Kathleen Gill

From the New Rochelle City Manager

Happy New Year! In January we held our first Council meetings of 2024, and this month’s column will focus on the special initiatives that support youth justice in our community- one of which was a featured presentation on January 9.

For the past three years, the City of New Rochelle has supported Opportunity Youth Part (OYP), a New Rochelle City Court program that links emerging adults ages 16-24 facing misdemeanor or felony charges with local services, with the goal of improving case outcomes. Founded by City Court Judge Jared Rice in October 2020, OYP incorporates restorative justice measures by connecting participants to positive local resources including workforce development training, access to employment, academic assistance and behavioral health services. Additionally, and importantly, each participant is connected with a caring adult volunteer member to advise, support and guide them during their involvement with the program.

Since its inception, OYP has engaged with 256 participants; and of the 73 members who have successfully completed the program, 91% have been able to exit OYP without a criminal record. At their Third Anniversary Celebration in November, I was honored to be able to meet the newest group of program graduates and to receive OYP’s Community MVP award. 

Building on the success of the OYP program, we will now be establishing a partnership with the Center for Justice at Columbia University, whose team presented a proposal on January 9 for the Justice Ambassadors program.  In coordination with the City Courts and City Hall,  Justice Ambassadors will pair a small group of government executives with young adults from economically disadvantaged or legal system impacted backgrounds, to co-develop policy proposals intended to address community challenges and advance system reform. The goal is to help our most vulnerable youth to become active “Change Agents” within their own lives and their communities. In partnership with the Center for Justice innovation, the program will take place over the next two years, in two 8-week cohorts. 

The Justice Youth Ambassadors program marks the next chapter in the growth of the New Rochelle Community Justice Center and its Opportunity Youth Part initiative, and is a testament to our City’s commitment to fostering positive change and underscores our dedication to building a community that embraces restorative justice principles, empowers our youth, and cultivates a future where every individual can contribute meaningfully to our society. 

On a related note, for nearly three decades the New Rochelle Youth Bureau has operated Youth Court, a collaboration between the Youth Bureau, the New Rochelle Police Department and the Westchester County Department of Probation. The program gives needed supervision to first-time offenders ages 7-17 who have committed offenses such as harassment, loitering, shoplifting and vandalism by diverting cases from Westchester County Family Court to a Youth Court of peers serving as judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. 

New Rochelle is proud to be a hub of innovation and collaboration in the pursuit of justice and opportunity for all.