Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/criminal-justice-reform 2019-02-21T04:07:35+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Criminal Justice Reforms Will Not Make Enough Progress If We Don’t Also Change the Criminal Court 2019-02-20T05:00:00+00:00 2019-02-20T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8291-criminal-justice-reforms-will-not-make-enough-progress-if-we-don-t-also-change-the-criminal-court Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/may-b28-reed.jpg" alt="may b28 reed" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>While momentum is building for the New York State Legislature to pass long-overdue bills directed at bail, discovery, and speedy trial reforms that promise to make the Criminal Court fairer, will these pieces of legislation do more than make a brutal, racist machine slightly less brutal?</p> <p>New York’s insidious reliance on money bail is now widely condemned and proposals for reform abound. Some have suggested eliminating cash bail except for certain designated charges. In other words, pre-trial freedom should not depend on the size of your bank account, that is unless you are charged with certain crimes. Others want to eliminate cash bail but allow for preventive detention so that in certain situations a person could be remanded -- held without even the possibility of posting bail -- based on predictions of future dangerousness.</p> <p>Usually in the legislative mix is a risk assessment tool that most people believe has racial bias baked into its core no matter how hard proponents try to disaggregate. And in place of release on one’s own recognizance -- simply being released and told to return to court on another day -- is a menu of supervised release, GPS monitoring, and other types of surveillance that expand the net of governmental control and intrusion over those hauled into Criminal Court for charges minor and serious alike. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>New York’s ironically named discovery laws have rightfully been compared to a blindfold. Stories are legion of people forced to engage in plea bargaining and the crucial decision of whether to run the risk of a trial without knowing the evidence against them. Proposed reforms all dictate that the accused must have access to discovery much earlier in the process.</p> <p>However, the crisis of discovery is not limited to when documents are provided to the defense. It is also a matter of what documents are provided. Some jurisdictions allow for the defense to depose the prosecution’s witnesses. In New York, the accused gets reports filled out by police officers that merely summarize what witnesses had to say. Some jurisdictions require that the complaint that informs the accused of the nature of the charges must specify the facts that support the legality of the stop and arrest, as well as facts that detail evidence of guilt.</p> <p>In New York, the complaint is a template usually devoid of any details. One critical piece of discovery is the initial interview between prosecutor and arresting officer that takes place within hours of the arrest. In New York, the defense is entitled to the prosecutor’s de minimis notes from that interview. That interview should be taped, with the officer under oath, and provided to the defense at the accused’s initial appearance before a judge. &nbsp;</p> <p>Yet even if the new laws addressed all the concerns raised above, what needs to change is the Criminal Court itself, a heretofore intractable behemoth that grinds up everything and everyone in its path. Much as prison abolition has moved from the impossible to the imaginable, so, too, should talk of abolishing the present incarnation of the Criminal Court.</p> <p>The New York City Criminal Court has proven impervious to change. During the 1980s crack-cocaine epidemic, tens of thousands of drug-related arrests flooded the court. The court absorbed them all without as much as a hiccup. More recently, with Broken Windows, or quality-of-life, policing, the courts have been inundated with hundreds of thousands of misdemeanor cases. Again, the court took them all in without missing a beat. &nbsp;</p> <p>No matter what the input, or whatever legislative reforms are enacted, the Criminal Court continues to do exactly what it is designed to do -- push cases, get pleas, and move the calendar with scant concern about the constitutionality of the arrest or the sufficiency of the evidence of guilt. &nbsp;</p> <p>While no one can or should gainsay the importance of the proposed reforms to bail, discovery, and speedy trial, it is the Criminal Court itself that needs reform.</p> <p>The court’s method, or lack thereof, of adjudicating cases has not changed since its current incarnation in 1962. It has long been appropriately referred to as an assembly line marked by a lack of adversarial litigation, as people are processed in ways that more resemble the Department of Motor Vehicles than anyone’s conception of a court. &nbsp;</p> <p>All the discovery in the world may not stop judges from threatening the accused with a maximum sentence if they have the temerity to insist on their right to a trial, or prosecutors from making “one time only” plea offers, or revoking offers if the accused seeks to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest.</p> <p>It is about time for the Criminal Court to be evaluated on how well it enforces constitutional rights.</p> <p>The stop-and-frisk federal class action in Floyd v. City of New York exposed rampant search and seizure violations. How has the Criminal Court addressed that reality? The court in Floyd also found an equal protection violation as stop-and-frisk was disproportionately inflicted on people of color. Spend just a few hours in any of the city’s criminal courts and you will see the unabashed manifestation of similarly race-based policing as 95% of defendants are people of color. What is the Criminal Court response to that reality?</p> <p>There is as well the accused’s right to due process, to basic, fundamental fairness. Due process is hardly the phrase that comes to mind when you spend any time in the Criminal Court.</p> <p>To be clear, bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws must be reformed. Fewer people will be held in pretrial detention, fewer people will remain in the dark about the nature of the evidence they face, and fewer people will have an interminable wait for a trial. What remains to be seen is whether these changes will transform the Criminal Court from a guardian of assembly-line justice to an enforcer of constitutional rights.</p> <p>***<br /> Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law. On Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/SteveZeidman" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@SteveZeidman</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/may-b28-reed.jpg" alt="may b28 reed" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>While momentum is building for the New York State Legislature to pass long-overdue bills directed at bail, discovery, and speedy trial reforms that promise to make the Criminal Court fairer, will these pieces of legislation do more than make a brutal, racist machine slightly less brutal?</p> <p>New York’s insidious reliance on money bail is now widely condemned and proposals for reform abound. Some have suggested eliminating cash bail except for certain designated charges. In other words, pre-trial freedom should not depend on the size of your bank account, that is unless you are charged with certain crimes. Others want to eliminate cash bail but allow for preventive detention so that in certain situations a person could be remanded -- held without even the possibility of posting bail -- based on predictions of future dangerousness.</p> <p>Usually in the legislative mix is a risk assessment tool that most people believe has racial bias baked into its core no matter how hard proponents try to disaggregate. And in place of release on one’s own recognizance -- simply being released and told to return to court on another day -- is a menu of supervised release, GPS monitoring, and other types of surveillance that expand the net of governmental control and intrusion over those hauled into Criminal Court for charges minor and serious alike. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>New York’s ironically named discovery laws have rightfully been compared to a blindfold. Stories are legion of people forced to engage in plea bargaining and the crucial decision of whether to run the risk of a trial without knowing the evidence against them. Proposed reforms all dictate that the accused must have access to discovery much earlier in the process.</p> <p>However, the crisis of discovery is not limited to when documents are provided to the defense. It is also a matter of what documents are provided. Some jurisdictions allow for the defense to depose the prosecution’s witnesses. In New York, the accused gets reports filled out by police officers that merely summarize what witnesses had to say. Some jurisdictions require that the complaint that informs the accused of the nature of the charges must specify the facts that support the legality of the stop and arrest, as well as facts that detail evidence of guilt.</p> <p>In New York, the complaint is a template usually devoid of any details. One critical piece of discovery is the initial interview between prosecutor and arresting officer that takes place within hours of the arrest. In New York, the defense is entitled to the prosecutor’s de minimis notes from that interview. That interview should be taped, with the officer under oath, and provided to the defense at the accused’s initial appearance before a judge. &nbsp;</p> <p>Yet even if the new laws addressed all the concerns raised above, what needs to change is the Criminal Court itself, a heretofore intractable behemoth that grinds up everything and everyone in its path. Much as prison abolition has moved from the impossible to the imaginable, so, too, should talk of abolishing the present incarnation of the Criminal Court.</p> <p>The New York City Criminal Court has proven impervious to change. During the 1980s crack-cocaine epidemic, tens of thousands of drug-related arrests flooded the court. The court absorbed them all without as much as a hiccup. More recently, with Broken Windows, or quality-of-life, policing, the courts have been inundated with hundreds of thousands of misdemeanor cases. Again, the court took them all in without missing a beat. &nbsp;</p> <p>No matter what the input, or whatever legislative reforms are enacted, the Criminal Court continues to do exactly what it is designed to do -- push cases, get pleas, and move the calendar with scant concern about the constitutionality of the arrest or the sufficiency of the evidence of guilt. &nbsp;</p> <p>While no one can or should gainsay the importance of the proposed reforms to bail, discovery, and speedy trial, it is the Criminal Court itself that needs reform.</p> <p>The court’s method, or lack thereof, of adjudicating cases has not changed since its current incarnation in 1962. It has long been appropriately referred to as an assembly line marked by a lack of adversarial litigation, as people are processed in ways that more resemble the Department of Motor Vehicles than anyone’s conception of a court. &nbsp;</p> <p>All the discovery in the world may not stop judges from threatening the accused with a maximum sentence if they have the temerity to insist on their right to a trial, or prosecutors from making “one time only” plea offers, or revoking offers if the accused seeks to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest.</p> <p>It is about time for the Criminal Court to be evaluated on how well it enforces constitutional rights.</p> <p>The stop-and-frisk federal class action in Floyd v. City of New York exposed rampant search and seizure violations. How has the Criminal Court addressed that reality? The court in Floyd also found an equal protection violation as stop-and-frisk was disproportionately inflicted on people of color. Spend just a few hours in any of the city’s criminal courts and you will see the unabashed manifestation of similarly race-based policing as 95% of defendants are people of color. What is the Criminal Court response to that reality?</p> <p>There is as well the accused’s right to due process, to basic, fundamental fairness. Due process is hardly the phrase that comes to mind when you spend any time in the Criminal Court.</p> <p>To be clear, bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws must be reformed. Fewer people will be held in pretrial detention, fewer people will remain in the dark about the nature of the evidence they face, and fewer people will have an interminable wait for a trial. What remains to be seen is whether these changes will transform the Criminal Court from a guardian of assembly-line justice to an enforcer of constitutional rights.</p> <p>***<br /> Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law. On Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/SteveZeidman" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@SteveZeidman</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
New York Democrats on Eliminating Cash Bail: Not When, But How 2019-01-31T05:00:00+00:00 2019-01-31T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8245-new-york-democrats-on-eliminating-cash-bail-not-when-but-how Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/gov-cuomo-provide-update-clinton.jpg" alt="gov cuomo provide update clinton" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: the governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Taking the stage at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park last September, Governor Andrew Cuomo promised to end cash bail “once and for all,” a move that would launch New York into the national spotlight with New Jersey and California. “In America you are still innocent until proven guilty,” he told the cheering crowd. “And that’s whether you’re black or white. That’s whether you’re rich or poor.”</p> <p>The elimination of the cash bail system, under which poor black and Hispanic New Yorkers are <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/05/19/report-rikers-still-full-of-new-yorkers-who-cant-afford-bail/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">disproportionately incarcerated</a> pre-trial, does seem imminent thanks to a new Democratic majority in the state Senate. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, whose chamber last year passed legislation that only limited cash bail, assured faith leaders at Trinity Chapel in Manhattan on Thursday that, “I support a 100-percent-ending-of-cash-bail system.”</p> <p>But big questions remain: who will be eligible for pretrial incarceration, what constraints will be put on judges, the reach of controversial ankle bracelets.</p> <p>Cuomo’s recently-released budget proposal calls for more extensive pretrial detention and monitoring than an advocate-backed bill in the Legislature, and several Democrats told Gotham Gazette they want broad judicial discretion on domestic violence cases: a red flag for advocates who see a window for bias. As Democrats use their new power to rapidly pass progressive legislation, bail reform, in all its complexity, could prove a test of how far they’ll go.</p> <p>“We have to remember there's a presumption of innocence,” warns Democratic Assemblymember Dan Quart of Manhattan. “The point of bail is not to judge or adjudicate people.”</p> <p>The New York City jail population has decreased by 1,500 over the last two years, according to a&nbsp;<a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b6de4731aef1de914f43628/t/5c198f9af950b7863cd60bac/1545179066057/Progress+Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">December report</a> from the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice. Still, as of September more than a third of the 8,200 people in city jails were held pre-trial on misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies. More than 90 percent of the jail population is people of color. The commission, led by former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, estimates substantial bail reform could reduce the population by 3,000 people.</p> <p>Deputy Senate Leader Michael Gianaris of Queens likes to remind reporters that the <a href="https://justleadershipusa.org/campaign/freenewyork/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">FREEnewyork campaign</a>, composed of more than 150 grassroots groups, has dubbed his <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s3579/amendment/a" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bail reform bill</a> with Manhattan Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell the “gold standard.” It eliminates cash bail and was a non-starter in the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p>Under the Gianaris/O’Donnell bill, most defendants would be released on their own recognizance. Possible exceptions include witness intimidation cases, and felony cases where the defendant is accused of attempting to seriously injure another person.</p> <p>Anyone eligible for pretrial incarceration would be entitled to a hearing where a judge evaluates evidence and considers less-restrictive alternatives, like mandatory check-ins. These hearings would mark a “huge step forward,” says JoAnne Page, president of the Fortune Society, a nonprofit that provides prison reentry services. Currently, setting bail is “a decision that happens in a heartbeat.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy20/exec/artvii/ppgg-artvii.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget proposal</a> also eliminates cash bail and mandates pretrial hearings. However, his net of eligibility for pretrial detention is much wider, including Class A felonies like murder, conspiracy, and controlled substance charges; most violent B and C felonies like rape, assault and weapon possession (burglary and robbery are excluded); and cases where the judge deems the defendant a threat to the physical safety of someone in their family or household, regardless of the severity of the charges.</p> <p>Alphonso David, Cuomo’s counsel, told Gotham Gazette that the governor intentionally excluded controversial public safety <a href="https://civilrights.org/more-than-100-civil-rights-digital-justice-and-community-based-organizations-raise-concerns-about-pretrial-risk-assessment/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">assessment tools</a> (which Mayor Bill de Blasio <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/city-state-n-y-jail-solution-article-1.3738231" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has endorsed</a>). These tools rely on <a href="https://craftmediabucket.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/PDFs/PSA-Risk-Factors-and-Formula.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">data points</a> like a defendant’s age and criminal history, and have been met with allegations of racial bias in <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/bail-reform-tech-justice/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New Jersey</a> and<a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/california-ended-cash-bail-but-may-have-replaced-it-with-something-even-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> California</a>.</p> <p>But if decarceration is the goal, advocates warn, the net of eligibility for pretrial incarceration must be much smaller -- lest judges balk at losing cash bail and fall back on detention.</p> <p>“Unfortunately, the same decision-makers who are deciding to set bail on our clients now are going to be the ones who decide whether or not, after an evidentiary hearing, to keep that person remanded,” says Legal Aid Society attorney Marie Ndiaye. “The only thing you can do to really, really decarcerate is just by really, really limiting the number of people who could even be eligible for that kind of treatment."