Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cy Vance in Harlem


Last night was another high water mark for the Harlem Community Justice Center. The reentry court graduated its latest class of parolees -- a group of 16 men and women who had successfully completed the program and made enormous strides towards getting their lives back on track. Before a standing-room-only crowd in the third floor courtroom, several graduates spoke eloquently about the obstacles that they had overcome and their gratitude toward the judge and their parole officers. I'm always struck at these events by the palpable warmth between the parole officers and the parolees. To my mind, Harlem's parole officers seem to strike the perfect balance: communicating that they care about their charges but also that they are watching closely for any deviations from the terms of parole. The keynote speaker last night was the newly-elected Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr. Vance spoke in personal terms about learning as a young prosecutor that treatment was often a better path than incarceration for certain offenders. Vance's appearance was a powerful symbol that he cares about more than simply prosecuting cases and that he is committed to making a difference in neighborhoods like Harlem. It was also an encouraging sign about the developing partnership between his office and the Center. So, all in all, a total home run of an evening. Kudos to Chris, John, Nigel and the rest of the Harlem team.