Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/criminal-justice-reform 2019-08-21T17:16:38+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Max & Murphy Podcast: Reentry Programming, State Prison and Parole Policy 2019-08-07T04:00:00+00:00 2019-08-07T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8725-max-murphy-podcast-state-prison-policy-parole-and-reentry-programming Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/gov-cuomo-tour-wbai-px.jpg" alt="gov cuomo tour wbai px" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: the governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong>August 7, 2019 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: State Prison Policy, Parole and Reentry Programming<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/lizgaynes-official-wbai.jpg" alt="lizgaynes official wbai" width="150" height="133" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Liz 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.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/662675387&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Gay</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/gov-cuomo-tour-wbai-px.jpg" alt="gov cuomo tour wbai px" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: the governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong>August 7, 2019 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: State Prison Policy, Parole and Reentry Programming<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/lizgaynes-official-wbai.jpg" alt="lizgaynes official wbai" width="150" height="133" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Liz 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.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/662675387&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Gay</p>
American Prosecutors Need Not Wait for Marijuana Legalization 2019-08-06T04:00:00+00:00 2019-08-06T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8718-american-prosecutors-need-not-wait-for-marijuana-legalization Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/cc-ps-comm-prelim-budget.jpg" alt="cc ps comm prelim budget" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Four New York City District Attorneys (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p>It is well known that throughout the United States communities of color have been disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests. <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-metro-pot-racial-disparity-20190107-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">In 2018</a>, 89% of all New Yorkers arrested for marijuana possession were black or Hispanic; only 7% of people arrested for marijuana possession in New York were white.</p> <p>The new law fails to address the disparate impact of the pernicious enforcement of marijuana use as grounds for parole and probation violations, but thankfully will allow people already convicted of low-level marijuana possession to have those charges expunged from their criminal records.</p> <p>This law is an important legislative step towards addressing the over-policing and over-prosecution of our communities, and brings about a statewide change that has already been successfully piloted in parts of New York City thanks to local prosecutors’ sound use of their discretionary power.</p> <p>In 2014, then-Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson implemented a policy declining to prosecute possession of small amounts of marijuana. In 2018, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance declined to prosecute low-level marijuana possession in his jurisdiction and vacated 3,000 cases and bench warrants for possession and smoking of marijuana. In February 2019, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark declined to prosecute low-level marijuana possession.</p> <p>These efforts have been mirrored in other states as well. Baltimore District Attorney Marilyn Mosby rightly announced in February that “prosecuting [marijuana] cases ha[s] no public safety value, disproportionately impacts communities of color and erodes public trust, and is a costly and counterproductive use of limited resources.”</p> <p>Prosecutors across the country should follow the example of these district attorneys. Using their powers, prosecutors don’t need to wait for state or federal marijuana decriminalization or legalization to provide justice.</p> <p>Prosecutors use their discretion every day to tailor their recommendations on cases; the decision to decline to prosecute certain crimes that do not affect public safety is one way prosecutors should use that discretion to reduce the negative impact of the criminal justice system on communities of color, build trust with the communities they serve, and reduce interactions with the criminal justice system that may cause harm despite benign intent on the part of the system.</p> <p>Regardless of the outcome of any particular case, contact with the criminal justice system can affect an individual’s employment, interrupt child care, and make community members feel unsafe due to unnecessary system pressure. For prosecutors managing offices with heavy caseloads, the decision to decline to prosecute cases that do not increase public safety is also a strategic one. By lowering caseloads, prosecutors are able to reallocate resources to finding</p> <p>innovative, evidence-based, restorative responses to serious crimes that cause true harm to our communities.</p> <p>Local prosecutors across the country have the potential to impact countless people through the thoughtful use of their discretion in ways that reflect local values while prioritizing the safety of all. As New York has demonstrated, prosecutors need not wait on state or national legislative solutions to enact policies that will help enable communities to thrive.</p> <p>***<br />Lucy Lang is the Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/LucyLangNYC" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@LucyLangNYC</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p> <p>Note: this column has been corrected to note that the Brooklyn DA office announced its policy in 2014 under then-DA Ken Thompson.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/cc-ps-comm-prelim-budget.jpg" alt="cc ps comm prelim budget" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>Four New York City District Attorneys (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p>It is well known that throughout the United States communities of color have been disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests. <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-metro-pot-racial-disparity-20190107-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">In 2018</a>, 89% of all New Yorkers arrested for marijuana possession were black or Hispanic; only 7% of people arrested for marijuana possession in New York were white.</p> <p>The new law fails to address the disparate impact of the pernicious enforcement of marijuana use as grounds for parole and probation violations, but thankfully will allow people already convicted of low-level marijuana possession to have those charges expunged from their criminal records.</p> <p>This law is an important legislative step towards addressing the over-policing and over-prosecution of our communities, and brings about a statewide change that has already been successfully piloted in parts of New York City thanks to local prosecutors’ sound use of their discretionary power.</p> <p>In 2014, then-Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson implemented a policy declining to prosecute possession of small amounts of marijuana. In 2018, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance declined to prosecute low-level marijuana possession in his jurisdiction and vacated 3,000 cases and bench warrants for possession and smoking of marijuana. In February 2019, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark declined to prosecute low-level marijuana possession.</p> <p>These efforts have been mirrored in other states as well. Baltimore District Attorney Marilyn Mosby rightly announced in February that “prosecuting [marijuana] cases ha[s] no public safety value, disproportionately impacts communities of color and erodes public trust, and is a costly and counterproductive use of limited resources.”</p> <p>Prosecutors across the country should follow the example of these district attorneys. Using their powers, prosecutors don’t need to wait for state or federal marijuana decriminalization or legalization to provide justice.</p> <p>Prosecutors use their discretion every day to tailor their recommendations on cases; the decision to decline to prosecute certain crimes that do not affect public safety is one way prosecutors should use that discretion to reduce the negative impact of the criminal justice system on communities of color, build trust with the communities they serve, and reduce interactions with the criminal justice system that may cause harm despite benign intent on the part of the system.</p> <p>Regardless of the outcome of any particular case, contact with the criminal justice system can affect an individual’s employment, interrupt child care, and make community members feel unsafe due to unnecessary system pressure. For prosecutors managing offices with heavy caseloads, the decision to decline to prosecute cases that do not increase public safety is also a strategic one. By lowering caseloads, prosecutors are able to reallocate resources to finding</p> <p>innovative, evidence-based, restorative responses to serious crimes that cause true harm to our communities.</p> <p>Local prosecutors across the country have the potential to impact countless people through the thoughtful use of their discretion in ways that reflect local values while prioritizing the safety of all. As New York has demonstrated, prosecutors need not wait on state or national legislative solutions to enact policies that will help enable communities to thrive.</p> <p>***<br />Lucy Lang is the Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/LucyLangNYC" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@LucyLangNYC</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p> <p>Note: this column has been corrected to note that the Brooklyn DA office announced its policy in 2014 under then-DA Ken Thompson.</p>
