The Intervention: Short-term alternatives to incarceration including individual and group cognitive behavioral interventions, referrals to treatment, and engagement in employment-readiness workshops and community service
Who is Served: Adults facing misdemeanor jail sentences in New York County Criminal Court, including those with a history of frequent low-level convictions and individuals at risk of fifteen days or fewer in jail
Individuals experiencing frequent low-level court involvement often cycle in and out of short jail stays. The short periods of incarceration—despite generating significant public expense—fail to address the challenges leading to court involvement, including poverty, homelessness, and behavioral health conditions such as untreated mental illness. For many years, New York City has struggled to address the challenges experienced by this population. Back in 2015, Mayor de Blasio’s Task Force on Behavioral Health & the Criminal Justice System identified a group of approximately 400 people who accounted for more than 10,000 jail admissions and 300,000 days in jail over a recent five-year period. Of the arrests driving these jail days, 85% were misdemeanors or related to parole/probation violations.1 In 2016, of the 249,776 criminal cases processed through New York City courts, more than 82% carried a top charge of a misdemeanor.2 Because of the low-level nature of their arrests, the individuals in these cases typically receive short jail sentences, requiring expensive transportation and court and jail processing that has proven ineffective in disrupting recidivism.
Most of the individuals caught up in a cycle of frequent low-level court involvement and short jail stays face significant barriers to wellness and stability in the community. Common challenges among this population include unemployment, homelessness, and untreated behavioral health conditions.3 For these individuals, short jail sentences have consistently proven ineffective in addressing unmet needs correlated with cyclical legal involvement. Given the well-documented violence and traumatic conditions at a facility like Rikers Island, short periods of incarceration are more likely to worsen than mitigate these individuals’ needs. As a result, many remain trapped in a cycle of arrest, incarceration, release, and rearrest that precludes meaningful access to the rehabilitative support and treatment they need to reduce court involvement and begin to work toward recovery.
The newSTART Approach
Since 2012, CASES newSTART program has been a key provider in New York County (Manhattan) Criminal Court. newSTART provides an alternative to incarceration (ATI) specifically designed to support individuals with frequent low-level court involvement who are navigating significant barriers to success including homelessness and serious mental illness. Starting at arraignment in the courthouse, newSTART delivers a rapid intervention to prevent jail stays, including onsite case management and support services that span courthouse and community. Instead of another short jail stay at Rikers, newSTART clients engage with trained clinicians and peers, join individual and group counseling sessions, develop a plan to address needs and pursue goals, and develop lasting connections to ongoing support and/or treatment. Specific program features include:
- Small 10:1 staff-to-client ratio
- Menu of 1-, 3-, or 5-day interventions—for a 1-day mandate, the client is immediately provided with their program session in the courthouse; in the case of a 3- or 5-day mandate, the client is connected to a first session in one of CASES’ community offices in Central Harlem or Downtown Brooklyn, and when appropriate is provided with an immediate escort
- Intensive, assessment-guided services that identify and address needs—such as housing insecurity, mental health, and unemployment—that might otherwise lead back to jail
- Post-mandate, voluntary services including:
- For young adults: career counseling, employment readiness, high school equivalency (HSE) prep, and test & testing, in-home family therapy, internship and job placement, and mentoring
- For all clients: case management, client-led community service projects, Health Home care management, individual and group counseling, intensive mobile treatment services, primary health care, and State-licensed mental health treatment