Teens Avoid Jail Time Through Art
Some teens in Brooklyn who committed crimes are now creating art to avoid landing behind bars. NY1's Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.
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With a little creativity, several teenagers escaped jail time.
"The original sentencing was 15 days in Rikers Island but because of this program, they reduced it to no prison time," said program participant Sean Pagnucco.
Instead, for committing vandalism, Pagnucco, 16, was sentenced to a six-week art workshop.
Under state law, 16 and 17 year olds are charged as adults. But a new program called Young New Yorkers gave these kids who committed misdemeanors an alternative to jail: a court-mandated, arts-enriched curriculum. The inaugural class started with a video camera.
"The kids interviewed each other and we looked at the impact," said Rachel Barnard, the co-founder of Young New Yorkers. "One session was just intense. And the kids asked each other to relive what they did and understand the impact of what they were doing was going to have."
Part of the self-exploration also included still photography.
"Inside the heart," said program participant Isaiah Martinez. "That's a coincidence. I looked at the picture. It says New Life Youth Center. And I'm like, 'this is a new life for me.'"
The teens collaborated on public art projects and used animals as metaphors when envisioning their future.
"It helped me to be more aware with my choices and to take more responsibility of the things I do in my life because it all affects my future," said program participant Carlos McFaline.
Barnard and public defender Sara Feinberg created the program. They used art as their tool but the kids said the mentorship made the program more meaningful.
"They saw that we had something special about us, that we could change our lives, that they believed in us," said program participant Daniel Aguilar. "I think that's what basically touched me a lot."
For some of the teenagers, this art program completes their sentence. For others, there's more to do.
"For the more serious crimes, they may have to do 20 weeks of anger management counseling, 40 days of community service and the Young New Yorker program," Feinberg said.
Now that all eight of these young men have successfully completed the program, a new group will get the chance to turn away from jail by turning on to art.