Dec 12, 2011
Jake Maguire
ByJake Maguire

Making Probation Work


New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg came to the Brownsville Partnership this week to open the city's first Neighborhood Opportunity Network (NeON), which is co-located with the partnership’s offices.

The Brownsville NeON, a collaboration between the Department of Probation, the Brownsville Partnership and the community, will help probation officers better coordinate with the community’s resources to deliver concrete help to their clients around housing, training, treatment and jobs. Evidence shows that assistance in these areas is crucial to reducing recidivism and helping past offenders get their lives back on track.

The chief advantages of the NeON approach, a cornerstone of Mayor Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative, are proximity and service coordination. Traditionally, probation offices are removed from the various services that their clients need to thrive. As a result, probation officers struggle to make useful connections for their clients and coordinate services effectively. That lack of coordination can be devastating, since the less connected probation clients— often young men of color— remain to the housing, employment and educational assistance they need, the more likely they are to re-offend. It's a vicious cycle that cripples communities and saddles the public with huge corrections costs that produce poor long-term results.

When the Department of Probation first approached us about establishing an office in Brownsville, we assumed that they could help us improve public safety. However, after conversations with the department's Commissioner, Vincent Schiraldi, and its Director of Justice Reinvestment, Susan Tucker, we began to realize that an expanded partnership could yield even larger results.

The department wanted to help its clients avoid legal problems and put their lives back on track, but like us, it also wanted to invest in the long-term strength of the Brownsville community. If local probation officers could more easily collaborate with local service providers in Brownsville, they could provide their clients with real tools to build and sustain healthy and productive lives outside of the criminal justice system. This would improve their efforts to keep past offenders out of trouble, but it would also help us achieve our goal of a safer, stronger Brownsville for everyone.

This kind of win/win coordination of services is exactly what the Brownsville Partnership is all about, and it dovetails seamlessly with the guiding principles of the NeON vision. As Mayor Bloomberg said at the Brownsville NeON's launch event, “The Neighborhood Opportunity Network provides probation clients with an entirely new way of relating to the Department of Probation and to their communities."

Our own Gerald Thomas, Managing Director of the Brownsville Partnership, seconded this view, saying, "Broad coordination across the public, private and non-profit sectors is the only way to address the root causes of the violence and community instability that adversely affect so many young men in Brownsville today."

Now that the Brownsville NeON is officially open, we look forward to working closely with probation officers to identify the help that their clients need and to connect those clients to our partners in the community, like the Center for Court Innovation, SCO Family of Services, Credit Where Credit is Due, Grow NYC, and the Brownsville Recreation Center. Over five years in Brownsville, we have seen how this comprehensive, connected approach can improve lives, strengthen families, and save public dollars.

You can watch the Mayor's announcement, including remarks by Gerald Thomas, by clicking here.

You can also read more about the Brownsville Partnership and its goals by clicking here.