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.