A dozen troubled people on Long Island got an unusual break this month, says the New York Times. They had been caught on tape selling drugs, and as repeat offenders faced serious prison time. After attending a community meeting, at which they endured the scoldings of neighbors and promised a prosecutor that they would stay out of trouble and take advantage of drug treatment, they walked free. Some lawyers, police officers, and a columnist accused Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice of rewarding criminals, presumably out of a touchy-feely preference for second and third chances over tough justice.
The Rice initiative was inspired by the work of David Kennedy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who, while at Harvard, developed an acclaimed strategy for reducing violent crime in Boston that was later used in other cities. The city of Hempstead, where the Rice program is taking place, has struggled for years with poverty and drug crime. The Times, in an editorial notes that Rice vows that those who slip up could quickly find themselves behind bars. For now, they have one last chance to try to repair their lives under the watchful eyes of social service agencies, the police, and their families and neighbors.