Tuesday, October 24, 2006


AUBREY FOX, BRONX COMMUNITY SOLUTIONS - After decades of cynicism about
rehabilitative approaches in the criminal justice system, in the last
fifteen years there's been a remarkable resurgence of creative court
experiments to address problems like drug addiction, mental illness,
juvenile delinquency and quality-of-life crime, as well as a new focus
on improving court-community relationships. . .

Problem-solving courts have been around since 1989 (when the first drug
court was created in Dade County, Florida), and they've reached a
particularly interesting crossroads: the approach is starting to attract
the attention of the traditional court system.

That's where Bronx Community Solutions comes in - it's an attempt to
take the best of problem-solving experiments and see if they can work in
a traditional court setting, as opposed to a stand-alone problem-solving
court. . .

So what have we learned after 18 months of implementing Bronx Community

I think the good news for other jurisdictions interested in adopting
problem-solving approaches in a traditional court setting (as opposed to
creating stand-alone specialty courts) is how much bang for your buck
you can get from relatively modest changes.

Most jurisdictions use community service as a sentencing alternative:
what we've done is add social service to the mix. Most jurisdictions
need to get through their arraignment calendar quickly: our method for
screening cases doesn't effect the speed at which the court gets its
work done. We also don't ask court players to abandon the adversarial
model, which means that the legal rights or defendants aren't being
sacrificed in the name of rehabilitation.

The two areas where we've dramatically changed (or are trying to change)
practice in the Bronx is by creating an in-house social service clinic,
staffed by a team of social workers making connections to
community-based agencies in the Bronx, and attempting to forge new links
between the courts and the community though a Community Advisory Board.
These are areas that require an up-front investment of time and money to
get right.

One final note: it's important to note that problem-solving court
projects like Bronx Community Solutions are not only about helping
low-level offenders. They are also about punishing them appropriately
and ensuring some accountability for communities hit hardest by
quality-of-life crime.

The ability to appeal to both sides of the ideological spectrum is
another advantage of problem-solving courts, but it also means we cut
against the grain of popular depictions of the criminal justice system
as too punitive. When you work in a large urban criminal court like the
Bronx, it's easy to be shocked by how little low-level crime gets
punished, not the opposite.

We think it's appropriate to expect that low-level offenders,
particularly those who are getting arrested again and again, can change
their behavior (with a little help from us) or at least "pay back" the
community through a court obligation like community service.



- All judges in the Bronx will have a broad set of sentencing options at
their disposal, including drug treatment, job training, family services
and mental health counseling.

- Offenders will be assigned to community service work in neighborhoods
throughout the Bronx. Project staff will work with residents and
community groups to create community service options that respond to
local problems (for example, trash in a local park or walls marred by

-By quickly assigning offenders to social service and community service
sentences, and rigorously monitoring their compliance, Bronx Community
Solutions will send the message that community-based sanctions are taken

- Bronx Community Solutions invites community groups and local residents
to play a number of concrete roles in ongoing operations, including
identifying hot spots and eye sores for community service projects, and
participating in a neighborhood advisory board.

Since the project began pilot operations in January 2005, nearly 4,000
individuals have been assigned to perform community restitution and
receive social services through Bronx Community Solutions. It is
expected that the program will handle upwards of 10,000 cases annually
when fully operational.


Solutions community service crew was about to embark on its toughest
challenge yet: helping the Mount Hope Housing Corporation haul a
dumpster's worth of garbage out of an heavily overgrown, formerly
abandoned lot. . . While Mount Hope was excited to get our help, we were
equally excited to have the opportunity to experiment with a different
model of community service. For the first time in the Bronx, we were
partnering with a local non-profit to assist in visible and tangible
efforts to improve safety and neighborhood quality of life. . .

But to our clients, this was a day of court-ordered community service.
They weren't sure what to expect, and mostly they were just hoping to
get their mandate done. A typical day of community service is light
work: mostly sweeping and picking up litter in public parks, sidewalks,
and streets. Today, we would be cleaning a formerly abandoned lot piled
high with trash. . .

After bagging a huge amount of trash and hauling it off the site, it was
obvious to everyone that we had really accomplished something. Although
they'd been skeptical at first, our clients were saying things like,
"I'm going to come back a year from now and make sure they finish this
project." "This is my neighborhood. I can't believe how much trash
people dump here. It doesn't feel right."

Many of the clients who worked the hardest also sought information about
job training and job placement programs like Urban Youth Alliance and
FEGS and we made sure to escort them to our clinic after the day was
over. We've learned that clients who show up and take their mandate
seriously are often good candidates for these programs.

Rejuvenating neglected and abandoned public space in the Bronx has a
special history. In the aftermath of wholesale disinvestment, the Bronx
has been rebuilt lot-by-lot and block-by-block, often by small
community-based organizations and groups of neighbors. .




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