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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Appellate Division Declares Bronx Court Merger Unconstitutional

In a move that will affect the daily goings-on in the courthouses of the Bronx, an appeals court yesterday ruled that the merger that took place between Bronx Criminal Court and Bronx Supreme court in 2004 was unconstitutional.

The merger was brought about mainly to take pressure off jammed courtrooms by spreading out the cases. However, according to the Appellate Division, since the merger was signed off by then-Chief Judge Judith Kaye and not the state Legislature, the merger was unconstitutional. One of the appellate judges stated that yesterday's ruling "effectively upends tens of thousands of misdemeanor convictions."

Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson stated yesterday that the decision "would lead to least in the short term," and intimated that he would seek a stay that would prevent offenders from rushing back to court to attempt to have their convictions overturned. Prosecutors stated that they would appeal the decision.

Read the entire article in the Daily News...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

John Jay College Honors the Center for Court Innovation

Last night, President Jeremy Travis of John Jay College of Criminal Justice recognized and honored the collaboration betwen the Center for Court Innovation and the newly formed Office of Community Outreach and Service Learning at John Jay.
In attendance were the current cycle of Red Hook Public Safety Corps members (all John Jay students), who all recieved recognition awards from the director of community outreach, Declan Walsh.
The highlight for the Center for Court Innovation was when James Brodick, Project Director of the Red Hook Community Justice Center, thanked the Public Safety interns and the college for contining to bridge the gap between education and justice.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Bronx Community Solutions and Brooklyn Treatment Court Square Off

Postgame photo: Coach Leroy-West Spicer and the Renaissance are on the left, while Coach Willie Bernardez
and the Bombers are on the right.

From Case Manager Daren Mills

On Tuesday, January 26th, two problem solving court projects came together as part of the Bronx Community Solutions Basketball League, with the Bombers of Bronx Community Solutions taking on the Renaissance of Brooklyn Treatment Court.

The Bombers jumped out to an early 13-0 lead before coach Leroy West-Spicer (Case Manager at Brooklyn Treatment Court) refocused his Renaissance team. However, the Bombers continued to push the tempo of the game and ended the first half leading 31-11.

In the second half, Bombers coach Willie Bernardez (Resource Coordinator at Bronx Community Solutions) called for a slower pace and more teamwork, and the Bombers delivered. A combination of great passing, quality shooting, and a few dunks propelled the Bombers to an even larger lead. The Renaissance would not quit, and excellent play from their point guard kept them from falling behind even further.

The Bombers cruised to victory by the score of 53 - 29. As a show of good sportsmanship, both teams came together for a photo (above) after the game. The teams will meet next in the playoffs, in what should be another compelling game.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

2009 - Year in Review

From Coordinator of Court Operations Elizabeth Swan

As we enter the project's 5th year, it's safe to say that Bronx Community Solutions has made an undeniable impact within and beyond the walls of the Bronx Criminal Courthouse. Some of the many achievements that have been made since the project's inception include how Bronx Community Solutions has changed sentencing practices by:
  • Reducing the use of jail at arraignments by a third.

  • Increasing the sentencing options that are offered to judges.

  • Improving alternative sanction compliance to 70%.

  • Improving community engagement by annually providing approximately 70,000 hours of community service.

Specifically, 2009 saw Bronx Community Solutions utilize an array of new resources, partners, and ideas that helped to solidify and expand the project's influence. Some highlights include...Click here to read more...

  • Increasing Sentencing Options and Resources through Specialized Initiatives:
    Bronx Community Solutions has developed areas of expertise for 3 specialized populations: Mental Health, Prostitution, and Driving while Intoxicated/Driving under the Influence (DWI/DUI).

  • The Mental Health Initiative is the newest and most aggressive focus. In February of 2009, a mental health screening instrument was added to the regular intake assessment. This brief screening process is the only court-wide tool focused on flagging a large volume of post sentenced misdemeanant offenders for intervention services. Interventions consist of a mental health group (added to the social service package in June of 2009) and/or an individual counseling session with a Mental Health Case Manager. Since its inception, 965 offenders have been flagged and 95 offenders received a mental health referral. Bronx Community Solutions was awarded a grant from the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance in order to expand our existing mental health initiative in 2010.

  • The Prostitution Initiative, which continues to build on a collaborative foundation with both court and community partners. 2009 saw a refocus of energy and resources in reestablishing community precinct partnerships, expanding alternative services, increasing street outreach, and utilizing research as a means to develop better sentencing practices. Bronx Community Solutions was responsible for coordinating more than 40 longer term diversion mandates. Numbers for shorter term mandates (in-house social service groups and individual counseling sessions) also increased. Research showed that 52% of Bronx Community Solutions' disposed prostitution cases received a social service disposition. Using the above numbers as a springboard, Bronx Community Solutions launched its first in-house gender specific social service group in November of 2009: Women's Education and Awareness.

  • The Driving while Intoxicated/Driving under the Influence (DWI/DUI) Initiative began in 2008 and has flourished in 2009 due in large part to new project protocols, streamlined procedures and tracking measures. Bronx Community Solutions works with the courts to coordinate all substance abuse screenings and/or assessments of DWI/DUI offenders. In 2009, Bronx Community Solutions coordinated 1100 screenings/assessments by OASAS-licensed outside providers. Of the 1100 offenders who were screened/assessed, 120 were mandated to complete alcohol treatment for a period ranging from 12 to 26 weeks.

