Thursday, July 26, 2012

Groundswell Mural Design

This past Tuesday afternoon, I joined other Justice Center staff and community members in a classroom at PS/IS 323 in Brownsville to listen and watch the participants in Groundswell's making His'tory project present their mural design. This all-male group has spent the past month researching their topic and crafting a design grounded in their own experiences as young men living in this neighborhood, but one that is relevant for the all.

The group surprised me and I think they surprised themselves by creating an image that embraces the past, present, and future, invites reflection, and suggests continually changing possibilities and reinvention.   I won't ruin the surprise, but stay tuned, and keep your eyes on developments at the site at 512 Rockaway Avenue for an amazing piece of public art for the entire community.

-Benjamin Smith, Program Coordinator

Friday, July 20, 2012

A New Approach to Combating Gun Violence in Brownsville

On July 17, 2012 members of the NYPD, KCDA, US Attorney and local service providers came together to spearhead the Brownsville Violence Reduction Initiative. The centerpiece of the Brownsville Violence Reduction Initiative model are call-ins-- forums convened by the program to be attended by high-risk parolees released to the Brownsville community. The parolees will be those considered to be at high-risk and also perpetrators and/or victims of gun violence. The forums will be held in a location of civic importance, like a church or library. The meeting will take place in a roundtable setting, where everyone is on equal footing and where the opportunity for interplay and connection will be enhanced. Each call-in will bring together as many as 20 individuals at a time, along with representatives of the community, service providers, and law enforcement.  The first scheduled call-in will take place on August 9th.

The message that will be delivered at the meetings will be three-fold: that the individuals in the room will be closely watched, that further violence is unacceptable, and that help is available to anyone who chooses to avail themselves of it. Importantly, this message will be delivered by both justice system personnel and community leaders.  In addition, ex-offenders who have turned away from crime will be recruited to talk about how they have changed their lives. The goal is to work in partnership with law enforcement, social service providers and the community itself to bring gun violence to an end.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mural Restoration in Betsy Head Park!

Across the country, July 16-21, 2012 is "Probation, Parole, and Community Supervision Week" (more information here), including in New York City. You can see the Mayor's Proclamation, officially making it so, here.

Yesterday, Wednesday, July 18, 2012, the New York City Department of Probation held community engagement and benefit activities across the five boroughs as part of Probation Week.  Here in Brooklyn we partnered with the Brownsville NeON, the Center For Community Alternative's East New York Justice Community Program, Ralph "TATU XMEN" Perez, of Xmental and the Paint Straight program (read about it here, here, and here), and the NYC Parks Department to rehabilitate a mural in Betsy Head Park.

Betsy Head Park is a large, centrally located recreation area for the entire Brownsville community with basketball courts, athletic fields, and a pool, where our Justice Community program has done several prior cleanup, maintainance and horticultural projects. The goal of this project was to repaint the existing, original mural design, covering a wall several hundred feet long, which had become badly deteriorated over many years since it was originally installed.

Despite the intense heat the day of the event, almost 100 people, including probation staff and probationers, friends and family, Justice Community program participants and staff, staff from the Brownsville Youth Court, artists from Xmental, and participants from the Paint Staight program, all came out to work on the project.  Thanks to all who participated in making the event a success.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Brownsville Youth Court Turns One Year Old!!!

On June 14, 2012, The Brownsville Youth Court celebrated its one year anniversary. The Brownsville Youth Court began hearing cases on May 12, 2011. The Youth Court hit the ground running as our members have; collectively, logged more than 3100 hours of service, heard 175 cases and we have achieved a ninety-percent compliance rate. Word of our good work has quickly spread throughout the Brownsville community and greater Brooklyn.
Over the past year, we have received 450 applications for our past three competitive law internship programs. We have invited 107 teens into our training classes and selected 39 to serve in our first and second cohorts combined. We have built strong partnerships with our referral sources and received an outpouring of support from community organizations.

Also, the day included the induction of our third cohort into the Youth Court, which is made up of ten Brownsville residents and three East New York residents. These young individuals successfully completed a month of training and will serve on the Court for the next 6 months.

James Brodick, Project Director of The Brownsville Community Justice Center

Brownsville Youth Court Alumni: Ashia Barnes and Richard Perez

Alumni, Linda Armstrong and Ashia Barnes sharing their Youth Court experience with everyone.

Viola D. Greene-Walker, District Manager for Community Board 16,
kindly swore in our newest members.

Our third cohort of members being sworn in the Court.

Brownsville Youth Court Visits City Hall

On February 23, 2012, Brownsville Youth Court members visited City Hall to meet with Councilman Jumaane Williams and staff from both his and Councilman Charles Barron's offices. Councilman Williams took time to speak with Youth Court members about the city political process, issues of gun violence, police interactions and education. Youth Court members were then given a tour of City Hall and had the opportunity to meet other Council members.

Friday, July 13, 2012

BCJC and Groundswell Partner for Summer Mural Project!

The Brownsville Community Justice Center is partnering with Groundswell on a summer mural project.

Groundswell brings together artists, youth, and community organizations to use art as a tool for social change. Their projects beautify neighborhoods, engage youth in societal and personal transformation, and give expression to ideas and perspectives that are underrepresented in the public dialogue.

This summer, Groundswell’s inaugural Making His’tory team, made up exclusively of young men, will reclaim the male identity. Inspired by the work of the Brownsville Community Justice Center, these remarkable teens will create a mural outlining the complex challenges faced by young men today and illustrate how these obstacles might be overcome through our shared attention to real solutions. With a monumental wall in Brownsville as their canvas, these emerging artists will create a new vision of all that can be possible for young men today.

What is the Brownsville Community Justice Center?

Currently in the planning phase, the Brownsville Community Justice Center seeks to reduce crime and the use of incarceration in Brownsville while at the same restoring local faith in the justice system.

The Justice Center is dedicated to building multiple off-ramps for local residents who come
into contact with the justice system. The Justice Center will provide much-needed educational, occupational, social, and health services at nearly every stage of the justice process, from arrest to prosecution to sentencing to aftercare. No matter how someone encounters the Justice Center—whether it’s a case diverted from prosecution or a
mandate from a judge or an individual returning from incarceration—the goal is the same: to provide the kind of services and support that individuals need to become law-abiding members of society. In performing this work, the Brownsville Community Justice Center will build on the track record of community courts in Red Hook, Midtown Manhattan, Harlem, and the Bronx that have been documented to reduce local crime, enhance public confidence in government, and reduce the use of jail sentences.

The Challenge

Located in central Brooklyn, Brownsville has not experienced the same public safety gains
that the rest of New York City has enjoyed over the past 20 years.
Brownsville has
the highest concentration of public housing of any neighborhood in the country, with more
than 18 different developments. In recent years, it has also earned the distinction of being the most violent neighborhood in the city as well as the neighborhood with the most stop-and-frisk encounters.

The Idea

Responding to these conditions, the Brownsville Community Justice Center will be a neighborhood based court that will work with a variety of justice system-involved populations, including individuals with low-level criminal and family court cases, probationers, and parolees. When fully operational, the Justice Center will be
an official branch of the New York State Court System, with a full-time judge dedicated to
the project. The judge will have a broad array of community-based sanctions at his disposal,
including community service, drug treatment, job training, and counseling. The idea is to link
individuals to the services and supports they need to avoid becoming recidivists. In addition to a courtroom that will emphasize solving problems, the Brownsville Community Justice Center will make a major investment in crime prevention.