</p> <p>Cuomo also wants electronic monitoring as an option for people charged with felonies and domestic violence misdemeanors. “When you have something like electronic monitoring there’s a very real risk that it means the expansion of social control,” warns Page, of the Fortune Society. “The threshold you pass before you put an electronic bracelet on someone is much lower than locking them up.”</p> <p>Last year, the Assembly passed a <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A10137&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Memo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposal</a> that would have preserved cash bail and electronic monitoring in felony and domestic violence misdemeanor cases -- a broad category that includes verbal threats. “I'll be the first one to say the Assembly bill wasn't good enough,” Heastie told advocates Thursday.</p> <p>O’Donnell also dismissed the Walker bill as a relic earlier this month. “In previous years the Assembly would come up with bills we thought might pass muster in the Republican Senate,” he explained. “Those days are over. I would hope that my colleagues would come around and take this bolder approach.”</p> <p>But there is still substantial Democratic support in the Assembly for the domestic violence provisions in the Walker bill. “There are going to be enough Democrats, me among them, who will be raising the issue,” said Assemblymember Amy Paulin of Scarsdale. “If we don't protect domestic violence [victims], I won't be voting for the bill.”</p> <p>“Whether it's cash bail or pretrial detention I'm not worried about that,” added Assemblymember Patricia Fahy of Albany. “My interest is the bottom line…that we are not tying any judicial hands in keeping our streets safe, or our households safe.”</p> <p>This is a point of entry for the state District Attorneys Association, which opposes expansive bail reform on the grounds that it curtails prosecutorial discretion. “We have serious concerns about, with the swipe of a pen, creating a proposal that has calamitous effects on public safety,” Albany County District Attorney David Soares told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Domestic violence advocates in the FREEnewyork campaign say this logic is at odds with the ultimate goal of significantly decreasing jail populations, and relies too heavily on the perceptions of law enforcement. “Particularly for LGBTQ people,” cautions Audacia Ray of the New York City Anti-Violence project, “the way police and prosecutors perceive what is happening is often faulty and racist.”</p> <p>Senate and Assembly leaders tell Gotham Gazette that they hope to come up with a compromise before budget negotiations, which are set to begin in earnest in March. A budget deal is due April 1. “The old ways of Albany involved trading one thing against an unrelated thing,” Gianaris said. “The new New York Senate is trying hard to break that mold.”</p> <p>“The tricky thing with bail,” he added, “is that if we don’t do it right, things can get worse rather than better.”</p> <p>

***
by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/gov-cuomo-provide-update-clinton.jpg" alt="gov cuomo provide update clinton" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: the governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Taking the stage at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park last September, Governor Andrew Cuomo promised to end cash bail “once and for all,” a move that would launch New York into the national spotlight with New Jersey and California. “In America you are still innocent until proven guilty,” he told the cheering crowd. “And that’s whether you’re black or white. That’s whether you’re rich or poor.”</p> <p>The elimination of the cash bail system, under which poor black and Hispanic New Yorkers are <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/05/19/report-rikers-still-full-of-new-yorkers-who-cant-afford-bail/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">disproportionately incarcerated</a> pre-trial, does seem imminent thanks to a new Democratic majority in the state Senate. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, whose chamber last year passed legislation that only limited cash bail, assured faith leaders at Trinity Chapel in Manhattan on Thursday that, “I support a 100-percent-ending-of-cash-bail system.”</p> <p>But big questions remain: who will be eligible for pretrial incarceration, what constraints will be put on judges, the reach of controversial ankle bracelets.</p> <p>Cuomo’s recently-released budget proposal calls for more extensive pretrial detention and monitoring than an advocate-backed bill in the Legislature, and several Democrats told Gotham Gazette they want broad judicial discretion on domestic violence cases: a red flag for advocates who see a window for bias. As Democrats use their new power to rapidly pass progressive legislation, bail reform, in all its complexity, could prove a test of how far they’ll go.</p> <p>“We have to remember there's a presumption of innocence,” warns Democratic Assemblymember Dan Quart of Manhattan. “The point of bail is not to judge or adjudicate people.”</p> <p>The New York City jail population has decreased by 1,500 over the last two years, according to a&nbsp;<a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b6de4731aef1de914f43628/t/5c198f9af950b7863cd60bac/1545179066057/Progress+Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">December report</a> from the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice. Still, as of September more than a third of the 8,200 people in city jails were held pre-trial on misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies. More than 90 percent of the jail population is people of color. The commission, led by former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, estimates substantial bail reform could reduce the population by 3,000 people.</p> <p>Deputy Senate Leader Michael Gianaris of Queens likes to remind reporters that the <a href="https://justleadershipusa.org/campaign/freenewyork/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">FREEnewyork campaign</a>, composed of more than 150 grassroots groups, has dubbed his <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s3579/amendment/a" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bail reform bill</a> with Manhattan Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell the “gold standard.” It eliminates cash bail and was a non-starter in the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p>Under the Gianaris/O’Donnell bill, most defendants would be released on their own recognizance. Possible exceptions include witness intimidation cases, and felony cases where the defendant is accused of attempting to seriously injure another person.</p> <p>Anyone eligible for pretrial incarceration would be entitled to a hearing where a judge evaluates evidence and considers less-restrictive alternatives, like mandatory check-ins. These hearings would mark a “huge step forward,” says JoAnne Page, president of the Fortune Society, a nonprofit that provides prison reentry services. Currently, setting bail is “a decision that happens in a heartbeat.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s <a href="https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy20/exec/artvii/ppgg-artvii.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget proposal</a> also eliminates cash bail and mandates pretrial hearings. However, his net of eligibility for pretrial detention is much wider, including Class A felonies like murder, conspiracy, and controlled substance charges; most violent B and C felonies like rape, assault and weapon possession (burglary and robbery are excluded); and cases where the judge deems the defendant a threat to the physical safety of someone in their family or household, regardless of the severity of the charges.</p> <p>Alphonso David, Cuomo’s counsel, told Gotham Gazette that the governor intentionally excluded controversial public safety <a href="https://civilrights.org/more-than-100-civil-rights-digital-justice-and-community-based-organizations-raise-concerns-about-pretrial-risk-assessment/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">assessment tools</a> (which Mayor Bill de Blasio <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/city-state-n-y-jail-solution-article-1.3738231" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has endorsed</a>). These tools rely on <a href="https://craftmediabucket.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/PDFs/PSA-Risk-Factors-and-Formula.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">data points</a> like a defendant’s age and criminal history, and have been met with allegations of racial bias in <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/bail-reform-tech-justice/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New Jersey</a> and<a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/california-ended-cash-bail-but-may-have-replaced-it-with-something-even-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> California</a>.</p> <p>But if decarceration is the goal, advocates warn, the net of eligibility for pretrial incarceration must be much smaller -- lest judges balk at losing cash bail and fall back on detention.</p> <p>“Unfortunately, the same decision-makers who are deciding to set bail on our clients now are going to be the ones who decide whether or not, after an evidentiary hearing, to keep that person remanded,” says Legal Aid Society attorney Marie Ndiaye. “The only thing you can do to really, really decarcerate is just by really, really limiting the number of people who could even be eligible for that kind of treatment."</p> <p>Cuomo also wants electronic monitoring as an option for people charged with felonies and domestic violence misdemeanors. “When you have something like electronic monitoring there’s a very real risk that it means the expansion of social control,” warns Page, of the Fortune Society. “The threshold you pass before you put an electronic bracelet on someone is much lower than locking them up.”</p> <p>Last year, the Assembly passed a <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A10137&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Memo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposal</a> that would have preserved cash bail and electronic monitoring in felony and domestic violence misdemeanor cases -- a broad category that includes verbal threats. “I'll be the first one to say the Assembly bill wasn't good enough,” Heastie told advocates Thursday.</p> <p>O’Donnell also dismissed the Walker bill as a relic earlier this month. “In previous years the Assembly would come up with bills we thought might pass muster in the Republican Senate,” he explained. “Those days are over. I would hope that my colleagues would come around and take this bolder approach.”</p> <p>But there is still substantial Democratic support in the Assembly for the domestic violence provisions in the Walker bill. “There are going to be enough Democrats, me among them, who will be raising the issue,” said Assemblymember Amy Paulin of Scarsdale. “If we don't protect domestic violence [victims], I won't be voting for the bill.”</p> <p>“Whether it's cash bail or pretrial detention I'm not worried about that,” added Assemblymember Patricia Fahy of Albany. “My interest is the bottom line…that we are not tying any judicial hands in keeping our streets safe, or our households safe.”</p> <p>This is a point of entry for the state District Attorneys Association, which opposes expansive bail reform on the grounds that it curtails prosecutorial discretion. “We have serious concerns about, with the swipe of a pen, creating a proposal that has calamitous effects on public safety,” Albany County District Attorney David Soares told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Domestic violence advocates in the FREEnewyork campaign say this logic is at odds with the ultimate goal of significantly decreasing jail populations, and relies too heavily on the perceptions of law enforcement. “Particularly for LGBTQ people,” cautions Audacia Ray of the New York City Anti-Violence project, “the way police and prosecutors perceive what is happening is often faulty and racist.”</p> <p>Senate and Assembly leaders tell Gotham Gazette that they hope to come up with a compromise before budget negotiations, which are set to begin in earnest in March. A budget deal is due April 1. “The old ways of Albany involved trading one thing against an unrelated thing,” Gianaris said. “The new New York Senate is trying hard to break that mold.”</p> <p>“The tricky thing with bail,” he added, “is that if we don’t do it right, things can get worse rather than better.”</p> <p>

***
by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

</p>
It’s Time for Parole Reform in New York; Here are the First Three Steps 2019-01-28T05:00:00+00:00 2019-01-28T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8235-it-s-time-for-parole-reform-in-new-york-here-are-the-first-three-steps Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/victor__della_plaza_hotel_rally.jpg" alt="victor della plaza hotel rally" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: The Release Aging People in Prison Campaign)</p> <hr /> <p>For years, advocates, community members, and New York State lawmakers have worked to change our state’s unfair, biased, and harmful criminal legal system. We came together as supporters of common sense, cost-saving reforms that would benefit all New Yorkers. But our efforts were stymied by a political landscape that prevented us from making these important changes.</p> <p>Now that landscape is different and the power dynamics in the state Legislature have shifted, it is time for New York to promote justice and safety once and for all. Reforming our parole system is an important component of this agenda.</p> <p>While New York has recently seen a steady decline in the overall prison population, the number of older people in prison and those serving lengthy prison sentences has skyrocketed. New York now holds <a href="http://www.osborneny.org/resources/the-high-costs-of-low-risk/the-high-cost-of-low-risk/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">more than 10,000 older people in prison</a> and has the <a href="https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Still-Life.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fifth highest population of those serving life</a> sentences in the country. People are dying at great moral and financial costs to all of us. Families and entire communities of those aging and despairing behind bars throughout our state have pushed for needed changes for decades. We must side with justice and place ourselves on the right side of history.</p> <p>As the Chairs of the Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction, and Assembly Committee on Correction, we will push for critical parole reforms this legislative session.</p> <p>We will begin by working to fully staff the State Parole Board with Parole Commissioners who believe in the concept of rehabilitation and come from professional backgrounds that allow them to thoroughly evaluate incarcerated peoples’ current risk to public safety and readiness for release. The Board is currently understaffed, with seven vacancies, and does not afford Commissioners and incarcerated people alike the time and process they deserve during parole interviews. Our state should allocate the resources necessary to fully staff the Board, embark on a transparent and thorough appointment and confirmation process, and onboard Commissioners who believe in rehabilitation and will be independent actors of fairness and justice.</p> <p>Legislatively, we will prioritize changes to the state executive law that make parole a forward-looking process and ensure that release determinations are not exclusively based on the nature of someone’s crime but instead on who they are today. To that end, we will push for “<a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/S497" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fair and timely parole</a>,” which would ensure that parole release is based on rehabilitation and current risk to public safety. Our parole laws should center the values of redemption and transformation, not retribution and vengeance.</p> <p>Finally, we must tackle the crisis of aging in prison by passing <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/S2144" target="_blank" rel="noopener">elder parole</a>. Decades of research from across the country and around the world shows that peoples’ risk to public safety significantly decreases as they age, and that prison sentences that amount to death do nothing to keep us safer or deter crime. Based on this evidence, elder parole would allow for a consideration of parole release for incarcerated people aged 55 and older who have served 15 years in prison. Passing this bill in a fair and inclusive way would allow our state to restore mercy and compassion, while saving taxpayers dollars that could be re-invested in communities throughout New York.</p> <p>Taken together, these three measures would make significant progress towards ending mass incarceration, promoting public safety, and re-connecting families and communities. We call on our colleagues in the Legislature and Governor Cuomo to join us in these worthy efforts. The lives and well being of countless New Yorkers depend on us.</p> <p>***<br /> Senator Luis Sepulveda represents the 32nd Senate District in the Bronx and is the Chair of the Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections. Assembly Member David Weprin represents the 24th Assembly District in Queens and is the Chair of the Assembly Correction Committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/LuisSepulvedaNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@LuisSepulvedaNY</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/DavidWeprin" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@DavidWeprin</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/victor__della_plaza_hotel_rally.jpg" alt="victor della plaza hotel rally" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: The Release Aging People in Prison Campaign)</p> <hr /> <p>For years, advocates, community members, and New York State lawmakers have worked to change our state’s unfair, biased, and harmful criminal legal system. We came together as supporters of common sense, cost-saving reforms that would benefit all New Yorkers. But our efforts were stymied by a political landscape that prevented us from making these important changes.</p> <p>Now that landscape is different and the power dynamics in the state Legislature have shifted, it is time for New York to promote justice and safety once and for all. Reforming our parole system is an important component of this agenda.</p> <p>While New York has recently seen a steady decline in the overall prison population, the number of older people in prison and those serving lengthy prison sentences has skyrocketed. New York now holds <a href="http://www.osborneny.org/resources/the-high-costs-of-low-risk/the-high-cost-of-low-risk/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">more than 10,000 older people in prison</a> and has the <a href="https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Still-Life.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fifth highest population of those serving life</a> sentences in the country. People are dying at great moral and financial costs to all of us. Families and entire communities of those aging and despairing behind bars throughout our state have pushed for needed changes for decades. We must side with justice and place ourselves on the right side of history.