Bronx Community Solutions provides alternative sentencing options to judges presiding over misdemeanor cases in the Bronx. We calculate the yearly savings we provide with our community service efforts at around $600,000 annually, compared to the cost of comparable labor, however it would be interesting to know the concrete savings made to the borough and/or the court.
Turning Lives Around, and Saving the State Money
By JIM DWYER
Published: May 23, 2013
From age 12 on, Teofilo Ramos had been a great worker: delivery boy, day laborer, soup kitchen chef, reliable hand at drywall, trusted caretaker in a Hasidic village. So it was no surprise that he wound up at midlife behind the counter of a deli on Rockaway Beach Boulevard in Far Rockaway, Queens — 12 hours a day, six days a week, drawing coffee from an urn, and slicing meat and swabbing floors.
Nor could it be taken as a shock, really, that he was slipping packets of heroin to certain customers.
“I’d have them come around the store and order a sandwich or something, and stuff it in the sandwich when I wrapped it,” Mr. Ramos said this week. “Or when I gave a book of matches. Be creative when giving it to them, instead of just being obvious.”
Mr. Ramos, 54, who grew up in East Harlem, has used drugs for nearly his entire life, spinning the hamster wheel of addiction alongside a ferocious work ethic.
In the Rockaway deli, he would slip into the bathroom at least three times a day to inject himself with heroin. Dropping out of school in sixth grade, he worked and got in trouble and got arrested, then went back to work. Long ago, he lost count of his arrests, but believes the count is well over 50. Until the morning of March 2, 2010, all were for misdemeanors or minor violations.
At sunrise that day, the police came through the door of his home in Far Rockaway, and arrested him and 44 others for dealing drugs in and around the Hammel Houses in Rockaway. For the previous eight months, Mr. Ramos had been selling bundles — 10 packs of $10 bags of heroin — to a friend, a woman with whom he had been regularly using the drugs. She had gone to work for the authorities after she herself was arrested, so all of her buys were vouchered as evidence.
After a lifetime of small-bore trouble, Mr. Ramos faced six felony charges. But he happened to arrive in the Queens courthouse just as New York State was bending back four decades of history and was changing the requirement of mandatory heavy sentences, known as the Rockefeller drug laws, for drug offenders.
Under Gov. David A. Paterson, the State Legislature passed reforms in 2009 that permitted judges to find some place other than prison for people like Mr. Ramos. He was one of the first 1,400 serious offenders whose cases went to new drug diversion courts, which provisionally sentence the defendants to rigorous treatment programs and monitoring, while keeping the threat of prison as leverage.
Each of these cases saved the state $5,144 over the traditional approach, according to a study commissioned by the state court system and released this week. The study, which was conducted jointly by the Center for Court Innovation and NPC Research, also found that because fewer people in the program returned to crime, there were additional savings of $8,140 in “victimization costs.”
In all, every dollar spent on the new approach returned $3.56 in savings, according to the study.
The case of Mr. Ramos is all paradox. He got a high school diploma, became a certified substance abuse counselor, has never tested positive for any drugs. He is now working at an on-the-books job that pays $18 an hour. No one would seriously argue that state prison time would have had such a positive result.
But without the threat of it, he says, he most likely would not have seized the opportunities of the diversion program. Strict sentences did not make a shambles of his life because he had never faced them. “When I was a kid and I had been involved with probation, I didn’t stick to it,” he said. “I didn’t even report. There was nothing they could tell me that would happen that I cared about. In my eyes it wasn’t serious enough. If there are no serious consequences, no change will be made.”
Marcia Hirsch, the judge who presides in the drug diversion court in Queens and oversaw the case of Mr. Ramos, said the treatment programs and monitoring were so rigorous that some defendants preferred just to go to prison.
“Sometimes the defendants walk away,” she said. “But we get great rewards; we love to see people turn their lives around, reconnect with families, build up trust and relationships.”
Mr. Ramos recently filed his federal income tax return, knowing that he was due a small refund. He also knew what would become of it. The city had first dibs on the refund because he owed decades of unpaid fines for small offenses.
“I am so happy that they are getting it,” he said