Alternatives: Isla and Michael Roona of Social Capitol
Development Corporation. Photo
by Teri Currie.
Punish Crime the Old-Fashioned Way
County DA plans to abolish program offering restorative justice
as an alternative to lock-’em-up-as-usual
Homer Bosh first heard the news that a teenager had broken
into his truck, shattered the window and stolen his radio,
he wanted revenge.
wanted to just get my hands on him,” said Bosh, “see to it
that he paid for what he did, go to jail and everything.”
But when he saw that the criminal was a black youth, he had
a change of heart. Bosh went to the judge and requested that
the youth be released to his custody.
than see this kid behind bars,” said Bosh, “I asked that he
come and work for me at my moving company. I realized that
everyone needs a second chance, and jail wouldn’t have taught
It was at this point that the judge introduced Bosh to a program
called restorative justice. “I had never heard of this before,”
Bosh said, “but it was through this that I sat down with the
youth and the people from restorative justice to work out
an alternative punishment for his crime.”
The youth ended up working at Bosh’s moving company for two
months to pay off the damage he did to the truck, rather than
going to jail.
The concept of victim and offender sitting down face-to-face
and working out an alternative sentence to repair the damage
done by the crime is known as restorative justice.
For the last two years, a number of community groups have
been working with the Albany County District Attorney’s office
to get a federally funded restorative justice program off
the ground. But many fear that the district attorney’s office
is planning to abolish the progressive program before it has
a chance to work in the inner city.
can be a very threatening concept [to the judicial establishment],
because you are empowering the community to handle crime,”
said Isla Roona, coordinator of Social Capital Development
Corporation. “It redefines everyone’s role and completely
changes the power structure.”
Community activists Dennis Mosely and John Cutro first introduced
restorative justice in Albany 10 years ago, with an informal
program not connected with the judicial system. But just two
years ago, Roona wrote up a grant proposal with the district
attorney’s office to get federal money to start a Community
Prosecution Initiative. Through this grant, which the county
received in May 2001, funding was provided for restorative
justice. Referrals to restorative justice come from prosecutors’
and public defenders’ offices, and court personnel.
The program gives equal attention to the victim and the community
affected by the crime instead of focusing only on punishing
a criminal. The offender, the victim and the community all
have some say in the outcome.
Roona said that the district attorney’s office is now rewriting
the grant to eliminate funding for community groups like hers
to take part in the program, and to minimize restorative justice’s
role in the court system.
want to have total control over how the program works,” said
Roona. “They want to decide who takes part in this and who
doesn’t. But without community involvement, you don’t have
District Attorney Paul Clyne did not dispute the fact that
the Community Initiative Grant is being rewritten and that
the role of restorative justice in the judicial system will
be diminished. He also said that future plans do not include
having independent contractors involved in the grant’s administration.
However, he contends that the reason for the changes is simply
that the restorative justice program is not working.
we were open to the idea of restorative justice,” said Clyne.
“We gave it a shot and found this isn’t the direction we want
to go. So we’re reorganizing the grant to change the emphasis
to deal with a more traditional model. We are not going to
have an independent contractor involved. We are going to implement
the program ourselves.”
Clyne said that this decision does not mean his office wants
to eliminate community involvement. One of the problems with
how the program ran in the past, he said, was that it did
not engage the community.
example of this is just the sheer number of cases that were
being run through the system,” said Clyne. “There is place
for restorative justice, but I think that the expanse of its
role as originally planned has shrunken considerably.”
But Roona said that Clyne’s office stopped showing support
for the program long before they started to rewrite the grant.
For one, she said, the district attorney’s office stopped
sending cases to restorative justice. “I think we got two
referrals in the past year,” said Roona. “We also wanted to
work with more inner-city cases but we were told that this
program works best with kids in the suburbs.”
Critics allege that racial bias is behind the DA’s office
decision to focus on suburban offenders—especially since the
grant was supposed to target inner-city youth, who generally
are more vulnerable to becoming mired in the criminal-justice
system. “It’s overtly racist,” said Roona.
Many supporters of restorative justice argue that one year
is simply not enough time to determine if the program is a
success or not. “Restorative justice looks to change the entire
way that our judicial system is viewed and managed,” said
Mosley. “To say after just one year that the program isn’t
working is just not enough time to decide. We’re talking about
changing an entire way of thinking.”
