Criminal justice reform touches every aspect of the work of the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor. Nationwide civil rights protests in response to the killings of George Floyd and other Black and Brown people prompted our own discussions about race, justice and policing in our city. Over the past year, SNP staff committed time and resources to examining racial inequality in the criminal justice system, and our methods and goals.
Diversity & Inclusion
Under the guidance of the Chief Diversity Officer, in 2020 SNP formed a Diversity & Inclusion Committee to explore how systemic racism or bias affects our work, and how we can change to assure fair and equal treatment for all involved in the criminal justice system. To get beyond discussion, and identify and change flawed practices, we broke into individual working groups, which examined topics, such as Legal Practices & Procedures, Education & Training, Alternatives to Incarceration and Community Outreach. Our goal was to provide a space for those who might not have previously had a platform to speak, with executives and managers serving in advisory roles.
Recommendations from the working groups included expanding SNP’s alternative disposition offerings as an effective crime prevention strategy and public safety measure, and a critical tool for correcting inequities and reforming criminal justice in NYC. As a society, we have learned more about what may motivate some people to engage in drug dealing, such as mental health issues and lack of access to secure and stable housing. We are expanding criteria for treatment eligibility in consultation with District Attorneys, and developing new programs to provide supportive services.
Our office is proud to have been in the forefront of developing alternative to incarceration programs 35 years ago. SNP’s Drug Treatment Alternatives to Prison (DTAP), which began in the early 1990s, served as a model for subsequent local and state programs. Much has changed since we launched our pioneering treatment programs. Under today’s laws, for first time offenders, criminal penalties for all but the most serious drug crimes no longer require incarceration.
Since October 2009, judges are authorized to place defendants in a court-sponsored diversion program. A judge determines which felony offenders qualify for these programs, and court staff supervises them. SNP staff offer their expertise in the screening and monitoring of diverted defendants. SNP also refers military veterans to Manhattan Veterans Treatment Court. In addition, SNP refers eligible offenders with co-occurring substance use and mental illness disorders to the Manhattan Mental Health Court to provide integrated substance use and mental health treatment for those who might otherwise face prison time.
Search Warrant Reform
SNP is in the process of reevaluating its search warrant practice, including revising trainings and manuals. Because of our strong record of rigorously reviewing requests for search warrants, and carefully considering the factual bases for these requests, no search warrant obtained by our office has resulted in a death or serious injury to an occupant of a premises or a law enforcement officer. However, the death of Breanna Taylor during a search warrant execution in Louisville, Ky., and the resulting public outcry, prompted a reexamination of our protocols. The office is also performing a careful analysis of best practices regarding permissible pleas to assure that defendants are treated fairly and equitably. We will continue to refine our mission to meet the needs of the people we serve.
Each of these actions provide an example of ways that the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office has sought to address racial inequities and bias so that all New Yorkers, regardless of race, color, religion, sexual orientation and gender are treated fairly and equitably. These changes are not exhaustive and ongoing criminal justice reform will continue.