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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

BCS Cleans Up Bronx Stadium Garden

BCS paired up with community partners to clean up and plant near the 161st street tunnel
Last Friday, the BCS community service crew headed up to Bronx Stadium Garden located at 161st Street and Gerald Avenue (at the 161st Street tunnel). In attendance were supervisors Ramon Semorile, Omar Camacho, myself and four community service clients. We worked together with a 161st Street Business Improvement District staff member and Jennifer Beaugrand from The Bronx Is Blooming. We started by pulling weeds, pruning bushes and planting. The photos speaks for themselves as well as the passion, energy and joy of everyone involved in this project including the BCS clients.

- Moises Reyes, Coordinator of Community Service and Initiatives
Clients and supervisors headed to the site
Learning about what the day's work will entail
Preparing the ground and clearing out weeds
A community service participant digging a hole for a new plant 
The ground is now ready
Another participant does some planting
Working hard
The tunnel, after our efforts!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Success Stories from the AP-8 Initiative at BCS

Over the past several months, I have been working to implement the Women’s Independence, Safety and Empowerment curriculum, (originally developed at the Midtown Community Court) here in the Bronx. The groups cover themes of stereotypes and stigma attached to having a prostitution arrest, safety and harm reduction, psycho-education on trauma and trauma reactions, as well as feeling identification and coping skills. 

Because the AP-8 population is comprised of women and trans women who may be lacking stability (for example, clients may not have consistent housing from week to week, and are often experiencing ongoing trauma and violence), adhering to a strict schedule can be understandably challenging. In order to help address this challenge, the AP-8 group schedule was changed to be more accommodating to the needs of our clients.

This proved to be highly successful and we were able to have five group members complete all four groups!

We (Kayla Johnson, social work intern and I) got exceptionally positive feedback from group members, who took pictures on their phones of the notes we recorded on the board in order to refer back to them later. A few inspiring quotes: “I feel lifted up after I come here; this is so good for me.” “I learned so much today – I didn’t know that word [dissociation] before, but it explains what I’m feeling.” “I never thought I would say this, but this room in 161 is a safe place for me.”

- Charlotte Weber, LMSW, AP-8 Case Manager

Friday, April 10, 2015

BCS Presents at Community Association Meeting

"The more the court hears from us, the more they will listen." 

This was one of the opening remarks of Mary Jane Musano, the chairperson of the Waterbury LaSalle Community Association – a group with a long history of community activism focused on increasing punitive court outcomes for low level criminal activity like graffiti and car vandalism cases.   

As part of Bronx community Solutions’ community outreach work, we were invited to present at the association's evening meeting in late March. The association represents an enclave of the Bronx that has some of the lowest criminal activity throughout the borough, within the boundaries of Community Board 10. Comprised of largely veteran community residents, this group spearheads a Court Watchers program, through the support of Senator Jeff Klein’s office. Collaborating with the local 45th Precinct and the District Attorney’s Office, members identify district crime hot spots and advocate for harsher sentencing outcomes through community letters and meetings with the District Attorney’s Office. As activists, members are alerted of district arrests and coordinate shifts to sit in arraignments as a unified front wearing T-shirts with generalized messages to the offenders. 

Bronx Community Solutions shared our overall successes and lessons learned in the value of alternatives that fit the crime and the transformative justice in empowering individuals with targeted interventions. Although it would appear that we did not make an immediate impact in influencing their views towards a less punitive position, we were able to identify the needs for graffiti clean up and look forward to further collaboration on this issue. BCS can agree on the overall goal of reducing crime in the Bronx, even if differences arise in the strategies employed to get there.

- Elizabeth Swan-Taylor, Coordinator of Court and Intake Operations

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

BCS Facilitates Dialogue Between the Court and Bronx WorkforceTraining Programs

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

Monday, March 16, 2015

BCS Hosts Second Career Talk for Interns

Bronx Court Officers with BCS Interns for the second lunchtime career talk
It's another one for the books. Bronx Community Solutions hosted a second successful career talk for our interns, this time featuring two court officers who shared with them what it's like to do their work in the Bronx Criminal Court. 