Like it or not, Clyne said, he has the final say in the outcome
of the program. “As the DA, I am responsible for the prosecution
of criminal cases in the county of Albany,” said Clyne. “The
whole point of restructuring is very simple. We looked at
it and we feel it has not been a success.”
But Michael Roona, executive director of Social Capital Development
Corporation, isn’t buying Clyne’s explanation.
justice empowers the community at the expense of bureaucracy,”
said Roona. “It’s reasonable to assume that bureaucracy would
do whatever is in their power to protect its turf. This whole
situation is about power and control.”
The Spying Game
New York Civil Liberties Union adds
its voice to the outrage over government-proposed citizen-surveillance
watching. From their driver’s seats on the highways, they’re
looking for suspicious activity. In the bucket trucks, up
the telephone polls, they’re scanning for unusual behavior.
On the docks, in the mailroom, reading your meter. . . . They’re
watching, all of them, government spies under the guise of
public service, on the watch for goings-on in opposition to
the status quo.
from 1984? According to the New York Civil Liberties
Union, such would be the real-life fears of American citizens
in 2002 should Operation TIPS (Terrorist Information and Prevention
System) not be stricken from the federal Homeland Security
TIPS is an invitation by government for citizens to spy on
family, friends and neighbors for dubious gain, and represents
an enormous loss of personal privacy,” said Donna Lieberman,
executive director for the NYCLU. “The program smacks of the
1950s McCarthy incantation, ‘If your mommy is a Commie, better
turn her in.’ ”
it see the light of day, Operation TIPS, a branch of President
George W. Bush’s newly formed Citizen Corps program, would
call upon 1 million U.S. utility workers to become the eyes
and ears of the government. These workers would keep authorities
privy to unsavory activities with possible terrorist implications.
historical comparison has been made between Operation Tips
and the American Protective League, the Department of Justice-sanctioned
volunteer spy organization reporting any and all things un-American
during World War I. That organization reportedly used such
methods as tar and feathers, beatings, and forcing those who
were suspected of disloyalty to kiss the flag.
TIPS would enlist members of specific industries, such as
truck drivers, bus drivers, train conductors, mail carriers,
utility meter readers, ship captains and port personnel, rather
than the APL’s badge-wearing private citizens.
to the Citizens Preparedness Guide, the how-to-combat-terrorism
handbook released by the National Crime Prevention Council
and the DOJ following the Sept. 11 attacks, the discretion
individual TIPSters should use is vaguely defined:
out for suspicious activities such as unusual conduct in your
neighborhood.” Individuals are asked to report to law enforcement
“if a behavior or an event seems to be outside the norm or
the reliability of tips gathered at large and with such ambiguous
guidelines, a spokeswoman for Attorney General John Ashcroft
said the expected success of Operation TIPS could be likened
to that of Fox Television’s America’s Most Wanted.
USA Today article, John Walsh [host of AMW]
said he is very in favor of the program, and through all the
years he has hosted the show, callers were very responsible
with the information they have given,” said Ashcroft spokeswoman
proposed initiative would act as a routing agent for reports
of possible terrorist activity to various law enforcement
agencies. Operation TIPS would not be used to report emergency
information, but would merely be a tool through which the
unusual could be reported.
calls in and sees abandoned trucks under every bridge, and
this would be forwarded to local police,” Comstock said. “Operation
TIPS is based on the current citizens’-watch programs like
Highway Watch and Coastal Watch.”
programs mentioned by Comstock, truck drivers or waterways
workers would alert local authorities with information regarding
dangerous transportation activities or changing road conditions.
Operation TIPS was criticized in House debates, and the Senate
will hold off on deciding the fate of its Homeland Security
Bill until after summer recess, the attorney general’s office
is looking to move forward with the program.
House passed their bill and eliminated funding, but the Senate
has not yet voted,” Comstock said. “We will continue to work
with Congress on this. We are still working on the program
and want to be able to maximize the amount of information
we can collect.”
general’s decision to continue with Operation TIPS has raised
the ire of the NYCLU, which would move forward with plans
of its own should the need arise.
is a program so outlandish it hasn’t even received an enthusiastic
response in Congress,” said Lieberman. “If the government
decides to move forward with this, they would be overstepping
their authority, and we would move forward with legal action.
