When 18-year-old Christian Salazar was 14, he stood before a judge uncertain of his future and unmoved by his circumstances.
“When I was in front of the judge, I really didn’t care,” said Salazar. “But at the same time I said you know what, you really have to care because if you don’t, you’re going to have to do the time.”
Soon after, Salazar joined Project Re-Direct, an alternative to incarceration program of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office. On Wednesday, Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes announced that State Senator Martin J. Golden allocated $53,000 towards the alternative incarceration programs. Senator Golden also dedicated $50,000 of the state budget towards funding a social worker to be a liaison between two courts, the Family Justice Center and victims of domestic violence.
The funds should have a tremendous positive effect on public safety as well as the budget because of the amount of money that will be saved via the non-incarceration programs, Hynes said.
He said that to put someone in Riker’s Island prison costs $90,000. It costs $19,000 to put someone through drug rehabilitation, $34,000 to place someone in a safe house (specifically Drew House for women in Brooklyn) and $129,000 to incarcerate a woman and put her two children in foster care. Lastly, it costs $240,000 to put a child in juvenile detention.
“I can go on forever about the way we waste money. Not only in the state but across the country. It’s utter madness,” said Hynes.
At Wednesday’s press conference Hynes announced that the funds will be used towards Project Re-Direct, a program the aids young male gang members in becoming educated, effective citizens. The program has graduated 24 boys and men so far.
“These are young, young boys that are being utilized by gangs to commit very serious crimes,” said Deanna Rodriguez, the head of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s gang unit. “
Their first contact with the criminal justice system is a class B violent felony, which is mandatory jail time, and we all know what happens to them when they go to prisons.”
Rodriguez further explained that some prisons are run by gangs, a naturally volatile situation for young men. She says they may face violent opposition, never get out of the gang or come out of jail in a worse state.
Jocelyn Mann, a Community Outreach volunteer from Emmanuel Baptist Church in Brooklyn works with the participants of Project Re-Direct. Mann was sold on working with the program when she saw the men making “dream boards”, poster boards illustrated with short and long term goals. The men making dream boards was a big deal to Mann.
“Gang members don’t really plan for anything because they don’t think they’re going to live that long,” said Mann.
Mann, who has been with the program for three years, said the grant will provide much more than resources for 10 additional young men. It’s providing a family for them. Mann said that boys join gangs most of the time because they are looking for a semblance of family.
Salazar used his time in Project Re-Direct to change his life. He graduated high school and is now in his second semester of college. He said the project gave him the support and “family” he needed since his own family had disowned him.
“They were the only people I could talk to because they were supporting me and making my life change,” he said. “Without them, I would have been dead or incarcerated.”
Now, Salazar is a counselor for the boys and men that come through Project Re-Direct. He said one of the things he tells the participants is that a boy does what he wants and a man does what he has to do.
“It’s what I had to do,” said Salazar.