Bronx Community Solutions staff picture 2013

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Success Story - Court Collaboration

Bronx Community Solutions is often able to provide special attention to cases that would otherwise be at risk of falling through the cracks of the criminal justice system. The following success story shows how BCS staff was able to collaborate with court system players to find a unique alternative to jail that helped one individual improve his life.


Throughout the years, Bronx Community Solutions has collaborated on various community-based precinct initiatives and special projects to promote favorable outcomes including alternatives to jail. Last month the request of one concerned citizen sparked a special interest in a case involving the 41st precinct and Bronx Community Solutions. Recently, our Community Initiatives Coordinator received a call from a Bronx precinct requesting assistance with a community member’s son, John, who was contemplating turning himself in to address four open warrants, two of which were for failing to complete community service.
In usual instances, judges defer to our written compliance recommendations attached to each warranted file which generally preempts the presence of a court representative. However, in this particular case, our court representative worked directly with the arresting officers to assess John’s full understanding of the gravity of the situation and his motivation to comply. While on the record, the attorney presented various factors as to why his client was now in a better position to comply with his mandate. The Bronx Community Solutions Resource Coordinator spoke on his behalf, informing the court of his strong community ties and promise of renewed motivation if granted an opportunity to reschedule. The courts were willing to hear this request, rescheduling his two community service mandates and granting an extension of time to pay his fines. The officers escorted the young man to our intake office and he was rescheduled. The officer’s last words to the client were, “you know, this normally does not happen so use this opportunity to make this one count.”

With the help of Bronx Community Solutions, the precinct was able to extend their influence to address the concerns of a parent and positively change the way a client viewed the police and the court system.
- Elizabeth Swan, Coordinator of Intake and Court Operations

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

BCS Completes ADP Mural Project

I am very excited to share that on Saturday, April 12 and Saturday April 19th, Adolescent Diversion Program community service participants, along with Youth Justice Board members, created a beautiful mural displayed on the wall of the BCS classroom space.

Back in November, I had a conversation with Nick Chung, who works with ADP on Staten Island as well as with the Youth Justice Board, about my hope to liven up the BCS classroom with artwork from ADP participants. Nick encouraged me to make it happen, and we decided to have ADP and YJB participants come together to transform the space where all BCS social service groups take place inside the Bronx Criminal Court.
Nick reached out to Ross Smirnoff, a New York artist who has experience as an art teacher and has worked with organizations such as Groundswell to create murals with teens. Once Ross was on board, Nick and I facilitated workshops with ADP and YJB to learn about murals, and brainstorm ideas for images and messages for the BCS mural.
Workshop participants were drawn towards imagery that represents the difficult choices teens are faced with, the challenges, pressures, and obstacles to choosing the “right” path, and the hope that teens hold for a bright future. Ross received the ideas of youth participants, taking in their feedback, and on Saturday, April 12th, we finally began painting!
The spirit of collaboration that got this project going was well reflected by the painting process, which was fun, energized, and cooperative! Some people even discovered their own hidden talents!
The project could not have been a success without the support of Nick Chung and Colin Lentz of Youth Justice Board, Moises Reyes and Justin Briggs of BCS community service, Ross Smirnoff for contributing his artistic talent and skills, and of course the youth participants who took ownership over the project and will leave this artwork as their mark at Bronx Community Solutions!

- Rebecca Stahl, Bronx Community Solutions Youth Justice Social Worker
The finished product!

Monday, April 21, 2014

BCS Facilitates Local Mural Project

BCS Community Service clients painting over graffiti
The finished product, a blank canvas
On April 10, on the first day after a harsh winter season, we started a project painting over graffiti on a barricade near the Bronx river. The goal was to have BCS community service participants paint over a graffiti-covered barricade so that volunteers from NY Cares, in partnership with DOT, could then create a beautiful mural on the site. This took place in the West Farm area of the Bronx, at East 180th Street and Devoe Avenue. Four BCS clients participated, along with myself and Coordinator of Community Service Moises Reyes.

NY Cares volunteers and the completed mural project!
All of the BCS clients worked with enthusiasm, especially when they saw how passers-by smiled in gratitude for their work. In my understanding they didn’t do community service -- they serviced the community.

