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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reentry Working Group Addresses Health Disparities

Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Bronx Community Solutions have partnered to form a Bronx Reentry Working Group that will address the health and competing needs of those returning to the Bronx from prisons and jails. There are 128,313 former inmates live in the community and as many as 12 per 1,000 residents are newly released each year. 

Residents of the Bronx face serious health challenges. The Bronx has the highest unemployment rate in the state, (14.1%) with  31% of residents living below the poverty level. 29,709 residents are living with AIDS. The Bronx is ranked as the unhealthiest county of New York’s 62 counties. 
This working group will address the health disparities of released inmates returning to the Bronx; health cuts in the New York State budget for medical and health services; and the move to close Rikers Island and open the South Bronx Jail. Our working group will document the health and competing needs of our reentry population to better understand and serve these individuals. This assessment will inform policy makers and work closely with different stakeholders to develop creative strategies for a healthier Bronx. The Working Group, under the leadership of Dr. Pamela Valera of Albert Einstein College of Medicine was awarded the National Cancer Institute’s K01 Health and Unmet Needs grant. 

If you would like to join our Reentry Working Group or have resources that you would like included in the Directory of Reentry Resources for the Bronx, please contact Mandy Restivo, Deputy Project Director of Bronx Community Solutions

Mission Statement 
The Bronx Reentry Working Group is a Bronx-based coalition of academic-community partners, corrections, reentry, policy- makers, and residents committed to addressing the social and health disparities of individuals with histories of criminal justice involvement Our objectives include:

1. To improve health outcomes of individuals with histories of criminal justice involvement by providing appropriate service referrals.

2. To increase skills and knowledge of individuals with histories of criminal justice involvement through programming, education and advocacy strategies.

3. To develop a body of literature of what works in helping individuals with histories of criminal justice involvement to successfully transition back into the Bronx. 

4. To increase information sharing and exchange, community engagement and to foster relationships within and between coalition members. 

Current Projects and Activities 
Letter to editor response to Bronx hate crimes (submission date Nov. 15, 2010)
Bronx-based Reentry Symposium Spring 2011
Bronx based Reentry Service Directory/ Webpage (underway/in development)
Bronx Reentry Task Force 
Healthy Eating Workshop for Bronx defendants 

Research Projects 
Health-seeking behavior study for men (ongoing)
Smoking cessation project for women (ongoing)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Part Two of NPR Youth Radio Story