With its ‘kick-off’ in October, ‘Career Talks’ are a part of a new and innovative approach to the development of a formalized internship program at Bronx Community Solutions. Despite the recent loss of funding that supported the Center for Court Innovation’s AmeriCorps program, BCS has been able to conduct ‘business as usual’ by way of recruiting intern volunteers for 6-12 month internships. Career Talks have been a way to provide interns with insightful information about a particular career track, in addition to the practical training and exposure that they receive working in a criminal justice environment. Once per month, lunch is provided for interns as well as the invited court staff member or members who present on the ‘ins and outs’ of what they do, and answer questions. 

This time around, Court Officers Dave Jennings and Andy Ayala provided intuitive information on what it means to be peace officers and discussed the rewarding as well as the negative aspects of the job. The takeaway was that they very much enjoy their jobs, which is notable as each of them have been serving the NYS Unified Court System for over a decade. The BCS interns left the career talk well-informed on what it takes to become a court officer, and what it's like to do that job every day.

- Lovis Nelson-Williams, Compliance Coordinator

Friday, March 13, 2015

BCS Embarks on Ten Weeks of Cleanup in the 44th Precinct

BCS crew painting over graffiti in the 44th precinct
This month, the Community Initiatives Department of Bronx Community Solutions was contacted by New York City Police Officers from the 44th  Precinct requesting support in the form of targeted graffiti clean-up in sections of the South Bronx, within Community Board District 4. The culmination of our partnership was a commitment on behalf of the Bronx Community Solutions Community Service Crew to embark on a 10-week, hot-spot graffiti clean-up initiative supported by police officers of the 44th precinct, the Department of Transportation, The Department of Sanitation, and community resident volunteers. Bronx Community Solutions will be providing crews of 10-15 community service participants as well as clean up supplies (jump suits, gloves, masks and paint). Community Service Crew Supervisor, Matthew Usher, and myself, will be the Clean Up supervisors for this project. 

BCS Crew Supervisors and community partners in front of the finished project at Summit Avenue
This past Wednesday, March 11th, Bronx Community Solutions conducted the first of these 10-week graffiti impact projects. Eight Bronx Community Solutions participants met at 8:00am in front of the Bronx Criminal Court where Matthew and I picked them up and headed to our first location: 1165 Clay Avenue, the site of an industrial business. Our second location was Summit Avenue, a residential area. We painted over graffiti in each of these locations, and the pictures show the impact that was made. 
Clay Avenue, before
Clay Avenue, after!
We are preparing ourselves for the next project, which will happen on Wednesday March 18th. Stay tuned for more posts on this project!

- Moises Reyes, Coordinator of Community Service and Initiatives

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Career Talk for BCS Interns

Lovis, BCS Compliance Coordinator, at left, meeting with BCS Interns and Judge Saunders
‘Just ask questions. When you see someone in the courthouse and you want to know how they got there, don’t be afraid to just ask questions.

‘Career Talk’ luncheons have become a part of the new, formalized internship program at Bronx Community Solutions. These talks provide interns in various stages of their career journeys with a wealth of realistic and concrete knowledge, as well as insight into the variety of career paths open to them within the criminal justice system. The hope is that this will provide career guidance for our interns as well as strengthen BCS's bonds with court players. Since October 2014, BCS interns have participated in organized discussions with a lawyer/social worker, a judge as well as court clerks. Next month the interns will hear from two court officers about their role in the criminal justice system, which is especially appropriate as a few of our interns have taken the court officer civil service exam.

