WESTCHESTER – Westchester County District Attorney Miriam E. Rocah announced the launch of Fresh Start, an innovative program that gives second chances to certain first-time, low-level offenders arrested in Westchester County. This initiative takes a constructive, “Community First” approach to criminal justice reform focused on community-based social services instead of incarceration.
Launching as a pilot program in collaboration with Westchester County Executive George Latimer, the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health (DCMH), the Greenburgh Police Department, the White Plains Police Department, and the Legal Aid Society of Westchester, Fresh Start offers a positive response to low-level offenses that enables the participant to be held accountable while avoiding prosecution, conviction, or confinement. With Fresh Start, a person arrested with an eligible charge will have the option of completing a community-based program instead of appearing in court and receiving a criminal record.
Fresh Start will commence as a pilot program for cases originating from the Greenburgh and White Plains Police Departments this fall, with the goal of expanding the program countywide in the future.
“For Westchester County, Fresh Start is an important first-step toward reducing recidivism, racial disparities and inequalities in the criminal justice system by reinventing, reforming and strengthening the traditional response to crime and conviction. By diverting cases outside the justice system, the District Attorney’s Office can increase public safety by reducing repeat offenders, while reducing its reliance on the traditional retributive responses like confinement, conviction, fines and fees, and warrants,” DA Rocah said. “Fresh Start offers eligible low-level offenders the chance to avoid the courtroom, criminal conviction, and the negative impacts that the system can have on their future and civic engagement.”
Eligible people who are arrested in Westchester County and charged with low-level offenses, such as Disorderly Conduct, Petit Larceny, Theft of Services, Trespassing, Unlawful Possession of Cannabis and more, can avoid appearing in court and a criminal conviction by completing a one-time social services counseling program led by the Westchester Department of Community Mental Health. Upon completion, the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office will decline prosecution of the offense. If the offender does not participate, fails to complete the program, or gets arrested again, they must appear in court as originally scheduled.
An evaluation of a similar program in New York City found a 75 percent reduction in future conviction, and improvements in 16 of 17 other measures of public safety. Participants were also found to be less likely to have a new violent felony re-arrest and had fewer new arrests than those in the comparison group. Further, the evaluation also found overwhelmingly positive perceptions of the program by participants, which may be connected to the program’s 98 percent successful completion rate.
“The biggest battle is the first battle, and that is believing in yourself. These offenders have committed minor crimes and we believe that with early intervention, we can get them on the right path so they never have to enter a courtroom,” said Westchester County Executive George Latimer. “The Fresh Start Program allows offenders to take part in a community-based program and avoid a criminal conviction. It also aligns with our mission to make sure we are doing our part to ensure that young women and young men take personal responsibility for their actions, and learn how their behaviors impact others so they are better prepared to become a productive member of society. I want to thank District Attorney Mimi Rocah and the Department of Community Mental Health for spearheading this important initiative.”
“The program, developed by the District Attorney’s Office and DCMH, is intended to help individuals avoid future involvement in the criminal justice system by focusing on the personal impact of criminal justice involvement,” said DCMH Commissioner Michael Orth. “Eligible people are identified at the earliest point of contact with law enforcement, and provided an opportunity to avoid further involvement in the criminal justice system. By completing the three-hour program, offered as an extension of DCMH’s ‘Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities’ program, they will not be prosecuted, and the case will be closed.”
“We are excited to participate in this innovative initiative,” Greenburg Police Chief Christopher McNerney said. “We believe that early intervention, such as the Fresh START program, can keep individuals out of the criminal justice system while offering meaningful resources. We look forward to collaborating with our District Attorney’s Office to bring this program to the Town of Greenburgh.”
“The White Plains Police Department is honored to partner with the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office and the Greenburgh Police Department on a promising program to give first time offenders a second chance,” White Plains Police Chief Joseph Castelli said.
“The Legal Aid Society of Westchester County enthusiastically supports Fresh Start,” Executive Director Clare Degnan said. “LASW thanks District Attorney Roach for championing this pilot, Community Mental Health for their expertise, and the White Plains and Greenburgh Police Departments for their assistance. This program will allow participants to avoid the stigma of a criminal record. We look forward to working with all the stakeholders to provide the people of Westchester innovative and restorative justice alternatives.”