Max & Murphy Podcast: City Plan to Replace Rikers Island Jails Moves Ahead 2019-07-17T04:00:00+00:00 2019-07-17T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8678-max-murphy-city-plan-to-replace-rikers-island-jails-moves-ahead Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/bk_jail_rendering_mocj.png" alt="bk jail rendering mocj" width="600" height="425" /></p> <p>(image: mayor's office rendering of new Brooklyn jail)</p> <hr /> <p><strong>July 17, 2019 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: City Plan to Replace Rikers Island Jails Moves Ahead<br /></strong></p> <p>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 addressed details of the plan, which was largely based on his commission's work, and some of the pushback that has arisen as the land use review process moves ahead.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/652664267&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/bk_jail_rendering_mocj.png" alt="bk jail rendering mocj" width="600" height="425" /></p> <p>(image: mayor's office rendering of new Brooklyn jail)</p> <hr /> <p><strong>July 17, 2019 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: City Plan to Replace Rikers Island Jails Moves Ahead<br /></strong></p> <p>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 addressed details of the plan, which was largely based on his commission's work, and some of the pushback that has arisen as the land use review process moves ahead.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/652664267&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
The Year of the Public Defender 2019-07-10T04:00:00+00:00 2019-07-10T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8662-the-year-of-the-public-defender Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/caban-monica-wbai.jpg" alt="caban monica wbai" width="600" height="437" /></p> <p>Larry Krasner and Tiffany Cabán (photo: @MonicaCKlein)</p> <hr /> <p><em>“I was a public defender. I didn’t become a prosecutor.”</em><br /><em>-former Vice-President Joe Biden, addressing former prosecutor Senator Kamala Harris during a Democratic presidential primary debate, June 27, 2019</em></p> <p>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 at you for representing [derogatory word they use to describe your clients]. Prosecutors treat you as if you are gum stuck to their shoe. Judges kowtow to prosecutors. And the media lionizes prosecutors.</p> <p>True, too, that many of your clients don’t trust you. After all, your service is free and in the United States we believe that anything free is worth what you paid for it. You are appointed by the same government that prosecutes them. And poor people accused of crime don’t get to pick their lawyer – you are foisted upon them (<a href="https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/05-352.ZS.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the court adage</a> is that a poor person is entitled to a lawyer but not to one of his choosing).</p> <p>Most Public Defenders have heard clients say to them, with all sincerity and heartfelt best wishes, “Maybe in a few years you’ll be able to make it to prosecutor.” Other clients, with less well-meaning intent, let you know they wish they had money for a “real” lawyer because they’d beat the case easy. Public Defenders have been referred to by clients as Public Pretenders and Dump Trucks (i.e., they just want you to plead guilty so they can dump your case).</p> <p>In addition to an often-bruised ego, being a Public Defender can also be hazardous to your career. For those thinking long-term, being a Public Defender isn’t exactly the key to career advancement. You might think that with all their courtroom experience there are a slew of Public Defenders in the judiciary. Well, starting at the top, the last Supreme Court justice with any criminal defense experience was Thurgood Marshall. On the other hand, there are and have been many former prosecutors appointed and rapidly confirmed to the Supreme Court.</p> <p>And you don’t have to aim that high judicially to be disappointed, and you don’t have to focus on conservative Presidents. Around 14% of President Obama’s nominees for federal district and appeals court judges had experience working in public defense. Meanwhile, 41% of his nominees had experience working as prosecutors.</p> <p>It’s the same at the state level. <a href="https://splinternews.com/why-public-defenders-are-less-likely-to-become-judges-a-1793855687" target="_blank" rel="noopener">A 2011 study</a>&nbsp;found that 15% of State Supreme Court justices had experience as public defenders, compared to 33% of State Supreme Court justices who had experience as prosecutors.</p> <p>What about legislative aspirations? How’s this for a campaign slogan – “I’m a Public Defender. Elect me your Senator.” Just listen to the debates for the current Democratic presidential nomination and count how many times one of the two dozen combatants intones, “Well, I used to be a prosecutor.” Think back to Clinton v. Trump and how he lambasted her for having been appointed to represent a man charged with raping a child in 1975. I guess his point was that that made her unfit for office.</p> <p>Yet now it seems Public Defenders are all the rage. There’s even no need to ask or wonder what kind of a Public Defender the person is/was (even though it is well-known that in addition to the many zealous, committed and brilliant Public Defenders, there are quite a few less than brilliant ones). Just wear your Public Defender badge and you’re good to go.&nbsp;</p> <p>So much for those who looked down their noses at you and with barely concealed contempt asked how you felt about getting guilty people off on technicalities (which happens as often as Haley’s Comet makes an appearance). The worm has turned. Public Defenders are trending.</p> <p>Consider the Public Defender for District Attorney movement. It’s hard to keep up with, every week another Public Defender is off and running to become a District Attorney and prosecute the clients they had just been defending (though in much gentler, kinder and more thoughtful ways). While the movement comes as a shock to most people, I imagine Public Defender clients are in full “I told you so” mode (see supra – “Maybe in a few years you’ll be able to make it to prosecutor”).&nbsp;</p> <p>And the Public Defender for District Attorney blitzkrieg is growing as several Public Defenders have pulled off dramatic victories. Now the battle cry is extending beyond mere District Attorney offices as calls abound for Public Defenders to run for judicial office. It might be worth calling a timeout on that one.</p> <p>While it’s too early to comment on the performances of all the Public Defenders who’ve become prosecutors, there are an awful lot of judges who formerly defended the people they are regularly, and with seeming relish, sending to state prison.&nbsp;</p> <p>But with all the ever-growing viral love for Public Defenders, nothing can match the latest shout out. Former Vice President, former United States Senator, former Chair of the Judiciary Committee investigating the claims of Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas, he of all people, in response to a withering attack from Senator Kamala Harris during a nationally televised debate, when she accused him of cozying up to racists and racist policies, he, Joe Biden from Scranton, invoked, of all things, his service as a Public Defender. In fact, he threw it back at Senator Harris by almost sneering that she, on the other, less virtuous side, was a prosecutor.</p> <p>As a former Public Defender, I had palpitations. I mean maybe there are kids out there in America who instead of reading To Kill a Mockingbird and dreaming of becoming a defender like Atticus Finch, will point to that moment as the day they decided to become a Public Defender. I am not sure if Biden ever really was a Public Defender, or for how long, or how competent, but that doesn’t seem to matter to anyone anyway. Just say you were a Public Defender and you win the day.