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 2019-02-21T04:40:32+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Automatic Sealing? Expungement? As They Legalize Marijuana, New York Lawmakers Negotiate Clearing Criminal Records 2019-02-16T05:00:00+00:00 2019-02-16T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8288-automatic-sealing-expungement-as-they-legalize-legalize-marijuana-new-york-lawmakers-negotiate-criminal-record-clearing Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/may-bdblasio-office.jpg" alt="may bdblasio office" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio discusses marijuana policy (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York seems poised to enact the country’s first automatic record-clearing guidelines for past marijuana convictions. Doing so, advocates and officials say, could remove barriers for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose convictions -- for behavior that may soon be legal -- complicate tasks ranging from obtaining child custody to job searching to renting an apartment.</p> <p>Automatic record-clearing is part of a larger ongoing discussion on legalizing adult marijuana use in New York, something Governor Andrew Cuomo has made a 2019 priority after <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/02/cuomo-says-he-remains-opposed-to-recreational-marijuana-109436" target="_blank" rel="noopener">years of opposition</a>&nbsp;that also has support in both Democratically-controlled houses of the state Legislature. “Legalize adult-used cannabis,” Cuomo said in his State of the State address in January. “Stop the disproportionate criminal impact on communities of color.”</p> <p>Bronx Senator and Senate health committee chair Gustavo Rivera also <a href="http://www.wcny.org/february-4-2019-sen-gustavo-rivera/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">emphasized</a> on the Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter earlier this month that “the primary concern for many of us is the restorative justice aspect of this.”</p> <p>New Yorkers poised to benefit from record-clearing for past marijuana offenses are majority black and Hispanic. In New York City, these communities made up <a href="http://marijuana-arrests.com/docs/Marijuana-Arrests-NYC--Unjust-Unconstitutional--July2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">85 percent</a> of marijuana possession arrests in 2016. It’s still unclear, though, how many crimes will be eligible for automatic clearing. There are also different record-clearing processes within an automatic framework: to seal a record is to shield it from view, while to expunge it -- advocates’ preference -- removes it completely.</p> <p>Melissa Moore, deputy New York director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said advocates with the statewide marijuana abolition campaign <a href="http://smart-ny.com/about/supporters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Start SMART</a> took notes on California’s approach to marijuana legalization. There, people with certain marijuana-related convictions were invited to apply for their records to be cleared. The Drug Policy Alliance has <a href="https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-expungement-fair-20171202-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">hosted free legal clinics</a> in the state to assist them. “It’s still onerous,” says Moore. “In New York, how do we do this in such a way that places the lowest burden possible on individuals who have already been wronged? Making it automatic.”</p> <p>“I believe that the Governor's office shares the goal of Assemblymember Peoples-Stokes and I,” stated Senator Liz Krueger, “to create a mechanism for automatically clearing records for marijuana offenses that would no longer be crimes.” Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, carries the Legislature’s <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/S1527" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act</a> along with Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat who is also the majority leader of the Assembly.</p> <p>As for scope, Cuomo’s budget proposal would automatically clear the low-level possession convictions that make up the majority of marijuana arrests -- 800,000 over the last 20 years according to his office -- by amending <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/CPL/160.50" target="_blank" rel="noopener">existing record-sealing procedures</a>. By contrast, Democrats in the Legislature have in recent legislative sessions proposed clearing more records: all possession-related, and some sale-related, convictions.</p> <p>“We recognize and see where the governor was trying to go and we think it just needs to be much more expansive,” says Kassandra Frederique, New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “If we are going to end the criminalization of marijuana in this state, then we have to end the criminalization of marijuana in this state, wholesale.”</p> <p>"We have three goals,” Cuomo’s counsel Alphonso David told Gotham Gazette, defending Cuomo’s proposal. “The first goal is to make sure that we advance social justice. The second is to advance economic development, and the third is to protect public health and safety. Our proposal addresses all three goals."</p> <p>Currently there is no expungement procedure in New York, and the governor’s office has indicated he prefers sealing. But advocates say expungement would remove ambiguity. “You would be able to say, ‘I have no criminal record,’ and that would be the end of the conversation,” says Legal Aid Society attorney Emma Goodman, an expungement expert who helped draft relevant bill language shared with Krueger’s office in January.</p> <p>Advocates have proposed that court records, including criminal complaints and any written decisions, be marked as expunged, while ancillary records such as fingerprints and mugshots are physically destroyed. (Even expunged marijuana convictions can be grounds for deportation, notes Immigrant Defense Project Supervising Attorney Marie Mark, so the proposal includes additional protective measures for non-citizens.)</p> <p>“Expungement means completely erasing these convictions and criminal records to give New Yorkers of color a fresh start,” said Samaria Phillips, manager of the <a href="https://www.werisetolegalize.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">We Rise to Legalize</a> campaign, in a statement. Her group is attending the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators’ annual conference on Saturday in Albany to call for expungement.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio <a href="http://criminaljustice.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/A-Fair-Approach-to-Marijuana.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">also endorsed automatic expungement</a> in a December 2018 task force report from his administration, with the caveat that district attorneys should have the ability to challenge on a case-by-case basis. “Expungement should occur as an automatic process…to minimize procedural burdens on those with past convictions,” the report states.</p> <p>But in the interview, David emphasized the governor’s support for sealing. Because New York has strong sealing laws, he argued, the “impact of sealing is a functional equivalent of expungement, while immunizing the legislation from potential legal challenge.”</p> <p>Senator Krueger’s chief of staff, Brad Usher, also confirmed that her office does not have a preference so long as the process is automatic.</p> <p>“While sealing does essentially the same thing to the record, it does not bring the same level of clarity and peace of mind,” Goodman challenges. “Sealing is ambiguous and confusing for employers and people with convictions, whereas expungement is not.”</p> <p>

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by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/may-bdblasio-office.jpg" alt="may bdblasio office" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio discusses marijuana policy (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York seems poised to enact the country’s first automatic record-clearing guidelines for past marijuana convictions. Doing so, advocates and officials say, could remove barriers for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose convictions -- for behavior that may soon be legal -- complicate tasks ranging from obtaining child custody to job searching to renting an apartment.</p> <p>Automatic record-clearing is part of a larger ongoing discussion on legalizing adult marijuana use in New York, something Governor Andrew Cuomo has made a 2019 priority after <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/02/cuomo-says-he-remains-opposed-to-recreational-marijuana-109436" target="_blank" rel="noopener">years of opposition</a>&nbsp;that also has support in both Democratically-controlled houses of the state Legislature. “Legalize adult-used cannabis,” Cuomo said in his State of the State address in January. “Stop the disproportionate criminal impact on communities of color.”</p> <p>Bronx Senator and Senate health committee chair Gustavo Rivera also <a href="http://www.wcny.org/february-4-2019-sen-gustavo-rivera/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">emphasized</a> on the Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter earlier this month that “the primary concern for many of us is the restorative justice aspect of this.”