Proven public safety initiative will reduce backlog of low-level, nonviolent offenses, decrease recidivism, and spare participants a criminal conviction
MINEOLA, N. Y. – Acting Nassau County District Attorney Joyce A. Smith today announced a new program to offer pre-arraignment diversion to qualified people charged with minor, non-violent crimes to promote public safety, while helping participants avoid interactions with the criminal justice system, and freeing court resources for more serious offenses.
Pre-Arraignment Diversion (PAD), initially proposed by former Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, is offered to eligible individuals who have received low-level desk appearance tickets and agree to take responsibility for their actions. Participants are required to attend programs, perform community service, or receive community-based treatment or supportive services instead of traditional sentences. Upon completion, the NCDA either declines to prosecute or dismisses the case, fingerprints and arrest photographs are destroyed, and the criminal record for the desk appearance ticket is sealed. The program is not available to anyone facing a bail-eligible offense, and will be offered only after a case review finds that prosecutors would not seek a jail sentence upon conviction.
The program’s objectives are to offer participants an alternative to the criminal justice system through a proven restorative justice approach that seeks to rehabilitate, educate, and avoid recidivism. Pre-arraignment diversion spares participants the trauma and expense of navigating the court system, the cost and burden of missing work or school, avoids the stigma of a criminal conviction, and matches those suffering from addiction with lifesaving substance abuse treatment.
With the pandemic-related case backlog, it could be more than a year between an arrest and arraignment. Studies have consistently shown that delayed entry into drug treatment can have deadly consequences. Through a partnership with the Family and Children’s Association (FCA) PAD can match participants with a qualified provider to provide immediate, and potentially life-saving treatment at a time when overdose deaths are rising. This critical treatment intervention will occur long before a backlogged desk appearance ticket would be arraigned.
A study of similar programs showed that more than 95% of participants avoid a court appearance, and participants are four times less likely to reoffend within one year than those who decline and face traditional prosecution.
“With a backlog of more than 8,000 minor, non-violent cases backlogged because of the pandemic, this proven program will free our courts to focus on the violent and dangerous individuals who threaten our community, while providing accountability and a second chance for those accused of petty offenses,” said Acting DA Joyce A. Smith. “Studies show that pre-arraignment diversion makes communities safer by reducing recidivism, saves lives through drug treatment, and spares those who successfully complete the program the stain of a criminal conviction. I am grateful for the support and hard work of the Court, defense bar, and our community partners whose collaboration is essential to the success of this program.”
Those charged with an eligible non-violent offense will be notified by the Community Partnership Program of the opportunity to participate in PAD and given a number to call. A team of graduate social work interns serve as intake specialists and will walk the participant through the next steps of the program. Nothing the individual says to the intake specialists can be used against them if the case ultimately goes to court, and program participation has no impact on an individual’s immigration status. If an eligible individual declines to participate in PAD, there is no adverse impact, and their case will be arraigned in court as scheduled.
The Legal Aid Society of Nassau County will have attorneys available for consultations, at no cost, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on business days at (516) 560-6048.
Charges eligible for pre-arraignment diversion include:
Factors that may impact eligibility include an arrest involving offenses against individual victims; arrests for any driving while intoxicated offenses; open pending criminal cases; voluminous misdemeanor or violation convictions; prior felony convictions; whether the person is on probation or parole; or the existence of outstanding warrants.
Eligible participants will have between 60 and 90 days, depending on the charge, to complete a program. Upon successful completion of the program, the charge will be dismissed, and the person is never arraigned. If the individual is unsuccessful, they will be required to appear in court on the scheduled desk appearance court date and the case will proceed without penalty.
Some of the community-based resources and services include substance abuse treatment, peer meetings at the Community Partnership Program, community service, Stoplift (a shoplifting prevention program), on-line programs, gang intervention, and social service referrals, including housing, food, education, and job training.
Any re-arrest for any offense will disqualify the person from participating in pre-arraignment diversion.
N. Scott Banks, Attorney in Chief of the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, said, “The Legal Aid Society of Nassau County is excited to see the establishment of a Pre-Arraignment Diversion Program in Nassau County. We commend our Acting District Attorney Joyce Smith and her staff for reaching out to our office and criminal defense attorney organizations in Nassau County to gain our significant input and suggestions for this program. We also thank our former DA Madeline Singas for her efforts in putting this program together. I further thank Acting District Attorney Joyce Smith for her commitment to ensure the pre-arraignment program is administered fairly and equitably, and that all eligible individuals will be given the opportunity to participate in the program. Pre-Arraignment Diversion will greatly benefit our clients and others caught up in the criminal justice system by allowing eligible individuals to resolve their criminal cases without engaging in a lengthy court process while simultaneously receiving necessary services and counseling they may require. Individuals who are eligible for Pre-Arraignment Diversion will have the ability to speak with an attorney of their own choice or to contact the Legal Aid Society’s dedicated PAD line to discuss the merits of engaging in the diversion program.”
Geoffrey Prime, Esq. of the Amistad Long Island Black Bar Association said, “The Amistad Long Island Black Bar Association joins Nassau DA Joyce Smith in her announcement of the unveiling of the Nassau County Pre-Arraignment Diversion Program (PAD). In line with Amistad’s mission, PAD seeks to address critical legal issues, such as the disparate impact that the criminal justice system has on communities of color. PAD will allow many non-violent offenders accused of low-level offenses an opportunity to have their charges dismissed if they complete a sanctioned program, which may include community service or drug treatment. Amistad is hopeful that this program will provide the much needed second chance that many offenders deserve.”
Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, President and CEO of Family and Children’s Association, said, “FCA is proud to be part of the groundbreaking program as we’ve seen first-hand the damage a criminal conviction can do, and we’ve also seen the miracle of recovery that becomes more achievable with immediate access to high quality substance use disorder treatment services. We congratulate Acting DA Joyce Smith and her office for bringing this program to fruition. It’s a move that will save taxpayers money, keep our communities safer at a time when fatal overdoses are on the rise, and it will ultimately save lives.”
Rodney Grayson, Director of the Community Partnership Program said, “Pre-Arraignment Diversion is a necessary tool to prevent people from entering the criminal justice system and guide them onto the right path. People will receive support and will also accept responsibility for their actions. I’m proud to be a part of this announcement and for CPP to assist in the important initiative that will truly change lives in communities across Nassau County.”
Veronica Renta Irwin, President Elect of the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association, said, “We strongly support the Nassau County District Attorney’s Pre-Arraignment Diversion Program. For the Latino community on Long Island this program will greatly reduce the harsh impact of contact with the criminal justice system. This provides a fair opportunity for those charged with minor crimes to continue to be successful and participating members of the Nassau community and not have a minor transgression result in lifelong consequences.”
Livia Polise, Director of Field Education at Adelphi University’s School of Social Work, said, “The Adelphi University School of Social Work is excited to partner with Acting DA Joyce Smith and the CPP on this innovative program. Our social work interns will provide needed support and advocacy under the guidance of experienced social work practitioners. The School of Social work is honored to serve our community and to support this important social justice initiative.”