</p> <p>As the Chairs of the Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction, and Assembly Committee on Correction, we will push for critical parole reforms this legislative session.</p> <p>We will begin by working to fully staff the State Parole Board with Parole Commissioners who believe in the concept of rehabilitation and come from professional backgrounds that allow them to thoroughly evaluate incarcerated peoples’ current risk to public safety and readiness for release. The Board is currently understaffed, with seven vacancies, and does not afford Commissioners and incarcerated people alike the time and process they deserve during parole interviews. Our state should allocate the resources necessary to fully staff the Board, embark on a transparent and thorough appointment and confirmation process, and onboard Commissioners who believe in rehabilitation and will be independent actors of fairness and justice.</p> <p>Legislatively, we will prioritize changes to the state executive law that make parole a forward-looking process and ensure that release determinations are not exclusively based on the nature of someone’s crime but instead on who they are today. To that end, we will push for “<a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/S497" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fair and timely parole</a>,” which would ensure that parole release is based on rehabilitation and current risk to public safety. Our parole laws should center the values of redemption and transformation, not retribution and vengeance.</p> <p>Finally, we must tackle the crisis of aging in prison by passing <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/S2144" target="_blank" rel="noopener">elder parole</a>. Decades of research from across the country and around the world shows that peoples’ risk to public safety significantly decreases as they age, and that prison sentences that amount to death do nothing to keep us safer or deter crime. Based on this evidence, elder parole would allow for a consideration of parole release for incarcerated people aged 55 and older who have served 15 years in prison. Passing this bill in a fair and inclusive way would allow our state to restore mercy and compassion, while saving taxpayers dollars that could be re-invested in communities throughout New York.</p> <p>Taken together, these three measures would make significant progress towards ending mass incarceration, promoting public safety, and re-connecting families and communities. We call on our colleagues in the Legislature and Governor Cuomo to join us in these worthy efforts. The lives and well being of countless New Yorkers depend on us.</p> <p>***<br /> Senator Luis Sepulveda represents the 32nd Senate District in the Bronx and is the Chair of the Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections. Assembly Member David Weprin represents the 24th Assembly District in Queens and is the Chair of the Assembly Correction Committee. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/LuisSepulvedaNY" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@LuisSepulvedaNY</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/DavidWeprin" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@DavidWeprin</a>.</p> <p>

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Community Demands for the Next Queens District Attorney 2019-01-16T05:00:00+00:00 2019-01-16T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8194-community-demands-for-the-next-queens-district-attorney Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/daocvcdmv4aezxir.jpg" alt="daocvcdmv4aezxir" width="600" height="281" /></p> <p>Queens DA Brown and several ADAs (photo: @QueensDABrown)</p> <hr /> <p>Thankfully, “progressive prosecutor” is the new “tough-on-crime” prosecutor, and the trend has been on the rise ever since hardliner Anita Alvarez lost her re-election campaign for Cook County District Attorney in 2016 and progressive crusader Larry Krasner won his campaign for Philadelphia D.A. in 2017. Over the last two years, district attorney elections from Houston to Boston have promised substantial criminal justice reform, and many across the United States are looking to the 2019 Queens District Attorney race as the next forum for change.</p> <p>But we know from experience that election rhetoric doesn’t always equal reform. Let’s take a look closer to home. Brooklyn D.A. Eric Gonzalez succeeded the late Ken Thompson in 2017, promising “<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/12/nyregion/brooklyn-district-attorney.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the most progressive D.A.’s office in the country”</a> as he sought election to a full term. In forums leading up to the election, candidates fought over who was the most progressive, with Gonzalez <a href="https://www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/40/37/all-da-forum-primary-2017-09-15-bk.html?utm_medium=web&amp;utm_campaign=misclinks&amp;utm_source=article_body&amp;utm_content=intra" target="_blank" rel="noopener">promising to end cash bail and stop prosecuting fare evasion if elected</a>. And yet, according to Court Watch NYC reports, D.A. Gonzalez requests <a href="https://twitter.com/CourtWatchNYC/status/1082372983308648448" target="_blank" rel="noopener">cash bail</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/CourtWatchNYC/status/1081685477034463232">every day</a> and <a href="https://www.courtwatchnyc.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">continues to prosecute fare evasion</a>. Despite these broken promises, D.A. Gonzalez is <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/23/nyregion/brooklyn-da-eric-gonzalez-reform.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">celebrated in the media</a> as an example of a good and progressive D.A.</p> <p>Progressive talk is cheap. Real change is not.</p> <p>In our borough, the 2019 Queens District Attorney race is shaping up to be an essential test. Current D.A. Richard Brown is a true standby of a bygone era. He charges people with no regard for devastating immigration consequences. He prosecutes people like <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/opinion/opinion/new-york-needs-new-criminal-discovery-law.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Terrell Gills, who he knows to be innocent</a>. He forces people to waive their speedy trial rights, requests absurdly high bail, and coerces plea deals. He advocates for Rikers Island to remain open. He fails to hold the NYPD accountable for perjury or brutality. He champions broken-windows policing by prosecuting marijuana possession, fare evasion, and other low-level offenses.</p> <p>Queens deserves better. It is the fourth largest county, with 2.4 million people, and home to the largest community of immigrants in the nation, making this an election of national importance. On the heels of U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s historic grassroots upset victory and after Richard Brown’s announcement that he won’t seek re-election, suddenly anything seems possible here. The field is wide open -- at least nine candidates have speculated a run, and they’re all promising reform. But who’s going to make sure the best candidate for the job wins and that those reforms actually happen after a winner is declared and gains power?</p> <p>That’s why grassroots groups came together to form “<a href="http://queens4da.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens for DA Accountability</a>,” a coalition of 19 (and growing) community organizations dedicated to ending mass incarceration in Queens. We are led by people of color, immigrants, and formerly incarcerated Queens residents. This Martin Luther King Jr. Day at 1 p.m., we’ll officially <a href="https://www.queens4da.org/get-involved/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">launch at the Queens Criminal Court</a>, and for the next year, before and after the election, we’ll be doing the work in our borough -- teach-ins, protests, educating the public about the role of the district attorney and the importance of this race for us and our neighbors. We’ll be sitting in arraignment courts and reporting out what we see from D.A. Brown’s office and building power with communities impacted by the justice system. We’ll be making public art, launching social media campaigns, door-knocking, and holding town halls.</p> <p>Though media will cover this race as if an election can end incarceration, we know better. Only by using any means necessary to hold the district attorney accountable to community demands will we truly liberate our communities.</p> <p>These are our demands for the next Queens District Attorney:</p> <p>1. We demand a public plan to cut the Queens population in jail by 50% in 5 years.</p> <p>2. We demand zero tolerance for police misconduct in any form.</p> <p>3. We demand an end to money bail and a start to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/07/nyregion/defendants-kept-in-the-dark-about-evidence-until-its-too-late.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">open, early, automatic discovery</a>.</p> <p>4. We demand sentencing recommendations that are compassionate and individualized to each case.</p> <p>5. We demand a list of charges the D.A. will decline to prosecute. This includes charges related to drug use, sex work, crimes of poverty, and other low-level offenses. The D.A. should not prosecute survivors of domestic, sexual, or gender-based violence for acts of self-defense.</p> <p>6. We demand a D.A. who won’t try young people as adults.</p> <p>7. We demand a D.A. who keeps ICE out of the courts. The DA should consider immigration consequences in charging decisions.</p> <p>8. We demand full transparency. The D.A. should release data about outcomes of the office to the public and hold quarterly town halls.</p> <p>The Queens District Attorney is an elected public servant. When the D.A. brings cases, the offices does so in the name of “the People of the State of New York.” We, the People, have a right to know what’s done in our name. We’re here to bring real community accountability to the office.</p> <p>***<br />Andrea Colon is a lifelong resident of Far Rockaway, Queens and Community Engagement Organizer at Rockaway Youth Task Force, representing RYTF on the Steering Committee of the Queens for DA Accountability coalition. Jon McFarlane is a lifelong resident of Jamaica, Queens and a volunteer for Court Watch NYC, which is a member organization of the Queens for DA Accountability coalition.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/daocvcdmv4aezxir.jpg" alt="daocvcdmv4aezxir" width="600" height="281" /></p> <p>Queens DA Brown and several ADAs (photo: @QueensDABrown)</p> <hr /> <p>Thankfully, “progressive prosecutor” is the new “tough-on-crime” prosecutor, and the trend has been on the rise ever since hardliner Anita Alvarez lost her re-election campaign for Cook County District Attorney in 2016 and progressive crusader Larry Krasner won his campaign for Philadelphia D.A. in 2017. Over the last two years, district attorney elections from Houston to Boston have promised substantial criminal justice reform, and many across the United States are looking to the 2019 Queens District Attorney race as the next forum for change.</p> <p>But we know from experience that election rhetoric doesn’t always equal reform. Let’s take a look closer to home. Brooklyn D.A. Eric Gonzalez succeeded the late Ken Thompson in 2017, promising “<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/12/nyregion/brooklyn-district-attorney.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the most progressive D.A.’s office in the country”</a> as he sought election to a full term. In forums leading up to the election, candidates fought over who was the most progressive, with Gonzalez <a href="https://www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/40/37/all-da-forum-primary-2017-09-15-bk.html?utm_medium=web&amp;utm_campaign=misclinks&amp;utm_source=article_body&amp;utm_content=intra" target="_blank" rel="noopener">promising to end cash bail and stop prosecuting fare evasion if elected</a>. And yet, according to Court Watch NYC reports, D.A. Gonzalez requests <a href="https://twitter.com/CourtWatchNYC/status/1082372983308648448" target="_blank" rel="noopener">cash bail</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/CourtWatchNYC/status/1081685477034463232">every day</a> and <a href="https://www.courtwatchnyc.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">continues to prosecute fare evasion</a>. Despite these broken promises, D.A. Gonzalez is <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/23/nyregion/brooklyn-da-eric-gonzalez-reform.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">celebrated in the media</a> as an example of a good and progressive D.A.</p> <p>Progressive talk is cheap. Real change is not.</p> <p>In our borough, the 2019 Queens District Attorney race is shaping up to be an essential test. Current D.A. Richard Brown is a true standby of a bygone era. He charges people with no regard for devastating immigration consequences. He prosecutes people like <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/opinion/opinion/new-york-needs-new-criminal-discovery-law.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Terrell Gills, who he knows to be innocent</a>. He forces people to waive their speedy trial rights, requests absurdly high bail, and coerces plea deals. He advocates for Rikers Island to remain open. He fails to hold the NYPD accountable for perjury or brutality. He champions broken-windows policing by prosecuting marijuana possession, fare evasion, and other low-level offenses.</p> <p>Queens deserves better. It is the fourth largest county, with 2.4 million people, and home to the largest community of immigrants in the nation, making this an election of national importance. On the heels of U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s historic grassroots upset victory and after Richard Brown’s announcement that he won’t seek re-election, suddenly anything seems possible here. The field is wide open -- at least nine candidates have speculated a run, and they’re all promising reform. But who’s going to make sure the best candidate for the job wins and that those reforms actually happen after a winner is declared and gains power?</p> <p>That’s why grassroots groups came together to form “<a href="http://queens4da.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens for DA Accountability</a>,” a coalition of 19 (and growing) community organizations dedicated to ending mass incarceration in Queens. We are led by people of color, immigrants, and formerly incarcerated Queens residents. This Martin Luther King Jr. Day at 1 p.m., we’ll officially <a href="https://www.queens4da.org/get-involved/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">launch at the Queens Criminal Court</a>, and for the next year, before and after the election, we’ll be doing the work in our borough -- teach-ins, protests, educating the public about the role of the district attorney and the importance of this race for us and our neighbors. We’ll be sitting in arraignment courts and reporting out what we see from D.A. Brown’s office and building power with communities impacted by the justice system. We’ll be making public art, launching social media campaigns, door-knocking, and holding town halls.</p> <p>Though media will cover this race as if an election can end incarceration, we know better. Only by using any means necessary to hold the district attorney accountable to community demands will we truly liberate our communities.</p> <p>These are our demands for the next Queens District Attorney:</p> <p>1. We demand a public plan to cut the Queens population in jail by 50% in 5 years.</p> <p>2. We demand zero tolerance for police misconduct in any form.</p> <p>3. We demand an end to money bail and a start to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/07/nyregion/defendants-kept-in-the-dark-about-evidence-until-its-too-late.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">open, early, automatic discovery</a>.</p> <p>4. We demand sentencing recommendations that are compassionate and individualized to each case.</p> <p>5. We demand a list of charges the D.A. will decline to prosecute. This includes charges related to drug use, sex work, crimes of poverty, and other low-level offenses. The D.A. should not prosecute survivors of domestic, sexual, or gender-based violence for acts of self-defense.</p> <p>6. We demand a D.A. who won’t try young people as adults.</p> <p>7. We demand a D.A. who keeps ICE out of the courts. The DA should consider immigration consequences in charging decisions.</p> <p>8. We demand full transparency. The D.A. should release data about outcomes of the office to the public and hold quarterly town halls.</p> <p>The Queens District Attorney is an elected public servant. When the D.A. brings cases, the offices does so in the name of “the People of the State of New York.” We, the People, have a right to know what’s done in our name. We’re here to bring real community accountability to the office.</p> <p>***<br />Andrea Colon is a lifelong resident of Far Rockaway, Queens and Community Engagement Organizer at Rockaway Youth Task Force, representing RYTF on the Steering Committee of the Queens for DA Accountability coalition. Jon McFarlane is a lifelong resident of Jamaica, Queens and a volunteer for Court Watch NYC, which is a member organization of the Queens for DA Accountability coalition.</p> <p>