</p> <p>New Yorkers poised to benefit from record-clearing for past marijuana offenses are majority black and Hispanic. In New York City, these communities made up <a href="http://marijuana-arrests.com/docs/Marijuana-Arrests-NYC--Unjust-Unconstitutional--July2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">85 percent</a> of marijuana possession arrests in 2016. It’s still unclear, though, how many crimes will be eligible for automatic clearing. There are also different record-clearing processes within an automatic framework: to seal a record is to shield it from view, while to expunge it -- advocates’ preference -- removes it completely.</p> <p>Melissa Moore, deputy New York director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said advocates with the statewide marijuana abolition campaign <a href="http://smart-ny.com/about/supporters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Start SMART</a> took notes on California’s approach to marijuana legalization. There, people with certain marijuana-related convictions were invited to apply for their records to be cleared. The Drug Policy Alliance has <a href="https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-expungement-fair-20171202-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">hosted free legal clinics</a> in the state to assist them. “It’s still onerous,” says Moore. “In New York, how do we do this in such a way that places the lowest burden possible on individuals who have already been wronged? Making it automatic.”</p> <p>“I believe that the Governor's office shares the goal of Assemblymember Peoples-Stokes and I,” stated Senator Liz Krueger, “to create a mechanism for automatically clearing records for marijuana offenses that would no longer be crimes.” Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, carries the Legislature’s <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/S1527" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act</a> along with Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat who is also the majority leader of the Assembly.</p> <p>As for scope, Cuomo’s budget proposal would automatically clear the low-level possession convictions that make up the majority of marijuana arrests -- 800,000 over the last 20 years according to his office -- by amending <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/CPL/160.50" target="_blank" rel="noopener">existing record-sealing procedures</a>. By contrast, Democrats in the Legislature have in recent legislative sessions proposed clearing more records: all possession-related, and some sale-related, convictions.</p> <p>“We recognize and see where the governor was trying to go and we think it just needs to be much more expansive,” says Kassandra Frederique, New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “If we are going to end the criminalization of marijuana in this state, then we have to end the criminalization of marijuana in this state, wholesale.”</p> <p>"We have three goals,” Cuomo’s counsel Alphonso David told Gotham Gazette, defending Cuomo’s proposal. “The first goal is to make sure that we advance social justice. The second is to advance economic development, and the third is to protect public health and safety. Our proposal addresses all three goals."</p> <p>Currently there is no expungement procedure in New York, and the governor’s office has indicated he prefers sealing. But advocates say expungement would remove ambiguity. “You would be able to say, ‘I have no criminal record,’ and that would be the end of the conversation,” says Legal Aid Society attorney Emma Goodman, an expungement expert who helped draft relevant bill language shared with Krueger’s office in January.</p> <p>Advocates have proposed that court records, including criminal complaints and any written decisions, be marked as expunged, while ancillary records such as fingerprints and mugshots are physically destroyed. (Even expunged marijuana convictions can be grounds for deportation, notes Immigrant Defense Project Supervising Attorney Marie Mark, so the proposal includes additional protective measures for non-citizens.)</p> <p>“Expungement means completely erasing these convictions and criminal records to give New Yorkers of color a fresh start,” said Samaria Phillips, manager of the <a href="https://www.werisetolegalize.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">We Rise to Legalize</a> campaign, in a statement. Her group is attending the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators’ annual conference on Saturday in Albany to call for expungement.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio <a href="http://criminaljustice.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/A-Fair-Approach-to-Marijuana.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">also endorsed automatic expungement</a> in a December 2018 task force report from his administration, with the caveat that district attorneys should have the ability to challenge on a case-by-case basis. “Expungement should occur as an automatic process…to minimize procedural burdens on those with past convictions,” the report states.</p> <p>But in the interview, David emphasized the governor’s support for sealing. Because New York has strong sealing laws, he argued, the “impact of sealing is a functional equivalent of expungement, while immunizing the legislation from potential legal challenge.”</p> <p>Senator Krueger’s chief of staff, Brad Usher, also confirmed that her office does not have a preference so long as the process is automatic.</p> <p>“While sealing does essentially the same thing to the record, it does not bring the same level of clarity and peace of mind,” Goodman challenges. “Sealing is ambiguous and confusing for employers and people with convictions, whereas expungement is not.”</p> <p>

***
by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

</p>
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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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/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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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Instead of Taking Responsibility for Its Failures, The MTA is Targeting People of Color 2018-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8142-instead-of-taking-responsibility-for-its-failures-the-mta-is-targeting-people-of-color Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/44425389202_bd873a0b24_z.jpg" alt="MTA fare beating" width="600" height="428" /></p> <p>(photo: MTA)</p> <hr /> <p>The MTA seems determined to blame New Yorkers for the mess it’s in.</p> <p>The authority’s latest excuse is that poor people who jump turnstiles are responsible for the MTA’s financial woes. The MTA and the politicians and bureaucrats who control it should take responsibility for their own actions -- and inactions -- that have led to the city’s mass transit decline. Instead, the MTA seems to want to pit New Yorkers against each other.</p> <p>The MTA and NYPD pledged last week to crack down on fare evaders. The <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/12/03/mta-will-have-execs-cops-physically-block-fare-beaters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">MTA’s plan</a> is to send agency executives and NYPD officers to subway stations and bus stops across the city. The executives will stand at subway turnstiles and on busses to create body blockades to bar anyone trying to get in without a Metrocard. More armed police officers at subway stations make an already harrowing commute for New Yorkers even more intolerable, and for many, will serve to add unnecessary fear into the way they start or end their day.</p> <p>New York City Transit President Andy Byford also <a href="https://www.amny.com/transit/mta-fare-evasion-ticket-1.24190875" target="_blank" rel="noopener">criticized</a> Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2018/02/01/manhattan-da-will-no-longer-prosecute-turnstile-jumping-229568" target="_blank" rel="noopener">decision</a> earlier this year to stop prosecuting subway turnstile jumpers.</p> <p>The billions of dollars at the MTA’s and the city’s disposal must be spent on fixing the actual causes of the crisis -- aging infrastructure -- not tangential issues like fare evasion, a distraction in the pursuit of solutions.</p> <p>The MTA <a href="https://www.amny.com/transit/mta-fare-evasion-ticket-1.24190875" target="_blank" rel="noopener">claims</a> that fare evasion is robbing the agency of $215 million a year, though how it actually reached that number is lacking in clarity and validity. The transit authority appears determined to pin the blame for its <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/15/nyregion/mta-fare-hike-nyc.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">precarious financial position</a> on poor black and Latinx people who, history tells us, will suffer the most from any increase in fare evasion arrests.</p> <p>And another population that both our mayor and governor have spoken passionately about protecting would stand to suffer greatly as a result of a new enforcement policy: immigrants. Immigrants who have <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6774-broken-windows-policing-will-fuel-the-trump-deportation-machine" target="_blank" rel="noopener">even minor contact</a> with the criminal justice system face far more drastic consequences. Under the Trump administration, an arrest for jumping a turnstile or even a criminal summons could result in deportation, family separation, and destroyed lives.