Picturing Public Policy

Picturing Public Policy

August 01, 2012 at 2:48 pm

He struggled to make sense of what the probation officer was talking about.

It had something to do with his upcoming court appearance, but after a night in jail and with his mother beside him, he was having trouble focusing on the man’s words.

“It wasn’t fun. I was hungry. I was impatient and angry,” said the teen, who was 14 at the time of his arrest on a misdemeanor. “I wanted to be outside with my family, that’s all I could think about.”

Then the officer gave the teenager a comic about a boy who, like him, had gotten in trouble with the law.

Flipping through the pages, the teen read about how the boy spent a night locked up, like him, and had met with a lawyer, too. The boy in the comic also got sent to probation.

“It helped me understand,” said the teen who is now 18 and asked to be identified by his initials, S.N.J., because he had been a juvenile during his arrest. “The same thing happened to me.”

The comic book was produced by the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that works with artists and designers to help the city’s diverse population understand, through visual aids, how government works.

Its latest project, Public Access Design, aims to give community organizations and advocacy groups the opportunity to use visual tools to address social justice issues as soon as they arise.

Proposals are due August 6, and will be considered in December, as well as in February, April and June 2013.

“We use visual communication to improve civic engagement, especially when certain people are excluded from city planning conversations,” said Clara Amenyo, a program manager at CUP.

To create the comic that tells the story of how the criminal justice system works, in 2010 CUP teamed with a graphic novelist, the Department of Probation and youth leaders from the Center for Court Innovation. Their goal was to offer clear, engaging instructions for teens that have recently been arrested.

Ryan Dodge, a spokesman for the DOP, said when a teen is arrested and enters the probation office he or she is handed the comic.

“Oftentimes they don’t know what they are in store for. The comic gives a one-on-one overview in an understandable and accessible form,” he said.

Joshua Pacheco, a youth leader for CCI, said young people need more information when they get arrested. “The comic book is the solution,” he said.

For the Brooklyn-based designer of “I Got Arrested,” Danica Novgorodoff, dealing with the unfamiliar terminology of the criminal justice system was one of the challenges. But she said each page has a vocabulary box explaining terminology in a simple way for teenagers.

“I think that graphic novels are a great way to explore material that can otherwise be overly dense or dry,” she said.

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