Evaluation of the Manhattan Felony Alternative to Incarceration Court


Launched in June 2019, the Manhattan Felony Alternative to Incarceration Court (ATI Court) is a first-of-its-kind program designed to reduce incarceration and decrease recidivism for individuals facing felony charges, while at the same time enhancing public safety. The ATI Court, which aims to serve as a model for jurisdictions nationwide, is an initiative of the Criminal Term of the New York County Supreme Court, with support from the District Attorney’s Office of New York County. Operated in partnership with the Center for Justice Innovation, the program expands on the principles of specialized drug and mental health courts, which offer treatment services and alternatives to incarceration (ATI) for people who are involved in the court system and who are struggling with substance use or mental health issues. However, the ATI Court is unique in that it does not have strict eligibility criteria that limit participation to those with specific needs or lower-level charges. Instead, it seeks to offer ATI for all types of felony cases—including violent offenses, which are often excluded from such programs—and for individuals with a wider variety of needs. Additionally, the ATI Court features a more individualized, structured approach compared with many other ATI programs, with specialized and dedicated staff, individual clinical assessments, treatment plans tailored to participant needs, and rigorous monitoring of engagement in services. Together, these components are intended to safely divert people from incarceration, allowing them to remain in the community.

Nearly 60 percent of the 350 ATI Court participants each year struggle with substance use; another 20 percent struggle with substance use in addition to being homeless and incarcerated at the time they are referred to the program. To serve participants better, particularly those using opioids and those at high risk of overdose, the ATI Court will add peer specialists with lived experience of recovery from substance use disorders and involvement in the justice system to its clinical team.  

With funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, MDRC is conducting an evaluation of the ATI Court. The evaluation’s goal is to assess the impact of the court on justice system outcomes, including sentencing, recidivism, and incarceration. Additionally, for ATI Court participants with substance use disorders, the evaluation will include outcome analyses of well-being indicators such as housing stability, employment, education, and treatment engagement, using program data. MDRC will also conduct qualitative research and program data analysis on the planning and implementation of the new peer-supported recovery services to assess how they may support treatment engagement.


    Agenda, Scope, and Goals

    The evaluation aims to address the following research questions: 

    1. What effects, if any, does the ATI Court have on justice system outcomes—including disposition, sentencing, incarceration, and recidivism—for individuals with felony cases in Manhattan?  
    1. For ATI Court participants with documented substance use disorders, what is their status in terms of housing stability, employment, education, and treatment engagement during the time of their participation? 
    2. How are peer-supported recovery services for participants with substance use disorders designed and implemented, and how might they improve treatment engagement?

    Design, Sites, and Data Sources

    To address the first research question, MDRC will employ one or more nonexperimental methods to assess the impact of the ATI Court on justice system outcomes using retrospective data. The second question will be addressed through an outcomes study that will focus on a subset of cases in the impact sample with documented substance use disorders using program management information system data. The third question will be addressed through an implementation study of peer-supported recovery services, which will include a site visit and interviews with program providers, peer recovery personnel, and ATI Court participants.  

    The research team will rely on program, court, jail, prison, and interview data to answer the research questions.