2011-02-25 / Columnists

East End Matters...

More Info Needed On Placing Probation Center In Far Rockaway
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

Everyone deserves a second chance when he or she makes mistakes in life. As I reported in this newspaper last week Councilman James Sanders Jr. is proposing that his Far Rockaway office be the location for one of the five new satellite probation offices that the city will soon be opening. They would be known as “opportunity centers.” According to Jonathan Gaska, the district manager for Community Board 14, Sanders told the board earlier this month that the center would be for low-level, non-violent offenders who would do work in the community, such as cleaning streets and graffiti. They would come in the day and then leave [at night]. The councilman added that only five or six people who are on probationwould be served at the center.

That may sound all well and good. But there are aspects of the program that Gaska did not say Sanders mentioned; pieces of information that need to be looked into. First, Sanders’ office is located on the ground floor of 1526 Central Avenue in Far Rockaway. On the second floor is the children’s daycare Miss D’s Playgroup. When I was in the building last week, there was no one attending to Miss D’s reception desk just opposite Sanders’ office, and the staircase to the daycare was open for anyone to walk up.

When I asked Gaska his feelings on the location, as it relates to the daycare center, he suggested I ask the councilman, which I attempted to do. I emailed Sanders’ chief of staff last week about the placement of the councilman’s proposed center, but I did not receive a reply. Perhaps it is the parents of the children who attend the playgroup who really should be asked their feelings on the subject. If Far Rockaway is picked by the Department of Probation, a new location should be considered.

Next, according to the Department of Probation’s website, the center would not just be a work center, but a place where people would be meeting with their probation officers. Also, Sanders’ numbers for how many people the center would serve are probably off and something that, once the program starts, would not be under his control.

Currently, in New York City, 27,000 people have to check in with their probation officers regularly. In December, the Daily News reported that the commissioner of the Department of Probation, Vincent Schiraldi, hopes 8,000 of those people will sign up for the voluntarily program to come to a local center instead of their borough’s county courthouse and in return do clean-up and anti-crime projects in the community. That would be 8,000 divided over the five boroughs. There would be no way to tell how many people would be assigned to the center.

Of course, there is precedent in Rockaway for a cleaning program using people who have been in jail. Since 2004, the Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing and Able program – which employs formerly homeless or incarcerated individuals, including those on parole – has been helping to clean the business districts in Far Rockaway and Beach 116 Street. It is a workforce development program, complete with social workers.

In its Strategic Plan Report for 2011, the Department of Probation called for opportunity hubs in communities with large numbers of residents on probation. Among other things these hubs, now called centers, would focus on access to age-appropriate education, employment, housing, healthcare, benefits, family engagement and community service. So far we have not yet heard about the many aspects of the program that the report outlined.

As of last week, no definite location has been decided upon for any of the centers, but according to a spokesperson from the Probation Department, the first of the “opportunity centers” will likely open in the next month or two. The spokesperson would not say much more because the program is still in the planning process. With Far Rockaway possibly being considered, the above concerns need to be addressed before the probation satellite offices begin to open.

As Gaska said, “If we can get work out of it, it may be worth considering.” Gaska could be right, but as he also said about CB 14, “We need more information to make an informed decision.” Like I said in the beginning of this piece, everybody deserves a second chance. But, the community at large should also be given all the information they need so they also can make a decision for themselves.

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