- Ramon Semorile, Bronx Community Solutions Crew Supervisor

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mental Illness at Rikers Island

The New York Times recently published an editorial stemming from recently acquired statistics about the number of individuals incarcerated at Rikers Island who are experiencing mental illness.

You can read the article below, and linked here: The Mentally Ill, Behind Bars

The Mentally Ill, Behind Bars

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his new correction commissioner, Joseph Ponte, have inherited a city jail system in which nearly 40 percent of the 12,000 inmates have mental illnesses — up from about a quarter just seven years ago. Yet despite the stark shift, the system has not been redesigned to serve the complex needs of inmates with mental illnesses.
To remedy this shameful problem, the mayor and the commissioner need to focus on three areas: improving mental health care behind bars; ensuring that all mentally ill inmates are enrolled in Medicaid before they are released, so they have access to care and medication; and encouraging the growth of an important new program that steers mentally ill people who present no danger to the public into mental health programs instead of jail.
The full scope of this problem was outlined two years ago in a study of the city jails by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a research and policy group. The study found that inmates with mental disabilities cost three times as much as other inmates, and that their numbers were growing, even as the city jail population as a whole was declining.
The study also found that mentally ill inmates stay in jail nearly twice as long — an average of 112 days compared with 61 days — partly because the mentally ill have less money to put toward bail and fewer connections to family or friends willing to get them out.
The perils these people face behind bars are underscored by two recent cases involving mentally ill people who died while detained on Rikers Island, one of the largest jails in the country. A corrections officer was charged in March by federal prosecutors with violating the civil rights of a 25-year-old prisoner, Jason Echevarria, for refusing to help when Mr. Echevarria pleaded for medical care after swallowing the toxic contents of a soap packet in his cell.
The other case involved a 56-year-old man who was arrested on trespassing charges in February and died soon afterward. The inmate, Jerome Murdough, was being held in the mental-observation unit and was supposed to be checked every 15 minutes as part of a suicide watch but had been left alone for hours when he was found dead in his cell.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Remembering Alfred Siegel

Al Siegel was my mentor, friend and colleague .....he will be missed....
Maria Almonte-Weston (left), Alfred Siegel (right)

The BCS team of 2005 at our official opening ceremony; Alfred Siegel at left

Greg Berman, New York Law Journal

February 05, 2014

Alfred Siegel, the deputy director of the Center for Court Innovation, had a heart attack and died on Jan. 16 at the age of 62.
Those of us who were his friends and colleagues mourn the loss of a man who played a key role in building our agency and who was a daily source3 of humor, kindness and wisdom.
Over the years, Alfred helped to plan and implement numerous alternative-to-incarceration programs, community clean-up efforts, and youth development projects for the Center for Court Innovation. These programs, which include Bronx Community Solutions, Harlem Community Justice Center, Youth Justice Board and Queens Engagement Strategies for Teens, have provided thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers with pathways to a better life.
As keenly as we feel Alfred's passing at the Center for Court Innovation, his loss affects more than just our organization. Indeed, his passing is felt by the entire criminal justice community in New York.
Alfred's resume, which includes eight years as deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation and stints as an inspector general and assistant district attorney in the Bronx, only hints at the extent of his influence. Over the years, he repeatedly served as an important behind-the-scenes advisor to criminal justice reformers, both locally and nationally.
Sometimes this was formal, as when Governor David Paterson selected Alfred to serve on a statewide task force devoted to transforming the juvenile justice system in New York. More often, this was an informal process as numerous commissioners, elected officials, academics and non-profit executives sought out Alfred's insight and counsel.
Why did the great and the good beat a path to Alfred's door? It was because Alfred possessed a rare combination of qualities. He had the detailed knowledge of an inside operator and the vision and perspective of an outside observer. He understood the challenges that frontline judges, attorneys, probation officers and case workers face each day. And he also understood that the status quo is not good enough and that, with a little bit of cajoling, the justice system is capable of improving the way it serves victims, defendants and the general public.
At the risk of being reductive, this was what drove Alfred Siegel: a desire to make the justice system better. Unlike many people (even in the public interest sector), he was not motivated by money or public attention. An avid sports fan, he wanted simply to put points on the board, to help make a difference in the lives of real New Yorkers struggling to get by, to stay sober and to take care of their children. Lots of people talk about doing such things. Alfred was one of the rare few who actually delivered on this promise. The criminal justice system and the City of New York were just a little bit kinder and gentler as a result of his efforts. He will be missed.
Greg Berman
The author is the executive director
of the Center for Court Innovation

