April, 2021

Queens Defenders has been awarded a grant by The New York Bar Foundation for its Rockaway Community Justice Center – the Rockaway peninsula’s only court alternative program that is operated in partnership with the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

Launched in April 2020, the Rockaway Community Justice Center (RCJC) aims to give youth ages 18-24 who commit non-violent misdemeanors in the Rockaways section of Queens the opportunity to benefit from a restorative justice-based process instead of being tried in Queens Criminal Court. The RCJC provides a chance for offenders to appear at community-led hearings, repay their community through rehabilitative methods that preserve their dignity, develop skills and gain job experience, receive referrals to needed services, and leave the program without a criminal record.

“The New York Bar Foundation is deeply impressed with the restorative justice goals and plans of the Queens Defenders Rockaway Community Justice Center and we are pleased to support the launch of this worthy effort,” said Lesley Rosenthal, President of the Foundation. “This effort is emblematic of our efforts to enhance access justice and promote racial equity in New York through our grant-making and public education programs.”

The New York Bar Foundation’s grant will support the Rockaway Community Justice Center’s first year of operation. Their funding will ensure Queens Defenders has the resources to offer on-site support services from social workers, trained attorneys, and advocates, and connect participants to opportunities to develop life skills that will help avoid future contact with the criminal justice system. Additionally, this first-time grant for the RCJC by the New York Bar Foundation will raise the program’s profile and help Queens Defenders secure additional funding from new government, foundation, and corporate partners.

Lori Zeno, Executive Director & Founder of Queens Defenders said, “We are extremely grateful to the New York Bar Foundation for being the Rockaway Community Justice Center’s first institutional supporter. The Foundation’s commitment to this innovative court-alternative for the residents of Far Rockaway ensures the individuals served through this first-of-its-kind initiative in the borough of Queens will not have their lives derailed for low-level infractions or a missed court appearance due to long travel times from Far Rockaway to Queens Criminal Court in Kew Gardens. Through the Rockaway Community Justice Center, participants will be able to develop skills, make vital connections in their communities, and avoid future involvement with the criminal justice system.”