Boro goes ‘Clear’: DA expands program offering some suspects caught with drugs counseling instead of possible jail time

Governor will not replace temporary DA
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
Brooklyn District Attorney’s office

Many suspects busted on low-level narcotics-possession charges across Kings County will now get a chance to participate in counseling programs in exchange for avoiding community service and potential jail time, according to the borough’s top prosecutor.

District Attorney Eric Gonzalez on Tuesday announced he will expand his so-called Project Clear program, which offers drug users arrested for carrying small amounts of illegal substances a chance to receive treatment for their habit and clear their record without facing a judge, to the entire borough, after debuting in parts of Southern Brooklyn in February.

“As my office implements a new approach to assisting those who are drug dependent, I am gratified that this opportunity is now available in all of Brooklyn,” the district attorney said. “Project Clear has already helped scores of individuals … and spared many from getting a criminal record.”

Project Clear offers suspects cuffed for misdemeanor-possession charges that merit a desk-appearance ticket the chance to meet with a counselor not affiliated with law enforcement, who will provide treatment recommendations to the individuals on a case-by-case basis.

And if the person follows the plan laid out by the counselor within 30 days, Gonzalez’s office will decline to prosecute the case, and the suspect’s arrest record will be sealed.

Individuals with open warrants or found in violation of parole, however, are not eligible for the program, which the district attorney established in part as a way to better address opioid-related arrests, and provides some suspects with kits containing Naloxone — which can reverse the deadly effects of overdosing on prescription opioids, as well as fentanyl and heroin — and trains those individuals in how to use the kits.

One-hundred people have opted to participate in Project Clear program since it launched in six Southern Brooklyn precincts with high overdose rates earlier this year, and 71 have completed it, according to Gonzalez’s spokesman Oren Yaniv.

And about 35 percent of eligible suspects declined to participate, instead choosing to take their chances in court — which may be because punishments for first-time drug possession offenders are typically light, and their charges are routinely dismissed on the condition that they stay out of trouble for a set period of time.

Project Clear’s expansion follows Gonzalez’s decision to use his power of prosecutorial discretion — the authority that makes the borough-wide narcotics-deferment program possible — to decriminalize many low-level pot-possession charges in Kings County, a move that he claims resulted in a substantial reduction in both weed-related convictions and arrests across Brooklyn.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.