Expansion of Court Services:

Bronx Community Solutions has sustained its strong reputation of providing judges with increased sentencing options. In direct response to continued court requests for agency representatives, Bronx Community Solutions devised three expansion goals:

  1. Expand court-wide presence and availability.

  2. Increase short-term community based dispositions, and

  3. Increase longer term mandates.

After two months of planning and observation, Bronx Community Solutions’ court coverage increased to include four additional court parts. Currently, the department is focused on developing specialized court part packages, on-call guidelines, court operations guidelines, and a new package mandate geared towards youth.

Expansion of Social Service Partners and Resources:

In 2009, Bronx Community Solutions expanded its social service network through various outreach methods and new initiatives. With the inception of the Mental Health Initiative, mental health referral providers now include: out-patient MICA programs, including Albert Einstein/Melrose Center, Mid-Bronx Family Preservation Center, psychiatric services at Bronx Lebanon's Wellness Clinic, and a link to Medicaid offices at Bronx Lebanon's Wellness Clinic.

Substance abuse treatment partners (both outpatient and detox/rehabilitation), expanded to include Cornerstone Continuous Care, The P.A.C. Program, The Williams Center and Vertex.

Currently, 5 of the 14 social service classes taught weekly are co-facilitated by representatives of agencies such as Narco Freedom, Bronx Community Center, Anger Management, Arms Acres, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and Care for the Homeless. Representatives of these agencies are able to make immediate voluntary referrals to their programs for services such as drug treatment, job training, and assistance with public-benefit related information - often starting the intake process immediately.

Increased Community Presence:

In 2009, Bronx Community Solutions continued to create strategic community engagement events in an ongoing effort to improve court and community relations. Some highlights include:

  • Spring 2009 – The Youth Empowerment Forum (YEP): This program was created in order to address the negative interactions between young people and police officers, that often stem from low-level offenses in the Bronx. As part of this program, Bronx Community Solutions hosted a group of interns from local high schools who learned research and interviewing skills and conducted several roundtable focus groups with criminal justice personnel and local youth. In June of 2009, Bronx Community Solutions hosted a Youth Empowerment Forum event for Bronx Week. During the event, Youth Empowerment Forum participants shared their research findings and presented their recommendations to a panel of criminal justice experts.

  • May 2009 – Law Day: Bronx Community Solutions hosted an event on the consequences of drunk driving and the importance of healthy decision making. Co-sponsored by Joe McCormack (Bureau Chief of the Bronx County District Attorney’s Vehicular Crimes Unit), 150 students participated in an interactive “think before you drive” exercise. As a result of this collaboration, Bronx Community Solutions’ staff was special guest of Joe McCormack at the press conference for the official implementation of Leandra’s Law (which makes it a felony to drive drunk with a minor in the vehicle). During the press conference, Joe McCormack publicly thanked Bronx Community Solutions for our partnership and work with DWI/DUI cases.

  • August 2009 – National Night Out Against Crime: Bronx Community Solutions hosted 43rd, 44th, and 48th police precincts from the Bronx, and provided street and graffiti cleanup.

  • Fall 2009 to Present – Prostitution Outreach: In collaboration with various police precincts, voluntary street outreach was conducted by Bronx Community Solutions staff and partner agencies.

  • Quarterly - Community Advisory Board Meetings: Composed of 25 community leaders and attended by Bronx Community Solutions staff, these meetings are designed to address the gap between the courts and the community.

Cleaning up the Bronx – Community Service:

In 2009, Bronx Community Solutions' community service department expanded its collaborations to target specific areas in order to help promote long-term change. Bronx Community Solutions continues to be a viable asset to the Bronx, receiving 2 public recognitions this year, from Southeast Bronx Neighborhoods Centers (SEBNC) and the 44th police precinct's Community Council. Some of the project’s highlights include:

  • Community Impact Zones: With assistance from the 41st and 43rd police precincts, Community Impact Zones were created to target specific areas with monthly follow-up assistance.

  • The Bronx Community Solutions Graffiti Program: Bronx Community Solutions continued its partnership with the Bronx District Attorney's Office and 8 out of the 12 Bronx police precincts to identify graffiti hot spots and ensure that graffiti offenders were sentenced to the Bronx Community Solutions Graffiti Program.

  • Clean-up efforts at the HUB: A business improvement district located in the Mott Haven Section, Bronx Community Solutions - working in conjunction with the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (SOBRO) - makes regular visits to the HUB for beautification efforts.

  • 161st Street Business Improvement District: Working in collaboration with the Executive Director of the Business Improvement District, Bronx Community Solutions provides cleaning assistance at the 161st street corridor and the northwestern part of River Avenue.

  • Step Streets: At the request of State Assembly member Vanessa Gibson, Bronx Community Solutions added three additional step street cleanups to our community service agenda.
  • Monday, February 01, 2010

    Misdemeanants Who Can't Afford Bail Have Few Options

    In a recent article that appeared on, the plight of low-level offenders who can't afford bail was given an in-depth look. Also examined was the amount of money the taxpayers spend to house these offenders. From arrest, to incarceration at Rikers Island (pictured above), to their eventual trial/release, life for these individuals often becomes a nightmare.

    For offenders who believe they're innocent (such as 25 year old Shadu Green, who is profiled in the article at, their refusal to plead guilty and secure their release is sometimes due to the fact that another conviction on their record would make their job prospects almost non-existent. Their decision to fight the case and their inability to afford bail sometimes keeps them stuck behind bars for months.

    Check out the full article at