</p> <p>An <a href="https://www.themarshallproject.org/2018/09/12/subway-policing-in-new-york-city-still-has-a-race-problem" target="_blank" rel="noopener">analysis</a> of New York Division of Criminal Justice Services data from the last four years by the Marshall Project shows that nearly 90 percent of people arrested for turnstile jumping were black or Hispanic. Given the NYPD’s history of targeting people of color for arrests and summonses for low-level offenses, let’s call the new proposal to crack down on fare evasion what it is: a plan that would funnel thousands more black and brown New Yorkers into the criminal justice system, and to scapegoat people of color for the decades of underfunding and mismanagement that are responsible for the MTA’s current problems.</p> <p>Police resources must be spent on working with the community and identifying the types of behaviors that cause the most harm—not physically harmless fare evasion.</p> <p>Years of grappling with the ripple effects of Broken Windows policing have shown us that arrests are not the way to deal with minor offenses, like riding your bike on the sidewalk, having an open container of alcohol, smoking marijuana, or jumping a turnstile. An uptick in enforcement would reverse the recent positive trend of fewer fare evasion arrests. Through October, <a href="https://www.amny.com/transit/mta-fare-evasion-ticket-1.24190875" target="_blank" rel="noopener">police have made</a> 5,236 arrests for fare evasion. That is still 5,236 arrests too many, but it represents a 66 percent drop compared to the same period last year.</p> <p>DA Vance’s policy of not prosecuting turnstile jumpers represents real progress away from the dangerous and discredited Broken Windows theory of policing, which posits that if minor crimes are allowed to happen, then they will lead to more disorder and eventually to serious crime. In practice in New York, the theory is used as cover for discriminatory policing and harassment of communities of color, with <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160622/midtown/no-correlation-between-low-level-summonses-drops-major-crime-report/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">no measurable impact</a> on crime.</p> <p>Poor black and brown people should not take the fall for the sins of politicians who have allowed the MTA to become a laughing stock. Arrests won’t solve the MTA’s problems, but they could devastate New Yorkers.</p> <p>***<br /> Donna Lieberman is Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Marco Conner is Deputy Director of Transportation Alternatives. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JustAskDonna" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JustAskDonna</a>&nbsp;with&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/NYCLU" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NYCLU</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/marco_conner" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@marco_conner</a>&nbsp;with&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/TransAlt" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@TransAlt</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/44425389202_bd873a0b24_z.jpg" alt="MTA fare beating" width="600" height="428" /></p> <p>(photo: MTA)</p> <hr /> <p>The MTA seems determined to blame New Yorkers for the mess it’s in.</p> <p>The authority’s latest excuse is that poor people who jump turnstiles are responsible for the MTA’s financial woes. The MTA and the politicians and bureaucrats who control it should take responsibility for their own actions -- and inactions -- that have led to the city’s mass transit decline. Instead, the MTA seems to want to pit New Yorkers against each other.</p> <p>The MTA and NYPD pledged last week to crack down on fare evaders. The <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/12/03/mta-will-have-execs-cops-physically-block-fare-beaters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">MTA’s plan</a> is to send agency executives and NYPD officers to subway stations and bus stops across the city. The executives will stand at subway turnstiles and on busses to create body blockades to bar anyone trying to get in without a Metrocard. More armed police officers at subway stations make an already harrowing commute for New Yorkers even more intolerable, and for many, will serve to add unnecessary fear into the way they start or end their day.</p> <p>New York City Transit President Andy Byford also <a href="https://www.amny.com/transit/mta-fare-evasion-ticket-1.24190875" target="_blank" rel="noopener">criticized</a> Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2018/02/01/manhattan-da-will-no-longer-prosecute-turnstile-jumping-229568" target="_blank" rel="noopener">decision</a> earlier this year to stop prosecuting subway turnstile jumpers.</p> <p>The billions of dollars at the MTA’s and the city’s disposal must be spent on fixing the actual causes of the crisis -- aging infrastructure -- not tangential issues like fare evasion, a distraction in the pursuit of solutions.</p> <p>The MTA <a href="https://www.amny.com/transit/mta-fare-evasion-ticket-1.24190875" target="_blank" rel="noopener">claims</a> that fare evasion is robbing the agency of $215 million a year, though how it actually reached that number is lacking in clarity and validity. The transit authority appears determined to pin the blame for its <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/15/nyregion/mta-fare-hike-nyc.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">precarious financial position</a> on poor black and Latinx people who, history tells us, will suffer the most from any increase in fare evasion arrests.</p> <p>And another population that both our mayor and governor have spoken passionately about protecting would stand to suffer greatly as a result of a new enforcement policy: immigrants. Immigrants who have <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6774-broken-windows-policing-will-fuel-the-trump-deportation-machine" target="_blank" rel="noopener">even minor contact</a> with the criminal justice system face far more drastic consequences. Under the Trump administration, an arrest for jumping a turnstile or even a criminal summons could result in deportation, family separation, and destroyed lives.</p> <p>An <a href="https://www.themarshallproject.org/2018/09/12/subway-policing-in-new-york-city-still-has-a-race-problem" target="_blank" rel="noopener">analysis</a> of New York Division of Criminal Justice Services data from the last four years by the Marshall Project shows that nearly 90 percent of people arrested for turnstile jumping were black or Hispanic. Given the NYPD’s history of targeting people of color for arrests and summonses for low-level offenses, let’s call the new proposal to crack down on fare evasion what it is: a plan that would funnel thousands more black and brown New Yorkers into the criminal justice system, and to scapegoat people of color for the decades of underfunding and mismanagement that are responsible for the MTA’s current problems.</p> <p>Police resources must be spent on working with the community and identifying the types of behaviors that cause the most harm—not physically harmless fare evasion.</p> <p>Years of grappling with the ripple effects of Broken Windows policing have shown us that arrests are not the way to deal with minor offenses, like riding your bike on the sidewalk, having an open container of alcohol, smoking marijuana, or jumping a turnstile. An uptick in enforcement would reverse the recent positive trend of fewer fare evasion arrests. Through October, <a href="https://www.amny.com/transit/mta-fare-evasion-ticket-1.24190875" target="_blank" rel="noopener">police have made</a> 5,236 arrests for fare evasion. That is still 5,236 arrests too many, but it represents a 66 percent drop compared to the same period last year.</p> <p>DA Vance’s policy of not prosecuting turnstile jumpers represents real progress away from the dangerous and discredited Broken Windows theory of policing, which posits that if minor crimes are allowed to happen, then they will lead to more disorder and eventually to serious crime. In practice in New York, the theory is used as cover for discriminatory policing and harassment of communities of color, with <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160622/midtown/no-correlation-between-low-level-summonses-drops-major-crime-report/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">no measurable impact</a> on crime.</p> <p>Poor black and brown people should not take the fall for the sins of politicians who have allowed the MTA to become a laughing stock. Arrests won’t solve the MTA’s problems, but they could devastate New Yorkers.</p> <p>***<br /> Donna Lieberman is Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Marco Conner is Deputy Director of Transportation Alternatives. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JustAskDonna" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JustAskDonna</a>&nbsp;with&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/NYCLU" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NYCLU</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/marco_conner" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@marco_conner</a>&nbsp;with&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/TransAlt" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@TransAlt</a>.</p> <p>