Arresting Youth In Sex Trafficking Raises Debate

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December 7, 2010
Part 2 of 2
Oakland, Calif., is known as a center for sex trafficking, with a specialty in children. In 2003, the FBI dubbed the city, part of the San Francisco Bay Area, a "high-intensity child-prostitution area." Police say Oakland youth are often trafficked from their hometown out to other sex hubs like Portland, Ore.; Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Atlanta.
Youth Radio is an independent producer. For more than six months, the organization has been investigating child sex trafficking in Oakland, Calif. In this two-part report, it pieces together what life is like for girls who are forced into prostitution — and how law enforcement continues to criminalize girls the state legally defines as sexually exploited victims.
Law enforcement officials and youth advocates say they're frustrated by California law, which makes it difficult to prosecute pimps and johns and easy to go after the children. Monday, in the first of a two-part Youth Radio report, two survivors of sex trafficking shared their stories. Today, Youth Radio explores what Oakland police and the FBI are doing to combat sex trafficking.
At Oakland police headquarters on a recent afternoon, Lt. Kevin Wiley is briefing a group of FBI agents and police officers who are about to go out on a sweep.
"Remember, priority No. 1 is safety, right? Undercover officers, make sure you're aware of your 360 the entire time. No surprises out there, please."
Until four years ago, Wiley's Vice and Child Exploitation Unit prioritized arresting johns. But those operations and the funding that made them possible have been cut. Instead, the Oakland Police Department now targets the children who've been trafficked, in an effort to get them off the streets — and to get them to give up the names of their pimps.
"We're out there looking for pimps, anyone involved in human trafficking," Wiley says. "If we can pick up some of the girls, that's great. We're targeting children, but we do want to get the big fish, that is, the pimps out there."
'It's Busy Around Here'
Undercover cops in beat-up used cars drive out to East Oakland's International Boulevard, the center of Oakland's red-light district, known as "The Track."
A police officer processes a young woman arrested on prostitution charges.
EnlargeBrett Myers/Youth Radio
Oakland police used to put a priority on arresting johns. But with cuts in funding, the police now target the girls who've been trafficked for sex.
A plainclothes officer watches from across the street as a young woman in a short skirt stands on the corner outside an empty storefront. A squad car pulls up. For these sweeps, police use a county probation rule that prohibits girls with previous prostitution arrests from going near International Boulevard. Police say they don't have to see a girl making arrangements to get paid for sex to arrest her.
Two officers from the squad car approach the woman, handcuff her, and drive her to a command center consisting of a police van parked behind a nearby supermarket.
"It's busy around here," Wiley says. "We've only been here 45 minutes, and we already have five girls that we've detained, arrested. One is a juvenile, so they're going to do an interview with her."
The 15-year-old is separated from the adult prostitutes and placed in the back of a police car. She's wearing short shorts and sandals with shiny silver straps crisscrossing up to her mid-calves.
Police question the girl; a victims' advocate contracted by the county stands nearby and will remain in close contact with her throughout the booking process.
The police officer uses the victim's cell phone to call her parents, who live about 200 miles away, in Fresno, Calif. An officer explains that she's under arrest for soliciting prostitution. To release her, police have to put her in the custody of her parents or a legal guardian.
"All right, so what's going to happen now is she's going to go down to the police department in the juvenile hall section," the officer tells her parents. "And more than likely, you're going to have to come get her sometime tonight, OK?"
Police later said the girl's parents never picked her up. She was sent to juvenile hall — and she never divulged the name of her pimp.
By the end of this sweep, police had arrested seven adult women, three girls, one pimp and no johns. It's a small victory. Police estimate 100 minors work as prostitutes on The Track every night.
'The Easiest Person To Arrest Is The Child'
Though they arrest few pimps and prosecute even fewer, Oakland police say that arresting the girls is a necessary first step toward shutting down sex trafficking. But many children's advocates disagree.
Nola Brantley, who was trafficked as a teenager, now runs MISSSEY, a program that helps girls get out of the sex trade.
Every act of what's called ... 'prostitution' with these children is actually a form of child sexual abuse — and to take it further, child rape. So I don't think children who are raped should be criminalized, no I don't.
"The reason why we arrest them is because they are the easiest person to arrest," Brantley says. "It's hard to arrest the johns, and they represent many different facets of society and life. It's hard to arrest the exploiters because of the amount of evidence necessary. So, the easiest person to arrest is the child."
Brantley says these children are not really prostitutes.
"Every act of what's called ... 'prostitution' with these children is actually a form of child sexual abuse — and to take it further, child rape," she says. "So I don't think children who are raped should be criminalized, no I don't."
Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Bock counters that arresting the girls is actually a way to save them — it gives the county a way to introduce victimized girls to social services. "Having a court involved with a case hanging over your head provides that added incentive to stay in a program, at the end of which a great likelihood exists that you will in fact recognize that you were in fact exploited," she says.
And, Bock says, the logistics of going after the men are daunting.
"It's very hard to get a hold of those johns. Because by the time you hear about it, they're just a number. It's the child telling you, 'I had sex with 15 different men yesterday.' They're long gone."
A Booming Industry Online
And there's another factor making it easier for johns to buy sex and for pimps to make money — the Internet.
Two police officers arrest a woman
EnlargeBrett Myers/Youth Radio
In a recent sting, Oakland police arrested seven adult women, three girls, one pimp and no johns. It's a small victory — police estimate that 100 minors work as prostitutes in Oakland's red-light district every night.
Brittney and Darlene, two teenagers who escaped the sex trade, told Youth Radio they were trafficked on both the Oakland streets and online.
"He had me on Craigslist, Red Book, and there was another one. I think it was like Eros something — Eros Guide or something like that," Brittney says.
Craigslist has removed the "adult services" section that was used for the sex trade, but there are many other sites that fill the void. With help from the Internet, what used to be a local prostitution business is now global.
Marty Parker, who works on human trafficking cases for the FBI's Oakland office, says pimps aren't invisible to law enforcement.
"Even though these guys think they're not leaving any track online, they are. Just a pimp posting an ad for these girls on — that gives us their interstate nexus right there, and we can then bring federal charges against him," Parker says.
But Parker says that doesn't mean they'll be prosecuted anytime soon.
"We could do it every day if we had the manpower to do it," Parker says. "Unfortunately, there are too few people working in the FBI who work these cases."

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

NPR Youth Radio Uncovers Experiences of Trafficked Teen Girls

The following two-part story from NPR, published on December 6, 2010 highlights particular issues faced by teens that are trafficked in the US. The challenges these girls face are the same challenges that the women who are part of Bronx Community Solutions alternatives to prostitution program face: sexual violence, intimate partner violence, poverty and lack of education. In fact, they could be the same girls, a few years later being prosecuted as adults. 

At Bronx Community Solutions, through a grant from the Office of Domestic Violence, we screen women arrested for prostitution related offenses for current and past histories of sexual and intimate partner violence. We provide in-house conseling services in partnership with Sanctuaries for Families to address the trauma symptoms these women experience. We also work with local nonprofit organizations, such as the Girls Education and Mentoring Services (GEMS) that provide services such as emergency temporary housing.

The sexual exploitation of women is a pervasive problem in the Bronx. We at Bronx Community Solutions are working in partnership with law enforcement and local community organizations to address this issue. 

Trafficked Teen Girls Describe Life In 'The Game'

December 6, 2010
Part 1 of 2

Youth Radio is an independent producer. For more than six months, the organization has been investigating child sex trafficking in Oakland, Calif. In this two-part report, it pieces together what life is like for girls who are forced into prostitution — and how law enforcement continues to criminalize girls the state legally defines as sexually exploited victims.
Last month, the FBI announced the results of Operation Cross Country V, a 40-city investigation that led to the rescue of 69 children who were being victimized through prostitution. More than 800 people, including 99 pimps, were arrested.