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As We Close Rikers, Criminal Justice Reformers are Ready for Full Partnership in Albany 2018-12-16T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-16T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8143-as-we-close-rikers-criminal-justice-reformers-are-ready-for-full-partnership-in-albany Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/29358752836_a86b6139d4_z.jpg" alt="guards rikers" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Riding high on the crest of a Democratic blue wave powered by grassroots progressives, New York Democrats finally took back the state Senate for the first time in nearly a decade. With this accomplishment comes a responsibility to finally act upon a long list of priorities that have been stymied by the Republican-controlled upper chamber of the Legislature in Albany. &nbsp;</p> <p>Chief among these priorities is criminal justice reform, a topic that the New York City Council has been tackling aggressively for some time. Perhaps the Council’s most ambitious effort in this sphere has been to close all jails on Rikers Island. The decrepit jails on this island embody human misery and tragedy and it is our moral imperative to close them forever.</p> <p>Any realistic effort to close these jails requires reducing the pretrial detention population, as close to 90 percent of those housed on Rikers are merely accused and not convicted of crimes. While the city has managed to take several bold steps in this area, state action will be required to make the dream of closing Rikers a reality. Over the past few years, our efforts at state reform have been hamstrung by an uncooperative state Senate. Throughout the process, our progressive allies in the Assembly majority and Senate minority voiced support for progressive criminal justice reform but were unable to move key bills to fruition.</p> <p>Their inability to move legislation through the Senate did not stop some state elected officials from crafting bills that would greatly improve our criminal justice system. This legislation now stands a strong chance of passing once the new Democratic majority sits for the 2019 legislative session.</p> <p><strong><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a></strong>First and foremost, bail and speedy trial reform must be prioritized. Both efforts would go a long way towards a more equitable criminal justice system writ large, while lowering the detainee population on Rikers Island. While we here on the City Council have done much to make our bail system fairer, only Albany can implement the deep and systemic reform necessary to make our pretrial detention system truly fair and just. There are a number of bills in the Assembly and Senate that either significantly restrict or eliminate cash bail, encourage the use of monitored release in lieu of detention, and help ensure that pretrial detention is reserved for only the most severe cases. Any of this legislation would go a long way towards fixing what is a fundamentally broken and unfair bail system.</p> <p>Meanwhile, speedy trial reform is arguably even more important in reducing pretrial detention. Given that close to 90 percent of the jail population is pretrial detainees, cutting the speed with which cases are resolved has a direct and massive impact on the jail population: a 25 percent faster system would mean close to a 25 percent reduction in the jail population. Much like our state’s bail laws, our speedy trial laws are outdated and ineffective, lagging far behind the federal system and other states. As they say, justice delayed is justice denied, so resolving criminal prosecutions faster not only reduces our jail population, it also helps our criminal justice system as a whole. While Senate Democrats tried to push for some minor reforms to our broken speedy trial laws in recent years, our new Senate leaders must be aggressive in tackling this issue.</p> <p>There are also lesser-discussed issues that could be enormously transformative, such as parole reform. Approximately 16 percent of the population of Rikers Island jails is incarcerated for parole violations, and the state controls this issue in its entirety. According to a report issued by Columbia University’s Justice Lab, the state parolee population is the only jail group that saw an increase in its size over the past four years. Thankfully, Albany is aware of the issue, evident in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State speech, in which he touched on the importance of parole reform. When the new state Legislature convenes in January, it can move to shorten parole terms, incentivize good behavior, and require speedier hearings on these issues.</p> <p>Though its impact on our jail population may not immediately be apparent, discovery reform should also prove critical in helping the city to run a more just criminal justice system and to close Rikers Island jails. Discovery is the process by which the prosecution provides its evidence to the defense. New York State has among the most restrictive discovery laws in the country. While the issue may seem complex, it is actually fairly simple: since well over 95 percent of criminal prosecutions result in a plea or dismissal, the faster the defense is able to assess the strength of the prosecution’s case, the faster a plea or dismissal can be reached. Luckily, there is already legislation in Albany to ameliorate the situation, and our new leaders should embrace these progressive reforms. &nbsp;</p> <p>Over the past several years, we here at the City Council worked hard to bring our criminal justice system into the 21st century. However, there has always been a limit to what we can accomplish without willing partners in Albany. In early January, when our fellow Democrats in the state Senate take their seats as the new majority and work with the Democratic majority in the Assembly, the possibilities for progressive criminal justice reform will widen tremendously.</p> <p>The progressive activists who helped make Democratic victories a reality in November will be watching the new Legislature closely. It is imperative that our state elected officials finally act to create a criminal justice system in New York that reflects our values as a state and a city.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>***<br /> Diana Ayala, Margaret Chin, and Stephen Levin are members of the New York City Council, representing parts of the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn, and members of the Council’s Progressive Caucus. Their districts are all slated to be home to new or larger jails as Rikers Island facilities are closed. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/DianaAyalaNYC" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@DianaAyalaNYC</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/CM_MargaretChin" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@CM_MargaretChin</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/StephenLevin33" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@StephenLevin33</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/29358752836_a86b6139d4_z.jpg" alt="guards rikers" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Riding high on the crest of a Democratic blue wave powered by grassroots progressives, New York Democrats finally took back the state Senate for the first time in nearly a decade. With this accomplishment comes a responsibility to finally act upon a long list of priorities that have been stymied by the Republican-controlled upper chamber of the Legislature in Albany. &nbsp;</p> <p>Chief among these priorities is criminal justice reform, a topic that the New York City Council has been tackling aggressively for some time. Perhaps the Council’s most ambitious effort in this sphere has been to close all jails on Rikers Island. The decrepit jails on this island embody human misery and tragedy and it is our moral imperative to close them forever.</p> <p>Any realistic effort to close these jails requires reducing the pretrial detention population, as close to 90 percent of those housed on Rikers are merely accused and not convicted of crimes. While the city has managed to take several bold steps in this area, state action will be required to make the dream of closing Rikers a reality. Over the past few years, our efforts at state reform have been hamstrung by an uncooperative state Senate. Throughout the process, our progressive allies in the Assembly majority and Senate minority voiced support for progressive criminal justice reform but were unable to move key bills to fruition.</p> <p>Their inability to move legislation through the Senate did not stop some state elected officials from crafting bills that would greatly improve our criminal justice system. This legislation now stands a strong chance of passing once the new Democratic majority sits for the 2019 legislative session.</p> <p><strong><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a></strong>First and foremost, bail and speedy trial reform must be prioritized. Both efforts would go a long way towards a more equitable criminal justice system writ large, while lowering the detainee population on Rikers Island. While we here on the City Council have done much to make our bail system fairer, only Albany can implement the deep and systemic reform necessary to make our pretrial detention system truly fair and just. There are a number of bills in the Assembly and Senate that either significantly restrict or eliminate cash bail, encourage the use of monitored release in lieu of detention, and help ensure that pretrial detention is reserved for only the most severe cases. Any of this legislation would go a long way towards fixing what is a fundamentally broken and unfair bail system.</p> <p>Meanwhile, speedy trial reform is arguably even more important in reducing pretrial detention. Given that close to 90 percent of the jail population is pretrial detainees, cutting the speed with which cases are resolved has a direct and massive impact on the jail population: a 25 percent faster system would mean close to a 25 percent reduction in the jail population. Much like our state’s bail laws, our speedy trial laws are outdated and ineffective, lagging far behind the federal system and other states. As they say, justice delayed is justice denied, so resolving criminal prosecutions faster not only reduces our jail population, it also helps our criminal justice system as a whole. While Senate Democrats tried to push for some minor reforms to our broken speedy trial laws in recent years, our new Senate leaders must be aggressive in tackling this issue.</p> <p>There are also lesser-discussed issues that could be enormously transformative, such as parole reform. Approximately 16 percent of the population of Rikers Island jails is incarcerated for parole violations, and the state controls this issue in its entirety. According to a report issued by Columbia University’s Justice Lab, the state parolee population is the only jail group that saw an increase in its size over the past four years. Thankfully, Albany is aware of the issue, evident in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State speech, in which he touched on the importance of parole reform. When the new state Legislature convenes in January, it can move to shorten parole terms, incentivize good behavior, and require speedier hearings on these issues.</p> <p>Though its impact on our jail population may not immediately be apparent, discovery reform should also prove critical in helping the city to run a more just criminal justice system and to close Rikers Island jails. Discovery is the process by which the prosecution provides its evidence to the defense. New York State has among the most restrictive discovery laws in the country. While the issue may seem complex, it is actually fairly simple: since well over 95 percent of criminal prosecutions result in a plea or dismissal, the faster the defense is able to assess the strength of the prosecution’s case, the faster a plea or dismissal can be reached. Luckily, there is already legislation in Albany to ameliorate the situation, and our new leaders should embrace these progressive reforms. &nbsp;</p> <p>Over the past several years, we here at the City Council worked hard to bring our criminal justice system into the 21st century. However, there has always been a limit to what we can accomplish without willing partners in Albany. In early January, when our fellow Democrats in the state Senate take their seats as the new majority and work with the Democratic majority in the Assembly, the possibilities for progressive criminal justice reform will widen tremendously.</p> <p>The progressive activists who helped make Democratic victories a reality in November will be watching the new Legislature closely. It is imperative that our state elected officials finally act to create a criminal justice system in New York that reflects our values as a state and a city.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>***<br /> Diana Ayala, Margaret Chin, and Stephen Levin are members of the New York City Council, representing parts of the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn, and members of the Council’s Progressive Caucus. Their districts are all slated to be home to new or larger jails as Rikers Island facilities are closed. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/DianaAyalaNYC" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@DianaAyalaNYC</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/CM_MargaretChin" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@CM_MargaretChin</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/StephenLevin33" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@StephenLevin33</a>.</p> <p>

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Several Roads to Decarceration, All of Which Should Be Taken 2018-12-05T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-05T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8123-several-roads-to-decarceration-all-of-which-should-be-taken Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/govandcuo-dannemora.jpg" alt="govandcuo dannemora" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As the year comes to a close, it is undeniably true that criminal justice reform is in the air. The federal First Step Act, even with critics on the left and right, heralds a less punitive approach than the “get tough on crime” policies of the past several decades. Recent elections yielded a number of prosecutors swept into office on platforms focused on confronting racial disparities and rethinking approaches to low-level offenses. Earlier this month, hundreds crammed into a hotel in West Hollywood for <a href="https://bit.ly/2ORPeyg" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a Criminal Justice Summit</a> that brought together activists, journalists, celebrities, and philanthropists to talk about dismantling the punishment paradigm that has inflicted incalculable damage on communities of color. &nbsp;</p> <p>All of these efforts are righteous and long overdue but we need to think more expansively to redress the past 50 years of hyper-aggressive policing, processing, and punishing, and to make a dent in the physical embodiment of the plague of mass incarceration – the 2.2 million people, disproportionately black and brown, currently behind bars.</p> <p>To be crystal clear, this is not about innocence or so-called low-level, non-violent drug offenders. &nbsp;To tackle mass incarceration means facing head-on an emotionally charged question about punishment – how long must someone serve in prison for an admittedly violent act? &nbsp;</p> <p>Last year, the august American Law Institute, a non-governmental organization of judges, lawyers and academics, approved the first-ever revisions to the historic Model Penal Code. One recommendation specifically addresses the epidemic of people behind bars. The Code now calls for state legislatures to enact a “second look” provision; to create a procedure to reexamine a person’s sentence after 15 years regardless of the crime of conviction or the length of the original sentence. Such a law would be a legislative recognition that a sentence once imposed is not thereby automatically rendered, just, fair and appropriate for eternity.</p> <p>There are several paths for newly-elected prosecutors to take to foster decarceration. One requires rethinking their approach to applications for parole, clemency, or resentencing. The common practice in most prosecutors’ offices is to oppose those applications when the crime of conviction was violent in nature. In those cases, the prosecutor’s focus is on the crime itself to the exclusion of serious consideration of who the person is today, decades after the crime. &nbsp;Instead, prosecutors should carefully examine who the person is at present -- what programs has he completed; has he shown insight into who he was and what he did; has he acknowledged his role in his crime, accepted responsibility, and conveyed genuine remorse for the harm he caused? Ultimately, is the evidence of rehabilitation such that more time in prison serves no purpose beyond inflicting eternal punishment?</p> <p>Many prosecutors’ offices now have Conviction Integrity Units that aim to ensure that innocent people have not been convicted. The best of these units have a significant measure of independence so that they can be as objective as possible and avoid the pitfalls of confirmation bias and tunnel vision. In similar fashion, prosecutors should establish independent Sentencing Review Units. Much like the legislation proposed by the Model Penal Code, these units would review all sentences after 15 years to determine whether a reduction is now appropriate. &nbsp;</p> <p>Parole boards across the country are regularly roundly criticized. It is common practice for cronyism to mark membership on the board in lieu of a diligent selection process looking for diverse and qualified people with directly relevant backgrounds and experience. It is also common knowledge that parole boards are reluctant or unwilling to release anyone serving time for a violent crime. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The laws, rules and regulations governing parole must be amended to dictate a forward-looking approach centered on what the person has accomplished while incarcerated, as opposed to the prevalent current practice that emphasizes the seriousness of the crime, a fact that can never change. This shift would also acknowledge the countless parole-eligible people who have aged out of crime and present no threat to public safety, as well as the elderly behind bars who are in the midst, or on the cusp, of health related problems.</p> <p>In Pennsylvania, more than 100 people have been released since the Supreme Court ordered states to take a second look at people who had received mandatory sentences of life without parole as juveniles. Not one of those people has been convicted of a new offense.</p> <p>All 50 state constitutions allow for some kind of executive clemency. The authority to grant clemency in the form of a sentence commutation is typically described as absolute and virtually incontrovertible. Power of the sort galvanized at the Summit in West Hollywood should be marshaled to compel governors to exercise their virtually unfettered, but seldom used, power to grant clemency.</p> <p>The timing is right -- besides the current clarion call for criminal justice reform, clemency is traditionally an end-of-year announcement cast as an act of benevolence consistent with the merciful spirit of the holidays. Just last week, California Governor Jerry Brown granted 70 sentence commutations, including for people convicted of murder.</p> <p>The crisis of mass incarceration has fueled a burgeoning movement for criminal justice reform. &nbsp;Multi-pronged efforts to decarcerate must be at the forefront of that movement.</p> <p>***<br /> Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law. On Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/SteveZeidman" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@SteveZeidman</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/govandcuo-dannemora.jpg" alt="govandcuo dannemora" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As the year comes to a close, it is undeniably true that criminal justice reform is in the air. The federal First Step Act, even with critics on the left and right, heralds a less punitive approach than the “get tough on crime” policies of the past several decades. Recent elections yielded a number of prosecutors swept into office on platforms focused on confronting racial disparities and rethinking approaches to low-level offenses. Earlier this month, hundreds crammed into a hotel in West Hollywood for <a href="https://bit.ly/2ORPeyg" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a Criminal Justice Summit</a> that brought together activists, journalists, celebrities, and philanthropists to talk about dismantling the punishment paradigm that has inflicted incalculable damage on communities of color. &nbsp;</p> <p>All of these efforts are righteous and long overdue but we need to think more expansively to redress the past 50 years of hyper-aggressive policing, processing, and punishing, and to make a dent in the physical embodiment of the plague of mass incarceration – the 2.2 million people, disproportionately black and brown, currently behind bars.</p> <p>To be crystal clear, this is not about innocence or so-called low-level, non-violent drug offenders. &nbsp;To tackle mass incarceration means facing head-on an emotionally charged question about punishment – how long must someone serve in prison for an admittedly violent act? &nbsp;</p> <p>Last year, the august American Law Institute, a non-governmental organization of judges, lawyers and academics, approved the first-ever revisions to the historic Model Penal Code. One recommendation specifically addresses the epidemic of people behind bars. The Code now calls for state legislatures to enact a “second look” provision; to create a procedure to reexamine a person’s sentence after 15 years regardless of the crime of conviction or the length of the original sentence. Such a law would be a legislative recognition that a sentence once imposed is not thereby automatically rendered, just, fair and appropriate for eternity.