- Lovis Nelson-Williams, BCS Compliance Coordinator

Monday, February 02, 2015

A Prison Tranformed into a ReEntry Hub

The Fulton Correctional Facility
The Bronx will soon be getting a dedicated reentry facility, fittingly housed on the site of a prison that was closed in 2011 after a marked decrease in New York's inmate population. The Osborne Association was bequeathed the Fulton Correctional Facility which will renovate to create a hub to serve the reentering population, with links to a variety of social services available in one location. Bronx Community Solutions staff members attended an event last week where the facility was unveiled by a number of Bronx political figures.

You can read more about this venture here: In the Bronx, New Life for an Old Prison

BCS remains connected to the reentering population through the Bronx Reentry Working Group, and runs a support group for reentering individuals on site.

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.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reentry and Outreach

Two years ago, Reentry Anonymous was created by members of the Bronx ReEntry Task Force and Bronx ReEntry Working Group to serve as a support group for returning citizens, similar to the AA or NA model of group therapy and ongoing support. On December 17, 2014 two members of the Reentry Anonymous group and myself went to the Metropolitan Correctional Facility where we participated in a panel for 20 detainees who will soon be released into their communities. The questions were all about reentry: the detainees’ had some good questions on how we reintegrated back into our family, community, and society; also how we found jobs with our criminal record. They asked how we were thinking before we became returning citizens, and how we prepared before we were released.  

All of the detainees were intrigued about how we started the Reentry Anonymous group and what it is all about. Some asked if they can stay in contact with the group after their released. They also asked what challenges we overcame and how we overcame them. We simply told them what worked for each of us. For some of us, the key was persistence -- trying over and over again even when efforts to get a job, for instance, are not met with immediate success. For others the key was focusing on positive social relationships that do not undermine a person's progress. 

The facility asked us if we can come again to do the same with another group and we will be pleased to do so. It is a rewarding experience going back to a correctional facility as visitors, not as inmates, in order to guide those who will soon take similar steps. Hopefully they can learn from our experiences so they will not commit the same mistakes and not feel defeated or end up going back to the same way of living that got them incarcerated in the first place.

Do not misunderstand me, there is a lot of work to be done in reentry. As we know the United States has the most people behind bars. The questions is when they go home how we are going to keep them home?

- Ramon Semorile, BCS Crew Supervisor and Bronx ReEntry Working Group Facilitator

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Great Shred

Here at BCS our pace of work is often set by the pace of the court system. Different days of the week have different perceived (and actual) workflows. And the court's workflow relates to somewhat predictable variables, such as cases from the weekend pouring into arraignment parts on Monday and Tuesday. Fridays are often slower. And the Friday right after Christmas Day, when all court parts save one and arraignments are closed? In anticipation of that we decided to close operations for the day and use it as a time to catch up on various administrative tasks. Many staff members were also away on much-deserved vacations, so the few that remained cleaned house.

Community Service crew supervisor Ramon Semorile can now add Master Shredder to his resume, purging over ten huge bags of shredded paper representing documents that have been converted to electronic files. A picture is worth a thousand words, and millions of teeny tiny pieces of paper.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Last Friday the Bronx Community Solutions staff held our annual holiday party. We played a white elephant gift exchange game and then headed to Bowlerland in the Bronx to battle it out at the lanes. We had a great time!!

Wishing you a fun, safe and productive holiday this year.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Incarcerations Rates in New York City

Greg Berman wrote a piece for TalkPoverty that frames Bronx Community Solutions as part of a NYC-wide effort to provide expanded sentencing alternatives to judges for low level offenses. You can check it out here, and pasted below: Reducing Jail: A New York Story

Reducing Jail: A New York Story

We are living through a fascinating moment in terms of criminal justice policy in the United States.
When I first started working in criminal justice in the early 1990s, it was almost impossible to have a conversation with an elected official or a high-ranking criminal justice policymaker of any political persuasion without talking about the need to be “tough on crime.” The backdrop for these conversations was a pervasive sense of fear (of lawlessness on the streets) and despair (about the prospects of successfully rehabilitating offenders).

