District Attorney Vance to End Criminal Prosecution of Approximately 20,000 Low-Level, Non-Violent Misdemeanors Per Year

Posted in: News

Posted on June 30, 2017
The Vast Majority of Theft of Services Offenses for “Turnstile Jumping” on the Subway Will No Longer Be Criminally Prosecuted in Manhattan; Manhattan DA Early Diversion Program Expanded to Adults; Manhattan “Hope” Program for Drug Possession to be Launched

Manhattan DA’s Office on Track to Reduce Low-Level Offenses Prosecuted in Criminal Court by Nearly Half of 2009 Total

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today announced new justice reform initiatives that will end the criminal prosecution of approximately 20,000 low-level offenses annually. Beginning in September 2017, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will no longer prosecute the overwhelming majority of individuals charged with Theft of Services for subway-related offenses, unless there is a demonstrated public safety reason to do so.

Building on the success of the Manhattan Summons Initiative launched by District Attorney Vance and the NYPD in March 2016 – which was subsequently replicated citywide –  the policies being announced today will:

  • Prevent New Yorkers accused of committing these offenses from accumulating a criminal record or ever setting foot in a courtroom
  • Reduce the immigration, housing, employment and other collateral consequences associated with criminal prosecution
  • Enable the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to focus its resources on investigating more serious crimes, such as domestic violence, drunk driving, stalking, and assault cases
  • Reduce the backlog of cases in Manhattan Criminal Court
  • Strengthen bonds between law enforcement and the community members we serve, and
  • Reduce the jail population of Rikers Island, in order to achieve the goal of its ultimate closure.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., said: “The criminal prosecution of these low-level, non-violent offenses should not be a part of a reformed 21st-century justice system. Absent a demonstrated public safety risk, criminally prosecuting New Yorkers accused of these offenses does not make us safer. Today, by committing to divert these misdemeanor cases out of Criminal Court in Manhattan, we will further eliminate unnecessary incarceration, and reduce the risks of deportation, loss of housing, and loss of employment that often accompany a criminal prosecution.

“Since 2010, my Office has worked with the NYPD and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to end the criminal prosecution of tens of thousands of low-level cases that needlessly bog down our Criminal Court and swell our City’s jail population. In Manhattan, we are embracing the role that District Attorneys must play to achieve the closure of Rikers Island, and proving that New York can safely reduce crime and incarceration at the same time.”

Theft of Services – New York Penal Law §165.15(3)

Theft of Services, also known as “turnstile jumping,” a class A misdemeanor, is the most common charge in Manhattan Criminal Court: nearly 10,000 individuals were arrested on this charge in Manhattan last year. In the coming months, the Manhattan DA’s Office will work with the NYPD and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to drastically reduce the number of people prosecuted in Manhattan for committing this offense, by a combination of issuing summonses in lieu of arrest, and offering pre-arraignment diversion to those individuals who are arrested for this crime and issued a desk appearance ticket (DAT). If those individuals successfully complete the terms of a diversion program, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will decline to prosecute the case, the individual will need not appear in court, and the record will be sealed.

However, as with all offenses, the District Attorney’s Office will continue to prosecute those individuals who pose a demonstrated threat to public safety.

Council Member Rory I. Lancman said: “The decision by Manhattan DA Vance to end criminal prosecution of fare evasion in Manhattan is an important step forward to reforming our criminal justice system. For too long, prosecution of fare evasion as a crime has disproportionately impacted people of color, bogged down our courts, and even put immigrants at risk of deportation. Diverting fare evasion cases away from the criminal justice system is a smart and sensible policy that will ensure offenders are held accountable fairly, while not saddling people with a lifetime criminal record or left languishing in custody.”

Manhattan DA Early Diversion Program

District Attorney Vance awarded grants to three organizations to create early diversion programs that provide participants with opportunities to avoid prosecution and an arrest record, while being held accountable in a community setting.

The initiative is modeled after the success of the Office’s signature Project Reset pilot program, a collaboration by the District Attorney’s Office, the Center for Court Innovation (CCI), and NYPD. Under Project Reset, 16- and 17-year-old first-time arrestees who are arrested for low-level offenses are eligible to complete a counseling program, or other age-appropriate interventions, administered by CCI. To date, 432 teens have successfully completed Project Reset and have had their cases dismissed without ever setting foot in a courtroom. 51 additional teens are currently enrolled in the program.

