A Day in the Life: CASES Court Navigators

Court navigators Eric Dixon and Brian Palmer at CASES Court Services office.

Earlier this year, CASES introduced two court navigators–Brian Palmer and Eric Dixon–to night court arraignments at Manhattan Criminal Court, filling a challenging gap in supporting vulnerable individuals released under court-mandated supervision. Brian and Eric have lived experience with the criminal legal system, which inspires their dedication to helping people with similar stories and backgrounds. 

Their supervisor, Kendall Sullivan, Director of Arraignment Court Services, oversees their efforts to make a significant impact for clients and the broader community. Kendall notes the importance of Brian and Eric’s presence during night court, which operates from 5 PM to 1 AM: “Night court is such a different beast. Many providers don’t have staff working night court, so having team members focused solely on clients’ needs at that hour is vital.” 

Brian and Eric’s days are filled with interactions that focus on engagement and human connection. Eric emphasizes the importance of seeing each person as a human being first, rather than labeling them based on their past behaviors or substance use. “When you see the addict, you treat them as an addict. When you see them as a human being first, then your approach is different,” Eric shares. This perspective allows them to address the root causes of their clients’ challenges, whether it’s lack of stable housing, access to proper nutrition, or education. 

Brian, who comes from a clinical background, echoes this sentiment. He highlights the pre-contemplation stage many clients are in, where they may not even know what steps to take to change their lives. Brian expresses, “everyone we see is capable of doing it on their own. It’s just a matter of needing a little guidance, a little help, a little—and maybe a lot—of information that they can lean on to get themselves together.” 

Eric and Brian provide that support and guidance—meeting clients shortly after they have been released from holding cells, offering vital connections to resources in the community to address immediate needs, de-escalate behavioral health crises, and help bridge clients to their Manhattan Supervised Release Program (MSRP) intake appointment. Eric and Brian frequently transport clients to support centers or hospitals, ensuring they receive the care they need. “I’ve seen the look on people’s faces when they go, ‘You’re going to take me? You’re going to stay with me until I check in?'” Brian recounts. 

The freedom to be creative and flexible in their roles is something both Eric and Brian value highly. Eric appreciates the ability to implement new ideas and approaches to better serve their clients, and Brian feels that the supportive and non-judgmental environment at CASES is unlike any he has experienced before, allowing him to genuinely help others while also reflecting on his own growth. 

A notable success story is that of Kaila*, a victim of domestic violence with a history of substance use disorder. Despite multiple previous attempts by CASES’ MSRP to engage her, Kaila never made it to intake. However, Eric’s persistence and relationship-building skills changed that. Eric’s approach was not just about immediate solutions but also about building trust. “She needed someone to show her that there were options and people who genuinely cared,” Eric explains. 

Eric’s efforts to connect Kaila to housing supports helped her transition from her precarious living situation with an abusive partner to a stable environment where she could focus on her recovery and future. She has made significant progress in completing her court mandate, engaging consistently with her MSRP Case Coordinator for regular check-ins. “She made eight out of eleven appointments and has not returned to her previous situation,” Kendall reports. 

Through their dedication and empathetic approach, Brian and Eric demonstrate the profound impact court navigators can have on individuals’ lives. They provide not just guidance but a sense of hope and possibility, helping clients envision and work towards a better future. As Eric puts it, “We’re trying to help them start that path of ‘let me change my life now, let me change these old habits and replace them with something positive.'”