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.
Programs like this are possible, in large part, because the major players in the criminal justice system--the prosecution, the defense, and the court-based service providers--are working together to give our youth opportunities for better outcomes than the standard criminal process provides. Tomorrow we’ll look at another such pilot--the Young Adult Part at Midtown Community Court.
Expanding an initiative that first launched in Harlem and then extended to Brownsville, Project Reset is a pre-court diversion program for youth with no previous criminal record who are arrested for certain nonviolent offenses. If the youth successfully completes the program, the case is dismissed and sealed before the initial court date. This allows a young person who made a mistake to avoid a criminal record the numerous collateral consequences, which can include ineligibility for certain types of jobs or licenses, for financial aid, and for a host of other opportunities.
To see how Project Reset works, let’s walk through a typical case. While hanging out after school one day, 16-year-old Cynthia’s friends dare her to shoplift some makeup from a local store. She does so and, as she exits the store, the security guard stops her and calls the police. The officer who arrives arrests Cynthia for shoplifting, or petty larceny--a misdemeanor offense. She issues Cynthia a Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT) to appear at Midtown Community Court the following month for arraignment, and also gives her an info sheet about Project Reset, for which she might be eligible.
The DAT is sent to borough’s District Attorney’s office. The DA notes that Cynthia has no previous record and that petty larceny is on the list of Reset offenses, and so determines that Cynthia is eligible to participate in Project Reset if she chooses. The DA contacts a defense attorney from the Legal Aid Society, who ordinarily would be assigned to represent Cynthia at her court date, so that the attorney can reach out to her in advance and advise her. If Cynthia decides to do Project Reset, she will participate in two sessions with youth social workers from the Midtown Community Court, usually one individual counseling session and one group session. Once finished, the Midtown social workers will report back that Cynthia has successfully completed Project Reset and, in turn, the DA’s office will decline to prosecute the case, which will ultimately be sealed. If Cynthia does not complete Reset for any reason (e.g., she is not interested, she misses the scheduled appointments with the social worker, or for any other reason), the DA’s office will be notified that she did not complete Project Reset and the case will proceed like any other.
Project Reset’s potential benefits are numerous: helping youth to avoid criminal records; giving youth interventions that can target particular issues that underlie their behavior; and reducing the burden on our criminal courts.