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Thursday, March 02, 2017

Supervised Release: The First Client

As a tribute (and throwback) to the start of Supervised Release in the Bronx, below is a reflection written last year by our court Resource Coordinator, Mabel Jerez, about her first days on the job.  

Supervised Release Staff (the early days)
In February, 2016, I was given an opportunity to be part of Bronx Community Solutions' Supervised Release program.  This new program is designed to provide supervision and assistance to individuals arrested for non-violent misdemeanor and felony charges but cannot afford the bail requested at their arraignment. Typically these individuals are sent to Rikers Island, the City jail, to await the next court hearing on their case. Unfortunately, languishing in jail for weeks or months at a time can have devastating effects on an individual and their family including job loss, the inability to parent one’s children and the possibility of being evicted and loosing housing.

When I found out the City decided to expand Supervised Release throughout the 5 boroughs, I applied for a position in my home borough: the Bronx.  As a long-time Bronx resident, I am familiar with many of the difficulties the borough has, including the high number of residents in the criminal justice system and  the highest poverty levels in the state.  On March 1, 2016, Bronx Community Solutions’ Supervised Release program took flight.  I am a member of a team of a 5-person team of “Resource Coordinators” who meet with individuals to screen cases armed with risk tools to see who is eligible for the program.  On our first day, I interviewed my first client.  In my initial meeting with "Mr. N", he was hungry and exhausted from the little sleep he was able to get the previous night in the court's holding cell.  I went into the holding pens and, through a wire screen, introduced myself and explained that I had been given permission from his attorney to come and speak with him.  I interviewed Mr. N, explained the terms of the program, made a call to his wife, and verified his other community connections.  I believed Mr. N was just right for the program.  Minutes later, the court officer called the case and Mr. N stood before Judge Grasso, the presenting judge that day.

I too stood before the court with Mr. N, the Bronx Assistant District Attorney and Mr. N’s defense counsel.  The judge decided to give Mr. N the opportunity and released him to the Supervised Release program.  Weeks later I bumped into him in the halls of the courthouse, and this time he was smiling and grateful to see me.  He looked much better, healthier and alert.  His social worker reports that he is doing very well and calls a couple of times each week.  Mr. N’s case is indicative of the initial success the Supervised Program is having – in less than one month, over 40 men and women are already in the program.  There will be many more Mr. N stories as we continue to provide this service to the Bronx community.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Expanding our Reach: Bronx Community Solutions' Year in Bail Reform

At a recent meeting at the Center, Jamaal Anderson, a client of our Supervised Release program, explained the difference the program has made in his life.  Speaking of his social worker, John Megaw, right, Jamaal noted, "having someone there to steer you in the right direction really was a big help for me.  I had to not let him 
down, as well as myself."  

Today Bronx Community Solutions celebrates the one year anniversary of its Supervised Release program.  Our Changing the Courts blog will pay special tribute to this program over the next week with posts that highlight its imprint and give voice to those on the front lines of its implementation and impact.

There are currently close to 10,000 inmates being held at Rikers, 75 percent of whom are awaiting trial and can not afford their bail (In New York City, the misdemeanor median bail is $1,000 and $5,000 for felonies).  Designed to reduce dependence on unnecessary jail time and costly monetary bail, Supervised Release allows lower-risk defendants to remain in their communities, jobs and families while awaiting trial.  In addition to their court-required check-ins, all defendants in the program receive a thorough needs-assessment from BCS social workers and are referred to needed services such as vocational programs, housing or substance abuse treatment.

With a dedicated team of court representatives and social workers, Supervised Release has directly touched the lives of hundreds of clients and impacted an extension of thousands.  By way of numbers, throughout the past year we have:
  • Supervised 485 cases 
  • Seen 272 cases closed
  • And 200 (74%) closed successfully (dismissed, plea taken and/or charges reduced)
The contributions of Bronx Community Solutions' Supervised Release staff and Supervised Release programs across the city have made it possible for over 2,800 New Yorkers to avoid the trauma of a trip to Rikers and instead return to their friends, family, neighbors and colleauges.  

New Partners in Service: Bright Temple AME Church

In need of some extra hands for a special cleanup project, Rev. James Sherwyn reached out to the 41st precinct's Sergeant Clarivel Socola for help.  Bronx Community Solutions has forged a long-time partnership with Sgt. Socola and the NYPD so she knew just the right people for the job.  Bright Temple AME Church, located in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx, has plans to open its doors as a food pantry to the homeless and those struggling to make ends meet.  But there was still plenty of work to be done in cleaning and preparing the space.  For three days Bronx Community Solutions clients went to work cleaning rooms, removing old carpet and rearranging furniture.  With assistance from Crew Supervisors Anthony Gonzales and Corey Hatton and BCS community service clients made great strides in transforming the church space to better-serve Bronx residents.  Check out the pictures below to see the fruits of their labor.  

Bright Temple AME Church

Rev. Sherwyn consults with the community service team

All in a day's work

Bronx Community Solutions staff member Tiffany Barksdale, Anthony Gonzalez and
Moises Reyes with Rev. James Sherwyn

Hard at work

A job well done!