Today, I turned on my computer to discover that Newt Gingrich has endorsed the idea of reducing incarceration in the United States. He is not the only voice on the right calling for change. Indeed, hopeful analysts have cited criminal justice reform as one of the few potential areas where Democrats and Republicans in Washington might find common ground in the final two years of President Obama’s term. Clearly, the center of gravity has shifted in terms of the politics of crime.
A lot of hard work has gone into making this happen. The “justice reinvestment” movement has played a particularly crucial role, advancing a bipartisan approach to criminal justice that relies on hard data rather than the politics of emotion. The U.S. Department of Justice has also made an important contribution by documenting what works and then disseminating this information to the field (

These national-level efforts have been bolstered by numerous reformers working at the state and local level to demonstrate that it is in fact possible to reduce the use of incarceration without undermining public safety.

Take New York, for example. Between 1999 and 2012, New York reduced its prison population by 26 percent—a decline of nearly 20,000 inmates. The use of jail in New York City has also been reduced—the daily head count on Rikers Island is now less than 11,000, down from more than 21,000 at its peak.

Even as New York’s jail and prison rolls have gone down, so too has crime, declining by 69 percent over two decades.

Most of the public acclaim for these developments has gone to the New York Police Department and New York City mayors who have made crime-fighting a priority. Under the radar, the judicial branch has also played an important role.

Thanks to the leadership of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and his predecessor Judith S. Kaye, the New York courts have made a sustained institutional commitment to creating a variety of alternative-to-incarceration programs. The courts have developed special programs for defendants with substance abuse and mental health problems. They have sought to increase the use of services in cases involving 16 and 17-year old defendants and victims of human trafficking. And they have launched a number of community-based programs that have sought to promote alternative sentencing in high-crime neighborhoods. (In the interests of full disclosure, my agency—the Center for Court Innovation— has worked with the judiciary to conceive and implement many of these projects.)
Crucially, the alternative programs launched by the New York courts target not just felony defendants but also people charged with misdemeanors. Misdemeanor convictions may expose defendants to less time behind bars, but the consequences can be long-lasting in terms of employment, housing, child custody, student loans, immigration status, and a host of government benefits. For many, a misdemeanor conviction is another step along a path that leads toward a life of poverty.

While much of the popular discussion focuses on federal sentencing guidelines and the need to reduce state prison populations, there is significant work to be done at the local level to reduce the use of jail. (Jails are typically administered by counties and are designed to hold defendants awaiting trial and inmates sentenced to a term of less than 1 year. Prisons are run by the state or the federal government and typically hold inmates serving sentences of more than 1 year.)

One of the hidden truths of the justice system is that minor cases are much more voluminous than serious offenses. As John Jay College recently documented, nearly 75 percent of the arrests that the police make in New York City are for misdemeanor crimes – more than 235,000 in 2012, for example.

In response to the preponderance of minor cases, the New York courts (with an assist from the Center for Court Innovation) created Bronx Community Solutions to provide criminal court judges in the Bronx with additional sentencing options for non-violent offenses such as drug possession, shoplifting and prostitution. This includes community restitution projects as well as social service classes, job training and individual counseling.

One challenge that has long plagued alternative-to-incarceration programs is the Field of Dreams question: if you build it, will they come? Will judges actually avail themselves of alternatives?
The experience in the Bronx suggests that when alternative programs have been developed with the active involvement of the judiciary, they are more likely to win the support of the judges on the ground who ultimately determine whether someone is incarcerated or stays in the community. According to the New York City Mayor’s Office, after Bronx Community Solutions began offering alternative sentences to misdemeanor defendants in the Bronx, the percentage of convicted defendants sentenced to jail fell from 23.7 percent in 2004 to 13.5 percent in 2012—a 43 percent reduction. Keep in mind, this is not a boutique program dealing with a handful of participants; each year Bronx Community Solutions works with about 9,000 defendants.

But this battle is by no means won—plenty of work remains to reduce the number of people in Rikers Island, particularly those who are detained pre-trial. However, Bronx Community Solutions has made one thing perfectly clear: change is possible—even in high-volume, urban justice systems.

