FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, October 2, 2019
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez Announces Project Reset in
Partnership with the Center for Court Innovation and the Brooklyn Museum
To Allow Those Arrested for Certain Minor Offenses to Avoid Prosecution
Arts-Based Educational Course and Other Programming are Offered In Lieu of Prosecution;
Cases Get Dismissed Upon Completion and Without Court Appearance
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that Project Reset, a diversion program that holds people accountable for minor crimes without prosecuting them, has been launched in Brooklyn and includes a first-of-its-kind arts-based educational course at the Brooklyn Museum, a recognized leader in the field of arts education. Conducted in partnership with the Center for Court Innovation (CCI), the Brooklyn Museum, The Legal Aid Society and Brooklyn Defender Services, Project Reset allows those charged with certain misdemeanors who receive a desk appearance ticket (DAT) to resolve their cases by completing a diversionary course without ever having to set foot in court.
District Attorney Gonzalez said, “Project Reset aligns with my commitment to reduce our reliance on convictions and incarceration while still holding offenders accountable. This program addresses the conduct of those who commit misdemeanor offenses and confronts the consequences of their actions in a more meaningful way than traditional court sanctions. I am especially proud that we have partnered with the Brooklyn Museum because involving our local communities and Brooklyn’s incredible cultural institutions as partners in justice is one of my goals as we strive to strengthen fairness and trust. This partnership helps harness the transformative power of art as a response to low-level crimes. With the forthcoming expansion of DAT arrests under the new criminal justice reform law taking effect next year, this program will help us handle misdemeanors more efficiently and equitably while reducing the footprint of the criminal justice system.”
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said, “As we work together to move away from an overly punitive criminal justice system, Project Reset is a key component in providing alternatives to traditional criminal prosecution. These community-based diversion programs are a fair and proportionate solution to arrests for low level offenses, and they are also highly effective, since participants are less than half as likely to be arrested as their peers. The Council is committed to this successful program. We reached an agreement with the Administration to fund Project Reset citywide, with a $710,000 allocation from the Council and $3.2 million allocation from the Administration. I commend District Attorney Gonzalez and the Center for Court Innovation for their leadership in this work.”
Adam Mansky, Director of Criminal Justice at the Center for Court Innovation said, “The Center for Court Innovation is pleased to work with our longtime partner, the Brooklyn DA’s Office, to launch Project Reset throughout Brooklyn. Project Reset is a new way of responding to low-level offending that is appropriate, meaningful, and proportionate, and wholly avoids the threat of jail, warrant, or conviction. By diverting people out of the criminal justice system and into community-based programming, Project Reset will make justice in Brooklyn more humane and effective. The Center for Court Innovation is grateful to the City Council and Speaker Johnson for supporting this important work.”
David Berliner, President and Chief Operating Officer, Brooklyn Museum, said, “We’re so thrilled to announce this innovative collaboration with the Center for Court Innovation. At the Brooklyn Museum, we’ve long been committed to programs that champion social justice issues, and this partnership provides a meaningful way for the arts to play a unique and critical role in criminal justice reform.”
The District Attorney said that Project Reset launched on May 20, 2019 in all 10 Brooklyn North precincts and expanded to the entire borough on August 5, 2019. Under this initiative, all individuals arrested for certain misdemeanors, including criminal mischief, petit larceny, disorderly conduct and others, who receive a DAT are screened for eligibility. Their assigned counsel will receive an email about the arrest from the Brooklyn DA’s Office giving counsel seven days to conduct outreach and consultation with the prospective participant. During the course of the next three to four weeks, and before the scheduled court appearance to answer the charges, the participants will have to complete appropriate programming.
The Brooklyn Museum offers two courses – one for young adults up to age 25 and another for adults age 26 and up. During the immersive, two-hour curriculum that was created for Project Reset, participants view, analyze and discuss a work of art from the Museum’s permanent collection in a group setting, and learn about its origins and meaning. The discussion is led by teaching artists, whose own work centers around themes of social justice and prison reform. Participants then work independently to create their own artwork in response to the discussion in an effort to learn about accepting responsibility and changing one’s personal narrative while simultaneously being exposed to art and cultural offerings within their community.
Another offering is being held at the Downtown Brooklyn offices of Brooklyn Justice Initiatives (BJI), a project of CCI. Tools for New Thinking is a 90-minute session providing space for adult participants, working with social workers, to identify and discuss situations that they feel escalated unnecessarily and resulted in regrettable outcomes, while learning how their values and thoughts can lead to better outcomes. Participants who can benefit from tailored services based on their particular needs, are offered an individual session with BJI.
If a person completes the session, representatives of BJI notify the Brooklyn DA’s Office, which then declines to prosecute the arrest. The case is then sealed, and the person never has to appear in court. Participants have access to defense attorneys throughout the process.
The list of misdemeanors currently accepted for Project Reset is as follows: Criminal Mischief in the Fourth Degree, Criminal Trespass in the Second and Third Degrees, Criminal Tampering in the Third Degree, Reckless Endangerment of Property, Making Graffiti, Possession of Graffiti Instruments, Petit Larceny, Theft of Services, Unauthorized Sale of Certain Transportation Services, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree, Trademark Counterfeiting in the Third Degree, Forgery in the Third Degree, Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Third Degree, Criminally Using Drug Paraphernalia in the Second Degree, Promoting Gambling in the Second Degree, Unlawful Assembly and Disorderly Conduct.
Since the launch of the program, 182 people completed Project Reset (51 of them completed a session in the Brooklyn Museum) and had their cases dismissed. They represent over 50% of eligible individuals. It is estimated that more than 1,000 cases are eligible annually.
Project Reset started in 2015 as a pilot in Brooklyn for 16- and 17-year-olds. An evaluation of that pilot found that participants were significantly less likely than defendants in a comparison group to be convicted of a new crime within one year. It also documented improved case processing times and case outcomes, as well as positive perceptions of the program, with more than 95% of participants saying they had made the right decision by entering the program and that they would recommend it to someone in a similar situation. Project Reset has since expanded to serve all ages and the program has been implemented in Manhattan and a number of precincts in the Bronx. Brooklyn is the only borough where all defendants who receive DATs are eligible without restrictions.
The program is in alignment with Justice 2020, DA Gonzalez’s plan of action aimed at keeping Brooklyn safe and strengthening community trust by ensuring fairness and equal justice for all, which calls for, among other things, “making jail the alternative.”
Project Reset is being funded through appropriations from the New York City Council as well as private funding from the Cohen Foundation, the Tow Foundation, and the Art for Justice Fund.
Project Reset is being directed by Senior Assistant District Attorney Karen Varriale, of the District Attorney’s Alternatives to Incarceration Unit, under the overall supervision of Meg Reiss, Chief of Social Justice.
Note: a video about the program can be viewed here.