Historic Harlem Court House

The Harlem Community Justice Center's Reentry Services are located in East Harlem

2013 Reentry Graduation starts with a song

The choir started off the celebration this year at the Reentry Court Graduation

Family Reentry Summer Celebration

During the summer, we host a block party and celebration for Reentry clients and their families

Reentry Graduation

Young man thanks his Parole Officer for keeping him on track

Harlem Reentry Graduation

Families join to celebrate the accomplishments of graduates

Jul 26, 2016

Congratulations Raising My Voice Graduates!

Graduates with Linda Steele (left), Strategic Coordinator for
Circle of Support & Raising My Voice lead trainer.
Last night while it was stormy outside, there was a storm of love inside the Church of the Heavenly Rest. For the past twelve weeks a group of formerly incarcerated persons, supported by volunteers from the Church, participated in a presentation skills training called Raising My Voice.

Raising My Voice was started to provide an avenue for formerly incarcerated persons to learn effective presentation skills that allow them to share their stories with a broad audience. The idea grew out of an experience I had in 2009 when I took some men from our reentry program to speak at a local middle school to kids who were truant and getting in trouble (one child was on probation and had an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet). The men spoke honestly about their prison experience. They also expressed a deep desire to do more to make sure young people from their community did go to prison as they had. Eventually a recommendation for a speaker’s bureau made it into a ground breaking Upper Manhattan Reentry Strategic Plan.

In 2011, the J.C Flowers Foundation funded a new effort in Harlem, Circles of Support, that brings the faith community and families of the incarcerated together to support men and women leaving prison. We piloted Raising My Voice in 2014. Since that time three cohorts of trainees have participated. Graduates learn critical story telling skills and the program connects them to paid speaking opportunities. In 2015, $2700 in speaking fees were earned by graduates of the program.   The most recent class was hosted at the Church of the Heavenly Rest. The Church provided free space and volunteers to serve as mentors to the trainees. Last night's graduation highlighted not just the skills of the newly minted public speakers, but also the deep commitment and new relationships that evolved between graduates and their faith-based mentors.

Graduates and their Mentors!

By Christopher Watler, Project Director, Harlem Community Justice Center

Jul 7, 2016

Growing with Justice Plus: Eight Young Adults Graduate!

A lush oasis in the middle of Harlem’s urban landscape, Harlem Grown is a community farm that provides a unique respite for children and adults in the neighborhood. This was certainly the case for friends and family of our eight Justice Plus graduates, who celebrated their successful completion of the Harlem Community Justice Center program on June 30, 2016.

Justice Plus is a collaboration between the Harlem Community Justice Center, the Department of Probation, and Save Our Streets. The program helps young adults from the area ages 16-24 build crucial work-readiness skills. Participants receive consistent mentorship and job-counseling from Jessica Bachman, our workforce development coordinator, as well as an opportunity to volunteer with  Harlem Grown and receive a stipend. They graduate with work experience, references grounded in strong relationships, and hours of resume building and interview coaching; but most importantly, they build a positive association with the workforce through their work with Harlem Grown.

The graduation ceremony was a testament to the graduates’ hard work and immense progress. Mixed with the farm’s beautiful trees and tomato plants were perfectly constructed vegetable beds, wooden compost bins, that the Justice Plus graduates built. Jessica Bachman personalized speeches about each graduate’s individual challenges, successes, and growth made it obvious how much each participant had accomplished during the program, and the words that graduates shared upon receiving their diplomas celebrated Justice Plus for helping them make positive change in their lives.

“It feels good to wake up and feel successful,” declared Eugene, who received the Overall Achievement Award for his outstanding achievements during the program. Many other graduates echoed his sentiment, praising Justice Plus and Harlem Grown for providing help, guidance, and an opportunity to create and work towards new goals. “I have never received a certificate for anything before,” exclaimed Norberto as he proudly held up his new diploma.

Eugene, will be continuing as an employee at Harlem Grown. Other graduates announced successful job placements and certifications, as the Justice Plus team and the graduates’ guests beamed proudly from the audience. 

Written by Tayla Nevins, Harlem Community Justice Center Intern. 