Greg Berman is the director of the Center for Court Innovation in New York and the author of Reducing Crime, Reducing Incarceration (Quid Pro Books). You can follow him on Twitter @GregBerman50.
Photo Provided by AP Photo/Tom Gannam

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

BCS Brings the Arts to Community Service

ADP Community Service participants receiving a tour of select exhibits at the Bronx Museum of the Arts
This past November, Bronx Community Solutions, in partnership with the Bronx Museum of the Arts, offered a three-day arts education workshop with participants of the Bronx Community Solutions Adolescent Diversion Program, exploring the intersection between art, social justice, and community awareness.

Over three days, five ADP participants were selected to work under the guidance of Ellie Krakow, a visual artist and arts educator with the Bronx Museum of the Arts, to tour the Bronx Museum’s current exhibition, discuss the social issues addressed in the artwork, hone their artistic voice and create original works of art in the museum’s art studio. Their participation satisfied a court mandate after a misdemeanor arrest, as an alternative to short-term jail available through the Bronx Community Solutions Adolescent Diversion Program.

On the first day, each participant was challenged to exit their comfort zones and enter a world where their voices and bodies are their power. Participants engaged, hesitantly at first, in Boal exercises, from the Theater of the Oppressed, where games, drama, and language are used to understand social reality and seek to change it. Participants were then asked to brainstorm ideas about pressing social issues they would like to see changed in their lives and in their community. Major themes shared were gang violence, police brutality, and legalization of marijuana. Participants were prompted to visualize imagery and draw sketches of their chosen theme and were supported in the initiation of the print making process—creating their matrix (an etched plate to be used to create their print).

On the second day, participants were given a guided tour of select works of art from the Bronx Museum’s private collection currently on exhibition. The tour was given on a day in which the museum was closed to the public which allowed full access to the gallery space. The exhibition “in print / imprint” was chosen because it highlights print making as an invaluable tool for channeling political concerns. Due to its mass reproducibility, economy, ease of distribution, and collaborative character, printmaking has long been considered a vehicle for social agency and has played a major role in politically mobilizing different communities and constituencies. Participants were afforded the opportunity for in-depth discussion of theme, history, and message of artwork by celebrated artists such as Kara Walker, Sanford Biggers, and Vitto Acconci.

Kara Walker
Sanford Biggers
Participants were then afforded additional studio time in which they were given a lesson in printmaking. With art aprons on and tools in hand, each participant created a limited edition of their print.

Participants learned from museum staff how to make prints of their work

On day three participants continued their discussion of issues that were important to them, and what they wished to express about themselves. They considered different methods and strategies for conveying their messages artistically with text, and each adopted a unique approach to articulating their message. Once the projects were completed, participants were encouraged to respond to each other’s projects, discuss the artistic elements as well as subject matter, and the meaning of the messages conveyed.

By the conclusion of day three, all participants had created works of art responding to social issues that were important to them, and engaged in dialogue about community issues with their peers. It was a huge success, and we look forward to future collaboration with the Bronx Museum of the Arts!

- Monica Garcia, Coordinator of Community Engagement and Initiatives
- Rebecca Stahl, Youth Justice Coordinator

Monday, December 01, 2014

New Internships at BCS!

Bronx Community Solutions has been making a number of exciting changes to our internship program. We have long since relied on the help of devoted interns from our very first year of operations, when we had a small team of Americorps volunteers work with us throughout the year in a variety of capacities. We expanded shortly thereafter, adding Social Work Interns who work with us primarily in the clinic for an academic year as part of their educational program toward earning a Masters Degree. High school interns and volunteers have also played a part in keeping BCS running smoothly throughout the years. Having interns has been a great way for the program to be enhanced by encompassing the work of people with a variety of experiences and interests. Interns and volunteers often infuse the project with a new energy that helps permanent staff members stay focused and motivated to do challenging work.

