Wednesday, January 20, 2016

New Initiatives: Electronic Monitoring Pilot

By: Adam Friedl

New Initiatives for a New Year
As one of the nation’s first problem-solving courts, Midtown Community Court has innovation baked into its DNA. And as 2016 begins, we are excited to celebrate several new programs that will be taking shape over the coming months. These new initiatives are the culmination of months or years of planning by the Center for Court Innovation and our partners, and they represent some of the foremost thinking on ways to create a more effective and humane justice system.

We’ll be highlighting a new program each day this week on the blog.  You’ll notice that several of these pilots focus on interventions for youth. This is particularly important in one of the only states (New York) where, for purposes of criminal prosecution, persons are considered adults at the age of 16.

Up next: the Electronic Monitoring Pilot.
Electronic Monitoring Pilot
Although the issue of teenagers held at Rikers Island received national attention in the wake of Kalief Browder’s tragic suicide, it’s not just that case’s disturbing spotlight on solitary confinement that causes concern. In many cases where youth are accused of a non-minor offense like smartphone-snatching (which might result in a low-level felony charge for robbery), a relatively small bail will be set--perhaps $2,000. For many teenagers and their families in NYC, however, that amount is utterly amount of reach. The result is that the youth will be held in custody at Rikers Island pending proceedings. Ultimately, the parties might agree to an alternative-to-incarceration (“ATI”) program that will resolve the case, but this often takes weeks or months to arrange.

Beginning in late 2015, the Center for Court Innovation (“CCI”) partnered with the Office of the District Attorney of New York County (“DANY”) to pilot the use of electronic monitoring technology as a way to accelerate release from Rikers and participation in supportive services for cases like these. Youth whom DANY deems eligible (without serious or violent criminal histories, accused of relatively low-level felonies) can be assessed by clinicians expert in criminal-justice-involved-youth issues from Midtown Community Court to determine whether ATI programming might be appropriate. If yes and all parties agree, a plea can quickly be arranged whereby the youth will be released so long as she complies with certain conditions like regular school attendance, family counseling, and/or observance of a curfew. Her compliance is monitored via a bracelet and cell phone that her location using GPS technology. The young person receives dedicated support from a social worker at Midtown Community Court as well as a clinician at an outside social services provider, and must appear periodically before the Court for progress reports. She understands from the outset that non-compliance with the Court’s terms can result in a return to jail.

Although the pilot is still in its early days, initial results have been encouraging. The combination of technology and human support is making a real difference in the lives of at-risk teens, reducing the burden on the jail system, and pioneering a more effective and humane form of justice for challenging cases.