Friday, January 24, 2014

New Employment Readiness group at Bronx Community Solutions

A new study shows that nearly one third of American adults have been arrested by the age of 23. This record will keep many people from obtaining employment, even if they have paid their dues, and are qualified for the job and unlikely to reoffend. At the same time, it is the chance at a job that offers hope for people involved in the criminal justice system, as we know from research that state employment is an important predictor of successful re-entry and desistance from crime.                                                     Amy L. Solomon

In Search of a Job: Criminal Records as Barriers to Employment 

National Institute of Justice


With great excitement, Bronx Community Solutions launched its first employment-focused group, titled Employment Readiness in October 2013, for those who are court involved and actively seeking employment.


The psycho-educational group provides a supportive environment for discussion around the process of obtaining employment and identifying the barriers that individuals may face when they have been court involved. It is an opportunity for individuals to obtain important information on the intersection of criminal records and employment, discussing conviction outcomes, what employers may legally ask, and an individual’s rights to protect against job discrimination. The group additionally discusses resources for job placement, support or training, documentation needed for employment, and S.M.A.R.T. goal setting.


Upon completion of court mandate participants may obtain a referral to Employment Works, a job placement agency which exclusively serves individuals with criminal convictions. The collaboration between Bronx Community Solutions and Employment Works has enhanced Bronx Community Solutions’ ability to effectively connect clients with an organization that understands the specific needs of court involved individuals seeking  stable legal employment.

The need to secure stable employment for those with criminal justice involvement can be quite challenging; offering clients the support and opportunity to make strides in this area is clearly a goal of Bronx Community Solutions.

By: Megann Rogers,
Social Work Intern,
Facilitator for Employment Readiness group.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Tis the Season for Giving & Getting Back

Bronx Community Solutions first Community Impact zone was in the Summer 2008 at Timpson and St. John Avenue near the Bruckner Blvd. Community Impact is a unique type of community service project that provides a  faster response to  graffiti and sanitation issues. This section of the Bronx was plagued with many issues; abandoned cars, illegal dumping, prostitution, drugs and graffiti.   In collaboration with the 41st Precinct and several landlords in the neighborhood, BCS began cleaning and maintaining this area on a consistent base.
On November 7, 2013 Mike Stanton, manager of Hop Energy LLC., a fuel company located on 595 Timpson Blvd, met with Ramon Semorile, Crew Supervisor of the Graffiti Program, to share his gratitude for the work BCS has put into the community, especially his business which has being graffiti tagged a few times over the year. Ramon explained Bronx Community Solutions works in the community and these services are free of charge. He also explained that this is a community impact area and a waiver was signed by the previous landlords granting permission to remove the graffiti on several walls.

Community Impact is measured by its impact both in community’s perception and visual improvements and we feel that one of the huge indicators of this success is when Mr. Stanton wanted to show his gratitude by donating supplies to our program. “We donate small amounts of supplies about two to three times a year to at least four or 5 companies.  We appreciate.  Bronx Community Solutions and the work they provide. Our company will continue the relationship with Bronx Community Solutions”.

In the 8 years that Bronx Community Solutions has provided community service assistance to the many businesses, neighborhoods and organizations in the Bronx, this is the first time an agency has given back to us.  It is truly appreciated.
Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Red Hook Community Court is a success for defendants and taxpayers, study shows

kudos to our sister project, Red Hook Community Justice Center, for making headlines in the Daily News, in the research community and around the world.....
read the entire article here

Friday, November 08, 2013

Lessons From European Prisons

Here's a pretty interesting article from the New York Times Op Ed page.