This year, BCS is experimenting with expanding our internship program to include more people from different educational backgrounds and stages. We thought we would highlight those changes below, and future blog posts will illustrate the work that these different groups of interns are doing throughout the year. Stay tuned!

Here is a breakdown of each group of interns, and an overview of the work they will be doing with BCS this year.

Social Work
BCS continues to host graduate-level interns from Social Work programs in New York City. This year we have three students working with us, two from Columbia University School of Social Work and one from Hunter University's Silberman School of Social Work. This year, each intern is focused on a specific initiative as well as supporting the Social Service Department in general programming. One intern is each assigned to either the Adolescent Diversion Program, the Human Trafficking Intervention Court (AP-8) initiative, and the Mental Health Initiative. Each of them conducts individual counseling sessions and runs groups to clients who have been mandated to social services, and they support the department with case management and compliance efforts. Social Work Interns receive on-site supervision from BCS clinicians. In addition to this, they receive group supervision on a quarterly basis at BCS from different clinicians on a variety of special topics, and they are invited to attend CCI Social Worker meetings when schedules permit. They are each in their final year of school before earning their Masters degree.

John Jay School of Criminal Justice
In an initiative thoughtfully formalized by our Compliance Coordinator, Lovis Nelson-Williams, BCS is hosting a team of five interns from the CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice, at the graduate and undergraduate-levels. These students are working primarily in the Intake Department, and their work serves as part of their educational requirements for graduation. Interns from John Jay conduct intake assessments with our clients and serve as classroom monitors to help with the administration and safety of our psychoeducational group programming. Some of these interns specialize in other areas such as Community Service or the Driving While Intoxicated initiative. Their internships at BCS will now include quarterly brown-bag lunches with guests speakers from various arenas of criminal justice expertise and site visits to partner agencies and demonstration projects.

Bronx School of Law, Government and Justice
Under the leadership of Coordinator of Community Engagement and Initiatives, Monica Garcia, BCS has taken on two high school interns from the Bronx School of Law, Government and Justice (LGJ), which is located in close proximity to the courthouse. BCS has partnered with LGJ before for special events such as Law Day. The interns will support BCS with administrative and organizational tasks and special projects with the Community Initiatives department.

An intern from the Midtown Community Court's UpNext program recently joined the BCS team, helping the Community Service Department by serving as an assistant crew supervisor for the next six weeks. The UpNext program provides employment-related support to noncustodial fathers and underemployed and unemployed men seeking assistance with workforce development. The intern's work with BCS is taking the form of a six-week fellowship for which he was selected after having successfully completed the UpNext program.

As we have since 2012, BCS hosts an intern for a 16-month fellowship funded by the Pinkerton Foundation. The current Pinkerton Fellow is an undergraduate student at John Jay. She has been working with us since last summer and will continue through this academic year, focusing on supporting the Intake Department and Adolescent Diversion Program.

A big welcome to all the new faces at BCS, and a big thank you to our interns who have been with us for many months already!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Misdemeanor Offenders and Broken Windows Theory

CCI Executive Director Greg Berman recently had an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal highlighting both the work done at the Red Hook Community Justice Center and a new research project conducted by CCI in partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the U.S. Department of Justice. This research is focused on creating a risk/needs assessment tool specific to misdemeanor defendants. When the project is completed, the hope is to have a tool available for use in any jurisdiction that will facilitate the use of alternative sanctions by efficiently identifying not only the risk of rearrest that an individual poses, but the underlying needs they may have that could be addressed through the criminal justice system in lieu of a brief jail sentence. The op-ed also touches on broken windows theory, which has frequently appeared in the media lately.

The op-ed can be found here, and is pasted below.

A Surprising Portrait of the Misdemeanor Criminal
By Greg Berman

The John Jay College of Criminal Justice released a report at the end of October documenting the rise of misdemeanor arrests in New York City since the 1980s. The timing of the report was fortuitous. The city’s policy makers, academics and advocacy groups are in the midst of a spirited debate over the merits of broken-windows policing—a philosophy that suggests police can help prevent crime by addressing low-level disorder.

