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Justice

NYC: Where the Police Offer a Free Art Class Instead of Prosecution

Since a diversion program, Project Reset, started in Manhattan, district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. says that prosecutions for low-level offenses have halved.
Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr. (right), was asked by a graduate of the Young New Yorkers' program to make a peace sign for a photograph during the Young New Yorkers Project Reset exhibition, held at the Swiss Institute in Manhattan on September 10, 2019.
Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr. (right), was asked by a graduate of the Young New Yorkers' program to make a peace sign for a photograph during the Young New Yorkers Project Reset exhibition, held at the Swiss Institute in Manhattan on September 10, 2019.Mansura Khanam

In February, Assia, 21, of Queens, was caught trying to steal a shirt from a store on Canal Street in Manhattan—a would-be birthday present for her best friend. By the time she realized she’d been made and tried to put the shirt back, the police had already arrived. She says they cuffed her and slammed her against a wall when she slipped one thin wrist out of the cuff. The encounter was frightening but when Assia was released from booking, the arresting officer gave her a pamphlet to let her know that she might be eligible for Project Reset, an early diversion program that provides individuals arrested on low-level, non-violent misdemeanors an alternative to appearing in court, and a way out of having a criminal record.  

“At first I thought it was a scam, that I was being played by the cop,” Assia told CityLab in a phone interview. “I thought, no, this is too good to be true. I just have to go into a class for three hours and that’s it? It ended up being a blessing in disguise.” Assia’s successful completion of a three-hour class at the Swiss Institute, an art institution in Manhattan, closed out the incident.