According to the FBI, more than 100,000 children are sold for sex in the U.S. each year. In a two-part series, Youth Radio takes a look at the problem of child prostitution in the U.S. Today, two young women who recently escaped what's called "the game" share their stories.
"I'd wake up at 5; I'd be outside by 5:30," says Brittney, 19. "I would just wait and see what happened, whether it'd be in the streets or whether I'd be on the Internet. And then I won't be able to come back inside until like 2 o'clock in the morning, so I'd get only, like, three hours of rest."
Brittney, a former sex worker, agreed to share her story under the condition that her real name not be used. She's a native of Oakland, Calif., and only recently out of what's called "the game." Less than a year ago, Brittney was being forced to work as a prostitute on the Internet and on the streets of Oakland.
"I got kidnapped when I was 15," says Brittney. "I decided to cut school one day. I was in Oakland, on Havenscourt and Foothill, and all I heard was, 'Man, go get that girl!' And one of them came out and dragged me by my hair, and he pulled me into the car."
Child Prostitution In The U.S., By The Numbers

100,000-300,000: The number of children sold for sex in the U.S. each year

12-14: The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution

11-13: The average age at which boys and transgendered youth enter into prostitution

55 percent: The proportion of girls living on the streets in the U.S. engaged in formal prostitution

30 percent: The proportion of youth living in shelters who are sexually exploited
75 percent: The proportion of girls engaged in prostitution who are working for a pimp
One-fifth: The fraction of exploited children who are trafficked nationally

$150,000-$200,000: The amount a pimp can make each year, per child

76 percent: The proportion of transactions for sex with underage girls conducted via the Internet Sources: Justice Department, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Demi & Ashton Foundation

Brittney was the victim of a so-called guerrilla pimp — a person, usually a man, who uses force and fear to traffic women, many of whom are underage. Oakland police estimate that a third of teenage girls working in prostitution were abducted and forced onto the streets the way Brittney was.

She says that after she was kidnapped, at least six men gang-raped her. She was then driven to Sacramento, where her 32-year-old pimp put her out on the street as a prostitute. He took her phone, told her not to talk to anyone but "johns," and had his sister watch her so she wouldn't run. She was shuttled back and forth to work Oakland's red-light district.

A 'Romeo Pimp'

Darlene, whose name has been changed as well, came into "the game" a different way.

She entered her teens around the same time her native Oakland, as part of the San Francisco Bay Area, was named by the FBI as one of the 13 national hot spots for child prostitution.

Classmates talked about their boyfriends who had lots of money, and — like most kids in the Bay Area — she listened to music by Oakland rappers, whose lyrics about pimping glamorized "the game."

"A lot of it is glorified," says Darlene. "Oh, you're from Oakland. Everybody has dreads; everybody goes dumb; we pop pills, smoke a lot of weed; parties, sideshows and hos."
If you're not part of the scene, it's hard to believe that prostitution has become normal for so many in Oakland and other cities. But many see it as an alternative to desperate home lives, friends getting shot, no food on the table and absent parents. And pimps take advantage of that.

Darlene became a prostitute at the hands of what Oakland police call a "Romeo pimp." Now 18, she moved in with her boyfriend when she was 14, after she was kicked out of the house.

"On my 15th birthday, he was like, 'Well, you know, since you'll be staying with me, we need more food. We need to find a way to get some money'," says Darlene. "He's the one that, like, introduced me to prostitution, and I didn't see anything wrong with it."

Darlene says she later found out her then-18-year-old boyfriend had pimped other girls before. When he became her pimp, Darlene says, he told her what to do to make money. " 'This is how you look at the guys; this is what you tell them; these are what cars to stay away from; this is how much you charge.' "

On 'The Track'

International Boulevard, one of Oakland's busiest streets, is what pimps call "The Track." In a 50-block span on one recent day, there were some 20 girls. Some of them were posted on street corners; others were hanging by bus stops, or just walking the same blocks over and over.

National Hot Spots

In 2003, the FBI's Crimes Against Children Unit identified these 13 U.S. cities as having a high incidence rate of child prostitution.

The guys who work at one of the many taco trucks on International Boulevard say that every day, pimps use their parking lot to drop off girls and hang out. They say it's common to see pimps beating girls.

While most Oakland residents drive by and don't think twice about what's going on here, the people in this neighborhood do.

"They're always there," says Frank Pardo, whose mother owns Yoyi's Bridal shop. "You always see them, and some of them are quite beautiful, looking like straight models."

Just down the street, a teenage girl in a short red dress is crying on a bench. She has blood coming from her mouth. A business owner who runs a clothing store says he saw the whole thing: The man who punched the girl appeared to be her pimp, and stole her purse.

The witness would not identify himself by name, for fear of retribution from sex traffickers. That's the same reason he gave for not calling the police.

Brittney and Darlene each survived the many months they spent turning tricks on International Boulevard and meeting johns through the Internet. Brittney says her pimp got her hooked on drugs to keep her working around the clock and eating only one meal a day, usually a burger from McDonald's.

"It's not the best deal to have sex with 15 different guys in one day and only get a cheeseburger at the end of it," says Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Sharmin Bock. Bock compares the girls' situation to being brainwashed by a cult.

