Youth in an adult system

After work yesterday, I left our intake office and walked down the street to the Bronx School of Law Government and Justice to sit in on a session of a youth group being facilitated by one of my colleagues. Sitting in a classroom were three young men, ages 16, 17, and 18, being asked to tell "their story." As the facilitator posed questions, each of the participants reflected on the attitudes and decisions that had landed them before a judge.

The next day, I met these young men again to go out in the field with Bronx River Alliance's Conservation Crew to perform community service. The wonderful folks on the crew take a lot of pride in what they do, and they really enjoy teaching young people about the Bronx River. Watching a crew member show one of our participants how to get a shovel under the root of a Japanese Knotweed, or how deep to plant a maple sapling while spotting ducks and red-winged blackbirds along the riverbanks, was a nice change of pace from my usual responsibilities!

These types of age appropriate court mandates are difficult to do in a big traditional courthouse. Although many youth may be getting in trouble for the first time, and may still be very young in their emotional and mental development, their cases are handled in a system designed for adults. To keep up with the high volume most of our social service requirements must be kept general. Young people, often with minor charges, must participate in the same groups as older clients with more serious records and problems. Traditional community service is much more geared towards adults as well. Youth specific strategies can be more resource intensive but we also think this is a crucial population to reach.