In February, a group of American corrections officials, judges, prosecutors and public defenders spent a week visiting prisons in Germany and the Netherlands. Those countries incarcerate people at about one-tenth the rate of the United States, for far less time, and under conditions geared toward social reintegration rather than punishment alone.
A new report based on the group’s research suggests that European sentencing and penal practices may provide useful guidance in the growing effort to reform an American prison system buckling under its own weight.
The American and European systems differ in almost every imaginable way, beginning with their underlying rationale for incarceration. Under German law, the primary goal of prison is “to enable prisoners to lead a life of social responsibility free of crime upon release.” Public safety is ensured not simply by separating offenders from society, but by successfully reintegrating them. (click to read the whole article)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Winter Updates at Bronx Community Solutions

By: Marsha Brown,
Clincal Coordinator, Bronx Community Solutions.
October has brought a number of exciting things to the Bronx Community Solutions clinic.   On October 8th, a new specialized court part opened in the Bronx Criminal Court.   The designated court part (AP8) has been created to identify women and men, charged with prostitution offenses, who are commercially exploited or at risk of exploitation.  The goal of this court part is to provide linkages to services and assist defendants in moving forward and beyond the criminal justice system.

A BCS staff person is present in court to work with defendants and facilitate the court process.  Melissa Novock, BCS’s Prostitution Diversion Program Manager, works with clients in the court part by providing screening assessments, monitoring court compliance and linking defendants to supportive services.  Trauma-informed care is the main component, as a majority of defendants present with extensive trauma histories.

This new part is a collaborative effort of multiple court players.  In working together, a criminal sentence will reflect fairness along with providing meaningful interventions. 

The BCS clinic has other exciting news as well.  Our Youth Justice Social Worker, Rebecca Stahl, took her Masters of Social Work licensing exam on 10/7/13.  She passed with flying colors and is officially an LMSW!  Congratulations, Rebecca!

Also this month, our Community Resource and Programs Manager, Monica Garcia, has been working hard to connect with a number of community organizations in an attempt to establish additional partnerships between BCS and community providers.  She recently connected with The RISEProgram.  RISE, a part of the New York Re-entry Network, is a workforce development initiative of the Police Athletic League (PAL). The program connects court-involved adolescents (ages 16-21) to a variety of services, including job- readiness workshops, paid internship and externships, permanent job placements, and educational services. Clients also engage in weekly individual and group counseling and receive retention incentives.

We are excited for this new opportunity and look forward to working with The RISE Program to provide BCS clients with much-needed services.  We continue our search for other community providers and look forward to establishing additional partnerships in order to better serve our adolescent and adult populations.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bronx Reentry Working Group

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Service Enhancements at Bronx Community Solutions.

The BCS clinic is continuously working to develop new partnerships while strengthening existing relationships with community programs that provide our clients with diverse services, including educational, vocational, mental health, and temporary housing.  Currently, one of our most pressing needs is to establish connections with providers that can serve our adolescent clients, ages 16-19.

One of our staff members, Monica Garcia, has taken on the new role of Resource and Referral Program Manager, connecting with community providers and establishing formal linkage agreements.  One such provider was The DOME Project.  The Developing Opportunities through Meaningful Education (DOME) Project is a non-profit organization that specializes in working with economically, socially, and academically disadvantaged youth.  We were able to use this new linkage as a six month alternative-to-incarceration recommendation for a 17 year-old defendant facing jail time.