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New Approach to Low-Level Offenses is Working 2018-09-04T04:00:00+00:00 2018-09-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7911-new-approach-to-low-level-offenses-is-working Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mayorsoffice-police.jpg" alt="mayorsoffice police" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>How should police respond when someone is drinking a beer in the street, dropping litter, or engaging in other minor offenses? Up until a year ago, a criminal summons was the only answer, and if the person didn’t show up in court, he or she could be arrested on a warrant.<br /> <br />As a result, New Yorkers had as much contact with the system for low-level offenses as for serious crimes.<br /> <br />Consider that in the first half of 2017, there were 112,000 criminal summonses compared to 98,000 misdemeanor arrests and 50,000 felony arrests. The summonses practice had a snowballing effect on the justice system: over its history of this practice, many people failed to take a day off of work or find the time to settle the criminal summons.<br /> <br />More than a million warrants accumulated.<br /> <br />Last year, that all changed.<br /> <br />In city legislation called the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA)—passed by the City Council under then-Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio—police now have the option to issue a civil summons instead of a criminal summons, which can be handled like a ticket in the city’s administrative law court, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, known as OATH.<br /> <br />Under the CJRA, if the summons is filed at OATH for the hearing, the punishment is a fine. If a court date is missed, it does not result in a warrant and arrest like it could in criminal court.<br /> <br />And if found in violation after a hearing, the option is available to pay the fine or do community service. Community service at OATH is instructive and aimed at preventing future offenses instead of solely requiring the performance of menial tasks. <br /> <br />The effect of the law has been dramatic.<br /> <br />Since June 2017, criminal summonses and warrants for CJRA-eligible offenses are down 89 and 94 percent, respectively. Over the same period, serious crime fell 13 percent.<br /> <br />Warrants issued for failure to appear in court for a small set of low-level offenses—for example, drinking in public, entering a park after dark, unreasonable noise, and public urination—could reach as high as 5,000 in a single month. Now they are around a few hundred.<br /> <br />During this time, the Mayor's Office and the City Council also worked with the NYPD, district attorneys, the courts and other partners to clear more than 644,000 warrants for minor, non-violent offenses that were 10 years old or older.<br /> <br />There are, of course, exceptions to the new enforcement option for low-level offenses. Someone may still be directed to criminal court if he or she has two or more felony arrests in the past two years, has three or more unanswered OATH summonses in the past eight years, is on probation or parole, or if there is another legitimate law enforcement reason.<br /> <br />The success of CJRA is not just that police now have more options. Nor is it just that there is more proportionality in how we enforce the laws, though that is important. It is also that more people are attending to their summonses.<br /> <br />In May of 2017 appearance rates on criminal summonses were at 64 percent. In April of 2018 that number had risen to 71 percent—which is also a credit to the multiple partners, courts, police, district attorneys, and others who helped develop a redesigned summons form, to make directions more clear, and sending text message reminders that alert people of their upcoming court dates.<br /> <br />Enhanced appearance rates are not happenstance. One thing we know well, both from research and from everyday experience, is that people are more likely to obey the law when they believe that they are treated fairly and that the system is responding appropriately. When the punishment for low-level offenses is out of step with the seriousness of the offense, New Yorkers lose confidence in the fairness of the system as a whole and are less likely to comply.<br /> <br />It is one reason why the NYPD had already been issuing fewer criminal summonses even before the CJRA, considering new approaches to low-level offenses, and has expanded neighborhood policing, which emphasizes building partnerships with the community.<br /> <br />We do not know for sure whether this is the dynamic that is changing behavior but we have asked the Misdemeanor Justice Project at John Jay College of Criminal Justice to do an evaluation of the effects of the CJRA and hope to learn more in the year ahead.<br /> <br />We know this will not fix everything. Racial disparity still persists and we have work to do. However, this dramatically lightens the volume and weight of the system’s touches on New Yorkers who commit low-level offenses.<br /> <br />We are hopeful that this approach that relies on residents to live cooperatively with their neighbors while ensuring compliance through proportionate measures will create a virtuous cycle in which rules are followed because they are fair and just.</p> <p>***<br />Elizabeth Glazer is the Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/crimjusticenyc" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@CrimJusticeNYC</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mayorsoffice-police.jpg" alt="mayorsoffice police" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>How should police respond when someone is drinking a beer in the street, dropping litter, or engaging in other minor offenses? Up until a year ago, a criminal summons was the only answer, and if the person didn’t show up in court, he or she could be arrested on a warrant.<br /> <br />As a result, New Yorkers had as much contact with the system for low-level offenses as for serious crimes.<br /> <br />Consider that in the first half of 2017, there were 112,000 criminal summonses compared to 98,000 misdemeanor arrests and 50,000 felony arrests. The summonses practice had a snowballing effect on the justice system: over its history of this practice, many people failed to take a day off of work or find the time to settle the criminal summons.<br /> <br />More than a million warrants accumulated.<br /> <br />Last year, that all changed.<br /> <br />In city legislation called the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA)—passed by the City Council under then-Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio—police now have the option to issue a civil summons instead of a criminal summons, which can be handled like a ticket in the city’s administrative law court, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, known as OATH.<br /> <br />Under the CJRA, if the summons is filed at OATH for the hearing, the punishment is a fine. If a court date is missed, it does not result in a warrant and arrest like it could in criminal court.<br /> <br />And if found in violation after a hearing, the option is available to pay the fine or do community service. Community service at OATH is instructive and aimed at preventing future offenses instead of solely requiring the performance of menial tasks. <br /> <br />The effect of the law has been dramatic.<br /> <br />Since June 2017, criminal summonses and warrants for CJRA-eligible offenses are down 89 and 94 percent, respectively. Over the same period, serious crime fell 13 percent.<br /> <br />Warrants issued for failure to appear in court for a small set of low-level offenses—for example, drinking in public, entering a park after dark, unreasonable noise, and public urination—could reach as high as 5,000 in a single month. Now they are around a few hundred.<br /> <br />During this time, the Mayor's Office and the City Council also worked with the NYPD, district attorneys, the courts and other partners to clear more than 644,000 warrants for minor, non-violent offenses that were 10 years old or older.<br /> <br />There are, of course, exceptions to the new enforcement option for low-level offenses. Someone may still be directed to criminal court if he or she has two or more felony arrests in the past two years, has three or more unanswered OATH summonses in the past eight years, is on probation or parole, or if there is another legitimate law enforcement reason.<br /> <br />The success of CJRA is not just that police now have more options. Nor is it just that there is more proportionality in how we enforce the laws, though that is important. It is also that more people are attending to their summonses.<br /> <br />In May of 2017 appearance rates on criminal summonses were at 64 percent. In April of 2018 that number had risen to 71 percent—which is also a credit to the multiple partners, courts, police, district attorneys, and others who helped develop a redesigned summons form, to make directions more clear, and sending text message reminders that alert people of their upcoming court dates.<br /> <br />Enhanced appearance rates are not happenstance. One thing we know well, both from research and from everyday experience, is that people are more likely to obey the law when they believe that they are treated fairly and that the system is responding appropriately. When the punishment for low-level offenses is out of step with the seriousness of the offense, New Yorkers lose confidence in the fairness of the system as a whole and are less likely to comply.<br /> <br />It is one reason why the NYPD had already been issuing fewer criminal summonses even before the CJRA, considering new approaches to low-level offenses, and has expanded neighborhood policing, which emphasizes building partnerships with the community.<br /> <br />We do not know for sure whether this is the dynamic that is changing behavior but we have asked the Misdemeanor Justice Project at John Jay College of Criminal Justice to do an evaluation of the effects of the CJRA and hope to learn more in the year ahead.<br /> <br />We know this will not fix everything. Racial disparity still persists and we have work to do. However, this dramatically lightens the volume and weight of the system’s touches on New Yorkers who commit low-level offenses.<br /> <br />We are hopeful that this approach that relies on residents to live cooperatively with their neighbors while ensuring compliance through proportionate measures will create a virtuous cycle in which rules are followed because they are fair and just.</p> <p>***<br />Elizabeth Glazer is the Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/crimjusticenyc" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@CrimJusticeNYC</a>.</p> <p>