</p> <p>Think of it. Are there parents out there tucking their kids in at night saying “Dream big, child. One day you can be a Public Defender and then become President” (or maybe after that debate performance, just Vice President).</p> <p>The Public Defender movement is undeniably gathering steam. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, herself a former prosecutor, has said that there need to be more judicial nominees with backgrounds as civil rights lawyers or Public Defenders. The aforementioned Senator Kamala Harris is showing respect for Public Defenders she didn’t display when she was District Attorney of San Francisco by proposing what she calls <a href="https://www.harris.senate.gov/news/press-releases/harris-introduces-equal-defense-act-to-boost-pay-and-resources-limit-workload-of-public-defenders" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Equal Defense Act</a> that provides for massively increased funding for Public Defenders. Why maybe she’d appoint a Public Defender to the Supreme Court.&nbsp;</p> <p>But let’s not stop the Public Defender juju there. We need more Public Defenders as pundits and commentators. Are you listening MSNBC? Maybe instead of every five minutes saying, “I’d like to turn now to our expert analyst and former prosecutor,” it could become “What does our resident Public Defender have to say?”</p> <p>Apparently, public defense isn’t a calling or a political stance but rather is a stepping-stone to bigger and better things. I hear there are some races coming up for police commissioner. Isn’t there an opening for a new Head of Customs and Border Protection? Maybe a Public Defender to run Homeland Security? Seize the day Public Defenders. The sky’s the limit.</p> <p>***<br />Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law and a former Public Defender. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/SteveZeidman" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@SteveZeidman</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/caban-monica-wbai.jpg" alt="caban monica wbai" width="600" height="437" /></p> <p>Larry Krasner and Tiffany Cabán (photo: @MonicaCKlein)</p> <hr /> <p><em>“I was a public defender. I didn’t become a prosecutor.”</em><br /><em>-former Vice-President Joe Biden, addressing former prosecutor Senator Kamala Harris during a Democratic presidential primary debate, June 27, 2019</em></p> <p>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 at you for representing [derogatory word they use to describe your clients]. Prosecutors treat you as if you are gum stuck to their shoe. Judges kowtow to prosecutors. And the media lionizes prosecutors.</p> <p>True, too, that many of your clients don’t trust you. After all, your service is free and in the United States we believe that anything free is worth what you paid for it. You are appointed by the same government that prosecutes them. And poor people accused of crime don’t get to pick their lawyer – you are foisted upon them (<a href="https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/05-352.ZS.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the court adage</a> is that a poor person is entitled to a lawyer but not to one of his choosing).</p> <p>Most Public Defenders have heard clients say to them, with all sincerity and heartfelt best wishes, “Maybe in a few years you’ll be able to make it to prosecutor.” Other clients, with less well-meaning intent, let you know they wish they had money for a “real” lawyer because they’d beat the case easy. Public Defenders have been referred to by clients as Public Pretenders and Dump Trucks (i.e., they just want you to plead guilty so they can dump your case).</p> <p>In addition to an often-bruised ego, being a Public Defender can also be hazardous to your career. For those thinking long-term, being a Public Defender isn’t exactly the key to career advancement. You might think that with all their courtroom experience there are a slew of Public Defenders in the judiciary. Well, starting at the top, the last Supreme Court justice with any criminal defense experience was Thurgood Marshall. On the other hand, there are and have been many former prosecutors appointed and rapidly confirmed to the Supreme Court.</p> <p>And you don’t have to aim that high judicially to be disappointed, and you don’t have to focus on conservative Presidents. Around 14% of President Obama’s nominees for federal district and appeals court judges had experience working in public defense. Meanwhile, 41% of his nominees had experience working as prosecutors.</p> <p>It’s the same at the state level. <a href="https://splinternews.com/why-public-defenders-are-less-likely-to-become-judges-a-1793855687" target="_blank" rel="noopener">A 2011 study</a>&nbsp;found that 15% of State Supreme Court justices had experience as public defenders, compared to 33% of State Supreme Court justices who had experience as prosecutors.</p> <p>What about legislative aspirations? How’s this for a campaign slogan – “I’m a Public Defender. Elect me your Senator.” Just listen to the debates for the current Democratic presidential nomination and count how many times one of the two dozen combatants intones, “Well, I used to be a prosecutor.” Think back to Clinton v. Trump and how he lambasted her for having been appointed to represent a man charged with raping a child in 1975. I guess his point was that that made her unfit for office.</p> <p>Yet now it seems Public Defenders are all the rage. There’s even no need to ask or wonder what kind of a Public Defender the person is/was (even though it is well-known that in addition to the many zealous, committed and brilliant Public Defenders, there are quite a few less than brilliant ones). Just wear your Public Defender badge and you’re good to go.&nbsp;</p> <p>So much for those who looked down their noses at you and with barely concealed contempt asked how you felt about getting guilty people off on technicalities (which happens as often as Haley’s Comet makes an appearance). The worm has turned. Public Defenders are trending.</p> <p>Consider the Public Defender for District Attorney movement. It’s hard to keep up with, every week another Public Defender is off and running to become a District Attorney and prosecute the clients they had just been defending (though in much gentler, kinder and more thoughtful ways). While the movement comes as a shock to most people, I imagine Public Defender clients are in full “I told you so” mode (see supra – “Maybe in a few years you’ll be able to make it to prosecutor”).&nbsp;</p> <p>And the Public Defender for District Attorney blitzkrieg is growing as several Public Defenders have pulled off dramatic victories. Now the battle cry is extending beyond mere District Attorney offices as calls abound for Public Defenders to run for judicial office. It might be worth calling a timeout on that one.</p> <p>While it’s too early to comment on the performances of all the Public Defenders who’ve become prosecutors, there are an awful lot of judges who formerly defended the people they are regularly, and with seeming relish, sending to state prison.&nbsp;</p> <p>But with all the ever-growing viral love for Public Defenders, nothing can match the latest shout out. Former Vice President, former United States Senator, former Chair of the Judiciary Committee investigating the claims of Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas, he of all people, in response to a withering attack from Senator Kamala Harris during a nationally televised debate, when she accused him of cozying up to racists and racist policies, he, Joe Biden from Scranton, invoked, of all things, his service as a Public Defender. In fact, he threw it back at Senator Harris by almost sneering that she, on the other, less virtuous side, was a prosecutor.</p> <p>As a former Public Defender, I had palpitations. I mean maybe there are kids out there in America who instead of reading To Kill a Mockingbird and dreaming of becoming a defender like Atticus Finch, will point to that moment as the day they decided to become a Public Defender. I am not sure if Biden ever really was a Public Defender, or for how long, or how competent, but that doesn’t seem to matter to anyone anyway. Just say you were a Public Defender and you win the day.</p> <p>Think of it. Are there parents out there tucking their kids in at night saying “Dream big, child. One day you can be a Public Defender and then become President” (or maybe after that debate performance, just Vice President).</p> <p>The Public Defender movement is undeniably gathering steam. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, herself a former prosecutor, has said that there need to be more judicial nominees with backgrounds as civil rights lawyers or Public Defenders. The aforementioned Senator Kamala Harris is showing respect for Public Defenders she didn’t display when she was District Attorney of San Francisco by proposing what she calls <a href="https://www.harris.senate.gov/news/press-releases/harris-introduces-equal-defense-act-to-boost-pay-and-resources-limit-workload-of-public-defenders" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the Equal Defense Act</a> that provides for massively increased funding for Public Defenders. Why maybe she’d appoint a Public Defender to the Supreme Court.&nbsp;</p> <p>But let’s not stop the Public Defender juju there. We need more Public Defenders as pundits and commentators. Are you listening MSNBC? Maybe instead of every five minutes saying, “I’d like to turn now to our expert analyst and former prosecutor,” it could become “What does our resident Public Defender have to say?”</p> <p>Apparently, public defense isn’t a calling or a political stance but rather is a stepping-stone to bigger and better things. I hear there are some races coming up for police commissioner. Isn’t there an opening for a new Head of Customs and Border Protection? Maybe a Public Defender to run Homeland Security? Seize the day Public Defenders. The sky’s the limit.</p> <p>***<br />Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law and a former Public Defender. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/SteveZeidman" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@SteveZeidman</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
