The Greenpoint Youth Court, a successful community service initiative and deterrent of petty juvenile crime in the neighborhood, celebrated its sixth graduation and induction ceremony at the Polish & Slavic Center, last Thursday, June 21st.
The event, which celebrated the twenty-one graduates and eleven inductees into the program, included a keynote address delivered by Department of Probation Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi, a Greenpoint native. Schiraldi said the program was crucial for not exposing minors to the dregs of the penal system.
“It’s always better for young people if they don’t self-identify as criminals, but [instead] start to identify as contributors to society which is ultimately what we want everybody to become,” said Schiraldi.
The Youth Court, a project of the Center for Court Innovation, recruits and trains local teenagers to serve as judges, jurors, and advocates hearing real cases involving low-level offenses committed by their peers. Violations can range from larceny to truancy, and young offenders are funneled to the program through referrals made by the Department of Probation, the 90th and 94th Precincts, and several local high schools and community organizations.
Sanctions handed down by the court include letters of apology, skill-building workshops, and community service projects.
One of the evening’s honorees, 17-year old Nadia Bartholomew, a recent graduate of The School for Legal Studies in Williamsburg, received the Alumni Service Award for her standout participation in community service activities such as the AIDS Walk and the Greenpoint Reform Church Food Pantry. “I just try to come in to work every day and work hard,” said Bartholomew. “I feel it’s very important to commit to things that you promise to do, especially if it helps people.”
City Councilmembers Stephen Levin and Diana Reyna made brief speeches during the event. Levin praised the Youth Court as a prime example of community innovation and commended the Bloomberg administration for supporting such initiatives. Reyna spoke of fighting to bring programs to North Brooklyn to help shelter neighborhood youth from gangs and crime.
“When we talk about the violence experienced inside and outside of school, we talk about how it affects the community but very little is given as an alternative,” said Reyna. “[The Youth Court] presents us with an opportunity to crown what will be our leaders of our tomorrow, our youth.”
The court hears approximately 200 cases per year, and over 90 percent of the young people who appear before the court successfully complete the program by completing all of their sanctions. According to the Youth Court Program Director Beth Broderick this past year alone participants completed over 1500 hours of community service with local organizations and the Parks Department. Broderick believes that the sense of accomplishment from these service projects inspires participants to take a more active role in the community.
“A lot of young people who come through our program go out and find similar [programs] in their schools,” said Broderick. “They’re active and engaged and they’re pretty spectacular.”