"Remember Guyana and Jim Jones, where everybody's drinking that Kool-Aid drink? Well, that's exactly what these girls have had. Let's call it pimp juice. They've all had it, and they can't see past either their affection for their trafficker, or their fear of him," says Bock.

A History Of Violence

According to a recent survey of social service providers in Oakland and the rest of the county, 61 percent of the teen prostitutes they see say they were raped as children.

That's what happened to Brittney. She says she was raped by her stepfather and years later by her trafficker. Brittney tries to understand how she kept going back to her pimp.

"I knew what he was capable of," she says. "He'd beat me and he'd rape me, he'd beat me and he'd rape me, and I just kept going back until I ended up being pregnant by him. And he beat me so bad that I ended up having a miscarriage."

"I got shot at quite a few times," says Darlene, who had been arrested for prostitution and robbery in the year after she ran away from her father's house. She wanted to go home.

"I used to fantasize about boys that are gangstas. 'Oh, they get hecka money and they're just gangsta and cute, and it's cool,' " says Darlene. "That's OK when you're in high school. After that, what are you gonna do with your life? You're gonna be in jail or you're gonna be dead, and I don't want part of either one of those."

A New Life

After her last arrest, Darlene joined a program that transitions girls off the streets. Brittney got out, too, shortly after she had the miscarriage.

"Six days later — it was a Sunday — and he put me on East 14th. I told him that I didn't want to be out on Sundays because I had a bad feeling about Sundays. And I saw my aunt. And my aunt ended up snatching me up and putting me in the car. And then she took me to my mom's house," says Brittney.
That warrant put Brittney back in jail for prostitution and, like Darlene, she enrolled in a community program.

It's been less than a year since Brittney and Darlene turned their lives around. Now they are both working with community organizations to help other girls escape sex trafficking. Darlene and Brittney consider themselves survivors, navigating a new life.

"I got back in school and I graduated high school with, like, 20 extra credits," says Darlene, who has two jobs and is planning to attend college. "When I was 15, I didn't see myself alive at the age of 18. And now I am 18, and I can look back and say, 'You know, I've been through all that, and I've come out of it.' It feels wonderful."

Tomorrow on All Things Considered, Youth Radio explores what local police and the FBI are doing to combat sex trafficking.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Bronx Community Solutions Empowers Clients to ACT AWARE

The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day was “ACT AWARE.” We at Bronx Community Solutions empower our clients to act aware every day by providing HIV/AIDS education through our social service classes, on-site testing at our Better Health Decisions class and Spanish Speaking Orientation class, and through referrals for testing and treatment for HIV. These services would not be possible without the cooperation of two local community based organizations, VIP Services  and Care for the Homeless who provide educational classes and free on-site testing.  Over the last five years, hundreds of our clients have been tested do to the hard work and dedication of these organizations.

As one of the facilitators of an HIV/AIDS prevention class, I am always pleased when clients state "I thought this would be a waste of time, but I am glad I came" or "I am going to make sure I get tested" and my favorite  "Can I have my girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/family member come listen to this information?"

New York City has one of the highest HIV rates in the United States, and the Bronx has been hit especially hard. The Bronx accounts for 16% of the City’s 8.5 million residents, yet the Borough represents 25% of the City’s new HIV cases. The Borough’s death rate from AIDS is nearly 10 times the national average, with 25% of residents only learning they are infected with HIV after they have progressed to full-blown AIDS. In 2007, the Bronx lost more residents to AIDS than any other Borough. The unique characteristics of the HIV epidemic in the Bronx have been attributed to Bronx residents being poorer, less educated, and having less access to medical services. 
To address HIV in the community The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene launched a Borough wide initiative called “Bronx Knows” in 2007. Bronx Knows is a large-scale public health initiative to increase voluntary HIV testing so that every Bronx resident learns his or her HIV status and has access to quality care and prevention.
Through this initiative, the Bronx has been very successful in increasing HIV testing rates with 40% of residents tested last year, compared to 28% of Manhattan residents, 24% of Queens residents, 29% of Brooklyn residents, and 17% of Staten Island residents. In order to reach the goal of every Bronx resident being tested, 500,000 more Bronx residents, or 500 people a day for the next three years, still need to be tested.

We at Bronx Community Solutions are proud to be part of the education, testing and referral initiative in the Bronx and will continue to empower our clients to “ACT AWARE”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Truly Meaningful Work Done at Bronx Community Solutions

“All that I could do was gather enough strength to come see you…”

Those were the words of Candance, a client who came to the Bronx Community Solutions Clinic last week.  She said it was the only place she could think to turn to for help.

Candace sought the help of our STARS Case Manager, Melissa, who is currently working with this client to complete a mandate of four days of social service, and was her case manager for a prior 10 day social service mandate.

Candace is currently facing a number of issues including addiction, transient housing, a new court case, mental health concerns, lack of food, and other medical issues.

When Candace came to the Social Service Clinic, she stated that was not feeling well, she was not doing well, and that she felt suicidal. She disclosed that the night before, she had taken 18 pills with the hope of not waking up the next morning.  In the morning she took 4 additional pills and then came to Bronx Community Solutions for help.