Experts Discuss Diversion and Decarceration for People with Serious Mental Illness 2019-07-01T04:00:00+00:00 2019-07-01T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8654-experts-discuss-diversion-and-decarceration-for-people-with-serious-mental-illness Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/first-lady-chirlane-mccray-host-convo-across.jpg" alt="first lady chirlane mccray host convo across" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p>The discussion took place just a week after the New York City Council <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8608-city-council-examines-how-to-reduce-recidivism-for-people-with-mental-illness" target="_blank" rel="noopener">held an oversight hearing on recidivism</a> for those with serious mental illness and what to do about it, and not long ager the New York State Assembly and State Senate unanimously passed legislation to create a commission to explore further state investment in underfunded mental health housing programs.</p> <p>The panel, moderated by Greenburger Center Executive Director Cheryl Roberts, consisted of: Arizona State Representative Nancy Barto, Florida Circuit Judge Steve Leifman, Judge Matthew D’Emic of the Brooklyn Mental Health Court, co-Director of the Columbia Justice Lab Vincent Schiraldi, and DJ Jaffe, Executive Director of the Mental Illness Policy Group (Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clarke was slated to participate but was replaced on the agenda the day before).</p> <p>Each panelist was invited to speak on one particular specialty or accomplishment in their career related to diversion or redirection from prison for those with mental illness. The panel was part of a series called “After Rikers,” which the Greenburger Center is organizing to discuss how those with serious mental illness will fare once the jails on Rikers Island eventually close.</p> <p>Jaffe discussed a way, assisted outpatient treatment, in which the courts can order someone with a serious mental illness to participate in community-based mental health care services before they become violent. AOT, otherwise known as Kendra’s Law in New York, was pioneered by New York in 1999, an effort in which Jaffe was instrumental (Roberts introduced Jaffe as the “Father of Kendra’s Law”).</p> <p>“Kendra’s Law is simply the single most effective program that the city has or the state has for the seriously mentally ill,” said Jaffe. Serious mental illnesses, which plague an estimated 239,000 New Yorkers and 4% of the U.S. population, are advanced diagnoses, typically schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder.</p> <p>AOT is utilized for those who have rejected treatment or shown violent tendencies in the past but whose loved ones or psychiatrists can petition for a court-ordered treatment program. In essence, Kendra’s Law is aimed at preventing people suffering from serious mental illness from committing violent crime, in the vein of the namesake incident whereby Kendra Webdale died in 1999 after being shoved in front of a New York City subway by a man untreated for his schizophrenia.</p> <p>The population of people eligible for assisted outpatient treatment is relatively small – currently fewer than 1,400 people are under court-ordered treatment programs, although Jaffe estimates that number should be closer to 4,000 if New York provided more resources and was more appropriately aggressive in the use of Kendra’s Law to keep dangerous people in treatment.</p> <p>Barto, of Arizona, discussed her recent legislation to create a secure community residential program that provides long-term housing placements for those who have resisted help and failed traditional housing programs.</p> <p>“The goal is to enable a person to not walk away from treatment due to their illness, which is happening in an unsecure setting so often,” said Barto. The facility will be “secure” as in the patient will be unable to leave the gated facility until his or her program terminates.</p> <p>Barto agreed with Roberts’ assessment that the facility is “a civil commitment to a community-based locked facility or house rather than an institution.”</p> <p>Nationwide, the mental health field has shifted away from inpatient care (i.e. psychiatric hospitals or “insane asylums”) and towards community-based outpatient methods.</p> <p>Currently, New York offers some supportive housing options similar to Barto’s legislation. Both New York City and State have programs to build thousands of additional units of supportive housing in the coming years, allowing more individuals to receive mental health care and other social and medical services where they live.</p> <p>Leifman, of Florida, discussed two major initiatives: the implementation of Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) and the creation of a $42.1 million “one-stop shop” mental health facility. The facility -- full of programming, short-term residential beds, crisis intervention teams, and tattoo removal services -- is designed for those with mental illness who may not recognize the severity of their sickness and go through the treatment system many times.</p> <p>Through the CIT training program, Miami-Dade trained 6,700 police officers representing each department in how to handle an emotionally disturbed person during a crisis. A similar training has been slow to take hold in New York City, where <a href="https://thecity.nyc/2019/03/the-nypds-mental-illness-response-breakdown.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as THE CITY reported</a>, just 11,970 of the NYPD’s 36,753 uniformed cops have been trained to handle EDP calls as those calls have jumped to 180,000 last year.</p> <p>Furthermore, Miami-Dade recently created CIT 3.0 as a result of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, 2018. The program, called a threat management unit, has detectives daily go through every call to the CIT program and look for indicators for threats of violence which leads to an officer checking in on the caller.</p> <p>D’Emic, of Brooklyn, deals with mentally ill individuals after they have committed a crime. His court, started in 2002, is referred mentally ill offenders and he decides if they go through a mental health program instead of jail or prison. It’s this type of alternative to incarceration that many believe should be the model, but must be matched with good mental health care and careful oversight.</p> <p>Schiraldi spoke about what to do with people after they leave prison. He worked closely on the recently failed bill in Albany entitled the “Less is More Act,” which would prohibit New Yorkers on parole from being re-incarcerated for smaller technical violations of parole such as being late for curfew.</p> <p>A former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation, Schiraldi took a largely critical stance on the entire probation system, saying: “there is not a lot of strong evidence that probation and parole has an impact on public safety or rehabilitation. If this was a medicine, doctors would stop prescribing it.”</p> <p>“The major reason it will exist tomorrow is because it existed yesterday,” he said.</p> <p>There was one point of disagreement during the panel: Jaffe was much more bearish on the impact of peer groups on mental health than the rest of the panelists. A question from guest moderator Valentina Morales of The Fedcap Group asked how involved people with lived experience should be in the planning of mental health programs. Each panelist took the chance to praise people with mental illness who’ve completed mental health programs and work with ongoing patients, while Jaffe mentioned how that can at times lead to a closed feedback loop.