Heart Foundation

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Our Voice: Shaping Public Policy

HEART advocates for public policies that strengthen the ability of people to support and take action to better serve our society. Our goal is to be a voice and source of information on the most pressing legislative, regulatory, and economic issues facing who we serve. To this end, we seek to help enact, strengthen and protect resources that empower children and parents to succeed.

Collaborating with government, philanthropic, private sector and community partners, we will help to develop new ideas, conduct research, promote solutions and provide technical assistance that allows policymakers, administrators and community-based organizations to:

  • Use research data for learning and accountability
  • Provide alternatives to incarceration for young adults
  • Build  partnerships and coalitions to support change
  • Implement effective policies, using best-practices and developmentally appropriate services
  • Develop communication strategies and advocacy to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and families 

HEART is actively involved in the following public policy initiatives:



New York State should pass legislation to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 so that youth who are charged with a crime are treated in more age appropriate manner. New York is one of only two states in the country that have failed to recognize what research and science have confirmed - adolescents are children, and prosecuting and placing them in the adult criminal justice system doesn't work for them and doesn't work for public safety.

HEART is part of a broad array of partners that the Partnership For the Public Good (PPG) provides research and advocacy support that share a community-oriented vision of a revitalized Buffalo-Niagara. The organization helps community groups have a stronger, better informed voice in public policy debates. PPG and Open Buffalo have earmarked the Raise the Age campaign as one of 10 strategic drives on it 2014 community agenda.

For more information on the PPG, go to http://www.ppgbuffalo.org/

For more information on RAISE THE AGE NEW YORK, go to http://raisetheageny.com/

New York State Court Justice System Reform

NY A07553 Bill: act to amend the criminal procedure law, the executive law, the judiciary law and the penal law, in relation to the age of criminal responsibility. 

Primary Sponsor: Assemblyman  Joseph R. Lentol  -  Assembly District 050

Co-sponsors: Assemblywoman Barbara M. Clark  - Assembly District 033
Assemblyman David G. McDonough - Assembly District 14
Donna Lupardo - Assembly District 123
Assemblyman Robert J. Rodriquez - Assembly District 68              

From more information on A07553, click here.

NYS Senate Bill Number S4489A: Relates act to amend the criminal procedure law, the executive law, the judiciary law and the penal law, in relation to the age of criminal responsibility.

Primary Sponsor: NYS Senator Michael F. Nozzoli                      

Co-sponsors: NYS Senator Mark Grisanti
NYS Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson
NYS Senator Brad Hoylman

For more information on S4489A, click here.


Adolescent Diversion Programs (ADP) 

ADP is the state judiciary's response to legislative inaction on raising the age of criminal responsibility from age 16 to the national standard of 18. Erie County was selected as one of nine pilot sitesin New York State. The Hon. Judge James A.W. McLeod (Buffalo City Court) is the lead judge for this specialized problem solving court due to his extensive expertise and successes with court-involved young adults.  Crossroads, HEART's collaborative adolescent diversion program with Buffalo City Courts is receiving high marks for low recidivism and recognition among judicial officials across the state. 

HEART Foundation is an integral component of Erie County's implementation of ADP within Buffalo City Court. HEART has developed a highly developed treatment model to achieve positive outcomes by providing a structured, creative and individualized team planning process that, compared to traditional treatment planning, results in plans that are more effective and more relevant to the young adult.

Additionally, the plans are more holistic than traditional care plans in that they are designed to meet their identified needs, to address a range of life areas. Through the team-based planning and implementation process, the model uses best -practices to develop the problem-solving skills, coping skills, and self-efficacy of the young people. Finally, there is an emphasis on integrating the youth into the community and building their social support network.

HEART's philosophy of care begins from the principle of "voice and choice," which stipulates that the perspectives of the young person must be given primary importance during all phases and activities of the program, balanced with the mandates of the Court. All services and supports provided are designed to be individualized, balanced with the mandates of the court, culturally competent, and community based.

Additionally, the model works to increase the "natural support" available to a young person by strengthening interpersonal relationships and utilizing other resources that are available in the young person's network of social and community relationships. HEART works to provide a process that is based on strengths including activities that purposefully help the child and family to recognize, utilize, and build talents, assets, and positive capacities.

HEART will continue to provide Judge McLeod empirical data to develop a comprehensive approach to raising the age of criminal responsibility in the best interest of New York's young adults, community safety, and ultimately the state's economy.                                      

Currently, New York and North Carolina are the only two states that automatically charge 16-year-olds as adults, despite the mounting body of clinical research showing that a 16-year-old's brain capacity is not fully matured. In fact, when New York created its family court system in 1962, the age of adult responsibility was arbitrarily set at 16 with the understanding that the legislature would quickly revisit the issue.

Now, 50 years later, the state's chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, is taking a two-pronged approach to changing the way New York handles the 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds arrested in the state each year. For the long term, Lippman is pushing a legislative proposal designed by the state's sentencing commission to raise the age of criminal responsibility and set up adolescent courts to exclusively serve 16- and 17-year olds charged with nonviolent crimes.

HEART provides ADP clients individualized case management, evidence-based programming, and group activities that build pro-social skills, develop positive peer associations and develop healthy, law-abiding lives.

ADP has adjudicated over 4,000 cases, with encouraging results. As noted by Chief Judge Lippman in his 2013 State of the Judiciary address, "The Adolescent Diversion Program is achieving its goals. The pilot program has resolved the overwhelming majority of cases without imposing jail time or criminal records."

"Public safety is not enhanced when we prosecute and punish 16- and 17-year-olds as adults," said Lippman in his address. "By doing so, we miss a vital opportunity to improve their chances of growing into productive, law-abiding adults."

A recent first year evaluation from the Center for Court Innovation found that, "ADP participation does not jeopardize public safety and, in fact, produces a lower re-arrest rate for new felonies."

View the Full CCI Report

Additional News Links:



Buffalo Youth Promise Act

HEART Board Member and University District Council Member Rasheed N.C. Wyatt presented a special session of a legislative hearing in late March to announce his endorsement of the establishment of the Buffalo Youth Promise Act, a resolution he sponsored that was recently adopted by the full City of Buffalo Common Council.

A number of judicial officials, activists and leadership from community-based organizations that serve youth attended the meeting, including HEART President/Founder Umar Adeyola who voiced support at the public hearing to develop inter-agency strategies to deter juvenile delinquency and gang activity.

The national Youth PROMISE Act (Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education) is bipartisan legislation (H.R. 1318 & S. 1307) proposed to the U.S. Congress that will give our communities the support and funding they need to effectively address youth violence issues.  By specifically focusing on violence prevention and intervention strategies, this bill ensures programs are funded that save lives and give every young person the opportunity to meet his or her potential. To read more on the legislation, click here...

This breakthrough piece of legislation will implement and fund evidence-based practices related to juvenile justice and criminal gang activity. It will work to interrupt the cradle to prison pipeline that is far too common today by supporting proven prevention and intervention strategies. The act will both encourage and require leadership and oversight of these programs through community-based committees. Research shows that evidenced-based prevention programs for at-risk youth greatly reduce crime and save much more than they cost. And most importantly, these programs also save lives.

Council Member Wyatt has formed an Ad Hoc Committee that will begin the strategic development process. "I highly commend and stand behind Council Member Wyatt's pre-emptive efforts," praised Umar Adeyola who will serve on the committee.  "Society has a responsibility to address the developmental challenges and needs of young persons. Communities and families should work in concert with others to prevent youth crime. This is accomplished by addressing underlying causes, responding to the needs and providing guidance and support." 


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