The groups receiving grants today will serve eligible participants over the age of 18 – first-time arrestees, charged with non-violent misdemeanor crimes – with similar pre-arraignment intervention opportunities throughout Manhattan. Certain programs will target young adults between the ages of 18-to-20-years-old. The District Attorney’s Office will provide total funding, initially estimated at approximately $6.5 million, over three-and-one-half years. The following vendors receiving awards are expected to help serve an estimated 5,000 people each year:

  • Center for Court Innovation
    • Primary Demographic: Young adults and adults arrested in Midtown Manhattan, and adults arrested in Lower Manhattan
    • Services and Programming:  Individuals may participate in a range of diversion workshops focused on topics such as public health, legal resources, community service, education, and workforce; individual counseling; or a restorative justice program, as well as be linked – if interested – to additional outside services
  • Osborne Association 
    • Primary Demographic: Young adults and adults arrested in Northern Manhattan
    • Services and Programming: Individuals will participate in one of four core interventions: a trauma-coping intervention, a restorative justice intervention, a Naloxone treatment training program, and community benefit projects, as well as be linked – if interested – to additional outside services
  • Young New Yorkers
    • Primary Demographic: Young adults arrested in Lower Manhattan
    • Services and Programming: Individuals will participate in an arts-based restorative justice intervention that engages participants in taking responsibility for their actions through storytelling, utilizing video, photography, and collage, as well as be linked – if interested – to additional outside services

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is providing these grants through its Criminal Justice Investment Initiative (“CJII”), which District Attorney Vance created using criminal forfeiture funds obtained through the Office’s settlements with international banks for violating U.S. sanctions. These awards follow an open-solicitation, Request for Proposals and review process led by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and facilitated by the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance (ISLG), CJII’s technical assistance provider.

City University of New York Institute for State and Local Governance Executive Director Michael P. Jacobson said: “Redirecting people from the criminal justice system to safe, community-based alternatives is a smart, fairer, and more effective way to address low-level offenses. The programs announced today will allow significantly more people to be diverted into these alternatives, freeing up limited court resources to focus on more serious offenses.”

Center for Court Innovation Executive Director Greg Berman said: “We are excited to join DA Vance and others in forging a new response to low-level offending.  Everyone wins when minor cases are successfully diverted out of the system. Thousands of people will avoid a trip to court and the possibility of a criminal record.  The crushing caseloads that make life in the courts difficult will be reduced.  But most important, public trust in justice will be improved as New Yorkers see the justice system working to devise pathways to help rather than a conveyor belt to Rikers.”

The Osborne Association President and CEO Elizabeth Gaynes said: “The Osborne Association is honored to partner with the Center for Justice at Columbia University to divert people who have been arrested in Harlem by offering a meaningful community alternative to court process that can lead to better outcomes for individuals and safer communities. We thank District Attorney Vance for this opportunity to offer pathways out of the criminal justice system and into targeted interventions and wrap-around services. The District Attorney’s Criminal Justice Investment Initiative and commitment to alternatives to traditionally punitive prosecutions promises to make a real difference in the lives of all New Yorkers.”

Young New Yorkers Co-Founder and Executive Director Rachel Barnard said: “Young New Yorkers is honored to have been selected to participate in the Manhattan DA’s Early Diversion Initiative, and is excited to bring its restorative justice arts programs to New York County.  YNY promotes Transformative Justice by providing early diversion arts-based programs, which enable participants to use their creative voices and encourage judges, prosecutors and the NYPD to hear them. Since it began in 2012, more than 450 Brooklyn young people have graduated from YNY’s court-mandated restorative arts programs.  Participants’ cases have been dismissed and sealed, and participants have avoid the collateral consequences of a criminal record.  YNY’s participation in the Early Diversion Initiative will provide the same opportunities to young people who incur low-level criminal charges in Manhattan.”

Manhattan Hope Program 

The Manhattan Hope Program is modeled on Project HOPE (Heroin Overdose Prevention & Education), an innovative, pre-arraignment diversion program launched in January 2017 on Staten Island. It was developed through a collaboration of law enforcement, public health advocates, and community members convened by Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon in order to fight the current opioid crisis.

The Manhattan Hope Program will allow individuals arrested for low-level drug offenses to complete a drug treatment program, without ever setting foot inside a courtroom. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s treatment program will be tailored to fit the individual needs of those charged with Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree, a class A misdemeanor, for cocaine, heroin, crack, oxycodone and other controlled substances, and may include treatment, recovery, and other specialized services. Up to 4,100 individuals annually will be eligible for consideration for participation in the Manhattan Hope Program.

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