As crime cases continue to rise in New York City, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has announced a new division that will oversee alternatives to incarceration in an effort to reduce recidivism and enhance public safety.
Bragg, the first person of color elected to his post, has received criticism since he assumed office early this year for announcing a list of lenient criminal justice policies. After a month of backlash, he reversed parts of his Day 1 Memo, changing charges for commercial robberies that use guns or even fake guns to felonies instead of misdemeanors.
New York City saw a 38.5% increase in crimes in January compared to the same month last year. In February, the year-over-year spike was 58.7%. The fatal shoving of Michelle Go in front of an oncoming train at the Times Square subway station was among those crimes in January, while the fatal stabbing of Christina Yuna Lee in her own Chinatown apartment took place in February. The suspects accused in their cases are both repeat offenders.
Reducing recidivism, or the tendency to re-offend, is one of Bragg’s primary goals with the new Pathways to Public Safety Division. Described as a “major restructuring,” the division is expected to strengthen the District Attorney’s Office work in “alternatives to incarceration, specialized court parts, pre-arraignment diversion, restorative justice practices, and reentry practices.”
Part of the Trial, Investigation and Appellate Divisions, the new Pathways division will provide each of the six existing Trial Division bureaus with a prosecutor who will function as a resource from arraignment to sentencing. They will proactively identify those who would benefit from diversion while ensuring community safety.
“The Pathways to Public Safety Division will secure dynamic, individually tailored outcomes that are proven to keep our communities safe while giving our fellow New Yorkers the help they need,” Bragg said in a news release. “By identifying opportunities for diversion at the beginning stages of a case, instead of weeks to months after an arrest, we can increase effectiveness and break cycles of recidivism.
“Pathways will provide prosecutors with support and resources from screening through sentencing, incorporating alternatives to incarceration into the bedrock of the Office’s work. That means identifying candidates for programming as early as possible, while closely monitoring an individual’s progress throughout – ensuring accountability instead of a revolving door.”
It remains unclear which crimes would qualify for diversion and programming; however, the DA’s Office pointed out that incarceration “will continue to be an available outcome for the most serious offenses, particularly for those who commit violent crimes.”
Sherene Crawford, who served as assistant district attorney from 2009 to 2014, will be the chief of the new division. During her tenure, she served in Trial Bureau 40 and in the specialized units of cybercrimes, public assistance fraud, domestic violence and sex crimes.
Many officials so far have welcomed the creation of the new division.
“The new Pathways to Public Safety Division is a vital measure for reducing recidivism and making our borough safer,” State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-N.Y.) said. “I applaud District Attorney Bragg for leading with this innovative approach, and I’m confident this initiative, with Division Chief Sherene Crawford at the helm, will successfully attack the root causes of crime.”
Councilmember Carmen De La Rosa said, “The creation of District Attorney Bragg’s Pathways to Public Safety Division will help proactively identify opportunities for diversion at the beginning stages of a case, instead of days, even months after their arrest, thereby increasing both effectiveness and safety. I applaud this important reform and look forward to working with his office to help deliver and prioritize proactive public safety.”
The DA’s Office said Pathways will also partner with the community “in the coming months” to develop and implement new community-based intervention and prevention efforts. The partnership is intended to support community-led public safety models that utilize restorative justice, mentorship, education and employment resources.