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New York City Now Has Its Own Legal Parameters for ‘Disorderly Conduct’ 2017-12-04T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-04T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7350-new-york-city-now-has-its-own-legal-parameters-for-disorderly-conduct Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/vanessa_gibson_city_council_john_mccarten.jpg" alt="vanessa gibson city council john mccarten" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Vanessa Gibson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A City Council bill that creates an alternative to the state’s “disorderly conduct” statute, and mandates lower punishment for the infraction, became law on Friday along with numerous other bills relating to protecting undocumented immigrant New Yorkers. The bill, sponsored by City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, also adds another plank to the Council’s broad agendas of criminal justice reform and immigrant protections.</p> <p>The <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3028942&amp;GUID=1058179C-1264-44A8-A9D0-D3B4A3C66B59&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">new city law</a> prohibits “disorderly behavior” much in the same way the existing state law currently does -- for incidents involving public altercations, unreasonable noise, obscene gestures in public, obstruction of traffic and other similar offenses -- &nbsp;but it provides for a maximum sentence of five days in prison or a $200 fine, and also includes a civil (as opposed to criminal) penalty option in the form of a $75 fine.</p> <p>Under the state law, in which punishment can reach up to 15 days in prison or a $250 fine, there were roughly 54,000 convictions in 2016 in New York City criminal courts.</p> <p>The rationale behind the new city law is simple, but controversial: lowering punishment can prevent the involvement of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, which is often triggered when undocumented immigrants interact or are pulled into the criminal justice system. A punishment longer than five days can also make immigrants ineligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections.</p> <p>“It’s an option for district attorneys, for judges and for police to use in instances of disorderly conduct, and obviously for non-violent and low-level cases,” said Council Member Gibson, in a phone interview on Monday, during which she warned of dangers undocumented immigrants face from an openly hostile federal administration.</p> <p>Since before he took office, Donald Trump has been aggressively attacking undocumented immigrants with rhetoric, and, under his presidency federal immigration authorities have followed through with action, stepping up their enforcement efforts. They have taken particular aim at so-called “sanctuary cities” such as New York, which are home to massive populations of undocumented immigrants and relatively friendly local laws.</p> <p>The New York City Council has responded to the federal administration in kind, by passing a slew of measures aimed at limiting cooperation with ICE and protecting the city’s immigrant population. “We did it so it wouldn’t propel a negative consequence,” Gibson said of her bill. “We wanted to give DAs additional tools to employ. For us, while it applies to everyone, there’s obviously a very intentional focus on immigrants.”</p> <p>In April, then-Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez (who has since been elected to the position) <a href="http://www.brooklynda.org/2017/04/24/acting-brooklyn-district-attorney-eric-gonzalez-announces-new-policy-regarding-handling-of-cases-against-non-citizen-defendants/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announced</a> that his office would try to avoid prosecution strategies that could result in deportation proceedings for immigrants. “I am committed to equal and fair justice for all Brooklyn residents – citizens, lawful residents and undocumented immigrants alike,” he said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “Now more than ever, we must ensure that a conviction, especially for a minor offense, does not lead to unintended and severe consequences like deportation, which can be unfair, tear families apart and destabilize our communities and businesses.”</p> <p>As Gibson noted, the Council has moved to reduce penalties and create civil fines for numerous low-level offenses, most significantly through the Criminal Justice Reform Act passed last year. Those efforts have taken on increased importance under Trump. In the last few months, ICE agents have begun to stake out courthouses to nab immigrants showing up to court appearances, even in cases involving nonviolent crimes.</p> <p>Initial data has shown drastic reductions in criminal court summonses issued under the offenses that were included in the Criminal Justice Reform Act. Between when the act took effect on June 13 and October 1, 2017, there were 4,370 criminal summonses issued under those offenses, compared to 55,224 in the same period in 2016. The NYPD issued 26,154 civil summonses for the covered offenses.</p> <p>Gibson said her bill was just another part of that larger agenda to ensure “proportional penalties” that match the crimes committed. The efforts don’t necessarily mean an easing of enforcement or so-called broken windows policing of low-level crimes in an effort to prevent larger ones, but it relates to how violations like disorderly conduct are classified and punished. “It falls in line with work we’ve done on criminal justice reform,” she said. “It’s absolutely critical. In light of the current climate, it’s really important for the City Council to advance progressive legislation that protects all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status.”</p> <p>Murad Awawdeh, vice president of advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition, said the organization was glad to see the Council take proactive measures to protect immigrants from the “nexus of the criminal justice system and the immigration system,” which can often endanger their status in the country.</p> <p>“By lowering the maximum punishment for this offense, the city is ensuring that immigrants aren’t unnecessarily detained or possibly deported,” he said of the new disorderly conduct law. “I think it’s timely and also long overdue.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/vanessa_gibson_city_council_john_mccarten.jpg" alt="vanessa gibson city council john mccarten" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Vanessa Gibson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A City Council bill that creates an alternative to the state’s “disorderly conduct” statute, and mandates lower punishment for the infraction, became law on Friday along with numerous other bills relating to protecting undocumented immigrant New Yorkers. The bill, sponsored by City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, also adds another plank to the Council’s broad agendas of criminal justice reform and immigrant protections.</p> <p>The <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3028942&amp;GUID=1058179C-1264-44A8-A9D0-D3B4A3C66B59&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">new city law</a> prohibits “disorderly behavior” much in the same way the existing state law currently does -- for incidents involving public altercations, unreasonable noise, obscene gestures in public, obstruction of traffic and other similar offenses -- &nbsp;but it provides for a maximum sentence of five days in prison or a $200 fine, and also includes a civil (as opposed to criminal) penalty option in the form of a $75 fine.</p> <p>Under the state law, in which punishment can reach up to 15 days in prison or a $250 fine, there were roughly 54,000 convictions in 2016 in New York City criminal courts.</p> <p>The rationale behind the new city law is simple, but controversial: lowering punishment can prevent the involvement of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, which is often triggered when undocumented immigrants interact or are pulled into the criminal justice system. A punishment longer than five days can also make immigrants ineligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections.</p> <p>“It’s an option for district attorneys, for judges and for police to use in instances of disorderly conduct, and obviously for non-violent and low-level cases,” said Council Member Gibson, in a phone interview on Monday, during which she warned of dangers undocumented immigrants face from an openly hostile federal administration.