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Thursday, December 24, 2009

First Few New Yorkers Charged Under Leandra's Law

Lenny Rosado (with a picture of his daugther Leandra) and Gov. Paterson
After Leandra's Law (making it a felony to drive drunk with a child in the car) went into effect last Friday, two New Yorkers were caught breaking that law in the days after and have become the first two New Yorker's charged under the new law.
As reported in the Daily News, on Saturday, Timothy McEachem of Albany was arrested after driving drunk with two children in the car. The following day, Reanna Reidpath of Albany was placed in jail after being pulled over with her 9 year old daugther in the car - her blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit.
While it's appalling that these two New Yorkers would break this law so soon after it went into effect, it isn't surprising. Their actions are despicable, but some solace can be taken given the fact that they are both in jail waiting to be arraigned on felony charges.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Leandra's Law

Lenny Rosado speaks on Tuesday while DA Charles Hynes looks on

"Leandra's Law," which makes it a felony to drive drunk in the State of New York with a child in the car, will go into effect tomorrow. This past Tuesday at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, Lenny Rosado (the father of the little girl the law was named after) and other lawmakers and officials from New York held a press conference to mark the occasion. As the Coordinator of DWI Operations here at Bronx Community Solutions, I attended the press conference and was moved by both the courage of Mr. Rosado and the forcefulness that was displayed by the state officials.

The new law was sought after by Mr. Rosado, after his 11 year old daughter Leandra was killed in a horrific drunken driving accident this October. Leandra was in a station wagon with six other girls on her way to a slumber party, while the driver Carmen Huertas (whose own daughter was also in the car) sped along the highway and taunted the children about the possibility of crashing. They eventually did crash. Several of the children were seriously injured, but only Leandra lost her life.

In what Mr. Rosado described as a tribute to his little girl, the new law will go into effect tomorrow. The most publicized aspect of the law is the fact that it will be a felony to drive drunk with a child in the car. In addition, all convicted DWI offenders will now be mandated to install ignition interlocks in their cars. These interlocks will require the driver to pass a breathalyzer test in order for the car to start. The hope is that the people of the City will simply make the right decisions - and not get behind the wheel if they're under the influence. In the event that they do get behind the wheel, they're likely to pay for it with their freedom.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Update: The Bronx Community Solutions Basketball League

Led by Case Manager Daren Mills and Resource
Coord. Willie Bernardez, The 4th Season of the Bronx Community Solutions Basketball League kicked off this week with the team from the 41st Precinct taking on officers from Patrol Borough Bronx (PBBX) in the first game. In the second game, Brooklyn Treatment Court battled against Promesa, Inc.

In the first game, Officer Feliciano's 15 points helped the 41st precicnt defeat the officers from Patrol Borough Bronx 43-35. In the second game, the Brooklyn Treatment Court Renaissance defeated the team from Promesa Youth 36-19. The Renaissance were riding a wave of support as they were cheered on by Judge Jo Ann Ferdinand (pictured above with Case Manager Leroy West-Spicer and the Renaissance), who came up to the Bronx to enjoy the game and see the league in action.

Many thanks to everyone who continues to support the league...

Stay tuned for more updates...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Recent Sex Trafficking Case Comes to the Forefront of the Judicial System

From Coord. of Court Ops. Elizabeth Swan

On December 4th, a historic victory was won in the battle against human sex trafficking. After a 2 week trial, New York State, under the 2007 sex trafficking statute, convicted 32 year old David Brown of Queens on charges of second-degree kidnapping, sex trafficking, third-degree promotion of prostitution, first degree unlawful imprisonment, and third-degree assault. The verdict was brought down by Queens Supreme Court Justice Michael Aloise, and Mr. Brown is scheduled to be sentenced on January 25th. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

Bronx Community Solutions was very pleased to hear about these precedent setting implications. Bronx Community Solutions is very sensitive to the signs of sex trafficking, but we have not yet identified any cases through our comprehensive screening process. The population that we often deal with tends to yield individuals who were raised in and are currently living in the Bronx. Although we have yet to identify any of our own cases as such, we're well aware that sex trafficking is a common thing in and around the Bronx.

Overall, Bronx Community Solutions has continued to strengthen our efforts as far as working with prostitution arrests are concerned. Since 2007, Bronx Community Solutions’ Prostitution Initiative has helped to make a significant impact by enhancing the court's resources and by offering Judges meaningful prostitution sentencing alternatives in place of short term jail sentences. Prior to the involvement of Bronx Community Solutions, 44 percent of prostitution offenders were sentenced to short term jail with no form of meaningful engagement of services. With our involvement, it's a number we hope will decrease. We continue to actively engage offenders arrested for prostitution through a four pronged collaborative approach: Street Outreach with the 41st, 47th, 48th and 52nd precincts, Expanded Social Service Programs, Court Screening and Judicial Monitoring.

Additionally, Bronx Community Solutions is focused on data analysis to help identify areas of need in order to expand our outreach and services in 2010. Between 2007 and 2008, we looked at the total number of prostitution arrests in the Bronx and disposition comparisons. One major thing we identified was the need for an in-house Bronx Community Solutions prostitution program. The research showed that 52% of Bronx Community Solutions' prostitution sentences were social service mandates. This percentage reinforces the need for Bronx Community Solutions to house a specific social service track designed for prostitution offenders. As a first step toward that eventual goal, Bronx Community Solutions recently launched its first gender specific social service class: Women’s Education and Awareness. This group is designed to challenge women of all ages to explore their assumptions regarding their role in society, through critical thinking activities and group discussion.

Bronx Community Solutions continues to work in collaboration with our partners to do our part in addressing the issue of prostitution. We are looking forward to new challenges in 2010, and continue to appreciate the tireless efforts of our program partners such as the Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS ) and the Midtown Community Court.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bronx Neighborhood News

With the Holidays coming, Cary Goodman (the Executive Director of the Bronx BID) has provided a heads up on some events/happenings that are taking place around the neighborhood. They include:

  • The Holiday party for children, which will take place on December 20th at Gehrig Plaza. The Plaza, which runs from Morris to River avenues, will be adorned with Holiday Snowflakes.
  • More than 5,000 trees have been added to the neighborhood by the Parks Department. In addition, a Skate Plaza and the River Avenue playground are currently under construction. Both the Skate Plaza and River Avenue playground are scheduled to open next Spring.
  • Local artists and designers are holding an art sale today, December 11th, in the lobby of 811 Walton Avenue.
  • Concourse Plaza has just completed a major upgrade of their security system. In addition, The Caridad Restaurant in the food court at Concourse Plaza has re-opened under new management.
  • The demolition of Yankee Stadium is continuing on pace. With the outer walls currently being removed in sections, temporary sidewalk closings are expected along River Avenue.
  • Two more solar powered trash compactors have been provided to the district by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Scrimmages Are Over - It's Time For Tip-Off

With the fourth season of the Bronx Community Solutions Basketball League set to tip off tomorrow night (December 8th) at 7:30 at the Bronxdale Community Center, the staff members here at Bronx Community Solutions have been actively seeking team members. One of the members is profiled after the jump...

From Case Manager Daren Mills

"I haven't been doin' anything with myself and I'm tired of it." That statement was made by Keith, one of the men who will make up the Bronx Community Solutions Bombers this season. On Tuesday, November 24th, Keith, along with nine other offenders who completed mandates through Bronx Community Solutions, met one another for the first time for introductions and to hear what each individual was hoping to get out of the program.

All of this season's team members were excited for the competition, and were looking forward to the chance to improve themselves. Keith, 20, first spoke to me after a social service group that he was mandated to. The idea of playing on a basketball team against teams of law enforcement officers caught his attention. After I explained that the league was about more than just basketball, his interest increased. Keith did not finish high school, nor has he made any progress toward getting his GED. He is fully aware that one reason for his arrest was his free time. He viewed his Bronx Community Solutions sentence and meeting with me as a chance to get back on track and make something of himself.