This administration cannot and should not be permitted to
though the program faces an uphill battle in Washington, the
chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy
(D-Vt.), in a letter to Ashcroft, recommended that legislation
prohibit “[any] and all activities of the Federal Government
to implement the proposed component program of the Citizen
Corps known as Operation TIPS.” The NYCLU worries that if
the Senate’s legislation doesn’t directly addresses the program,
there is still a chance Operation TIPS could see life.
is an attempt by the government to prey on the fears of the
public and destroy the privacy so fundamental to a free society,”
Lieberman said. “This would have an enormous chilling effect
on unpopular speech and thoughts.”
the Money and Regret It Later
slam organization offering drug addicts $200 to submit to
sterilization or long-term birth control
Lisa, the eight years she spent living in California addicted
to crack cocaine seems like a different life. In the past
two years, she has gotten clean, and has moved to Albany to
be close to her family. She now works a 9-to-5 job.
many ways, I am a completely different person,” said Lisa,
who requested that her real name be withheld. “Believe it
or not, I don’t have too many regrets, except for one.”
That one regret is over something that took place a few years
ago, when Lisa agreed to participate in a program that pays
addicts to submit to sterilization or long-term birth control
in exchange for $200.
is not like I was coerced in anyway to have my tubes tied,”
said Lisa, who chose tubal ligation, a permanent form of birth
control. “But when you are dealing with an active addict and
money, it doesn’t take much to convince a person to do anything.
It’s always ‘act first and think later.’ ”
The organization that Lisa got involved with is called C.R.A.C.K.,
Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity. Based in Orange County,
California, the group offers cash incentives for women who
are addicted to drugs and alcohol to use long-term or permanent
makes far greater sense to spend $200 now,” said Barbara Harris,
founder and director of C.R.A.C.K, “to prevent an addict from
getting pregnant, rather then spending millions after she
has a baby that needs serious medical care and a lifetime
of support. . . . It is better that they are not conceived.”
Harris started the program in 1997 after she adopted four
babies addicted to crack cocaine. She first lobbied in California
for legislation that would require addicts to submit to long-term
birth control. After that attempt failed, she started C.R.A.C.K.
on her own, with most of the funding coming from private donations.
are too many kids who are born and who have serious complications,”
said Harris. “Even for those who are able to overcome prenatal
neglect, they go on to foster homes. Then, at age 18, they
become homeless. At least, if people are on birth control,
they won’t get pregnant and give birth to a baby that is only
going to be taken away from them anyway.”
But not everyone sees Harris’ program in such a favorable
light. Many groups, including the National Black Women’s Health
Project, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Family Watch,
American Public Health Association and Planned Parenthood,
are outraged by the project. Some have claimed that it is
a form of eugenics. Many groups have posted warnings on their
Web sites that the program targets communities of color and
poor people with coercive population-control strategies.
think it is people playing God when they try to stipulate
who needs to not have children, who needs to have children,”
said Patricia Austin, a former addiction counselor at Whitney
Young Health Center’s methadone clinic in Albany. “This is
a form of eugenics when you target one particular population
of people.” Austin said money alone is going to get a lot
of women to do it because they are addicted to drugs, and
addicts are not in a healthy mindset to make these kinds of
Harris’ response is that if you can’t trust a woman with a
reproductive choice, how can you trust her with a baby?
think it’s racist to say that I am just targeting black people
or poor people because that is saying that only black or poor
people are addicts,” said Harris. “It’s not fair to these
kids that are born with the cards stacked against them and
they don’t stand a chance.”
So far, C.R.A.C.K. does not have a local chapter. But Harris
said she is actively seeking volunteers in New York to help
her with the organization. The program has expanded since
1997 to 27 states; the closest chapter is in New Jersey. Harris
said that close to 800 women have participated in the program
Harris stands firm in her conviction that addicts should not
be having babies, calling it a form of child abuse.
Blue Carreker, director of public affairs and marketing for
Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood, disagrees. “We certainly
believe that the use of contraception is a personal decision
that should never be coerced financially,” said Carreker.
“C.R.A.C.K. is really in opposition to that by trying to offer
financial incentives to convince women, who are not necessarily
in a position to participate in fully informed consent, to
make a decision concerning their reproductive health.”
may think your eyes are playing tricks on you, but believe
it or not, the revolving Key Bank clock on the corner of Lark
Street and Central Avenue—broken for as long as many of us
can remember—is no longer stuck on 7:25. Last Tuesday, Key
Bank replaced the broken staple with a new timepiece. But
you won’t see Arabic numerals on this new fixture, which means
that many of you may have to refresh your skills in the Roman-numeral