A new attitude seems to be emerging about drug crimes. First, the city of New York stopped prosecuting small marijuana crimes, in line with much of the rest of the country. Crimes involving opiates and opioid addicts have been sent through courts with an emphasis on rehabilitation rather than incarceration. In Brooklyn, the D.A. announced a similar approach to offer treatment instead of jail for those who have become addicted to opioids, called Project Brooklyn CLEAR (Collaborative Legal Engagement Assistance Response).
D.A. Eric Gonzalez, as well as the NYPD Police Commissioner, and Council Speaker announced a diversion program to help individuals who are dependent on opiates. In the event someone gets arrested for misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance, then the prosecutor will offer them the chance to receive treatment and other community support before their arraignment. If they participate, then there is a chance the DA will decline prosecution before they ever appear in court, and their arrest record will be sealed. The city is treating opioid addiction as a public health crisis and will attempt to treat anyone affected first, rather than prosecute them.
Similar programs have been instituted across the region. Staten Island implemented the HOPE program about a year ago, and a pilot program in several Brooklyn precincts was introduced about six months ago. The opioid problem is severe – based on arrest numbers from 2017, over 700 people could be eligible for CLEAR for the first year of its existence.
The process of CLEAR will require participation from all branches of law enforcement and the judiciary. First, the NYPD will determine if the arrested person is eligible for the program. If so, they will call the DA’s office to get a return date for the desk appearance ticket (or DAT). This will usually occur within seven days of arrest, instead of 30. The DA’s office will then contact the EAC Network, who will appoint a recovery coach to meet the individual in question at their precinct. The coaches are individuals who have been trained to help people who are suffering from drug abuse. The individual should be assessed by the EAC Network within a week, and if necessary, the coach can introduce the individual to a detox system. If the individuals agree to follow the program, then their arraignment will be delayed for 30 days so that they can meaningfully participate. If so, then the DA can exercise discretion and decide to not formally prosecute. Of course, an individual has the option not to participate, and go straight to their arraignment