Although basketball is front and center, there is more at stake for Keith and the other Bronx Community Solutions Bombers. This is their chance to further their educational and career prospects, to stay out of the criminal justice system, and to become positive and productive role models for the people in their lives.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Staten Island Youth Court's 2nd Graduation

Below is an excerpt from Melissa Gelber, the Project Director of Project Ready:
On December 1st, the Staten Island Youth Court held it's second graduation and induction ceremony. The Youth Court inducted eleven young people and graduated twenty-four!
The Staten Island Youth Court's achievements have steadily increased since it began hearing cases in February 2009. Initially, the Youth Court only heard cases one night a week., then they added a second hearing night. To date, the Court has heard 122 cases from probation, criminal court and YD cards from the NYPD. Compliance with sanctions is at 89%.

The impact that Youth Court has on the lives of the young people who go through as respondents and for the members who sit on the court is almost immeasurable. Many challenge themselves to attempt things that they have never done before, interacting with individuals that they might not have spoken to without Youth Court. The growth of the members during the training and the time on the Court is really awe-inspiring.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Expanding Our Services: The Women's Education and Awareness Group

From Resource Coordinator Carrie Potts

The past few weeks here at Bronx Community Solutions have been very exciting, as we launched our first gender-specific social service class: Women’s Education and Awareness. After discussions with our researcher at the Center for Court Innovation, it became clear that we had a large number of women being sentenced to alternatives, and that a class directed towards women’s issues was needed. After much planning and preparation, the class began last week with a rousing discussion about what it means be a female in this society, in the Bronx, and within the criminal justice system. The group was co-led by 3 facilitators.

As we began, the women seemed to expect an hour or so of passive listening and minimal participation requirements. However, as we started to throw out questions such as “what is a stereotype” and “what are gender roles," the passive listening turned into active listening, and the participation increased with each passing moment. As facilitators, we guided the discussion by introducing different topics, and the women reacted strongly and each added something to the discussion.

We focused on the word “perception” and defined it as how we view the world based upon our own experiences. We then asked the women to identify what it meant to them to be a female and a male within our society. This provided us with a fascinating view not only into how the women perceived themselves, but what they understood their role as women to be. In addition, it exposed their understanding of the role of men in their own lives as well as the population in general. As the facilitator in charge of writing down their answers on the board up front, I can attest to the enthusiasm with which the women responded: I could barely keep up.

The responses from the women ran the gamut, and quickly filled the board. We then asked them to identify within the list they created, which roles were seen as positive/strong and which were negative/weak. This created much debate, since they found that many of their answers were multi-dimensional, and depended on the context.

We also asked the women to write down their own experiences with power within four situations:

  1. When they had power over someone else
  2. When someone else had power over them
  3. When they were a good friend
  4. When someone was a good friend to them

We asked the women who felt comfortable to share their answers. As they did, a remarkable thing happened: they realized they were able to relate to each other more than they ever thought they could. With the first exercise, we as facilitators had to keep reminding people to listen to each other because they were so excited to state their own responses/opinions that they started talking over each other. In this exercise, there were nods of agreement, laughter as a similar experience was described, and empathy when a frustration or embarrassment was generally understood.

The physical look of the group changed as well. When the class began, the women were spread out between 3-4 benches with at least 1-2 feet between them. After the group exercises, they occupied only 2 benches and they were sitting right next to each other—close enough to touch, which they did with pats on the back as they laughed or empathized with each other.

As the class came to a close, we wanted each woman to walk out with something tangible or something in her mind that would continue to impact her. This could be an idea that was discussed that she wanted to explore further, a connection to a service, or a connection to our office. These services were made available immediately following the group, since we have social workers and case managers on staff. As we asked for their feedback both in person and in a survey, it became clear that many of the women who participated in the class had services they were interested in. Our hope is that as we move forward with this group, we will be able to identify some of the key needs of this population in order to address them directly and quickly.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Local Everyday Heroes

As the season of giving and good will begins, we would like to send a big thank you to a host of our favorite court officers from the Bronx Criminal Courthouse.
Every year, these officers donate their time to the residents of the borough. This year, they delivered frozen turkeys and other food/drinks to a local chruch in the Bronx.
Read more about the officers and the overwhelming need to fight hunger in the City in today's article in the Daily News.

Monday, November 16, 2009

NYC Community Cleanup

NYC Community Cleanup is a new citywide initiative designed to address neighborhood hot spots and eyesores. This initiative puts low-level offenders to work repairing conditions of disorder throughout New York City. The goal is to create meaningful community service work projects that emphasize the values of immediacy, visibility, and accountability.

Much like some of our community service projects in the Bronx, this great initiative attempts to bring concrete solutions to neighborhoods affected by vandalism, graffitti and dumping.

Click here to check out NYC Community Cleanup's website...

Monday, November 09, 2009

News From The Classroom - An Update on Services for Our Spanish Speaking Clients

From Crew Supervisor Ramon Semorile

Since my last update on the enhancement of the Spanish-speaking Orientation group (where offenders have been learning about health related issues such as HIV/AIDS), I’ve been thinking of ways to introduce even more relevant topics to the group. As part of that effort, I reached out to Arms Acres, which is one of our partner agencies. A substance abuse program run by Liberty Behavioral Management, Arms Acres struck me as the type of organization that could help to add another dimension to our class setting.

After getting in touch with Arms Acres, I spoke with Francisco Guillen, who is one of their Spanish speaking counselors. After discussing the class and some of Bronx Community Solutions’ ideas with Mr. Guillen, he agreed to come to Bronx Community Solutions and give a presentation to the Spanish-speaking Orientation group.

As the class was going on, I noticed how attentive and engaged the offenders were. Tons of the participants were asking questions, and one of the offenders went to the Bronx Community Solutions social service clinic upon completion of the class for a referral to an outpatient drug treatment program. When the class ended, I thanked Mr. Guillen and noted that since the class had gone so well, he was more than welcome to return whenever his schedule allowed. After our discussion, Mr. Guillen agreed to co-facilitate the Spanish-speaking Orientation group with Bronx Community Solutions once per month.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Individualized Sentencing Approach: A Response to Court Builders

From Coordinator of Court Operations Elizabeth Taylor

Court Builders is an electronic forum which is frequented by planners of Community Courts. Recently, a Philadelphia court coordinator posted this question: “How can you influence an individualized approach to community service sentencing?” Specifically, his community court has fallen into the practice of recommending 24 hours (four days) of community service to all program participants, regardless of case specifics. The writer requested information on how other Community Courts have addressed individualized sentencing practices and guidelines. Here is Bronx Community Solutions’ response to his query...

In the Bronx Criminal Court, we have the unique option of being able to take into account the multitude of issues that effect offenders. After assessing that information, we’re able to weigh in and recommend a sentence we feel is appropriate. While working in collaboration with court players, our resource coordinators use electronic rap sheets and the Bronx Community Solutions database before recommending the appropriate number of community service days. Although the average mandate is four community service days (which equates to 24 hours), our resource coordinators, judges and court players do not hesitate to use the available range of community service days to hold offenders accountable for their crimes. In the Bronx, it is not unusual to see sentences of between 10 and 15 days of community service.

Bronx Community Solutions interfaces with over 40 judges, as well as hundreds of Assistant District Attorneys and Defense Attorneys. To keep our recommendations consistent, Bronx Community Solutions developed an escalating tier system that helps resource coordinators and court players determine appropriate and individualized sentencing recommendations:

•Tier 1 ranges from one to three days of community service and is typically used for defendants with no previous Bronx Community Solutions mandates, zero or minimal system contacts, and for offenders whose last arrest was over five years ago.

•Tier 2 ranges from four to seven days of community service and is typically used as an escalation after one previously completed Bronx Community Solution mandate,for an offender who had a recent arrest with no jail disposition (a fine, straight conditional discharge, time served etc), and/or for offenders with minimal system contact(determined by the volume and going rates of the Bronx arrests and outcomes).

