Friday, September 21, 2012

A Fond Farewell to Summer

Since today is the last day of summer, I thought I'd take a moment to look back on what was an absolutely AMAZING summer for us here at Newark Community Solutions. With the help of wonderful partners like Newark Department of Neighborhood Service. Newark Sustainability Office and the Newark Conservancy we created a community service department that assigns and supervises offenders completing their community service throughout Newark.And so far it's been a phenomenal success! Our participants are excited to payback their community, sometimes in the very neighborhoods they were arrested.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Community Service Diary - Garside Street

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. The pictures above are from two gardens in Newark's North Ward.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pardon My Analysis

Coming of age, as I did in the 70's and 80's, comic books served as my door to “real books” and hip hop to a treasure trove of re-purposed jazz, R&B, and on occasion, sobering social observations.   So, like many of my generation, I came to understand that "the revolution will (would) not be televised” from Schoolly D's 1988 track” Treacherous" and not from the original –-poet/musician Gill Scott-Heron’s verse on the1970 album "Small Talk at 125th and Lenox".   But it has always been another, less notorious, Scott-Heron verse that stuck with me.   In 1974, he collaborated with flautist Brian Jackson on the album  "First Minute of a New Day".  On the song “We Beg Your Pardon (Pardon Our Analysis)”, Scott-Heron recites: 

“We beg your pardon America, we beg your pardon once again
Because we found out that seven out of every ten black men behind jail, and most of the men behind jail are black
Seven out of every ten black men never went to the ninth grade
Didn't have 50 dollars and hadn't had 100 for a month when they went to jail
So the poor and the ignorant go to jail while the rich go to San Clemente”

Yes, Scott-Heron’s numbers are off. I’m reasonably certain that most songwriters and poets don't spend their time verifying statistics. That being said, his point still rang true to a kid, like me, coming up in Brooklyn’s East New York and I imagine they do to young people today.  The uneducated, underemployed and homeless are whom we see in the lower courts.  And, unfortunately, forty years later, data supports Scott-Heron’s criticism.  In 2011, 29% of Newark Community Solutions participants reported being homeless, only 56% had a high school diploma/GED*, and most indicated they were unemployed or underemployed.  And more directly to Scott-Heron's point, many offenders come before our municipal courts simply because they fail to pay a small fine, sometimes as little as $50.

*According to the US Census, 89% of New Jersey residents and 69% of Newark residents have a high school diploma/GED.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Community Service Diary - Boys Park

Last Friday morning our Community Service Crew Supervisors and offenders cleaned Boys Park in Newark's Central Ward. Later in the afternoon, the rest of the Newark Community Solutions family, which includes the Newark Youth Court, joined some of our community partners and volunteers in an End-Of-Summer Field Day. So we loosened our ties (well actually only three of us had on ties) put on our sneakers and hula hoop-ed, egg-spoon raced, and tug-of-war-ed the afternoon away. More importantly, we spent an afternoon with some truly AWESOME kids and enjoyed a clean, safe public space. How about that! A great day made possible by spirited volunteers and court-mandated community service!!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Newark Community Solutions – What are we trying to do? (Part I)

Now that you’ve read about Newark Community Solutions in action, I thought it might be helpful if I explain what we are trying to achieve. In this post, I’ll focus on three broad goals we share with other community justice initiatives. In the future, I’ll discuss others that we developed with our court partners and the community.  So here goes…

When the topic of discussion rolls around to crime and justice, it probably will come as no big surprise to learn that Newark has the same concerns and preferences as other communities; we want to make our neighborhoods safer, we want an unbiased judiciary, and we want to improve relationships between police and courts.  

Make Newark feel safer: Decades of research clearly indicate that most communities are concerned with low-level “quality of life” and youth crime. So, in addition to working within the court system to develop effective and innovative judicial responses to low-level offending, NCS engages private citizens, merchants, churches and schools to work with law enforcement to develop strategies and responses that prevent crime before it starts.   

Improve the public's trust and confidence in justice: Recent studies demonstrate that all experiences with legal authorities, even relatively trivial interactions like those you might encounter in a municipal court setting, from the question asked of the police officer at the court entrance to the dialogue between offender and judge, are important and impact individual perceptions of trust and confidence in the justice system. So, it’s ultimately in the best interest of all justice stakeholders, including NCS, to encourage positive, respectful interactions between staff and the public.

Provide a greater sense of procedural fairness: Procedural fairness is a pretty interesting concept.  It states, in part, that an offender’s perception of  how their court matters were handled has a greater influence on their willingness to comply with the judges order than the actual outcome. So, despite what we might be inclined to believe, most offenders are not fixated on whether they “beat the rap.” They want a fair process. Tom Tyler, professor of law and psychology at Yale University and a leading authority on the study of institutional legitimacy, characterized four basic aspects of procedural fairness.

·         Voice – People want to feel like they have been given an opportunity to tell the court “their side” of the story.
·         Neutrality – People want to view judges as unbiased decision makers who will ultimately make decisions based on rules and not their personal opinions.
·         Respect – People want to feel like their concerns and issues are being taken seriously by the legal system.
·         Trust – Studies of legal and political authorities consistently show that the central attribute that influences the public’s perception of legal authority is how they view the character of the judge.

If you want to learn more about procedural fairness, please check out this presentation which Professor Tyler gave at the 2012 International Conference of Community Courts: