Thursday, August 30, 2012

Can we "green" our way to safer communities?

Newark Youth Court members giving back to their community

Community courts like Newark Community Solutions and the Red Hook Community Justice Center lean heavily on community service to help offenders undue the harm they've done. But community courts also build civic pride by inviting adult and youth volunteers to join our community cleanup and beautification activities as well. But are there other benefits?  In a new study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, suggests interesting answers to that question. Researchers found that vacant lot greening was associated with residents’ reporting less stress and more exercise in select sections of the city. The study also suggests that once greened, vacant lots may reduce certain crimes and promote some aspects of health.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Community Service Video Diary

Newark Community Solutions (NCS), the Greater Newark Conservancy (, and Newark's Office of Sustainability ( have partnered with residents to turn Newark’s "Adopt-A-Lot" sites, vacant lots leased by individuals and community groups for $1 dollar a year, into the pride of the City. Volunteers, with the help of offenders sentenced to perform community service, clear the locations of debris; plant flowerbeds and help transform once neglected eyesores into community gardens and urban farms.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Newark Community Solutions – Saving one life at a time

So far, I’ve tried to explain how Newark Community Solutions works in broad terms.  But how does that translate on the ground.  Do we actually help fix real people’s lives?

Here’s one story of how NCS can use a sentence to help change a person’s life: 

Sara Davis (I’m not using her real name) is a 48-year-old U.S. Army veteran, who served six years of active duty.  Like so many other vets, Sara found the transition to civilian life difficult.  Sara came to the attention of Newark Community Solutions when she was arrested and brought to court on a warrant – for $800 of unpaid fines that she had been sentenced to pay for an earlier drug conviction.   This time, with NCS in place, things were different.  Rather than one more fine that would inevitably lead, first, to nonpayment and, finally, more jail, the judge sentenced Sara to seven days with Newark Community Solutions.  Sara’s sentence included social service counseling, including a referral to the G.I. Go Fund for veteran specific services, as well as two days of community service with the Newark Downtown District – Newark's downtown business improvement district.   The judge also instructed Sara to write a letter to her teenage self.   
After her first day of community service, staff at the Downtown District called NCS to praise Sara’s work ethic.  After the second day, they encouraged Sara to apply for a job with them.  When Sara returned to court to read her letter to herself out loud, the judge, police, defendants and the audience listened with rapt attention as she also told the court about her job interview.  Ultimately, Sara was offered the position and has started her new job – and her new life.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Newark Community Solutions 101 – So . . . what exactly is Newark Community Solutions?

Newark Community Solutions uses the power of the justice system, positively and proactively, to help solve local problems.  NCS works with traditional justice system players, like judges and prosecutors and defense lawyers; and with outside stakeholders such as residents, shopowners, churches, and schools.  In addition, NCS tests new and preventive approaches to public safety rather than merely responding to crime after it has occurred.  Newark Community Solutions builds its community justice principles into the main Newark Municipal Court, serving the entire city of 285,000. 

Newark Community Solutions first assesses each defendant’s circumstances – drug problems, unemployment, education issues – and based on this assessment, recommends alternative sentence options to the court, so that the judge can mandate the offender to a sentence tailored to his or her risks and needs. 

NCS has created a wide range of social service and community service projects, partnering with a number of community-based agencies.  The idea (and hope) is that if community service or social services are easily available and closely supervised, judges, prosecutors, defenders and defendants will choose those alternative sentences instead of relying on fines or jail.  Very little is gained by sentencing offenders to fines they can’t pay, by locking them away for a few days or by ignoring the underlying social problems that contribute to their offending.  In fact, these typical sentence outcomes can sometimes make things worse.

With Newark Community Solutions, defendants perform community service to repair the harm they’ve caused, while also getting the help needed, through social services and counseling, to get them back onto a productive track.  And NCS wants to make sure defendants finish what they’ve started, so we’ve developed rules and procedures to make sure that offenders complete the sentence they’ve received and don’t end up in jail, picked up on a warrant for noncompliance.

Monday, August 20, 2012


Hi, my name is Jethro Antoine, and I’m the project director of Newark Community Solutions – an ambitious community justice program based in Newark’s municipal courthouse.  This post is the first of what I hope will be an ongoing conversation between our project and you.

Newark Community Solutions is an initiative of Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s administration, in partnership with the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts and the nonprofit Center for Court Innovation.  The project also receives support from the Newark Municipal Council, and on-going help from the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and Newark’s Center for Collaborative Change.

For more than a year, Newark Community Solutions has worked to connect offenders with social services that can get them back on the right track and community service so they can clean up the damage they’ve caused to neighborhoods.  Combining help with accountability, rather than the usual court response of fines or jail (or both), lies at the heart of the community court model.  In the program’s first year, more than 1,000 offenders were sentenced to Newark Community Solutions.  The vast majority of these offenders have successfully completed their sentences, receiving counseling and therapy and contributing thousands of hours of community service – cleaning up vacant lots, restoring neighborhood parks and working in soup kitchens.

In the coming weeks, we’ll tell you more about Newark Community Solutions with the hope that it will inspire you to help us make justice work for Newark.

By the way, a couple of bits of housekeeping:  First, when we talk about our work, we sometimes refer to Newark Community Solutions by its initials, “NCS”; so, from time to time, I’ll do that in our blog, too.  

Also, if you want more information, please check out our webpage:  We’re also launching a Facebook page and a twitter feed (@NewarkCS).  We hope you’ll follow us those ways, too.