Jun 29, 2016

"Getting Snatched Back": The Fight for Expungement Laws in NY


Sponsored by Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, and hosted by the Community Service Society, a Reentry Roundtable on June 22, 2016 focused on the expungement of criminal records in New York State. The rich discussion at this roundtable emphasized the urgency of creating laws that allow formerly incarcerated people in New York State a second chance at a full life.
The conference kicked off with a welcoming speech by Assemblywoman Robinson who emphasized the importance of expungement.  According to the Community Service Society, expungement is a “legal process that removes all records about one’s criminal changes from both public records, and from law enforcement agency records” as well. In New York City, there is no expungement, so once a person has a criminal conviction in New York there will always be a record of it no matter how long ago the conviction occured. In 2015 a bill for the expungement of records passed through the majority liberal New York State Assembly, but was not passed through the New York State Senate, with a more conservative majority. Expungement laws, however, have been passed in Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, and Washington. For instance, in Massachusetts, under the new law known as “CORI Reform” misdemeanors, felonies, and certain sex offenses can be sealed after a period of time of law abiding conduct. As a result, his or her past criminal record does not have to be reported in job interviews.
  In New York, there have been some attempts at creating opportunities for those with criminal records. For example, the New York City Fair Act, that states that employers must delay questions about one’s criminal record until after a job offer is made. The Community Service Society explained that “in the end employers, colleges, licensing agencies and landlords all make adverse decisions against people with backgrounds based on stereotypes, media hype, and simple prejudice”.
CEO of Community Service Society, David Jones, stressed that the fight for expungement, is “our duty.” He claimed that “1 and 3 men” in New York have a criminal record, and as a consequence, many of their rights are denied for much of their lives. This mark, which follows them for their lifetime, inhibits their ability to work, stay out of jail and prison, and participate as fathers, sons, and community members.
 Afie Turner, Employment Specialist at STRIVE, shared her story about the struggles she faces having a criminal record for a crime that she committed over 30 years ago. She commented  that she is a different woman than the 17-year old who committed the crime. She now is completing a degree in college and is employed. But despite this change in character, she is still barred from some opportunities because of her past record. For instance, realizing that she is unable to have children of her own, she faces the difficult reality that her criminal record prevents her from adopting a child and starting a family. She says that she feels like a dog on a leash, that constantly gets “snatched back” by New York State for her past, and stresses the need for a second chance for people just like her.
Similarly, Barry Campbell, Special Assistant to the President of Fortune Society, claims a criminal records “destroys a person’s livelihood”, and says that laws that prevent the sealing of a criminal record, overlook the “humanity [and] the human consequences of the persons” they affect. “Marches are not enough, you have to go up to elected officials” and stand up against these injustices, Campbell claims.
The powerful discussion raised my awareness about expungement laws in New York. The denial of the opportunity to expunge certain records holds a large number of individuals back from the rights of citizenship.  Now is the time for change, and as suggested by the workshop, it is up to us to be the advocates for it. 


By Tylor-Maria Johnson Harlem Community Justice Center Summer Intern/Princeton University Student

Jun 22, 2016

Neighborhood Stat Meeting for Queens and Staten Island

On June 8, 2016, representatives from the Harlem Community Justice Center attended the action-packed annual “NeighborhoodStat” meeting hosted at 1 Police Plaza, hosted by Elizabeth Glazer, the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, and Amy Sananman, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety (MAP).

MAP is a new collaborative effort to reduce violence in public housing developments with high rates of violent crime. MAP’s goals are to “reduce violent crime, reduce victimization, help residents feel safer, and learn how to reduce crime in other neighborhoods and housing developments citywide.” There are annual meetings to discuss the MAP developments in each borough. This meeting focused on two particular developments—the Stapleton development in Staten Island and Queensbridge development in Queens.

After opening statements, the NYPD officers from Stapleton’s neighborhood presented crime data and explained strategies to decrease misbehavior and engage with the Stapleton community in positive ways. Next the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) property managers for Stapleton presented on quality-of-life improvement efforts at Stapleton, explaining where the police were helpful and where they felt more attention was necessary. Finally, Stapleton RA President Ms. Geraldine Parker took the floor and called for more cooperation between the MAP partners.  

Ms. April Simpson, the Resident Association President of Queensbridge development delivered a moving account of life in Queensbridge. She praised the NYPD officers and NYCHA managers who work there, but exclaimed that more needed to be done. She called for more police officers, more attention to troublesome dogs on the property, and for access to jobs for Queensbridge residents. She highlighted the progress made, but stressed that much remains to be done to address violence and the quality-of-life concerns of residents. “Help me, help me,” she pleaded to the room at the conclusion of her speech.

After the presentations each development went to work in smaller groups with their local police, NYCHA representatives and community based organizations. They discussed next steps and assignments.  

This NeighborhoodStat meeting was a reassuring example of how government officials and community partners can use data to support effective collaborations that improve public safety. 

By Talya Nevins, Harlem Community Justice Center Summer Intern/Princeton University Student

May 23, 2016

"I Don't Want Pity, I Want Results"

The New York Times has published a sobering account of mass shootings in America. It is a must read for those of us working to reduce violence across the country and those of us who need to understand the topic in more granular detail. According to the article, entitled "A Drumbeat of Multiple Shootings, But America Isn't Listening,"  shootings involving four or more victims occur each day in America on average. Yet, the 462 persons who died as a result of these shootings is only a fraction of the 11,000 killed by gun fire each year and rarely get noticed.

The title of this post is a quote from the daughter of a 56 year-old African-American man was shot and killed as a bystander in a feud between rivals. It speaks to the critical need for law enforcement and communities to work together to eliminate the scourge of gun violence and bring perpetrators of gun violence to account. The authors highlight that only half of the mass shootings they examined resulted in an arrest or conviction. A shockingly low clearance rate.

There is also the need for honest dialogue and action in communities where shootings are occurring at higher rates. In the African-American where, as the article highlights, half of all gun violence victims and attackers reside the need to confront the problem of gun violence is urgent. In New York City there are several efforts focused on reducing violence that show some promise. Two examples are the Save Our Streets programs run by our sister projects in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn. Recently the New York City Mayor's Office launched a new initiative focused on making the city's pubic housing developments with the most violence safer. Public housing residents in these developments experience more violence and shootings than the rest of the city. A stubborn disparity that has persisted even as overall crime has dropped to historic lows in New York since the mid-1990s.While in the early stages, the Mayor's Action Plan (MAP) is using data and collaboration in ways that research suggest can reduce violence and improve perceptions of safety in a community. Through targeted law enforcement, environmental design changes and improved maintenance and by building local collaborations with tenant leaders, local organizations and the police MAP seeks to drive down violence and shootings in public housing.

As we rightly debate the policies of mass incarceration and the terrible consequences of America's legacy of racism and indifference to communities of color, we must also keep in mind that community members, especially victims of crime, want results. They want both justice that is fair and justice that is effective. We can and must do more to end the senseless and preventable deaths and injuries that result from gun violence in America.

By Christopher Watler, Project Director- Harlem Community Justice Center