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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Adolescent Diversion Program Success Story - Mark

The following case study helps to illustrate some of the challenges faced by Adolescent Diversion Program clients. Because of the work of the ADP Social Worker at Bronx Community Solutions, this young individual was able to work with the courts to receive a favorable outcome that avoids long-term negative consequences while helping him get on a better path.


Mark is a 17-year-old male who was arrested and charged with third degree assault as a result of his involvement in a fight in his neighborhood. Because of his age, Mark’s case was seen in the Bronx Criminal Court’s Adolescent Diversion part, where he completed a pre-plea clinical assessment with the Bronx Community Solutions Youth Justice Social Worker. The assessment identified Mark’s many emotional and behavioral issues as well as his issues with school attendance – Mark had not regularly attended classes for nearly a year. Mark was already receiving intensive, in-home services for his emotional and behavioral issues from a community hospital; however, these services were not adequately addressing his educational and employment needs.

In exchange for participating in SOAR (a three-part adolescent group on violence intervention offered by Bronx Community Solutions) and completing two individual counseling sessions with the program’s youth justice social worker, Mark pleaded to a violation, allowing his case to be sealed one year from now. As a result, Mark will be able to avoid the long-term consequences of acquiring a criminal record. During his individual counseling sessions, Mark worked with the youth justice social worker on a plan to continue his education – ultimately, he decided to pursue a GED. He also was given a referral to YAIP, the Young Adult Internship Program at the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation. Mark attended an informational session and signed up for the next cycle of the program, where he will participate in job-readiness workshops, a paid internship, and a GED preparation program. Having successfully completed his mandate, Mark continues to check-in regularly with youth social worker. Together they continue to address his emotional and behavioral challenges. Mark has stated that he has experienced an increase in his self-esteem after having rededicated himself to his education.
- Rebecca Stahl, Bronx Community Solutions Youth Justice Social Worker

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Success Story - Court Collaboration

Bronx Community Solutions is often able to provide special attention to cases that would otherwise be at risk of falling through the cracks of the criminal justice system. The following success story shows how BCS staff was able to collaborate with court system players to find a unique alternative to jail that helped one individual improve his life.


Throughout the years, Bronx Community Solutions has collaborated on various community-based precinct initiatives and special projects to promote favorable outcomes including alternatives to jail. Last month the request of one concerned citizen sparked a special interest in a case involving the 41st precinct and Bronx Community Solutions. Recently, our Community Initiatives Coordinator received a call from a Bronx precinct requesting assistance with a community member’s son, John, who was contemplating turning himself in to address four open warrants, two of which were for failing to complete community service.
In usual instances, judges defer to our written compliance recommendations attached to each warranted file which generally preempts the presence of a court representative. However, in this particular case, our court representative worked directly with the arresting officers to assess John’s full understanding of the gravity of the situation and his motivation to comply. While on the record, the attorney presented various factors as to why his client was now in a better position to comply with his mandate. The Bronx Community Solutions Resource Coordinator spoke on his behalf, informing the court of his strong community ties and promise of renewed motivation if granted an opportunity to reschedule. The courts were willing to hear this request, rescheduling his two community service mandates and granting an extension of time to pay his fines. The officers escorted the young man to our intake office and he was rescheduled. The officer’s last words to the client were, “you know, this normally does not happen so use this opportunity to make this one count.”

With the help of Bronx Community Solutions, the precinct was able to extend their influence to address the concerns of a parent and positively change the way a client viewed the police and the court system.
- Elizabeth Swan, Coordinator of Intake and Court Operations

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

BCS Completes ADP Mural Project

I am very excited to share that on Saturday, April 12 and Saturday April 19th, Adolescent Diversion Program community service participants, along with Youth Justice Board members, created a beautiful mural displayed on the wall of the BCS classroom space.