</p> <p>There are several paths for newly-elected prosecutors to take to foster decarceration. One requires rethinking their approach to applications for parole, clemency, or resentencing. The common practice in most prosecutors’ offices is to oppose those applications when the crime of conviction was violent in nature. In those cases, the prosecutor’s focus is on the crime itself to the exclusion of serious consideration of who the person is today, decades after the crime. &nbsp;Instead, prosecutors should carefully examine who the person is at present -- what programs has he completed; has he shown insight into who he was and what he did; has he acknowledged his role in his crime, accepted responsibility, and conveyed genuine remorse for the harm he caused? Ultimately, is the evidence of rehabilitation such that more time in prison serves no purpose beyond inflicting eternal punishment?</p> <p>Many prosecutors’ offices now have Conviction Integrity Units that aim to ensure that innocent people have not been convicted. The best of these units have a significant measure of independence so that they can be as objective as possible and avoid the pitfalls of confirmation bias and tunnel vision. In similar fashion, prosecutors should establish independent Sentencing Review Units. Much like the legislation proposed by the Model Penal Code, these units would review all sentences after 15 years to determine whether a reduction is now appropriate. &nbsp;</p> <p>Parole boards across the country are regularly roundly criticized. It is common practice for cronyism to mark membership on the board in lieu of a diligent selection process looking for diverse and qualified people with directly relevant backgrounds and experience. It is also common knowledge that parole boards are reluctant or unwilling to release anyone serving time for a violent crime. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The laws, rules and regulations governing parole must be amended to dictate a forward-looking approach centered on what the person has accomplished while incarcerated, as opposed to the prevalent current practice that emphasizes the seriousness of the crime, a fact that can never change. This shift would also acknowledge the countless parole-eligible people who have aged out of crime and present no threat to public safety, as well as the elderly behind bars who are in the midst, or on the cusp, of health related problems.</p> <p>In Pennsylvania, more than 100 people have been released since the Supreme Court ordered states to take a second look at people who had received mandatory sentences of life without parole as juveniles. Not one of those people has been convicted of a new offense.</p> <p>All 50 state constitutions allow for some kind of executive clemency. The authority to grant clemency in the form of a sentence commutation is typically described as absolute and virtually incontrovertible. Power of the sort galvanized at the Summit in West Hollywood should be marshaled to compel governors to exercise their virtually unfettered, but seldom used, power to grant clemency.</p> <p>The timing is right -- besides the current clarion call for criminal justice reform, clemency is traditionally an end-of-year announcement cast as an act of benevolence consistent with the merciful spirit of the holidays. Just last week, California Governor Jerry Brown granted 70 sentence commutations, including for people convicted of murder.</p> <p>The crisis of mass incarceration has fueled a burgeoning movement for criminal justice reform. &nbsp;Multi-pronged efforts to decarcerate must be at the forefront of that movement.</p> <p>***<br /> Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law. On Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/SteveZeidman" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@SteveZeidman</a>.</p> <p>

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Assemblymember Walker, Sponsor of Bail Reform Bill, Optimistic About 2019 2018-11-18T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-18T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8084-assemblymember-walker-sponsor-of-bail-reform-bill-optimistic-about-2019 Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/assembly-sponsor-bail.jpg" alt="assembly sponsor bail" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Assemblymember Latrice Walker (photo: Kevin Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Assemblymember Latrice Walker, a Brooklyn Democrat, has been pushing for criminal justice reform in New York, and believes that 2019 will hold long-sought progress. Among the several pieces of legislation introduced in the Democrat-dominated Assembly that address criminal justice reform, one of the most significant proposals is Walker’s <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A10137&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Memo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bail reform bill</a>, which passed the Assembly in June but did not move in the Republican-controlled state Senate.</p> <p>With Democrats having taken the majority in the state Senate through this month’s elections, next year could bring sweeping changes to the criminal justice system in New York, with bail reform atop the priorities for many elected officials, advocates, and others, including Walker, soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat entering his third term. The two legislative majorities and governor will have to work out the details of any reforms, of course, and there are different bail reform proposals.</p> <p>The need for such reform is evident in Walker’s district, she explains. Representing neighborhoods such as Brownsville and Ocean Hill, Walker, a Brownsville native herself, has seen the current system’s effects first-hand. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8072-max-murphy-podcast-bail-reform-with-assemblymember-latrice-walker" target="_blank" rel="noopener">During a recent appearance on the Max &amp; Murphy show on WBAI radio</a>, Walker explained the “billion-dollar blocks” in her district, which is home to significant poverty, and elsewhere, as areas from which many people have gone to jail or prison, with government spending totaling billions of dollars to detain those people. It’s a way of both pointing out the high costs of mass incarceration and the lack of investment in those same communities for helping people escape poverty and related problems.</p> <p>Walker believes the current criminal justice system is based around punishing people, and that bail should not be part of that picture, but one area for reform that can then stop feeding the larger problem.</p> <p>“Bail is supposed to just ensure a person’s return to court. We know that the constitution declares that it’s not supposed to be cruel, unusual, and it’s not supposed to be punishment. And I think that that’s the term that many people forget about New York’s bail system,” Walker said. She’s observed that there has been a rubric of sorts set up in courts where there is more focus on the type of crime allegedly committed, the individual, and the neighborhood in which they live, to determine whether a person is required to post bail.</p> <p>With her proposal, Walker aims to make the system what it was supposed to be, she says. “It bewilders me when I see attorneys, judges and the like say to me, even across the state of New York, ‘well there has to be some system or something put in place that will ensure that bad people don’t get put back into the streets,’ but that’s not what bail is about, and that’s what I’m here to defend.”</p> <p>Of course there are certain alleged crimes where the defendant should either have conditions put on their release or not be released at all, argue Walker and others pushing for bail reform, especially major changes or an end to cash bail, but there are many, many others where bail has simply become a punishment of poverty, leading many poor people to spend time in jail for lower-level offenses.</p> <p>“The bail bill that I introduced allows for an automatic release on a person’s own recognizance in certain situations where their violations, misdemeanors -- other than sex offense misdemeanors, non-violent felonies, and two categories of violent felonies,” Walker explained. A person is not released on their own recognizance if they’ve committed sex offense misdemeanors or most violent felonies. However, the two categories of violent felonies the bill does exempt are burglary or robbery in the second degree, as well as falsely reporting an incident in the second degree.</p> <p>Walker’s proposal was developed by looking at bail “in the context of speedy trial” and “discovery reform,” she said, which are two other major categories of criminal justice reform Democrats pledge to pursue in Albany next year, where state Senate Republicans had largely disagreed with the bills put forth by Assembly majority and Senate minority Democrats.</p> <p>The bill would also allow for a defendant to be released on non-monetary conditions but with court-ordered monitoring. Depending on what the court decides, the defendant could be monitored by a pre-trial services agency, the imposition of travel restrictions, and as mentioned by Walker on WBAI, through the use of electronic monitoring systems.</p> <p>In the cases such as violent felonies, sex offense misdemeanors, and situations where the person released on recognizance or under non-monetary conditions fails to follow through with the conditions of their release, monetary bail can be set. In cases where a person is charged with sex offense felonies, terrorism crimes, class A felonies, witness intimidation, or felonies involving intent to causes injury or death, monetary bail may also be set, though remand without bail (no pre-trial release at all) is also an option.</p> <p>C<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>ourt-ordered electronic location monitoring would be applicable to defendants when "no other realistic conditions (would) suffice to reasonably assure the defendant's return to court" or when they are charged with a felony, misdemeanor domestic violence, a misdemeanor sex offense, or other crimes outlined in the bill.</p> <p>Walker recognizes that there are opponents of her plan to her right and her left, and says she’s taken into account the concerns some may have with parts of her proposal. The non-monetary condition situation, as she put it, brings about the question of whether mass incarceration is going to be allowed to be replaced by mass surveillance.</p> <p>“I wanted to be able to protect that because this new electric monetary system is a new iteration of the billion dollar blocks. Now instead of incarcerating people, you’re got everyone in the ankle bracelets,” said Walker. The widespread use of ankle bracelets is a secondary set-up that Walker said “sets up a system that we’re trying to do away with.”</p> <p>There have been other versions of bail reform introduced in the Assembly, one of them by Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell of Manhattan. When asked if there are any significant differences between the two versions of bail reform, Walker highlighted only one.</p> <p>“In my bill, where a person is still required to be remanded in pre-trial jail, you have discovery reform procedures that kick into play. There is a certain number of time, I believe it’s five days, by which the defense is able to request of the prosecution a discovery evidence or any evidence that might lead to that person being acquitted at the end of a trial,” she explained. This component of her plan gives the person being charged with a crime other mechanisms to “put forth a formidable defense.”</p> <p>According to the listing of Walker’s bill in the Assembly legislation database, the purpose of the bill is to significantly amend “New York's antiquated cash bail system” for the first in “nearly fifty years.”</p> <p>“This legislation would move our state toward a more intelligent, individualized system of pre-trial release, monitoring and, when necessary, detention,” the bill states. “The bill is designed to end the current, reflexive overreliance on monetary bail, which each year results in the unnecessary and expensive pre-trial jailing of thousands of persons simply because they cannot afford a modest sum as collateral.”</p> <p>The Assembly passed Walker’s bill in June as part of a broader criminal justice reform package. <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A05033&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">O’Donnell’s bill</a>, known as the "bail elimination act of 2018," would fully eliminate the use of cash bail while also ensuring “provisions for pretrial detention,” but has not been voted on in the Assembly.</p> <p>However, O’Donnell’s bill does have a “same-as” bill in the Senate, whereas Walker’s does not. That may well change come January when the new Legislature begins its work.</p> <p>Walker said she remains “blindly optimistic,” though she is aware that there are other things that may take priority when the new legislative session begins and Democrats in control of the legislative and executive branches start getting to a long agenda, and that Democrats are not a “monolithic body.”</p> <p>“I anticipate that bail reform, and criminal justice reform will remain an in-vogue topic,” she said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Listen to the full conversation: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8072-max-murphy-podcast-bail-reform-with-assemblymember-latrice-walker" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Assemblymember Latrice Walker on Max &amp; Murphy</a> Nov. 14 2018]&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Annie Abreu, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/assembly-sponsor-bail.jpg" alt="assembly sponsor bail" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Assemblymember Latrice Walker (photo: Kevin Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Assemblymember Latrice Walker, a Brooklyn Democrat, has been pushing for criminal justice reform in New York, and believes that 2019 will hold long-sought progress. Among the several pieces of legislation introduced in the Democrat-dominated Assembly that address criminal justice reform, one of the most significant proposals is Walker’s <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A10137&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Memo=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bail reform bill</a>, which passed the Assembly in June but did not move in the Republican-controlled state Senate.</p> <p>With Democrats having taken the majority in the state Senate through this month’s elections, next year could bring sweeping changes to the criminal justice system in New York, with bail reform atop the priorities for many elected officials, advocates, and others, including Walker, soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat entering his third term. The two legislative majorities and governor will have to work out the details of any reforms, of course, and there are different bail reform proposals.</p> <p>The need for such reform is evident in Walker’s district, she explains. Representing neighborhoods such as Brownsville and Ocean Hill, Walker, a Brownsville native herself, has seen the current system’s effects first-hand. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8072-max-murphy-podcast-bail-reform-with-assemblymember-latrice-walker" target="_blank" rel="noopener">During a recent appearance on the Max &amp; Murphy show on WBAI radio</a>, Walker explained the “billion-dollar blocks” in her district, which is home to significant poverty, and elsewhere, as areas from which many people have gone to jail or prison, with government spending totaling billions of dollars to detain those people. It’s a way of both pointing out the high costs of mass incarceration and the lack of investment in those same communities for helping people escape poverty and related problems.</p> <p>Walker believes the current criminal justice system is based around punishing people, and that bail should not be part of that picture, but one area for reform that can then stop feeding the larger problem.</p> <p>“Bail is supposed to just ensure a person’s return to court. We know that the constitution declares that it’s not supposed to be cruel, unusual, and it’s not supposed to be punishment. And I think that that’s the term that many people forget about New York’s bail system,” Walker said. She’s observed that there has been a rubric of sorts set up in courts where there is more focus on the type of crime allegedly committed, the individual, and the neighborhood in which they live, to determine whether a person is required to post bail.</p> <p>With her proposal, Walker aims to make the system what it was supposed to be, she says. “It bewilders me when I see attorneys, judges and the like say to me, even across the state of New York, ‘well there has to be some system or something put in place that will ensure that bad people don’t get put back into the streets,’ but that’s not what bail is about, and that’s what I’m here to defend.”</p> <p>Of course there are certain alleged crimes where the defendant should either have conditions put on their release or not be released at all, argue Walker and others pushing for bail reform, especially major changes or an end to cash bail, but there are many, many others where bail has simply become a punishment of poverty, leading many poor people to spend time in jail for lower-level offenses.</p> <p>“The bail bill that I introduced allows for an automatic release on a person’s own recognizance in certain situations where their violations, misdemeanors -- other than sex offense misdemeanors, non-violent felonies, and two categories of violent felonies,” Walker explained. A person is not released on their own recognizance if they’ve committed sex offense misdemeanors or most violent felonies. However, the two categories of violent felonies the bill does exempt are burglary or robbery in the second degree, as well as falsely reporting an incident in the second degree.</p> <p>Walker’s proposal was developed by looking at bail “in the context of speedy trial” and “discovery reform,” she said, which are two other major categories of criminal justice reform Democrats pledge to pursue in Albany next year, where state Senate Republicans had largely disagreed with the bills put forth by Assembly majority and Senate minority Democrats.</p> <p>The bill would also allow for a defendant to be released on non-monetary conditions but with court-ordered monitoring. Depending on what the court decides, the defendant could be monitored by a pre-trial services agency, the imposition of travel restrictions, and as mentioned by Walker on WBAI, through the use of electronic monitoring systems.</p> <p>In the cases such as violent felonies, sex offense misdemeanors, and situations where the person released on recognizance or under non-monetary conditions fails to follow through with the conditions of their release, monetary bail can be set. In cases where a person is charged with sex offense felonies, terrorism crimes, class A felonies, witness intimidation, or felonies involving intent to causes injury or death, monetary bail may also be set, though remand without bail (no pre-trial release at all) is also an option.</p> <p>C<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>ourt-ordered electronic location monitoring would be applicable to defendants when "no other realistic conditions (would) suffice to reasonably assure the defendant's return to court" or when they are charged with a felony, misdemeanor domestic violence, a misdemeanor sex offense, or other crimes outlined in the bill.