Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/471 Wed, 18 Oct 2017 08:59:30 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) State Electeds Insult City Criminal Justice While Reform in Albany is Minimal at Best http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6837:state-electeds-insult-city-criminal-justice-while-reform-in-albany-is-minimal-at-best http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6837:state-electeds-insult-city-criminal-justice-while-reform-in-albany-is-minimal-at-best Cuomo prison break

Gov. Cuomo at Dannemora correctional facility (photo: Governor's Office)


Last week, State Senator Jesse Hamilton mailed a flier to his constituents strongly denouncing broken windows policing. The senator, who represents Crown Heights and surrounding neighborhoods in Brooklyn, called on the city to end arrests for minor quality-of-life offenses that “are often used to police black and brown bodies.”

The week before, during a speech in Manhattan, Governor Cuomo disparaged Mayor de Blasio for failing to close the notorious Rikers Island jail, accusing the mayor of “impotence.”

These criticisms of the city come as the state government, led by Cuomo, struggles to make its own reforms to New York’s criminal justice system. Current state budget negotiations include a push to “raise the age” of criminal responsibility so that 16- and 17-year-olds are largely prosecuted as juveniles, not adults. But the measure, which is seeing new daylight this year, has faced strong opposition from Senate Republicans for years, despite the fact that New York is now one of just two states that tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

Senate Republicans want teenagers charged with violent crimes to be tried as adults and they want all 16- and 17-year-olds tried in criminal, not family, court.  

The Republican Conference holds a plurality in the Senate—and the power that comes with it—in part because Senator Hamilton and the seven other members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) do not caucus with the Democrats. Nominal “Democrat” Senator Simcha Felder caucuses with Republicans, giving the GOP a 32-seat bare majority in the 63-seat chamber.

But Senator Hamilton says that far from diluting the “raise the age” effort, his position in the IDC empowers progressive reform like it. “I, along with my colleagues in the IDC, have pushed Raise the Age further than ever before in the New York State Senate,” he said. “My advocacy around broken windows policing is motivated by my support for Raise the Age.”

For their part, city officials are defending their approach and pointing the finger back at the state. At a recent press conference, Mayor de Blasio was asked about Cuomo’s Rikers comments, and said, “Our job is to address this crisis [on Rikers Island]. We’ve been doing it for three straight years…The state’s job is to take care of the state prison system."

City Council Member Carlos Menchaca exchanged sharp words with Senator Hamilton on Twitter, asking him, “What law are you advancing at the state level to curb the impact of Broken Windows policing?”

Since that exchange, Senator Hamilton has introduced a bill to make turnstile jumping -- perhaps the prototypical broken windows offense -- a violation instead of a misdemeanor. Evading the subway fare is a charge the NYPD disproportionately brings against young black and Latino New Yorkers. Since city police enforce state laws, that is one avenue state legislators could use to influence city criminal justice.

Senator Hamilton, who is black, spoke of his son as a motivation for opposing broken windows policing and for supporting raising the age. “He’s at an age where ‘the talk’—about young black men, safety, and interactions with police—is not an abstraction.”

If the state raises the age of criminal responsibility, it will be the first major criminal justice reform legislation since the law ending the shackling of pregnant inmates in 2015. Executive action on prison reform has also slowed recently. After closing 13 prisons in his first term, Governor Cuomo has not closed any since 2013, even while the state prison population has continued to decline.

Last year, the governor also vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have increased funding to public defenders in the state. Cuomo insists he’s open to similar legislation but that it must be done through the budget.

And a New York Times report about rampant racial bias in New York State’s parole system led Cuomo to launch an investigation, but no findings have been made public and the parole system is unchanged.

Parole reform is on the list of criminal justice changes that advocates have long hoped New York State would take up. The list also includes reform to the bail system, ending the use of solitary confinement, and a bill to accelerate trials. Republican control of the Senate, aided by the IDC, makes further reforms less likely.

“The speedy trial bill, Kalief’s Law, should be a no-brainer,” said gabriel sayegh*, the Co-Executive Director of Katal, an organization fighting mass incarceration. “It would reduce pre-trial detention in jails.” The bill passed the Assembly unanimously, but has stalled in the Senate. “Even common sense bills that have bi-partisan support don’t get done,” sayegh said.

“I don’t think it’s a problem when state folks speak out on city issues, or vice versa,” continued sayegh. “We are eager to have the governor support the speedy trial bill, which would help us close Rikers. We want to see Senator Hamilton follow through by advancing legislation at the state level that addresses disparities in policing practices and arrests. They should connect their comments to action.”

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Brenden Beck is a PhD candidate in sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center researching police, suburbs, inequality, and housing. On Twitter @BrendenBeck.

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

*sayegh spells his name with all lowercase letters

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State Electeds Insult City Criminal Justice While Reform in Albany is Minimal at Best Tue, 28 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Jail Abuse, Lawsuit Show Need to ‘Raise the Age’ http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6549:jail-abuse-lawsuit-show-need-to-raise-the-age http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6549:jail-abuse-lawsuit-show-need-to-raise-the-age raise the age five protesters

"Raise the Age" advocates (photo: Correctional Association)


Last week, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York filed suit against the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office in Syracuse for placing juveniles in solitary confinement. According to the suit, children aged 16 and 17 have been subjected to extended and arbitrary solitary confinement for up to months at a time despite mental health and personal safety concerns. These practices continue in Onondaga County despite the fact the both New York State prisons and New York City jails have banned it. And just this summer the Obama administration also banned the solitary confinement of juveniles in the federal prison system.

In December 2014 the New York State Advisory Committee of the US Commission on Civil Rights, on which I sit, released a report calling for the elimination of solitary confinement for everyone under the age of 25 in New York City and across New York State. We interviewed young people who had been in solitary, toured facilities, heard from experts in the field, and reviewed the existing academic literature and found that these practices are extremely detrimental to the health of young people and do little if anything to make either jails or communities any safer. In fact, spending time in solitary confinement is correlated with higher recidivism rates upon release. There is no evidence that the use of solitary reduces violence in prisons or jails.

We also found that while solitary is an extreme and damaging punishment for adults, it is especially harmful to juveniles given that their brains are still developing and they may not have the same coping skills of a more mature adult. We need only look at the case of Kalief Browder, who killed himself after spending almost two years in solitary at Rikers Island as a juvenile.

Throughout the country juvenile facilities have banned the use of solitary confinement. It continues to be practiced only in a handful of places that place juveniles in adult facilities -- something New York is phasing out even though it remains just one of two states in the country to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Alleged abuses in Syracuse are even more reason for New York to “raise the age” of adult criminal responsibility, a push that has languished in the state Legislature, largely due to State Senate Republicans.

The NYCLU lawsuit is on behalf of six black and Latino young people who have been subjected to assaults, sexual harassment, threats, and denial of educational access over the most minor infractions or at the whim of guards. Here are some of the details of the individual plaintiffs who are identified by an initial because they are juveniles:

--R is currently in solitary, in part for singing a Whitney Houston song in his cell. In solitary, guards heard the adult above him shout “I’m gonna stab you in the showers” and threatening sexual abuse at all hours of the night, and they responded by moving the adult directly next to him. Yesterday that same adult used a cup to throw his urine in R’s face during recreation.

--V is currently in solitary, and has not been able to change his clothes since September 8. A pre-trial detainee who has never been convicted of a crime, he nonetheless has spent over 115 days in solitary.

--C, currently at the Justice Center, once tried to file a grievance in solitary, and a guard drew a penis on his form before throwing it away. “Being in the box changes you. It makes you do things like think about jumping off your table into the ground,” C said.

--M, currently at the jail, has been sent to solitary for reasons including wearing his shower shoes at the wrong time. A deputy once responded to his complaints by threatening to “bash [his] skull in.” After being in solitary, M now finds it hard to even be in a regular cell for any period of time.

While Onondaga County needs to ban the practice of putting juveniles in solitary confinement, this problem could also be eliminated if the state Legislature would pass the “raise the age” bill. Treating 16- and 17-year olds as adults in the criminal justice system is an inexcusable policy based on the politics of retribution and the hysteria over youthful predators that surfaced in the 1990s, just as juvenile violent crime rates plummeted.

According to Raise the Age NY, the campaign to raise the age that has helped bring the issue to a boiling point, including support from Governor Andrew Cuomo:

--Studies have found that young people transferred to the adult criminal justice system have approximately 34% more re-arrests for felony crimes than youth retained in the youth justice system.  Around 80% of youth released from adult prisons reoffend often going on to commit more serious crimes

--Studies show that youth in adult prisons are twice as likely to report being beaten by staff, and nearly 50% more likely to be attacked with a weapon than children placed in youth facilities.

--Youth in adult prisons face the highest risk of sexual assault.

--Youth in adult prisons are often placed in solitary confinement. The isolation young people face in adult facilities is destructive to their mental health and can cause irreparable harm.

--Youth are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult facility than in a juvenile facility.

