Madeline Singas knows too well how thin the line is between being firm and fair. As Nassau County District Attorney, Singas oversees all criminal and minor prosecutions that occur within Nassau’s courts, as well as their appeal to higher state and federal courts. But the Manhasset resident sees her job as more than just putting the bad guys behind bars; Singas has maintained a concentrated effort on reducing recidivism, offering programs and services that help nonviolent offenders become productive members of society.
Singas’ office oversees 30,000 case prosecutions each year. And with each case, whether it’s a murder indictment, fraud, animal abuse or drug bust, Singas said her goal is to keep the public safe and make sure people have faith and trust in the office of the District Attorney.
“Every case calls for a different approach; from our most violent cases, where we’re very successful at making sure people are held accountable and setting the sentences they deserve for the crimes they do,” Singas said. “And, making sure there is a level of compassion in how we can help nonviolent offenders come out of the system and be productive members of society again.”
But she’s not in it alone. During the November elections, Singas was joined by the powerhouse team of County Executive Laura Curran—Nassau’s first female county executive—and Laura Gillen—the first woman to take the helm of the Town of Hempstead. Singas also follows in the footsteps of another history-maker—her predecessor, Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, was Long Island’s first woman elected district attorney.
“It’s a great time for women in Nassau County. There’s so many women in positions of power in Nassau County and it’s tremendously exciting for me to be one of those women,” said Singas, a mother to twins. “It’s great for our daughters, for the young women in the county to see that and look at us as role models. And I think women have a different way of governing that’s very collaborative.”
Collaboration is the name of the game when it comes to Singas’ work in confronting some of the county’s toughest issues, including gang violence and the heroin epidemic. She noted that her office is “collaborating in unprecedented fashion” with different agencies, including the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Attorney’s Office to dismantle MS-13 from the top down.
‘‘There’s so many women in positions of power in Nassau County and it’s tremendously exciting for me to be one of those women.’’
– Madeline Singas
“We’re looking at how to take out the whole system, so they can’t rebuild that quickly. It’s really a concerted effort that strikes at the heart of gang activity and at gang members,” said Singas. But the district attorney is quick to note that it takes more than enforcement to stop gangs. “We take a multi-pronged approach. Our enforcement is first and foremost strong….and we’re doing a lot of gang outreach to schools.”
The topic of opioid and heroin addiction comes up every day, said Singas, with its effects reaching across communities. Their approach to stopping the epidemic is similar to that of gangs: education and enforcement.
“Our law enforcement efforts are very robust. We’ve taken down several major drug traffickers in Nassau County. We’re stepping on that supply chain and making sure the supply doesn’t get into Nassau County to begin with and if it does, we’re investigating and prosecuting those people,” Singas said.
As drug dealers get more sophisticated, so does the DA’s office, said Singas. Technology has played a big part in that, with the Criminal Strategies Unit mapping where overdoses happen and finding connections between defendants and how they’re operating.
But arrests aren’t the solution to the epidemic, Singas noted. The office, as well as numerous other county and community agencies, have pushed for education and talking to parents and students about signs of addiction and where to seek help.
“Part of what we’re doing is trying to take away the stigma of someone saying there’s an addiction issue with their loved one or themselves so they can feel more comfortable coming forward and asking for help,” said Singas. “No one can beat these addictions on their own, they need professional help to do so.”
In addition to providing help via the website www.heroinprevention.com, criminal forfeiture money has also been directed towards the New Hope program in Freeport, a 33-bed rehab center where individuals can go for short term treatment in the gap period between an overdose and finding a long-term facility. Singas said one of her goals is to open up a similar center for those 18 years and younger this year.
And while Singas is tough on crime, she’s also a firm believer in second chances. Her office works with county agencies and the Department of Social Services to make sure non-violent offenders are getting the help they need, so they don’t end up back in the system.
One of the ways they do that is through WORC, the Woman’s Opportunity Rehabilitation Center, a correction program that offers an alternative to incarceration for female offenders in and around Nassau County. The program, which is funded in part by criminal forfeiture monies, offers a six-month, structured day reporting program and offers offenders vocational services, personal counseling, life-skills workshops, educational assistance and more, so they no longer need public assistance.
“These are…moms and daughters. If a mother is in trouble, the whole family is in trouble. That’s the nucleus,” Singas said. “We want to empower them in their lives so they can become productive again and move their family forward and provide for their families without being in the criminal justice system.”
What do you think about programs like WORC? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.