</p> <p>Walker recognizes that there are opponents of her plan to her right and her left, and says she’s taken into account the concerns some may have with parts of her proposal. The non-monetary condition situation, as she put it, brings about the question of whether mass incarceration is going to be allowed to be replaced by mass surveillance.</p> <p>“I wanted to be able to protect that because this new electric monetary system is a new iteration of the billion dollar blocks. Now instead of incarcerating people, you’re got everyone in the ankle bracelets,” said Walker. The widespread use of ankle bracelets is a secondary set-up that Walker said “sets up a system that we’re trying to do away with.”</p> <p>There have been other versions of bail reform introduced in the Assembly, one of them by Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell of Manhattan. When asked if there are any significant differences between the two versions of bail reform, Walker highlighted only one.</p> <p>“In my bill, where a person is still required to be remanded in pre-trial jail, you have discovery reform procedures that kick into play. There is a certain number of time, I believe it’s five days, by which the defense is able to request of the prosecution a discovery evidence or any evidence that might lead to that person being acquitted at the end of a trial,” she explained. This component of her plan gives the person being charged with a crime other mechanisms to “put forth a formidable defense.”</p> <p>According to the listing of Walker’s bill in the Assembly legislation database, the purpose of the bill is to significantly amend “New York's antiquated cash bail system” for the first in “nearly fifty years.”</p> <p>“This legislation would move our state toward a more intelligent, individualized system of pre-trial release, monitoring and, when necessary, detention,” the bill states. “The bill is designed to end the current, reflexive overreliance on monetary bail, which each year results in the unnecessary and expensive pre-trial jailing of thousands of persons simply because they cannot afford a modest sum as collateral.”</p> <p>The Assembly passed Walker’s bill in June as part of a broader criminal justice reform package. <a href="https://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A05033&amp;term=2017&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Memo=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank" rel="noopener">O’Donnell’s bill</a>, known as the "bail elimination act of 2018," would fully eliminate the use of cash bail while also ensuring “provisions for pretrial detention,” but has not been voted on in the Assembly.</p> <p>However, O’Donnell’s bill does have a “same-as” bill in the Senate, whereas Walker’s does not. That may well change come January when the new Legislature begins its work.</p> <p>Walker said she remains “blindly optimistic,” though she is aware that there are other things that may take priority when the new legislative session begins and Democrats in control of the legislative and executive branches start getting to a long agenda, and that Democrats are not a “monolithic body.”</p> <p>“I anticipate that bail reform, and criminal justice reform will remain an in-vogue topic,” she said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Listen to the full conversation: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8072-max-murphy-podcast-bail-reform-with-assemblymember-latrice-walker" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Assemblymember Latrice Walker on Max &amp; Murphy</a> Nov. 14 2018]&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

***
by Annie Abreu, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Enact Sweeping Criminal Justice Reform Responsibly 2018-11-15T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-15T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8077-enact-sweeping-criminal-justice-reform-responsibly Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mayor-bloomberg-grad2010.jpg" alt="mayor bloomberg grad2010" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: Spencer T. Tucker/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>The Governor and the Legislature should use this once in a generation opportunity to make New York State the world leader in thoughtful and effective public protection policies that hold offenders accountable in a humane and forgiving way, and which allows those who offend to, within reason, receive opportunities to make amends and start afresh.</p> <p>They could start strong by creating a grand blue ribbon commission with multiple subsidiary groups consisting of cross-partisan experts representing a broad public justice and human services spectrum.</p> <p>And they should forego the impulse, admittedly hard to resist in the afterglow of strong electoral results 10 days ago, to pursue ideological approaches at the expense of posing honest questions and hunting for approaches that work.</p> <p>The poisonous blue versus red state rhetoric is polluting this conversation (this is happening all over the country where more liberal states seem to relish the chance to stick a finger into conservative eyes - and the contempt is mutual): this divisive tact has no place in devising rational, humane, and effective approaches. It presents the false choice that one has to pick a side: the ACLU or Jeff Sessions. We must do better.</p> <p>This is a task that is bigger than the Legislature and the Governor. Indeed, it is our political system that has bequeathed the contemporary system that is criticized from all sides. It must be stipulated that much bad criminal justice policy was the product of scare-mongering politicians of a different era seizing on anecdotal, low-probability events as grounds for enactment of draconian laws, such as ones that target narcotics possession and sale. There should have been, but frequently was not, pushback when these laws and policies were gathering steam.</p> <p>Now, the danger runs in the other direction.</p> <p>Advocates have commandeered the conversation and this has dangerous implications. Far too frequently, this means that several shades of only one side of an argument are presented.</p> <p>Bail and parole reform of some sort is a commendable pursuit, but the public must be leveled with: early release will mean that there will likely be more victims, and some may lose their lives. Will cashless bail mean that a defendant who has no skin in the game will be less concerned about skipping court appearances? This is not a reason not to embrace change, but advocates (who are often backed up by billionaires who are unelected and unaccountable and who are, themselves, and their families, unlikely to have violence fall on them) have a maddening tendency to obscure or dissemble in the face of evidence that runs counter to their objectives. When reforms are being discussed the lives put at risk are almost invariably not in affluent places.</p> <p>And the voices of individual victims and communities as a whole have been marginalized or stifled altogether.</p> <p>To be sure, there are daily miscarriages involving charged individuals -- people supposed to be presumed innocent -- locked up for prolonged periods, despite the presumption of innocence, in true Kafkaesque fashion. Dramatically speeding up adjudication will make much of the bail debate academic.</p> <p>A blue ribbon commission can look in a sweeping and holistic way at the agencies charged with delivering justice, with a keen eye to unintended or collateral consequences to seemingly simple silver bullet reforms. It is far too easy for elected officials to succumb to sponsoring slapdash reforms that allow them to bask in the glow without considering the wider implications of the bills they sponsor.</p> <p>Certainly, some legislative steps taken in the name of “police reform” have helped lead to the current death spiral of the police profession. There are a number of public officials who seem to believe, misguidedly, that it is a great accomplishment to create an atmosphere where the police avoid engaging festering community conditions. If they looked across the country before acting, they would know that urban police departments willing to take risks and bear the brunt of criticisms for defending communities against disorder and insecurity are becoming as rare as the dodo. They would also notice that police departments are struggling mightily to find someone, anyone, to put on a uniform these days. This may not seem like a pressing concern in our presently supersafe city, but what if the future sees dramatic shifts and upheavals?</p> <p>The blue ribbon commission could launch its work by conducting in-depth, high-quality, sustained surveys to gauge the sentiments of people in communities (in my experience the feedback gathered will always contain surprises). And true justice would have a local flavor: it is folly to try to create one uniform, static standard in each of the state’s 62 very different counties. Indeed, even in a single NYPD precinct, there can be many different communities and seemingly, at times, as many opinions and sensibilities about safety as there are residents.</p> <p>The country (and we could seek out leaders from overseas as well) has many current and former law enforcement, justice, and human services professionals who have progressive instincts but who will not forget that the duty is to strike a practical, humane balance.</p> <p>We should pursue grand and workable ideas, research, and demonstration programs from all over the planet, rejecting the chauvinism and insularity that is a hallmark of a 50-state justice system.</p> <p>Consideration should be given to creating a statewide super-agency, something like the Department of Community Well Being and Safety. Perhaps it should be led by a First Deputy Secretary or Deputy Secretary to the Governor.</p> <p>Too often agencies continue to work siloed off from one another, law enforcement agencies separated from agencies with other portfolios, working at cross-purposes. Protecting the public and treating offenders decently demands that the education, health, employment, mental health, and drug and alcohol addiction infrastructure be central to any final package of reforms. Can the notoriously independent, aloof even, federal law enforcement community be looped into these efforts?</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>We must also not ignore hard truths. It is a noble and fiscally prudent goal to urgently seek to shrink prison and jail populations. But these populations would be significantly higher if the justice system was better at apprehending those who commit serious crimes. Most of these offenders <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nypd/downloads/excel/analysis_and_planning/clearance/clearance-report-q4-2017.xlsx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">are never apprehended</a>. Can true justice system reform ignore this reality?</p> <p>And despite all the rhetoric about shrinking the punitive footprint of the system, new laws continue to be added with each passing legislative session, while existing laws are almost never revoked.</p> <p>The system has to be repaired but also defended and re-legitimized. There is a widespread misbelief that convictions of the innocent are commonplace. Elected officials must embrace, vouch for, and sell the system; after all, it is their creation. In the wake of serious crimes, people are sometimes not cooperating with investigators. What do lawmakers offer as a remedy?</p> <p>We need a complete blue sky review of the uses of technology to prevent crime and to track offenders so that they are getting what they need to steer clear of re-arrest. How can technology be used to vitiate the need for the police to make custodial arrests?</p> <p>What is the promise for treating breaches of public peace and order in a civil, rather than criminal, context?</p> <p>We need to examine the work of all prosecutors’ offices, but also the concerning trend where “progressive prosecutors” pursue or decline prosecutions or overlook laws never repealed by the Legislature on the basis of what can be spongy, unstructured, idiosyncratic whims -- that Is not a system of laws, but of ‘men.’</p> <p>There is also a need to provide affirmative policy preventing and responding to mass casualty shootings and terrorist acts ranging from unsophisticated lone wolves to catastrophic uses of chemical or biological warfare in our streets.</p> <p>And we need to examine big business and white collar crime anew in the face of evidence that some business bottom lines are being topped off by what can only be described as scams, schemes, and frauds.</p> <p>And essentially, it must be said that this economy is not working for millions of people. Anyone who interacts with young people knows of their fears and insecurities about finding a place in this society. High turnover, insecure, minimum wage jobs represent a menace to society's well being. In her new book, "The Job," Ellen Ruppel Shell sums it up succinctly: “Good work brings stability of the sort that staves off conflict…”</p> <p>It is always hard to ask political folks to soar above political considerations and to deliver evidence-based solutions to thorny problems, come what may. New York’s political establishment has a chance to rise to the challenge. Will they take it? Will they go big?</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>***<br />Eugene O’Donnell is a former NYPD officer and prosecutor in Brooklyn and Queens, and currently a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mayor-bloomberg-grad2010.jpg" alt="mayor bloomberg grad2010" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: Spencer T. Tucker/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>The Governor and the Legislature should use this once in a generation opportunity to make New York State the world leader in thoughtful and effective public protection policies that hold offenders accountable in a humane and forgiving way, and which allows those who offend to, within reason, receive opportunities to make amends and start afresh.</p> <p>They could start strong by creating a grand blue ribbon commission with multiple subsidiary groups consisting of cross-partisan experts representing a broad public justice and human services spectrum.</p> <p>And they should forego the impulse, admittedly hard to resist in the afterglow of strong electoral results 10 days ago, to pursue ideological approaches at the expense of posing honest questions and hunting for approaches that work.</p> <p>The poisonous blue versus red state rhetoric is polluting this conversation (this is happening all over the country where more liberal states seem to relish the chance to stick a finger into conservative eyes - and the contempt is mutual): this divisive tact has no place in devising rational, humane, and effective approaches. It presents the false choice that one has to pick a side: the ACLU or Jeff Sessions. We must do better.</p> <p>This is a task that is bigger than the Legislature and the Governor. Indeed, it is our political system that has bequeathed the contemporary system that is criticized from all sides. It must be stipulated that much bad criminal justice policy was the product of scare-mongering politicians of a different era seizing on anecdotal, low-probability events as grounds for enactment of draconian laws, such as ones that target narcotics possession and sale. There should have been, but frequently was not, pushback when these laws and policies were gathering steam.</p> <p>Now, the danger runs in the other direction.</p> <p>Advocates have commandeered the conversation and this has dangerous implications. Far too frequently, this means that several shades of only one side of an argument are presented.</p> <p>Bail and parole reform of some sort is a commendable pursuit, but the public must be leveled with: early release will mean that there will likely be more victims, and some may lose their lives. Will cashless bail mean that a defendant who has no skin in the game will be less concerned about skipping court appearances? This is not a reason not to embrace change, but advocates (who are often backed up by billionaires who are unelected and unaccountable and who are, themselves, and their families, unlikely to have violence fall on them) have a maddening tendency to obscure or dissemble in the face of evidence that runs counter to their objectives. When reforms are being discussed the lives put at risk are almost invariably not in affluent places.</p> <p>And the voices of individual victims and communities as a whole have been marginalized or stifled altogether.</p> <p>To be sure, there are daily miscarriages involving charged individuals -- people supposed to be presumed innocent -- locked up for prolonged periods, despite the presumption of innocence, in true Kafkaesque fashion. Dramatically speeding up adjudication will make much of the bail debate academic.</p> <p>A blue ribbon commission can look in a sweeping and holistic way at the agencies charged with delivering justice, with a keen eye to unintended or collateral consequences to seemingly simple silver bullet reforms. It is far too easy for elected officials to succumb to sponsoring slapdash reforms that allow them to bask in the glow without considering the wider implications of the bills they sponsor.</p> <p>Certainly, some legislative steps taken in the name of “police reform” have helped lead to the current death spiral of the police profession. There are a number of public officials who seem to believe, misguidedly, that it is a great accomplishment to create an atmosphere where the police avoid engaging festering community conditions. If they looked across the country before acting, they would know that urban police departments willing to take risks and bear the brunt of criticisms for defending communities against disorder and insecurity are becoming as rare as the dodo. They would also notice that police departments are struggling mightily to find someone, anyone, to put on a uniform these days. This may not seem like a pressing concern in our presently supersafe city, but what if the future sees dramatic shifts and upheavals?</p> <p>The blue ribbon commission could launch its work by conducting in-depth, high-quality, sustained surveys to gauge the sentiments of people in communities (in my experience the feedback gathered will always contain surprises). And true justice would have a local flavor: it is folly to try to create one uniform, static standard in each of the state’s 62 very different counties. Indeed, even in a single NYPD precinct, there can be many different communities and seemingly, at times, as many opinions and sensibilities about safety as there are residents.</p> <p>The country (and we could seek out leaders from overseas as well) has many current and former law enforcement, justice, and human services professionals who have progressive instincts but who will not forget that the duty is to strike a practical, humane balance.</p> <p>We should pursue grand and workable ideas, research, and demonstration programs from all over the planet, rejecting the chauvinism and insularity that is a hallmark of a 50-state justice system.</p> <p>Consideration should be given to creating a statewide super-agency, something like the Department of Community Well Being and Safety. Perhaps it should be led by a First Deputy Secretary or Deputy Secretary to the Governor.</p> <p>Too often agencies continue to work siloed off from one another, law enforcement agencies separated from agencies with other portfolios, working at cross-purposes. Protecting the public and treating offenders decently demands that the education, health, employment, mental health, and drug and alcohol addiction infrastructure be central to any final package of reforms. Can the notoriously independent, aloof even, federal law enforcement community be looped into these efforts?