Community Resource Empowerment Center to Offer Educational and
Vocational Opportunities to Those Sentenced to Community Service
Instead of Traditional Cleaning Assignments, Individuals May Take Educational or
Job Training Courses to Fulfill Their Court-Mandated Community Service;
New Approach Aims at Creating Positive Turning Point and Meaningful Engagement
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that his Community Service Office has been renamed the Brooklyn Community Resource Empowerment Center and now offers GED classes, job training courses and mental health services to individuals who are sentenced to court-mandated community service. The first-of-its-kind Center offers additional resources, including HIV testing, housing assistance and referrals to community-based organizations. This new approach will create a positive turning point in individuals’ lives and provide the type of resources – employment, housing, community engagement – that have been shown to prevent criminal justice involvement.
District Attorney Gonzalez said, “I am committed to holding offenders accountable in ways that are meaningful because putting individuals on a positive track reduces recidivism and promotes public safety. I’ve now expanded this approach to court-mandated community service. Our new Community Resource Empowerment Center, which embodies the core principals of my Justice 2020 plan, provides an array of opportunities for people to better their lives and end their criminal cases with tools that would help them succeed. This will help keep Brooklyn safe and strengthen community trust.”
The District Attorney said that the Center, located inside Brooklyn Criminal Court, evaluates every defendant who has been sentenced to community service during the intake process. Those with stable lives or those who don’t request any services continue to do the traditional service – cleaning assignments in parks, before and after parades and in jail institutions. Those who request other services or opportunities are referred to need-based programs, including GED classes; a Workforce Center that offers job and computer skills training, assistance in looking for employment, OSHA certifications and other services; mental health services; and additional opportunities that will be added in the future. Participating in these programs for the length of the court-mandated community service fulfills the individuals’ obligations.
The individual assessment process identifies additional needs and the Center provides tailored referrals to community-based resources that can help address those needs; free HIV and Hepatitis C testing; assistance in finding housing; and group offerings on education, financial literacy and local policy.
Taken together, this approach provides a positive turning point out of the criminal justice system and helps reduce recidivism. Empirical research has long documented that a supportive social network that meets individuals’ basic needs is the best crime prevention strategy. And input from local residents echoed what social science has long conveyed: that providing basic resources and a community of support is integral to public safety efforts.
The Brooklyn DA’s Office intends to expand and vary the opportunities offered by the Center and hopes to partner with social scientists to conduct focus groups with Center participants to hear their experiences, devise surveys for participants to share feedback, and design metrics that evaluate the Center’s efficacy in meetings its aims.
The Brooklyn Community Resource Empowerment Center is directed by Norma Fernandes, under the supervision of Meg Reiss, Chief of Social Justice.