October 4, 2016

How a community justice center works

Center for Court Innovation

The Brownsville Community Justice Center has begun to implement programs to enhance the quality of life in the community.

Alternatives to Incarceration: Supported by an in-house clinic of social workers and case managers, the Justice Center provides judges in Kings County Criminal Court with a broad range of alternative sentencing options, including short-term social services, community restitution, psycho-educational groups sessions, and more intensive, longer-term clinical interventions for young offenders age 16-24 living or arrested in Brownsville. Clinic staff also receive referrals from the Department of Probation, Crossroads juvenile detention facility, the Office of Children and Family Services, and community-based organizations.

Probation: The New York City Department of Probation has a team of probation officers in Brownsville as part of the Neighborhood Opportunity Network initiative. As part of this effort, the Brownsville Community Justice Center is working to connect men and women between the ages of 16 to 24 who have been in contact with the criminal justice system in the last 12 months to resources such as GED and college assistance, internships, and professional training. In addition, participants complete community benefit projects, including several large-scale mural projects and assisting with the construction of a community teaching garden.

Youth Court: The Brownsville Youth Court trains young people to hear actual cases involving their peers, such as assault, truancy, graffiti, and fare evasion. Instead of going through the traditional justice system, young people appear before the youth court where they are given sanctions meant to repair the harm their actions caused and are linked to local services to help them avoid further contact with the justice system. Each year, the youth court handles more than 100 cases and trains more than 60 young people. More than 90 percent of the participants complete their sanctions—community restitution, letters of apology, links to social services—as ordered.

Fighting Gun Crime: With support from the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance and the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Brownsville Community Justice Center is working to combat gun and gang violence in Brownsville with the Brownsville Anti-Violence Project. Through a series of monthly “call-in” forums, the Anti-Violence Project brings together recently released parolees, law enforcement, justice agency representatives and key community players to send a message that violence is not acceptable. Additionally, the Anti-Violence Project, with the guidance of a youth and community advisory board, has launched a public education campaign that challenges destructive norms and behaviors that contribute to gun and gang violence in the community. In the first two years of the project, 421 parolees attended the meetings; only 11 have been re-arrested for gun-related offenses, and none for shootings.

Reimagining Public Space: In an effort to address high rates of violent crime, the Brownsville Community Justice Center engages local businesses and the community to reimagine and redesign distressed public spaces and promote public safety. In 2014, the Justice Center launched the Belmont Revitalization Project, which aims to transform Belmont Avenue in Brownsville into a thriving business district that is safe, accessible, and welcoming to the community. 

Learning Lab: The learning lab is an on-site computer room developed in partnership with the New York City Police Department to address a pressing need for educational support and workforce development amongst young people in Brownsville. The lab offers drop-in and scheduled programming to help participants improve their reading and writing abilities, critical thinking, and other skills.

Community Service: Supervised work crews are repairing conditions of disorder in Brownsville. Projects include park clean-ups, graffiti removal, and responses to other neighborhood eyesores that are reported by community residents—maintaining Pitkin Avenue, cleaning up Betsy Head Park, and working at community gardens.

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