Like many other cities, New York wants to reduce its jail population and repeated lock-ups of low-level offenders. The city’s latest attempt to address that goal centers around a bold idea that could be modeled nationwide: Do away with all jail sentences of less than a month, reports Governing. That’s the idea behind newSTART, a new jail diversion program. It keeps defendants who have committed low-level misdemeanors — things like petty larceny or possession of small amounts of illegal drugs — from entering jail. It would also apply to people convicted of thefts of service, such as jumping a subway turnstile or exiting a taxi without paying.
In exchange for a guilty plea, misdemeanor defendants can opt for one or more social service programs, including drug treatment, job training and mental health counseling.
“We are hopeful that the program will stop the return to jail and [create] a virtuous circle,” says Elizabeth Glazer of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. Right now, the program is limited to defendants who have been sentenced to up to 10 days in jail. If it’s successful, it will be expanded to those convicted of crimes carrying sentences up to 30 days. Not all defendants who fit that time frame will be eligible. The program specifically targets defendants in need of social services and those who have been repeatedly arrested for similar crimes. Almost three-quarters of those facing short-term sentences are unemployed, and more than 40 percent are homeless.