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Friday, February 27, 2009

Changing of the Guard

In a widely anticipated development, Robert M. Morganthau announced today that he will not seek reelection. Manhattan District Attorney since 1974, Mr. Morganthau is a fixture in law enforcement and New York City politics. Leonard Levitt, the "must-read" police beat reporter for Newsday, has some thoughts and speculation on who the replacement might be.

Update, 03/06/2009: Here is an group interview with the three declared candidates: ABC 7, Up Close. Thanks to Greg Berman on "Random Notes From the Desk of Greg Berman"

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Farewell To Adolfo Carrion

It was announced on Thursday that Adolfo Carrion, Jr. will be headed to Washington to lead the White House Office of Urban Affairs, which President Obama created to focus federal investment in urban areas, primarily job creation, infrastructure and housing.

One of Mr. Carrion's last acts as Borough President was to deliver his final, farewell State of the Borough address, above. The Bronx News Network (formerly West Bronx Blog) has nice coverage of the event. Full text.

Mr. Carrion's new job will mean another ally for New York City and urban areas in general at the White House. It also leaves a job opening in the Bronx, for which heated competition is expected. The Bronx Democratic political establishment is somewhat in disarray after a protracted battle for the position of party leader. This article from the Times provides good overview of the current political landsacpe.

In Praise of "Soup Kitchen Accounting"

Two co-contributors to the New York Times Op-Ed section this week think that the solution for ensuring that recipients of federal funds are held accountable for their use of those funds is requiring that the beneficiaries of taxpayer financing should have to keep track of their money in the same way nonprofits must.

"Nonprofits use what is known as “fund accounting.” Fund accounting requires that a separate set of books be maintained for all grants that are designated for a specific activity. The aim is to ensure that the resources are spent for their intended purpose."

Furthermore, "[b]efore a charity can receive a federal grant, it must prepare a proposal outlining precisely what it will do with the funds. Bailout recipients should do the same, or at least sign contracts agreeing to spend the money in accordance with terms set forth by the Treasury. . . . Similarly, charities are asked to provide detailed financial reports at least once a year to the federal agencies overseeing their grants."

"[G]overnmental entities and not-for-profit organizations receiving federal assistance must submit to independent audits. TARP recipients should do the same. The auditors would not only attest to the integrity of the recipients’ financial data but also report on the extent to which they complied with the terms of the grant. If violations were found, the auditors would be charged with reporting them to the appropriate oversight agency.

Charity is accountable. TARP recipients should be, too."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Red Hook Baseball League

At Bronx Community Solutions, we've been operating a basketball league that brings together youth with members of law enforcement for a few seasons. We're envious of the Red Hook Baseball League.

Now in its twelfth year, the League is in the process of creating it's own 501(C)3. For the past 11 years, the league has fallen under the umbrella of the Red Hook Community Justice Center. The Justice Center and the New York Public Safety Corps will continue to be partners in the league, but the long lasting sustainability will be carried on by a strong board and a lot of involvement by community folks.

They've just started their own website where you can learn more about their mission of providing positive recreational activity for the youth of Red Hook or make a donation. Go Here to view the site.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Rethinking Reentry

Kate Krontiris of the Harlem Community Justice Center (and formerly of Bronx Community Solutions and the Crown Heights Mediation Center) has just launched "Rethinking Reentry," a frequently-updated blog that chronicles the ways that the Upper Manhattan Reentry Task Force and its partner organizations are enhancing the process of return from prison to community in UpperManhattan. It will also serve as clearinghouse for interesting articles, ideas, or developments in the field more broadly.

Who’s in charge?

Jonathan Lippman’s appointment to our state's highest judicial office was confirmed yesterday by the New York State Senate. Not one member of the Senate voted against him, though three did abstain, as a protest over the fact that the list of nominations by the State Commission on Judicial Nomination, from which Governor Patterson is required to choose, included no women and few minorities.

The New York Times quoted Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. as saying, “My frustration, my concern is the system. It has nothing to do with you,” addressing his comments directly to Mr. Lippman during the Judiciary Committee hearing. “If I vote ‘yes’ that makes me part of the problem. And I don’t want to be part of the problem.”

Despite the controversy, there was never any serious doubt that Mr. Lippman was a logical and highly qualified choice. As a life-long court system employee, having started with the New York State Unified Court System in 1968, upon graduation from NYU, he is widely respected by the Court System’s administrative rank-and-file. As Judge Kaye’s chief administrative assistant, he is well suited to continuing her legacy of reform. And as a presiding judge on the Court of Appeals, he demonstrated the temperament of a pragmatic liberal and skill for deciding law where there is controversy, making law where there is none, and reducing his Court’s backlog.

While the court system was once dominated heavily be white males, it has changed dramatically in the past few decades. Like many institutions in the city, an older generation of Italian, Irish, and eastern European Jewish whites are slowly losing dominance as African-Americans and Puerto Ricans gain increasing power. In turn, these groups also jostle for power with more recently arrived groups, including non-American blacks and Hispanics from the Caribbean and elsewhere. Chapter Three in John Mollenkopf's A Phoenix in the Ashes provides a good description of this process of growth, decline, competition, and cooperation between New York's various major demographic groups and among its various economic sectors.

