New York City officials are pushing for a “problem-solving” court near Times Square to step up its operations after the number of cases it handles dwindled as a result of the pandemic and changes to the state’s criminal-justice laws, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Midtown Community Court reopened slowly after a two-year closure, starting with one day a week for mental-health cases in March 2022. It is now open a second day each week to process young adults charged with low-level offenses such as harassment. Since the reopening, around 250 cases have been referred to the court, where defendants are connected with social services when they appear.
That is a far cry from the 8,964 cases handled at the court in 2019, when people charged with quality-of-life crimes in a large part of Manhattan were sent there five days a week. Midtown was one of the first so-called problem-solving courts in the nation when it opened in 1993. New York state has replicated the model to address people who repeatedly commit low-level crimes because they lack permanent housing or are struggling with mental-health issues or substance abuse. Special courts handling drug, mental-health and veterans’ issues across New York state have also declined in usage since the pandemic. There were 1,809 cases in those courts in 2022 compared with 6,096 in 2019. As a result, officials are missing a chance to connect many low-level offenders with housing, drug counseling or other services that might remove them from the streets and stop subsequent offenses, said Brad Hoylman-Sigal, a Democratic lawmaker from Manhattan. He is pushing to expand the Midtown court’s operations and said its closure forced officials to fight quality-of-life crimes with one hand tied behind their backs. “It’s a waste of resources not to have it fully operational,” he said. “It’s in a neighborhood, including Times Square, where these problems persist and have become even more apparent in the wake of COVID.”