Last week, 70 people who were given community service after pleading guilty to infractions like public drunkenness, open container violations or speeding, were shuttled to Coney Island in Brooklyn to help with cleanup efforts after the devastating storm.
They raked leaves, shoveled mud and picked up garbage and debris. More than 1,000 bags of trash were collected in 732 hours of work. Swaths of Sandy-wrecked filthy streets and sidewalks were cleaned.
"In speaking with community members, we witnessed sadness in some of their faces, but also a determination. Local business owners described the struggle they faced in recovering their businesses," said Moises Reyes, one of the supervisors in the weeklong cleanup effort created by the Manhattan district attorney's office.
Reyes, who works with the nonprofit Bronx Community Solutions, said participants worked really hard. "I believe they saw the need in the community and didn't hesitate or hold back in participating with this special cleanup," he said.
Sandy blew in to the area in late October, swamping subways and darkening swaths of Manhattan for days, downing trees and ravaging coastal areas. Some neighborhoods, like the Rockaways in Queens and Coney Island, were particularly hard-hit.
Cleanup and recovery efforts will take months, and there are thousands of people displaced around the city. Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked the federal government for more than $32 billion to cover the immediate costs triggered by Sandy, plus $9 billion for preventive measures to better protect the area for the next big storm.
Generally, people sentenced to community service in the five boroughs are assigned to city departments like transportation or sanitation, and some have already helped in cleanup efforts that way. But prosecutors in Manhattan wanted to do something specific to help residents reeling after Sandy slammed the city.
"We sat down and asked ourselves if there was something we could do here in criminal court that would help our city in the aftermath of the storm," said Nitin Savur, deputy chief of the trial division.
Savur and his boss, Karen Friedman Agnifilo, focused in on mandated community service - already aimed at giving back to the city.
"We were willing to send our defendants anywhere in the city that needed help," Savur said.
The district attorney's office partnered with the nonprofit Center for Court Innovation, which works with city and state courts to develop and facilitate alternative criminal justice programs.
Court innovation workers surveyed the badly-hit areas and zeroed in on Coney Island because a large group could work there and assistance was badly needed. The center shuttled the defendants from Manhattan to Brooklyn and supervised cleanup efforts on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island, not far from the devastated boardwalk.
"We take the supervision seriously, and we take the work enormously seriously," said Greg Berman, director of the organization.
Savur said the district attorney's office is considering more Sandy-related community service efforts. There is no shortage of people who could be ordered to Sandy: About 80,000 of the 100,000 annual cases in Manhattan are lower level misdemeanors and violations that often wind up with some type of community service.