Melissa immediately engaged our Mental Health Case Manager, Anjelica Raygoza for assistance and together they assessed the client and called 911. Fifteen minutes later, Candace was escorted to the emergency room.  She thanked BCS and stated that she would contact Melissa as soon as she left the hospital

This experience reminded everyone at Bronx Community Solutions about the reason we do this work - to help people. Sometimes you even get the opportunity to help save a life. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Nationwide Sweep of Child Prostitution Rings

The following story, from  by Michael Martinez describes a major crackdown on child prostution rings across the country.

(CNN) -- A three-day federal crackdown on child prostitution rings across the country has resulted in the recovery of 69 children and the arrest of 884 people, including 99 pimps, federal authorities said Monday.
Meanwhile, in Tennessee, authorities announced Monday they were arresting 29 individuals involved in gangs that trafficked underage Somali and African-America girls in a prostitution ring. The 29 people were connected to the Somali Outlaws, the Somali Mafia and the Lady Outlaws, officials said.
The three-day federal sweep, called Operation Cross Country V, involved 40 cities nationwide and is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, authorities said.
"Child prostitution continues to be a significant problem in our country, as evidenced by the number of children rescued through the continued efforts of our crimes against children task forces," said Shawn Henry, executive assistant director of the FBI's Criminal, Cyber, Response and Service Branch, in a written statement. "There is no work more important than protecting America's children and freeing them from the cycle of victimization. Through our strategic partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies, we are able to make a difference."

The city where the most children were recovered was Seattle, Washington, with 16, said FBI Special Agent Jason Pack. Seven pimps were arrested there, he added.
Following Seattle were Tacoma, Washington, and Sacramento, California, each with seven child prostitutes retrieved by authorities, Pack said. Two pimps were arrested in Tacoma and three in Sacramento, he said.
The city with the largest number of pimps arrested was Detroit, with 10, Pack said.
To combat growing child prostitution, federal agencies formed the Innocence Lost National Initiative in June 2003 to address enterprises involved in the domestic sex trafficking of children. Those agencies were the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division, the Department of Justice's Child Exploitation-Obscenity Section and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
There are now 39 Innocence Lost task forces and working groups throughout the country.
So far, those units have recovered 1,250 children, and the initiative has resulted in 438 indictments, 625 convictions, 153 criminal enterprises disrupted and 58 successfully dismantled, authorities said. Convictions have resulted in sentences ranging up to 25-years-to-life and in the seizure of more than $3 million in assets, authorities said.

The most recent sweep, over a 72-hour period ending Sunday night, was the fifth such law enforcement operation, said Pack.
"Once again, Operation Cross Country has awakened the nation to the fact that today American children are being marketed and sold for sex in American cities," said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in a written statement. "These kids are victims. This is 21st century slavery. We are proud to be a part of this extraordinary partnership to rescue children, save lives and bring the pimps and operators to justice."

The FBI says that at least 25 percent of adult prostitutes were enticed into the illegal activity as juveniles.
In Tennessee, federal authorities said the gangs transported the minor girls from Minneapolis, Minnesota, which has a large Somali immigrant community, to Nashville, Tennessee, for prostitution over a 10-year period. Some of the girls were 13 years old or younger.

"I would call this one of the more significant cases that we investigated," said John Morton, director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Project A.C.T. News Coverage

The below video features Bronx Community Solutions' Artists Coming Together as featured on local channel twelve.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Bronx News Network: Bronx News Roundup, Nov. 3

Bronx News Network: Bronx News Roundup, Nov. 3: "On the morning after, it appears Democrats will retain control of the state senate. (This is not a done deal, we'll keep you updated.) But w..."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Center for Court Innovation Hosts Community Court Conference

Greg Berman, Director Center for Court Innovation

Earlier this week, with the help of the U.S. Department of Justice, The Center for Court Innovation held its first ever international conference of community courts in Dallas, Texas. In attendance were criminal justice officials from dozens of American cities as well as delegations from England, Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico.
The conference began with videotaped remarks from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who said:

Over the course of nearly two decades, since the very first community court opened its doors in Manhattan, combining punishment with assistance has proven to be a critical strategy in improving public safety...Community courts have been essential in guiding efforts to reduce crime, empower communities and create opportunities. I’ve seen this first hand...While the size and scope of our community courts vary, they have all proven the power of community involvement in strengthening public safety and public confidence in our justice system. I’m proud of the progress that we are making and of the investments we are directing to support our community courts and the Center for Court Innovation.
The conference highlighted the work of existing community courts both in the U.S. and abroad, including three community courts in Dallas that served as hosts for the event.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Mary Lou Leary, in her keynote remarks, said that “evidence shows that community courts simultaneously help to reduce crime, streamline the justice process, change sentencing practices, solve individual problems, and increase public trust in the justice system.” She went on to encourage participants to continue to innovate and to think of themselves as “evidence-generating” programs.
In keeping with this theme, the conference featured a number of cutting-edge community justice initiatives that are breaking new ground for the field:

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams described his plans to build on the existing community court in Philadelphia to create a network of locally-based courts in the city.

Initiated by Mayor Cory Booker, Newark Community Solutions will re-engineer how the city responds to low-level crime, emphasizing community restitution and social services instead of fines and incarceration.