</p> <p>[READ: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8608-city-council-examines-how-to-reduce-recidivism-for-people-with-mental-illness" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Council Looks at Reducing Recidivism for People with Mental Illness</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/first-lady-chirlane-mccray-host-convo-across.jpg" alt="first lady chirlane mccray host convo across" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p>The discussion took place just a week after the New York City Council <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8608-city-council-examines-how-to-reduce-recidivism-for-people-with-mental-illness" target="_blank" rel="noopener">held an oversight hearing on recidivism</a> for those with serious mental illness and what to do about it, and not long ager the New York State Assembly and State Senate unanimously passed legislation to create a commission to explore further state investment in underfunded mental health housing programs.</p> <p>The panel, moderated by Greenburger Center Executive Director Cheryl Roberts, consisted of: Arizona State Representative Nancy Barto, Florida Circuit Judge Steve Leifman, Judge Matthew D’Emic of the Brooklyn Mental Health Court, co-Director of the Columbia Justice Lab Vincent Schiraldi, and DJ Jaffe, Executive Director of the Mental Illness Policy Group (Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clarke was slated to participate but was replaced on the agenda the day before).</p> <p>Each panelist was invited to speak on one particular specialty or accomplishment in their career related to diversion or redirection from prison for those with mental illness. The panel was part of a series called “After Rikers,” which the Greenburger Center is organizing to discuss how those with serious mental illness will fare once the jails on Rikers Island eventually close.</p> <p>Jaffe discussed a way, assisted outpatient treatment, in which the courts can order someone with a serious mental illness to participate in community-based mental health care services before they become violent. AOT, otherwise known as Kendra’s Law in New York, was pioneered by New York in 1999, an effort in which Jaffe was instrumental (Roberts introduced Jaffe as the “Father of Kendra’s Law”).</p> <p>“Kendra’s Law is simply the single most effective program that the city has or the state has for the seriously mentally ill,” said Jaffe. Serious mental illnesses, which plague an estimated 239,000 New Yorkers and 4% of the U.S. population, are advanced diagnoses, typically schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder.</p> <p>AOT is utilized for those who have rejected treatment or shown violent tendencies in the past but whose loved ones or psychiatrists can petition for a court-ordered treatment program. In essence, Kendra’s Law is aimed at preventing people suffering from serious mental illness from committing violent crime, in the vein of the namesake incident whereby Kendra Webdale died in 1999 after being shoved in front of a New York City subway by a man untreated for his schizophrenia.</p> <p>The population of people eligible for assisted outpatient treatment is relatively small – currently fewer than 1,400 people are under court-ordered treatment programs, although Jaffe estimates that number should be closer to 4,000 if New York provided more resources and was more appropriately aggressive in the use of Kendra’s Law to keep dangerous people in treatment.</p> <p>Barto, of Arizona, discussed her recent legislation to create a secure community residential program that provides long-term housing placements for those who have resisted help and failed traditional housing programs.</p> <p>“The goal is to enable a person to not walk away from treatment due to their illness, which is happening in an unsecure setting so often,” said Barto. The facility will be “secure” as in the patient will be unable to leave the gated facility until his or her program terminates.</p> <p>Barto agreed with Roberts’ assessment that the facility is “a civil commitment to a community-based locked facility or house rather than an institution.”</p> <p>Nationwide, the mental health field has shifted away from inpatient care (i.e. psychiatric hospitals or “insane asylums”) and towards community-based outpatient methods.</p> <p>Currently, New York offers some supportive housing options similar to Barto’s legislation. Both New York City and State have programs to build thousands of additional units of supportive housing in the coming years, allowing more individuals to receive mental health care and other social and medical services where they live.</p> <p>Leifman, of Florida, discussed two major initiatives: the implementation of Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) and the creation of a $42.1 million “one-stop shop” mental health facility. The facility -- full of programming, short-term residential beds, crisis intervention teams, and tattoo removal services -- is designed for those with mental illness who may not recognize the severity of their sickness and go through the treatment system many times.</p> <p>Through the CIT training program, Miami-Dade trained 6,700 police officers representing each department in how to handle an emotionally disturbed person during a crisis. A similar training has been slow to take hold in New York City, where <a href="https://thecity.nyc/2019/03/the-nypds-mental-illness-response-breakdown.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as THE CITY reported</a>, just 11,970 of the NYPD’s 36,753 uniformed cops have been trained to handle EDP calls as those calls have jumped to 180,000 last year.</p> <p>Furthermore, Miami-Dade recently created CIT 3.0 as a result of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, 2018. The program, called a threat management unit, has detectives daily go through every call to the CIT program and look for indicators for threats of violence which leads to an officer checking in on the caller.</p> <p>D’Emic, of Brooklyn, deals with mentally ill individuals after they have committed a crime. His court, started in 2002, is referred mentally ill offenders and he decides if they go through a mental health program instead of jail or prison. It’s this type of alternative to incarceration that many believe should be the model, but must be matched with good mental health care and careful oversight.</p> <p>Schiraldi spoke about what to do with people after they leave prison. He worked closely on the recently failed bill in Albany entitled the “Less is More Act,” which would prohibit New Yorkers on parole from being re-incarcerated for smaller technical violations of parole such as being late for curfew.</p> <p>A former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation, Schiraldi took a largely critical stance on the entire probation system, saying: “there is not a lot of strong evidence that probation and parole has an impact on public safety or rehabilitation. If this was a medicine, doctors would stop prescribing it.”</p> <p>“The major reason it will exist tomorrow is because it existed yesterday,” he said.</p> <p>There was one point of disagreement during the panel: Jaffe was much more bearish on the impact of peer groups on mental health than the rest of the panelists. A question from guest moderator Valentina Morales of The Fedcap Group asked how involved people with lived experience should be in the planning of mental health programs. Each panelist took the chance to praise people with mental illness who’ve completed mental health programs and work with ongoing patients, while Jaffe mentioned how that can at times lead to a closed feedback loop.</p> <p>[READ: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8608-city-council-examines-how-to-reduce-recidivism-for-people-with-mental-illness" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City Council Looks at Reducing Recidivism for People with Mental Illness</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Public Defenders are Exactly Who We Should Be Electing as District Attorneys 2019-06-30T04:00:00+00:00 2019-06-30T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8650-public-defenders-are-exactly-who-we-should-be-electing-as-district-attorneys Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/caban_sanders_reynoso.jpg" alt="caban district attorney public defenders" width="600" height="456" /></p> <p>(photo: @CabanForQueens)</p> <hr /> <p>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.<br /><br />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 groceries, dump them onto the floor, and place you in handcuffs. They proceed to take you to jail where you spend the night for the crime of "occupying multiple seats on a transit facility." <br /><br />Many often characterize our criminal justice system as “broken.” The system is not broken — rather, it functions exactly as designed.<br /><br />It is a well-oiled machine that fails to indict the likes of NYPD Officer Daniel Panteleo, who choked Eric Garner to death over cries of “I can’t breathe.” Yet it sends another man to prison for giving a single Xanax to an undercover officer who feigned withdrawal. These are not malfunctions or misfires, they are successes for a racist institution. Prosecuting, incarcerating, and disenfranchising people of color leads to perpetuating racial oppression, which is and always has been the purpose.