</p> <p>Since before he took office, Donald Trump has been aggressively attacking undocumented immigrants with rhetoric, and, under his presidency federal immigration authorities have followed through with action, stepping up their enforcement efforts. They have taken particular aim at so-called “sanctuary cities” such as New York, which are home to massive populations of undocumented immigrants and relatively friendly local laws.</p> <p>The New York City Council has responded to the federal administration in kind, by passing a slew of measures aimed at limiting cooperation with ICE and protecting the city’s immigrant population. “We did it so it wouldn’t propel a negative consequence,” Gibson said of her bill. “We wanted to give DAs additional tools to employ. For us, while it applies to everyone, there’s obviously a very intentional focus on immigrants.”</p> <p>In April, then-Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez (who has since been elected to the position) <a href="http://www.brooklynda.org/2017/04/24/acting-brooklyn-district-attorney-eric-gonzalez-announces-new-policy-regarding-handling-of-cases-against-non-citizen-defendants/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announced</a> that his office would try to avoid prosecution strategies that could result in deportation proceedings for immigrants. “I am committed to equal and fair justice for all Brooklyn residents – citizens, lawful residents and undocumented immigrants alike,” he said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “Now more than ever, we must ensure that a conviction, especially for a minor offense, does not lead to unintended and severe consequences like deportation, which can be unfair, tear families apart and destabilize our communities and businesses.”</p> <p>As Gibson noted, the Council has moved to reduce penalties and create civil fines for numerous low-level offenses, most significantly through the Criminal Justice Reform Act passed last year. Those efforts have taken on increased importance under Trump. In the last few months, ICE agents have begun to stake out courthouses to nab immigrants showing up to court appearances, even in cases involving nonviolent crimes.</p> <p>Initial data has shown drastic reductions in criminal court summonses issued under the offenses that were included in the Criminal Justice Reform Act. Between when the act took effect on June 13 and October 1, 2017, there were 4,370 criminal summonses issued under those offenses, compared to 55,224 in the same period in 2016. The NYPD issued 26,154 civil summonses for the covered offenses.</p> <p>Gibson said her bill was just another part of that larger agenda to ensure “proportional penalties” that match the crimes committed. The efforts don’t necessarily mean an easing of enforcement or so-called broken windows policing of low-level crimes in an effort to prevent larger ones, but it relates to how violations like disorderly conduct are classified and punished. “It falls in line with work we’ve done on criminal justice reform,” she said. “It’s absolutely critical. In light of the current climate, it’s really important for the City Council to advance progressive legislation that protects all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status.”</p> <p>Murad Awawdeh, vice president of advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition, said the organization was glad to see the Council take proactive measures to protect immigrants from the “nexus of the criminal justice system and the immigration system,” which can often endanger their status in the country.</p> <p>“By lowering the maximum punishment for this offense, the city is ensuring that immigrants aren’t unnecessarily detained or possibly deported,” he said of the new disorderly conduct law. “I think it’s timely and also long overdue.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
New York’s Broken Approach to Drug Arrests and Prosecutions 2016-11-03T04:00:00+00:00 2016-11-03T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6609-new-york-s-broken-approach-to-drug-arrests-and-prosecutions Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/nypd_appreciation_night.jpg" alt="nypd appreciation night" width="600" height="356" /></p> <p dir="ltr">(photo via @NYPDnews)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Tyrone Tomlin was standing outside of a deli holding a soda and drinking straw when two police officers from Brooklyn North Narcotics <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/magazine/the-bail-trap.html" target="_blank">arrested him</a> for possession of drug paraphernalia. The officers asserted that, “based on their training and experience,” Tomlin possessed an item commonly used to package heroin -- the drinking straw. An Assistant District Attorney took the officers at their word and recommended bail, which Judge Laura Johnson set at $1,500 cash. Tomlin didn’t have the $1,500 and was sent to Rikers Island.</p> <p dir="ltr">Junior Weems was arrested by two undercover officers who asserted that, “based on their training and experience,” Weems had possessed cocaine and intended to sell it. A prosecutor requested bail, which Judge Jane Tully set at $2,000 insurance company bond or $1,000 cash; like Tomlin, Weems told the judge he didn’t have funds to make bail and he too was sent to Rikers Island.</p> <p dir="ltr">But neither Tomlin nor Weems (whose name has been changed) actually possessed any drugs, a fact that was only verified by the New York Police Department (NYPD) laboratory after each had spent days incarcerated at Rikers Island. Both cases were eventually dismissed, but considerable harm had already been done. Just one day in jail can mean the loss of job, housing, or even parental custody; plus exposure to the horrors and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/24/opinion/ending-the-rikers-nightmare.html" target="_blank">dangers</a> of NYC jails, which have been <a href="https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/06/28/this-is-rikers#.rDuDbM0Yd" target="_blank">well documented</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">These stories are not unique, unfortunately. More than 20,000 people were arrested for misdemeanor drug possession (excluding marijuana, which is a separate offense) in New York City in 2015, making it the fourth most common arraignment charge <a href="https://www.nycourts.gov/COURTS/nyc/criminal/2015_crim_crt_ann_rpt_%20062316_fnl2.pdf" target="_blank">citywide</a>. In 2015 alone, Brooklyn Defender Services represented more than 2,000 people – three quarters of whom were black or Latino – whose most serious charge was possessing trace amounts of a drug other than marijuana. The difference between felony and misdemeanor drug possession is weight.</p> <p dir="ltr">A deeper look into the data shows how fraught many of these low-level cases are, in part because they deal with amounts of substances, either illegal or not, that are so tiny that they are often difficult to identify. Meanwhile, although corroborating lab results are required shortly after arraignment for prosecutors to secure an indictment for a felony, similar due process protections for misdemeanors do not exist. The operating notion is that police officers’ “training and experience” is good enough -- despite evidence that they get it wrong frequently -- and many cases resolve through plea deals before the evidence is even accurately tested.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of the 2,091 Brooklyn Defender Services cases we reviewed, a full 25 percent -- 534 cases -- were eventually dismissed because the drug lab returned a result contradicting the officers’ “training and experience;” or because they involved an illegal search; or due to other reasons.</p> <p dir="ltr">Nearly 300 Brooklyn Defender Services clients accused of misdemeanor drug possession (non-marijuana) had bail set, nearly all of whom spent at least some time at Rikers Island. Another 741 defendants pled guilty at arraignments, sometimes to a lower charge. While we cannot say for certain how many people did so under coercion from the prospect of bail and jail, we know anecdotally that many people in cases like this plead guilty -- regardless of guilt or innocence -- simply to avoid more jail time. Everyone arrested and booked in New York City spends around 24 hours locked up in NYPD custody, before even seeing a judge.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a time when public opinion nationwide favors treating drug use as a public health issue, we must stop and ask why these problematic arrests and incarcerations, which do not improve public safety, are happening in the first place. In some of these cases, people are arrested and incarcerated even when they do not actually possess illegal drugs. In cases when a person possesses drugs in an amount so small that it can’t be identified properly, should we really be sending them to Rikers Island -- interrupting their life and introducing collateral consequences that can haunt them for years after?&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Ultimately, the simple possession of all drugs, especially in amounts so small they are routinely misidentified, should be fully decriminalized in New York State, as Human Rights Watch eloquently argues in its recent report “<a href="https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/10/12/every-25-seconds/human-toll-criminalizing-drug-use-united-states" target="_blank">Every 25 Seconds</a>.