Chief Justice Herb Yazzie outlined his intention to create a community court for the Navajo nation that would incorporate traditional tribal practices.

Portland District Attorney Michael Schrunk described a new initiative to co-locate a community court in a supportive housing facility for formerly homeless individuals.

All in all, it was an inspiring event that highlighted how far our ideas have traveled and how far we have come as an institution. As rewarding as this was, the best part for me was the uniform excellence of everyone from the Center who participated in the conference, whether as organizers, presenters, facilitators or documenters. Kudos to the entire Center team.

In the days to come, we will have photos and videos from the conference to share. In the meantime, here is a link to a short story on the conference from The Crime Report:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

New JSLP Cycle Examines Media's Influence on Youth

By Saudi Encarnacion, Clinical Coordinator

The new Juvenile Service Learning Program (JSLP) cycle started out with a bang. The first days agenda included staff and participant introductions, team building excersices and ended with a written assignment which was based on defining and giving examples of mass media, followed by a group discussion based on this cycle’s theme: Does Media Influence Youth?: Pros and Cons.

As the discussion began there was an outburst of insightful commentaries by the youth. One young man answered, “Well, it can be good and bad because everyone can get influenced by it”. Another participant disputed, “people need to stop taking all that seriously because it’s just entertainment” then another young man responded, “but if you are young it can influence you a lot”. With little guidance, the youth continued to explore the ways different forms of media portray violence and sexuality. They even went into a detailed discussion about the intended subliminal messages advertizements give consumers. The groups participation left quite an impression on myself and the rest of the staff. We were excited to see them excited about the discusssion. Their response to such a contoversial subject indicates that these youth are capable of formulating well thought out arguments in a respectful manner and it is a testament of their desire to learn and be challenged.

All of the staff who work with JSLP are excited for this weekend's insights by the youth!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Youth Intervention Program Opens Minds

By Orleny Rojas, Rescource Coordinator

On July 9th Bronx Community Solutions held its first Youth Impact Panel class. The class is part of the Youth Intervention Program (Y.I.P.) created to target youth between the ages of 16 to 21 with previous criminal court cases. The purpose of the program is to offer an alternative to incarceration, to connect the youth with services, and to offer decision making and consequential thinking while providing a forum to evaluate their actions and to express their views. The class is geared toward self-review and expression, and offers education on the responsibilities they have to their communities, families and themselves. Participants are given the opportunity to discuss their arrest through the many lenses and systems that interact within their lives. In the last eight weeks, we have seen the class grow from two participants to a steady five to nine.

The structure of the group is so that one of our Americorp interns leads the discussion with a staff member as a moderator. Through this dynamic, we have elicited an interesting interplay. The participants have found a voice and a sound board to express their views, but more than that, for the first time they are given a different perspective and point of view which has at times led to the begrudging concession of their one sided viewpoints. The information the class disseminates has allowed them to see and consider different points of views and the complex issues on both sides of the argument. It is particularly insightful, when participants offer the other point of view. One example is when the class discussion centers on Police relations and incidents that take place during the arrest process.

In the last month powerlessness and the strained relationship with the police were topics brought forth in every class. There is a general sense of frustration shared among the program participants when claims of police harassment come up. The participants share disclosures of similar experiences and the group leaders try to tie that into the impact criminal behavior has on their communities. In specific, how their actions can contribute towards the stereotypes and negative perceptions of youth. So far, there have been times when the group dynamic is not conducive towards insight and acceptance of their roles in their arrest. However, last week the group was candid and recognized that certain behaviors on their part led to their arrest and involvement with the criminal court system. At the end of the session every single one of the youth shook my hand and thanked me for listening. We are planting the seeds and offering the resources that create opportunities and options they did not have or could not access before.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Project A.C.T. - "We Hit the Jackpot"

By T.K. Singleton Community Initiatives Coordinator

"Mommy look! we hit the jackpot!" - a local Hunts Point boy yelled (viewing an inflatable bowncy house) as he walked down Whitlock Avenue and 165th Street.

The Bronx is the birthplace of international culture, but you wouldn't know it by walking through this corridor of Longwood/Hunts Point. These murals are as important to the business owners in the area as they are to the residents of the community. A community, by definition generates its own content, its own style and culture. It’s all by the people, for the people and that‘s the motivation for the project.
For me, "We hit the Jackpot" is the summary of last Saturday's event! The community came out and celebrated the viewing of the recently installed murals by DYM, GFR and the "Legendary Mural Kings" TAT's Crew. Each Block had a feeling of pride and culture. I spoke to a parent said that " Whitlock used to so dark and scary, I would get off at Hunt pt. train station and walk... Now Im getting off at Whitlock" Project A.C.T. (Artist Coming Together) not only changes the overall look of the community, it change the perception of the residents, business owners and even MTA workers(who have been working tirelessly to complete the new Whitlock avenue train station). The Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr was talking to his father( State Senator Reverend Ruben Diaz, Sr) about the project he told his father "this is the Type of Graffiti we promote"- explaining the difference between Murals and Bombing. As the day progressed, We had yet another visitor Assemblyman Marcos Crespo who was in awe of the different type of Murals.
The day was filled with music, food and art- everyone who attended (both young and old, Artists and Business owners, BCS and Police) left will a feeling of accomplishment and contentment that an idea was put into A.C.T.ion

Friday, September 17, 2010

Times Square Inc. Graduation Ceremony Inspires

Angel Hernandez, Gradute of the Year

On Wednesday night this week, Midtown Community Court, another CCI project, hosted a star-studded affair for recent graduates of Times Square Ink who are now employed. In spite of the rough economy, TSI has been tremendously successful this year having placed over 70 graduates in employment, more than half of our graduates.