<br /><br />According to the NAACP, though African-Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the U.S. population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015. If African-Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%.<br /><br />District Attorneys prosecute poor people of color for jumping a turnstile or walking through an exit gate, possessing a minor amount of marijuana, ‘obstructing’ a park bench, or occupying two seats on an empty subway car.<br /><br />For the past decade as a public defender in Manhattan, I've seen firsthand the oppressive system at work. I’ve watched as police officers have justified under oath unconstitutional stops and arrests, viewed video recordings of coercive interrogations, and seen line-ups that were fraught with inherent racism. District Attorneys utilize coercive plea bargaining, withholding of evidence, and trial processes that favor disproportionate sentencing over fairness, rehabilitation, and respect for a person’s humanity. <br /><br />The system subjugates and criminalizes the very existence of black and brown people, attacks the trans community, remains disproportionately lenient on those who abuse their power over citizens, and regularly disenfranchises society’s most vulnerable populations. "Broken" is a mischaracterization that ignores the deliberate mechanisms that create countless inequities.<br /><br />Sweeping reform needs to occur to ensure that the system really works.<br /><br />Manhattan—with all our privilege, status, and wealth—ought to set an unparalleled example and eliminate every type of discrimination in our criminal justice system. However, we have already fallen behind Philadelphia, Boston, St. Louis, and now Queens, with the likely election of Tiffany Cabán as the next District Attorney there. The grassroots forces that propelled Cabán to victory must come to Manhattan next.<br /><br />The time for an equitable justice system in Manhattan is long overdue. Now is the moment for the borough to catch up and completely reimagine the justice system. To fight recidivism, crime, and assure real justice, we need to rebuild the system from the inside out.<br /><br />A public defender, like Tiffany Cabán, is the only one in the courtroom who intimately grasps the trauma and indignities of what our system does to people of color and others who lack the means to hire private attorneys. Public defenders on the front lines have always known that our system is racist and classist. Presently we have two systems of justice, one for the wealthy, and one for the poor.<br /><br />Right now, by electing public defenders as District Attorneys, we are finally seeing a movement to make sweeping changes, and we may have a chance to create a justice system that truly works.</p> <p>***<br />Eliza Orlins is a public defender in Manhattan. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/eorlins" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@eorlins</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/caban_sanders_reynoso.jpg" alt="caban district attorney public defenders" width="600" height="456" /></p> <p>(photo: @CabanForQueens)</p> <hr /> <p>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.<br /><br />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 groceries, dump them onto the floor, and place you in handcuffs. They proceed to take you to jail where you spend the night for the crime of "occupying multiple seats on a transit facility." <br /><br />Many often characterize our criminal justice system as “broken.” The system is not broken — rather, it functions exactly as designed.<br /><br />It is a well-oiled machine that fails to indict the likes of NYPD Officer Daniel Panteleo, who choked Eric Garner to death over cries of “I can’t breathe.” Yet it sends another man to prison for giving a single Xanax to an undercover officer who feigned withdrawal. These are not malfunctions or misfires, they are successes for a racist institution. Prosecuting, incarcerating, and disenfranchising people of color leads to perpetuating racial oppression, which is and always has been the purpose.<br /><br />According to the NAACP, though African-Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the U.S. population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015. If African-Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%.<br /><br />District Attorneys prosecute poor people of color for jumping a turnstile or walking through an exit gate, possessing a minor amount of marijuana, ‘obstructing’ a park bench, or occupying two seats on an empty subway car.<br /><br />For the past decade as a public defender in Manhattan, I've seen firsthand the oppressive system at work. I’ve watched as police officers have justified under oath unconstitutional stops and arrests, viewed video recordings of coercive interrogations, and seen line-ups that were fraught with inherent racism. District Attorneys utilize coercive plea bargaining, withholding of evidence, and trial processes that favor disproportionate sentencing over fairness, rehabilitation, and respect for a person’s humanity. <br /><br />The system subjugates and criminalizes the very existence of black and brown people, attacks the trans community, remains disproportionately lenient on those who abuse their power over citizens, and regularly disenfranchises society’s most vulnerable populations. "Broken" is a mischaracterization that ignores the deliberate mechanisms that create countless inequities.<br /><br />Sweeping reform needs to occur to ensure that the system really works.<br /><br />Manhattan—with all our privilege, status, and wealth—ought to set an unparalleled example and eliminate every type of discrimination in our criminal justice system. However, we have already fallen behind Philadelphia, Boston, St. Louis, and now Queens, with the likely election of Tiffany Cabán as the next District Attorney there. The grassroots forces that propelled Cabán to victory must come to Manhattan next.<br /><br />The time for an equitable justice system in Manhattan is long overdue. Now is the moment for the borough to catch up and completely reimagine the justice system. To fight recidivism, crime, and assure real justice, we need to rebuild the system from the inside out.<br /><br />A public defender, like Tiffany Cabán, is the only one in the courtroom who intimately grasps the trauma and indignities of what our system does to people of color and others who lack the means to hire private attorneys. Public defenders on the front lines have always known that our system is racist and classist. Presently we have two systems of justice, one for the wealthy, and one for the poor.<br /><br />Right now, by electing public defenders as District Attorneys, we are finally seeing a movement to make sweeping changes, and we may have a chance to create a justice system that truly works.</p> <p>***<br />Eliza Orlins is a public defender in Manhattan. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/eorlins" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@eorlins</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
20 Things Tiffany Cabán Promised To Do As Queens District Attorney 2019-06-26T04:00:00+00:00 2019-06-26T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8641-25-things-tiffany-caban-has-promised-to-do-as-queens-district-attorney Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/caban_mitchell_wfp.jpg" alt="tiffany caban" width="600" height="300" /></p> <p>Tiffany Cabán and supporters (photo: Working Families Party)</p> <hr /> <p>Public defender Tiffany Cabán, a self-described “31-year-old queer Latina” originally from Richmond Hill, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8640-promising-radical-change-tiffany-caban-declares-victory-in-queens-district-attorney-melinda-katz" target="_blank" rel="noopener">appeared to pull off a stunning upset victory on Tuesday</a> 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 finisher Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Cabán will be the heavy favorite to win the general election and take over as District Attorney in January, the first newly-elected Queens DA in almost 30 years.</p> <p>Cabán declared victory Tuesday night, while Katz declined to concede and said every vote must be counted. In her remarks to a packed and jubilant crowd -- chanting “Tiffany,” “Black Lives Matter,” “No new jails,” “AOC,” “DSA” and more -- at La Boom in Woodside, Cabán reiterated key planks of her insurgent campaign, in which she promised nothing short of a complete overhaul of the Queens District Attorney office and how criminal justice is meted out in the borough of more than 2 million people.</p> <p>“We can’t have people sitting on Rikers simply because they cannot afford their bail, while the wealthy continue to be provided their constitutional right to the presumption of innocence,” she said Tuesday night. "We built a campaign to reduce recidivism, to decriminalize poverty, to end mass incarceration, to protect our immigrant communities and keep people rooted in their communities through access to services and support."