Art classes instead of court dates? In low-level cases, Brooklyn DA says yes.
People arrested on low-level misdemeanors in Brooklyn will now have the option to complete a one-day arts course at the Brooklyn Museum instead of ever having to appear in court, thanks to a newly expanded diversion program offered by the Brooklyn District Attorney.
The program — dubbed Project Reset — is funded by the City Council and the de Blasio administration, and is coordinated along with the nonprofit Center for Court Innovation and Brooklyn Justice Initiative. It will expand citywide after a piloted launch in Brooklyn. People accused of crimes such as trespassing and shoplifting will be eligible for the program.
“It helped me avoid the anxiety of having to attend a court date for a mistake I made,” said Jessy Singh, who graduated from the program after being arrested on a low-level misdemeanor. “Programs like this are so important for our communities. As an artist I couldn’t have chosen a better venue … It helped to make me feel human in a system that often criminalizes people for the smallest things.”
Sophia Dawson, one of the art educators at Brooklyn Museum who teaches the course, said that the participants first look at a painting called “Shifting the Gaze” by Titus Kaphar, which is displayed in the museum. Then, participants have the chance to create their own composition.
“We make a lot of mess,” Dawson said.
The program is funded citywide with $710,000 from the City Council and $3.2 million from the de Blasio administration. Under Project Reset, after someone is arrested, the district attorney reviews their case to see if they are eligible for the program. The DA then contacts the public defenders who reach out to the potential participants.
The courses themselves are two to four hours long.
“It’s about holding people accountable, but doing it in ways that promote human dignity, that helps them think about their conduct, and provides them with tools to contribute back to their community,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez at a press conference at the Brooklyn Museum on Wednesday. “This program addresses the conduct of those who commit misdemeanor offenses and confronts the consequences of their actions in a more meaningful way than traditional court sanctions.”
A pilot program of Project Reset in Brooklyn in 2015 targeted toward 16- and 17-year-olds found that more than 95 percent of participants thought entering the program was the right decision, and also that participants were less likely to reoffend than people not in the program.
The program launched in northern Brooklyn precincts in May and expanded to the entire borough in August, according to the DA.
Manhattan and certain Bronx precincts have also implemented the program.