A smarter way to cut NYC’s Rikers backlog

New York is trying to fashion itself as a very modern city, but its criminal justice system still operates in a very primitive mode.

So Justice Reboot is long overdue. The plan just announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman will use information systems to better manage the delivery of justice and reduce incarceration rates.

Yet it is long on promises heard before.

Reboot’s goals, to speed justice and streamline the handling of minor offenses, will use software common in the private sector to make the bewildering and complex process more responsive. Data and metrics will hold supervisors accountable for achieving reforms and will allow for sharper analysis of who is getting arrested and where.

The proposal with the broadest reach is designed to simplify the processing of quality-of-life summonses, those typically issued for disorderly conduct, littering and carrying an open container of alcohol. Close to 360,000 were issued last year, almost half of the city’s criminal cases. But last year 38 percent were ignored by those who got them. Missing a court date triggers the issuing of an arrest warrant, which, in turn, results in costly court-clogging procedures, sometimes even a stay at Rikers Island.

Now, summonses will be redesigned for clarity about what to do and where to go. A pilot program with more flexible court dates and evening hours will be launched in northern Manhattan and can be expanded citywide.

To ease the troublesome backlog on Rikers Island, defendants held for more than a year will have their cases put on a calendar for a trial or plea in the next 45 days. De Blasio and Lippman also set a goal of having 50 percent of these cases resolved in six months. This should result in shorter waiting times for cases to be resolved, a more manageable city jail population, and fewer people caught up in an endless cycle of arrests and detention for nonviolent crimes.

Cooperation of district attorneys, the defense bar and court workers is critical. Nothing will change, however, unless de Blasio keeps a sustained focus on day-to-day execution of this plan.