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As an interim measure, the State Legislature should immediately take action to amend court procedural rules to include due process protections for people accused of possessing small amounts of drugs -- for example by requiring a lab report to hold anyone in custody longer than 24 hours and prohibiting District Attorneys from making recommendations about bail other than release when a lab report is absent. District Attorneys, with an ever-growing mandate to do justice, could resolve the issue immediately by declining to prosecute these cases.</p> <p>The Mayor of New York City should require the police department to end its prioritization of these arrests, and to limit enforcement only to cases with a clear public safety justification. This aligns with the New York City Council’s work under the 2015 Criminal Justice Reform Act.</p> <p dir="ltr">The City Council should adopt legislation that would require District Attorneys and the NYPD to report on drug possession cases where an officer’s “training and experience” was contradicted by lab results. These officers should, at minimum, be required to undergo retraining, and repeat offenders should be disqualified from making street-level arrests.</p> <p dir="ltr">In this time of national reckoning over mass incarceration and the drug war, New York -- both City and State -- have an opportunity for leadership. It’s time for a change.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />Melissa Moore is the deputy state director of the <a href="http://www.drugpolicy.org/new-york" target="_blank">New York policy office of the Drug Policy Alliance</a>. Nick Malinowski is the Community Advocacy Coordinator at <a href="http://www.bds.org" target="_blank">Brooklyn Defender Services</a>. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/mooremeliss" target="_blank">@mooremeliss</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/nwmalinowski" target="_blank">@nwmalinowski</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/2016/nypd_appreciation_night.jpg" alt="nypd appreciation night" width="600" height="356" /></p> <p dir="ltr">(photo via @NYPDnews)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Tyrone Tomlin was standing outside of a deli holding a soda and drinking straw when two police officers from Brooklyn North Narcotics <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/magazine/the-bail-trap.html" target="_blank">arrested him</a> for possession of drug paraphernalia. The officers asserted that, “based on their training and experience,” Tomlin possessed an item commonly used to package heroin -- the drinking straw. An Assistant District Attorney took the officers at their word and recommended bail, which Judge Laura Johnson set at $1,500 cash. Tomlin didn’t have the $1,500 and was sent to Rikers Island.</p> <p dir="ltr">Junior Weems was arrested by two undercover officers who asserted that, “based on their training and experience,” Weems had possessed cocaine and intended to sell it. A prosecutor requested bail, which Judge Jane Tully set at $2,000 insurance company bond or $1,000 cash; like Tomlin, Weems told the judge he didn’t have funds to make bail and he too was sent to Rikers Island.</p> <p dir="ltr">But neither Tomlin nor Weems (whose name has been changed) actually possessed any drugs, a fact that was only verified by the New York Police Department (NYPD) laboratory after each had spent days incarcerated at Rikers Island. Both cases were eventually dismissed, but considerable harm had already been done. Just one day in jail can mean the loss of job, housing, or even parental custody; plus exposure to the horrors and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/24/opinion/ending-the-rikers-nightmare.html" target="_blank">dangers</a> of NYC jails, which have been <a href="https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/06/28/this-is-rikers#.rDuDbM0Yd" target="_blank">well documented</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">These stories are not unique, unfortunately. More than 20,000 people were arrested for misdemeanor drug possession (excluding marijuana, which is a separate offense) in New York City in 2015, making it the fourth most common arraignment charge <a href="https://www.nycourts.gov/COURTS/nyc/criminal/2015_crim_crt_ann_rpt_%20062316_fnl2.pdf" target="_blank">citywide</a>. In 2015 alone, Brooklyn Defender Services represented more than 2,000 people – three quarters of whom were black or Latino – whose most serious charge was possessing trace amounts of a drug other than marijuana. The difference between felony and misdemeanor drug possession is weight.</p> <p dir="ltr">A deeper look into the data shows how fraught many of these low-level cases are, in part because they deal with amounts of substances, either illegal or not, that are so tiny that they are often difficult to identify. Meanwhile, although corroborating lab results are required shortly after arraignment for prosecutors to secure an indictment for a felony, similar due process protections for misdemeanors do not exist. The operating notion is that police officers’ “training and experience” is good enough -- despite evidence that they get it wrong frequently -- and many cases resolve through plea deals before the evidence is even accurately tested.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of the 2,091 Brooklyn Defender Services cases we reviewed, a full 25 percent -- 534 cases -- were eventually dismissed because the drug lab returned a result contradicting the officers’ “training and experience;” or because they involved an illegal search; or due to other reasons.</p> <p dir="ltr">Nearly 300 Brooklyn Defender Services clients accused of misdemeanor drug possession (non-marijuana) had bail set, nearly all of whom spent at least some time at Rikers Island. Another 741 defendants pled guilty at arraignments, sometimes to a lower charge. While we cannot say for certain how many people did so under coercion from the prospect of bail and jail, we know anecdotally that many people in cases like this plead guilty -- regardless of guilt or innocence -- simply to avoid more jail time. Everyone arrested and booked in New York City spends around 24 hours locked up in NYPD custody, before even seeing a judge.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">At a time when public opinion nationwide favors treating drug use as a public health issue, we must stop and ask why these problematic arrests and incarcerations, which do not improve public safety, are happening in the first place. In some of these cases, people are arrested and incarcerated even when they do not actually possess illegal drugs. In cases when a person possesses drugs in an amount so small that it can’t be identified properly, should we really be sending them to Rikers Island -- interrupting their life and introducing collateral consequences that can haunt them for years after?&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Ultimately, the simple possession of all drugs, especially in amounts so small they are routinely misidentified, should be fully decriminalized in New York State, as Human Rights Watch eloquently argues in its recent report “<a href="https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/10/12/every-25-seconds/human-toll-criminalizing-drug-use-united-states" target="_blank">Every 25 Seconds</a>.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As an interim measure, the State Legislature should immediately take action to amend court procedural rules to include due process protections for people accused of possessing small amounts of drugs -- for example by requiring a lab report to hold anyone in custody longer than 24 hours and prohibiting District Attorneys from making recommendations about bail other than release when a lab report is absent. District Attorneys, with an ever-growing mandate to do justice, could resolve the issue immediately by declining to prosecute these cases.</p> <p>The Mayor of New York City should require the police department to end its prioritization of these arrests, and to limit enforcement only to cases with a clear public safety justification. This aligns with the New York City Council’s work under the 2015 Criminal Justice Reform Act.</p> <p dir="ltr">The City Council should adopt legislation that would require District Attorneys and the NYPD to report on drug possession cases where an officer’s “training and experience” was contradicted by lab results. These officers should, at minimum, be required to undergo retraining, and repeat offenders should be disqualified from making street-level arrests.</p> <p dir="ltr">In this time of national reckoning over mass incarceration and the drug war, New York -- both City and State -- have an opportunity for leadership. It’s time for a change.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />Melissa Moore is the deputy state director of the <a href="http://www.drugpolicy.org/new-york" target="_blank">New York policy office of the Drug Policy Alliance</a>. Nick Malinowski is the Community Advocacy Coordinator at <a href="http://www.bds.org" target="_blank">Brooklyn Defender Services</a>. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/mooremeliss" target="_blank">@mooremeliss</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/nwmalinowski" target="_blank">@nwmalinowski</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