Last year the State Assembly passed a raise the age bill, only to see it blocked by the Senate. It’s time for the Legislature and the governor to act on this issue as well as put pressure on Onondaga County to join the rest of the state in banning this cruel and counterproductive practice.

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Alex S. Vitale is associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics. He is senior policy adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project and serves on the New York State Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. You can follow him on Twitter @avitale.

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

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Jail Abuse, Lawsuit Show Need to ‘Raise the Age’ Mon, 26 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Major City Issues at Play in Politically Charged, Post-Budget Legislative Session http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6267:major-city-issues-at-play-in-politically-charged-post-budget-legislative-session http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6267:major-city-issues-at-play-in-politically-charged-post-budget-legislative-session cuomo budget paid leave pic

Gov. Cuomo announces the budget deal (photo via The Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo dismissed the idea of extending state government's legislative session this year to tackle ethics reform during an appearance in Binghamton on Wednesday. "We have a relatively light agenda because we did so much work in the budget," the governor said. "We passed the minimum wage increase, we passed paid family leave, we passed a great package for the middle class, we passed a great package for upstate New York, more education funding than ever before."

It's a concerning statement for some advocates and elected officials who see the session full of unresolved issues - including, but beyond ethics - especially ones that impact New York City, issues that the governor himself tackled during his January State of the State speech or has since brought to the table. Some advocates take the governor's statement as an acknowledgement that he traded away issues Senate Republicans oppose to get a minimum wage increase, and not only in the budget, but for the rest of the legislative session that has just begun and is scheduled to end in June.

All-important control of the State Senate will be up for grabs again in November, but a key battle in the overall war will be decided on April 19 in the contest to fill the seat vacated by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, recently convicted on federal corruption charges. The April special and impending November elections mean legislators are anxious to get back to their districts while avoiding political landmines.

Ethics reforms are one of the many issues jettisoned from budget talks that lawmakers say were dominated by minimum wage negotiations. Major issues of particular importance to New York City yet to be addressed this year include mayoral control of schools; a multitude of criminal justice reforms, some of which were introduced by Cuomo; housing programs, including a replacement for the 421-a property tax credit aimed at spurring affordable housing development; and two education matters that have been linked in the past: The DREAM Act and the education investment tax credit.

Mayoral Control
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and his conference have used Mayor Bill de Blasio as a progressive boogieman since the mayor tried to help Democrats win control of the chamber in 2014. Last year Flanagan successfully beat back the mayor's push for a seven-year extension of mayoral control, getting his negotiating partners to settle on one year. He again maneuvered discussion of renewal out of this year's budget discussions and before a spending deal was even announced, he scheduled hearings on mayoral control for May 4 in Albany and May 19 in New York City. Mayoral control is due to sunset on June 30.

Many Democrats expect Senate Republicans to delay actually acting on mayoral control until as late as possible in order to keep de Blasio "in check." With no other sensible alternative, de Blasio has been gracious about the situation so far, saying he plans to attend the hearings "personally" and welcomes the chance for "dialogue" on the issue.

Criminal Justice Reforms
Gov. Cuomo has supported three major criminal justice reforms over the last two years: Raise the Age, an effort to end New York's practice of treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system; an effort to create independent review of police killings of civilians; and a program to increase data reporting of the race and ethnicity of individuals involved in police interactions. Unable to deliver on the first two last year, Cuomo took executive action. He moved 16- and 17-year-olds out of adult prisons and gave Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office the discretion to look into police killings of civilians. Advocates were pleased, but acknowledged both issues still needed to be addressed in law.

This year Cuomo has proposed a bill that would give his office the ability to convene an investigation into police killings of civilians but only if certain criteria is met. He has continued to push for Raise the Age but not with the urgency supporters would like. They point out that even being held in separate facilities from older inmates, 16- and 17-year-olds are still treated as adults when arrested and tried, which make negative outcomes and criminal records more likely.

On Tuesday, supporters of a bill that would mandate the state collect data on police interactions with the public gathered in Albany to push Senate Republicans and Cuomo to act on an issue they call "common sense."

The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Joseph Lentol and state Senator Daniel Squadron, both Brooklyn Democrats, would require the state to collect and report data on the number of tickets and misdemeanor arrests across the state; the number of civilian deaths in police custody or during an arrest; the race, ethnicity, and sex of those charged with misdemeanors and violations; and the geographic location of enforcement-related activity and arrest-related deaths. Lentol said the bill is not "anti-police" but a "transparency" and "open government" tool to improve relations between police and communities across the state. Lentol prodded Gov. Cuomo to act, noting that Cuomo has a similar bill that has failed to garner support.

"Yet again, communities of color were left behind in New York State budget negotiations, with no meaningful advancement of any criminal justice reforms," said Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY. "Passing the STAT Act this legislative session provides an opportunity for Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to show they value the safety and dignity of all New Yorkers."

Squadron told Gotham Gazette that the bill is one that Senate Republicans "put in a black box, a dark room," never to be seen again. "This isn't something we have debated. We haven't heard their argument against it, it just disappears." Lentol, however, said that he believes police unions are using their influence to block the bill.

Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry, Democrat of Queens, supports Lentol's bill and said that he feels his constituents and advocates are growing frustrated that the Senate fails to vote on criminal justice reforms year after year. "I think the governor is really going to have to move on some of these bills and not just wave his hands in the air and say 'It's the Republicans'" Aubry said. "We know he can get what he wants. He has an election coming up and he's got to deliver for these communities."

A spokesperson for the governor, Dani Lever, said in a statement that "The governor has and continues to push for comprehensive criminal justice reform to address the treatment of juveniles in the system and the prosecution of fatality cases involving law enforcement. Despite the legislature's failure to agree on these reforms, the governor has taken bold action and issued executive orders appointing a special prosecutor in police cases (the first of its kind in the country) and removing juveniles from adult state prisons. Until the legislature passes real reforms, the governor's executive orders will remain in effect."

Housing
Last year in an unprecedented move, Cuomo put the fate of the 421-a tax abatement program in the hands of the two stakeholder industries - real estate developers and construction unions. Whatever deal they reached on wages in new housing developments utilizing 421-a was to be enacted into law with other reforms to the program, but if they failed, 421-a would sunset. Negotiations floundered and 421-a is dead.

The program is thought to be essential to affordable housing production in New York City, making it profitable for developers to build new rental housing with some affordable units included. When Cuomo rejected compromise legislation crafted by de Blasio last June, it was one of the final straws to break de Blasio's back (along with the mayoral control compromise and more), leading to his now-infamous tirade against the governor on June 30. De Blasio's affordable housing goals rely on 421-a-related production.

On Monday, Cuomo told NY1's Errol Louis that he is looking for a replacement. "You can have a fair program that pays a fair rate to the unions and also a fair rate of profit to the developers," Cuomo said. "I believe there is that balance to be struck. But they have to strike that balance. We're still trying, but the Legislature is not going to approve a plan that kicks the labor unions out of the affordable housing business."

Bill Murrow, the governor's top aide, followed up those comments on Tuesday during a Crain's New York Business breakfast event, indicating that labor and real estate are indeed negotiating again. "The developers, REBNY, and the construction trades...they'll find some common ground. I am hopeful that sometime between now and June that something will actually happen," Mulrow said.

On Tuesday, tenant advocates gathered in Albany to demand that negotiations on 421-a or something like must also include strengthening rent regulations. Delsenia Glover, campaign manager for the Alliance for Tenant Power opened the press conference by condemning the deal that renewed the rent laws last year. "We pretty much got nothing," she said. "At the time Governor Cuomo said they were the 'strongest rent laws in history.' It's not true, we got nothing." Members of the crowd shouted "He lied!"

Glover said she has been disturbed to hear "lamentations" that 421-a is dead, saying she was glad a "giveaway to luxury developers" and "$1.1 billion tax suck" was dead and that assertions that developers won't be able to build affordable housing without it is patently false.

"Our demand," said Glover, "is this: If 421-a or anything that looks like 421-a is revived or created then the rent laws must be reopened, we get rid of vacancy bonus, fix preferential rents, and then maybe we can have a conversation."

A number of legislators who spoke after Glover pushed against the idea of any 421-a renewal. Assembly Member Walter Mosley of Brooklyn said he doesn't use the term '421-a' because "We don't want nothin' like 421-a to resurface, but ultimately we understand if anything like 421-a comes to the floor then we reopen the rent laws. Without that we have no discussion."

Assembly Housing Chair Keith Wright, who introduced a plan of something of a 421-a alternative earlier this year to a tepid response, brought up his proposal in front of the audience that was openly hostile to any replacement. Wright's plan would utilize the state's abandoned property fund to give a subsidy of $100,000 per affordable unit at a cost of about $200 million per year, compared to 421-a's 25-year property tax break and $1 billion annual tax revenue price tag.

"The plan was not...people were intrigued by the idea," Wright told the crowd, seeming to catch himself in an effort to promote the measure, "but listen anything in Albany takes a minute to work up to, but we are still pushing that plan, but we are still under siege."

