How pre-trial diversion programs could improve the impact on communities of color

Local News

Rochester, N.Y. (WROC)- The Greater Rochester Police Community Relations Partnership Initiative and other groups involved in the court system held a forum Saturday to educate the public about pre-trial diversion programs.  

The forum, titled Exploring New York State Diversion Programs and How they Impact Communities of Color – Arrests and Mass Incarceration, focused on the lack of information about the pre-trial diversion options and how the programs could make a bigger impact on people of color, who make up a majority of the prison population in America.

For many people accused of a crime, they may think there are only two options, to be found guilty or not guilty.  However, pre-trial diversion programs offer another option to those going through the court system. 

In New York, People accused of misdemeanor crimes, who have no significant criminal history can take part in a pretrial diversion program.  

The person will have to complete a tailored program based on their charges, like drug abuse counseling or community services. Once complete, the charges can be dismissed, and removed from the record.  

The forum talked about how to educate the community on these options, and also how to improve access to those from low-income, black communities.  

“These kinds of forums are the beginning of building a new trust within the community and the police and law enforcement and the courts,” said Judge Maija Dixon, Rochester City Court.

Dr. Celia Mcintosh, a Rochester Resident and social justice advocate, says she went to learn more about the issues facing the black community.

“Any time you’re talking about legislation and reform and especially with the new bail reforms coming up in 2020, I really was interested in that and seeing how it was going to impact my community,” said Dr. Mcintosh.

She asked the forum how people of color, are benefiting from Pre-trial diversion programs and how to improve access to a community who makes up the majority of the prison population. 

“Some of my questions were answered, but I felt like there could have been some more robust answers. In terms of, when we’re talking about data and statics and how were evaluating the current status of these diversion programs,” said Dr. Mcintosh.   

Those at the forum say, while many people benefit from the program, there is a need for more information on Pretrial diversion options.  Things like lack of information on the programs and lack of money increase challenges, especially in the black community.

City Court Judge Dixon, who sat on the forum, said in order to make a change there needs to be more community engagement before people get to court.  

“Strengthen the mental health programs that are available and to marshal our resources that we have in the community to try and reach people before they get to the court system,” said Judge Dixon.   

“Until they begin to have the conversations, talk about their experiences and everyone considers what they hearts and minds are of people about their experiences, there’s no true beginning to dealing with those issues and today These kind of forums are the beginning of building a new trust,” said Judge Dixon.  

Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter was also on the panel.  

He talked about what they are doing at the Monroe County Jail to improve access to the programs such as giving rides to people released from the custody right to their programs.  

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