</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>We must also not ignore hard truths. It is a noble and fiscally prudent goal to urgently seek to shrink prison and jail populations. But these populations would be significantly higher if the justice system was better at apprehending those who commit serious crimes. Most of these offenders <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nypd/downloads/excel/analysis_and_planning/clearance/clearance-report-q4-2017.xlsx" target="_blank" rel="noopener">are never apprehended</a>. Can true justice system reform ignore this reality?</p> <p>And despite all the rhetoric about shrinking the punitive footprint of the system, new laws continue to be added with each passing legislative session, while existing laws are almost never revoked.</p> <p>The system has to be repaired but also defended and re-legitimized. There is a widespread misbelief that convictions of the innocent are commonplace. Elected officials must embrace, vouch for, and sell the system; after all, it is their creation. In the wake of serious crimes, people are sometimes not cooperating with investigators. What do lawmakers offer as a remedy?</p> <p>We need a complete blue sky review of the uses of technology to prevent crime and to track offenders so that they are getting what they need to steer clear of re-arrest. How can technology be used to vitiate the need for the police to make custodial arrests?</p> <p>What is the promise for treating breaches of public peace and order in a civil, rather than criminal, context?</p> <p>We need to examine the work of all prosecutors’ offices, but also the concerning trend where “progressive prosecutors” pursue or decline prosecutions or overlook laws never repealed by the Legislature on the basis of what can be spongy, unstructured, idiosyncratic whims -- that Is not a system of laws, but of ‘men.’</p> <p>There is also a need to provide affirmative policy preventing and responding to mass casualty shootings and terrorist acts ranging from unsophisticated lone wolves to catastrophic uses of chemical or biological warfare in our streets.</p> <p>And we need to examine big business and white collar crime anew in the face of evidence that some business bottom lines are being topped off by what can only be described as scams, schemes, and frauds.</p> <p>And essentially, it must be said that this economy is not working for millions of people. Anyone who interacts with young people knows of their fears and insecurities about finding a place in this society. High turnover, insecure, minimum wage jobs represent a menace to society's well being. In her new book, "The Job," Ellen Ruppel Shell sums it up succinctly: “Good work brings stability of the sort that staves off conflict…”</p> <p>It is always hard to ask political folks to soar above political considerations and to deliver evidence-based solutions to thorny problems, come what may. New York’s political establishment has a chance to rise to the challenge. Will they take it? Will they go big?</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>***<br />Eugene O’Donnell is a former NYPD officer and prosecutor in Brooklyn and Queens, and currently a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
Agenda 2019: Queens District Attorney Race Will Center on Push for Reform 2018-11-15T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-15T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8078-agenda-2019-queens-district-attorney-race-will-center-on-push-for-reform Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/city-council-ar-rl-jw-dr-marij.jpg" alt="city council ar rl jw dr marij" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Rory Lancman (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Off-year elections in New York City, like the one next year, tend to hold little significance and command minimal attention, with few positions on the ballot and no headlining executive race like mayor or governor. But in Queens, next year will offer a momentous opportunity for voters to make a decision that could dramatically affect the lives of residents of the country’s most diverse county and potentially establish a new paradigm for criminal justice there, with reverberations beyond.</p> <p>In 2019, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, a Democrat who has held his seat for 28 years, is not expected to run for reelection, and those seeking to replace him have made clear that they would break from his tough-on-crime policies that they say have disparately and adversely affected low-income communities of color and modernize the office. As the top prosecutor in each county, district attorneys hold substantial authority over how the law is enforced, working in conjunction with the police. They have broad investigatory powers and can bring both criminal charges and civil litigation.</p> <p>The Queens DA’s office under Brown is among the last to embrace a shift in the conversation around criminal justice away from a punitive system to one focused more on rehabilitation and restoration. Brown, 85, has done little to break from the conservative practices of what appears to be a bygone era, especially in New York City and other big cities around the country. The race to replace him is likely going to be a contentious competition to see who can promise the most drastic shifts toward progressive prosecutorial conduct.</p> <p>Unlike the district attorneys in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx, Brown has been slower to ease the prosecution of low-level offenses, including for marijuana arrests and fare evasion, largely ignored calls for reducing or ending the use of cash bail, and has rejected funding that would allow his office to set up a dedicated unit to investigate wrongful convictions. Following the lead of other district attorneys and after repeatedly declining to do so, his office did move to <a href="https://www.amny.com/news/queens-summons-forgiveness-1.22018402" target="_blank" rel="noopener">clear</a> hundreds of thousands of outstanding warrants for low-level offenses.</p> <p>In the first half of this year, Queens disproportionately accounted for the number of pre-trial detainees in jail accused of misdemeanors, <a href="http://gothamist.com/2018/09/26/rory_lancman_da_queens.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to a Gothamist report</a>. Those prosecutions additionally impact undocumented immigrants, who could potentially face deportation stemming from low-level charges. And as the city moves to close the Rikers Island jail complex, Brown’s office has indicated that it would prefer it remain open.</p> <p>Having remained in office for the better part of three decades, and with his well-documented struggle with Parkinson’s disease, Brown is widely expected to finish his time in office at the end of next year (he hasn’t said if he will resign before his term ends). “My present term does not expire until December 2019 and I will make no decision about the future until sometime next year,” Brown said in a statement.</p> <p>“He’s been a tough as nails prosecutor. He doesn’t seem to want to implement any progressive reforms to the laws under his jurisdiction and under his authority,” said Jon McFarlane, a Queens resident for 40 years and a volunteer at Court Watch NYC, a collaboration among three advocacy groups aimed at monitoring cases that makes their way through the criminal courts. “He’s had tremendous power over the last two, two-and-a-half decades and he’s only used that power to criminalize black, brown and Latino people.”</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>McFarlane said that advocates have “new hope” that progressive reforms will soon pass in the state Legislature and that Brown’s replacement will be someone who institutes reform rather than punishment. “We’re looking for candidates that will end the prison pipeline out of [our] neighborhoods, we’re looking for candidates that will end mass incarceration, we’re looking for progressive candidates that will implement bail reform,” he said.</p> <p>Two Democrats have already declared their intentions to seek the office. The first to jump into the race was New York City Council Member Rory Lancman, who is running as a progressive diametrically opposed to the office’s current policies. “The criminal justice system is broken,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s racist. It’s discriminatory against poor people. It fails to protect working people and we’re gonna reform it from top to bottom.”</p> <p>The other candidate in the race right now is retired Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak, a veteran prosecutor who says he alone knows how to reform that office since he worked there for 25 years. “The district attorney is not a job for a politician,” Lasak said in a phone interview. “You have to have the experience and the skill because you’re making decisions that affect people’s lives...and I think there’s nobody that has the wealth of experience that I have in doing that and I will continue to do that.”</p> <p>Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has long been rumored to be considering a bid as well but has yet to make any announcements. A nongovernmental spokesperson for Katz declined to comment. And Mina Malik, a Harvard professor and former Queens assistant district attorney, might also jump into the race, according to a <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/2018/10/22/first-woman-of-color-plans-queens-da-bid-sources-say" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens Daily Eagle report</a>. Malik declined to comment in an email to Gotham Gazette.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Advocates for criminal justice reform have made clear that no matter the candidates, they believe there must be changes in how the office treats the people of Queens, particularly the communities of color that have suffered the ill effects of a system of mass incarceration. On October 30, advocates from several organizations rallied outside the Queens Criminal Courthouse, demanding those reforms from the district attorney’s office now.</p> <p>Andrea Colon, community engagement organizer at the Rockaway Youth Task Force, said the next district attorney should not be “a factor” in mass incarceration. “I think anyone can see that [DA Brown] is a defender of the status quo,” she said in a phone interview. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”</p> <p>Colon said the diversity of the borough should be reflected in the DA’s office and that the next officeholder should move away from a punitive approach to the job. “It’s also about being an advocate, making sure that role is not just simply about prosecuting people who come through your door,” she said. “It’s about advocating for things like legislation up in Albany or in the city that will impact the people of Queens.”</p> <p>Lancman has spent years doing just that, he said in the interview, previously as a member of the State Assembly and as a Council member for the last five years — in his first term, he chaired the Committee on Courts and Legal Services, which was redesigned by the new Council speaker this year to create a separate Committee on the Justice System which Lancman now heads. He believes he is the most progressive of any candidate in the race, even if those rumored to join the race do so. “As a government official I’ve expressly taken on the responsibility of trying to reform the criminal justice system and have used the governmental tools at my disposal to reform the criminal justice system.”</p> <p>Though he has spent years in government, Lancman does not have any prosecutorial experience, having worked as an attorney in private practice and teaching at St. John’s University in Queens. He holds a law degree from Columbia Law School.</p> <p>A vocal critic of Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD, Lancman has attempted to pass bills that would make policing more transparent and accountable and has been successful in small ways, in lieu of state action, in making it easier to pay bail. He has tried to make the use of a chokehold by police illegal -- it is currently only banned by department rules — and, after the NYPD refused to release data on arrests for fare-beating as required by a law that Lancman sponsored, he sued the city.</p> <p>As district attorney, Lancman said he would unilaterally implement many of the reforms that have languished in the state Legislature for years, but which are expected to finally pass with both legislative chambers heading to Democratic control come January -- Republicans who have controlled the Senate blocked many of the bills. Lancman said he wouldn’t prosecute a “laundry list” of low-level offenses “that are giving black and brown kids records for the rest of their lives,” would not ask for cash bail “under any circumstance,” would end the so-called “ready rule” practice that DAs use to deny defendants a speedy trial and implement full open-file discovery. He also expressed support for a bill passed this year by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Cuomo establishing a first-in-the-nation commission on prosecutorial misconduct.</p> <p>“There’s nothing that’s out of the DA’s hand,” he said, before making a somewhat veiled reference to Lasak. “That’s the important thing to understand. The people who built the Queens DA’s office are not the ones to reform the Queens DA’s office and every criminal justice reform that matters to people can be accomplished by having the right person as Queens DA.”</p> <p>He continued, “It’s not merely to confront the racism and discrimination against poor people that permeates the criminal justice system but also to refocus the office’s priorities to help working people.” He said he would focus on issues such as wage theft and unsafe workplace conditions, predatory housing practices and tenant harassment, and sexual assault. “We waste all this time and energy prosecuting these low level offenses, fighting to keep people in jail just because they don’t have money, playing games with the discovery rules that make it impossible for people to defend themselves in court, instead of focusing on things that are really making working people unsafe,” he said.</p> <p>“The DA’s office is unique in that it requires serious preparation and a very detailed understanding of the office and a detailed commitment to the issues the office confronts,” Lancman said, “and I will put that level of demonstrated commitment, experience and planning up against any candidate in the race.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/lasak_headshot.jpg" alt="lasak for DA" width="250" height="239" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />Of course, Lasak (pictured) believes he is the candidate who brings the most experience to the table, not Lancman. “There’s no comparison in terms of experience,” he said in a phone interview. A hard-nosed prosecutor with more than two decades experience in the Queens DA’s office, Lasak became chief of the homicide division when he was 30. When Brown took over, Lasak was the executive assistant DA of the major crimes division and was later in charge of the homicide investigations and homicide trial bureaus and the special victims bureau, and he set up the office’s domestic violence bureau. “Most of my career’s been dedicated to combating violent crime,” he said.</p> <p>Heading up homicide prosecutions for nearly two decades earned Lasak the moniker “Mr. Murder.” He wasn’t sure where it originated from — <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/07/nyregion/mr-murder.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a New York Times profile</a> from 2003, when Lasak was elected State Supreme Court Justice, offered little about the origins of the name — but how does he feel about it? “Doesn’t bother me,” he said with a chuckle.</p> <p>Lasak’s argument is that he can reform the office because he is intimately familiar with how it works. “To reform the place, you can’t sit looking at it from the outside if you don’t know how it works on a day-to-day basis,” he said.</p> <p>Though his background smacks of the type of stern policies Brown’s office is known for, he is making a softer pitch as a candidate, similar to Lancman’s. He wants to reform bail procedures, ensure speedy trials and discovery reform.</p> <p>“I’ve been out of that office nearly 15 years. The world has changed, Queens has changed, but the office has to change too,” he said. “The assistant district attorneys in the office should reflect the changing demographics of Queens County, the most diverse county in the world, and the office has not changed along those lines. I want it to reflect the diversity of our population here in Queens, including at the highest levels of the office.”</p> <p>He said he’d take a “good hard look” at how the office handles low-level nonviolent offenses and bail. “My rule when I was there was, if you’re not gonna ask for jail time at the end of the case, you have no business asking for bail at the beginning of the case, and I will make sure that is a policy of the office,” he said, particularly cognizant of how the enforcement of small marijuana possession cases has impacted communities of color. “Once you stick a criminal record on a young man, you scar him for life. I don’t want to do that. We’re losing too many young men, especially in the minority community...I want to give them another chance,” he said.</p> <p>He also stressed that, as DA, he would ensure any potential wrongful convictions are reviewed by senior prosecutors and detectives, as he said he used to do when he worked there.</p> <p>There is, however, greater daylight between Lasak and Lancman on the proposed plan for the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. In September, Lancman <a href="https://theappeal.org/a-grand-jury-indicted-an-alabama-police-officer-for-murder-then-a-mayor-came-to-his-defense/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">publicly debated</a> a Queens assistant district attorney about the closure of the jails on the island -- the Queens DA and Staten Island DA are the only two in the city opposing the plan. Lancman, who supports it, said he will make it a central campaign issue “because where you stand on Rikers and where you have been on Rikers tells us everything we need to know about where you stand on reforming the criminal justice system and what kind of DA you will be.”</p> <p>Lasak said he has not closely studied the Rikers plan, which includes demolishing the current Queens detention facility and building a newer, more modern one so detainees can be housed closer to their homes and to the courthouse. Lasak pointedly refused to take a position on it, despite being repeatedly asked. “Rikers Island is really not an issue for the district attorney,” he said. “My concern is that people who are on Rikers Island, make sure they belong on Rikers Island. I don’t want anyone sitting on Rikers Island that doesn’t belong there.”</p> <p>Advocates intend on holding the candidates, whoever should win, accountable for their words.</p> <p>“I think it’s one thing to say that you’re for criminal justice reform,” said Colon from Rockaway Youth Task Force, “and it’s another to actually act on that.”</p> <p>Nick Malinowski of VOCAL-NY, one of the groups that make up Court Watch NYC, put the Queens DA’s race in the context of a national movement and growing awareness around prosecutorial accountability and the discretionary powers that district attorneys have at their disposal. “I think there’s a growing understanding across the country about the impact that prosecutors have and that kind of movement and understanding is definitely coming to Queens,” he said.