•Tier 3 ranges from eight to ten days of community service and is reserved for more serious defendants (with a probation or parole history) who have previously completed Bronx Community Solutions mandates, have had extensive contact with the system, and/or offenders whose case has a current jail offer of more than 15 days.

Bronx Community Solutions has found that this tier system gives court players increased and escalating sentencing options that enable them to address recidivists who have varying criminal histories. More importantly, it brings a structure of uniformity to the sentencing practices of resource coordinators and court players.

Friday, October 23, 2009

More Than a Success Story

From Coordinator of Court Operations Elizabeth Taylor

“I have to make better choices if I want to stay out of this place,” said Kendra (not her real name) before entering the courtroom to for her appearance. The Resource Coordinator responded that “With the help of your program, you now have the tools to make healthier choices.” Standing outside the courtroom, Kendra continued to share the progress she had made in therapy.

Kendra’s story highlights two problem solving focuses of Bronx Community Solutions: prostitution alternatives and mental health screening and services. Dating back to January 2004, Kendra’s criminal rap sheet revealed an extensive history of prostitution arrests and convictions. Out of 43 arrests, she had been convicted on 35 prostitution counts (six since the beginning of 2009). Prior to the involvement of Bronx Community Solutions, her most common sentencing outcome was jail time, serving between 15 and 60 days.

After being arrested by the 41st precinct in June 2009, the District Attorney’s Office flagged Kendra’s file and contacted Bronx Community Solutions to determine if she was appropriate for a prostitution alternative sentence. A Resource Coordinator assessed Kendra and recommended CHOICES, a 10 session group therapy program designed for prostituted women. After sentencing, Kendra failed to report to the CHOICES program. A month later, she was sentenced to 60 days in jail on a new prostitution arrest and for failure to attend the CHOICES program.

In September 2009, Kendra was back before a Bronx Criminal Court judge on another prostitution charge. Bronx Community Solutions again assessed Kendra and found her mental health history to be the most pressing issue. The Resource Coordinator then spearheaded a collaborative effort with the Assistant District Attorney, the defense and a mental health agency. After the group effort, Judge Ralph Fabrizio sentenced Kendra to complete outpatient mental health treatment, to be monitored by Bronx Community Solutions. As part of protocol, Kendra’s case was put on for judicial monitoring in the Bronx Criminal Court Compliance part.

On her September 2009 compliance date, Kendra presented herself in a more coherent and stable manner. It was evident that she was proud about her new found sense of self awareness and hope. In court, the Resource Coordinator highlighted Kendra’s compliance with daily mental health groups, her consistent medication regimen, and the rest of her overall progress. Bronx Community Solutions had a rare opportunity to present more than just the facts, but a storyline of transformation. Although faced with the recent death of her foster mother, Kendra summed up her progress best when she stated that “I have people in my life who are teaching me to cope…” The case was adjourned to November 2009 for continued judicial monitoring.

Kendra’s transformation is a process. She is fighting against strong lifestyle changes and mental health issues. However, with the focus on problem solving justice, Bronx Community Solutions was able to screen, assess and bring to the court’s attention to Kendra’s underlying mental health issue. After collaborating with other court players, Bronx Community Solutions was able to bring about a supportive alternative sentencing option. Bronx Community Solutions continues to reach out to Kendra’s mental health program to ensure that she is staying on track with her treatment plan. At 37, she now has the strong support system and resources that could enable her to make a total and lasting transformation. In the coming months, Bronx Community Solutions will continue to aid in her progress.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Fall 2009 Bronx Community Solutions Newsletter

Here is a link to Bronx Community Solutions' Fall 2009 Newsletter.

Inside, you'll be able to read about many of the new initiatives Bronx Community Solutions launched in 2009 (such as assisting the court with DWI/DUI offenders and placing a greater emphasis on helping offenders with mental health issues). Also contained in the newsletter are updates on Bronx Community Solutions' efforts at revitalizing areas around the Bronx, a story about bridging the gap between the youth and the NYPD, and much more.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Obama Administration Enacts A New Policy Regarding Medical Marijuana

In a move that was reported on the front page of today's New York Times, it was revealed that people who use marijuana for medical purposes (as well as their distributors) would no longer be subjected to federal prosecution. The directive, which is a sharp contrast from the policies of the Bush administration, was sent to prosecutors in the 14 states that allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Attorney General Eric Holder affirmed that the United States would continue to target those who traffick marijuana illegally, but explained that going after those who use marijuana for pain relief was a thing of the past.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

New Laws in New York For Low-Level Drug Offenders

A new story from the Associated Press details how new laws regarding low-level drug offenders have just kicked in. In April, Governor David Paterson and other state lawmakers went over and revised the archaic Rockefeller-era drug laws. Their determination was that low-level offenders who were addicted would be better off in treatment than in prison. With the changes, hundreds of existing offenders can now petition for an early release, while Judges across the City have the option of mandating new offenders to drug treatment.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Promoting Community and Court Relations

From Case Manager Daren Mills

As a new Case Manager here at Bronx Community Solutions, I went to my first Community Advisory Board meeting on Wednesday, September 30th. Attending these meetings is one of our ways of promoting and enhancing communication and creating partnerships between the courts and the community. Through my experiences, I’ve come to understand just how important it is for any community based organization to partner with other organizations in order to provide better services to the community.

At the meeting, representatives from lots of our partnering service providers were present. In addition, there were representatives from the Bronx District Attorney's office, the FDNY, the Bronx Borough President's office, and the 161st Street Business Improvement District. As the meeting went on and various people spoke, ideas started to come to my mind about possible future collaborations. By the time the Community Advisory Board meeting concluded, I had gained a better understanding of the impact that Bronx Community Solutions has in the community. It was also great for me to be able to put faces to the names of the different people that I will undoubtedly come across while working at Bronx Community Solutions.

When I think about the structure and reputation of Bronx Community Solutions, I look forward to adding another dimension as I deal with clients in the clinic and work in the community on our other initiatives.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Problem Solving Over a Hand Shake

From Coordinator of Court Operations Elizabeth Taylor

“I care” was the exclamation of the judge as the defendant approached the bench for an off the record, heart to heart conversation. On September 28th 2009, as James (not his real name) walked out of the courtroom, he emotionally uttered “that judge really cares about me.” Click here to read more.

Yesterday saw the culmination of yet another collaborative problem solving effort between Bronx Criminal Court and Bronx Community Solutions. In December 2008, James, a foster care youth, was arrested for a marijuana violation. Coupled with the death of his mother and a mental health diagnosis, his arrest charge was typical, but his story was not. At the arraignment hearing, the judge sought the expertise of a Resource Coordinator. Her request was for Bronx Community Solutions to assess James and determine the appropriateness of a longer term alternative to incarceration option. While court resumed, the Resource Coordinator assessed the offender and recommended a 3 month sentence to a dual diagnosis substance abuse and mental health program.

Over the last 9 months, the sentencing judge took a special interest in James’ progress, relying heavily on Bronx Community Solutions for outreach, tracking and court reporting. James’ attendance was consistent, but he continued to test positive for marijuana. In March 2009, only a couple of days before the program would’ve been complete, he absconded from his group home and had an episodic break. Shortly thereafter, he was admitted to a psychiatric adolescent unit and was eventually placed with a foster mother. On June 27th, because of his recent drug history, James was re-sentenced to Vertex, an outpatient substance abuse program. At his June 27th compliance court date, the judge was vehement with James about following through with the program. Despite of the Judge’s firm words, James failed to report to both Bronx Community Solutions and Vertex.

At his September 28th compliance date, fully expecting to go to jail, James was greeted by a sympathetic judge: “You have to do it for yourself,” the judge said. “Do you want the help that Bronx Community Solutions can offer?” As James began to explain why he did not attend the program, the judge interjected with compassion and understanding. The judge replaced the expected harsh admonishment with encouragement. Turning to me, the judge said, “I can not do anything from here, I need you guys to do it.” I was able to put an agreed upon plan of action in place. The judge shook James’ hand, wished him the best of luck, and reminded him how much she cared. I looked at the judge and reassuringly stated that I would get the ball rolling. After the judge thanked me for the efforts of Bronx Community Solutions, the case was adjourned. While he was walking out of the court room, James felt a new sense of self reliance and awareness. He stated that “the judge is right…I’m 18 now and have to get my stuff right.”