Wright is a close ally of Cuomo and many expect that his plan was the first shot fired in an effort to restore a 421-a plan. The fact that Cuomo and Wright are openly pushing a replacement and that Senate Republicans are likely to want to deliver for real estate developers makes many advocates think it is a question of "when" not "if" a 421-a replacement comes to the floor of both houses. They hope to keep up public pressure to win some sort of concessions when it takes place.

Other Education Issues
Last year Cuomo tried to connect the DREAM Act that would allow the undocumented access to college tuition assistance and the education tax credit that would give benefits to those who donate to private schools. The DREAM Act has massive support in the Assembly, which has passed the measure repeatedly over the last few years and the education tax credit is a favorite of Senate Republicans. Cuomo's bid at linkage failed last year (he did not attempt to link them again this year, but did include both in his executive budget), but both issues remain on the table and the fact that they were left out of the budget has rankled a number of lawmakers.

Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who caucuses with Republicans, was said to be so upset that Republicans didn't demand the education tax credit be part of the budget that he didn't conference with them during budget negotiations (he was then the lone Senate "no" vote on the minimum wage and education budget bill). Meanwhile, DREAM supporters like Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, railed against its exclusion during the late-night budget debate.

For supporters of each measure the problem seems to be that opposition to the other measure has become a litmus test for some in their party's base. Senate Republicans have included language touting the disinclusion of the DREAM Act in the budget on the Senate website, listing it as an accomplishment:

"Rejecting the Use of Taxpayer Dollars to Fund College Tuition for Illegal Immigrants:

"The final budget rejects an Executive Budget proposal that would have cost state taxpayers $27 million and reward people who are here illegally by giving them free college tuition. The measure would have extended all other criteria, exemptions or opportunities found within the education law - including all scholarship and tuition assistance programs funded with state tax dollars - to illegal immigrants while hardworking middle-class families are already being forced to take out massive college loans to pay for higher education."

Meanwhile, public school advocates are entrenched against the education tax credit, saying that it is a taxpayer giveaway to millionaires who will flood their favored schools with donations using up the credit before average families can utilize it. The Alliance for Quality Education, a teachers union-aligned group, has held press conferences and briefings against the policy this year.

Albany Tradition
If the past is indeed prologue than it is a safe bet that many of these issues will not come to a vote in both houses this year. With an important special election, a presidential race, and the entire Legislature up for (re)election, leaders will likely be looking to rest on the work they did in the budget and get back to their districts. While there will be a lot of noise made by the media and good government groups around ethics reform, no one who knows Albany is holding their breath.

Mayoral control of city schools is the only key policy related to New York City facing an expiration date and all-but-sure to see action. The questions are what Senate Republicans demand in exchange for extension, how long it is extended for, and how much they make de Blasio sweat in the process.

Including Wednesday, April 6, there are currently 25 session days remaining until its scheduled end on June 16.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Major City Issues at Play in Politically Charged, Post-Budget Legislative Session Wed, 06 Apr 2016 22:49:29 +0000
Criminal Justice Reform Again Given Little Attention in Budget Negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6249:criminal-justice-reform-again-given-little-attention-in-budget-negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6249:criminal-justice-reform-again-given-little-attention-in-budget-negotiations cuomo prison visit dannemora

Gov. Cuomo in Dannemora (photo via The Governor's Office)


As Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders rush to deliver an on-time budget, criminal justice reform advocates aren't holding out hope that any of their major legislative priorities will be included in the final document. Advocates are resigned that many of their priorities, which are backed by Cuomo and included in his executive budget, will be pushed to the post-budget legislative session.

A budget is due by midnight Thursday, with the new fiscal year beginning on Friday, April 1, but a deal must be in place sooner so that bills can be drafted and voted on. The legislative session then extends into June. Cuomo and legislative leaders said Tuesday that they were getting close to settling the major funding and policy differences that would be included in the budget, with no mention of criminal justice issues.

For some advocates it is no surprise given the complexities of their issues, like the push to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility in New York and legislation to amend state law to create a special prosecutor to preside over investigations of police killings of civilians.

To others, it isn't surprising for an entirely different reason: they are used to seeing Cuomo pitch major criminal justice reforms during his State of the State address only to abandon them during budget negotiations due to push back from Senate Republicans.

"For years we've seen this pattern where the governor comes out with big bold ideas in January but he doesn't follow through," said Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY, a community organizing and reform group. "We know the governor is very powerful and can move things when he wants to. He should be acting on these issues that really impact the low-income communities of color who are really his base."

The Cuomo administration did not return request for comment.

Legislators who support criminal justice reforms say they've been focused on the budget and won't likely return to other legislative issues until next week.

Aguilera noted that Cuomo has previously pitched decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana only to abandon the issue. Last year Cuomo dropped "Raise the Age" and legislation to create a special prosecutor to investigate police killings of civilians during budget negotiations. He has also previously abandoned a push to provide inmates with a college education.

However, last year while facing pressure to act from family members of the deceased, advocates, and legislators, Cuomo issued an executive order giving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the ability to investigate police killings of civilians under certain circumstances. The order allows the Attorney General to investigate any case involving a police killing of a civilian and to take over a case from a local District Attorney.

The bill Cuomo is backing this year would allow an independent monitor to look into cases if a grand jury decided to not move forward against an officer or if a District Attorney did not put the case before a grand jury in a "reasonable" time. The monitor could then make a recommendation to the Governor. The Attorney General would no longer have a role.

Advocates see the proposal, which is not garnering momentum, as a substantial weakening of Cuomo's executive order. Aguilera said she is concerned the current environment might not be ideal for getting the special prosecutor bill her group supports. "Our biggest fear really is seeing a rolling back of our victory. We fought for the executive order which was a very good, solid executive order. We are realistic that the current leadership in the state Senate means it might not be the right time for a stronger bill. We need to protect the current executive order. We don't want to see a watering down of what we already have," she said.

Supporters of the plan to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York are more optimistic about their chances. New York is currently one of just two states, with North Carolina, to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

"I think it's going to be a priority for the governor once other priorities are taken care of," said Paige Pierce, CEO of Families Together New York State. "We aren't surprised or unhappy it is being dealt with outside of the budget. We want the attention paid to it that it deserves."

The issue of how to treat 16- and 17-year-olds in the state's criminal justice system is complicated. Senate Republicans don't want to be soft on crime, or give the appearance of being so, while Assembly Democrats want to provide a host of alternatives to criminal court.

Lawmakers and advocates say that last year they came close to compromise legislation. "We got so close last session, we just ran out of time," said Stephanie Gendell, associate executive director for policy and government relations at Citizen's Committee for Children of New York.

Gendell said that legislators from both sides of the aisle were motivated to deliver on legislation when they heard details of how 16- and 17-year-olds were treated. "Certain pieces of Raise the Age just aren't controversial to anyone. That's why we got so close," said Gendell. "Legislators were surprised to hear that a 16-year-old arrested can be held all night without parental notification, without anyone knowing. The more people learn the more they are motivated to act."

Cuomo did push last year to leave funding in the budget to enact Raise the Age reforms were a deal reached, and that money was there, but no deal occurred. The governor included similar language in this year's executive budget. Advocates are anxious to see if the language makes the final budget bills, setting the stage for an agreement in the months ahead. Cuomo also has bail reform on his agenda for the legislative session ahead.

The governor, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan continue to negotiate the budget framework.

With no legislative deal reached last year Cuomo took executive action, placing all 16- and 17-year-old inmates in an alternative facility. He followed up by pushing the issue again in this year's State of the State address. The Assembly put forward its own version of the bill in its one-house budget. Senate Republicans have indicated some interest in compromising on reform legislation.

"Part of why this doesn't get passed in the budget is that it is a very comprehensive piece of legislation," said Gendell. "Out bill is very long and there is a lot to it. When we get to legislative session we can talk more about the details. Senator Flanagan said he didn't want to deal with Raise the Age in the budget, he didn't say he didn't want it to happen at all."

[Related: Cuomo's Executive Action on Raise the Age Prompts Questions]

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Criminal Justice Reform Again Given Little Attention in Budget Negotiations Tue, 29 Mar 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Outlines $144 Billion Budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6088:cuomo-outlines-144-billion-budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6088:cuomo-outlines-144-billion-budget cuomo built to lead speech sots

Cuomo taking the podium for his State of the State


Gov. Andrew Cuomo's sixth State of the State address was a dichotomy of the mundane and the moving, the political and the personal, striking contrasts whereby he celebrated infrastructure projects and lamented the status of the poor, homeless, and jobless.

As much as Cuomo tried to steer the conversation toward past achievements and future successes he also decried the state's failures to boost the economy for all, house a growing homeless population, and provide low-income families with a liveable wage and benefits. Not to mention the ethical failures of corrupt politicians, which the governor had no choice but to address.

Cuomo's $143.6 billion budget presentation and State of the State focused heavily on both investing in major transportation and other infrastructure and a social agenda that includes an eventual $15 per hour minimum wage and a proposal to provide workers with 12 weeks of paid family leave.