To proponents, broken windows is not just the linchpin of New York’s miraculous public-safety improvements over the past generation. It is one of the foundations of civilized society: If we do not care for the physical appearance of our city or attempt to promote civil behavior among its inhabitants, we court chaos.

Critics of broken windows point to the collateral damage that accompanies low-level law enforcement—citing thousands of New Yorkers exposed to criminal convictions, potential incarceration and negative long-term consequences like exclusion from public housing and diminished job prospects.

Opponents of broken windows tend to focus on one segment of the misdemeanor population. A recent piece by Michael Greenberg in the Nov. 6 New York Review of Books is typical. Highlighting a 17-year-old student apprehended for possessing the remnants of a joint, Mr. Greenberg writes: “By an overwhelming majority, New Yorkers who are arrested for low-level infractions . . . are young black and Hispanic men in poor neighborhoods. Often these arrests have been for possessing tiny amounts of marijuana . . . police saddle thousands of young men with criminal records for an offense that the state has largely decriminalized and that white people regularly commit with impunity.”

There are thousands of people who fit this description. The John Jay College report highlights that the rate of misdemeanor arrests for black men between the ages of 18 and 20 in New York City almost tripled between 1990 and 2013—rising to more than 20,000 arrests per 100,000 people from fewer than 8,000 per 100,000.

But this is an incomplete portrait of the misdemeanor population. The John Jay study documents that half of the misdemeanor arrests in New York City are a direct response to complaints or involve more serious misdemeanor offenses such as domestic violence, theft or weapons possession.

In an effort to better understand all this, the Center for Court Innovation is conducting a study that has involved interviewing nearly 1,000 people charged with misdemeanors in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. The first thing to note is that most of them are not teens—the average age is 35. They are also not newcomers to the criminal justice system—more than half have prior misdemeanor convictions and more than a third have prior felony convictions.

There’s a saying that misdemeanors aren’t complicated legal cases, but they are committed by people with complicated lives. The data underline this truth. This is a population with serious problems and multiple needs. More than half of our sample reported being unemployed, and nearly one in two said they use drugs daily. Mental health issues abound. The prevalence of trauma was staggering. More than half of the sample reported having witnessed a shooting or other violent event. One in four reported having experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Nearly 20% said they had attempted suicide.

The emerging research suggests several new directions for the criminal-justice system. First, there are opportunities to divert out of the system thousands of New Yorkers who have been apprehended for quality-of-life offenses such as marijuana possession or transportation-fare avoidance. These opportunities should be seized—either by not making formal arrests or by increasing the use of pretrial diversion programs for young people and those who have committed a single infraction or two. When interacting with these and other populations on the streets, the police should take pains to explain their decisions clearly and to treat individuals with dignity and respect; research suggests this will promote law-abiding behavior in the long run.

But the research tells us that many people accused of misdemeanors come to the justice system with more serious issues than occasional marijuana use. Yet there are opportunities for reform here, too. Instead of using jail as a default, courts can be much more aggressive in linking misdemeanor offenders to drug treatment, job training and mental-health counseling, for instance, addressing the kinds of problems that lead to more criminal behavior.

There is already solid evidence that this can make a difference. The Red Hook Community Justice Center was created in 2000 to expand the use of alternatives to incarceration for misdemeanor offenders in southwest Brooklyn. Each year the center links thousands of defendants to social services and community restitution projects in lieu of jail. An independent evaluation in 2013 by the National Center for State Courts documented that the project reduced the number of defendants receiving jail sentences by 35%. Over a two-year study period, adult defendants handled at the Justice Center were 10% less likely to commit new crimes than offenders who were processed in a traditional courthouse. Juvenile defendants were 20% less likely to re-offend.
The reductions in felony crimes over the last 30 years have been hailed around the world as “the New York miracle,” and credited with reducing fear and improving economic development. Today we are experiencing an ancillary benefit: The decline of felonies has created breathing room to give misdemeanors and the people who commit them the focus they deserve.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New BCS Group - Know Your Rights

