CE Criminal Justice


Day Session Blogger: Meri Notaro, Optimum Physician Alliance, LLC

Talk about the different facets of the criminal and social justice systems in Buffalo.

  • The criminal justice system and the social justice system in Buffalo, New York is comprised of many facets, some of which the Class of 2018 had the opportunity to experience.
  • The morning began with the criminal justice system, which is defined as "law enforcement that is directly involved in apprehending, prosecuting, defending, sentencing, and punishing those who are suspected or convicted of criminal offenses." Buffalo's many components include, but is not limited to, the District Attorney's office, Family Court, Civil Court, Drug Court and Criminal Court.

    However, one approach, addressed by two of our esteemed presenters, is Community Policing. Community policing is a philosophy that changes police culture by prioritizing and promoting positive interaction between police and the community by using problem-solving methods to prevent crime.

    Through this program, The Buffalo Police Department (BPD) is seeking to engage the community through unconventional methodologies to break down the racial and socio-economic barriers, and misconceptions with the BPD. One goal is to develop relationships with people who reside in the poor neighborhoods, and immigrants, so that they become more comfortable with the Police, and learn to understand that the Police are there to help and assist.

    The goal of community police is to design and deploy innovative and proven approaches that help improve public safety and police-community relations while reducing the stark racial disparities in the criminal justice system. A few examples of this include 1) police engagement and 2) hosting impromptu community events. Officers literally will go door-to-door to meet the people. Another example includes hosting an unplanned hot dog roast, which allows the neighborhood to come out and meet the people who are there to protect them.

  • The Class of 2018 also learned about a few of the day many social justice/service organizations that are available for all individuals. Below is a highlight of only two of the organizations, which the Class of 2018 had an opportunity to learn about:
    • People Against Trafficking Humans (P.A.T.H) - is a religious organization that is committed to bringing awareness to the community, and mostly importantly assistance to individuals who are involved or who have been victimized. Human tracking is the trade of humans for the purpose of forced labor, sexual slavery, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker of others. Human trafficking primarily involves women and children and can occur local, nationally and internationally. Many times the victims are forced drugs to become addicts so that they are dependent on their abusers. Many victims are found online through sites such as Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, etc. - sites that can be easily accessed. P.A.T.H's mission to end human exploitation through awareness action, and aftercare. They are provide support services to survivors of assault and exploitation.
    • The Family Justice Center is an outstanding resource for victims of domestic violence. It provides free services for domestic violence victims and their children through an extensive collaboration with several partner agencies, all located in a secure and comfortable location, where victims can get the all the services they need to safely escape abuse. Many people suffer in silence and the Family Justice Center provides hope, security, and the support needed to break out of an abusive relationship, and cycle This organization has not only brought to light the prevalence of this crime, but has saved many lives in Western New York (WNY).

Describe the "lifecycle" of a crime from arrest to parole.

  • The lifecycle of a crime is a long arduous road upon being arrested. Using the Buffalo's Hold Center as an example, upon arriving at the center, criminals are stripped of their clothing, which are placed into a vacuumed sealed bag and stored. Next, they are escorted naked to small room where they are sprayed down with large hose. Then their body is searched in its entirety. Afterwards orange prison suits are distributed. Thereafter, a mental health assessment and analysis is performed. The outcome of analysis determines one's cell/room placement. Individuals with 'issues' may end up in solitary confinement with no view of the outside. The severity of the crime/offense dictates any extra curriculum activities and added benefits. An example of an added benefit is access to the digital food menu and being allowed to exercise, which is typically confined to sixty or ninety minutes per-day.
  • Prisoners are held at the holding center until a verdict is determined in a court of law. If found guilty a sentenced is given out. Upon completion of the sentence, or early release for good behavior, convicts are released to society. One program they may enter is Peace Prints, which assist with reentry into the community. An amazing organization that is designed to offer provisions and guidance along each step of an individual's transformation. (Please refer to #3 for additional information)

What is the "face of the system" of criminal justice, for both offenders and enforcement?

  • Throughout the day, the Class of 2018 had an opportunity to observe different court experiences, and meet with many organizations. It was through these interactions that the Class of 2018 got a glimpse into the many faces of the criminal justice system - children, teenagers, and adults - all from different occupations, and their family and friends.
  • In the afternoon, the entire Class of 2018 was fortunate to learn about Peace Prints, and hear from a young woman who participates in the Peace Prints program. Peace Prints offers comprehensive reentry services to men and women involved in the criminal justice system. This young woman, not only had the courage to stand in a courtroom and explain her situation, but also took questions from the audience. Her heartfelt poignant story of her circumstances was so moving that it is hard to put into words. What stood out was her spirit, determination, and ownership of past indiscretions - very admirable traits. Through her tenacity and resiliency she was able overcome and focus on becoming a better person and rebuilding her life, through the assistance of Peace Prints, with the goal to be a fabulous Mom and good provider to her children.
  • In addition, the people seen in Judge Hannah's drug court, and in other courtrooms throughout the day along gave the Class of 2018 much insight into the countless faces of the criminal justice system.

How is the drug crisis affecting our community, from a criminal, legal and societal perspective? What can we as citizens and business leaders, do to help improve the situation?