</p> <p>Malinowski pointed to the recent elections of progressive reform-minded district attorneys in other states -- Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, and Rachael Rollins in Suffolk County, Massachusetts -- as an example of where Queens should be headed. Considering the size and diversity of New York City’s second-most populous borough, he said that this election could be one of the most consequential in the city, if not the entire nation -- the Bronx and Staten Island DAs are up for reelection next year, but Queens is expected to be the lone ‘empty seat’ race.</p> <p>“I think there’s a good case for the Queens DA to be the single-most progressive DA in the country,” Malinowski said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/city-council-ar-rl-jw-dr-marij.jpg" alt="city council ar rl jw dr marij" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Rory Lancman (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>Off-year elections in New York City, like the one next year, tend to hold little significance and command minimal attention, with few positions on the ballot and no headlining executive race like mayor or governor. But in Queens, next year will offer a momentous opportunity for voters to make a decision that could dramatically affect the lives of residents of the country’s most diverse county and potentially establish a new paradigm for criminal justice there, with reverberations beyond.</p> <p>In 2019, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, a Democrat who has held his seat for 28 years, is not expected to run for reelection, and those seeking to replace him have made clear that they would break from his tough-on-crime policies that they say have disparately and adversely affected low-income communities of color and modernize the office. As the top prosecutor in each county, district attorneys hold substantial authority over how the law is enforced, working in conjunction with the police. They have broad investigatory powers and can bring both criminal charges and civil litigation.</p> <p>The Queens DA’s office under Brown is among the last to embrace a shift in the conversation around criminal justice away from a punitive system to one focused more on rehabilitation and restoration. Brown, 85, has done little to break from the conservative practices of what appears to be a bygone era, especially in New York City and other big cities around the country. The race to replace him is likely going to be a contentious competition to see who can promise the most drastic shifts toward progressive prosecutorial conduct.</p> <p>Unlike the district attorneys in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx, Brown has been slower to ease the prosecution of low-level offenses, including for marijuana arrests and fare evasion, largely ignored calls for reducing or ending the use of cash bail, and has rejected funding that would allow his office to set up a dedicated unit to investigate wrongful convictions. Following the lead of other district attorneys and after repeatedly declining to do so, his office did move to <a href="https://www.amny.com/news/queens-summons-forgiveness-1.22018402" target="_blank" rel="noopener">clear</a> hundreds of thousands of outstanding warrants for low-level offenses.</p> <p>In the first half of this year, Queens disproportionately accounted for the number of pre-trial detainees in jail accused of misdemeanors, <a href="http://gothamist.com/2018/09/26/rory_lancman_da_queens.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to a Gothamist report</a>. Those prosecutions additionally impact undocumented immigrants, who could potentially face deportation stemming from low-level charges. And as the city moves to close the Rikers Island jail complex, Brown’s office has indicated that it would prefer it remain open.</p> <p>Having remained in office for the better part of three decades, and with his well-documented struggle with Parkinson’s disease, Brown is widely expected to finish his time in office at the end of next year (he hasn’t said if he will resign before his term ends). “My present term does not expire until December 2019 and I will make no decision about the future until sometime next year,” Brown said in a statement.</p> <p>“He’s been a tough as nails prosecutor. He doesn’t seem to want to implement any progressive reforms to the laws under his jurisdiction and under his authority,” said Jon McFarlane, a Queens resident for 40 years and a volunteer at Court Watch NYC, a collaboration among three advocacy groups aimed at monitoring cases that makes their way through the criminal courts. “He’s had tremendous power over the last two, two-and-a-half decades and he’s only used that power to criminalize black, brown and Latino people.”</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>McFarlane said that advocates have “new hope” that progressive reforms will soon pass in the state Legislature and that Brown’s replacement will be someone who institutes reform rather than punishment. “We’re looking for candidates that will end the prison pipeline out of [our] neighborhoods, we’re looking for candidates that will end mass incarceration, we’re looking for progressive candidates that will implement bail reform,” he said.</p> <p>Two Democrats have already declared their intentions to seek the office. The first to jump into the race was New York City Council Member Rory Lancman, who is running as a progressive diametrically opposed to the office’s current policies. “The criminal justice system is broken,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s racist. It’s discriminatory against poor people. It fails to protect working people and we’re gonna reform it from top to bottom.”</p> <p>The other candidate in the race right now is retired Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak, a veteran prosecutor who says he alone knows how to reform that office since he worked there for 25 years. “The district attorney is not a job for a politician,” Lasak said in a phone interview. “You have to have the experience and the skill because you’re making decisions that affect people’s lives...and I think there’s nobody that has the wealth of experience that I have in doing that and I will continue to do that.”</p> <p>Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has long been rumored to be considering a bid as well but has yet to make any announcements. A nongovernmental spokesperson for Katz declined to comment. And Mina Malik, a Harvard professor and former Queens assistant district attorney, might also jump into the race, according to a <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/2018/10/22/first-woman-of-color-plans-queens-da-bid-sources-say" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Queens Daily Eagle report</a>. Malik declined to comment in an email to Gotham Gazette.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Advocates for criminal justice reform have made clear that no matter the candidates, they believe there must be changes in how the office treats the people of Queens, particularly the communities of color that have suffered the ill effects of a system of mass incarceration. On October 30, advocates from several organizations rallied outside the Queens Criminal Courthouse, demanding those reforms from the district attorney’s office now.</p> <p>Andrea Colon, community engagement organizer at the Rockaway Youth Task Force, said the next district attorney should not be “a factor” in mass incarceration. “I think anyone can see that [DA Brown] is a defender of the status quo,” she said in a phone interview. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”</p> <p>Colon said the diversity of the borough should be reflected in the DA’s office and that the next officeholder should move away from a punitive approach to the job. “It’s also about being an advocate, making sure that role is not just simply about prosecuting people who come through your door,” she said. “It’s about advocating for things like legislation up in Albany or in the city that will impact the people of Queens.”</p> <p>Lancman has spent years doing just that, he said in the interview, previously as a member of the State Assembly and as a Council member for the last five years — in his first term, he chaired the Committee on Courts and Legal Services, which was redesigned by the new Council speaker this year to create a separate Committee on the Justice System which Lancman now heads. He believes he is the most progressive of any candidate in the race, even if those rumored to join the race do so. “As a government official I’ve expressly taken on the responsibility of trying to reform the criminal justice system and have used the governmental tools at my disposal to reform the criminal justice system.”</p> <p>Though he has spent years in government, Lancman does not have any prosecutorial experience, having worked as an attorney in private practice and teaching at St. John’s University in Queens. He holds a law degree from Columbia Law School.</p> <p>A vocal critic of Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD, Lancman has attempted to pass bills that would make policing more transparent and accountable and has been successful in small ways, in lieu of state action, in making it easier to pay bail. He has tried to make the use of a chokehold by police illegal -- it is currently only banned by department rules — and, after the NYPD refused to release data on arrests for fare-beating as required by a law that Lancman sponsored, he sued the city.</p> <p>As district attorney, Lancman said he would unilaterally implement many of the reforms that have languished in the state Legislature for years, but which are expected to finally pass with both legislative chambers heading to Democratic control come January -- Republicans who have controlled the Senate blocked many of the bills. Lancman said he wouldn’t prosecute a “laundry list” of low-level offenses “that are giving black and brown kids records for the rest of their lives,” would not ask for cash bail “under any circumstance,” would end the so-called “ready rule” practice that DAs use to deny defendants a speedy trial and implement full open-file discovery. He also expressed support for a bill passed this year by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Cuomo establishing a first-in-the-nation commission on prosecutorial misconduct.</p> <p>“There’s nothing that’s out of the DA’s hand,” he said, before making a somewhat veiled reference to Lasak. “That’s the important thing to understand. The people who built the Queens DA’s office are not the ones to reform the Queens DA’s office and every criminal justice reform that matters to people can be accomplished by having the right person as Queens DA.”</p> <p>He continued, “It’s not merely to confront the racism and discrimination against poor people that permeates the criminal justice system but also to refocus the office’s priorities to help working people.” He said he would focus on issues such as wage theft and unsafe workplace conditions, predatory housing practices and tenant harassment, and sexual assault. “We waste all this time and energy prosecuting these low level offenses, fighting to keep people in jail just because they don’t have money, playing games with the discovery rules that make it impossible for people to defend themselves in court, instead of focusing on things that are really making working people unsafe,” he said.</p> <p>“The DA’s office is unique in that it requires serious preparation and a very detailed understanding of the office and a detailed commitment to the issues the office confronts,” Lancman said, “and I will put that level of demonstrated commitment, experience and planning up against any candidate in the race.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/lasak_headshot.jpg" alt="lasak for DA" width="250" height="239" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />Of course, Lasak (pictured) believes he is the candidate who brings the most experience to the table, not Lancman. “There’s no comparison in terms of experience,” he said in a phone interview. A hard-nosed prosecutor with more than two decades experience in the Queens DA’s office, Lasak became chief of the homicide division when he was 30. When Brown took over, Lasak was the executive assistant DA of the major crimes division and was later in charge of the homicide investigations and homicide trial bureaus and the special victims bureau, and he set up the office’s domestic violence bureau. “Most of my career’s been dedicated to combating violent crime,” he said.</p> <p>Heading up homicide prosecutions for nearly two decades earned Lasak the moniker “Mr. Murder.” He wasn’t sure where it originated from — <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/07/nyregion/mr-murder.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a New York Times profile</a> from 2003, when Lasak was elected State Supreme Court Justice, offered little about the origins of the name — but how does he feel about it? “Doesn’t bother me,” he said with a chuckle.</p> <p>Lasak’s argument is that he can reform the office because he is intimately familiar with how it works. “To reform the place, you can’t sit looking at it from the outside if you don’t know how it works on a day-to-day basis,” he said.</p> <p>Though his background smacks of the type of stern policies Brown’s office is known for, he is making a softer pitch as a candidate, similar to Lancman’s. He wants to reform bail procedures, ensure speedy trials and discovery reform.</p> <p>“I’ve been out of that office nearly 15 years. The world has changed, Queens has changed, but the office has to change too,” he said. “The assistant district attorneys in the office should reflect the changing demographics of Queens County, the most diverse county in the world, and the office has not changed along those lines. I want it to reflect the diversity of our population here in Queens, including at the highest levels of the office.”</p> <p>He said he’d take a “good hard look” at how the office handles low-level nonviolent offenses and bail. “My rule when I was there was, if you’re not gonna ask for jail time at the end of the case, you have no business asking for bail at the beginning of the case, and I will make sure that is a policy of the office,” he said, particularly cognizant of how the enforcement of small marijuana possession cases has impacted communities of color. “Once you stick a criminal record on a young man, you scar him for life. I don’t want to do that. We’re losing too many young men, especially in the minority community...I want to give them another chance,” he said.</p> <p>He also stressed that, as DA, he would ensure any potential wrongful convictions are reviewed by senior prosecutors and detectives, as he said he used to do when he worked there.</p> <p>There is, however, greater daylight between Lasak and Lancman on the proposed plan for the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. In September, Lancman <a href="https://theappeal.org/a-grand-jury-indicted-an-alabama-police-officer-for-murder-then-a-mayor-came-to-his-defense/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">publicly debated</a> a Queens assistant district attorney about the closure of the jails on the island -- the Queens DA and Staten Island DA are the only two in the city opposing the plan. Lancman, who supports it, said he will make it a central campaign issue “because where you stand on Rikers and where you have been on Rikers tells us everything we need to know about where you stand on reforming the criminal justice system and what kind of DA you will be.”</p> <p>Lasak said he has not closely studied the Rikers plan, which includes demolishing the current Queens detention facility and building a newer, more modern one so detainees can be housed closer to their homes and to the courthouse. Lasak pointedly refused to take a position on it, despite being repeatedly asked. “Rikers Island is really not an issue for the district attorney,” he said. “My concern is that people who are on Rikers Island, make sure they belong on Rikers Island. I don’t want anyone sitting on Rikers Island that doesn’t belong there.”</p> <p>Advocates intend on holding the candidates, whoever should win, accountable for their words.</p> <p>“I think it’s one thing to say that you’re for criminal justice reform,” said Colon from Rockaway Youth Task Force, “and it’s another to actually act on that.”</p> <p>Nick Malinowski of VOCAL-NY, one of the groups that make up Court Watch NYC, put the Queens DA’s race in the context of a national movement and growing awareness around prosecutorial accountability and the discretionary powers that district attorneys have at their disposal. “I think there’s a growing understanding across the country about the impact that prosecutors have and that kind of movement and understanding is definitely coming to Queens,” he said.</p> <p>Malinowski pointed to the recent elections of progressive reform-minded district attorneys in other states -- Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, and Rachael Rollins in Suffolk County, Massachusetts -- as an example of where Queens should be headed. Considering the size and diversity of New York City’s second-most populous borough, he said that this election could be one of the most consequential in the city, if not the entire nation -- the Bronx and Staten Island DAs are up for reelection next year, but Queens is expected to be the lone ‘empty seat’ race.</p> <p>“I think there’s a good case for the Queens DA to be the single-most progressive DA in the country,” Malinowski said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" target="_self">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Max & Murphy Podcast: Assemblymember Latrice Walker 2018-11-14T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-14T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8072-max-murphy-podcast-bail-reform-with-assemblymember-latrice-walker Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p><strong>November 14, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Bail Reform with Assemblymember Latrice Walker<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/latrice-walker-wbai-org.jpg" alt="latrice walker wbai org" width="134" height="200" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Assemblymember Latrice Walker, a Brooklyn Democrat, joined the show to discuss her push for criminal justice reform, among other issues, including the prospects for a wave of Democratic legislation to pass through the state Legislature in 2019 after the state Senate flipped and will potentially work with the long-standing Assembly majority to pass long-stalled bills.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/530038692&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="180" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1542727012992000&amp;usg=AFQjCNFY2bJ6BA6AesUwakCrfkUOqoU35A">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p><strong>November 14, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Bail Reform with Assemblymember Latrice Walker<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/latrice-walker-wbai-org.jpg" alt="latrice walker wbai org" width="134" height="200" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Assemblymember Latrice Walker, a Brooklyn Democrat, joined the show to discuss her push for criminal justice reform, among other issues, including the prospects for a wave of Democratic legislation to pass through the state Legislature in 2019 after the state Senate flipped and will potentially work with the long-standing Assembly majority to pass long-stalled bills.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/530038692&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="180" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="agenda19v2 a" width="250" height="127" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></a></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019" data-saferedirecturl="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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