For too long, the “war on drugs” had been waged against the same communities that it was supposed to protect. Scorched earth tactics served only to exacerbate the problem, as law enforcement, in its zeal to “win” this war, ignored the distinction between the addict and the profiteer, the small time dealer and the kingpin. The result is that our most vulnerable communities were twice victimized: first, by the scourge of drugs, and then by the efforts to eradicate it.
In 2004, District Attorney Soares stood committed to Rockefeller Drug Laws reform. These draconian laws often resulted in unfair penalties because judges were not allowed to consider the individual circumstances of each case before imposing a sentence upon entry.
District Attorney Soares worked tirelessly to lobby the state legislature to reform the draconian laws that cost taxpayers millions of dollars and resulted in grave injustices. In 2009, District Attorney Soares watched with great pride and sense of accomplishment when the Legislature voted to enact real reform of Rockefeller.
As a result thousands of people charged with felony drug offenses have the right to individualized justice in the court room, and judges are able to sentence people to treatment and other alternatives to incarceration.
Many people who were incarcerated under the Rockefeller Drug Laws applied to the District Attorney’s Office for resentencing consideration and were granted release.
District Attorney Soares is such a believer in the need for treatment for those addicted to drugs and alcohol that, throughout the ongoing national investigation into the illegal distribution of controlled substances, he has been prosecuting only those responsible for the distribution and sale of these drugs, not the users.
The Community Justice Outreach Center exists to empower our community through restorative justice practice, re-entry services and outreach efforts. Through its operations, the Center seeks to pro-actively address public safety concerns, solve community justice problems, and enhance the quality of life for community members. It is staffed by members of the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, who are available to the public, Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm. The CJOC’s efforts are collaborations between local law enforcement offices, public officials, community-based organizations, and community members.
The Outreach efforts include: Criminal justice/restorative justice programs, Workshops , Outreach/referrals for community members, Computers for job and education assistance, Re-entry support for formerly incarcerated persons, Services for youth and seniors, Crime prevention tools, Neighborhood resource
Programs include:Community Accountability Board, Community Service Re-entry Outreach, the Seniors and Law-enforcement Together initiative, the Homework Hour tutoring program.
So often, schools and teachers in crime scarred communities are saddled with the failures of the surrounding community.
While most students present themselves to school with back packs full of pencils and notebooks, children in crime scarred communities present with complicated baggage: hunger, trauma, and neglect. The Office of the Albany County District Attorney is often times dealing with the parents and the adults of these communities.
District Attorney Soares is committed to breaking the cycle of truancy and violence by placing our children first and thinking outside the box to ensure and compel school attendance.
While the range of crimes and defendants vary, one constant remains: youth that abandon education are more likely to enter the criminal justice system than graduate high school or attend college. District Attorney Soares has had a rich tradition of involvement with the local school system.
In 2010, District Attorney Soares was emboldened to combat the issue of truancy after seeing first hand that most of the young offenders prosecuted in the Office of the Albany County District Attorney were individuals who were on the City’s most truant list.
Working in coalition with the Albany School District, the Albany County Probation Department, the Department of Youth and Family Service, and the Albany City Truancy Task Force, School First! Taskforce was formed.
Using the leverage of the District Attorney’s office in the criminal justice system and the carrot and sticks of its partners, families were encouraged to prioritize education and improve school attendance.
Working with teachers and school officials a set of criteria for parental involvement necessary to ensure the success of the child was established and parents identified. These conditions were then imposed onto the parents by the District Attorney’s Office during the course of plea bargaining.
In addition to enlisting other agencies involved in the lives of the children and families that ensure wrap around services are properly directed at students and families identified as at risk by teachers and educators, District Attorney Soares’s office will be providing technological hardware and software to improve communications between the agencies involved.
At the beginning of the school year School First! Taskforce held a meeting with the parents of the most truant students. The parents were asked why their children were truant, they were offered resources to help the family through any obstacles preventing the children from getting to school every day, on time, and notified that criminal charges were possible if their children continued to be absent from school. To date 75% of the targeted children were at school, on-time, every day.
More work needs to be done to ensure 100% compliance, but the School First! Taskforce lead by District Attorney Soares is certainly raising awareness for the importance of education in the lives of our most vulnerable children.
Each year, 800,000 children go missing. Albany County District Attorney’s office joined the National Child Identification Program (NCIP). The NCIP allows children, beginning at age four, to be fingerprinted with the identification information being maintained by parent.
This past year, the office distributed over 30,000 kits and posters throughout Albany County Costs of the kits were underwritten by fundraising efforts undertaken District Attorney Soares’s office and did not incur any taxpayers expenditures.
Since taking office, District Attorney Soares has used Ill-gotten gains confiscated from criminals to direct much need funds to police departments and neighborhood associations to purchase equipment through the Making Crime Pay Fund.
District Attorney Soares purchased nearly 1,000 back-packs filled with school supplies and, working with the local teachers union, APSTA, delivered them to needy children across Albany County.
The Community Accountability Board (CAB) is a community based alternative sentencing program for non-violent first-time, offenders of quality of life crimes. In CAB proceedings, instead of going to City Court, offenders report to a group of local community leaders and they negotiate an appropriate sentence for the offense.
There are many benefits to a CAB proceeding. First the offender is more likely to buy into the sentence since he/she actively participates in its negotiation. This stands in stark contrast to typical City Court proceeding where the fate of the defendant is negotiated by the prosecutor, the public defender and the Judge with little or no participation on the part of the defendant.
Additionally, the defendant, very often is required to participate in community service and make some sort of academic achievement as part of his sentence.
The goal of a CAB proceeding is a healing between the community and the offender, and minimizing the risk of recidivism by the offender.
The Albany County District Attorney’s Office launched “Conviction”, a step team for girls, on June 25, 2011. The purpose of this program is to keep the girls in our communities engaged in a program structured to prevent crime, pregnancy, and declining graduation rates.
The program provides a safe and positive environment for girls so that they can prepare for adulthood in a positive manner. The program is designed to motivate and encourage the girls to live a healthier lifestyle so they can reach their full potential physically and emotionally.
The program is co-sponsored by the SMART Girls program administered by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Albany. SMART Girls is a health, fitness, prevention, education and self-esteem enhancement program for girls ages 8 to 17, designed to encourage healthy attitudes and lifestyles.
The Office of the Albany County District Attorney sponsors Nanny’s Double Dutch League. These girls are local students who must maintain good grades to participate in team activities.
Nanny’s Double Dutch League consists of several jumping teams from across Albany who compete on a state-wide level.
Two of the jumping teams recently placed at the state tournament and won second place at the national tournament, and competed in Tokyo in an international tournament.
As an Assistant District Attorney, David Soares taught students as part of the “Legal Lives” program and realized how beneficial it can be in the life of a young person growing up in Albany.
When sixth-grade teacher Diane Micelli, who had experienced the successes of the program under former District Attorney Greenberg, came to District Attorney Soares in 2007 to bring back the program, the office was more than happy to oblige. District Attorney Soares presented the first lesson in the “Legal Lives” curriculum on November 1, 2007 to three sixth grade social studies classes at the Albany School of Humanities (ASH).
The program runs the length of the school year and involves the District Attorney’s staff, private attorneys, members of law enforcement, judges and teachers who all work together to teach students about the law and its role in their lives.
The “Legal Lives” curriculum was written specifically to increase students’ knowledge of the law, and to prevent juvenile delinquency through the development of critical and analytical thinking skills.