Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

 

Criminal justice reform

Criminal justice reform

  • first comm holds

    (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


    One of the most visible changes to American policing in the wake of the controversial 2014 killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men, by law enforcement, is the proliferation of body-worn cameras. But as the cameras become a larger part of the police oversight constellation in New York City, the NYPD has been slow to release footage to the very agency meant to investigate alleged officer misconduct, including excessive, even deadly, force.

    When Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the launch of phase one of

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  • attica correct fac

    Attica (photo: Wikimedia Commons)


    As the heated debate over the movement to close the Rikers Island jail complex rages on despite or because of the New York City Council’s vote to build four new jails and close Rikers by 2026, where is the corresponding clarion call to close Attica, Auburn, Clinton Dannemora, or any number of New York State’s brutal and archaic prisons?  

    In 2017, when Mayor de Blasio and the Lippman Commission released reports laying out proposals to close Rikers, there were about 10,000 people in New York City

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  • Melinda Katz

    Melinda Katz (photo: Queens Borough President office)


    Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is well-positioned to be elected the next district attorney for Queens, filling a vacancy created earlier this year by longtime DA Richard Brown, who had not planned to run for another term even before his death in May. Katz emerged victorious in a hard-won Democratic primary that was decided after a recount and court battle by a razor thin margin, and she is now facing Joseph Murray, an attorney, former NYPD officer, and barely known Republican challenger in a borough where

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  • govandcouomo consumer awa

    (photo: the governor's office)


    Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger faced up to 99 years for killing her neighbor, Botham Jean, in his own home. According to most observers, the forgiveness offered by Mr. Jean’s 18-year-old brother in his victim impact statement, capped by his request to hug Ms. Guyger, was the key reason why the jury settled on 10 years, a far lower number than even the 28 years urged by the prosecutor.

    However important a role forgiveness played in the jury’s decision to spare Guyger decades behind bars, according to interviews

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  • Rikers jails de Blasio

    On Rikers Island (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


    The narrow bridge to Rikers Island still puts a knot in my stomach. In the late 1980s, I spent two years behind bars in one of the eight active jails on Rikers. Back then, crossing that bridge meant disappearing from society and entering a world defined by violence and inhumanity.

    Little has changed. These days, I visit Rikers regularly as vice chair of the Board of Correction, the independent oversight body for New York City jails, and as executive vice president of the Fortune Society, an

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  • attica corr fac

    (photo: Wikimedia Commons)


    Last week, my friend and client Carlos passed away in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections. His life had been filled with so much suffering and pain, and yet he showed me only friendship and kindness during the three years I was privileged to know him. Known to his friends and family as Carlos, Edgardo Gonzalez was a professional boxer before he was sent away to serve a sentence of 50 years to life after an attempt was made on his life in a South Williamsburg bar and he killed two people.

    He had fought

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  • eastern correctional facility ny1

    Eastern Correctional (photo: wikimedia commons)


    The conversation around criminal justice reform is finally moving from general talk about mass incarceration to the specific reality of the multitude of people serving massive sentences. The more accurate description of these sentences – death by incarceration – is replacing antiseptic phrases like “life without parole.” These long-term sentences are, in truth, sentences to death in prison. 

    Several years ago, the Defenders Clinic at CUNY Law School began

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  • comm ublic hearings

    (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


    While not surprising from a political perspective given Mayor de Blasio's support for the plan, the City Planning Commission's recent vote to approve the very costly (about $9 billion current estimate) construction of new jails for the worthy purpose of closing the deeply inhumane facilities on Rikers Island was wrong and wrong-headed.

    As the City Council now considers the four-jail plan, one in each borough but Staten Island, it should recognize that the city can take the much smarter and cheaper course:

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  • gov andcuomo doc

    (photo: the governor's office)


    At the end of August, NBC New York ran a story about a young woman who was raped after going out to a Manhattan bar. Despite the fact that she came forward, wanting justice to be done, the Manhattan District Attorney refused to prosecute the case.

    When a reporter questioned his decision not to pursue charges, DA Cyrus Vance’s staff shared a letter he wrote

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  • maydbd coord off

    (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


    The New York City Council’s effort to reduce the criminalization of low-level, non-violent offenses through legislation passed in 2016 has continued to further achieve its aims for the third year in a row, as the NYPD makes fewer arrests and hands out fewer criminal summonses, opting instead for civil fines. But there remain concerns about racial disparities in law enforcement, as an overwhelming number of citations are handed out to black and Latino New Yorkers.

    In 2016, the Council under former

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  • m bdb dcc joseph ponte

    (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


    Not long ago, closing the Rikers Island jails was a radical idea. Today, however, less than four years after we launched the #CLOSErikers campaign, New Yorkers have reached political and popular consensus that closing the jail complex is morally imperative. Yet, they are increasingly opposed to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s visionless approach to executing this important mission. Today I write to join that opposition.

    The purpose of the #CLOSErikers campaign was not only to shut down a horrific penal colony,

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  • first lady chir2

    (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


    Valerie Gaiter died in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility last week. She had been in prison longer than any woman in New York State.  She had cancer. She was 61 and had served 40 years of a 50-years-to-life sentence for her conviction of the murder of two elderly people in Brooklyn in 1979. She was eligible to see the Parole Board in 2029 when she would have been 71.

