Over the past ten years, Bronx Community Solutions has developed strong relationships with Bronx judges and have broadened their sentencing options, even designing special initiatives that address large, systemic issues. A couple of months ago, a Bronx Judge expressed to us a wish to address the employment needs of misdemeanor offenders who are arrested for selling drugs, administrative untaxed code violations and/or other crimes associated with poverty. Armed with a charge to combine innovation with tangible solutions, Bronx Community Solutions was asked by this judge to facilitate a discussion between him and relevant community programs around workforce issues, community resources, program eligibility, and general employment readiness barriers. The judge’s specific goal was to discuss the feasibility of creating a direct vocational training pathway in arraignments through community-based collaboration targeted toward the specific needs of Bronx misdemeanor defendants.
On March 12th, Bronx Community Solutions hosted a meeting with the judge and three community-based vocational programs: Phipps/Justice Corps, UpNext and Henkels & McCoy. The judge shared his observations and ideas with the program representatives, and everyone discussed the nature of the problem of under/unemployment and workforce development in the Bronx. The represented vocational programs shared program parameters on client profiles, eligibility requirements, services, placement and aftercare. The judge was able to express his viewpoint of understanding the risk-need-responsivity principles that employment barriers have on criminogenic behavior. In response, the community partners were granted access to not only understand the needs of the bench, but be part of a network working to provide clients with direct and unobstructed access to services.Moving forward, we will have several additional meetings to determine concrete objectives, logistics, screening tools, identify court and community stakeholders, and further program development and court buy-in. What began as a judge’s straightforward inquiry to BCS ended as a mission for innovation with concrete steps put in place.
- Elizabeth Swan-Taylor, Coordinator of Court and Intake Operations