Thursday, December 22, 2011


Our post today comes from the Center’s Youth Justice Board.

A few weeks ago, members of the Youth Justice Board, an after school program that provides young people from New York City with the opportunity to engage meaningfully in policy discussions that affect them and their peers, completed a community asset mapping exercise in their neighborhoods. This year, the Board is working to reduce youth crime in the neighborhood of Brownsville, Brooklyn. As one initial step, members conducted an asset mapping exercise with the goal of identifying resources that the neighborhood already possesses and thinking about how those resources can be utilized to reduce youth crime and make Brownsville a safer, more supportive place for young people to grow up.

Each member was then asked to put together a presentation for the rest of the group that highlighted the assets that his or her own neighborhood provides to its residents. These could include police departments, fire stations, hospitals, schools, public transportation, and extracurricular options, among others. The presentations took a variety of formats. Carlos took an unusual tact, asking his audience to close their eyes as he described the sites of his neighborhood. We’ve included his presentation below.


The community asset mapping exercise that was the catalyst for this presentation is a powerful way to get young people to think about the positive features of their neighborhoods and to consider how these features can serve as resources that can be used to combat a whole of challenges that the community might face, without having to create new programming or build new institutions. If you’re interested in this exercise and want more information about how it is facilitated, please contact the Youth Justice Board at

Friday, December 16, 2011


Today's video post comes from staff at the Greenpoint Youth Court, a project of the Center for Court Innovation.

The Greenpoint Youth Court’s “Life Mapping” (goal-setting) workshop strives to help respondents set “more thoughtful and specific goals,” according to Greenpoint Youth Court member Ashley. After test-running the workshop this October, members agreed that the workshop could help respondents who lack direction build skills to better “set and achieve their goals.” The workshop was created by Arnold Adams (a staff member at the Staten Island Youth Justice Center) by drawing on elements of the various goal setting workshops used by Center for Court Innovation youth courts. The following video contains segments of the workshop, facilitated by New York Juvenile Justice Corps member Annelly Chalas, with Greenpoint Youth Court members as participants.


Monday, December 12, 2011


Our post today comes from Beth Broderick, Program Coordinator of the Center for Court Innovation’s Greenpoint Youth Court.

Like all youth programs, the Greenpoint Youth Court (GYC) spends a fair amount of time convincing potential partners to invest in our program.  Sometimes, we seek financial backing to fund the work we do; other times, we look for referrals or opportunities for our young people to serve the community.  Each partnership we develop is unique.  We craft our message to best match our programming with the interests and capabilities of a potential partner.  A lot of this may sound like business 101 – and it is.  We invest in our potential partners, even before they are ready to support our needs, as a way of modeling the investment we are seeking from them.  However, at the GYC, we don’t only use our business skills with potential partners.  We extend these investment principles to our members and clients as well.  One of the foundations to our success as a program is our ability to convince young people to invest in themselves - and we do that by investing in them first.

There are a few secrets to our success.   We shake hands. We listen.  We call.  A lot.

Shaking Hands:  When young people arrive at the Youth Court, a GYC team member greets them at the door.  We shake hands with the guardians AND the youths.  Although youths’ participation frequently is decided by their guardians, we treat them as the decision makers in the process.  As a result, the conversation is always directed toward the youths.  Later, following the hearings, our team meets with the youths and their families to review the case and schedule any assigned sanctions.  Mirroring our initial meeting, we ask the youths to be responsible for the paperwork, to call if they need to reschedule, to follow through with their commitments.  When they leave, we shake their hand again.  At subsequent workshops or meetings with the youths, the GYC team member – and often the Youth Court Members as well - will refer to them by name and shake their hand.  Shaking hands and addressing young people directly are minute details within the grand scheme of our program.  However, in Youth Court it is up to these young people to explain their story and represent themselves before a jury of their peers.  The GYC team believes that attention to detail makes a difference in the way respondents approach their responsibilities within our program and produces positive outcomes.  We shake hands a lot.