Monica has also worked to increase the employment services provided by long-standing BCS partner, Employment Works (EW), to whom we’ve referred 25 clients this year alone.  Currently, BCS and EW are working to develop a curriculum for a social service group that will focus on job-readiness and other employment-related issues.  The projected start date of this group is October 2013.
In July, Youth Justice Social Worker, Rebecca Stahl, and Pinkerton Fellow, Janer Cordero, implemented a new workshop for ADP community service:
“Bronx Community Solutions (BCS) has revamped its service learning projects by incorporating a “Community Awareness“ group that runs concurrently with the community service mandate for Adolescent Diversion Project (ADP) clients. The group is meant to complement the participants’ community service experience, and elucidate the pivotal role that a community has for personal development along with its capacity to serve as a preventive measure against crime. Another objective of this project is to highlight the responsibilities within a community that are designated on an individualistic, community, and institutional level, and demonstrate that the health of the community is interconnected with the health and actions of the individual. This group is meant to make community service more meaningful for the ADP population, and hopefully encourage a paradigm shift of the criminal justice system, their community, and consequently of themselves.”
By Pinkerton fellow: Janer Cordero
Finally, our STARS case manager, Melissa Novock implemented the first ever “Yoga: Pathway to Healing” free workshop in the courthouse:
“In Mid-July I created the following class: “Yoga: A Path to Healing” a transformative project created for survivors of trauma, specifically for women who are survivors of sex trafficking, prostitution, and intimate partner violence. The class is part of a social service group which focuses on tapping into what I call, “our awareness quotient.”  Participants can attend on a voluntary basis.   This practice provides the space where clients can find a sense of peace and alleviate some of their suffering.  They leave with a smile, standing a bit taller and saying things like, “Wow, I didn’t know we could do all of this, in a court building!” and “I am going to take this breathing practice with me so that when I feel angry or sad.”
"One client, who has been working with BCS for over 2 years, voluntarily came to several sessions.  She was "inspired" from our yoga classes; so inspired, that she even brought her Mother to join her!  Both women were happy to take the peace they gained from our sessions beyond the courtroom doors back to their community.”
By: Melissa Novock, STARS case manager
…..we are excited for all these new social service opportunities and partnerships. Bronx Community Solutions will continue to search for other community providers and establish additional linkages in order to better serve our adolescent and adult populations.
Marsha Brown, M. Phil
Clinical Coordinator, Bronx Community Solutions

Monday, August 05, 2013

"Mid Summer Community Service Dream"

As the Summer days quickly pass before our eyes... Bronx Community Solution's Community Service department continues to have an  impact in the community.  Below are just a few projects that have happened in July.


Love My Block/Step Street clean-up
by: crew supervisor Ramon Semorille

On Saturday, July 20th , I took five ADP participants to 187th street to paint the step street on Marion Avenue. When we got there I thought the day was going to be challenging, after all it was a hot 90 degree day.  But soon after we  started cleaning, the neighborhood residents spoke to the participants and thanked them for their work. This showed them how  importance  the work they did is.  Cynthia Thompkins, Marian Avenue neighborhood association president explained what the event was about and how important it was to take care of the neighborhoods where we live. T.K Singleton taught than how to plant flowers. We worked all day and enjoyed every minute of it. I will like to thank Moises, Matthew, Omar, Cynthia, T.K and Tiffany for the hard work they do in the community.

Health Fair Event by: crew supervisor Matthew Usher
On July 27th Bronx Community Solutions worked with Health First, World Changers Church New York, Metro-plus and The NYPD 46th precinct's to host a community health fair in the  University Height area. The event was held on Cresent Avenue and 188th Street( behind the historical Paradise theatre). The day was filled with kids playing and Bingo for the elderly.  The event was informative and extremely helpful to the community.  It united different cultures and generations, the volunteers seemed to be just as excited as those who attended the even

Graffiti Clean-Up with the 47th precinct
by: Coordinator of Community Service, Moises Reyes

On July 30, Youth Justice Social Worker Rebecca Stahl and Pinkerton Fellow Janer Cordero conducted a “Community Awareness workshop” for the ADP community service participants. The workshop allowed participants to explore the issues facing our communities, and ways they are able to create a positive impact on community. 

Afterwards Graffiti Supervisor, Ramon Reyes, Janer Cordero and myself went with the ADP participants to take part in a graffiti clean-up project, requested by NYPD 47th  precinct community affairs officers, PO  Fuentes and Gomez. At the end of the day, Officer Gome spoke with the crew about the importance of staying in school as a way to stay out of trouble, and as a pathway to career success. ADP participants had a rich afternoon of education, action, and reflection in our community, and enjoyed the opportunity to be part of an effort to create positive change. It was an awesome day! 





Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bronx Community Solutions does it's small part, to address a Big problem in the Bronx court house.

