Thursday, December 5, 2013

NYC Mayor-Elect Announces New Police Commissioner In A Community Court

Yesterday at a press conference held in the Red Hook Community Justice Center, our sister project in Brooklyn, New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio announced that William Bratton will be the new commissioner of the New York Police Department. De Blasio chose the Red Hook Community Justice Center as the setting to make the announcement to emphasize the importance of community collaboration.“The fundamental idea” behind the Red Hook Community Justice Center’s work, de Blasio explained, is that “the way to fight crime... is with the community. This has been epitomized here to great, great effect, and that idea animates... my entire view of public safety and how we have to move forward as a city.”

The mayor-elect cited results from a recent independent evaluation, noting that 78 percent of the cases heard at the Red Hook Community Justice Center received alternative sanctions, including community service or social service mandates. He also noted that the Center has reduced the number of offenders receiving jail sentences by 35 percent. The study also found that the Justice Center helped reduce recidivism among both juvenile and adult defendants.

According to Mayor-elect de Blasio, “Public safety and respect for the public are not contradictory ideas; they are complimentary ideas. They go hand in hand."

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanksgiving Community Service Recap

The amazing kindness of Newarkers, both young and old, was on full display last Thursday at New Hope Baptist Church. You haven’t been “put to work” till you've been issued a ladle, apron and gloves by the folks who make New Hope’s Food and Shelter Ministry possible. We thank them for the wonderful work they do 365 days a year and for allowing the Newark Youth Court and Newark Community Solutions to be a small part of that work.

New Hope's Food and Shelter Ministry is a also a community service partner of Newark Community Solutions. Adults who receive a sentence of community service at the Newark Municipal Court, instead of a fine or jail, are sent by Newark Community Solutions to complete their community service obligations at community-based projects like New Hope's food pantry.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Newark Teens Dedicate Themselves to Community Service on Thanksgiving

The Newark Youth Court members, trainees, and staff invite you to join them for a Thanksgiving community service activity at New Hope Baptist Church in the Central Ward. The teens and other volunteers, working under the watchful eye of New Hope’s food and clothing ministry team, will help prepare a Thanksgiving meal for the most vulnerable members of our community.  New Hope’s commitment and dedication to serving the community is not limited to the holidays. The church operates a soup kitchen that provides a hot meal to more than 75 people a day. The soup kitchen is also a partner of Newark Community Solutions, allowing offenders sentenced to perform community service on municipal court matters to give back to the community as well! If you’re interested in lending a hand, see the details in the flyer to the right.

The Newark Youth Court trains teenagers to serve as jurors, judges and advocates, handling real- life cases involving their peers. The goal of the Newark Youth Court is to use positive peer pressure to ensure that young people who have committed minor offenses restore harm done to the community and receive the help they need to avoid further involvement in the justice system. The Newark Youth Court   hears a range of low-level offenses referred by the Newark Police Department, the Newark Municipal Court and Newark Public Schools. The majority of cases that come to the Newark Youth Court are for truancy, simple assault (fighting) and disorderly conduct. The Newark Youth Court is part of Newark Community Solutions. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Help Us Make the Holiday Season Brighter for Newark Families

It’s that time of year again! It’s time to start thinking about the Holiday Season and for Newark Community Solutions and our amazing partners that means preparing for our Third Annual Holiday Gift Drive and Wrap Party. But first we want to thank you. Last year we received overwhelming support from Newark Municipal employees as well as several local organizations. As a result of your generous donations, we provided gifts to 150 Newark kids!

This year we have partnered with Wynona's House, a Newark nonprofit dedicated to promoting justice and healing for child victims of violence and abuse. Donated gifts will be matched up with a Newark child's "wish list" and then wrapped by volunteers. All surplus donations of toys and clothing will be provided to the St. Antoninus R.C. Church, 337 S. Orange Avenue, Newark, NJ, for distribution to local families in need.

Individuals and departments can get involved in several ways including:
  • Gift donation
  • Donation of wrapping paper, tape, ribbons and bows
  • Volunteer to wrap and package gifts at the Wrap Part
  • Donation of snacks and drinks for volunteers

This year our “Wrap Party” will take place at 11:00am on Saturday, December 14th in Room B-29 of Newark City Hall. If you want to get involved, please send an email to and let us know what you can do. Together, we can help make a difference for Newark's families this holiday season.

Our Blog As A Word Cloud

A "word or tag cloud" is a graphical representation of how frequently words are used. In most examples the relative sizes of the words are correlated with the frequency of their use in the document, speech or as in the example to the left, our blog posts from the last year.