</p> <p>"We will need to build bridges with communities that have understandably been distrustful of the District Attorney’s office," Cabán said,&nbsp; while also promising to be a DA for those who did not vote for her.</p> <p>"I want to be very clear: nothing, nothing is more important to me than the safety of all people who call this borough home,” she said toward the end of her remarks. “We are going to center community solutions, and invest in healing and stabilizing lives. The changes that we are fighting for will be a fairer, more equitable, more efficient criminal justice system. And that doesn’t come at the cost of our safety, that is the source of safety."</p> <p>But what exactly did Cabán promise throughout her campaign? What were the planks of her platform that energized thousands of volunteers and tens of thousands of voters?</p> <p>“For me, my decision to run in this race very much so feels like the natural progression of my advocacy for my clients,” Cabán said in a February interview <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8326-crowded-race-election-queens-district-attorney-and-reset-prosecutorial-agenda" target="_blank">with Gotham Gazette</a>. Below are 20 more specific things she promised to do if elected Queens District Attorney:</p> <p>1. Decline to prosecute many non-violent crimes.<br />-“Decline to prosecute cases that pose little or no threat to public safety” and “Decline to prosecute crimes of poverty and instead go after wage theft and bad landlords,” according to her campaign website, and force bad landlords to provide decent housing.<br />-<a href="http://jimowles.org/assets/images/joldc-questionnaire-tiffany-caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">“Not only decline</a> to prosecute individuals who engage in sex work, but...partner with sex workers to push for legislative reform,” according to her Jim Owles Club survey.<br />-“Decline [to prosecute] transit offenses, trespasses, gravity knives,” she said at a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OFbRHLyBZs" target="_blank" rel="noopener">May 3 Players Coalition forum</a>.</p> <p>Her full decline-to-prosecute list of offenses, per <a href="http://5bd.org/_assests/_surveys/Coalition_Caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">her survey for an Accountability coalition including 5Boro Defenders, Vocal New York, and others&nbsp;</a>: marijuana, theft of services, unlicensed massage parlors, airport taxi (1220B), unlicensed driving and other minor driving offenses, turnstile jumping, petit larceny/shoplifting for amounts under $250, trespassing, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest,“bump up” burglary in the third degree felonies (would charge them as petit larceny misdemeanors), possession of gravity knives, “bump up” felony gravity knife cases, loitering, drug possession, welfare fraud, prostitution.</p> <p>2. For misdemeanors, raise charge standard from “probable cause” to “beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to her campaign website. And analyze racial, economic, and immigration impacts of charges filed, according to her campaign website and debate appearances.</p> <p>3. Hold police officers accountable for breaking the law, including for lying under oath. She <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/queens-da-candidates-release-cop-database-cb69j" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the Queens Daily Eagle</a> she would publish the DA office's list of officers who have credibility and misconduct problems, and may be liabilities if put on the stand in a case.</p> <p>4. Decriminalize drug use “that does not pose a threat to others,” including but not limited to marijuana. “We’re going to decriminalize marijuana and invest in services for substance use disorder, not fight a failed war on drugs,” <a href="https://twitter.com/CabanForQueens/status/1141452058693918720" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she said</a> in a June 19 tweet.”</p> <p>5.&nbsp;<a href="http://jimowles.org/assets/images/joldc-questionnaire-tiffany-caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Support</a> the creation of supervised injection sites, according to her Jim Owles Club survey. Provide naloxone, overdose training, and outreach to reduce overdose deaths, according to her campaign website, and bring companies that deliberately overprescribe drugs to court.</p> <p>6.Bail reform.<br />-End cash bail for all offenses. “Cash bail is wrong—period. We can’t have two systems of justice: one for the poor and one for the wealthy,” <a href="https://twitter.com/cabanforqueens/status/1131929779370905605" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she tweeted</a>. And <a href="http://5bd.org/_assests/_surveys/Coalition_Caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">implement</a> prompt automatic bail reviews.<br />-Cease use of risk score algorithms which are “based in...racist and classist ideas,” as <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OFbRHLyBZs">she said</a> in a May 3 candidate forum.&nbsp;</p> <p>7. Fight for open file discovery – “it speeds up cases, it’s what’s fair, it provides closure for survivors and victims of crime much earlier, ” <a href="https://twitter.com/cabanforqueens/status/1097503148476895232" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she said</a> in a tweet from February.</p> <p>8. Pursue shorter felony sentences and never pursue life without parole.<br />-<a href="http://jimowles.org/assets/images/joldc-questionnaire-tiffany-caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Advocate for legislation</a> to review sentences of those over 55 who have been incarcerated for over 15 years – a “top priority in my office,” according to her survey for the Jim Owles Club, which endorsed her. “The goal should be on rehabilitation and safety – not on punitive, overly-lengthy sentences that do little to safeguard community stability,” she wrote.<br />-Presume shortest possible sentence, exceptions are to raise length of sentence – not the other way around, she said at a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OFbRHLyBZs" target="_blank" rel="noopener">May 3 Players Coalition forum</a>.</p> <p>9. End civil asset forfeiture, and refuse to profit from prosecution decisions. In February, <a href="https://twitter.com/CabanForQueens/status/1099804420089483266" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she called</a> civil asset forfeiture “a terrible practice where money is seized from people who haven’t even been convicted of a crime.”</p> <p>10. Consider defendant’s ability to pay in imposing fees and fines, according to her campaign website.</p> <p>11. Give money obtained from legal proceedings to housing, job, and education services, which “evidence shows actually reduce crime,” according to her campaign website.</p> <p>12. Create a Conviction Integrity Unit to review cases. “Part of what [it] will do is not just look at the quote on quote typical innocent cases but looking at cases that involved officers who have histories of misconduct, looking at cases that involve prosecutorial misconduct, looking at cases that relied on bad science to get convictions,” <a href="https://pix11.com/2019/06/24/caban-looks-to-upset-establishment-in-queens-da-race/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she said</a> in a June interview with PIX11.</p> <p>13. Create a Retroactive Release Unit “so that we are making sure that we are not unnecessarily keeping people incarcerated for offenses that we recognize really should be treated with treatment or supportive services,” <a href="https://pix11.com/2019/06/24/caban-looks-to-upset-establishment-in-queens-da-race/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she said</a> in a June interview with PIX11.</p> <p>14. Create a Record Review Unit to clear the record of those in prison for no-longer-prosecuted offenses, according to her campaign website.</p> <p>15. Create a Reentry Services Unit to help the recently-released and reduce recidivism, according to her campaign website, “because 97 to 98 percent of people who are removed from their community reenter their communities no better than what they were, [and] in fact oftentimes worse,” as <a href="http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/06/tiffany-cabn-candidate-for-district-attorney-in-queens.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she said</a> in an interview with New York Magazine.</p> <p>16. Create units for corporate crime, consumer protection, wage theft, and antitrust investigations, according to her campaign website.</p> <p>17. Prosecute ICE agents who engage in abusive conduct, according to her campaign website, and “Ban ICE from our courtrooms, not let them terrorize our neighbors,” <a href="https://twitter.com/CabanForQueens/status/1141452058693918720" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she tweeted</a> on June 19.</p> <p>18. Help close Rikers Island jails, “faster than the proposed timeline,” with no new jails built in its place. “Every time new jails are built throughout this country's history, they are filled, she’s said. She promised to <a href="http://5bd.org/_assests/_surveys/Coalition_Caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fight</a> instead for “significantly smaller, better equipped community based jails next to court houses,” according to her Accountability survey.</p> <p>19.&nbsp;<a href="http://5bd.org/_assests/_surveys/Coalition_Caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Hold quarterly town halls</a>, per her Accountability survey, and create a Community Advisory Board, according to her website.&nbsp;</p> <p>20. Exit the District Attorney Association of New York. “I will exit DAASNY &amp; work instead with DAs who share our values,” <a href="https://twitter.com/cabanforqueens/status/1097503148476895232">she said</a>, due to DAASNY’s opposition to open discovery. <a href="http://5bd.org/_assests/_surveys/Coalition_Caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">“These associations</a> tend to have regressive, racist, and classist “tough on crime” mentalities,” she wrote in an Accountability survey.</p> <p>

