Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, together with New York City Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, today announced the launch of a pre-arraignment diversion program to assist individuals who suffer from drug dependency and misuse.
Dubbed Project CLEAR (Collaborative Legal Engagement Assistance Response), individuals arrested for misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance will be offered the opportunity to receive treatment and other community-based services before their initial court appearance. If they meaningfully participate, the DA’s Office will decline prosecution of their cases before they ever appear in court and their arrest record will be sealed.
“In the face of a growing opioid epidemic, we must look for new ways to assist those who are drug dependent. Often, prosecuting individuals who are arrested with small amounts of narcotics, used to feed their habits, does little to help them,” said Gonzalez. “By offering tools that aid in treating their addiction and could prevent a potential overdose, Project Brooklyn CLEAR can save lives and send people on the road to recovery. I would like to thank all of our partners who worked to bring this program to Brooklyn and hope that, together, we will make strides in stemming this crisis.”
Gonzalez said the initiative is modeled after the HOPE program that was successfully implemented in Staten Island about a year ago. In Brooklyn, it was launched last month as a pilot in six Brooklyn South precincts that experience high overdose rates: the 60thPrecinct (Coney Island), 61st Precinct (Sheepshead Bay), 62nd Precinct (Bensonhurst, Gravesend), 68th Precinct (Dyker Heights, Bay Ridge), 71st Precinct (Prospect -Lefferts Gardens, Crown Heights) and 72nd Precinct (Sunset Park).
There were 84 overdose fatalities in these six precincts last year, according to preliminary NYPD data, representing a third of the total overdose deaths in Brooklyn during 2017 (which stood at 251). In addition, about 57% of the saves using naloxone nasal spray last year (189 out of 333) took place in these precincts. Based on last year’s arrest numbers, over 700 people annually will be eligible for CLEAR during its pilot phase.
“Redirecting eligible, low-level narcotics offenders towards treatment and other community-based services is one way the NYPD and other city agencies are working together to prevent overdose deaths and save lives. Saving lives is the NYPD’s top priority,” said O’Neill.
When the NYPD determines the individual is eligible, they will call the Brooklyn DA’s Office and receive a return date for the DAT – typically within seven days of arrest instead of the traditional 30. The DA’s Office will then notify the EAC Network which will dispatch a Peer Recovery Coach to meet the individual at the precinct. Peers are non-law enforcement personnel who are trained to assist those challenged by drug misuse. They will encourage the individual to be assessed by EAC Network within seven days. They will also provide a naloxone kit and instructions on its proper use. If necessary, the peer can provide immediate access to detoxification services.
Arrested individuals can decline to participate and opt to make the scheduled court appearance on the return date seven days later and the cases will be traditionally prosecuted. If they agree to an assessment within seven days, the cases will be postponed for a 30-day period, during which the individuals will be encouraged to meaningfully engage in services that were offered based on the assessment. The assessments will be performed at the offices of EAC Network, a social service agency.
If the individual complies with their recommendations within 30 days, the DA’s Office will be notified and exercise its prosecutorial discretion by formally declining to prosecute the arrest. The arrested individual will not have to appear in court and the arrest record will be sealed. Throughout the process, The Legal Aid Society will be available to assist both those who participate and those who opted not to participate in the program – a decision that will have no effect on the disposition of their cases.
Also supporting the program are City Council Members Mark Treyger (D-Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Gravesend), Justin Brannan (D-Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, Bensonhurst) and Mathieu Eugene (Flatbush, East Flatbush, Lefferts Gardens).
“CLEAR is an innovative, synergetic approach to solving the problem of substance misuse, which increasingly threatens the health and well-being of New Yorkers. I commend District Attorney Gonzalez, Commissioner O’Neill, and Speaker Johnson for prioritizing treatment and preventative measures rather than punishment, helping encourage recovery, end drug dependency and save lives,” said Treyger.
“I am grateful to see the precincts that cover Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach are three of the six in Brooklyn to be part of the pilot for the CLEAR program in Brooklyn. It’s time we step in and look for long-term solutions to our drug and opioid crisis in our neighborhoods. Instead of incarceration and a criminal record, this will be a meaningful step in helping those with substance abuse. A similar program is working in Staten Island and I expect it will be a success here in Brooklyn as well,” said Brannan.
Eugene said the launch of Project Brooklyn CLEAR is a critical step in the city’s ability to rehabilitate low-level drug offenders.
“We have a moral responsibility to help those whose lives have been impacted by the ravages of drug abuse. This program will provide much-needed mentorship and a path towards redemption for individuals who face imprisonment, while also creating safer and more welcoming neighborhoods for our families. It is my hope that this program will be beneficial to all parties who are working diligently to prevent drug abuse in our city,” said Eugene.