The Nassau County district attorney’s office on Wednesday honored three organizations that have enabled scores of nonviolent, misdemeanor offenders to perform community service as an alternative to incarceration.
“We can’t engage in something that we think is vitally important, which is crime prevention, until we educate people, until people understand how important service is in our industry,” District Attorney Madeline Singas told the honorees at an annual recognition at the Nassau County Bar Association in Mineola.
The work of the agencies is “an integral part” of what her office does, Singas said.
Hicksville Boys & Girls Club, Gateway Youth Outreach in Elmont and Posh Pets Long Beach Animal Shelter are among 100 organizations for which low-level offenders perform the mandated community service each year, the district attorney’s office said.
The relationship helps the small agencies and the offenders, who have committed such crimes as first-offense driving while intoxicated, benefit from “restorative justice,” said Assistant District Attorney René P. Fiechter, director of community affairs, which oversees the program.
The three agencies have all hired some offenders, said Nanette Lennon-Knight, of the Hempstead-based EAC Network, which runs the community service program under contract with the district attorney’s office.
“The ultimate goal is to change their behavior, hopefully . . . and then also, too, to be able to get them back to be productive members of society,” said Gateway’s executive director Patrick Boyle. “That’s what, really, it’s all about.”
In an interview, Hicksville Boys & Girls Club executive director Tom Bruno said his agency was humbled by the honor.
“A lot of times you get so used to doing this kind of work, it becomes second nature,” Bruno said. “But then when somebody recognizes you for what you do every day, it’s really nice. It kind of inspires you to work harder.”
Fiechter said the district attorney’s office had increased the number of individuals sentenced to perform mandated community service on Long Island and in the five boroughs from 500 annually to 4,000 during the past eight years.
“Community service is a critical form of sentencing,” he said.
Gateway’s administrative assistant, Katherine Gon, cited one teenager who had been charged with armed robbery and who later became a counselor and a supervisor with the agency that serves 800 Elmont elementary school children in its daily after-school program. The teen’s armed robbery charge was reduced to a misdemeanor.
He is now an emergency medical technician, Boyle said.
“Originally he made a mistake and . . . that mistake wasn’t going to hold him back,” Boyle said.
An earlier version of this story misspelled the surname of Katherine Gon.