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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Educational Empowerment Group at BCS

Bronx Community Solutions is creating a new social service group for adolescent clients who were disengaged or at risk of dropping out from school. The group is intended to help young people explore their educational goals, and to understand educational options that align with those goals.  Much like when becoming involved with the criminal justice system, young people can find themselves entangled in an education system that they do not fully understand. The hope of the Education Empowerment group at BCS is to provide clients with an understanding of their educational rights and the options available to them, so they are empowered to make decisions about their educational futures.

In an effort to create a comprehensive curriculum, I invited a staff attorney from Advocates for Children to train Adolescent Diversion Project staff and social work interns on graduation options and basic student rights. The training provided a necessary foundation to create a curriculum that covers basic education rights and diploma and diploma equivilency options.

Justin Briggs, a Youth Development Peer Specialist at BCS (as well as an Intake Specialist and part-time Community Service Crew Supervisor), noticed that many of the participants in his group, Motivating Youth, were most in need of educational guidance and support. That observation sprung into the development of the Education Empowerment group. The group will serve a maximum of eight young people, providing opportunities for individualized attention and referral opportunities. He will begin facilitation in February 2015.
- Rebecca Stahl, LMSW
Bronx Community Solutions Youth Justice Coordinator

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Manhattan and Brooklyn Testing Youth Diversion Program

Two precincts in Manhattan and Brooklyn just began a pilot program to divert young offenders who have been arrested on minor level crimes. Youths arrested on minor charges will have the opportunity to meet with a counselor rather than be jailed (or given a summons to appear), followed by sentencing from a judge. The hope is to provide these individuals with positive interventions while allowing them to avoid the long-term consequences of having a criminal record, without having to necessarily undergo the ordeal of jail and arraignment. You can read about it here, and pasted below: Diversion for Teens in NYC

In the Bronx, BCS's Adolescent Diversion Program provides the courts, especially the dedicated court part, youth-specific sentencing alternatives to jail for low level crimes. The Bronx does not, however, have this kind of diversion that provides services without jail and arraignment first.

Teenagers to See Counselor, Not Judge, for Minor Crimes

Teenagers arrested for minor crimes will soon be diverted to counseling before they ever come before a judge under a new pilot program in Brooklyn and Manhattan, prosecutors said on Tuesday.
The program will apply to 16- and 17-year-olds arrested for the first time for low-level offenses, like jumping a subway turnstile, shoplifting or trespassing, the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said.
Those defendants will be offered a deal: Enter a counseling program run by the Center for Court Innovation and the charges will be dropped before arraignment, Mr. Vance said, speaking at a Crain’s New York Business breakfast forum.
Mr. Vance said a young person who had done nothing more serious than fail to pay a subway fare should not receive “a trip downtown and a docket number, but a real intervention in his life, to put him on a positive path forward.”
The Brooklyn district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson, said the pilot project would build on the success of a diversion program for teenagers started in 2013 in the Brooklyn arraignment courts by Judge George A. Grasso. That program in its first year diverted more than 160 teenagers charged with minor crimes into counseling.
The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said a young person who has done nothing more serious than fail to pay a subway fare should not receive “a trip downtown and a docket number, but a real intervention in his life, to put him on a positive path forward.” Credit Brian Harkin for The New York Times

Mr. Thompson said the hope was to intervene even earlier, offering first-time offenders a chance to go to counseling before they even appear in court.
Youths deemed eligible will go to two afternoon sessions of counseling at community justice centers, said Greg Berman, director of the Center for Court Innovation, a nonprofit that provides alternatives to incarceration. Some of the defendants will go through mock trials with other teenagers; others will be given individual counseling and community service.
The pilot program will start in February in two police precincts: the 25th on the Upper West Side and the 73rd in Brownsville, Brooklyn. It will be evaluated after three to six months, Ms. Herman said.
The project, tentatively called Project Reset, comes as public opinion has begun to waver on New York City’s prolonged crackdown on minor crimes. It also comes amid a series of several steps taken recently to reduce the number of low-level offenders clogging the courts.
Mr. Thompson announced last year that his office would no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases. Police Commissioner William J. Bratton has sharply curtailed the practice of stopping pedestrians and frisking them for weapons and drugs in high-crime neighborhoods, which critics maintain discriminates against minorities.
The city has several diversion programs for nonviolent defendants. In most of them, however, social workers comb through people awaiting arraignment in court to find candidates.
It was Judge Grasso, a former deputy police commissioner, who first proposed the idea of diverting some teenagers before arraignment, Deputy Police Commissioner Susan Herman said.
Under past practice, many first-time low-level offenders were held in jail for a day. At arraignment, prosecutors would usually agree to drop charges if the person avoids arrest for six months, a resolution known as “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal.”
The new program will let police officers and prosecutors steer teenagers into counseling, leaving them with no criminal record if they complete it, Mr. Vance said.