The governor had clearly laid out the "Built" portion of his agenda in the days leading up to Wednesday's address. He's pledged $100 billion for infrastructure projects including a retooling of Penn Station, a third track for the Long Island Rail Road, and an expansion of the Javits Center - all under his New York: Built to Lead banner.

The MTA will also see an investment of $26.1 billion, some of which will go toward a redesign of 30 subway stations and more wifi hotspots. Both LaGuardia and JFK airports will get attention--with LaGuardia being replaced and JFK getting an "overhaul"--as will airports, roads, and bridges in other parts of the state.

"All experts are unanimous that investment today in the infrastructure of tomorrow creates jobs and builds economic strength," Cuomo said. "In Washington, both sides agree. However, like so many issues, Washington just can't get it done. In New York, we can and we will."

Republican Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said he was concerned by "all the spending" and wanted to see details on how Cuomo will pay for all of his infrastructure projects. "Where is all of this spending coming from? How are we paying for it? Well get those answers or we'll vote no," Kolb told Gotham Gazette.

The "Lead" segment of Cuomo's "Built to Lead" agenda had very much to do with backing up the governor's repeated assertion that New York is the progressive capital of the nation.

Cuomo returned to familiar territory by touting his record, including passage of marriage equality, as well as his being the governor to have closed the most prisons in the state and his various programs to reduce recidivism. "We are better at building and equipping a prison cell than a classroom. We are quicker to find a 16-year-old a jail cell than a job interview and that is just wrong," Cuomo said of the country. "New York State is going the other way."

Cuomo again asked the legislature to "Raise the Age" so that 16- and 17-year-olds aren't tried as adults. New York is one of only two states that continue the practice--North Carolina being the other. Cuomo took executive action last year to move the current population of teens from adult prisons to a juvenile facility, a move that is in process.

Cuomo pledged more job and alternative to incarceration programs, and "bail reform" that will require judges to consider whether a defendant is a danger to the public. New York is one of only four states that don't have judges consider public safety while setting bail.

"We all agree that public safety is paramount," Cuomo said. "But we can also all agree that it is madness to spend over $50,000 a year for a prison cell while ignoring the wisdom of early intervention."

Addressing another unresolved issue from last year, Cuomo asked the legislature to pass a bill establishing a special prosecutor to look into police killings of unarmed civilians. Last year Cuomo issued an executive order putting Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in charge of such cases. The move angered Republicans as well as district attorneys across the state.

"The appointment of an unbiased, qualified individual has helped restore trust in our system and it literally helped to end demonstrations in our streets," Cuomo said. "I urge you to pass a law making this reform permanent. Assemblyman Keith Wright has advocated for such a law for over a decade."

Cuomo's economic justice platform was imbued with a human touch that Cuomo has oftentimes been accused of lacking. His push for a $15 minimum wage, that is named in tribute to his father, who passed away last year, was greeted by cheers from the crowd. Both Republican legislative leaders remained seated while their Democratic counterparts rose from their chairs to applaud the measure.

Cuomo didn't offer any new details but his plan would see the minimum wage increase to $15 by the end of 2018 in New York City and July 1, 2021 in the rest of the state. Cuomo, who opposed a $13 minimum wage in the spring of last year argued vigorously for his plan. "If the minimum wage in the '70s had been indexed to the rate of inflation, you know where it would be? My proposal today at $15 an hour," Cuomo told the crowd. "What that means is that the minimum wage since the '70s has not kept pace. What that means is you've had 45 years of economic injustice where the poor were getting poorer, while everyone else was moving up. That's not America's way because that's not fair."

Cuomo went on to justify his plan because he said through social programs the state is subsidizing fast food restaurants that fail to provide a minimum wage, decrying such corporate welfare. "I say it's time to get out of the hamburger business," Cuomo said, repeating what has become a catchphrase during his minimum wage rallies.

Small business groups across the state are opposed to the measure and claim it will cost jobs. Meanwhile, more Democrats are growing concerned that Cuomo may significantly extend the wage phase-in to reach a deal with Senate Republicans.

Cuomo was expected to make a splash on the issue of homelessness and he did on two fronts. First he announced the commitment of $20 billion to combat homelessness, with $10 billion earmarked for 100,000 permanent affordable housing units and $10 billion for 6,000 new supported beds over 5 years, 1,000 emergency shelter beds, and other homeless services.

"This is New York. And we are New Yorkers and we will not allow people to dwell in the gutter like garbage," Cuomo said. He promised to fund 20,000 supportive housing units over the next 15 years.

Cuomo also unveiled a quality control system for homeless shelters across the state. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli will oversee the quality review of shelters, with city Comptroller Scott Stringer examining the city system, as he already does, but perhaps with more attention and now with more state collaboration.

"They will do onsite inspections and review operating and financial protocols," Cuomo explained. "Thereafter, shelters they find to be unsafe or dangerous will either immediately add local police protection – or they will be closed. Shelters which they find as unsanitary or otherwise unfit will be subject to contract cancellation, operator replacement, immediate remediation or closure. If an operator's management problem is systemic, a receiver will be appointed to run that system."

Mayor Bill de Blasio praised Cuomo for several announcements, including on supportive housing, pre-kindergarten and minimum wage. He said that Cuomo's announcements of the homelessness audits appeared to be in line with work already happening and did not express initial concern. He did express conern, though, about items Cuomo appeared to bury in budget documents that could cost the city big when it comes to Medicaid payments, CUNY funding, and certain tax rebates. De Blasio said he and his team would review the budget closely and have more to say soon. Budget watchdogs began sounding the alarm, though.

After outlining a variety of programs and proposals, Cuomo turned to government ethics, saying that all depended on public trust in elected officials.

Then, toward the end of his speech Cuomo dropped his rhetorical tone. He described how in late 2014 his father's health was failing and revealed that he was in Buffalo for an inauguration ceremony when he got the news that his father had passed away.

"Life is such a precious gift and I have kicked myself every day that I didn't spend more time with my father at that end period," Cuomo lamented. "I could have. I am lucky. I could have taken off work, I could have cut days in half, I could have spent more time with him. It was my mistake and a mistake I blame myself for every day. But there are many people in this state who do not have the choice. A parent is dying, a child is sick, they can't take off of work."

Cuomo went on to explain how the United States is one of three countries that does not have paid maternity leave. He proposed providing New Yorkers with 12 weeks of paid family leave. Last year Cuomo and legislative leaders were unable to reach a consensus on competing plans. The Assembly has repeatedly passed a plan that would expand the state's disability insurance fund to pay for leave. Last year the Independent Democratic Conference put forward a proposal that had the state covering the estimated $125 million cost of the plan. Cuomo's proposal would be covered by workers through a $1 paycheck deduction.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters that he wants to see more details on the plan. "Paid family leave is something we've passed for a while," Heastie told reporters. "I want to see the details. It's hard for me to comment before I've seen the details."

Senate Republicans are not particularly open to the plan.

"This is all about getting these things from proposal to reality now," said Sen. Mike Gianaris of the Senate Democrats. "You've gotta like the agenda, these are things the Senate Minority has been talking about all along--paid family leave, minimum wage. It's about getting these things done now. If Senate Republicans decide to block things that are priorities to the people of New York then they will hear from the voters."

[Read more about Cuomo's ethics and campaign finance reform proposals here]

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Cuomo Outlines $144 Billion Budget Thu, 14 Jan 2016 05:44:32 +0000
40 Questions for New York Politics in 2016 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6060:40-questions-for-new-york-politics-in-2016 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6060:40-questions-for-new-york-politics-in-2016 bdb mmv lupo

photo: William Alatriste


Happy new year! As we jump right into 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares for his State of the State and budget address, Mayor Bill de Blasio works to improve his public approval ratings, and the two keep on feuding. There's a lot to look for in the new year, here are about 40 political questions we're asking as the year begins - if you want to share them, answer any, or let us know one we missed, tweet @GothamGazette:

