A unique program in New York City created by the Center for Court Innovation offers people who have committed a low-level crime like trespassing or criminal mischief the opportunity to completely divert their case out of the traditional court system. Instead, participants in the Project Reset initiative meet in group settings with teaching artists to share a dialogue about works of art over a three-hour course. Upon successful completion of the program, the case is declined by the local district attorney’s office, the arrest record is sealed, and the individual never sets foot in a court room.
The program was piloted about six years ago at Gavin Brown’s gallery in Manhattan; artists Derek Fordjour and Shaun Leonardo were involved in developing and leading the curriculum. Currently, Project Reset operates in partnership with the New Museum in Manhattan and the Brooklyn Museum. At the latter, the focus is on two paintings: Titus Kaphar’s “Shifting the Gaze” and “Judgement” by Bob Thompson.
In a conversation with Colossal, Criminal Justice Director Adam Mansky explains that they have seen incredible success with the program. Initially limited to first-time offenders ages sixteen to seventeen, Project Reset has incrementally expanded over the years. It now serves a wider age range, as well as people who have had previous encounters with the court system.
“What we’ve observed is that some of the older participants get even more out of it,” Mansky tells Colossal. “There is a conceptual and performance aspect to participating in the course,” he explains, prompting reflection and active engagement on issues like systems of power and social perceptions.
“Conceptually, we do things that allow people to use arts to reflect on their behavior and the injustices of the system, that it can be a constructive experience for people,” says Mansky. Project Reset is effective because it matches the systemization of traditional court processes, while also centering the individual’s circumstances and potential for improvement and change for the future, rather than punishment for the past.
Since 2015, more than 1,750 people have participated in the program, and avoided a criminal record. The program has a 98% completion rate, with 96% of participants recommending it to others and a significant decrease in recidivism one year later. Project Reset also offers expediency: the 3-hour program helps cases, on average, be resolved 186 days sooner than traditional prosecution.
In addition to Project Reset, the Center for Court Innovation engages in a wide array of participatory and creative programming. The organization offers youth photography workshops, as well “a tremendous amount of place-making work”, Mansky explains. Much of their programming incorporates design and urban planning, as well as creative technology.
Find out more about the Center for Court Innovation on their website. The organization is also hiring for dozens of roles if you’re interested in getting involved professionally. You can also keep up with the non-profit and learn more about their impact on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.