  • People and children are dying everyone. The drug crisis is affecting not only Buffalo, NY, but also the nation as a whole. It is destroying lives, and tearing apart families. Everyone has been impacted by this crisis.
  • Two years ago, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz declared the opioid epidemic a public health crisis. Since that time, approximately 200 local health providers have been trained to prescribe Buprenorphine, which is used to treat opioid addiction to help combat the crisis. Opioids touch people from every walk of live and sometimes this goes unnoticed until it is too late.
  • I had an opportunity to sit in on The Honorable Judge Hannah's Courtroom. My heart broke seeing these young children in handcuffs, fathers and mothers sobbing as their children are taken away. Yet, Judge Hannah is a man about second and third chances. He works closely with each individual in his courtroom to ensure proper support and the appropriate services are received to stay on the right path. Offenders have to come to his courtroom daily, to check in and talk to him. Words cannot express the empathy this judge exudes. This world needs more people like Judge Hannah.
  • The Class of 2018 had an opportunity to hear from the DEA. This year the DEA published the 2017 National Drug Treatment Assessment. The study indicates that over past 10 years, drug landscape in U.S. has shifted:
    • Opioid threat increased
    • Meth threat remains prevalent
    • Cocaine threat declined, but appears to be rebounding
    • Marijuana enforcement efforts continue to evolve
  • Fentanyl is on the rise. This is an A Schedule II synthetic opioid, more potent than heroin and morphine. It is commonly laced into heroin and other illicit drugs. As little as 2 milligrams of fentanyl can cause a lethal dose.
  • The DEA provided local stats on overdoses (fatal and non-fatal). Astonishingly there has been a 256% increase in OD deaths in Erie County between 2010 and 2015 - the largest in NY state.
    • 2010 - 82
    • 2011 - 115
    • 2012 - 95
    • 2013 - 140
    • 2014 - 153
    • 2015 - 292
    • 2016 - 301
    • 2017 - 11/21/17, 258 confirmed OD Deaths from opioid mixtures
    • overdose non-fatal = 350-500 monthly in Western New York
  • In Niagara County, in 2017, the N.C. Lab analyzed 245 exhibits of suspected heroin.
    • 99 heroin, the rest were poly-fentanyl mixtures
    • 3-4 OD Deaths a month, 33+ OD Non-Fatal a month
  • There has been a steady increase in OD deaths from opioids and opioid mixtures over the last 5 years. Due to the increased use of Narcan, along with continued clinical training of physicians and clinicians; restriction of their prescribing opioids over the past two years; opioid/heroin education to public; and the prosecution of both distributors, rogue physicians and clinicians in WNY has helped slow the OD Death rates.
  • As citizens we can educate ourselves on this epidemic - be aware of the signs and symptoms - be diligent in watching over the people in your lives and in the community, and provide support and guidance to the people affected. Always be aware - when you see something, say something.

What resources are available for victims of crimes in our community?

  • Peace Prints
  • P.A.T.H. (People Against Trafficking Humans)
  • Family Justice Center
  • Our Police Officers
  • Our court system

What about this day impacted you the most?

  • Judge Hannah's drug court and his unique approach - his a mentor and an advocate. Judge Hannah understands that jail time is not going to solve the addiction or the problem. He believes in providing many chances to individuals and the support and services to be successful.
  • The Judge is fair, but strict and holds each individual accountable. Most have to return to his courtroom daily or on a scheduled basis for a 'check-in' to ensure they are adhering to his plan.
  • Everyone has a story. My biggest takeaway was that as a society we need to listen and learn these stories, and not rush to judgement. We need to be more empathetic. Not everyone is fortunate to grow up in a safe environment and loving home. Not all people are born with the same opportunity. People do not set out in life to become a criminal, or a drug addict. We are not here to judge, but to help. Everyone needs a second, third or even forth chance. As leaders, we need to action and help others who cannot help themselves.

How can we, as leaders in the community, work to improve education in WNY?

  • As leaders in community it is our civic responsible to educate ourselves so that we can bring awareness to others, and to inform the community that people involved in the criminal justice system have a story. People need to stop making assumptions. Social determinants play an enormous role in one's ability to live successful. This is something society needs to focus on. In addition, leaders need to consider volunteering, or being a mentor. Employers should give individuals with a criminal record a chance, and here there story. As leaders, it is up to us to be empathetic, help those in need, and educate our young, our family and our friends. With such a diverse population, as leaders we need to provide more education on diversity and inclusion to break down barriers across the community.

Based on your day today, what is the biggest challenge in education in Buffalo today?

  • The language barrier is one of the biggest issue Buffalo faces, with the immigrant and refugee community. With over 30 languages spoken in Buffalo, the law enforcement, medical personal, etc. are not equipped with the right resources to help these individuals. They are however, working on this issue. For example the 'I speak card'. The language barrier makes it challenging for immigrants and refugees to trust anyone, especially law enforcement. To make a better Buffalo, people need to trust those who are there to lead and protect us.
  • Another barrier is educating our young so that grow into empathic caring people.

Additional thoughts or takeaways?

  • Based on a few conversations with other members of the Class of 2018 their most impactful moment was in Judge Freedman courtroom. She was very empathetic but strong person.
  • Upon reflecting on the day, it was overwhelming and emotionally raw - difficult on many levels. Although class members experienced different courtrooms and heard different stories, the theme was consistent - it was an emotionally charged day. I left thanking God for everything in my life, and praying for the people I had seen.