Monday, June 11, 2012

City Council Hearing


This morning, two committees of the New York City Council (juvenile justice and fire/criminal justice services) held a joint hearing devoted to looking at how youth courts are diverting young people out of the justice system. 

The hearing began with testimony by Ana Bermudez, the deputy commissioner of the New York City Deparment of Probation, who said that Probation had referred nearly 400 young people to youth court in 2011 and is on pace to exceed that number in 2012.  Bermudez went on to say that more than 90 percent of the referrals had completed their sanctions as ordered.

Bermudez was followed by a panel from the Center for Court Innovation that included several people whose lives had been touched by youth court.  This included a respondent from the Greenpoint Youth Court who became a member of the youth court after completing her sentence.  Her remarks were echoed by her mother, who said that she lacked the resources as a single mom to provide her daughter with the training and access to opportunities that the youth court could offer.  

In a similar vein, a youth court member from Brownsville testified that the youth court had helped her to grow as a person and become more civic-minded: "we are our brother's keeper," she concluded.

Sabrina Carter, who served as a youth court member in Red Hook in 2002 and now helps to oversee the program, talked about her aspirations to become a lawyer and stated that the "youth court opened up a whole new life for me."

When we started the Red Hook youth court more than 14 years ago, most of the cases were referred by local police precincts.  Today, the six youth courts we operate in New York City (Harlem, Red Hook, Greenpoint, Staten Island, Jamaica, Brownsville) receive most of their referrals from Probation.  The youth courts also handle select cases involving 16 and 17 year olds referred from Criminal Court as well; in this way, the youth courts are helping to support New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's push to rethink juvenile justice. 

Nancy Fishman, who oversees our youth justice work, testified about our efforts to work with former New York State Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye to spread the youth court model to schools as an alternative to suspension.  She also talked about the need to guard against net-widening and to document the impacts of youth court in a more thorough way.

Throughout the hearing, numerous City Council members expressed their support for youth court:

Sara Gonzalez, the chair of the juvenile justice committee: "Red Hook Justice [Center] has been a deterrent to crime in its neighborhood."

Daniel Halloran (R, Queens): "Congratulations on a great program.  Keep up the good work."

Fernando Cabrera (D, Bronx): "I'm shocked we don't have a youth court in the Bronx...I'm all for it."

I left the hearing feeling great about the track record we have developed with youth court as well as the prospects for future expansion.