James is scheduled, along with his foster mother, for a Vertex intake appointment on October 6th, 2009. Today, I had an opportunity to follow-up with the judge who continues to express support and appreciation for Bronx Community Solutions’ flexibility and in court services. This case continues to shine a light on Bronx Community Solutions’ ability to effectively promote problem-solving justice and provide real solutions for the courts.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The "Dirty Dozen"

In January, Mayor Bloomberg announced plans to target a "Dirty Dozen" of the city's worst quality-of-life offenders during his State of the City Address. An item in today's Daily News reports on the implementation of that plan to target the city's 67 most prolific low-level offenders (slightly more than twelve from each borough). The City's been running the numbers, and they're now in the process of putting in place a system to flag these cases the next time they're arrested. Thanks to Danny Abriano for finding this article.

This new initiative is an enhancement of Operation Spotlight, a city-wide initiative that puts a prominent stamp on the file of anyone who's had three or more misdemeanor arrests in the past year (there's actually a formula that's a little bit more complicated than that), to bring the offenders record to the attention of prosecutors. You can view reports on Operation Spotlight here.

It seems that there are 693 people city-wide who've been arrested more than 10 times in the past two years. Among the "Dirty Dozen" each person has been convicted an average of 16.8 times.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Report from the Field: Prostitution

From Resource Coordinator Carrie Potts:

Since I began working here in June, one of my focuses has been on implementing Bronx Community Solutions' ongoing prostitution initiative which aims to identify and assist women engaged in the lifestyle of prostitution here in the Bronx who come in contact with the justice system. Click Here to read more.

Before we started working to address the issue, the options available to judges when they were presented with an arrest for prostitution were very limited: either release the defendant, sentence them to a short amount of time in jail, or in some cases, order them to participate in drug treatment as an alternative to jail. As social workers, we're aware that for many women involved in prostitution, leaving the lifestyle is a difficult and complicated process that requires peer counseling and supportive services including safe housing, employment training, and financial counseling, as well as substance abuse and mental health treatment in some cases.

Recently, we worked with two cases that encouraged us to keep pressing our efforts, as they have been neglected by the criminal justice system for so long. Both of these cases presented unique challenges, so our staff pulled together as a team to design creative sentences that addressed each client’s individual needs.

Our first client spoke of being ready to get out of the life, but it was clear that her substance abuse issues were a major roadblock for her, and contributed to her lifestyle. We were able to connect her to a 28-day detoxification/rehabilitation facility, through Liberty Behavioral Management Corporation, which would allow her to stabilize herself mentally and physically in a medically safe and emotionally supportive environment. In order to remain engaged after her completion of the rehabilitation program, also made sure that her sentence included four days of follow-up counseling here at Bronx Community Solutions on-site social service department. These will consist of not only groups, but also one-on-one meetings with a case manager, to allow for more candid conversations on how her life is progressing, now that she has completed a 28 day program.

Bronx Community Solutions has worked hard to establish and maintain solid relationships with our social service partners, so that when their services are needed, they are available and clients won’t have to wait. For this client, this was a vital part of the process. The facility was able to pick her up from the court house and take her straight to their campus within a few hours of her release from court. As she was leaving the courthouse, she was reflecting on the last few days, and stated that she was really glad she was going to the facility because it would allow for some clarity. She realized that if she were going home, she would fall back into the same habits, which would result in another arrest, and the cycle of the streets to jail and back to the streets would only continue.

Our second client was known to the police precinct in which she was arrested, as she has been in the life for many years. Upon meeting with her, it became clear that there were many underlying issues that had never been addressed, but were clearly impacting her life on a daily basis. The most important issue to address was her mental health diagnosis. She reported that she had been on psychiatric medications for many years, but never had a steady treatment provider but instead, went to a city emergency room for medication. The secondary issue was her use of alcohol, which was often used as a form of self-medication in lieu of psychiatric medications. Based upon this assessment, our treatment plan focused on what it would take for her to lead a more productive and healthy life—namely a steady connection with a psychiatrist as well as substance abuse treatment. After discussion with the district attorney, her defense attorney and the judge, all parties were in agreement that another jail sentence would not help this client, but that now was the time for an intensive intervention which Bronx Community Solutions would monitor for compliance. We were able to connect this client with an out patient treatment program that would address both her mental health and substance abuse at the same time.

Both of these women have taken an incredibly difficult and important first step towards getting out of the lifestyle of prostitution. They both recognized that there are many factors contributing to their involvement with the criminal justice system and Bronx Community Solutions was able to play an active role in introducing alternatives to incarceration. We will continue to design creative sentences which will address a wide range of issues faced by our clients, particularly within this subset of our population.

As we head into the Fall, our focus on prostitution is beginning a new chapter, which will utilize all of our services and partnerships in an effort to reach out to this population so that they know alternatives are available.

We also hope that our efforts will help improve public safety and neighborhood quality of life. Several police precincts have recently reached out to us for assistance with increased problems related to prostitution activity, and it's our role to ensure that arrests lead to meaningful outcomes instead of just a trip through central bookings and then back out onto the street and the same situation, and by coordinating our community service efforts to clean up the dumping, neglect, and graffiti at hotspots where prostitution is occuring.

Report from the Field: Mental Health

Last February, Bronx Community Solutions began screening all of its clients, as part of the assessment that each individual receives after they've been sentenced to the program, to identify possible mental health issues for which assistance might be needed.

We're hopeful that we can assist many individuals who otherwise would fall through the cracks, and also excited that we may be uniquely able to learn important information about the mental health issues of low-level offenders who are being cycled in and out of the justice system. We've learned some very interesting things so far. Click Here to read more.

From Case Manager Amber Pettit:

Beginning February 24, 2009, a brief mental health screening tool was added to the Bronx Community Solutions intake assessment for the purpose of identifying clients with mental illnesses. The tool consists of a set of questions pertaining to a client’s history of mental health treatment, currently utilized by the Bronx TASC program, and the GAINS Brief Jail Mental Health Screen to assess the client’s current mental health status.

Our pilot project is a result of recommendations made by a joint City/State panel on the issue of mental health in the justice system and announced at a press conference by Mayor Bloomberg. The June 2008 Report of the New York State/New York City Mental Health-Criminal Justice Panel recommended that New York City should introduce mental health screening in the Bronx Criminal Court to identify individuals sentenced to brief community-based programs who may benefit from mental health assessments, intensive engagement, and voluntary case management.

The goal of this pilot initiative is to use Bronx Community Solutions’ brief period of mandatory engagement to promote longer-term voluntary participation in mental health services that may help the individual to not re-offend.

Every individual whose responses to the screening indicate that they may be dealing with a mental health issue is scheduled to participate in group or individual mental health counseling as part of their mandate. In some cases, if a client appears to be in crisis, they will be escorted directly to meet with a case manager at our on-site social service department for immediate assistance.

During this initial implementation period (February 2009-July 2009), Bronx Community Solutions has identified 367 clients with current or past mental health problems. Of these 367 clients, 246 completed the mental health treatment readiness group and 138 individual counseling sessions were conducted.

The preliminary data that we've gathered and analyzed indicates that compared to Bronx Community Solutions’ clients as a whole, the individuals who are responding as possibly having mental health issues are more likely to be women, more likely to be older, less likely to be black and more likely to be white or Hispanic, more likely to admit to substance abuse, and more likely to be currently or previously homeless.

What we’ve learned during our individual counseling sessions suggest that a majority of these clients are, in fact, suffering from co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders. Most clients are aware of their psychiatric diagnoses and have extensive, albeit sporadic, treatment histories. Many are unable to distinguish mental health symptoms from substance abuse problems and lump both into their “illness.” The clients tend to be frustrated with the level of care they have received in the past and the accessibility of services within the Bronx. Many have no medical insurance or have let their Medicaid lapse and lack the proper documents needed to re-apply.