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Today, we began a new pilot group for BCS participants called "Know Your Rights," run by BCS partner organization MFY Legal Services. MFY Legal Services is an organization that provides free legal assistance to vulnerable and underserved populations on a wide range of civil legal issues. Within that program, the MFY Re-entry Project provides free legal advice, counsel, and/or representation to people with criminal records who want to re-enter the workforce and seek security or other occupational licenses. Last July, MFY conducted a training in July on criminal records and employment for Bronx Community Solutions staff.

The "Know Your Rights" group held at BCS today taught participants about various legal issues they may be facing after receiving a criminal conviction with regards to getting a job, keeping a job, or attaining a particular professional designation. The first session was a success, and the group was very engaged and interested in hearing what the facilitator had to say. Seven participants stayed behind to seek voluntary, individual consultation with the facilitator.

Stay tuned for more about this in December when the second group is taking place!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

BCS Helps Out with Special Graffiti Cleanup in the 44th Precinct

BCS clients, crew supervisor and officers worked together on a special clean-up project in the 44th Precinct
BCS has worked with the Community Affairs Unit of the 44th precinct removing graffiti for over seven years. We have a day designated for graffiti removal which is every Thursday. Community Service Coordinator Moises Reyes always spread days of the month so we can work with most of the precincts from the Bronx so that all have a chance to remove graffiti with us.
Clients worked alongside officers to cleanup a local wall that had been covered with graffiti
On September 22,  we received a call from Officer Tejada of the 44th precinct Community Affairs Unit to see if we can help them remove graffiti on Wednesday 24. At first I had to tell them no, because graffiti removal is on Thursdays, not Wednesdays, and we wouldn't have enough participants but to my surprise I was told that it a special initiative from the Department and so officers will be helping with the removal of graffiti. In other words, they will be helping, working alongside with BCS clients and myself.

It was a good experience to see the two clients from BCS and the officers working together removing graffiti. Everyone got along - they were talking and laughing, and at the end of the day they all said thank you one another. One local resident walking by also said thank you to the group.
- Ramon Semorile, BCS Community Service Crew Supervisor
The wall before...
...And after!

Monday, October 06, 2014

BCS Hosts Community Advisory Board Meeting

               On Wednesday, September 17th, the Bronx Community Solutions’ Community Advisory Board met in the Bronx Criminal Courthouse. Present were representatives from the offices of the Bronx Borough President, Bronx District Attorney (Human Trafficking Division), Legal Aid Society, the Bronx Defenders, and The New York Police Department’s Bureau of Community Affairs. Also present was Veterans Affairs along with other Bronx Community Solutions partners Vertex and Bronx Life Recovery Center. The focus of this CAB meeting was to share with our partners the work that BCS has done in 2013.

            In 2013, almost 9,000 clients were referred to BCS with alternative sentencing mandates. Over 80% actually reported for intake which is a 78% increase from 2012. And 74% actually completed their court ordered mandates through BCS. BCS Adolescent Diversion Project (ADP) and our Mental Health Initiative had a 75% increase. Our AP8 (Human Trafficking Intervention Court) division also had a completion rate of 70%. BCS’s community service program saved the city over $478,000 and over 66,000 hours of work toward revitalization of neighborhoods across the Bronx.

            The star of the CAB meeting was Manual Larino and our DWI/DUI department, who in 2013 connected clients with providers such as Vertex and BLRC. Over 900 clients were referred for assessments and 85% of the clients successfully completed their mandated treatment. Kudos to Manuel and the DWI department! The BCS Community Advisory board will meet once again in six months and BCS looks forward to continuing to connecting with the Bronx community in this forum.
- Carmen Alcantara, Bronx Community Solutions Intern