Since arriving in January, Justice DiMango has been an anomaly in the Bronx courts, where she is charged with clearing a backlog of felony cases that had swelled to crisis proportions. Her brash style and forceful personality, not to mention her relentless efficiency, have set her apart in a courthouse infamous for inaction.
In six months, she has churned through more than 500 cases, slashing by 40 percent the backlog of those over two years old, and leading senior court officials to declare a partial victory after years of failed efforts (read full article here)
While Bronx Community Solutions takes no credit for this victory, at the request of Justice DiMango, we have and  continue to make ourselves available on cases she deems appropriate for a community service disposition.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Staff Summer BBQ!

Last Friday, Bronx Community Solutions staff and interns enjoyed our annual staff picnic/BBQ to celebrate the summer. This year it was held on the rooftop of Via Verde, a new residential building complex in the Bronx where we have conducted community service projects in recent weeks. Staff brought their families and everyone had a great time! The rain that day chased us off the rooftop unfortunately, but a community room on the top floor of the building was available for us to set up food and drinks. It was great to unwind with the BCS family and toast to our hard work all year long. Enjoy some pictures from the event below.

Bronx Community Solutions cleans up!

Councilman Andy King with BCS Crew Supervisors Matthew and Moises
Last Wednesday, at the special request of District 12's newly elected councilman Andy King, Bronx Community Solutions embarked on a new initiative to clean under the elevated 5 train from Gunhill Road to 225th Street (in the northeast section of the Bronx). This block of train stops have been historically plagued with litter and garbage, and are a huge eyesore for the community. Bronx Community Solutions plans to keep this span of blocks on our regular community service rotation, maintaining the area to a higher standard of visible order.

Press was there to cover the cleanup event. Community service crew supervisor Matthew Usher was interviewed briefly by News12!
 Great job to Moises Reyes and the BCS Community Service team!!
- T.K. Singleton, Coordinator of Community Initiatives

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Bronx Community Solutions Participates in Re-Entry Resource Fair

On June 20, 2013, Bronx Community Solutions, in collaboration with the Bronx Re-Entry Task Force, participated in a Re-Entry Resource Fair held at Hostos Community College in the Bronx. The event was aimed at connecting organizations and service provider agencies with returning citizens, to discuss issues related to re-entry and provide them with valuable community resources. Below is a description of the Fair by an Intern of Bronx Community Solutions, who took part in the day's event.  

"I was recently able to attend the Bronx Reentry Working Group’s (BRWG) Third Annual Community Forum Resource Fair, and I can wholeheartedly state that the event was a success! The fair was comprised of multiple sections, and included a panel discussion from returning citizens who are now professionals within the human services field, informative introductions from organizations about the services that they provide, and savory lunches for everyone to enjoy. The panel discussion was especially moving because of the panelists’ candid honesty on the personal obstacles that they encountered after their release from incarceration. It was also inspiring to know that they were able to utilize their personal experiences as points of reference for their professional work despite the adversity that they faced."

"The speakers touched on the issue of juvenile justice, and its relationship to the Department of Education (DOE). They suggested that the DOE should employ initiatives geared towards the adolescent population that instill sentiments that are oppositional to criminal behavior, and that enforce the importance of educational advancement. Another highlight of the event was Nichole Singleton’s presentation of the Offender Reentry Awareness Program (ORAP), and her passionate emphasis on the essential role of the community for a returning citizen’s reintegration into society. A returning citizens’ relationship to their community can illuminate resources that can propel that individual’s academic or career endeavors, which can consequently affirm their identity, reinforce cultural norms, and hopefully deter further criminogenic behavior."

"During lunch, the organizations were able to interact with returning citizens to make assessments of appropriate referrals to services. It was a great way for reentry practitioners, community-based organizations, and policy makers to form potential collaborations and to meet with prospective clients that could help fulfill their missions and goals. The forum was also an effective method for returning citizens to build a robust and healthy support system, which is vital towards a successful reentry. In addition, the information that was provided during the forum helped the returning citizens to be abreast of the ever-changing regulations that pertain to the general equivalency diploma (GED), health-care systems, housing, and other policies concerning individuals involved with the criminal justice system. Special acknowledgements should be given to Health People for making the event possible and for providing compensation to acquire the locale, Metrocards, and food."

- Janer Cordero, Bronx Community Solutions Pinkerton Fellow