The good news is that in many cases, with encouragement and assistance from Bronx Community Solutions' case managers, these individuals have been able to successfully re-connect with treatment and other services. They may experience future setbacks, but in each of these cases an arrest that might have otherwise led to a short stay in jail or a few days spend cleaning up a local park have been leveraged into a re-engagement with services and a break from the pattern of minor arrests and short jail sentences that is common for many of these individuals.

A case study of one of our clients (their name has been changed), tells part of the story about mental health issues affecting the low-level offenders in the criminal justice system:

Ms. Perez has a history of almost a dozen arrests over the past two decades for prostitution, drug possession, petty larceny and trespassing. Most recently she was arrested for prostitution and sentenced to two days of social service with Bronx Community Solutions. After he intake assessment was completed and her responses to questions about mental health indicated that she was dealing with significant mental health issues, she was scheduled to attend a group session on mental health treatment readiness and an individual counseling session with a case manager.

During her individual counseling session, Ms. Perez disclosed that she has suffered from mental illness since early childhood when she was diagnosed with Tourettes Syndrome. She endured ridicule from family and friends which eventually led to self-mutilating behavior, for which she was hospitalized in her late teens. As an adult she has been treated sporadically for various anxiety and mood disorders. She admits she is often non-compliant with her medication regime and finds it difficult to maintain a consistent therapy schedule. Even more difficult for her is establishing a relationship with new treatment providers as feelings of anxiety and apprehension often overwhelm her in unfamiliar settings. Recently, Ms. Perez had been receiving therapeutic and psychiatric services from a community based service provider but she was recently discharged due to missing two consecutive appointments which violated a condition stipulated in a “contract” that was created to address her poor attendance. The case manager and the client spoke at length about the importance of therapy and together created a list of strategies to improve her attendance. As one of her absences was a result of her recent arrest, the case manager provided Ms. Perez with car-fare and documentation to bring to her program in hopes of being re-admitted.

When Ms. Perez returned to Bronx Community Solutions for her group counseling session the following week she provided documentation that she was indeed re-dmitted to her program and will see a therapist next week. She was also informed that her Medicaid was no longer active and that she must take steps to remedy this before her appointment. The Bronx Community Solutions case manager provided Ms. Perez with car-fare and directions to the appropriate Medicaid office in order to facilitate this process. At this time, Ms. Cruz is still receiving services at her program and has not been rearrested.

Reports From the Field

It's been a busy time at Bronx Community Solutions. In the past few months, we've hired two new resource coordinators and two new case managers, each of whom brings great experience and enthusiasm to our team.

We've been taking a targeted approach to some of the more difficult and complicated types of low-level offenses and particular populations. Since February, we've dramatically expanded our efforts to comprehensively screen all of our clients for mental health issues and connect clients with mental health concerns to needed services. We've also been working to address prostitution, through outreaches, flagging, tracking, assessing, and making sentencing recommendations, and targeting community service clean-ups at prostitution hot-spots.

Our efforts in these two areas are both gaining momentum: on the mental health front, we just learned we will be receiving a grant from the Department of Justice to expand our efforts; and on the prostitution front, several police precincts have approached us for assistance dealing with increased prostitution activity, and Columbia University is assisting us with developing a curriculum for our first women-specific social service group.

At the same time, we're always working to make our community service targeted and meaningful in partnership with locally based organizations and community groups; seeking out new partners to help connect our clients to services; and working to serve judges and court players in the most efficient and productive ways as the courthouse environment is always changing.

Amber Pettit, our case manager focused on mental health, and Carrie Potts, our resource coordinator focused on prostitution, recently wrote down some of what we've been doing and learning so far. I'll post it here shortly - consider them "reports from the field": early observations, lessons, and successes we can share as we expand our efforts.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Harry Belafonte Gives Keynote Address

Last night the Harlem Community Justice Center celebrated the tenth year of operations for the Reentry Court with a graduation ceremony for it's most recent group of successful participants. Actor and social activist Harry Belafonte gave the keynote address. You can read more about the ceremony from Chris Watler, Director of the Harlem Community Justice Center, here, and Greg Berman, director of the Center for Court Innovation, here.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

More on the San Fransisco Community Justice Center

Here's a very interesting article published a few days ago about the San Fransisco Community Justice Center. It explains a lot of the politics continueing to unfold around the Center, and also explains the great success that the Center has had since it decided to switch from misdemeanors and violations (public urination, possesion of a crack stem) to more serious felonies and probation violaters with more at stake, which I think is a very interesting development.

However, the low-level quality of life issues in and around the Tenderloin that the Justice Center was designed to address still remain an issue. Read here about a vigilante clean-up effort run amok. And, here's what the local police chief has to say: "New Police Chief George Gascón says his officers are making more arrests in the Tenderloin. That's a great idea, but don't think the Tenderloin Station cops have been sitting on their handcuffs. Station Capt. Gary Jimenez says they've made 3,900 arrests so far this year. The problem isn't arrests; it is getting results from arrests."

Candidates for Manhattan DA debate at John Jay

The three candidates for Manhattan District Attorney debated last night at John Jay College. Leslie Crocker Snyder, a veteran of New York's toughest fights against crime in the 80s and 90s, pointed out that frontrunner Cyrus Vance was mostly living in Seattle during those years and portrayed herself as challenging the old boy's network perpetuated by the outgoing, long-serving DA, Robert Morganthau. In response, Vance accused Snyder of changing her position on the death penalty in order to garner votes and maintained that he had the character and beliefs required for the job. Richard Aborn, a gun control advocate, is positioning himself as the most liberal candidate and has the most policy/reform experience. All three candidates served as assistant district attorneys under Morganthau, who choose not to endorse his own "right hand man," Dan Castleman, because he believed only Vance had the name recognition to defeat Snyder, who challenged him in the last election.

NY1 has the complete video of the debate: click here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Creative Community Service

Here at Bronx Community Solutions, we're always thinking about ways to make community service sentences more creative and meaningful. This article caught my eye: "Juvenile Agency Starts Free Lawn-Service Program":

Elderly residents of Ward 5 in the District will get their lawns cut once a month free through a program created by the city's juvenile justice agency to give youths under court supervision a chance to give back to the community.

The D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services kicked off this year's program last week at the Northeast home of Eddye L. Williams, 109, thought to be the city's oldest resident. Nathaniel and James, two youths from the agency's New Beginnings Youth Center, who were identified only by their first names, worked through the morning Friday, cutting Williams's lawn.

"Many youths lack the opportunity to participate in the kinds of positive activities that most kids consider routine," said Vincent N. Schiraldi, the agency's director. "The free lawn service program is part of a growing effort by DYRS to involve young people in giving back to society as a way of connecting themselves to positive activities."

Research shows that youths are less likely to get arrested if they are "civically engaged" in the community, Schiraldi said.

Ward 5 residents 65 and older qualify for the program. The agency works with the city's Office on Aging and public officials to help identify participants for the program, said Reggie Sanders, the department's public information officer.

Thanks to Benjamin Chambers at the Reclaiming Futures Every Day blog for the link to the article in the Washington Post.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Early Results Are Positive

One of the new criminal justice initiatives I've been watching with the most interest is the San Fransisco Community Justice Center (mostly on the excellent blog of the San Francisco Superior Court's Collaborative Justice programs, Moving Justice Forward).

