Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

 

Criminal justice reform

Criminal justice reform

  • 3 albany ltgov duffy grad

    State lawmakers wrongly bowed to law enforcement pressure on bail reform, the author writes (photo: governor's office)


    Predictably, and disappointingly, the New York State Legislature rolled back last year’s historic and hard fought bail reforms at the eleventh hour. It was an act of cruelty after providing our communities the briefest of reprieves following the historic enactment of bail reform just three months ago, on January 1.

    Less than two minutes of floor debate allowed racists and prison profiteers to win in their crusade to

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  • corona justice

    Equal justice for all, whether a top elected official or not, the author writes (photo: Wikimedia Commons)


    Alongside the daily coronavirus news come allegations about shocking abuses of power. Several United States senators, most notably Senators Burr and Loeffler, allegedly used non-public information — confidential congressional briefings about COVID-19 — to sell stocks whose prices they believed would drop due to the pandemic. Even worse, while taking steps to profit from the

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  • sochie bail reform

    Sochie Nnaemeka, the author (photo: @sochiesays)


    In moments of crisis, we see what our leaders value. Over the past week, coronavirus has spread to Rikers Island. Our state should be focused on keeping detained New Yorkers and correctional workers safe and healthy. Instead, elected officials may roll back bail reforms in response to fear-mongering by opponents of the new law. If our leaders in Albany choose to reduce the number of people eligible to await their trial from home, the jail population could grow during a dangerous pandemic. We must put human safety over

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  • police grad cere

    Law enforcement officials have pushed for bail reform rollbacks (photo: Governor's Office)


    The hyperbolic vitriol about bail reform in New York should be viewed in context – it is but one example of the ways those with entrenched power in the criminal legal system rebel against even the slightest diminution of, or threat to, their authority.

    Despite a growing movement for change, police officers, prosecutors, and judges cling to their absolute power to arrest, prosecute, and adjudicate with scant concern for due process, equal protection, or basic

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  • port authority bus

    (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


    While New York’s public health system is doing its best to combat the coronavirus, we need far more assurance from elected officials, especially those involved in our criminal justice system, that they are ready to protect our civil liberties in this emergency. As a civil rights attorney, I know that we must meet this moment with a response that honors public safety, protection from discrimination and price-gouging, civil liberties, and regard for those most marginalized, including people in our jails. We cannot

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  • brooklyn bridge ave 33rd cityhall

    Policing the subways (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


    If you’ve ridden the subway recently, you could be forgiven for feeling watched. The MTA’s fare evasion crackdown is ubiquitous; subway cars are plastered with phrases like “We’d rather your $2.75 fare than your $100 fine.” Governor Cuomo’s ...

  • alkbrook1

    Alec Brook-Krasny (photo: @AlecBrookKrasny)


    Twenty years ago, when I first ran for office, I was not like most other candidates. Democracy was not something I was born into. Instead, I left the country where I grew up and traveled across the world to trade the oppression of the Soviet Union for the freedom of the United States. As a result, when I asked my neighbors to elect me to the New York State Assembly, it was because I wanted to give back to the community and country that had welcomed me with open arms and helped me to achieve the American Dream.

    Twenty years

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  • one police executive

    NYPD tabletop meeting (photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayoral Photography Office)


    As advocates of mass incarceration slowly realize they are losing their grip on political power, they are flailing to find new strategies to undermine the state’s recent bail reforms. Under the media-driven, police union-inspired, fear campaign against reform, many advocates of the carceral state are pushing a new form of confinement: ...

  • Gotham Gazette:

    Attica (photo: Wikimedia Commons)


    Democrats Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are widely known as the most liberal lawmakers vying to be the party’s presidential nominee in 2020. Both believe in healthcare, higher education, and childcare for all. They often cite that the country lags behind most other countries of the world in areas of maternity health, infant mortality, economic and wealth inequality, and many other societal measures of health and well-being. However, as far as international standards go, Warren and Sanders are both out of touch in their belief in permanent

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  • michael blake presser

    Assemblymember Blake, one of the authors, at a recent rally


    On January 1, as New York took a considerable step towards a more just and equitable criminal justice system, we heard the all-too-predictable objections to bail reform. Now, along with the chorus that tried to shout down reforms in the last legislative session, we hear some of those who supported these reforms wanting to undo a policy that takes seriously the rights of low-income New Yorkers and communities of color—because of a tragic incident in Monsey that has nothing to do with bail or

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  • prison cell bars

    (photo: Andrew Bardwell/Wikimedia Commons)


    When I was first elected to the New York State Assembly in November 2016, I pledged to promote safety, fairness, and justice for my community and other communities across New York. I knew that we had so much work to do to support everyday New Yorkers and their loved ones, especially those harmed by the criminal justice system—something that has impacted me and so many others in my northern Manhattan district for decades. 

    While colleagues and I made important changes to New York’s pre-trial legal system in

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  • Cuomo legislative leaders

    Gov. Cuomo and other state leaders (photo: Darren McGee, Governor's Office)


    In the opening days of the 2020 state legislative session, debate continues to rage over whether to revisit major changes to the bail system made last year and key Albany policy-makers have been staking out initial positions in a reignited conversation that could lead to revising the reforms.

    The three top decision-makers -- Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, all Democrats -- have each taken a

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  • courtroom

    (photo: Governor's Office)


    Nearly five years ago, Jerome Murdough, an African-American Marine Corps veteran, died on Rikers Island due to a combination of injustice, inhumanity, and medical neglect. Afflicted by homelessness and mental illness, Murdough tragically passed away when temperatures in his cell reached 100 degrees – heat that was contraindicated with his medicine – and he baked to death. The reason for this death sentence: He was cold one night and sought shelter in a public housing stairwell, where he was arrested for trespassing and jailed on $2,500

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  • criminal justice related

    (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


    For decades, formerly and currently incarcerated New Yorkers -- along with mental health experts, legal advocates, and service providers -- have demanded that city officials find the courage to close Rikers Island jails once and for all, erasing a shameful stain on the legacy of a city that aspires to be the most progressive in the world. Due in part to the sweeping success of the #FREEnewyork campaign securing transformative pretrial reforms in Albany this year, New York City is on track to release over 900 New

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  • college prison lte

    Stacy Burnett, the author (photo: College & Community Fellowship)


    To the Editor:

    Regarding "New York College-in-Prisons Program is Flourishing" (Dec. 3): I am proof there can be no rehabilitation in prison without education, and that restoring Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) funding for college-in-prison participants must be a top priority if New York is serious about building safer communities.

    In 2013,

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  • bpi photo 3

    (photo: Bard Prison Initiative)


    In February 2014, early in his first reelection year, Governor Andrew Cuomo made what proved to be a bold proposal to reduce recidivism by creating opportunities for higher education in state prisons, seizing on an enduring problem at the intersection of social and criminal justice reform efforts. But he had misjudged the political landscape and the announcement was met with significant backlash followed by an uncharacteristic reversal for the seasoned New York powerbroker.

    It took nearly four more years, and litigation with the world’s largest

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  • nycpba wbai 600

    SI DA McMahon at a press conference (photo: @NYCPBA)


    November 27, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Debating Major Criminal Justice Reforms Set to Take Effect in January

    da mcmahon marie nidaye 150Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon and Marie Ndiaye of Legal Aid Society joined the show to discuss their respective concerns about and support for major criminal justice reforms passed

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  • 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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