The school season begins and so does Legal Lives.
How can students learn more about the law?
My office’s Legal Lives program brings the criminal justice system into approximately 250 Brooklyn fifth-grade classrooms. I founded Legal Lives in 1990 in response to a drastic increase in drug-related and bias crimes, most notably the infamous “Howard Beach” case in which a young African-American male was killed after being forced onto the Belt Parkway by a group of local white youths. The Legal Lives program is predicated on my firm belief that, until the same emphasis is placed on education and treatment that is placed on arrest and prosecution, the war on drugs and bias-related crimes will never be won.
The Legal Lives program works as follows. Assistant district attorneys from my office collaborate with teachers to present a specialized, law-related curriculum every other week. Lessons in the curriculum examine the facts of actual cases, including crimes such as drug and gun possession, acts of bias, shoplifting and gangs. Students role-play the facts of the cases, respond to questions that are related to the crimes, learn elements of the law pertinent to their age group, and participate in mock trials. Ultimately, the discussions focus on the choices made by the characters in the lessons. The Legal Lives program offers students insight into choices in the law and its role in their lives.
Lessons taught in the classroom are reinforced by a number of other features, including trips to the courts, an interactive weekly radio show and an end-of-year mock trial competition. During their court visits students have the opportunity to observe court proceedings and talk with judges. Starting in November, the weekly radio show, “Ask the DA,” will broadcast on Mondays from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. on WNYE 91.5 FM. Students appearing on the show present one of the Legal Lives lessons. At the end of the lesson, other students have the opportunity to call in and ask questions or share their views. The annual mock trial competition affords students the opportunity to compete while playing the roles of judges, attorneys, witnesses, and jurors.
The Legal Lives program has been replicated in schools across the state and country.
If you want your school to participate in Legal Lives, contact Michelle Desir at
718-250-2678. Also, visit our Web site at www.brooklynda.org.
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Charles J. Hynes