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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.

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