Highlights of the evening included the keynote address by District Attorney Cy Vance and remarks from John Jay College President Jeremy Travis. We premiered a short film that was produced in collaboration with John Jay about a recent TSI graduate. We also honored our Volunteer of the Year, and most importantly, recognized our Graduate of the Year, Angel Hernandez.

Angel's story is remarkable. He was released from prison a little over a year ago. After completing TSI and continuing to work with the staff, as well as going through many ups and downs in his job search, he was hired by a Manhattan sports club. In the last few months he has risen through the ranks to the position of Facility Manager -- he now manages 18 employees! In fact, Angel recently hired another TSI grad who was also recognized at the event.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An Example of BCS Success.

By Melissa Novock, STARS Case Manager

 "You never gave up on me, and that made me not give up on myself."

Those were the words of one of the BCS clients involved in the STARS initiative. She futher expressed, " I don't have the urge to get high, instead, I want to explore all of the new opportunities before me."
This client, Ms. Smith received a social service mandate several months ago. She never made it to her first appointment at Success Counseling. However, in August, Ms. Smith was picked up on a warrant and brought before Judge Eugene Oliver. Judge Oliver asked if BCS would be willing to work with Ms. Jones again, and the answer was absolutely, yes.

Ms. Smith expressed a great deal of determination to finish her mandate while in court and promised she would do the work this time. She not only completed her mandate, she also took a courageous step in working on some of her own personal goals. Ms. Smith completed the detox/rehab program at Conifer Park and to this day she continues to work with Success Counseling and BCS.

Ms. Smith came into the BCS clinic on two occasions last week to share her joy in completing the rehab program and to express her appreciation and gratitude to BCS.

Being grateful for her past experiences and relying not only on her connections to BCS but also her faith within, She will definitely continue working towards accomplishing her goals.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Celebrities Sentenced to Community Service Too

The below New York Times article discusses the community service work that defendants perform as part of their alternative sentences.  Community Service sentence hold the defendant accountable for their actions, at the same time that is improves neighborhoods and communities. Click the title below for the full article.

In Community Service, Celebrity Justice Means the Same Dirty Work


Published: September 1, 2010

Caroline Giuliani’s court-ordered punishment is likely to be the same kind of humiliating, laborious job that tens of thousands of others are assigned each year.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Graffiti's Long History of Revitalizing the Bronx.

The following story from NY1 discussed the historical and social change impact of graffitti in the Bronx. We thought this story was relevant as we prepare for Artists Coming Together A.C.T., a project that will install permanent graffitti art in the 41st precinct in an effort to improve the quality of life in the area. Clicke the link below to view the video

Once Upon A Time In The Bronx: Fashion Moda Leaves Behind Artistic Mark

As the station continues its week-long look at the history of the Bronx, one local photographer recently shared her photo archives of an art gallery that many say made a difference in the borough. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.

In the midst of the abandoned and burnt out buildings of the South Bronx during the 1970s and 1980s some artists found beauty. They saw something intriguing in all the despair and rubble.

"It felt important okay? It also felt permanent because it was so devastated. It was like how are they going to bring this back. But it felt important," said photographer Lisa Kahane.

Kahane's book titled "Do Not Give Way to Evil: Photographs of the South Bronx 1979 to 1987" illustrates the horror and hope of the borough. She was a photographer for a groundbreaking place called Fashion Moda, which opened in 1978 along the shopping district on Third Avenue. It was a gallery and performance space built on the theme of science, art, invention, technology and fantasy.

"Who is allowed to make art, who defines what art is, who gets to see it. Why does it always have to be situated in one neighborhood rather than another," Kahane said.

A lot of people from Downtown Manhattan ran the studio and invited their artist friends, like Keith Baring, up to the Bronx where they honed their styles. But the gallery was open to all, a sort of racial equality in art. Moda is the the Spanish word for fashion. And those in the South Bronx had their own fashion and art style.
"They would say. 'Oh well I have paintings can I bring them?' Yeah, sure bring them. And there was a South Bronx show every year," Kahane said.

In 1980, Fashion Moda was one of the first studios to open its doors to graffiti artists who had been making a big name for themselves on subway cars.

"This was wildly popular with the hundreds of kids who were doing graffiti in the neighborhood," Kahane said.

Some of the artwork and sculptures from Fashion Moda are actually still on display in the Bronx, including a series of castings of real people titled "We Are Family." The display was created in 1982 at Fashion Moda by artist John Ahearn.

"So we did the casting right on that stage. And after I did one casting, I realized that this was heaven, this was fantastic," Ahearn said. "As we would finish each one, we would put them on the wall. And as they accumulated, they would become the South Bronx hall of fame."

