The V.I.L.L.A.G.E – A New Model of how the Manhattan DA’s Office will approach criminal case dispositions

Introduction:

The DA’s Office must be an institution that strives for accountability. Fundamentally, the DA’s office seeks to hold individuals and corporations accountable when they commit serious crimes. The DA’s office must also be accountable to the community it serves and bring accountability to the entire justice system. Diana has a comprehensive plan to do this. The old adage goes: “it takes a village to raise a child.” However, Diana believes that it also takes a village to reintegrate people back into the community after prison and to rebuild the social fabric of our city. 

For too long, the DA’s office effectively has been the sole decision-maker in the disposition of criminal cases and that has not necessarily made our community safer nor has it ended the cycle of recidivism. It is incumbent on the Manhattan DA to contribute to ending the poverty-to-prison pipeline. In doing so, the DA’s Office can set a new standard of safety that prioritizes the wellbeing of the victim, the defendant, and  the community. For that reason, The V.I.L.L.A.G.E (Various Interests for Long Lasting Growth and Engagement) is a new collaborative model for handling the disposition of criminal cases. The Village will primarily focus on the cases of youth under age 30. 

 

The Village will address the following problems in the current criminal justice system: 

 

1. Prosecutors are the sole decision-makers when it comes to the disposition of cases.

The criminal justice system must take a more holistic view regarding dispositions. Dispositions must include perspectives other than that of prosecutors. Social workers and criminal justice specialists bring these different, yet important, perspectives. By including them, the decision on how to handle a case will be made in a way that is conducive to making society safer and more equitable.

 

2. Criminal dispositions center on punishment and incarceration and NOT accountability. 

Dispositions do not focus enough on accountability. Decisions in pursuing a case must proceed in a way that best holds individuals accountable. Punishment and incarceration are too often goals in and of themselves and instead should be rarely used tools and mechanisms that can foster accountability.

 

3. Dispositions are not centered on ending the cycle of recidivism. 

A conviction comes with a wide range of challenges that impedes an individual’s ability to re-enter their communities, their families, and their employment. Collateral consequences of involvement with the justice system last long after people have completed their sentences. They can include prevention of access to education, jobs, social services, housing, and voting rights. These realities make life for the formerly incarcerated especially difficult and contributes to high rates of rearrest. 

 

4. Re-entry is considered merely an afterthought.
At the Manhattan DA’s Office, when re-entry and social consequences have been considered at all, the approach has been disjointed. The office currently has one person in charge of reviewing collateral consequences, an entirely different unit focused on alternatives to incarceration, and yet another separate unit coordinating re-entry services. Often, defendants do not receive the benefits of these units because they do not know they exist and there is little collaboration between the units. No wonder most attorneys are unfamiliar with what the office offers and how to navigate these services.

 

What is the V.I.L.L.A.G.E? 

The goal of the Village model is to work collaboratively and transparently to end mass incarceration and end the cycle of recidivism. The Village model provides each individual in the criminal justice system a pathway to accountability and an individualized reentry opportunity. One of the main issues in the criminal justice system is that the prosecutor and the courts are the main decision makers while those decisions in a disposition have consequences all across society. They impact the victim, the family of the defendant, and the community as a whole. Bringing more community perspectives to the table when executing decisions in the justice system can allow those decisions to take the collateral consequences into account.

The collaborative nature of the V.I.L.L.A.G.E is an extension of Diana’s groundbreaking collaborative investigative model when running the Construction Fraud Task Force. In that role, Diana brought different stakeholders to the table to redefine justice and how it was achieved. Now Diana will bring that collaborative approach to determine criminal court dispositions of criminal cases. 

 

Who will be part of The V.I.L.L.A.G.E? 

The Village will utilize a collaborative approach in crafting dispositions by incorporating additional staff that offer a different social and human perspective to the process. Diana will reallocate a portion of the office’s budget to hire dedicated social workers (MSW) that will make holistic analyses of the consequences of each prospective prosecution. The Village will also include Juvenile Justice Specialists, restorative justice experts and members of community organizations. Most importantly, these different stakeholders will communicate directly and work in concert with each other all to achieve the same goal.

 

How will the  V.I.L.L.A.G.E function? 

Upon arrest, a case will be assigned to a Village team, which will include a prosecutor, a social worker, and alternatives to incarceration and pre-entry coordinator. The team will include others such as community leaders as the case requires. The victim will not be left out of the process. The victim will be assigned a victim liaison, a social worker who will provide or connect them with appropriate services to alleviate associated trauma and other needs. 

The Village team will develop an Initial Workup of the case and the people impacted by it, not only the defendant, but the victim, their family, and other parts of the community. The Initial Workup will determine if issues, such as drug addiction, mental health, or extenuating circumstances make the case appropriate for diversion.

If the case is not deemed appropriate for diversion, the Village team, with the direct input of the victim, will present a disposition plan. The Village report on the disposition will consider the accused’s personal and social circumstances and will make recommendations for a plan to address both accountability for the harm caused and a plan for sentencing and re-entry. Importantly, the plan will take into account collateral social consequences in the near and long term. 

The re-entry portion will include connecting the accused to apprenticeship and internship programs that create pipelines for long-term stable employment. Village team members will also coordinate plans for housing and any mental health considerations in order to allow for a full re-entry and end the cycle of recidivism. The work-up will be presented to the accused and their attorney and they will be connected to the corresponding community based programs that will pair with the accused from plea to incarceration to reentry. Once the case concludes, a closing memo will summarize the case and results. The results will be tracked and transparent through postings on the DANY dashboard so everyday New Yorkers can watch justice unfold with community considerations.

 

How will the V.I.L.L.A.G.E be held to account? 

The Village will have a board that will annually audit dispositions obtained using the Village approach. The board will consist of a diverse group of relevant stakeholders including community leaders, psychologists, educators, social workers, defense attorneys, criminologists, union leaders, etc. The selection of those who serve on the Village board will be done by process of nomination and application. These individuals will be nominated by their community and apply to be a part of the Village board. The selection committee for the Village  board will be a diverse group of legal and non-legal staff.

The purpose of these audits will be to measure the success in ending mass incarceration and ending recidivism. The results of the audits will be published in an annual report which will allow for the identification of trends within communities and recommend projects and programs for communities using participatory budgeting. Using this data, future Village teams will better be able to conduct dispositions. Working collaboratively under the Village, the DA’s office can bring accountability, safety, and equity to Manhattan.