recognition" that incarceration is not the best solution. "I think it'll grow and continue to pick up."

View the Full Article.

Monday, June 09, 2008

At the U.N.

From Bronx Community Solutions Deputy Director Maria Almonte-Weston

“I’m very proud to know that we are working to re-humanize those whose dignity has been stolen.”

These were very poignant words coming from Dr. Mark Lagon, Ambassador-at-Large and Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State. The TIP Office coordinates the U.S. Government's activities in the global fight against modern-day slavery, including forced labor and sexual exploitation. He was the moderator for a panel discussion event at the United Nations, Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT), called “Criminal Justice Responses Against Trafficking in Person.”

I’m glad I attend this event, I was able to see first hand the number of individuals interested and involved in the effort to end human trafficking. This very serious issue is finally being given a significant amount of attention, both domestically and internationally and small but concrete changes are occurring.

The panel consisted of a diverse and impressive group of individuals, from different backgrounds, professions and experiences. Dorchen A. Leidholdt, Esq. the Director for Battered Women’ Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families; Jessica Neuwirth, a founder and current president of Equality Now, an international human rights organization; Kenneth Franzblau, director of Human Trafficking Prevention at the State Division of Criminal Justice Services, who is in charge of implementing New York's new anti-trafficing laws, the toughest in the nation (more about him in this article); and last but certainly not least, a person who I believe was the most impressive and impactful individual on this panel, Ms. Kika Cerpa, a survivor of human trafficking and a strong voice for change (you can read more about her story in this Op-Ed column by Bob Herbert, "Hidden in Brothels, Slavery by Another Name"). Kika’s story is like so many others, a stranger in a strange land, with hopes of a better life who ends up with the mental scars of her abuse as her reality.

But there is another story, another face, one I see every time I go out on a Bronx Community Solutions street outreach with the NYPD. It’s the face of our neighborhood “Kika”, the run-away, throw-away, hard core youth I frequently encounter in the night. These girls, are rarely seen like ‘victims’ and are seldom treated like individuals who need to be protected. My hope is that the ‘prostitution initiative’ implemented by Bronx Judges, court players, precinct commanders and Bronx Community Solutions will also makes a small but significant change in the lives of sexually exploited individuals in the Bronx.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bronx Food Adventures

On this blog, we've posted previously on Bronx food gems. Today, I found this treasure trove of Bronx food discoveries, restaurants, lunch counters, caf├ęs, street vendors, fairs, festivals, grocers, and greenmarkets around borough, on this blog, Eating in Translation, field notes about interesting food around New York and sometimes beyond.

Problem Solving Justice in the News

The Queens Tribune is highlighting a book, recently published by the Center for Court Innovations' Center for Courts and the Community and the New York State Unified Court System entitled "Drug Courts: Personal Stories." It is the first collection of narratives to document the remarkable turnaround of New Yorkers who have recovered from addiction after years of law violations and personal tragedies. Read the full article in the Tribune here. To read a collection of success stories from this blog, go here.

And the San Fransisco Chronicle is carrying another editorial supportive of the Community Justice Center there. This caption neatly describes the concept of community justice:

After 18 months of work, a wide coalition of judges, law enforcement officials and social service leaders are proposing a break from the usual. Take suspects arrested for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies - such as shoplifting, car burglaries or small-time drug peddling - to a one-stop court. There, a court commissioner will weigh the case to see if the arrestee is a candidate for detox, supervised housing, health care and even tattoo removal to get a job. If a candidate balks or breaks a promise to seek help, then the case goes back into the conventional court system. The new process is designed to take days, not weeks, as it does now.

The Bronx Is Rising

According to the New York Times, "From Art Deco buildings to slick restaurants and a growing artists’ colony, the borough offers more than baseball and beer-soaked bars."

This article, from the Travel Section, is intended to open the eyes of the throngs of first-time visitors who are trekking to the Borough for a chance to watch the Yankees play their last season in the House that Ruth Built. It's focused on notable attractions around the Yankee Stadium area that justify straying a little further afield.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Can New York Break Its Incarceration Habit?

Crime and the number of felons are down in New York, but the state continues to keep its prisons open, eating up money that could be used for drug treatment, better supervision of released offenders and improving parole. My latest article for the Gotham Gazette is available here.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Creative Sentencing: Greatest Hits

This has got to be one of the most creative alternative sanctions ever handed out in a court of law. According to a story from AP, more than two dozen young people who broke into Robert Frost's former home for a beer party and trashed the place are being required to take classes in his poetry as part of their punishment.

Using "The Road Not Taken" and another poem as jumping-off points, Frost biographer and Middlebury Professor Jay Parini hopes to show the vandals the error of their ways — and the redemptive power of poetry.

The prosecutor in the case came up with the idea and contacted Parini. "I guess I was thinking that if these teens had a better understanding of who Robert Frost was and his contribution to our society, that they would be more respectful of other people's property in the future and would also learn something from the experience," said prosecutor John Quinn.