DA Thompson touts Begin Again program and plans on hosting more
New York City has an estimated backlog of nearly 1.2 million open warrants and Brooklyn’s District Attorney Ken Thompson is planning on doing something about it with his Begin Again program.
Thompson held the first Begin Again program last month over Father’s Day weekend. He invited anyone with an open warrant to come to the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Clinton Hill where judges, legal aid workers and members of his staff worked to clear some of the backlog. Roughly 1,000 people showed up that weekend and Thompson plans to keep doing it.
“Here’s the problem — our summons court is broken,” he said recently at an event at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. “I believe in my heart that a bench warrant should be issued for someone who refuses to come to court and not someone who can’t make it. I think the criminal justice system should be reserved for folks who deserve to be in the criminal justice system.”
The focus of the program is on quality of life issues like people who received tickets for riding their bikes on a sidewalk or walking their dogs without a leash and, for whatever reason, didn’t make it to court on their date. But he encouraged anyone with an open warrant to come to the church to help clear it.
“We basically transformed a church in Clinton Hill into a sanctuary of justice,” Thompson said. “I had judges there, I had 15 lawyers from legal aid, defense attorneys, a bunch of my prosecutors, and I was there for two days at Begin Again. Over 1,000 people came. At times the line was down the block. It was a sight to see — young, old, black, white, rich, poor. I just think that we can do better in Brooklyn.”
Thompson was so pleased with the results of the first round that he is already planning on repeating the event in East New York, Bushwick, Bed-Stuy and Coney Island.
The program doesn’t just help people with outstanding warrants, but Thompson said it also helps keep NYPD officers away from potential violent confrontations. He also claims that the program will help save the city money that it would have to spend on going after and incarcerating people.
“I have to make it clear, I’m not encouraging or justifying people not responding to their tickets,” he said. “They should. They should go to court and deal with it. But have any of you received a parking ticket that you forgot about? We’ve got to be honest about this, so I think my approach in Brooklyn, with respect to these summonses, is my effort to do my part because I think the criminal justice system has to be fundamentally fair.”
Thompson hasn’t announced when the next Begin Again program will take place. Anyone interested should contact the Begin Again Hotline at 718-250-3888.
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