New York City Needs Supervised Injection Facilities 2015-12-23T16:01:24+00:00 2015-12-23T16:01:24+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6053-new-york-city-needs-supervised-injection-facilities Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/23261677995_f9d85691e3_z.jpg" alt="mccray bassett thrivenyc" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">First Lady McCray &amp; Health Comm. Bassett (photo:&nbsp;Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</span></p> <hr /> <p>There is a hot topic trending in the debate over the war on drugs: should there be safe places for intravenous drug users to inject? A panel of experts from around the world convened a symposium in New York City to share their experiences and the panelists and their sponsor, VOCAL NY, called for such a facility in the city. They are completely correct.</p> <p>There are an estimated 100 supervised injection facilities worldwide and advocates credit them with reducing both overdose deaths and the spread of infectious diseases (HIV and hepatitis C). These facilities offer clean needles, a sterile environment, and emergency services in the case of an overdose. They also provide education, counseling, access to treatment, and other services that might save users' lives.</p> <p>Without such refuge, addicts resort to "whatever it takes" to get high and the resulting health problems resonate throughout society by way of the spread of infectious disease and the death of loved ones.</p> <p>The rise in heroin, the primary drug used via injection, is well-documented and New York is no exception. Staten Island is the borough hardest hit by the heroin epidemic; 74 people there died of overdose in 2014. Many heroin users began by taking prescription painkillers that are chemically similar and after becoming addicted find that heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio traveled to Staten Island in early December to announce measures addressing the heroin crisis there. He has made naloxone, an overdose antidote, available in pharmacies without a prescription and promised to increase the availability of substance abuse treatment by licensing more physicians to prescribe maintenance drugs that dull the cravings for heroin.</p> <p>These are good steps. We still need supervised injection facilities.</p> <p>Naloxone does not prevent overdoses which can occur from the improvised situations that users often find themselves in. Supervised facilities prevent overdoses by providing an environment that is cleaner and less chaotic than, say, a gas station restroom.</p> <p>The spread of infectious disease through unsanitary conditions and instruments represents an even deadlier and widespread threat than overdose - infected users spread disease to unsuspecting loved ones, often through sexual intercourse.</p> <p>One of the thorniest problems in combating illegal drugs is the fact that they are illegal and addicts, because they are punished, deplored, and shamed for their disease, live in the shadows, apart from mainstream society. Supervised facilities provide a place where they are not judged. Staff, often recovered addicts who understand their dire situation, can offer users a path out of their misery and provide education on infectious diseases and methods of prevention.</p> <p>Supervised injection facilities are one example of the "harm reduction strategy" towards substance abuse. Needle exchanges are another example; they accept the fact that users will utilize infected needles if that is their only choice, but respect that users are intelligent and prefer clean needles if they are available. The immediate result of needle exchanges is fewer persons infected with HIV and Hepatitis C, thus the harm of addiction is reduced. New York City has 15 needle exchanges, but only one on Staten Island and, sad to say, no one is asking for more.</p> <p>The harm reduction strategy is the polar opposite of the 50-year-long "war on drugs" which was lost long ago, though few will admit it. Throughout the world opinion is shifting towards decriminalizing all drugs. A recent draft United Nations report recommended decriminalizing drugs and Portugal did so about ten years ago with no discernible detriment to civil society.</p> <p>A <a href="http://www.silive.com/opinion/columns/index.ssf/2015/12/safe_spaces_for_heroin_injecti.html" target="_blank">recent editorial</a> in the Staten Island Advance excoriated the idea of safe places like supervised injection facilities, saying that they encourage more drug use - but they do not; they encourage safe drug use.</p> <p>It is the plain fact that many thousands of people, without any encouragement, are seeking out heroin for any number of reasons. On Staten Island, and throughout New York City, it is time to tear down the walls that separate us, bring users in from the cold, and offer them whatever help we can.</p> <p>***<br />Christopher Beall works at a criminal justice nonprofit in the Bronx and is on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JailedintheUSA" target="_blank">@JailedintheUSA</a>.</p> <p>***<br />Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/23261677995_f9d85691e3_z.jpg" alt="mccray bassett thrivenyc" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">First Lady McCray &amp; Health Comm. Bassett (photo:&nbsp;Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</span></p> <hr /> <p>There is a hot topic trending in the debate over the war on drugs: should there be safe places for intravenous drug users to inject? A panel of experts from around the world convened a symposium in New York City to share their experiences and the panelists and their sponsor, VOCAL NY, called for such a facility in the city. They are completely correct.</p> <p>There are an estimated 100 supervised injection facilities worldwide and advocates credit them with reducing both overdose deaths and the spread of infectious diseases (HIV and hepatitis C). These facilities offer clean needles, a sterile environment, and emergency services in the case of an overdose. They also provide education, counseling, access to treatment, and other services that might save users' lives.</p> <p>Without such refuge, addicts resort to "whatever it takes" to get high and the resulting health problems resonate throughout society by way of the spread of infectious disease and the death of loved ones.</p> <p>The rise in heroin, the primary drug used via injection, is well-documented and New York is no exception. Staten Island is the borough hardest hit by the heroin epidemic; 74 people there died of overdose in 2014. Many heroin users began by taking prescription painkillers that are chemically similar and after becoming addicted find that heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio traveled to Staten Island in early December to announce measures addressing the heroin crisis there. He has made naloxone, an overdose antidote, available in pharmacies without a prescription and promised to increase the availability of substance abuse treatment by licensing more physicians to prescribe maintenance drugs that dull the cravings for heroin.</p> <p>These are good steps. We still need supervised injection facilities.</p> <p>Naloxone does not prevent overdoses which can occur from the improvised situations that users often find themselves in. Supervised facilities prevent overdoses by providing an environment that is cleaner and less chaotic than, say, a gas station restroom.</p> <p>The spread of infectious disease through unsanitary conditions and instruments represents an even deadlier and widespread threat than overdose - infected users spread disease to unsuspecting loved ones, often through sexual intercourse.</p> <p>One of the thorniest problems in combating illegal drugs is the fact that they are illegal and addicts, because they are punished, deplored, and shamed for their disease, live in the shadows, apart from mainstream society. Supervised facilities provide a place where they are not judged. Staff, often recovered addicts who understand their dire situation, can offer users a path out of their misery and provide education on infectious diseases and methods of prevention.</p> <p>Supervised injection facilities are one example of the "harm reduction strategy" towards substance abuse. Needle exchanges are another example; they accept the fact that users will utilize infected needles if that is their only choice, but respect that users are intelligent and prefer clean needles if they are available. The immediate result of needle exchanges is fewer persons infected with HIV and Hepatitis C, thus the harm of addiction is reduced. New York City has 15 needle exchanges, but only one on Staten Island and, sad to say, no one is asking for more.</p> <p>The harm reduction strategy is the polar opposite of the 50-year-long "war on drugs" which was lost long ago, though few will admit it. Throughout the world opinion is shifting towards decriminalizing all drugs. A recent draft United Nations report recommended decriminalizing drugs and Portugal did so about ten years ago with no discernible detriment to civil society.</p> <p>A <a href="http://www.silive.com/opinion/columns/index.ssf/2015/12/safe_spaces_for_heroin_injecti.html" target="_blank">recent editorial</a> in the Staten Island Advance excoriated the idea of safe places like supervised injection facilities, saying that they encourage more drug use - but they do not; they encourage safe drug use.</p> <p>It is the plain fact that many thousands of people, without any encouragement, are seeking out heroin for any number of reasons. On Staten Island, and throughout New York City, it is time to tear down the walls that separate us, bring users in from the cold, and offer them whatever help we can.</p> <p>***<br />Christopher Beall works at a criminal justice nonprofit in the Bronx and is on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JailedintheUSA" target="_blank">@JailedintheUSA</a>.</p> <p>***<br />Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com</p>