NYC Diversion Programs Under Scrutiny After Arrest In Officer’s Killing


At a time of national focus on inmates' being released from prisons back to their communities, debate in New York City has swirled over criminal justice reforms, some decades old, aimed at keeping people from ever reaching a jail cell, says the New York Times. The fatal shooting in October of officer Randolph Holder and and the charging of Tyrone Howard, who was granted diversion earlier this year into a drug-treatment program, has prompted new scrutiny of such alternatives to incarceration, most of which target drug offenders. Police officials, with an eye toward how cases turn out in Brooklyn, have been making the same point: Offering young, gun-toting people any chance at diversion is a failure of the criminal justice system and an impediment to crime-fighting efforts. In an attempt to secure stiffer penalties, the police this year have sought federal charges, instead of state ones, in more gun cases in Brooklyn. “The message that we want to get out is very clear: If you carry a gun in New York City, we will be relentless in following you,” said Dermot Shea, a deputy police commissioner. The goal, he said, was “to make sure that those that carry a gun in New York City are sent to jail.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson is considering whether some of those same people deserve another chance to reintegrate into mainstream society before they even enter the criminal justice system, a kind of re-entry program minus any time in prison. The defendants passing through his office’s two diversion programs for first-time felony offenders represent a tiny fraction of 100,000 cases the office handles each year. Screening for both programs is tough, and more than half of candidates are rejected and prosecuted. “To me, it has been obvious this whole time that you cannot keep pushing the same people through the court system, again and again and again, without addressing the underlying problems of why they come to the courts,” said New York State's chief judge, Jonathan Lippman. The recidivism rate for participants in the Brooklyn programs, aimed at young gang members, is less than 10 percent, far lower than the roughly 67 percent of people in state prisons that the federal Justice Department has found are arrested within three years of being released.

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