Alternatives to Incarceration

On any given day, more than 9,000 people are detained in New York City jails. While this number is a significant decrease from previous years, the rate at which vulnerable populations—including women and people with mental illness—are being incarcerated is on the rise. Multiple indicators continue to track the negative outcomes associated with incarceration for many populations:

  • A 2014 report by the U.S. District Attorney documented the “culture of violence” against youth detained at the Rikers Island correctional facility1
  • Despite an increased focus on safety, the number of slashings and stabbings at Rikers increased by 66% in FY 2015, with the number of inmate-on-inmate fights rising by 25%, contributing to a 40% rise in the overall rate of violent incidents2
  • The now 42% of inmates at Rikers who have mental illness—including 11% who have serious mental illness—are detained twice as long and return to jail twice as fast as individuals without mental illness but charged with similar crimes3
  • In 2014, based on an affidavit released in a lawsuit by two female inmates, Rikers Island officials followed up with the NY Police Department on only 2% of claims of sexual abuse at the facility4

Given the challenges existing within facilities like Rikers Island, it is perhaps not surprising that some national studies have found that almost 70% of individuals released from incarceration are re-arrested within three years.5 Further, incarceration has been found to have an especially harmful impact on individuals with mental illness and other behavioral health needs. However, the implications of ineffective jail and prison stays go beyond just failing to achieve long-term rehabilitation. While costing New York City taxpayers more than $1.2 billion in annual correctional costs, incarceration also disrupts family and community networks and can ultimately worsen public safety by increasing risk factors for people who will ultimately return to the community.6

CASES offers a range of cost-effective alternative-to-incarceration (ATI) and alternative-to-detention (ATD) programs, including for youth, women with significant past trauma, and people with serious mental illness. Our team of court-based assessment and intake specialists works across the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens courts, conferring with lawyers and defendants and advocating to presiding judges for the diversion of appropriate individuals to a CASES ATI or ATD. These programs include alternatives for:

  • Teens involved in Family Court
  • Young people age 16-24 facing felony convictions
  • Men and women age 18 and above with chronic histories of low-level criminal involvement who also have behavioral health treatment needs
  • Low-risk adults awaiting trial and unable to afford monetary bail
  • Men and women age 18 and above facing felony convictions who have serious mental illness and a history of significant dysfunction in the community

Across CASES ATI and ATD programs, our staff emphasize risk-responsive approaches that tailor the level of services to clients’ unique risks and needs related to potential recidivism. This best practice approach is supplemented by evidence-based approaches used across all our programs including Motivational Interviewing and Trauma-Informed Care. Across our ATI and ATD programs, services include:

  • Risk and need assessment, including validated clinical screening
  • Treatment/service planning and ongoing case management
  • Individual and group counseling, including evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Education and employment services
  • Family services
  • Housing services
  • State-licensed mental health treatment
  • Substance abuse monitoring and counseling

CASES staff closely monitor participants’ engagement and progress and submit regular compliance reports and updates to the court. Participants who successfully complete a CASES alternative can receive reduced criminal sanctions and avoid jail or prison.

Every year, CASES’ alternative sanctions divert nearly 4,000 youth and adults from court, jail, or prison to support and treatment services in the community. In developing and operating these alternatives, CASES works closely with City and court stakeholders to ensure we address gaps in the criminal justice system while preserving public safety. As documented in the program pages linked below, CASES ATI and ATD services help our participants to improve their lives while reducing recidivism—improving public safety—and reducing government spending on correctional costs that might be better allocated to other community needs.

For specific program information including outcomes, please see links below.


1 U.S. Department of Justice (2014, Aug. 4). CRIPA investigation of the New York City Department of Correction jails on Rikers Island. NYC: United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. Retrieved from ^

2 Ponte, J. (2016). Preliminary fiscal 2016 mayor's management report: department of correction. NYC: City of New York, 2016. Retrieved from ^

3 Ibid. ^

4 Bellware, K. (2015, Oct. 20). Rikers Island almost never reports sexual abuse complaints: Official. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from ^

5 Durose, M., Cooper, A.D., & Synder, H.N. (2014, Apr.). Recidivism of prisoners released in 30 states in 2005: patterns from 2005 to 2010. Washington: U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from ^ ^

6 The City of New York (2015). Mayor's management report 2015. NYC: City of New York. Retrieved from ^

7 NYC Mayor (2015). ^

8 Ibid. ^

9 Ibid. ^