Back in November, I had a conversation with Nick Chung, who works with ADP on Staten Island as well as with the Youth Justice Board, about my hope to liven up the BCS classroom with artwork from ADP participants. Nick encouraged me to make it happen, and we decided to have ADP and YJB participants come together to transform the space where all BCS social service groups take place inside the Bronx Criminal Court.
Nick reached out to Ross Smirnoff, a New York artist who has experience as an art teacher and has worked with organizations such as Groundswell to create murals with teens. Once Ross was on board, Nick and I facilitated workshops with ADP and YJB to learn about murals, and brainstorm ideas for images and messages for the BCS mural.
Workshop participants were drawn towards imagery that represents the difficult choices teens are faced with, the challenges, pressures, and obstacles to choosing the “right” path, and the hope that teens hold for a bright future. Ross received the ideas of youth participants, taking in their feedback, and on Saturday, April 12th, we finally began painting!
The spirit of collaboration that got this project going was well reflected by the painting process, which was fun, energized, and cooperative! Some people even discovered their own hidden talents!
The project could not have been a success without the support of Nick Chung and Colin Lentz of Youth Justice Board, Moises Reyes and Justin Briggs of BCS community service, Ross Smirnoff for contributing his artistic talent and skills, and of course the youth participants who took ownership over the project and will leave this artwork as their mark at Bronx Community Solutions!

- Rebecca Stahl, Bronx Community Solutions Youth Justice Social Worker
The finished product!

Monday, April 21, 2014

BCS Facilitates Local Mural Project

BCS Community Service clients painting over graffiti
The finished product, a blank canvas
On April 10, on the first day after a harsh winter season, we started a project painting over graffiti on a barricade near the Bronx river. The goal was to have BCS community service participants paint over a graffiti-covered barricade so that volunteers from NY Cares, in partnership with DOT, could then create a beautiful mural on the site. This took place in the West Farm area of the Bronx, at East 180th Street and Devoe Avenue. Four BCS clients participated, along with myself and Coordinator of Community Service Moises Reyes.

NY Cares volunteers and the completed mural project!
All of the BCS clients worked with enthusiasm, especially when they saw how passers-by smiled in gratitude for their work. In my understanding they didn’t do community service -- they serviced the community.

- Ramon Semorile, Bronx Community Solutions Crew Supervisor

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mental Illness at Rikers Island

The New York Times recently published an editorial stemming from recently acquired statistics about the number of individuals incarcerated at Rikers Island who are experiencing mental illness.

You can read the article below, and linked here: The Mentally Ill, Behind Bars

The Mentally Ill, Behind Bars

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his new correction commissioner, Joseph Ponte, have inherited a city jail system in which nearly 40 percent of the 12,000 inmates have mental illnesses — up from about a quarter just seven years ago. Yet despite the stark shift, the system has not been redesigned to serve the complex needs of inmates with mental illnesses.
To remedy this shameful problem, the mayor and the commissioner need to focus on three areas: improving mental health care behind bars; ensuring that all mentally ill inmates are enrolled in Medicaid before they are released, so they have access to care and medication; and encouraging the growth of an important new program that steers mentally ill people who present no danger to the public into mental health programs instead of jail.
The full scope of this problem was outlined two years ago in a study of the city jails by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a research and policy group. The study found that inmates with mental disabilities cost three times as much as other inmates, and that their numbers were growing, even as the city jail population as a whole was declining.
The study also found that mentally ill inmates stay in jail nearly twice as long — an average of 112 days compared with 61 days — partly because the mentally ill have less money to put toward bail and fewer connections to family or friends willing to get them out.
The perils these people face behind bars are underscored by two recent cases involving mentally ill people who died while detained on Rikers Island, one of the largest jails in the country. A corrections officer was charged in March by federal prosecutors with violating the civil rights of a 25-year-old prisoner, Jason Echevarria, for refusing to help when Mr. Echevarria pleaded for medical care after swallowing the toxic contents of a soap packet in his cell.
The other case involved a 56-year-old man who was arrested on trespassing charges in February and died soon afterward. The inmate, Jerome Murdough, was being held in the mental-observation unit and was supposed to be checked every 15 minutes as part of a suicide watch but had been left alone for hours when he was found dead in his cell.