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Criminal Justice Reform

Manhattan DA Cy Vance has enacted numerous progressive initiatives and reforms that reduce unnecessary incarceration and end the criminal prosecution of thousands of low-level, nonviolent offenses annually. With this approach, DA Vance is reducing the long-term negative impacts an arrest and criminal record can have, particularly on communities of color, because these programs allow individuals to stay in school, stay employed, and engage productively in their communities. These efforts have slashed the number of people coming into the criminal justice system in Manhattan nearly in half in recent years and many of these programs have been replicated in cities across the country. These initiatives include:

  • Ending the prosecution of most turnstile-jumping cases, which disproportionately punish those struggling with poverty, particularly among black and Hispanic men;
  • Dismissing en masse more than 240,000 old summons cases that were originally issued for very minor, nonviolent offenses, which subjected those individuals to arrest and other harsh penalties;
  • Ending the prosecution of most low-level, nonviolent violations and infractions through the Manhattan Summons Initiative;
  • Holding multiple "Clean Slate" events to resolve outstanding summons warrants for low-level offenses without fear of arrest;
  • Creating and funding early diversion programs – modeled on the success of the Office’s signature Project Reset youth program – to enable first-time arrestees of all ages to avoid prosecution through completion of a counseling session and other programming;
  • Launching the Manhattan Hope Program, allowing individuals arrested for low-level drug offenses, including marijuana, to complete a treatment program without setting foot inside a courtroom;
  • Reforming internal policies for marijuana cases, including reducing the length of Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal;
  • Collaborating with the NYPD and the City to enforce fairer marijuana policies, with police issuing summonses instead of arrests for those who carry marijuana open to public view;
  • Championing the closing of Rikers Island and laying the groundwork for it by contributing $14 million (of $17 million total) in funding for citywide Supervised Release programs, providing better options at arraignment for low- and medium-risk offenders using risk assessment tools;
  • Creating specialized courts that provide alternatives to incarceration and customized programming and supports, including Veterans Treatment CourtMental Health Court, and more;
  • Creating the first Conviction Integrity Unit, Crime Strategies Unit, and Hate Crimes Unit in the five boroughs.

DA Vance believes it is his responsibility to innovate the role and Office of the District Attorney and has implemented numerous changes to the Office’s internal structure and policies, including:

  • Inviting the Vera Institute of Justice to conduct and publish a two-year study focused on racial disparities in dispositions and implicit bias in prosecutorial decision-making;
  • Implementing mandatory, comprehensive implicit bias training – based on Vera’s findings – for every ADA and staff member;
  • Appointing a Chief Diversity Officer and creating a Diversity Committee to enhance workforce diversity and ensure the Office maintains a culture of diversity
  • Creating New York City’s first Alternatives to Incarceration Unit to help prosecutors reach community-based dispositions and reduce unnecessary jail time;
  • Creating the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution with John Jay to address critical justice issues, including improving fairness in the criminal justice system;
  • Creating the Conviction Integrity Program, the first independent review in the five boroughs to investigate post-conviction claims of innocence, and prevent wrongful convictions from happening in the first place.

DA Vance created the $250 million Criminal Justice Investment Initiative to invest in large-scale efforts to improve public safety, prevent crime, and accelerate reform. Funding – in addition to the initiatives listed above – includes:

  • $7.3 million to pay for college programming at New York State prisons;
  • $15 million to create reentry programming and services for New Yorkers returning from incarceration, and to create a blueprint for a new Manhattan Criminal Court Resource Center to offer services and alternatives to jail for low-level offenders;
  • $7.5 million to expand Saturday Night Lights, the District Attorney’s Office’s signature youth violence prevention initiative operating in 14 locations across Manhattan;
  • $7.3 million to develop social enterprises to train and employ formerly incarcerated and at-risk New Yorkers;
  • $45.9 million to create and construct “Youth Opportunity Hubs” to knit together community-based providers and build new spaces for young people, and $12 million to enhance family and youth development programming;