Midtown Court Solves Problems Instead of Handing Out Sentences

(CHELSEANOW.COM) Dusica Sue Malesevic, July 11, 2017 — For over 20 years, the Midtown Community Court has been giving low-level offenders a second chance.

Called the “problem-solving court,” it offers alternatives to incarceration, Sherene Crawford, project director of the Midtown Community Court, explained.

“The idea behind the problem solving court is that we recognize and realize that there are a lot of different things that bring people into the criminal justice system,” she said. “Oftentimes the folks that are repeatedly entering the criminal justice system are facing issues … of homelessness, substance abuse, [and] mental health. If we’re not addressing those underlying issues, we will continue to see those folks.”

The court, located at 314 W. 54th St. between Eighth and Ninth Aves., is unique as it offers social services right at its building, Crawford said. “So that they can see the judge, come upstairs, and see a social worker and get appropriate services based on individual needs,” she explained at the Midtown South Community Council meeting on June 15.

Founded in 1993, the Midtown Community Court is an “operating program” of the Center for Court Innovation, a nonprofit that seeks to reform the criminal justice system, according to its website. The Center for Court Innovation is a public-private partnership between the New York State Unified Court System and the Fund for the City of New York, according to its website.

Crawford said that over time the court has evolved with the community in Midtown and “all for the better in being able to have additional types of programs and resources at the court.”

“We have one judge there everyday hearing the cases, which means she gets to know the defendants who are coming through the court,” she said. The court works closely with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, partners with a range of community-based organizations, and “one of our most important partners is the community along with the New York City Police Department,” Crawford said.

The Midtown Community Court has a catchment area, she explained, that includes Midtown South, Midtown North and the 10th and 20th precincts. The cases the court sees are summons, violations and misdemeanors, not felonies or serious violent crimes, Crawford said.

The court does have a couple specialized parts, one of which is focused on human trafficking, she said. The cases involve prostitution, and “we find that if we’re able to treat them more as victims than offenders and offer them services and resources that is to everyone’s benefit,” she said.

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