A few very bright folks, like New York Times “senior software architect and news hacker” Jacob Harris and “Big Web Show” host Jeffrey Zeldman, don’t think much of word clouds.  As far back as 2005, Zeldman famously referred to them as “mullets of the Internet”I agree with Harris. If the goal is telling a complex story, word clouds are a poor choice. They're divorced from the underlying narrative and require explanation to reveal context. Thankfully, the people who run community justice projects like the Harlem Community Justice Center, the Midtown Community Court, Bronx Community Solutions, the Red Hook Community Justice Center are writing about court and community-based innovations that help transform the lives of offenders, improve public safety and increase the public's confidence in the courts. You can learn more by following the links listed under "Blogs we follow" or visiting the Center for Court Innovation website.

But if you’re interests are limited to word usage, a word cloud is worth a shot. Besides, they look pretty snazzy on a t-shirt.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Greening Our Community II

In a post from earlier this year, we reported that gardeners at our Community Advisory Board meeting noticed that their beautification efforts were having a positive impact on attitudes and perceptions of public safety among their neighbors.  Well, several research studies suggest there might be more to this than the personal opinions of our amazing community partners.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Join us for our December 2013 Community Advisory Board Meeting

Please join us on December 4th at 6:00 PM in Room B29 (Lower Rotunda) in Newark City Hall for our last Community Advisory Board meeting of 2013. 

For our final meeting of the year, we have an exciting agenda planned. Josephine Hahn, from the Center for Court Innovation, will be joined by several community surveyors to present the early findings from a research project they conducted this summer. The surveyors fanned out across the city to find out what residents felt about crime, the courts, police and issues that impact public safety. We will also hear from the Newark Youth Court about their experience planning two incredibly exciting community service projects! And, we’ll introduce the Newark United Against Violence (NUAV) team. NUAV is a violence-reduction initiative, created by the Newark Police department and the Office of Reentry. Newark Community Solutions is a key partner of the initiative and will provide outreach and case management resources. Team members will be on-hand to answer your questions about their work.

We would ask that you spread the word about the CAB meeting among your friends, neighbors and co-workers. Looking forward to your contributions and participation as we collaborate to make our community safer. 

See you on December 4th!!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Helping Homeless Military Veterans Part II

In my last post, I wrote about how local organizations that serve military veterans were helping the most vulnerable get the services they need. The event in Newark was called a “Stand Down”. Stand down, as a military term, is the process of pulling out exhausted soldiers from the battlefield to a place of relative safety to rest and recover before returning to fight. The concept of using a “stand down” to help connect homeless military veterans to social services shares a history with the problem solving court movement. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Helping Homeless Military Veterans Part I

Last month, for a second year in a row, Newark Community Solutions joined the G.I. Go Fund and other organizations that serve homeless military veterans for the Veterans Stand-Down at Newark’s John F. Kennedy Recreation Center. During the event, veterans received haircuts, photo ID cards, medical checkups and HIV testing, as well as counseling and information support groups about employment services, state and federal VA benefits, substance abuse programs, vocational rehabilitation, recovery programs, and hospice care. Veterans were also provided lunch cooked by New Jersey Army National Guard. Afterwards, they were given a full range of Army surplus and civilian winter clothing, including boots, underwear, ski caps, pants, and personal toiletries. Newark Community Solutions staff were on hand to help veterans address outstanding Municipal Court matters.  The GI Go Fund, a non-profit organization founded in 2006 that has been recognized for its unique and innovative solutions to addressing the homeless veteran population and Stand Down of North Jersey Inc, organized the event.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

NJ Fugitive Safe Surrender - Helping non-violent fugitives set things right

From November 6-11, hundreds of volunteers, judges, court administrators, attorneys and non-violent fugitives with outstanding warrants will gather in Jersey City for the states 5th Fugitive Safe Surrender initiative. The four-day program will allow United States citizens with open warrants in New Jersey to appear in front of a judge, receive "favorable treatment", and remove their fugitive status.  FSS is not an amnesty program.  The typical outcome for most participants is a reduction in their fines or probation.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Community Surveys: Determining Public Perceptions of Courts

This summer researchers from the Center for Court Innovation and thirteen surveyors, all residents of Newark, fanned out across the City to ask Newarkers what they think about issues in their neighborhoods and their views on the police and courts.  Researchers worked with the community members to identify the best places to conduct the surveys and they briefed the commanding officers of Newark’s Police precincts before setting out. The surveys were conducted, over six days,  at multiple public locations throughout Newark (e.g., parks, in or near housing complexes, shopping areas, churches, libraries and universities). The results will be shared in a report and at an upcoming NCS Community Advisory Board Meeting later this year.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

2013 Law Day in Newark

Last week Newark Youth Court members showed off their mock trial skills at the Newark Municipal Court’s annual Law Day event, State of New Jersey v. Junior N. Nocent-? It was the second year our Youth Court was invited by the Newark Municipal Court to participate in Law Day. Law Day is an annual nationwide celebration of the impact and importance the legal profession in American society.  Volunteer attorneys from Newark Law Department, led by Chief of Staff Angela Foster, coached the youth court members and prepared them for the mock trial.  The Judge Victoria F. Pratt gave the welcome address and Judge Richard E.A. Nunes, Chief Judge of the Newark Municipal Court, presided over the mock trial, while Youth Court members served as bailiff, attorneys, witnesses and members of the jury.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Community Advisory Board Meeting – "Greening our Community" Part 1