Lisa Lightman recently posted a report on the Center's operations since they opened their doors in March. I'm excited to read about their success so far. One thing they've done a very good job of is telling their story in numbers and demonstrating their results:
In the first 100 days since the CJC opened, the program has been able to reduce delay for misdemeanor citations from 45 days to 2 days for the first court appearance. The court has taken most "out of custody" misdemeanor cases, and is increasing its felony cases. The court has successfully engaged people in treatment plans under our diversion laws immediately upon program entry. Of the 160 clients who have engaged in services, 60 accessed care under a justice mandate, 60 defendants voluntarily engaged in services and 40 ‘walked-in’ or were referred from other agencies. There is already a cost-savings story to tell. An estimate of jail bed savings of only 5 CJC defendants totals $23,000. In tracking 2 clients identified as high users of multiple systems (repeated hospital visits, emergency psychiatric treatment, police and fire in a 6 month period), the CJC’s centralized services coupled with court accountability reduced these costs by 50 percent.
Despite my strong support for the Justice Center, I'm concerned about some trends in San Fransisco. Homeless advocates have accused the Justice Center of criminalizing poverty and those who choose or are forced to live on the street (Barbara Ehrenreich also recently wrote about a growing trend in last Sunday's Times). Of more concern is the rapid departure of people of color from the city. Recent years have witnessed a staggering out migration of 40% of African-Americans.

Many of society's most difficult problems inevitably end up in the lap of the criminal justice system. I believe that court's should work to address those issues as creatively and effectively as possible, while at the same time remaining cognizant and working to address the larger systemic issues that are the root causes of these problems. I thought Lisa Lightman summed up the logic of community courts and problem-solving courts quite well:
Research has shown that repeat offenders have a complicated set of problems that cause their criminal behavior. People are landing in the courtroom because other institutional safety nets are no longer in place. The court has become one of the last stops before jail.
Update: I just came across this article from the San Fransisco Examiner, "Seeking Justice For Tenderloin Court" which details the continuing political battles over the fate of the Justice Center and provides an interesting case study for the public policy debates over the relative merits of community courts and justice centers.

Update #2 (8/31/2009): The folks over at the excellent blog "California Corrections Crisis," maintained by faculty and students at UC Hastings College of Law, just posted a comprehensive update on all the developments around the Justice Center, "Community Justice Center Picks Up". Thanks to Julius Lang on the Courtbuilders listserve for the link.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Challenge of Mental Illness in the Juvenile Justice System

This article in the New York Times describes an overloaded juvenile justice system struggling with the issue of mental health services: "Mentally Ill Offenders Strain the Juvenile Justice System," by Solomon Moore.

As cash-starved states slash mental health programs in communities and schools, they are increasingly relying on the juvenile corrections system to handle a generation of young offenders with psychiatric disorders. About two-thirds of the nation’s juvenile inmates — who numbered 92,854 in 2006, down from 107,000 in 1999 — have at least one mental illness, according to surveys of youth prisons, and are more in need of therapy than punishment. ¶ 'We’re seeing more and more mentally ill kids who couldn’t find community programs that were intensive enough to treat them,' said Joseph Penn, a child psychiatrist at the Texas Youth Commission.
This is an issue we've been been dealing with for a few years in the Bronx. Since the beginning of 2007, Bronx Community Solutions has been coordinating the Juvenile Accountability Court, an intensive form of probation designed to prevent placement in detention by combining intensive supervision with enhanced services and increased judicial monitoring. One service that has been consistently identified as a major need is assessment and services for mental health issues (the other most serious needs, aside from drug counseling, anger management, and after school activities include help navigating the education system and family counseling and engagement).

For a period of time, the Juvenile Accountability Court benefited from a devoted source of funding that made it possible to contract for comprehensive mental health services. After that source of funding expired, we have attempted to connect our clients to the mental health services available in the Bronx at hospitals, community clinics, and private doctors, through Medicaid and other insurance coverage, but this has been very challenging.

Back in March the Health and Hospital Corporation, the large agency responsible for running a network of public hospitals as well as much of the health and mental health services available in the city's criminal justice system, announced budget cuts that included the closure of mental health programs such as Highbridge Health Center, a community health clinic; a mental health day-treatment program for 300 adults at Harlem Hospital Center; and another serving 80 adolescents at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

National Night Out 2009

From Acting Project Director Maria Almonte:

On Tuesday, August 4, 2009, Bronx Community Solutions participated once again in the Bronx's National Night Out Against Crime. This event has been taking place for over twenty-five years across the nation and it is designed to bring together residents and the criminal justice system to improve safety and prevent crime.

This year we assisted three of our neighborhood precincts (the 43rd, 44th, and 48th) by providing set-up and clean-up crews and handing out information to local residents about the services at the court. At the 44th we set up a table full of valuable information for the community, at the 48th, we removed some graffiti from a commercial building centrally located in the areas where they did their ‘night-out’ event. And finally, we provided a clean-up community service crew at the 43rd's event. All of our partners appreciated our collaborative efforts in making this year another successful community event.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Stop and Frisk 101?

This is an interesting account in the Village Voice about the "Bushwick 32" a group of young people ranging in age from 13 to 21 who were the subject of a controversial mass arrest on the way to the funeral of a friend on May 21, 2007, who have subsequently forced the city to pay a large settlement in a civil lawsuit that alleged police harassment and unlawful arrest.

It turns out that several members of this group had been taking part in a program at Bushwick Community High School that teaches students about the law and how to handle themselves in encounters with police.

"A lot of our kids had been so used to being violated that they didn't know it was their right not to be. Like walking home from school, being searched, and being asked to stand up against a police car--this is something kids in different neighborhoods never experience. "Stop-And-Frisk 101" by Elizabeth Dwoskin.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Very Young Girls

This afternoon during lunch, the staff of Bronx Community Solutions watched a screening of a new documentary, Very Young Girls, which focuses on the stories of young women at the GEMS program in New York City who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking and are attempting to leave "the life" and develop to their full potential.

Here in the Bronx, we've been conducting street outreaches in partnership with the NYPD and working to coordinate sentences to GEMS, along with the Choices program and the Trans Women Empowerment program at the Midtown Community Court. You can read more about that here.

I recommend the film to everyone - its superbly made, incredibly moving, and it tells an important story. It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, it was broadcast on Showtime, it's available on Netflix, and soon it will be possible to watch it directly online.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Project CleanUp

In a press conference this week with several law enforcement and elected officials, Mayor Bloomberg announced millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds directed to criminal justice functions in New York City. Among the recipients of stimulus funds are the Midtown Community Court, the Red Hook Community Justice Center, and Project CleanUp, a city-wide enhancement of community service sentences modeled on Bronx Community Solutions as well as Midtown and Red Hook.

Project CleanUp is a new effort to take greater advantage of community service sentences. Project CleanUp will put offenders arrested for minor offenses such as vandalism, shoplifting, and turnstile jumping to work repairing neighborhoods throughout New York City, assigning them more flexibly to emerging problem areas. The program will build on our record of success in community service and ensure that a crime is tied to its consequences; show New Yorkers that the justice system is responding to neighborhood problems; and ensure high compliance rates. Project CleanUp projects will be efforts to address neighborhood problems including painting over graffiti, sorting recyclables, sweeping streets, cleaning up local parks, and taking care of blighted waterfront areas. It is estimated that Project CleanUp will supervise 70,000 community service hours for each of the next two years. Project CleanUp participants will be offered links to social services – drug treatment, job training, and counseling.

“Project CleanUp will help revitalize neighborhoods where crime threatens the social fabric,” said Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt. “Project CleanUp turns crime on its head by making criminals work to improve the quality of life in communities.”

Project CleanUp will bring the model of targeted community payback citywide. This was originally pioneered by the City and the State in three award-winning community courts – Midtown Community Court, Red Hook Community Justice Center and Bronx Community Solutions. Project CleanUp will be operated as a project of the Center for Court Innovation in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator.

The full press release is here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Making a difference

Ever since Bronx Community Solutions began operations in 2005, one of its main goals has been to demonstrate that an innovative approach to court-ordered community service can result in projects that are more meaningful for both defendants and the community and lead to higher rates of compliance. By scheduling clients to begin community service immediately, identifying new community service partners, developing its own clean-up crew, and closely monitoring the work of clients, Bronx Community Solutions has created visible improvements to neighborhood conditions in the Bronx.

We recently received some awards recognizing the contributions that our community service programs have been making in the Bronx, so I thought I would share a little bit of the story behind each of them.

Graffiti and the 44th Precinct
Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development and rising property values in the Bronx, complaints of graffiti in the borough increased by 58% in 2008 (New York Daily News, "Graffiti a slap in the face to changing Bronx"), costing business owners and taxpayers thousands of dollars. In response, Bronx Community Solutions has partnered with the District Attorney and the NYPD to tackle the issue. First, the District Attorney and Bronx Community Solutions work to make sure that graffiti offenders who don’t face long incarcerations are sentenced to community service and assigned to clean-up crews that work specifically to repair the damage of graffiti (you can view an analysis of the sentences graffiti cases receive in the Bronx that we conducted here).

Then, Bronx Community Solutions works with NYPD Community Affairs officers in 8 of 12 police precincts across the Bronx to identify sites, work with property owners to obtain permission and conduct clean-ups. Bronx Community Solutions was recently recognized by the 44th Precinct Community Council for its efforts to address the problem of graffiti in a ceremony attended by the Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and District Attorney Robert Johnson, and has also been recognized in several newspaper articles.

Coordinator of Community Service Moises Reyes and Crew Supervisor Ramon Semorile celebrate their award from the 44th Precinct with Officer Lonesome of the NYPD.

Southeast Bronx Neighborhood Centers
In the Summer of 2008, Mike Rustin, the director for youth and family services of Southeast Bronx Neighborhood Centers (SEBNC)’s Forest Neighborhood House, approached Bronx Community Solutions. His organization had three neglected and overgrown lots that had been the site of considerable dumping. His dream was to rehabilitate them and put them to use for gardening with mentally disabled adults. However, like so many small non-profits, his budget was tight and he was hoping Bronx Community Solutions might be able to assist him.

We already had some experience tackling tough projects like this (back in 2007 we worked with Mount Hope Housing Corporation to address severe dumping that had occurred on the site where they have now built a beautiful new community center), and we've been working with Sustainable South Bronx and others to assist community gardens, so we thought that we could help.

We brought out crews of community service participants to clear out the dumping and now we're working with SEBNC to develop a garden on the site. After SEBNC installed a new floor in their gymnasium we helped them paint the facility and then decided to partner with them on hosting our basketball league. The league, designed to provide a forum for positive interactions between youth and law enforcement recently completed its third season with a spirited championship game between a youth team and a team of police officers from the 41st Precinct.

Judah Zuger accepts an award from SEBNC

D.A. race

Here's a long piece on Robert Morgenthau and the contest to succeed him in the office of Manhattan District Attorney.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Youth Empowerment Forum

From Maria Almonte-Weston:

“I want to be the voice of my community”.

This was the main reason why Michael Patterson, a senior in John F. Kennedy High School decided to intern at Bronx Community Solutions’ Youth Empowerment Forum, a program created to address youth and police interactions related to low-level offenses in the Bronx. He, along with two other young adults, participated as youth leaders at our Bronx Week event held on June 12, 2009.

During their internship, which was led by Bronx Community Solutions staff Monica Garcia and T.K. Singleton, the participants conducted several roundtable focus groups with youth and criminal justice personnel. According to Michael, “the hardest part was coming up with the right questions to ask. Being impartial was hard!”

All of the youth leaders spoke about how this experience changed their perspective: “Even though my views have not changed about the criminal justice system, my perception of what happens has,” said Mitchell Hicks, another youth leader who also wants to be a defense attorney and work in the Bronx some day.

At the event, participants shared their research findings and presented a few recommendations to a panel of criminal justice experts (Seann Riley, Bronx Defenders Deputy Director; Odalys Alonso, Executive Chief Assistant District Attorney; and Detective Warren, the NYPD 40th Precinct’s youth officer), an audience of their peers, teachers and other court personal.

Paige Grant, a senior at John F. Kennedy, moderated the panel discussion; she decided to join the Youth Empowerment Forum because she wanted to gain experience in policy. She shared that her experience with the police was both good and bad. “I have very strong feelings towards officers and the way they deal with youth, but when I led the round table discussion with the criminal justice representatives I got such a better understanding of each players role in the system that serves my community. I also felt like my voice and point of views was heard and I hope that they could apply it when they interact with youth in the Bronx.

In the community interviews conducted by our interns we found that residents wanted to voice their concerns about four major issues: Police harassment or abuse of power, youth starting trouble, the need for more constructive activities for youth, and problems with conditions in their community.

People felt that when policing, officers would abuse their authority, for example abusive language or abusive actions (like putting the hand cuffs too tight). Another complaint was not taking the time out to explain arrests. Many people claimed they did not even know why they were being arrested until they were in court. Some interviewees also felt that some officers did not follow proper procedures when making an arrest for charges of trespass (Operations Clean Halls).

Many people felt that young people who live in the community where disrespectful (to the police and elderly), hang out around the outside of buildings and hallways, and do not listen to adults. Many of the members of the community felt that if young people had a place to hang-out the youth would not be targets of arrest. Many Community members had major issues with the quality of life crimes and concerns, including graffiti, trash, smoking everywhere, and too many people just hanging out.

The participants in the Youth Empowerment Forum had three recommendations:

1. Developing/funding after-school programs for youth that vary from sports and arts to counseling programs (to name a few)

2. Educating youth on trespass legislation, their rights and responsibilities as residents and community members (for example, creating public announcements and or short films, passing out paraphernalia on top ten do’s and don’ts when in dealing with the police)

3. Enhancing relationships/dialog between youth and police, creating more roundtable events and/ or town hall events with community officers to increase positive communication and better treatment.

[For a detailed report from the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest on policing in New York City public housing, vertical patrols, trespass enforcement, and Fourth Amendment rights of residents of public housing go here. The event was held in the magnificent Jury Assembly room in the new Hall of Justice. For previous discussion on this blog about the new courthouse, go here, and for an insider's view of a day in the life of a Bronx jury, go here. -Ben]

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Crime in the Suburbs

As crime rates in New York have steadily declined, some observers have wondered whether problems were just being pushed out of the rapidly gentrifying urban core of the region and into the suburbs and upstate (for more on that topic, read here). Now the New York Times reports on Nassau County's gang problem: "In a Suburban Gangland, Young Lives Cut Short").

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Better Policing

After a decade of policing crises that began with the beating of Rodney King in 1991 and culminated in the Rampart police corruption scandal in 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in May 2000 that it had accumulated enough evidence to sue the City of Los Angeles over a pattern-and-practice of police misconduct: excessive force, false arrests and unreasonable searches, especially of members of minorities. Later that year, the city government entered a “consent decree” promising to adopt scores of reform measures under the supervision of a federal court.

That court imposed monitoring is set to expire today, and the New York Times is reporting on arguments by various interested parties about whether that monitoring should be continued: "Monitor Cites Reform, Though Incomplete, by Los Angeles Police." The changes that have occurred over the time of the consent decree contain very important lessons about the quality of policing. Click Here to read more.

Views on possible police misconduct usually fall into two camps: some argue for a "tighter rein" on police conduct, increased accountability and reform to address misconduct and abuses; others charactorize critics as "anti-police" and argue that citizens shouldn't question police tactics, allowing them to do whatever is necessary to keep us safe.

What is so important about the recent example of the LAPD under the consent decree is that it disproves this false dichotomy. A comprehensive study by the Kennedy School of Government found that better management and governance, improved supervision, increased training, and enhanced protocols could lead to improvements in community police relations and improved policing [thanks to Kate Krontiris for highlighting this study at Rethinking Reentry].

From the Executive Summary:

"Despite the views of some officers that the consent decree inhibits them, there is no objective sign of so-called “de-policing” since 2002; indeed, quantity and quality of enforcement activity have risen substantially over [this] period. The greater quantity is evident in the doubling of both pedestrian stops and motor vehicle stops since 2002, and in the rise in arrests over that same period. The greater quality of stops is evident in the higher proportion resulting in an arrest, and the quality of arrests is evident in the higher proportion in which the District Attorney files felony charges. . . .

