Jul 30, 2010

"A Crime Prevented Is Far Better Than a Crime Prosecuted": Manhattan District Attorney holds Communities and Justice Conference

On Wednesday, July 28th and Thursday, July 29th, experts from around the country, including prosecutors, community advocates, and academic specialists gathered at John Jay for an innovative"Communities and Justice Conference: Partnerships & Challenges for the 21st Century" sponsored in partnership by the New York County District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer, and Jeremy Travis, President, John Jay College. The conference focused on addressing national trends in prosecution, crime prevention, and criminal justice strategies. During the opening remarks, District Attorney Vance, Scott Stringer, and Jeremy Travis were joined by Mayor Bloomberg. Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly also served as a keynote speaker.

One of the hot topics of the day was the role of reentry as a crime prevention strategy. District Attorneys from around the country including Michael D. Schrunk, District Attorney of Multnomah County, Oregon and Daniel F. Conley, District Attorney of Suffolk County, MA (as well as those close to home, such as Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes) endorsed reentry as a legitimate and necessary effort to reduce crime. District Attorney Hynes, who began the hugely successful reentry program ComALERT in 1999, expressed his hope that "every prosecutor's office in the country will have a reentry program."

During the reentry panel that I had the honor to moderate, reentry experts and pioneers, DA Charles Hynes, Martin Glenn, Vice President of the Fortune Society, George McDonald, Founder and President of the DOE Fund, and Ali Knight, President of the New York City Justice Corps highlighted the innovative and effective reentry initiatives that they lead. When I asked Mr. Hynes,"Why run a reentry program out of an office traditionally responsible for only prosecution?" Mr. Hynes stressed that his office's role was to reduce crime and further justice and that reentry was an effective, economical, and humane way to do this. He also added that the legitimacy that a District Attorney's Office can lend when involved in a reentry initiative is important for helping people find employment. George McDonald, Founder and President of The DOE Fund, whose organization partners with the Brooklyn DA's office to provide paid transitional work and support services to parolees involved in ComALERT shared his belief that the key to successful reentry is "rapid attachment to work." Glenn Martin offered his experience combating resistance to the creation of housing for formerly incarcerated individuals at the Fortune Society and described how his organization eventually won the support of opponents. To illustrate the change in attitude towards those individuals housed at Fortune, Glenn spoke about the haunted house the residents create every year at Halloween which has become a huge success. As he tells it, "The community now bring their kids to be scared by people they used to be scared of." Ali Knight, President of the New York City Justice Corps spoke about his program for formerly incarcerated youth that connects them with work in the community and engages them on the unique issues that individuals entering adulthood face when released from confinement.

Another reoccurring theme of the day was the need to improve relations between the community and law enforcement. At an afternoon panel entitled, "Hot Button Issues Affecting Communities and Law Enforcement," each panelist identified the obstacles that distrust in the
police and district attorney's office creates when trying to fight crime. Ms. Anita M. Alvarez, State's Attorney of Cook County, Illinois and Professor David Kennedy discussed the prevalence of the "no-snitch" code among shooters and highlighted the recent shooting in Chicago where police arrived at a crime scene to find a young man shot and dying. When asked by the police to identify the shooter, the man told officers," I know, but I ain't telling you shit." Moments later the young man died. In an effort to improve the legitimacy of law enforcement, David Kennedy spoke about the effectiveness of "call-ins," (See also "What's New at the Task Force? Considering Parolee Notification Forums) where police and district attorneys unite with social service organizations to address gun offenders about the consequences of engaging in gun violence and offer services and employment assistance as an alternative.

The conference was a huge success and we look forward to our continued partnership with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office as we work together to improve public safety and combat recidivism in our county.

To read the USA Today article about the conference, click here.