Many of our neighbors bear the heavy burden of criminal justice involvement when seeking jobs, housing, or benefits and face arrest when walking down the street or driving a car. Kings District Attorney Eric Gonzalez has been trying to lift the burden with Begin Again – a program which writes off open summonses and warrants for petty offenses. Begin Again brings judges, public defenders, prosecutors, and organizations offering vocational, educational, health and social resources to a church in a different part of the borough every few months and wipes people’s records clean.
With the seventh round of Begin Again pending, One Community investigated how it had been received by residents of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill’s public housing developments. We found that, despite broad attempts at outreach through email blasts, social media, radio, and flyers, about 1 in 30 the prime targets of the program knew about Begin Again or the upcoming opportunity. One Community fielded teams who placed flyers at every mailbox in the developments, talked about the program with the personnel at every beauty salon and barbershop in the vicinity of the developments, saturated outdoors spaces with flyers, and had every relevant church promote the program. Our teams discussed the program with the public housing residents they encountered during a week of activity and encouraged people to spread the word on social media.