It's just so much that a felony could do to negatively affect your life, and I didn't want that for myself.
A recent analysis by The Sentencing Project shows that, at the current pace of reform, it will be 60 years before the U.S. prison population is even cut in half, and it would still be almost triple what it was in 1980, when the incarceration boom began.
A major reason for this slow pace is many reforms exclude people with more serious charges—even though these are the same people most likely to be incarcerated and to be in the most need of the programs and treatment reform can bring.
But, in partnership with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, there is work going on to expand reform's comfort zone. A new felony court in Manhattan, whose clinical work is overseen by the Center for Court Innovation, offers alternatives to incarceration to people facing more serious charges, including violent ones.
No charge is excluded; no eligibility requirements limit its impact. It’s among the first all-purpose felony alternative courts in the country.
Jurisdictions across the country are watching the court's progress closely. A question of this episode is: can a treatment-first, individualized approach to felonies be brought to scale, and can it be done inside of the same system responsible for mass incarceration in the first place?
On this special episode of New Thinking, hear a range of perspectives on the court's potential from a recent successful participant; Hon. Ellen N. Biben, Administrative Judge, New York County Supreme Court, Criminal Term, who presides over the court; Tina Luongo, the Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Defense Practice; and from David Hafetz, program director of Manhattan Justice Opportunities, who oversees the court's clinical team.