Wednesday, December 5, 2007

ReServe At Work at the Red Hook Community Justice Center

(L to R) Amy Roza, Maureen O’Boyle, and James Brodick, Project Director at Red Hook Community Justice Center, Brooklyn NY

At Red Hook, a single judge hears neighborhood cases that under ordinary circumstances would go to three different courts—Civil, Family and Criminal. The goal is to offer a coordinated, rather than piecemeal, approach to people's problems. The Red Hook judge has an array of sanctions and services at his disposal, including community restitution projects, on-site educational workshops and GED classes, drug treatment and mental health counseling . . .

But the Red Hook story goes far beyond what happens in the courtroom. The courthouse is the hub for an array of unconventional programs that engage local residents in "doing justice." These include mediation, community service projects that put local volunteers to work repairing conditions of disorder and a Youth Court where teenagers resolve actual cases involving their peers.

The idea here is to engage the community in aggressive crime prevention, solving local problems before they even come to court.

--from the Red Hook Community Justice Center’s Web site

“We are both a community center and a courthouse!” says Maureen O’Boyle.

She sits at a table in a conference room at the Center, where she works as a Mentoring Internship Specialist and ReServist. She is flanked by Amy Roza, the Center’s Director of Youth and Family Services, and James Brodick, its Project Director.

Maureen grew up in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. The injustice of the racial discrimination she saw on television as a child and the response of the Civil Rights Movement inspired her. Like many young people at the time, she was moved the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

For Maureen, the struggles of the Civil Rights movement were, literally, close to home. “I lived 6 blocks from where Malcolm X died,” she says. “Even when I didn’t always agree” with every statement the radical black leader made, “I heard the message and understood why.

When Maureen came back into the workforce as a ReServist after her retirement, she was very selective in choosing what kind of work she wanted to do. She felt compelled to work for justice.

A distinction is often made between criminal justice—the way a society intervenes in the wake of a crime, and social justice—its fundamental support of human rights for all its citizens. The Center’s mission treats them as one.

James explains that the Center sees “arrest as a point of opportunity.” At this intersection, young people who are on the wrong path can be steered in the right direction. The focus is on crime prevention.

This photo of the walk to the Justice Center was taken a young participant in the Center’s Photo Project. You can see more photos by these aspiring artists at

The Center treats arrest as a situation where help is not just the “right thing to do,” but in fact socially mandated. This vision strengthens the connections between members of the community who are in trouble and those who are in a position to help.

“I see people from my community here all the time,” says Maureen. “Some come in through the front door, some come in through the back in handcuffs.” The Center makes sure that however they got there, they all get the help they need.

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