NEW YORK CITY — The Manhattan District Attorney's Office will move to decriminalize turnstile jumping and other low-level, non-violent misdemeanors — including possession of small amounts of crack, cocaine, and oxycodone — sending offenders to summons court and other treatment programs in an effort to reduce criminal cases by about 20,000 a year, officials said Friday.
Starting this September, the majority of those arrested for turnstile jumping in Manhattan will be issued civil summonses or a desk appearance ticket that prosecutors will decline to prosecute if offenders complete counseling sessions or other diversion program before arraignment, according to Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance's office.
The effort is expected to cut down on around 10,000 criminal turnstile-jumping cases in Manhattan Criminal Court annually, the most common charge there, the DA said. It will help free up resources so prosecutors can refocus their energy on more serious crimes while letting thousands of New Yorkers avoid getting criminal records.
"My Office has worked with the NYPD and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to end the criminal prosecution of tens of thousands of low-level cases that needlessly bog down our Criminal Court and swell our City’s jail population," said Vance, pointing to his office's move in 2016 to decriminalize loitering, public urination, drinking in public and other low-level charges.
"In Manhattan, we are embracing the role that District Attorneys must play to achieve the closure of Rikers Island, and proving that New York can safely reduce crime and incarceration at the same time,” he said, citing Mayor Bill de Blasio's recently announced 10-year plan to close the jail, which involves decreasing the inmate population there by around 4,000 people.
Riders can still face fines for turnstile jumping when issued civil summonses, which cost $100, according to the MTA.
As it stands, three in four turnstile jumpers are already issued civil summonses instead of being arrested, according to the NYPD. The push from Vance's office Friday is aimed at driving the arrest number even lower.
Beyond turnstile jumping, the DA's office will also expand support services and diversion programs for teens and young adults who are arrested for the first time for non-violent, low-level offenses in an attempt to reduce arrests by 4,100 a year.
And around 5,000 people arrested for low-level drug possession cases involving cocaine, heroin, crack and oxycodone will be diverted into treatment and recovery services instead of prosecution, officials said, to reduce criminal cases by 20,000 annually.
Vance's announcement comes amid mounting scrutiny of arrests for turnstile jumping that advocates say punishes people for not being able to afford MetroCards. Eighty-nine percent of turnstile jumpers are black and Latino, according to data obtained from the state.
Under President Donald Trump's new immigration policies, police have acknowledged that low-level offenses like turnstile jumping could result in deportation for undocumented immigrants.
Advocates from the Riders Alliance and Community Service Society have been pushing for a "Fair Fares" program that would subsidize MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, while others have called on subway riders to "Swipe it Forward," or swipe in fellow New Yorkers in need using an unlimited pass.
Through mid-June 8,625 people had been arrested for theft of services, with 2,220 people having spent some time in jail, either from time served while waiting to see a judge or when they were sentenced.