On Monday, January 30, CASES CEO Jonathan McLean submitted the below testimony to the New York State Senate & Assembly. As the operator of the Manhattan Supervised Release Program (MSRP)–the largest pretrial services program in the city–CASES is pleased to share data highlighting the success of this program. MSRP is effective at ensuring people return to court, helping them connect to needed supports and services, and diverting them from the harm and trauma of pretrial detention at Rikers Island.
New York State Senate & Assembly
Joint Public Hearing – Criminal Justice Data
January 30, 2023
Good afternoon, Chairs Bailey, Dinowitz, Salazar, Dilan, Hoylman-Sigal, and Lavine, and members of the Committees on Codes, Committees on Judiciary, Committee on Crime Victims Crime and Correction, and Committee on Correction. Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony on this critical topic.
My name is Jonathan McLean. I am the President & CEO of CASES, and a formerly incarcerated person who knows all too well the human stories behind the criminal justice data that is the focus of today’s hearing. CASES is one of the longest-established providers of alternative-to-incarceration (ATI) services, with our first program starting in 1967. In addition to providing a range of ATIs, CASES is the supervised release provider for people arrested in Manhattan, and we offer wraparound services in the community that include mental health, education, employment and connections to housing.
Incarceration should be an absolute last resort, but it is frequently used as a default despite the robust and well-established alternatives that exist. CASES has a wealth of data on the success of both our ATI and supervised release programs, which show that individuals with criminal-legal involvement can remain in their communities while fulfilling court requirements including showing up for court appointments. This data also provides insights into which individuals might need additional services and support.
We must acknowledge, however, that those who oppose efforts to make our criminal legal system more just and fair have shown no interest in the facts and the data. Opponents of bail reform started criticizing the law before any data was available, and have continued to do so as increasing amounts of data show the success of bail reform. Bail reform worked. The data on this is conclusive and overwhelming. In passing bail reform, the State Legislature showed a true commitment to increasing fairness and public safety. We cannot allow those who will not engage with the facts to derail this accomplishment.
Pretrial Services Are Successful at Ensuring Return to Court and Reducing Rearrest
The CASES Pretrial Services program, which provides supervised release to individuals arrested in Manhattan, enrolled over 4,500 individuals last year. This program grew significantly after the passage of bail reforms in 2019. Although those opposed to bail reform have suggested that it led to increases in crime, our data shows that is not accurate. Instead, the reforms ensured that individuals awaiting trial return to court and that they are not re-arrested while also ensuring that people who are not convicted of a crime maintain their freedom, remaining in the community where they can maintain their housing, employment and family relationships.
The vast majority of CASES Pretrial clients (86% in FY21) make their court appearances successfully, without having a warrant issued for failure to appear. Individuals in Pretrial Services are also unlikely to be re-arrested: 85% of our Pretrial clients are not re-arrested for a felony (and 93% are not re-arrested for a violent felony) in their first year in the program.
Individuals Awaiting Trial Have Complex Needs
Our data also shows that many individuals awaiting trial have complex needs that are much better addressed in a community setting, rather than a jail. This is particularly true as Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail, remains an inhumane institution where Black and Brown incarcerated people are routinely denied mental health and medical care. Rikers is unable and unwilling to keep anyone safe.
The CASES Pretrial Services team—including clinicians, case coordinators, credible messengers, youth engagement specialists, and court representatives—works collaboratively with our clients to help them meet their needs and to connect them to services including treatment, education and employment opportunities, housing and more. At intake, we find that 31% of CASES Pretrial clients are homeless, with 13% experiencing street homelessness. 1 in 5 people served in our Pretrial program have serious behavioral health needs, according to state health records. Housing and mental health needs cannot be met while an individual is incarcerated. In fact, incarceration can result in an individual becoming ineligible for certain housing programs. Incarceration also worsens mental health, and NYC jails are currently unable to provide even basic mental health care. In the most recent month for which data is available, 10,000 medical appointments in New York City jails, including mental health appointments—10,000 appointments in a single month—were missed. 19 individuals died on Rikers last year due to the abject failures of jail officials to maintain safety and provide care, including seven who died by suicide and six who died from overdoses. By providing pretrial services, we are able to connect people in need to mental health care, to collaborate with housing providers to start the path toward permanent housing, and to work with individuals to meet their basic needs for food and clothing. This approach to justice is a key achievement of bail reform in New York State of which all of us should be proud.
Pretrial Services Work for Bail-Eligible Offenses
Many people inaccurately believe that people with more serious charges will be less likely to appear in court. Our data shows this assumption is simply false. In FY21, one-third of the individuals served in CASES Pretrial Services were charged with a bail-eligible offense at arraignment. These individuals were actually more likely to exit the program without a felony rearrest and without a warrant for failure to appear than those with other charges, as shown in the table below. Stated more simply, people with bail-eligible charges who are enrolled in supervised release have even better overall outcomes in the program than people facing less serious charges.
Alternatives to Incarceration Programs Work
At CASES, we offer a range of Alternative-to-Incarceration (ATI) programs that successfully divert individuals from jails and prisons into services in the community. ATIs are more humane and just than incarceration at facilities like Rikers Island, are significantly less expensive, and are proven to reduce recidivism. Each of CASES’ ATI programs has a unique design to best meet the needs of the individuals served, but they all succeed by breaking cycles of arrest and incarceration. The State should look to expand similar programs both within New York City and across the State.
CASES Nathaniel Assertive Community Treatment program (Nathaniel ACT) is an evidence-based model providing intensive treatment and support to people facing felony charges who have a serious mental illness and are facing at least one year of incarceration. Priority is given to individuals who are found incompetent after arrest. CASES operates the only State-licensed ACT team in the State that is specifically designed as an ATI, with services provided to those facing charges in New York and Kings Counties. Since the program’s inception in 2003, over 450 men and women have been helped.
ACT services are delivered primarily in clients’ community settings by a mobile team of clinicians, peers, nurses, and psychiatrists. Program services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and include crisis intervention and ongoing liaison with and reporting to Court stakeholders.
Data shows the incredible success of the program:
- Clients achieve a 70% reduction in recidivism following intake in Nathaniel ACT
- Of the 41% of intakes who entered the program on a violent felony arrest, less than 5% have a new violent arrest after one year in Nathaniel ACT
- The rate of psychiatric hospitalizations among clients in Nathaniel ACT are halved, from 47% to 24%
- Homelessness decreases from 73% to 32%
Clients also show increases in educational activity and employment.
The statistical outcomes achieved by Nathaniel ACT clients is an example of what the data tells us: alternatives to incarceration work. It’s critical that we use data like this to inform our criminal-legal system policies. We need to invest in and expand access to services like supervised release and alternatives to incarceration, which promote recovery and healing instead of punishment and detention. All too often, conversations on criminal legal system reforms are divorced from what providers like CASES see every day. They ignore the reality that our clients, when provided with appropriate services, return to court, engage in health and housing services, secure employment and reunite with family members, and participate as active members of their communities. We know we can reduce the use of incarceration and detention if we follow what the data clearly shows–that pretrial services and alternatives to incarceration work.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. We greatly value the leadership of Senate and Assembly in transforming our criminal legal system to increase fairness and safety for all New Yorkers.
President & CEO