Last week the Newark Community Advisory Board held its first meeting of the year at the Center for Law and Justice at Rutgers-Newark. The evening kicked off with a rousing welcome form Judge Victoria Pratt (“the Community Court Judge”) and a review of Newark Community Solutions’ 2013 Annual Report. But the highlights were the updates from several community gardeners in the City’s Adopt-A-Lot program. Since 2012, Newark Community Solutions has partnered with Adopt-A-Lot, the Greater Newark Conservancy, and the Newark Community Garden Coalition to help offenders complete their community service obligations. The typical Newark Community Solutions participant receives a court sentence which includes social services and community service in lieu of paying a fine. Adopt-a-Lot owners, all of whom are Newark residents, lease vacant lots from the City for one dollar a year with the promise of improving the land as a community garden or urban farm. Newark Community Solutions’ participants work with these gardeners by clearing debris and preparing the planting beds.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Young Artists and Newark Youth Court Create A Mural To Inspire Adults

Community courts connect courts, law enforcement, local organizations and the community in the effort to solve problems and broaden our perceptions of what collaboration can achieve. At Newark Community Solutions, we make every effort to incorporate young people into that dynamic. For example, the Newark Youth Court works with the Newark Municipal Court Truancy Program, the Newark Police Department and Newark Public Schools to help steer young people away from misbehavior and low-level offending.  Youth courts train teenagers to serve as jurors, judges and attorneys, handling real-life cases involving their peers. The goal of youth court is to use positive peer pressure to ensure that young people who've committed minor offenses learn accountability and repair the harm caused by their actions.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Community Service Diary: A Great Community Partner

NCS staffers Raul, Janet and Johnathan with Sid Walters (middle) from Bethel.

A community justice initiative, like Newark Community Solutions, by definition will only succeed with the support of strong community partners. One of our best is Bethel Family and Youth Resource Center.  In addition to providing community service opportunities, they offer substance abuse treatment services for some of our participants. Pastor Reginald Osborne and his wife Marian Osborne, the operators of Bethel, have committed decades to serving the community. So, back in 2007, we were understandably thrilled that Pastor Osborne and other community and religious leaders stepped forward to lend us a hand while we planned the project that would become Newark Community Solutions. Six years have passed and the Osborne’s are helping our participants achieve their goals.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Postscript -"What Works Summit:(Re)Building Trust Between Community and Police"

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of participating in the “What Works Summit: (Re)Building Trust Between Communities and Police” here in Newark. The event, sponsored by the Center for Collaborative Change (CCC), brought together academics, advocates and law enforcement agencies to consider how poor urban communities are harmed by a lack of trust in law enforcement and to explore best practices that address the problem.  The event was chock-full of impressive panelist, highlighted by Connie Rice, civil rights attorney and author of “Power Concedes Nothing: One Woman's Quest for Social Justice in America, from the Courtroom to the Kill Zones” and David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Ms. Rice mesmerized the audience with her account of a career advocating for “bus riders, death row inmates, folks abused by police, school kids, whistle-blowers  cops and sufferers of every stripe of discrimination.”   

Professor Kennedy is perhaps best known for creating two of the most effective and innovative violence reduction responses of the last 20 years including: the Boston Gun Project, a problem-oriented policing initiative expressly aimed at taking on homicide victimization among young people in Boston; and the Drug Market Initiative, a strategic problem-solving initiative aimed at permanently closing down open-air drug markets. David’s presentation laid out in stark relief how our fixation on measuring violent crime nationally has blinded us to the realities on the ground. So, although we have succeeded at national crime reduction, people don’t live “nationwide”. We live in communities and neighborhoods. And from 2000 to 2007, in poor neighborhoods in big, medium and small cities the homicide rate among young black men has increase by a third.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Drug Czar Visits the Community Court in San Francisco

R. Gil Kerlikowske (left), director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, visits Judge Lillian Sing at the Community Justice Center. Photo: Liz Hafalia, The Chronicle / SF

Last week, R. Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy visited the San Francisco Community Justice Center. The San Francisco Justice Center was inspired in part by the ground breaking work of the Midtown Community Court and the Red Hook Community Justice Center. Speaking (writing) as a member of the larger community court movement, I’m personally encouraged that decision-makers like the nation’s drug czar continue to recognize the accomplishments and the underlying potential of the community court model. Director Kerlikowske noted:

"Most courts around the country think people are arrested for a drug violation," he said. "We see district attorneys who say, 'Why put them into services? Let them do 30 days in jail. And then when they re-offend, let them do another 30 days.' Here you are seeing the nexus of the drug issue, which is that there are other problems, addiction and mental health. That is what is so impressive."

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