I’ve enjoyed having a front row seat for observing the operation of the criminal justice bureaucracy in the Bronx. At a recent bi-monthly “conditions” meeting, in which the senior administrative judge for the Bronx, Hon. John P. Collins, convenes the heads of all of the bureaucracy’s key agencies--police, probation, corrections, court officers, court administration, district attorney, defense bar, and various service agencies including Bronx Community Solutions--I had the chance to observe the entire system’s leadership in one place.

It was possible to see an identifiable pattern – many agencies are led by an older white male, while their chief deputy is often younger, black or Hispanic, and/or female. Blacks, Hispanics and women have all risen in the ranks among judges, attorneys, and the uniformed services, though possibly somewhat less so in the court’s administrative branch.

The Bronx political establishment is undergoing its own struggles between various demographic groups. Party leader Jose Rivera's grip on power is under challenge from a group of Assembly members and state senators led by Rubin Diaz, Jr., Carl Heastie, and Michael Benjamin, who charge that his nepotism and a general exclusion of all but Puerto Ricans from party largesse forced them to rebel.

On the other hand, looking at the senior leadership of these organizations may not really give us a very good picture of who’s actually in charge after all. As Michael Lipsky notes in “Street Level Bureaucracy”:

Public service workers currently occupy a critical position in American society. Although they are normally regarded as low-level employees, the actions of most public service workers actually constitute the services "delivered" by government. Moreover, when taken together the individual decisions of these workers become, or add up to, agency policy. Whether government policy is to deliver "goods" such as welfare or public housing--or to confer status--such as "criminal" or "mentally ill"--the discretionary actions of public employees are the benefits and sanctions of government programs or determine access to government rights and benefits.

Most citizens encounter government (if they encounter it at all) not through letters to congressmen or by attendance at school board meetings but through their teachers and their children's teachers and through the policeman on the corner or in the patrol car.

In Lipsky's analysis, the "street-level bureaucrat" is characterized by relative autonomy from organizational authority, inadequate resources, nonvoluntary clients, the social construction of a client, rationing of services, a focus on client or case processing, and an organizational imperative to husband resources and control clients and the work situation.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Teen Driving, Choices and Consequences

From Deputy Director Maria Almonte:

On Wednesday, February 4th, I attended a Youth Educating for Safety (YES) Conference, which focused largely on the Choices and Consequences program presented by the Kings County (Brooklyn) District Attorney. There were about 150 high school students in attendance, representing all five boroughs.

Choices and Consequences is a program developed in response to the deadly problems of reckless and drunk driving among teenagers. Across the country, nearly 6,000 teens die each year in motor vehicle crashes (Allstate Foundation Report on Teen Driving, 2005). Most of these deaths are preventable and many result in criminal prosecutions.

The interactive presentation was moderated by Gale Dampf, the Bureau Chief of Vehicular Crimes in Brooklyn. She, along with officers from the Brooklyn North Task Force and the Family Life Theatre, presented an educational, interactive and emotionally impactful program. It included multi-media clips, public service announcements and photos of young victims, and the crime/car crash scenes.

But the largest impact of the day by far was the presentation of three offenders who shared their stories with the audience. They discussed how bad choices like drinking and or reckless driving led them to experience and live out some hard consequences. One of the speakers, 26 years old, said to the group of students, "It’s been 8 years since my reckless driving resulted in someone’s death, and the nightmares never go away. I was just like you, in high school, driving alone with only a permit and that was the worst decision I ever made."

Here at Bronx Community Solutions we have been brainstorming with the Bronx Bureau Chief, Joseph McCormack, on ways to bring more awareness to the issue of driving under the influence and reckless driving. The plan is to host a special Law Day event in the spring, where the Choices and Consequences program can be presented to a few local Bronx high schools. Our hope is to increase awareness and encourage more youth to make the right choices when it comes to teen driving.

[Benjamin: For a little while I used to compile a feature on Streetsblog called "Weekly Carnage" that showed the terrible toll in deaths, injuries, and property damage caused by auto accidents - many the result of drunk or reckless driving - in our New York Metro area. Go here to view it.]

Lippman Confirmation Today

Jonathan Lippman's confirmation hearing as New York's next chief judge is happening today in Albany. The New York Times has a long article detailing the experience he'll bring to his tenure.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"In Their Own Words"

I just got done speaking with Steven Hirsch, who's a photographer for the New York Post, and the editor of Courthouse Confessions, where he publishes the stories and pictures of regular people at 100 Centre Street, as they get released from the Tombs or come to take care of a court case. He says he got the idea after folks kept asking him to take their picture, or said "Have I got a story for you..." According the Mr. Hirsch, the blog is very popular with lawyers, judges, and others in the criminal justice system, who see it as a window into a world the public doesn't normally see. It's not to be missed - and to anyone who deals with minor criminal cases, the stories, the crimes, and the punishments will be very familiar.