District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., following his keynote address at a Harlem
Parole Reentry Court graduation, answers questions about reentry, crime prevention, and community prosecution.
V. WOLF: Hi, I’m Rob Wolf, director of Communications at the Center for Court Innovation. This
is New Thinking, a podcast about innovations in justice. At the beginning of 2010, Manhattan, which is where the
Center for Court Innovation is headquartered, got its first new district attorney in 35 years, Cyrus Vance, Jr. After
less than two months in office, Vance served as the keynote speaker at a Harlem parole reentry court graduation ceremony,
where parolees receive certificates for successfully completing the reentry court’s requirements. In his remarks,
Vance expressed strong support for reentry initiatives and explained that he was establishing a new bureau called
Crime Prevention Strategies.
CYRUS VANCE, JR: Reentry is that area
of the law that I am most convinced we can do the best job, in terms of helping people succeed. And to that effect
I have asked, in my office, for us to start a bureau called Crime Prevention Strategies.
After the ceremony, I asked Vance a few questions about his interest in both reentry initiatives and community prosecution.
WOLF: Tell me, why reentry? Why is a prosecutor like yourself interested in
the issue of reentry when that really comes at the end of the criminal justice system and your role, traditionally,
as a prosecutor is towards the beginning to after the arrest.
Well I think there are several reasons and they really are related to the job as a prosecutor. I mean the job of
a prosecutor, ultimately, I think like all law enforcement professionals, is about reducing crime and public safety.
And that’s our responsibility, and when we are successful with people in reentry programs, that obviously has
a direct impact on reducing recidivism. So, to the degree to which our office can support those efforts, we reduce
crime. And then there’s, of course, there’s the human responsibility. I believe that every time we send
someone to prison, we have a responsibility as a criminal justice community to have an exit strategy. And so without
an exit strategy, and an exit strategy when they come home, as they all do, uh, we aren’t really doing our job
as humans responsible for not just the case that we prosecuted, but for success in the life of everyone we deal with
in the system.
WOLF: And what role do you see your office playing?
You did mention that you created a new division or a new area of responsibility about crime prevention strategies.
VANCE: We will work in reentry to have our office involved, supporting
the work of reentry providers, helping in ways that are useful—understanding who’s coming back, how can our
office provide assistance in matching them up with services, and I think Joe Heinz has given us a model to you know,
to look at, and I believe we’ll—I want to build on Joe’s work and make sure that we, we’re helping
4,500 people coming back to New York City so that they don’t re-offend.
And how do you incorporate the idea of alternatives to incarceration into the everyday working responsibilities of
your assistant district attorneys?
VANCE: I think that as we handle
cases, we need to look at what offenses can be better sanctioned through programming ATIs as opposed to incarceration.
And so I think simply, number one is education. It’s making the assistants aware that I, as the district attorney,
support their looking for the end game. We obviously have to address the victim concerns, but it’s not a success—the
greater success is to pursue that sentence which reduces the chance of recidivism because that is a public safety
WOLF: Let me ask you one more question about community prosecution
philosophy. What is your feeling about community prosecution and do you have any plans to incorporate some of those
VANCE: I do. I think community prosecution is something
I embrace. And by community prosecution, there’s a whole range, obviously, of community prosecution strategies.
I embrace the idea of our assistant DAs, as lawyers, becoming involved in understanding the communities that they
serve—we serve, we’re privileged to serve—and working closely with them. I believe as a strategic matter, having
our office lined up with communities so that we can effectively understand crime patterns and crime prevention strategies
block by block, building by building. And so if we remain downtown at One Hogan Place, and don’t engage the
community, we miss an opportunity to do our job better as crime prevention experts and as people involved with our
decisions as prosecutors that affect people’s lives.
you plan on having, for instance, neighborhood prosecutors opening offices in the neighborhood?
I’ve talked about opening up an office in Washington Heights, which I do intend to do. We have an office in
Harlem and I don’t know if we’re gonna have neighborhood prosecutors, in a sense that every neighborhood,
but I do believe we are going to have prosecutors who are responsible for geographic zones—not necessarily all the
prosecutors in the office, but making sure that we have a, you know, strategic understanding of what’s going
on in the neighborhoods so that that can inform our prosecution strategy and handling of individual cases.
WOLF: And also, inform I suppose prevention efforts too—
Very much so, yeah. Very much so.
WOLF: Thank you very much for taking
the time. And thanks for coming to this event.
VANCE: My pleasure.
WOLF: You’ve been listening to an interview with Cyrus Vance, Jr., who
was the keynote speaker at the February 23rd graduation ceremony at the Harlem Parole Reentry Court. To learn more
about the reentry court or other Center for Court Innovation demonstration projects, visit our website at www.courtinnovation.org.
I’m Rob Wolf. Thanks for listening.