Arts-Based Diversion Program Expands to Combat Incarceration In New York City

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Oct 23, 2019

Since 2015, many 16- and 17-year-olds accused of low-level offenses (think jumping the subway turnstile or marijuana possession) in Manhattan and Brooklyn, have been sent to an art program called Project Reset instead of jail. Now, the New York Police Department and the Manhattan, Bronx and Brooklyn District Attorneys' Offices are expanding the program to include people of all ages.

Initiated by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. in partnership with the Center for Court Innovation, Project Reset offers an alternative to prosecuting and jailing. “Rather than go to court, participants resolve their cases and avoid a criminal record by engaging in a gallery walk, arts activities and immersive conversations that encourage self-reflection and community building,” notes the program’s website.

And the program is having a positive effect. Study results from January 2019 showed recidivism reductions, improved case outcomes, fewer new arrests and new convictions, and longer times in between new arrests for those who went through Project Reset, compared to others. And since 2015, Project Reset has reportedly helped more than 1,750 participants avoid the consequences of a criminal record. About 86 percent of participants so far are people of color.

With the Manhattan DA’s office prosecuting about half of all low-level misdemeanors and violations from 2012 to 2018, Vance told City Lab in an interview published on Tuesday (October 22) that diversion programs like Project Reset work. “That’s 40,000 men and women, most of whom are going to be of color, who are not coming into the criminal justice system and being processed as cases have been processed for generations here,” Vance said.