Project Brooklyn CLEAR, Offering Treatment to Individuals Arrested with Small Amounts of Narcotics, Expanded to the Entire Borough of Brooklyn

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Project Brooklyn CLEAR, Offering Treatment to Individuals Arrested with
Small Amounts of Narcotics, Expanded to the Entire Borough of Brooklyn

Pre-Arraignment Diversion Provides Services from Time of Arrest and Dismissal of
Misdemeanor Charges; During Seven Months of Pilot Stage, 65% of Eligible Individuals
Opted into Program and 85% Completed it and Never Had to Appear in Court

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that a pilot pre-arraignment diversion program to assist individuals who suffer from drug dependency and misuse has been expanded to the entire borough of Brooklyn. Under Project CLEAR (Collaborative Legal Engagement Assistance Response), individuals arrested for misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance are offered the opportunity to receive treatment and other community-based services before their initial court appearance. If they meaningfully participate, the DA’s Office declines prosecution of their cases before they ever appear in court and their arrest record is sealed. The program, launched in February as a pilot in south Brooklyn, is now available boroughwide.

District Attorney Gonzalez said, “As my Office implements a new approach to assisting those who are drug dependent, I am gratified that this opportunity is now available in all of Brooklyn. Project CLEAR has already helped scores of individuals who were arrested with small amounts of narcotics used to feed their habits; facilitated distribution of dozens of naloxone kits to prevent overdoses; and spared many from getting a criminal record. I would like to thank all of our partners who worked hard to make this initiative successful, and to Mayor de Blasio for providing additional funding that allowed us to expand it.”

Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, said, “For the justice system to be truly fit-for-purpose, it must be able to help people who are experiencing different kinds of crises, including those related to drug dependencies. We applaud District Attorney Gonzalez’s innovations, which are worthy of credit and emulation.”

The District Attorney said that Project CLEAR was launched in February 2018 in six Brooklyn South precincts that experienced high overdose rates and later expanded to the entire Brooklyn South command. In mid-September, it expanded again to include all of Brooklyn.

Under CLEAR, individuals arrested on misdemeanor charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree (PL 220.03) and who are eligible for a DAT (desk appearance ticket) have the opportunity to resolve their cases by receiving services rather than appearing in court if they comply with independent assessment-based recommendations.

If the NYPD determines the individual is eligible, they call the Brooklyn DA’s Office and receive a return date for the DAT – typically within seven days of arrest instead of the traditional 30. The DA’s Office then notifies the EAC Network (Empower, Assist & Care), which dispatches a Peer Recovery Coach to meet the individual at the precinct. Peers are non-law enforcement personnel who are trained to assist those challenged by drug misuse. They encourage the individual to be assessed by the EAC Network within seven days. They also provide a naloxone kit and instructions on its proper use. If necessary, the peer can provide immediate access to detoxification services.

Arrested individuals can decline to participate and opt to make the scheduled court appearance on the return date seven days later and the cases will be prosecuted in the traditional manner. If they agree to an assessment within seven days, the cases get postponed for a 30-day period, during which the individuals are encouraged to meaningfully engage in services that were offered based on the assessment. The individual assessments are performed at the offices of EAC Network, a social services agency.

If the individual complies with their recommendations within 30 days, the DA’s Office is notified and exercises its prosecutorial discretion by formally declining to prosecute the arrest. The arrested individual does not have to appear in court and the arrest record is sealed. Throughout the process, The Legal Aid Society is available to assist both those who participate and those who opted not to participate in the program – a decision that has no effect on the disposition of their cases.

Since CLEAR launched, over 100 people opted into the program, representing about 65% of eligible individuals. Of them, 71 people, or about 85%, meaningfully engaged in the program and their cases were declined prosecution (the remainder are still enrolled). A total of 95 naloxone kits, used to rapidly reverse opioid overdose, were distributed to individuals who were also trained on using them.

While one of the main objectives of CLEAR is to provide better tools to stem the opioid epidemic, arrests for possession of any controlled substance are eligible. Of those offered the program, 38% were arrested with opioids, 40% with crack/cocaine and the rest with other types of narcotics or controlled substances. Of those offered the program, 35% were facing their first arrest, 26% had one or two previous arrests and 39% had three or more.

The District Attorney thanked the New York City Council and the Mayor’s Office for allocating resources, as well as the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the NYPD, The Legal Aid Society, EAC Network and VOCAL-NY, a provider that engages in harm reduction services, for their partnership in this program.

Brooklyn CLEAR is being directed by Senior Assistant District Attorney Karen Varriale, of the District Attorney’s Drug Treatment Unit, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney David Heslin, Unit Chief, and the overall supervision of Meg Reiss, Chief of Social Justice.