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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bronx judge seeks to expand treatment alternatives

Bronx Judge Laura Safer-Espinoza and the Bronx Treatment Court were profiled today in the New York Times (click here to read the article). She is among a group of judges who support legislation to expand the use of treatment as an alternative to jail for non-violent felony offenders by making more resources available and widening the group of defendants who would be able to get into drug court. Of all problem-solving innovations in the justice system, drug courts (like the one run by Judge Safer-Espinoza) are the most widespread and have received the most recognition for their effectiveness.

In addition to pushing for greater resources to support treatment, the legislation would also give judges more say about who is eligible for drug court - currently that decision is up to the district attorney. It would also widen somewhat those individuals who are eligible, including those who are receiving methadone and those who are facing their second offense, who are currently excluded.

According to another article in the New York Times today, many states throughout the country are responding to budget shortfalls by taking creative steps to reduce their prison populations, reducing sentences, embracing alternatives to incarceration, and taking steps to reduce the number of people who are re-incarcerated for technical violations of parole. To read the article, click here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bronx Community Solutions Basketball League Celebrates Third Season

The Bronx Community Solutions Basketball League recently completed its third season with a spirited championship game between "All 4 One," a youth team, and a team of police officers from the 41st Precinct.

The 2008-2009 season began in October at the Bronxdale NYCHA gymnasium. In December the league moved to South East Bronx Neighborhood Centers (SEBNC)'s gymnasium, located at their Forest Neighborhood Houses Recreation Center. SEBNC recently installed a new floor for their basketball court, and Bronx Community Solutions' community service crew helped them put up a fresh coat of paint. It was a pleasure to help refurbish this community facility and partner with SEBNC to sponsor the league.

This year seven teams with a mix of youth and adults competed: A Bronx Community Solutions team composed of former clients and other youth, a team of adults from SOBRO; All 4 One, a youth team from the Mitchell Houses; a team of youth and adults from the Harlem Community Justice Center; a youth team from Job Corps; a team of officers from the Department of Probation; and team of officers from the 41st Precinct.

The story of this year's winning team and their coach is an inspiring one (from Case Manager Judah Zuger):

In 1992, Rasheem was a young man who had just won a high school basketball championship. He had a bright future. But a few weeks later he was pushed onto the subway tracks, breaking his neck and confining him to a wheelchair. After his accident Rasheem could have been bitter, even angry, but as he puts it, "You can’t turn back time, but you can turn a negative into a positive."

In February 2009, Rasheem, now 35 and a community organizer in the Bronx at the Mitchell Houses, coached his youth basketball team to the championship in the 2008-2009 Bronx Community Solutions basketball tournament. Rasheem started his basketball team, “All for One,” and tournament in 2001 because “No one was doing much for the youth in the neighborhood.” The young people join his basketball team because “I show interest in their lives and I'm providing alternatives to street life.” Rasheem also believes that his basketball team prevents violence in his neighborhood.

Rasheem explains that “I wanted to give back” because “a lot of the kids in my neighborhood lack fathers and role models.” His team of 16-22 year olds played in the third season of Bronx Community Solutions basketball tournament, which was designed to bridge the gap between police and youth. Rasheem's team clinched the championship by defeating a team from the 41st Police Precinct in a tense overtime game. More typically the interaction between these two teams’ member would have played out in the streets or a holding cell, but now it's in a basketball tournament. Rasheem is a big part of the reason for that.

In an awards ceremony held Monday March 16th, All 4 One and their coach were presented with a plaque acknowledging their accomplishments (above, click to enlarge).

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Reality of Police Work

This morning Brian Lehrer interviewed Paul Bacon, the author of Bad Cop: New York's Least Likely Police Officer Tells All. Mr. Bacon describes himself as a left-leaning person who avoids confrontation and is afraid of guns, who none-the-less felt compelled to serve after the experiences of 9/11. He has a lot to share about the attitudes and practices of typical New York City beat cops, from a mostly sympathetic point of view, that would be of interest to anyone concerned with policing policing and law enforcement culture. Listen to the interview here (this might take a second to load):

Mr. Bacons' book is similar to the classic by Ted Conover, New Jack. After the Department refused him access to write a book about what it was like to work in a prison, the author, a very successful writer, went through Correction Officer training and spent a year guarding at Sing-Sing in order to write an insider's account about daily life for those who are charged with guarding inmates. Another place that you can get an insight into the (often highly inflammatory) opinions of NYPD rank-and-file is NYPD Rant.

For some interesting exerpts from the Brian Lehrer interview, Read More:

"The typical cynical viewpoint that you learn as a police officer [is] that nothing you can do works, so don't try. . . . It's what comes after being screamed at by people all day long, every day. Generally speaking, as a cop you're showing up at people's worst moments and most people are inclined to lie to you. And when you put those two things together it's easy to become cynical while still wanting to do a good job, but really it's a challenge to remain open minded."

Are [cops] people who like to fight and have confrontation? "Absolutely not, not generally speaking. There are some officers who are quicker to become physical but generally speaking most cops want to resolve every situation with as little trouble as possible, because they have to go from that situation to the next situation, and the one after that....Everybody is trying to make things work smoothly."

He claims that firearms training is very meticulous, including the test on justification and firearms discipline. 'Testi-lying' is not taught. "The things that happen in the news the academy, the job, take very seriously, they don't want those things to happen." "Do you think that cops lie a lot in court?" "No, I really don't."

Quotas for summons are very much a part of everyday life and the "number" is very much on the top of everyone's mind. "[If there weren't quotas], I'm almost sure that no cops would write tickets....Why would you want to add that much trouble to your life?...It's how you get in arguments, its how you get civilian complaints, it's how fights break out."

Center For Court Innovation Annual Report

Bronx Community Solutions is a project of the Center for Court Innovation, a public/private partnership that serves as the research and development arm of the New York State Court System. The Center just published its annual report, and it's nice to hear about some of our wider accomplishments in the world of court innovation, as well as to see what our sources of funding were for 2008. You can view the report here. Another good source for news from the Center is "Random Notes from the Desk of Greg Berman" a blog from the Center's Director.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

SF Community Court Opens Its Doors

The SF Chronicle reports that the San Fransisco Community Justice Center opened its doors today for for very first time (the article is from Heather Knight who has covered the court previously). Go Here to view the article.

Also, have a look at what "California Corrections Crisis," a blog from the faculty of UC Hastings and the Hastings Poverty and Law Journal, has to say. They think that the Chronicle should give the Center (which has been controversial with SF voters and taken longer than expected to open) a fair chance to demonstrate its success. They've been following the story of the Justice Center for while - here, here, and here. And, make sure to watch "Moving Justice Forward" for more updates.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The NYC Justice Corps

Here at Bronx Community Solutions, we have the chance to reach large numbers of young people who have come into contact with the justice system. We're always looking for ways that we can connect them to tangible services and opportunities geared to get them on the right track.

The NYC Justice Corps is a new program that is enrolling young people living in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn (two parts of New York with some of the highest incarceration rates) in a comprehensive job-training and service program, with twin goals: keeping youth from returning to prison, and putting them to work on service projects in their communities. We've hosted staff from the project on two occasions to recruit some of our clients, and today the program was featured in the New York Times - read the article here. John Jay College, the City's the Center for Economic Opportunity and the Department of Corrections are all partnering on the project, so I'll be eager to see what kind of results they can acheive!