By Colin Lentz, June 29 2011
On June 9th, I got to watch as the members of the Center for Court Innovation’s Youth Justice Board – all high school students -- presented their final report, titled Looking Forward: Youth Perspectives on Reducing Juvenile Crime in Brownsville and Beyond, recommending strategies for reducing youth crime in Brownsville, Brooklyn, to an audience that included Brownsville community leaders and residents, juvenile justice system stakeholders, and friends and family.
The Youth Justice Board is an afterschool program that brings together high school-aged youth from across New York City interested in working on a policy issue that affects them and their peers.
Members of the Board work in two-year cycles, spending their first year building relationships with organizations and individuals working on similar topics while gathering information for their recommendations. In the second year, these relationships can become true partnerships, allowing the Board to create and implement projects that, with the support of the partnering agency, will be that much more effective.
Last program cycle, for example, the Board studied the juvenile justice system in New York City. During the first year, one of the Board’s recommendations was that youth and their families needed more information about how the juvenile justice system works.
As a result, during the second year, the Board worked with the Department of Probation and the Center for Urban Pedagogy to create I Got Arrested! Now What?, a comic book with information for youth and their families about how to navigate the juvenile justice system and achieve the best possible case outcomes. The Department of Probation now distributes the comic book at all of its intake sites.
This year, the Justice Board studied youth crime in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and made its recommendations first to Brownsville community leaders, and then to New York City leaders on June 9th. The event featured a keynote address from Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes and press coverage from the New York Law Journal, both testaments to the merit of the recommendations being presented and the hard work the Board had done. It was an excellent event.
As someone who worked with the group on this project all year, the best part for me came at the end. “Now I’ve got my playbook for Brownsville,” James Brodick, Project Director for the planning of the Brownsville Community Justice Center, said to members of the Board. “Hearing all the great work the Board has done this year,” he continued, “just confirms how important it will be next year for me to include the Youth Justice Board in the work that I’m doing to plan a community justice center in Brownsville.”
Brodick went on to say that his first order of business would be to start a youth advisory board of young people from Brownsville that would help integrate the ideas and opinions of youth from the neighborhood into the planning of the Community Justice Center -- a step specifically recommended by the Youth Justice Board to ensure not only that the Justice Center has the neighborhood support that it will need to be successful, but also that it will offer the services that youth want and need.
The Board members at the presentation were especially proud to hear that their work was already on its way to being implemented and that their efforts over the past year would translate into stronger, more transformative work by the Board the following year. I’m looking forward to being a part of that work.
Colin Lentz is the Program Associate for the Youth Justice Board and Youth Justice Programs, both projects of the Center for Court Innovation. Mr. Lentz creates curriculum, materials and serves as a facilitator for the weekly meetings of the Youth Justice Board. He is also responsible for the day-to-day management of the Board. Mr. Lentz also works with the Youth Justice Programs project, which seeks to improve the coordination and collaboration of youth programs under the Center’s umbrella, as well as develop strategies for reaching out to youth populations in need across New York City.
Photo at top from Red Hook, Brooklyn (sorry, couldn't find a Brownsville photo): denise carbonell, under a Creative Commons license.
Updated: February 08 2018