Fashion Moda closed its doors in the early 1990s, but its legacy and spirit lives on.

Putting the A.C.T in Action for My Community

Omar Camacho with the Community Service Crew (last person on the right).

Being a Bronx native, I have had the privilege to intern here at Bronx Community Solutions for two years. I have had the chance to do multiple projects in and outside the court house and all over the Bronx. So when I was asked to assist on a new project called Artist’s Coming Together (A.C.T.) mural project, I was more than happy to. Not only does this project bring color and life to an area in the Bronx that is plagued with graffiti and lacks certain municipal services like street cleaning: It would be right in my community-just blocks away from my house!

During the planning stages of the project, I have been able to talk to the graffiti crews and get their personal views on graffiti art, and their passion for doing murals in my community. I also had an opportunity to meet the officers that work behind the scenes for many of the police/community events, the 41st community affairs officers Warrick and Haddock.
This project has brought some of the best graffiti art crews in the city to participate and show how this native Bronx art form has impacted their lives. The artists are: D.Y.M ( Dream, Yearn, Materialize) which hale from Brooklyn , G.F.R (Get Fresh Rhythms) from Queens, and the Bronx's very own legendary "TATS CRU: The Mural Kings” to create beautiful community, Bronx based murals in the area of 165th and Whitlock Avenue. All crews may be from different boroughs and there may be some friendly competition, but they all have one common goal and that’s to represent their crew and even more importantly, represent THE BRONX.

As the unveiling date approaches (Saturday, September 18, 2010), Bronx community solutions, NYPD 41st precinct and the artists are working steadily to ensure that the day is filled with music, food, arts, and culture!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Reflections on SBIRT Training

The BCS staff has had time to reflect on the SBIRT training provided by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). Here are some reactions to the one day training that covered the Screening and Brief Intervention/Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) tool, motivational interviewing, and stages of change.

“The most instructive part of the training was the section on “reflective listening” based on Carl Rogers client-centered approach. This tool facilitates an interaction that flows more like a conversation - not an interrogation. This technique gives the client more opportunities to share their thoughts and experiences. Also, it gives the practitioner information that might have been missed by just asking questions. I believe that when put into practice; it will allow us to connect with the client more effectively. This approach will also differentiate us from the criminal justice system whose role is to pass judgment on the case. B.C.S. on the other hand, is an organization offering help and alternatives to incarceration.”
Orleny Rojas
Resource Coordinator

"I appreciated the reminder that our clients typically know what they need--they don't need us to tell them that. What they need is for us to explain what services are available to meet those needs. I feel like understanding this allows for a more collaborative and productive relationship."
Carrie Potts
Resource Coordinator

“One thing that stood out for me is that moving toward evidence-based practice deters practitioners from being subjective/arbitrary or doing what "feels right" or what seems to work for others. This drug and alcohol assessment tool has shown to have validity in different environments and across cultures and languages.”
Saudi Encarnacion
Clinical Coordinator

“More than anything, the training reminded me of the importance a first impression can make on a client/potential client (even from something as simple as the tone of our voice, or a first glance). As someone who has been working with this population for four years, I have become quite used to the environment in and around the Bronx Criminal Courthouse. However, there are tons of people who pass through my office and the courthouse on a daily basis who are having their first experience with the criminal justice system. It's important to not lose track of the fact that as an alternatives to incarceration agency, we're here to assist in any way possible - and it all starts with that initial interaction.

While Bronx Community Solutions is not certain exactly how the SBIRT process will be implemented into our operation, one place it may definitely help is with screening potential clients who are waiting for arraignment (prior to sentencing). By utilizing the SBIRT process, court staff will able to better determine the type of sentence (whether it's something as simple as an Individual Counseling Session or something more involved such as treatment) that is most appropriate for each client.”
Danny Abriano
Resource Coordinator

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bronx Community Solutions Staff Attends SBIRT Training.

On Wednesday August 11 and Thursday August 12, 2010 BCS Staff attended training on a Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) model by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).

The SBIRT is an evidence based screening tool that represents a paradigm shift in screening and treatment for substance use and abuse. While traditional screening methods have been used for persons with more severe substance use or those who have met the criteria for a Substance Use Disorder according to the DSMIV, the SBIRT tool is designed to assess a person’s risk before there is a diagnosable condition. This tool targets those with nondependent substance use and provides effective strategies for intervention prior to the need for more extensive or specialized treatment. The SBIRT tool can be used by anyone in the social service or medical field and does not have to be administered by a specialized drug and alcohol counselor.

The Department Of Health and Mental Hygiene has an initiative to implement this screening system within community and medical settings, in order to screen and identify individuals with or at-risk for substance use related problems. Screening determines the severity of substance use and identifies the appropriate level of intervention. The system provides an avenue for brief intervention or brief treatment within the community setting.

The training included a review of the stages of change, motivational interviewing strategies, an overview of the effects of alcohol on the body, a review of the SBIRT tool, and the ability to practice administering the tool. Melissa Novock, BCS STARS Case Manager states: “I think that a tri-level approach including the stages of change model, motivational techniques and validation practices will be beneficial to our clients both in creating awareness and establishing change in behavior(s).”