In sum, the evidence here shows that with both strong police leadership and strong police oversight, cities can enjoy both respectful and effective policing. The LAPD remains aggressive and is again proud, but community engagement and partnership is now part of the mainstream culture of the Department. The Department responds to crime and disorder with substantial force, but it is scrutinizing that force closely and it is accountable through many devices for its proper use."

[Incidentally, the LAPD also has the best web-based tool for mapping crime trends that I've seen. By combining real-time data on eight major crimes with Google Maps, the LAPD lets citizens see what's going on in their neighborhoods.]

Another city operating it's police department under a consent decree over about the same period of time is Cincinatti, Ohio. This week's New Yorker has a article on efforts there to implement the "Ceasefire" strategy with help from John Jay professor David Kennedy. Here's a link to that article (subscription req'd).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Judicial Elections

The Supreme Court ruled this week by a 5-4 decision, in Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Co. that judges must recuse themselves from cases involving people who spent exceptionally large sums to put them on the bench.

In the case, a coal company spent over $3 million to help remove the incumbant judge and support the challenger (more than the total amount spent by all other supporters and three times the amount spent by the candidates own committee) and then subsequently received a very favorable ruling on its business interests from the new judge which helped the company to put its competetors out of business. While the decision was lauded by many in the legal establishment, it also left many questions open that will now have to be worked out by lower courts.

This decision, of course, seems to affect civil matters more than criminal ones. Every criminal judge in New York City (where the judiciary is composed of a mix of elected and appointed judges) keeps the "New York Post/Daily News" rule in mind: "If I release this defendant, is it possible he might do something horrible, and I might end up on the cover of the Daily News?"

I urge anyone who is interested in learning more about the rules and financing of elections in New York City to visit the website of New York City Campaign Finance Board. It includes a well designed searchable database of all contributions to 2009 candidates for elected office.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I've been following President Obama's Supreme Court nomination process with great interest, and I've been paying close attention to one nominee in particular: Sonia Sotomayer grew up here, lived in the Bronxdale Houses and attended Cardinal Spellman High School. Some legal observers believe that her unique life experience will bring a valuable perspective to the Court. Furthermore, of Puerto Rican descent, she is the first Latina nominee to the highest court.

It has been very interesting to me personally to observe from a front row seat here in the Bronx the process of gradual transition and transformation in a court system once dominated almost entirely by white men, but which now has women and people of color in numerous positions of power ("Who's in Charge?" February 13, 2009). Sonia Sotomayer's nomination, announced today, is truly a milestone in the process.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Very interesting...

The High Cost of Poverty: Why the Poor Pay More. "Having Little Money Often Means No Car, No Washing Machine, No Checking Account And No Break From Fees and High Prices" Read the article in the Washington Post here. Thanks to Justin Briggs for finding this article.

Here's a related study: Neighborhood Financial Services: An Analysis of Supply and Demand in Two New York City Neighborhoods. From the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Office of Financial Empowerment.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ayudando a nuestoros clientes que hablan español/ Reaching our Spanish-speaking clients

De Ramon Semorile:

Yo soy un supervisor de servicios comunitario para Bronx Community Solutions por mas de cuatro anos. En ese tiempo, yo e mantenido una clase de Orientación cada Marte para los clientes que hablan solamente español. En el grupo, nosotros hablamos de los crímenes que afectan la calidad de vida en nuestra comunidad. También le ofrecemos servicios de ayuda como ESL, o tratamiento de droga. Recientemente yo es notado alguna de las mimas caras viniendo otra ves al grupo. Alguno de los participantes me dicen que ellos ya saben lo que yo voy a presentar en el grupo porque ya lo han oído en la misma clase. Desafortunadamente, estos participantes no pueden ir a otro grupo porque todos los grupos son solamente en ingles.

A mi me dios una idea, quería expandir el grupo y incorporar nuevo tópicos en la clase. Creo que nuestro participantes pueden beneficiarse con mas información sobre asuntos de salud que afectan la comunidad del Bronx. Con la excelente contribución de Care For the Homeless (un gran programa que nos ayuda con clases de salud para nuestros participantes que hablan ingles). Yo pude lograr un currículo de salud en español. Con la ayuda de Benjamín Rinn, el representante de Care For the Homeless , nosotros introducimos la primera clase de salud en español la semana pasada. Catorce participantes atendieron el grupo, y tres individuos aceptaron gratis, un examen de SIDA confidencial después de la clase.

El educador de salud de Care for the Homeless, Benjamín Rinn, dice, “Fue un placer haber dado la clase de salud en español y yo creo que tuvimos mucho éxito. Los clientes participaron asiendo preguntas sobre el tópico. A pesar de que fue un grupo que se tomo mas tiempo de lo usual, indica que estuvieron interesado en las clase.”

From Ramon Semorile:

I have been a Bronx Community Solutions crew supervisor for more than four years. In that time I have begun facilitating an Orientation group every Tuesday for our Spanish speaking clients. In the group we discuss quality of life crimes and the impact it has on the community and we also offer everyone voluntary services (i.e. vocational training, ESL, drug treatment). I teach my class with joy and dedication, but lately I have noticed the same faces coming back through the group. Some of these participants tell me they already know what I'm going to say since they've heard it all before. Unfortunately, they cannot be scheduled to any of our other groups due to the language barrier.

Then I thought about expanding the Spanish-speaking class by incorporating new topics to the class. I thought that our Spanish-speaking clients would really benefit from more information about health issues that effect people in the Bronx. With the excellent contributions of Care For the Homeless (a great social service partner that facilitates a health education group each week for the rest of our clients) I was able to put together a health education class in Spanish. Benjamin Rinn, a health educator from Care For the Homeless, and I facilitated the first Spanish-speaking health group last week. Fourteen participants attended and three individuals accepted a free, confidential HIV rapid-result exam after the class.

The health educator from Care For the Homeless, Benjamin Rinn, said, "I had a great time doing the Health Education group in Spanish and I think it went very well. The clients were engaged and asked a lot of great questions. The fact that the group ran longer than scheduled tells me that they were entertained and interested."

Monday, May 11, 2009

"Greening the Ghetto"

In the New York Times today, this profile of Intervale Green on Intervale Avenue between Freeman Street and Louis Niñe Boulevard, "an infamous strip of South Bronx urban blight (it served as backdrop for some of the most gruesome scenes in the movie “Fort Apache, the Bronx”)," was yet another reminder that the Bronx is on the cutting edge of the green movement and the environmental justice movement: "A Green Building, for Those Without Much of the Green Stuff to Spare".

"The South Bronx was once known exclusively for its burned-down buildings, drug wars and piles of rubble. When historians look back at the current era in the borough, they’ll still see intractable crime and poverty, but they’ll also see, out of the nonprofit group Sustainable South Bronx, an early program to train unskilled workers in green careers, which may prove to be a model nationwide for stimulus-funded green job-training programs. They’ll also see Intervale Green, which Ms. Biberman says is currently the largest affordable green housing development in the country."

A little while ago, an article in the Boston Globe summarized a few different research projects that showed that proximity to green space and well designed parks can counteract some of the negative effects of urban life caused by crowding and overstimulation, thereby improving mental health, emotional self control, and cognitive functioning and ultimately reducing crime and improving resiliency and ability to cope with major life challenges: "How The City Hurts Your Brain".

"[S]cientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control.

"[Researchers] measured the two groups on a variety of tasks, from basic tests of attention to surveys that looked at how the women were handling major life challenges. [They] found that living in an apartment with a view of greenery led to significant improvements in every category."

"City life can also lead to loss of emotional control. [Researchers] found less domestic violence in the apartments with views of greenery. These data build on earlier work that demonstrated how aspects of the urban environment, such as crowding and unpredictable noise, can also lead to increased levels of aggression. A tired brain, run down by the stimuli of city life, is more likely to lose its temper."