  1. How will the Cuomo-de Blasio feud play out?
  2. Who's next for Preet Bharara?
  3. What will Albany do about preventing public corruption?
    1. Will the LLC loophole close?
    2. Will New York move forward on a public campaign finance system?
    3. Will there be agreement on pension forfeiture?
    4. Will further limits be placed on legislators' outside income?
    5. Will legislator salaries be raised?
    6. Does the budget process become more transparent?
  4. What kind of Assembly reforms will Speaker Carl Heastie allow in terms of the ways in which his legislative house conducts its business?
  5. How does the Governor's minimum wage push wind up?
  6. What happens with the 421-a tax break/affordable housing program?
  7. Will the de Blasio administration show significant progress in turning around struggling schools?
  8. What happens with mayoral control of city schools, as dictated by state policy?
  9. What do teacher evaluations look like next, as dictated by state policy?
  10. What's the future of the Common Core in New York?
  11. Does the opt-out movement continue to grow?
  12. How do the 2016 elections affect which party controls the state Senate?
    1. Who wins the special election for the seat previously held by Dean Skelos?
    2. Who wins other vacant state legislative seats, like that held by Sheldon Silver?
  13. Will de Blasio improve his relationship with Albany Democrats?
  14. Can de Blasio effectively reduce the street and shelter homeless populations?
  15. How will the city and the state approach the homelessness crisis together/separately?
  16. Will New York "raise the age" of criminal responsibility from 16 (to 17 or 18)?
  17. Will de Blasio successfully negotiate paid parental leave with the city's municipal unions after announcing he is offering it to nonunion city employees?
  18. Will the State move on a paid family leave program?
  19. Can Cuomo show more progress in his efforts to revive struggling city and regional economies?
  20. How do the mayor's rezoning proposals fare in the City Council?
  21. How does City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito differentiate herself from Bill de Blasio?
  22. Will the City Council move any bills that the mayor isn't behind - like the Right to Know Act?
    1. Will de Blasio use a veto for the first time as mayor?
  23. What's next for Mark-Viverito as she faces term-limits (at the end of 2017)?
  24. Can the Mayor keep making progress toward his affordable housing goals?
  25. What will city elected officials' compensation increases look like once the mayor and Council come to an agreement based on the compensation commission's recommendations?
    1. Will Council pay increases come with the elimination of lulus and other reforms?
  26. Who will replace Charlie Rangel in Congress?
  27. How does it go for the two new District Attorneys, in the Bronx and on Staten Island?
  28. Can the NYPD continue to drive crime down, reducing murders after a small rise, while also improving community relations?
  29. Will there be progress on Rikers Island?
  30. What steps will the City take to desegregate its schools?
  31. What does Bill de Blasio's cabinet look like after a deputy mayor is replaced and the homeless services department is reassessed?
    1. Will other top officials leave the administration?
  32. What will happen with Uber?
  33. Will the City pass a plastic bag fee?
  34. Is there a compromise on reducing Central Park carriage horses?
  35. Can de Blasio improve his public approval ratings?
  36. Does anyone formidable emerge to declare a challenge to de Blasio for 2017?
  37. What will Comptroller Scott Stringer's charter school audits look like?
    1. What other audits and reports come from Stringer's office?
  38. Will Public Advocate Tish James continue to use litigation against the city to seek change? If so, what suits?
  39. How are New York officials involved in the presidential race?
    1. How will de Blasio, Cuomo, Mark-Viverito and other city and state officials who have endorsed her be involved in Hillary Clinton's campaign?
    2. Who wins New York in the Democratic and Republican primaries?
  40. Who becomes the next President of the United States?

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

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40 Questions for New York Politics in 2016 Mon, 04 Jan 2016 01:15:12 +0000
One 'Raise the Age' Story at Center of Push for Legislative Action http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5945:one-raise-the-age-story-at-center-of-push-for-legislative-action http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5945:one-raise-the-age-story-at-center-of-push-for-legislative-action Cuomo prison raise the age

Cuomo at The Greene Correctional Facility (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


In the Summer of 2010, Benjamin Van Zandt was a smart, quiet 17-year-old; an excellent student enrolled in AP classes, a math whiz and violin player, and on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout. Van Zandt was a resident of Selkirk, a small town just outside Albany known for its rail yards and manufacturing plants.

Only four years later, at the age of 21, Van Zandt became the youngest state inmate to take his own life when he hanged himself with his bed sheets and shoe laces in his cell at Fishkill Correctional Facility.

A series of events that took place over a short time and are described differently by those involved sent Van Zandt's life off what most would consider a normal trajectory for a bright, young suburban kid. His mother, Alicia Barraza, blames her son's death on a specific statute in New York law that allows 16- and 17-year-olds to be processed and tried as adults upon arrest.

"We have this shy, bright teen with so much potential who admitted mental health issues and admitted he started a fire," said state Senator Neil Breslin, who counts Barraza as a constituent, and Thomas Breslin, the judge who oversaw Van Zandt's plea, as his brother. "Does that mean he should be sentenced to jail with older hardened criminals who harassed and abused him? The answer to me is clearly 'no.'"

Barraza has become a leading voice in the 'Raise the Age' movement, which is pushing for New York to amend its laws so 16- and 17-year-olds have access to family courts, diversionary sentencing, treatment, and the rights afforded to other minors at the time of arrest. New York and North Carolina are the only two states with criminal justice systems that treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, while a small number of others have 17 as the threshold for adult criminal responsibility.

What changes actually need to be made to the law are still being debated, though Governor Andrew Cuomo has been a vocal proponent of 'raising the age.' Law enforcement officials, including many district attorneys say the debate has been oversimplified and ignores some real-world dilemmas. Both Sen. Breslin and Albany County District Attorney David Soares say they support parts of the "Raise the Age" legislation proposed by Cuomo but both also say they have concerns that require significant discussion.

Cuomo's original proposal was dismissed by Republicans as weak on crime and by a number of Democrats who said it wasn't properly thought out and would make things worse for young offenders. After no agreement on Raise the Age last legislative session, Cuomo appears set to renew his push, while advocates are focused on grassroots efforts designed to help voters and legislators understand how one trip into the justice system for a young person can alter his or her life irreversibly.

During the Summer of 2010, Barraza says that her son, Benjamin Van Zandt, was quietly battling depression. His condition took a turn for the worse; he later told his parents that he was hearing voices and trying to quell them by starting small fires. Finally, in early August, Barraza said Van Zandt lost control and decided to act on the voices that had been tormenting him. He bicycled half a mile to the nearby suburb of Delmar, where he entered an empty house and spread gasoline around the rooms, eventually setting a fire. The home was nearly entirely destroyed.

At the time, the quiet neighborhood had been dealing with a series of break-ins and was on high alert.

A week later, police came to arrest Van Zandt, after he used a credit card he had stolen from the house. His father asked police if he could come along, as his son had told him of the depression and his hallucinations. The police denied the request, saying Van Zandt was being charged as an adult. The family scrambled to find a lawyer; by the time they found one and made it to the police station Van Zandt had already written a lengthy confession. The police had calmly offered Van Zandt something to eat and drink and told him to write down all the details of the arson.

From there Van Zandt was sent to Albany County Jail, not to a mental health facility. He was released on $50,000 bond, along with an agreement that he would receive psychiatric treatment and medication. Barraza said her son started doing better, first as an inpatient at an upstate psychiatric center, and later at home, thanks to medication and therapy.

Barraza, though, continued to worry. She says the Albany County District Attorney's office and the judge seemed keen on delivering her son lengthy jail time. She said Soares' office refused to talk to her and other family representatives about her son's mental illness and how he might get the best care.The family was told to either take the plea deal being offered or face trial.

Van Zandt caved and pled guilty in a deal that saw him relinquish any chance to be treated as a juvenile offender, agree to serve four to 12 years in adult prison, and pay $455,000 in restitution for the house he burned.

The Albany County District Attorney's office paints a different picture of events.

The office says Van Zandt created a fake Facebook profile to stalk one of his classmates. Then, when he found out that classmate and his family were out of the country, he packed a backpack with a jug of gasoline, a blow torch, and tools to break into the house. Once inside, they say he targeted his classmate's room, looking through personal items and searching for valuables, only finding some credit cards, and then set the house ablaze.

After, Van Zandt began ordering iPads and other electronics under a false name and having them delivered to a neighbor's house. Police were finally tipped off when Van Zandt used a fake Facebook account in an attempt to gain more personal details about his classmate's father because he needed them to use one of the stolen credit cards.

DA Soares' office says that Van Zandt's family members were adamant that he not be sent to the mental health system and that they referred to it as a "black hole." Technically, Van Zandt could have spent more time in a mental health facility than he was sentenced to in jail. Soares' office also said that the family could have presented a not-guilty plea based on mental health if they allowed the case to go to trial.

However, looking back at the case this week, Soares said he personally does not feel that a sentence to a mental health facility would have been appropriate in the case. "Someone who demonstrates the prowess to achieve what [Van Zandt] achieved is not someone demonstrating schizophrenic behavior," Soares told Gotham Gazette.

The Raise the Age NY campaign cites multiple studies that show youth are more likely to commit another crime after serving time in adult prison. In fact, one study shows that youth sentenced to adult prisons are 34 percent more likely to commit a felony offense upon release than youth sentenced to juvenile facilities.

The studies that apply to Van Zandt's case are even more striking. Youth in adult prisons are more likely to report abuse from guards and 50 percent more likely to be attacked with a weapon. They constitute the population that is most likely to face sexual assault and are 36 percent more likely to take their own lives.

Barraza said her son started doing well after being diagnosed and treated for severe depression and psychosis. During his stay at Woodbourne Correctional Facility he received counseling sessions. He was valedictorian in his GED class and he enrolled in the Bard College Prison Initiative to earn a college degree. Barraza and her husband visited most weekends.

The calm didn't last. Van Zandt's studies were interrupted when he was caught bringing a piece of bread to his cell. He was transferred to Midstate Correctional Facility and placed in a mental-health unit. He became despondent, and was later caught carrying drugs for other inmates. He was transferred yet again, winding up eventually at FishKill. There, he was put in solitary confinement for fighting with other inmates.