    Edgardo Gonzalez is in Fishkill Correctional Facility. He is 75. He has chronic liver failure, hepatitis, and other ailments. He has lost

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  • gov cuomo tour wbai px

    (photo: the governor's office)


    August 7, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: State Prison Policy, Parole and Reentry Programming

    lizgaynes official wbaiLiz Gaynes of the Osborne Association joined the show to discuss state prison policy, including the controversial planned closing of a Manhattan facility, reentry programming, and parole laws.

    Listen to the

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  • cc ps comm prelim budget

    Four New York City District Attorneys (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


    Last week, Governor Cuomo signed a bill effectively decriminalizing recreational use of marijuana. Once in effect at the end of August, New Yorkers charged with possession of less than two ounces of marijuana will face fines instead of criminal charges. Possession of over two ounces of marijuana maintains high fines and the possibility of jail time.

    It is well known that throughout the United States communities of color have been disproportionately affected by

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  • bk jail rendering mocj

    (image: mayor's office rendering of new Brooklyn jail)


    July 17, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: City Plan to Replace Rikers Island Jails Moves Ahead

    Tyler Nims, executive director of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, also known as the Lippman Commission, joined the show to discuss the city's plan to close the Rikers Island jails and replace some of the inmate and detainee capacity with four local jails, one in each borough other than Staten Island. He

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  • caban monica wbai

    Larry Krasner and Tiffany Cabán (photo: @MonicaCKlein)


    “I was a public defender. I didn’t become a prosecutor.”
    -former Vice-President Joe Biden, addressing former prosecutor Senator Kamala Harris during a Democratic presidential primary debate, June 27, 2019

    Public Defenders are familiar with getting little respect. Law school classmates assume you couldn’t get a real job. Family members ask why you aren’t trying to make money. Acquaintances ask with distress and disgust, “How can you represent criminals?” Court officers sneer

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  • first lady chirlane mccray host convo across

    (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


    Five leaders in criminal justice and mental health discussed wide-ranging options to keep seriously mentally ill people out of the prison system during a panel discussion held by the Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice last week at Baruch College. Two out-of-state panelists, from Arizona and Florida, elaborated on initiatives in their states that have not made it to New York.

    The discussion took place just a week after the New York City Council ...

  • caban district attorney public defenders

    (photo: @CabanForQueens)


    Imagine this: you're a 50-year-old black man working as an assistant manager at a Gristedes in lower Manhattan, where you've worked for the past 25 years. It’s a typical evening: you close up the store and prepare for your long journey home to Harlem with a couple bags of groceries you bought for your family.

    Once aboard an uncrowded A train, you set your groceries down next to you on one of many empty seats. At the 125th street stop, two uniformed NYPD officers board the train. They spot you, grab your

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  • tiffany caban

    Tiffany Cabán and supporters (photo: Working Families Party)


    Public defender Tiffany Cabán, a self-described “31-year-old queer Latina” originally from Richmond Hill, appeared to pull off a stunning upset victory on Tuesday in the Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney. If the counting of a few thousand absentee and other final ballots stays true to her roughly 1.5% margin over apparent second-place

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  • governorcuomo chief judge difiore remarks

    (photo: the governor's office)


    The recognition that prosecutors were a primary cause of mass incarceration has spawned a movement for progressive prosecutors. While exactly what it means to be a progressive prosecutor is far from clear, at a minimum it reflects a change in the way prosecutors approached their work over the past several decades.

    Common features of a progressive prosecutor include emphasizing diversion over prosecution for minor crimes; declining to prosecute marijuana arrests in certain circumstances;

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  • Cuomo solitary confinement prison

    (photo: Governor's Office)


    Thousands of people are subjected to long-term solitary confinement in New York. The United Nations calls it torture. New York’s jails and prisons call it business as usual.

    Our state’s laws permit 23-hour confinement for months and even years at a time in jails and prisons across the state. This despite the fact that long-term solitary confinement creates severe and irreparable mental and

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  • dept corrections commissioner

    (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


    We are in a unique moment in history. New York City is embroiled in a process to build new jails -- the aftershock of a grassroots campaign to shut down the human rights catastrophe at Rikers Island. New York State recently passed bail reform, which must be implemented in every county on or before January 1, 2020, and across the country “criminal justice reform” and “ending mass incarceration” have become mainstream conversations -- an unthinkable reality just ten years ago. It’s a moment that

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  • gov amc rockland

    (photo: Governor's Office)


    We are days away from the end of the legislative session and among the many important issues Governor Cuomo and New York legislators have left to accomplish is addressing the racially-biased and unjust enforcement of marijuana prohibition in our state.

    The Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), currently being considered by New York lawmakers, is one of the clearest pathways toward reducing racism in New York. In the last 20 years our beloved state has earned the dubious distinction of becoming the marijuana arrest

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  • District Attorneys New York City

    Four sitting New York City District Attorneys (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


    Does the top prosecutor for one of New York City’s most populous boroughs need to have prosecutorial experience? Should the top prosecutor have spent significant time -- years, maybe decades -- arguing in court proceedings? Do they need to know how to put people in prison? Do they need to know to keep them there?

    That’s part of the “qualifications” debate ignited in recent weeks in the Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney, an election to replace the

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  • pol comm medal

    (photo: Spencer T Tucker/City Council)


    Many justice reformers welcome increased political support for constructive systemic changes. New York state government, for example, recently enacted reforms aimed at restricting the use of cash bail and reducing misdemeanor arrests. Many Democratic presidential candidates pointedly decry mass incarceration and our "broken" criminal justice system.

    The most positive feature of this shifting landscape is the moral concern that it reflects, the relatively new recognition among pundits, politicians, and broader public that our

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