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Bail Reform: New NYC Program Allows Low-Level Offenders To Avoid Jail Time By Taking An Art Course

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A new program allows people arrested for minor offenses to avoid jail -- even a court appearance -- just by visiting a museum.

If you're arrested for fare beating, painting graffiti, shoplifting and other low-level offenses, you can skip a court appearance and avoid jail by taking an art course, CBSN New York's Marcia Kramer reported Wednesday.

"It's about holding people accountable, but doing it in ways that promote human dignity," Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said.

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It's called "Project Reset," and is the brain child of Gonzalez. If you're arrested for a non-violent offense and are given a desk appearance ticket, you can take a two-hour course at the Brooklyn Museum.

When you're finished, the DA declines to prosecute.

"It requires individuals to view and discuss a piece of art with people they don't know. They're asked to create their own art, to think and find meaning in that art," Gonzalez said.

"Shifting the Gaze" by Titus Kaphar is one of the works of art in the course. When asked what some of the things are that people take away from the painting, teacher Sophia Dawson told Kramer, "That you can actually make what you want to see stand out in yourself in the world, in a work of art."

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Officials told Kramer the program has been wildly successful in allowing people who make mistakes to see the error of their ways without the anxiety of facing a judge or entering the court system.

Gonzalez said the partnership with the Brooklyn Museum seeks to harness the cathartic power of art as a response to low-level crimes.

"Art has the ability to transform people's lives and provide new perspectives and beliefs," Gonzalez said.

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Jessy Singh was arrested for shoplifting but got to participate in the art class instead.

"It definitely helped me avoid the anxiety of having to attend an actual court date for a mistake I made," Singh said. "It helped to make me feel human in a system that often criminalizes people for like the smallest of things, bad choices, wrong place wrong time."

Some of the funds for the program come from the city council.

"Ending a criminal justice system that turns minor offense, minor crimes into lifelong problems," Council Speaker Corey Johnson said. "It's really about making sure that things are proportionate."

Project Reset has a very low recidivism rate. Of 500 people that have gone through the program, only three have been re-arrested, Kramer reported.

NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan has been very critical of the Brooklyn DA's jail diversion programs. On Wednesday, a department spokesperson said police want to take a closer look at this one, to see what evidence there is of how an art course can deter criminal behavior.

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