During his time in jail, Van Zandt was beaten, tormented, and raped by older inmates. Finally, he took his own life with a makeshift rope fashioned with bed sheets and shoelaces.

A number of legislators have balked at Raise the Age efforts on principal. "It never hurts to appear tough on crime, especially in an election year," Paige Pierce, executive director of Families Together New York, told Gotham Gazette. She and other advocates think Van Zandt's story can show legislators that the current system doesn't just punish hardened criminals, but could in fact ruin the lives of those with mental-health issues or of teens who simply make one wrong choice.

DA Soares, who has clashed publicly with Gov. Cuomo on a number of occasions said there are many aspects of what has become known as "Raise the Age" that he agrees with, including not jailing teenagers with adult prisoners. However, Soares said the issue has become oversimplified as part of a political campaign.

"There is an appearance that our criminal justice system conducts its affairs in a certain way in certain communities that impacts more children and even men and women of color," said Soares. "Those truths are things we can't get away from or solved without real discussion of criminal justice reform. It has to be more than just going out and getting a cause and giving it a hashtag and then having our politicians moving forward without thought to the collateral damage."

Soares said the that the governor and legislators need to get serious about discussing clearing criminal records so that offenders can better reenter society. "Until we are talking expungement and allow folks to apply for jobs, we are not talking about real reform," said Soares.

"It is offensive to me that our state government is prepared to spend million to lock up brown and black kids in separate facilities but they are unwilling to spend money to help them succeed," Soares said, referring to separate facilities for younger offenders. "Our state government is more willing to invest in our kids' failure than their success."

As for Van Zandt, Soares said he feels the prison system failed him and that he should not have been housed with adults. He called his death "tragic."

Barraza said she feels all that happened to her son from August 2010 to October 2014 was a result of the Albany County DA office and the sentencing judge's efforts to appear tough on crime by giving a troubled teen a stiff adult penalty.

In some sense it appears she is right. Soares told Gotham Gazette he doesn't feel, based on Van Zandt's meticulous planning, that he should have received a lighter sentence.

"This is not a young person who just walked in and set fire to a home. That is just not the fact pattern we were presented with," Soares told Gotham Gazette. "The fact pattern we do have is a young man who planned ahead, packed a backpack with gasoline and a blowtorch and then after setting fire to the home began to methodically pursue criminal benefit. There was nothing about what he did that indicated a mental health problem, other than his family's surprise."

Barraza has dedicated herself to making sure New York changes its laws so that no other teens suffer like her son and no other parents are left helplessly watching their teenage child in the bitter realities of the adult prison system. She, other activists, and legislators - including the governor - appear determined to see Raise the Age take a prominent place on the 2016 legislative agenda.

But, Barraza is also still looking for answers from her son's case. She still wants to know why the authorities decided her son needed to be sentenced as an adult.

"I would like an explanation of why our son, who was clearly mentally ill, was denied youthful offender status," Barraza told Gotham Gazette. "It was just pure punishment. As soon as he pleaded guilty he had no chance of rehabilitation."

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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One 'Raise the Age' Story at Center of Push for Legislative Action Wed, 21 Oct 2015 21:44:15 +0000
Will New York Be Last to 'Raise the Age'? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5916:will-new-york-be-last-to-raise-the-age http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5916:will-new-york-be-last-to-raise-the-age Cuomo inmates raise the age

Gov. Cuomo meets with young inmates (photo: Governor's Office)


Gov. Andrew Cuomo is fond of calling New York a "progressive leader," declaring the state trailblazing on issues that matter, like marriage equality and gun control. It is a tenet of the governor's new push for an eventual $15-per-hour minimum wage.

However, New York lags so far behind other states on one criminal justice issue that it could soon be the only state in the nation to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults - a practice that advocates and criminal justice experts say does irreversible damage to youth who are merely charged with a crime, much less convicted.

In declaring October "National Youth Justice Awareness Month" earlier this week, President Barack Obama pointed to the fact that just two states prosecute all 16-year-olds as adults regardless of their crime, and said, "Involvement in the justice system -- even as a minor, and even if it does not result in a finding of guilt, delinquency, or conviction -- can significantly impede a person's ability to pursue a higher education, obtain a loan, find employment, or secure quality housing." A total of nine states prosecute all 17-year-olds as adults, the president wrote.

Raising the age of adult criminal responsibility has been something Gov. Cuomo has been pushing, but unless the governor can soon cut a deal with the state Legislature, especially Senate Republicans, he and his Democratic allies will find themselves watching North Carolina become the 49th state to move to at least 17 as the adult age of criminality. There appears to be bipartisan agreement among North Carolina legislators on a plan to stop the practice of trying 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in their state.

Bipartisan agreement on criminal justice issues has been particularly elusive in the New York state Legislature, despite Cuomo's attention on raising the age and other related matters.

After including funding for "Raise the Age" in his most recent budget, Cuomo was unable to reach a deal with the Legislature. Then, Cuomo made raising the age a major priority during the waning days of this year's legislative session, even visiting an upstate correctional facility to speak to young inmates about life behind bars. Yet, Senate Republicans balked at Cuomo's plan to redirect most 16- and 17-year old offenders to family courts, while some Democrats worried his plan wouldn't actually improve how teens are treated by the justice system. Cuomo's original push stemmed from reports about abuses at Rikers Island jails.

With session over, Cuomo announced he would take "executive action" to at least remove 16- and 17 year-olds from a situation he had described as "intolerable."

"We did not reach an agreement on something called "Raise the Age," which is a proposal that I had made in the State of the State. The executive will on its own raise the age of people in state prison," Cuomo said in June. "Right now 16- and 17-year olds are going to state prisons and that, I believe, is an intolerable situation. So by executive action we will take 16- and 17-year olds out of state prisons and put them in separate facilities which will be designed and managed by the Department of Corrections and OCFS."

Advocates were initially pleased by the move until it became clear the administration had no concrete plan on where to house the 16- and 17-year-olds it promised to remove from adult prisons. They were further disappointed when it became clear the administration would have no say over county jails and therefore the number of youths separated from adult populations would be relatively small - all taken from state-run facilities.

With the year coming to a close the administration appears to be admitting they have hit a wall.

"We are in the process of engaging with a few agencies, the relevant agencies, to determine how we can do that," Cuomo's counsel, Alphonso David, said during an interview on Capitol Tonight earlier this month when asked about the process of relocating 16- and 17-year-olds. "There are operational issues that you can anticipate that we have to address. We're hoping to do that in the near future."

A Cuomo administration official acknowledged to Gotham Gazette that they are aware of the legislation advancing in North Carolina and that they hope to work on the challenges faced in finding alternative housing for the teens currently serving time while negotiating a broader bill with the Legislature. "We are hopeful that the Legislature will take another look at this," said the official.

Paige Pierce, executive director of Families Together New York, told Gotham Gazette that regardless of the fate of the governor's "executive action," the bigger issue remains how being processed as an adult can permanently damage the futures of thousands of young New Yorkers, whether they are found guilty or not.

"The larger issue is that every 16- or 17-year-old arrested is treated as an adult and therefore lacking access to support from family services, their parents don't have to be notified, and their records aren't sealed," Pierce told Gotham Gazette.

Members of the "Raise the Age-New York" campaign point out that youth in adult prisons face high rates of sexual assault and are much more likely to commit suicide than those in juvenile facilities. "New York has failed to recognize what research and science have confirmed: adolescents are children, and prosecuting and placing them in the adult criminal justice system doesn't work for them and doesn't work for public safety," the campaign emailed.

Advocates say that there was some hope at the end of last year as a few Senate Republicans were involved in discussions with Assembly Democrats on a compromise. That last-minute compromise may have died, but it gave indication that there may be room for negotiation when the clock is not ticking. It's unclear what kind of pressure moves by President Obama and North Carolina might exert on the governor and other New York lawmakers.

In his September 30 proclamation, Obama writes that trying 16- and 17-year-olds as adults "continues despite studies showing that youth prosecuted in adult courts are more likely to commit future crimes than similarly situated youth who are prosecuted for the same offenses in the juvenile system." He also points out that it is not cost effective to hold so many young people in state facilities.

Republican Sen. Patrick Gallivan, former sheriff of Erie County, told Gotham Gazette earlier this year that he is interested in discussing increasing alternative sentencing and other diversions for teen offenders. "We need to continue this discussion," he said. "Youth courts and other alternatives should be looked at as models."

How much influence Gallivan might have with his conference on the issue is unknown. However, both he and Cuomo have said that an agreement was in reach last session but was snuffed out by time constraints.

That isn't necessarily good news for the issue in the coming session. Advocates are quick to point out that 2016 is an election year and while the issue might be good for most Democrats, being seen as tough on crime is never bad for electeds, especially Senate Republicans who will be looking to defend and grow their majority.