Listening:  Many families that are referred to our program learn about us from a referral source, such as a probation officer or an attorney with the Law Department.  Often the referral partner discusses the program, but only with the parent or guardian.  Whenever possible, we arrange for a “Youth Advocate call” in advance of a hearing appointment, and the Member assigned to represent the Respondent speaks with the young person by phone.  The goal is to help potential respondents feel more comfortable about coming in and better understand the purpose of their hearings.  Once youths arrive at the Youth Court, a GYC team member explains the program again.  We listen to the youths’ concerns, their story of what brought them to youth court, and do our best to help them feel comfortable.  The Youth Advocate reinforces this conversation through the intake with the youths and then works to help them feel supported throughout the process.  Even during breaks in the hearings, other youth court Members engage the Respondents in conversation and ensure that their experiences are positive.  The goal of a youth court is to offer young people and their families an appropriate and meaningful process unlike that of our traditional justice system.  We want the young people participating in our program, especially the respondents, to feel as though their voices and their thoughts matter.  We do a lot of listening.

Calling:  In addition to the initial Youth Advocate call, young people and their families receive several additional calls from the GYC team.  We call to remind them about their appointments and to answer any questions they may have.  We call in advance of each assigned sanction to ensure they have directions and can meet their commitment.  If they miss any of the above, we call back and help them to ask for a new opportunity.  Once youths have completed our program, we follow up with a call to see how things are going with them and we recruit them to join our leadership training program.  Youth Court members receive weekly announcements by email, regular programming updates via Facebook, and calls home for big events or trips.  Calling is time consuming.  Often numbers change, they go out of service, or they cannot accept messages.  Greenpoint Youth Court team members are persistent and creative – because we believe that proactive communication primes young people for success.  We call a lot.

Shaking hands, listening, and calling are the little things that contribute heavily to our success as a program.  They are also incredibly easy to overlook, to skip, to take for granted.  In the business world, we know that the details make the difference.  A personal thank you note to a potential partner can be the difference between a missed opportunity and a fruitful relationship.  When you are hoping to land a million dollar client, you make the extra effort and pay attention to the details.  At Greenpoint Youth Court, we challenge ourselves to treat youth as if they are our next million dollar client.  Our investment in our clients – and in the details – facilitates, on the part of the young people we work with, an investment in themselves. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Our post today comes from the Staten Island Youth Court, one of the Center for Court Innovation’s seven youth court programs.

Staten Island Youth Court (SIYC), like all the youth courts operated by the Center for Court Innovation, maintains the goal of reaching young people before they become seriously entangled in the juvenile or criminal justice systems. This goal, however, does not come without its fair share of challenges.

One obstacle that SIYC has faced is finding suitable and appropriate locations and partnerships to have both members and respondents complete community service hours. Community service is a critical part of youth court, as it represents one important way for respondents to redress any harm they have caused the community through their behavior, and it reinforces the value of civic engagement for all young people involved in the program.  There are, unfortunately, limited opportunities on Staten Island and parts of the island are not easily accessible by public transportation.  Respondents have often said that they simply can’t get to the sites where community service is needed.

Staten Island Youth Court has addressed the challenge recently by building partnerships with two different community service sites. One is the Alice Austen Museum, where respondents don’t just help with projects but are also encouraged to partake in the rich experience of the museum. At the Museum, young people referred by the Staten Island Youth Court have participated in photography workshops, learned about Alice Austen, a well-known photographer from Staten Island, and assisted the Museum Director with various projects, including data entry, maintenance, gardening, event preparation and beach clean-ups. The second site is a local thrift store where respondents are responsible for handling and organizing donated merchandise. The proceeds of the thrift store go towards the Staten Island Alzheimer’s Foundation.

Youth from the Staten Island Youth Court participating in community service efforts.

In addition to providing useful service to the community and giving young people the opportunity to demonstrate personal accountability and leadership, these service opportunities have also connected kids to people and places in their communities that they did not know about before.  The organizations themselves gain a new, young constituency in their community, not just a few energetic volunteers.  Still, these can be hard relationships to build for programs like youth courts, which work with youth who have been branded as troublemakers or delinquents.  But be prepared to be surprised by their willingness – we met the Museum staff at a beach cleanup event and asked if they would be willing to have volunteers from the youth court, and they said they would welcome the help.  Similarly, we met someone from the thrift store at another event and suggested that the youth court might provide them with volunteers, and they accepted.  It didn’t hurt that both groups saw the youth in action before being approached.

We are proud to see that our partnerships with community sites are able to further assist the young people that go through the Youth Court process. We are interested in hearing more about how other programs are reaching out to community organizations for service opportunities, particularly in communities with some of the same logistical challenges that we face in Staten Island.