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
For people with histories of frequent low-level criminal involvement, incarceration is costly and often ineffective as a deterrent of future crime. For many years, New York City has struggled to address the challenges presented by this population. Back in 2002, Mayor Bloomberg stated that nearly 30% of all misdemeanor crime citywide could be attributed to only 6% of people involved in the criminal justice system.1 Then in 2014, the Action Plan issued by Mayor de Blasio’s Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System identified a group of just more than 400 people who have accounted for more than 10,000 jail admissions and 300,000 days in jail over a recent five-year period—with 85% of these being related to misdemeanors or parole/probation violations.2 Because of the low-level nature of their crimes, these defendants typically receive short jail sentences, requiring expensive transportation and court and jail processing.
A high percentage of individuals within this population face barriers to a secure lifestyle, including joblessness, housing insecurity, and untreated behavioral health issues. According to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, 40% of individuals facing short sentences report homelessness and 73% report that they are unemployed. For these individuals, short jail sentences provide limited opportunities to address unmet needs. As a result, many remain mired in a cycle of arrest, confinement, release, and re-arrest that prevents them from ever accessing the rehabilitative treatment they need to reduce their criminal involvement and begin to work toward recovery and wellness.
The newSTART Approach
For many years, CASES has worked to develop effective alternative sanctions in New York County Criminal Court that:
- Emphasize brief interventions of a duration that will be an acceptable alternative for defendants and defense attorneys, given the likelihood of the defendant otherwise facing a short jail sentence
- Incorporate strategies to promote a powerful combination of personal accountability and access to ongoing services in the community
In 2017, CASES expanded its alternative sanctions in Manhattan Criminal Court as newSTART, which provides a streamlined screening and intake process to support the rapid identification and diversion of appropriate defendants at arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court. The program includes screening and in-court advocacy to help judges and court stakeholders understand the risks and appropriateness of diverting individuals—including those with a history of frequent low-level criminal involvement—to a CASES jail alternative.
newSTART services are guided by evidence-based approaches including motivational interviewing and trauma-informed care. Specific program tracks include:
- One-Day Alternative: a one-day sanction that provides a brief, structured intervention using motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral interventions to help participants identify their immediate needs and connect them with appropriate community resources and providers—the services provide tailored responses for men, women, youth and young adults, and participants with substance use and mental health treatment needs
- Daytime Custody: a 3–5 day sanction in which men with histories of frequent low-level criminal involvement report during daytime hours to a secure NYC Department of Correction facility; participants perform community service, engage in clinical assessment, attend individual and group counseling, and receive referrals to community providers for ongoing support following the program
- Community Case Management: a 3–5 day sanction for men and women with histories of frequent low-level criminal involvement including individuals with mental illness and/or other behavioral health needs—services include clinical assessment, individual and group counseling, and referrals to ongoing services in the community (within this service track, CASES provides Women’s Diversion Services, a gender-responsive intervention for justice-involved women)
- Community Social Service: a 3–5 day sanction designed to reduce recidivism for medium- to high-risk defendants by helping participants to address individual, community, and systemic factors that can influence decision-making and contribute to justice-involvement—the intervention is facilitated by clinically-trained social workers, with participants also assigned to Pathways to Employment (PTE), an employment and job-readiness, skill-building program
- Community Service: a 3–5 day sanction in which participants are assigned to meaningful and visible community service opportunities developed in partnership with local residents and businesses and responsive to community needs—the 6-hour sessions are conducted by the Midtown Community Court and include both on- and off-site service work
- Community Vocational and Employment: a 5-day sanction for eligible men and women with a specialized focus on employment readiness—participants are enrolled in the Center for Employment Opportunity (CEO)’s Pathways to Employment and are expected to continue in the program after the completion of the five-day mandate, engaging in paid transitional employment, job placement, and job retention services
newSTART builds on and expands CASES’ previous ATI program in Manhattan Criminal Court: Manhattan START. That program demonstrated a high level of judicial support with nearly 20% of START referrals coming directly from judges. When CASES staff advocated for a defendant to receive a START mandate, judges refused in only 8% of cases. Recent START annual outcomes include:
- Daytime Custody: served 754 defendants, among whom 28% had indications of mental illness and 54% had indications of substance abuse, with nearly 70% of all clients successfully completing their court mandate
- Community Case Management: served 265 defendants, all of whom had indications of mental illness and 66% of whom had indications of substance abuse, with nearly 75% of all clients successfully completing their court mandate
The expanded newSTART program will divert more than 1,700 men and women from short jail sentences this year.