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Will New York Be Last to 'Raise the Age'? Thu, 01 Oct 2015 17:14:04 +0000
Black, Hispanic & Asian Caucus Faces Growing Pains, Tense Relationship with Cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5817:black-hispanic-a-asian-caucus-faces-growing-pains-tense-relationship-with-cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5817:black-hispanic-a-asian-caucus-faces-growing-pains-tense-relationship-with-cuomo Cuomo Schneiderman presser

At the special prosecutor announcement (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


Gov. Andrew Cuomo was beaming. Touting the historical significance of the executive order he had just signed to give Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the authority to act as a special prosecutor in cases where police kill unarmed civilians, Cuomo smiled for photos. Often rivals, Cuomo and Schneiderman, who are both white, sat smiling at the July 7 press conference. They were surrounded first by a group of mothers who had lost their black and Hispanic sons to police violence, then by a group of legislators, all people of color. The cameras snapped and then the smiles faded.

It was indeed momentous, real movement after years of work by advocates and legislators pushing for a special prosecutor to investigate such police shootings. But, the order by the governor, aimed at what he called a "crisis of confidence in the criminal justice system," does not wipe away another trust divide. Despite support for and appreciation of the special prosecutor mandate, Cuomo himself faces a crisis of trust from many members of the state legislature's Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus.

Many advocates and legislators say it was a gargantuan effort to keep up enough pressure to make it politically impossible for Cuomo not to sign the order after there was no legislative deal before lawmakers ended their spring session in Albany. Just the day before the order-signing, victims' families had met with Cuomo to express concerns that the order would not go far enough.

While many give intense gratitude to Cuomo for taking the action, they also resent that it took so much time and energy to get him there when the issue has been such a prominent one for years.

Members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus - 33 in the 150-member Assembly and 14 in the 63-member Senate - have experienced a roller coaster ride for the past five years since Cuomo came into office.

It goes something like this: the governor announces that he shares some of their major priorities in his State of the State speech, they move to back him, and then they watch as their top agenda items are thrown out of the budget when a deal is reached. They build up hope again after the budget is passed, seeking inclusion of the same issues in the typical end-of-session "Big Ugly" deal. They rally, publicly express certainty that Cuomo will deliver for them, that he is in fact on their side and the side of their constituents, all while privately wondering if he is only paying them lip service when he says he continues to be committed to their issues.

And then the session ends.

No DREAM Act, no college for inmates, no reduced punishment for possession of small amounts of marijuana. And this year no legislative action on either criminal justice reform efforts sparked by the rash of police killings of unarmed civilians or the governor's own 'Raise the Age' proposal. While Cuomo has promised executive action removing them from adult prisons, New York remains one of just two states that tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

There was heightened internal tension in the caucus this year as the new and old guards struggled to direct the group. Younger members are pushing for more forceful action on issues important to their communities while veteran members urge caution and warn that major bills in Albany can take a lot of time.

"We need continued pressure on these issues from the caucus and the governor because communities of color cannot feel their issues are second because they are harder to achieve," said Bronx Assembly Member Michael Blake, a freshman legislator and veteran of the Obama Administration.

Brooklyn Assembly Member Nick Perry became caucus chair this year and has served for over 20 years as a state legislator. He acknowledges he is in a particularly tough position after the results of this year's legislative session. Perry's rival for the position, vacated when Karim Camara resigned to take a job in Cuomo's administration, Walter Mosley, was thought to be the choice of the younger members of the caucus but his candidacy collapsed after he took a controversial position on a bill dealing with the East Ramapo School District.

"We had a number of enthusiastic, young freshmen who wanted to bring home their bills but they met with the frustration that is Albany," Perry told Gotham Gazette. "They had a rude awakening," he added, saying that frustration is something he has gotten used to after spending so much time in the state legislature. Perry said that he hopes to marshall the caucus to focus on what is achievable. "We have so many votes that we can achieve so much if we work together. You have to realize you aren't going to win every time and we must pool our efforts into what is possible."

Bronx Sen. Gustavo Rivera agrees with Perry. "I think as a caucus we are not as effective as we should be considering our numbers but I am committed to working with them to enact a progressive agenda," Rivera said.

Despite having been in the Senate for five years, this was the first year Rivera really felt like he was in the minority, he says, as he was unable to impact some of the most important issues facing his community. "This is the first time I really felt it," said Rivera, who added that the caucus will be in control of its destiny if Democrats take control of the Senate in the 2016 elections.

It's a sentiment shared by Perry, who said he expects most of the caucus' agenda will have to wait until 2017, indicating he hopes the presidential election will attract a surge of Democratic voters. "I would bet that the presidential year will bring a wave of working class voters much larger than last year and that the seats Republicans hold narrowly will become Democratic," said Perry.

Perry sees 2016 as intensely difficult for the caucus' issues because of the pressure Republicans will feel to keep their seats.

"We have to realize on issues like the DREAM Act that if some of these Republicans go against the grain they will eventually get blown away," said Perry. "We have to be realistic about the political realities Republicans face in their districts and it is our duty to convince them that there is enough support across the state."

Blake, however, is not content to wait until 2017 on issues of criminal justice reform, or a minimum wage increase. "For me this is not about waiting for 2017," Blake told Gotham Gazette. "Communities of color are not interested in waiting for the next presidential election to move on these issues. Kalief Browder was my constituent. Kalief Browder's parents don't want to hear that we couldn't do 'raise the age' because we don't have the Senate Majority. They are thinking he is dead because we didn't have 'raise the age.'"

Caucus members want to see Cuomo go to bat for their issues with the conviction he's shown in previous legislative victories, but they are conflicted about how much public pressure to put on him. Most members agree that it was their constituencies that delivered for Cuomo during last year's election and that Cuomo needs to be mindful to actually deliver for those voters and not get completely distracted by the upstate economy.

"The problem we have is that at the the end of session what is on the table for black and Latino voters simply hasn't been enough," said Perry. "We were there for the governor during his elections. Something like 77 percent of black voters supported the governor so it is fair for us to expect him to be with us on our issues."

This year discontent with Cuomo among Democrats has exploded into the open as many city legislators feel he failed to go to bat on city issues and in some cases decided to ally with Senate Republicans and wealthy campaign donors over Democratic interests. Cuomo ran on delivering The DREAM Act, an increased minimum wage, campaign finance reform, and the Gender Non-Discrimination Act (or GENDA), but none of those issues ever appeared to be seriously in play in the post-budget session.

Instead Cuomo put his real political muscle into controversial school reforms, the equally controversial education tax credit, and to a lesser extent, 'Raise the Age.' Cuomo also took executive action toward increasing the minimum wage for fast food workers by convening the state wage board and resolved to manage compromises over rent regulations and mayoral control of city schools.

A number of caucus members told Gotham Gazette on the condition of anonymity that they simply no longer believe any of Cuomo's promises and they expect the only way they can hope for him to deliver on their issues is to make it politically impossible for him not to. "Yeah, he got off his ass on the special prosecutor but it's because we dragged him there kicking and screaming," said one caucus member. They are well aware that Cuomo is being attacked by district attorneys and police organizations for signing the order and many of them are concerned he may do away with it if it begins to impact him politically.

Perry said he is certain that Cuomo acted on the special prosecutor order because it is something he fully believes in but he was miffed that Cuomo didn't act sooner. "The special prosecutor was an extremely important move and I believe there is no turning back now - we will have legislation on it next year. The only thing that I don't understand is why the governor didn't do it much earlier. He supported it when we talked about these issues even before he was governor. So, I think when he took this action, it was something he truly believed in."

Adding to the frustration was the departure of Camara as caucus chair. The former Assembly member joined the Cuomo administration to head the newly-created Office of Faith-Based Community Development.

As was made clear by that appointment, Camara has had an extremely close relationship with the administration, was known to stay in contact with the governor and to often be polled by administration representatives before the executive branch took action. Now many members say they've never actually heard from the governor except perhaps in passing at an event.

"This was clearly a transition year for the caucus," said Rivera. "We had a lot of new members who need to adjust to the reality of Albany and we had Karim step off and a new Assembly Speaker added to the reality of us not being in majority [in the Senate]."

It is important to note that the new Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie, is a member of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Caucus and the first person of color to lead the chamber.

Although the dance between the Cuomo administration and the caucus has become a familiar one the situation is particularly nettlesome after Mayor Bill de Blasio openly lambasted Cuomo's transactional style of politics and what he actually delivered for the city this year. "I don't believe the Assembly had a real working partner in the governor or the Senate in terms of getting things done for the people of this city and in many cases the people of this state," de Blasio told reporters on June 30.

"The governor has developed a relationship with Senate Republicans that could be beneficial to the Democratic agenda," said new caucus head Perry, who represents part of Brooklyn. "So I plan on working with him rather than attacking him for the relationship, as some have."

Sen. Rivera said he is thankful that the governor issued his executive order regarding police killings but he plans to keep up the pressure. "I congratulate the governor on taking such a bold step but we need it in statute and to extend it to all police misconduct. I've been carrying a bill that would do that for the past five years but it hasn't seen the light of day in the Senate."

