DA launches art-based diversion program for misdemeanor offenses

DA’s office seeks local high-schoolers for paid summer internships
Photo by Caroline Ourso

Brooklyn’s top prosecutor wants to send people to art class instead of jail!

Some Brooklynites charged misdemeanor offenses will now have the option to forfeit their day in court — and repent for their crimes with classes at the Brooklyn Museum, according to District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.

“This partnership helps harness the transformative power of art as a response to low-level crimes,” said Gonzaelz. “[This program] aligns with my commitment to reduce our reliance on convictions and incarceration while still holding offenders accountable.”

Under the new court-diversion scheme, defendants will undergo a two-hour group course led by artists who specialize is social justice-themed work, where they will analyze and discuss artistic installations from the museum — and then create their own art in response to the experience.

Since the District Attorney launched the pilot program — officially called “project reset” — in 2015 for youth offenders, 51 Brooklynites have completed the coursework at the Brooklyn Museum and had their cases dismissed.

Gonzalez’s office called the pilot program a success — claiming that graduates of the art-based diversion program were “significantly” less likely to be convicted of a new crime the following year, compared to those who did not participate.

Now, Gonzalez is rolling out the full-scale program for all ages, and estimated that around 1,000 cases would be eligible for the diversion plan each year.

Currently, the list of misdemeanors that qualify for Project Reset includes 17 different charges — including making graffiti, third-degree forgery, and petit larceny.

Gonazalez also announced a second new diversion program, offering defendants a 90 minute therapeutic session with a social worker where they will seek to identify the driving forces behind their illicit actions. If accused offenders successfully complete the session, the district attorney would decline to prosecute their case — and then seal any record of the arrest.

Gonzalez claims that diversion programs help to rehabilitate criminal offenders and avoid re-incarceration — but not everyone agrees.

In July, Police Department honcho Terence Monahan took public shots at Gonzalez for his gun diversion program — blaming his leniency on weapons prosecutions for an uptick in gun violence in northern Brooklyn.

But Gonzalez fired back, noting that firearm usage is down across Brooklyn — compared to the rise in crime in the other four boroughs.

With the new art-based scheme, the District Attorney says he is holding strong in his conviction that diversion programs are a win-win for humanely holding criminals responsible “Project Reset aligns with my commitment to reduce our reliance on convictions and incarceration while still holding offenders accountable,” he said.