Assembly Member Blake said he is committed to working to educate Senate Republicans on major caucus issues - especially criminal justice reform - but he said more pressure to act has to be applied on Cuomo.

"We've seen in the history of the civil rights movement that sometimes it takes someone willing to risk their political career to enact important change," said Blake.

When asked if he was discouraged or caught off guard by the political gridlock in Albany, he laughed. "No," he said. "The reality is we made changes, we didn't get everything but this was not a rude awakening. I was at the White House when we were fighting for health care, when we were dealing with the 'death panel' nonsense. One thing I remember was the president talking to David Axelrod and Rahm [Emanuel] and telling them 'if it means me being a one-term president to do the right thing, then so be it, I'm committed to that.'"

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Black, Hispanic & Asian Caucus Faces Growing Pains, Tense Relationship with Cuomo Mon, 20 Jul 2015 18:04:50 +0000
Cuomo's Executive Action on 'Raise the Age' Prompts Questions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5797:cuomos-executive-action-on-raise-the-age-prompts-questions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5797:cuomos-executive-action-on-raise-the-age-prompts-questions Cuomo Brooklyn February

Cuomo at a February event in Brooklyn (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


"In my opinion, it is too early to condemn a 16-year-old to a life without redemption," Governor Andrew Cuomo said as he toured the Coxsackie Correctional Facility in May. It is a sentiment many advocates and legislators share. And yet, with the 2015 legislative session in the history books, New York remains one of only two states that tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults (North Carolina is the other).

Cuomo made raising the age of adult criminality to 18 a top priority during 2015 budget negotiations and the legislative session that followed. While some money toward a potential shift was included in the budget at the end of March, new policy remained elusive. Then, still with no deal to announce on the issue at the end of the extended session, Cuomo declared on June 23 that he would take executive action to make sure 16- and 17-year-olds are sent to alternative detention centers, separate from adult populations.

"We did not reach an agreement on something called 'Raise the Age,'" Cuomo said when announcing a framework end-of-session deal with Senate President John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. "Right now 16- and 17-year olds are going to state prisons and that, I believe, is an intolerable situation. So by executive action we will take 16- and 17-year-olds out of state prisons and put them in separate facilities," the governor continued. "I have spent time in prisons and that is not an environment that is suitable for 16- and 17-year olds and let me leave it at that."

Cuomo's announcement may sound fairly cut and dry, but in fact it raises a host of questions and creates a number of uncertainties. "We really don't have much in the way of details," said Paige Pierce, executive director of Families Together New York, an organization that has championed 'Raise the Age.' "We aren't sure if the order applies to county jails like Rikers Island. It isn't clear if the governor has the jurisdiction over county jails. It is a great thing if he does," Pierce says, because without raising the age of adult criminality, "the 40,000 16- and 17-year-olds who get arrested each year will still be treated as adults upon arrest and sent to places like Rikers before trial, where there is no access to services that are available to other juveniles."

Pierce and a host of other advocates and legislators say they are unclear on virtually all of the plan. They haven't seen details on a timeline for the executive action and its implementation; how new facilities will be identified or created; what kind of programming the administration will provide to the newly relocated population; or what impact the new system will have on the larger debate over 'Raise the Age,' which they expect to continue next year.

Since announcing his intention to take executive action on June 23, Cuomo has not spoken about the plan publicly other than two days later, when announcing a final end-of-session deal was in place. He said of 'Raise the Age,' "We take the first step by having 16- and 17-year-olds removed from state prisons and that is a very big deal and was a major imperative for this session. And we'll be creating facilities designed for those 16- and 17-year-olds that will be much more appropriate than a state prison."

The governor's executive action still won't prevent teens from earning criminal records that many, including Cuomo, say haunt them throughout their lives. It also won't eliminate the $100 million the state says it spends annually to jail 16- and 17-year-old offenders. It may even increase those costs as separate facilities must be opened and operated.

Cuomo administration officials stress that the governor will not be issuing an executive order but taking executive action by instructing the Department of Corrections to house 16- and 17-year-olds separately from the adult population. They say how and where those teens will serve their terms is still being worked out.

The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking its own steps to ensure teens are no longer jailed at Rikers after reaching a settlement in the class action lawsuit brought by The Legal Aid Society and a number of private law firms. The city settled the Nunez v. City of New York case late last month after U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara joined as a complainant. The settlement, papers for which were filed July 1, include installing cameras, reducing use of force against inmates, and an agreement to stop jailing offenders under the age of 18 at the facility.

"Today's papers formalize this administration's long-standing pledge to improve conditions on Rikers, including a commitment to make best efforts to move inmates under the age of 18 off of Rikers Island," de Blasio said in a July 1 statement. "We have a moral imperative to ensure every New Yorker in this city's care is treated with decency and respect."

Meanwhile, advocates are reeling from seeing a last-minute deal come together in Albany - forged by member-driven negotiations between Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans - only to fall apart when it was presented to the Cuomo Administration. A number of sources say that discussions between a few Senate Republicans who seemingly defied their conference to move the issue and Assembly Democrats had borne fruit just as session was coming to an end.
"We were extremely close during the 'Big Ugly' stage," said Pierce of final negotiations. "It wasn't perfect by any means, but it was enough that we could have called it 'Raise the Age.'"

Sources say the Cuomo Administration blew up the deal by responding with an offer that wasn't palatable to the Assembly or Senate. Some advocates believe it was sabotage on the part of the administration so that it could get the legislative package it wants next year in the budget.

"The Governor's executive action is something that should have been done years ago," said Republican Sen. Patrick Gallivan, chair of the Senate corrections committee. "We've been violating federal law that mandates 16- and 17 year-olds are kept separate from adults."

Stressing that he supports the governor's action, Gallivan says that 'Raise the Age' is not a simple catch-all because of the many nuances involving how teens are sent through the justice system. He also said the issue was too complicated to get done during this year's end-of-session blitz.

Gallivan and some of his fellow Senate Republicans are concerned that teens that commit serious crimes would be diverted away from prison; that the governor's plan to shift 16- and 17-year-olds to family court would over burden the already taxed system; and that not enough thought has been put into changing the entire process. The senator said he supports alternative sentencing and diversion programs but that more time is needed to consider the issue as a whole. "We need to continue this discussion," he said. "Youth courts and other alternatives should be looked at as models."

Advocates say Gallivan's concerns about family court are disingenuous because the Cuomo administration and legislators actually put increased funding for the family court system in the state budget - money that could be tapped if 'Raise the Age' is passed. Further, they argue that diversion and alternative sentencing would reduce the impact of the influx of teen offenders.

However, a number of advocates who spoke to Gotham Gazette on background said they now have a lot better understanding of where legislators from both houses are on the various issues contained under the 'Raise the Age' banner, and they hope to expedite action on alternative sentencing and other programs where there does appear to be consensus. "It's more a question of complication and time and details," Cuomo told reporters. "The raise the age - we made a lot of good progress [but] we didn't get there."

Whatever progress may be made next year, there was still clearly damage done by this year's failure. The Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus joined Cuomo in making the bill a priority and trumpeted the fact that black and Hispanic youth make up 33 percent of all 16- and 17-year-olds in New York and yet black and Hispanic youth represent 72 percent of all arrests and 77 percent of all felony arrests of 16- and 17-year-olds across the state.

The caucus has seen its major priorities routinely defeated year after year under Cuomo and some members are stunned that he allowed 'Raise the Age' to slip away this session. "This wasn't that controversial. We could have had a deal, but apparently it wasn't worth the effort from the second floor," said one Assembly member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who has championed the Senate Democrats' criminal justice reform platform, which includes 'Raise the Age,' said it was particularly stunning to see the issue fail when there is so much focus nationally on reforming the justice system. "I thank the governor for his executive action," Rivera told Gotham Gazette. "It is a good start and the right thing to do but I think it is appalling in the current climate that we can't get anything major on criminal justice reform done."

The Raise the Age NY Campaign, a coalition of many groups including the NAACP and Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, reacted with frustration upon learning there was no end-of-session deal to 'raise the age.' "Governor Cuomo's failure to fulfill his public commitment to pass comprehensive raise the age legislation jeopardizes public safety and lets down children like Kalief Browder who spend years in the adult system for simple mistakes," a statement from the campaign reads. Saying the executive action "barely scratches the surface of this problem" the campaign asserts that New York will continue to "not treat youth in an age-appropriate manner, which leads to youth who are more likely to re-offend and less likely to turn their lives around and become productive citizens. The Governor and Legislature need to fix this problem."

Any executive action Cuomo takes will only last through his administration and could be undone with the stroke of a pen by his eventual successor. It is a reality that worries many and will be part of the ongoing push for legislation. This summer legislators and advocates say they will be watching for Cuomo's action, hoping they will be included in decision making on what services to offer 16- and 17-year-olds while they also plan a full push for next legislative session. "We are very disappointed," said Sen. Rivera, "But I know we are seriously going to turn up the heat."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Cuomo's Executive Action on 'Raise the Age' Prompts Questions Tue, 07 Jul 2015 17:01:51 +0000