***
by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/caban_mitchell_wfp.jpg" alt="tiffany caban" width="600" height="300" /></p> <p>Tiffany Cabán and supporters (photo: Working Families Party)</p> <hr /> <p>Public defender Tiffany Cabán, a self-described “31-year-old queer Latina” originally from Richmond Hill, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8640-promising-radical-change-tiffany-caban-declares-victory-in-queens-district-attorney-melinda-katz" target="_blank" rel="noopener">appeared to pull off a stunning upset victory on Tuesday</a> 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 finisher Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Cabán will be the heavy favorite to win the general election and take over as District Attorney in January, the first newly-elected Queens DA in almost 30 years.</p> <p>Cabán declared victory Tuesday night, while Katz declined to concede and said every vote must be counted. In her remarks to a packed and jubilant crowd -- chanting “Tiffany,” “Black Lives Matter,” “No new jails,” “AOC,” “DSA” and more -- at La Boom in Woodside, Cabán reiterated key planks of her insurgent campaign, in which she promised nothing short of a complete overhaul of the Queens District Attorney office and how criminal justice is meted out in the borough of more than 2 million people.</p> <p>“We can’t have people sitting on Rikers simply because they cannot afford their bail, while the wealthy continue to be provided their constitutional right to the presumption of innocence,” she said Tuesday night. "We built a campaign to reduce recidivism, to decriminalize poverty, to end mass incarceration, to protect our immigrant communities and keep people rooted in their communities through access to services and support."</p> <p>"We will need to build bridges with communities that have understandably been distrustful of the District Attorney’s office," Cabán said,&nbsp; while also promising to be a DA for those who did not vote for her.</p> <p>"I want to be very clear: nothing, nothing is more important to me than the safety of all people who call this borough home,” she said toward the end of her remarks. “We are going to center community solutions, and invest in healing and stabilizing lives. The changes that we are fighting for will be a fairer, more equitable, more efficient criminal justice system. And that doesn’t come at the cost of our safety, that is the source of safety."</p> <p>But what exactly did Cabán promise throughout her campaign? What were the planks of her platform that energized thousands of volunteers and tens of thousands of voters?</p> <p>“For me, my decision to run in this race very much so feels like the natural progression of my advocacy for my clients,” Cabán said in a February interview <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8326-crowded-race-election-queens-district-attorney-and-reset-prosecutorial-agenda" target="_blank">with Gotham Gazette</a>. Below are 20 more specific things she promised to do if elected Queens District Attorney:</p> <p>1. Decline to prosecute many non-violent crimes.<br />-“Decline to prosecute cases that pose little or no threat to public safety” and “Decline to prosecute crimes of poverty and instead go after wage theft and bad landlords,” according to her campaign website, and force bad landlords to provide decent housing.<br />-<a href="http://jimowles.org/assets/images/joldc-questionnaire-tiffany-caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">“Not only decline</a> to prosecute individuals who engage in sex work, but...partner with sex workers to push for legislative reform,” according to her Jim Owles Club survey.<br />-“Decline [to prosecute] transit offenses, trespasses, gravity knives,” she said at a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OFbRHLyBZs" target="_blank" rel="noopener">May 3 Players Coalition forum</a>.</p> <p>Her full decline-to-prosecute list of offenses, per <a href="http://5bd.org/_assests/_surveys/Coalition_Caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">her survey for an Accountability coalition including 5Boro Defenders, Vocal New York, and others&nbsp;</a>: marijuana, theft of services, unlicensed massage parlors, airport taxi (1220B), unlicensed driving and other minor driving offenses, turnstile jumping, petit larceny/shoplifting for amounts under $250, trespassing, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest,“bump up” burglary in the third degree felonies (would charge them as petit larceny misdemeanors), possession of gravity knives, “bump up” felony gravity knife cases, loitering, drug possession, welfare fraud, prostitution.</p> <p>2. For misdemeanors, raise charge standard from “probable cause” to “beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to her campaign website. And analyze racial, economic, and immigration impacts of charges filed, according to her campaign website and debate appearances.</p> <p>3. Hold police officers accountable for breaking the law, including for lying under oath. She <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/queens-da-candidates-release-cop-database-cb69j" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the Queens Daily Eagle</a> she would publish the DA office's list of officers who have credibility and misconduct problems, and may be liabilities if put on the stand in a case.</p> <p>4. Decriminalize drug use “that does not pose a threat to others,” including but not limited to marijuana. “We’re going to decriminalize marijuana and invest in services for substance use disorder, not fight a failed war on drugs,” <a href="https://twitter.com/CabanForQueens/status/1141452058693918720" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she said</a> in a June 19 tweet.”</p> <p>5.&nbsp;<a href="http://jimowles.org/assets/images/joldc-questionnaire-tiffany-caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Support</a> the creation of supervised injection sites, according to her Jim Owles Club survey. Provide naloxone, overdose training, and outreach to reduce overdose deaths, according to her campaign website, and bring companies that deliberately overprescribe drugs to court.</p> <p>6.Bail reform.<br />-End cash bail for all offenses. “Cash bail is wrong—period. We can’t have two systems of justice: one for the poor and one for the wealthy,” <a href="https://twitter.com/cabanforqueens/status/1131929779370905605" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she tweeted</a>. And <a href="http://5bd.org/_assests/_surveys/Coalition_Caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">implement</a> prompt automatic bail reviews.<br />-Cease use of risk score algorithms which are “based in...racist and classist ideas,” as <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OFbRHLyBZs">she said</a> in a May 3 candidate forum.&nbsp;</p> <p>7. Fight for open file discovery – “it speeds up cases, it’s what’s fair, it provides closure for survivors and victims of crime much earlier, ” <a href="https://twitter.com/cabanforqueens/status/1097503148476895232" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she said</a> in a tweet from February.</p> <p>8. Pursue shorter felony sentences and never pursue life without parole.<br />-<a href="http://jimowles.org/assets/images/joldc-questionnaire-tiffany-caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Advocate for legislation</a> to review sentences of those over 55 who have been incarcerated for over 15 years – a “top priority in my office,” according to her survey for the Jim Owles Club, which endorsed her. “The goal should be on rehabilitation and safety – not on punitive, overly-lengthy sentences that do little to safeguard community stability,” she wrote.<br />-Presume shortest possible sentence, exceptions are to raise length of sentence – not the other way around, she said at a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OFbRHLyBZs" target="_blank" rel="noopener">May 3 Players Coalition forum</a>.</p> <p>9. End civil asset forfeiture, and refuse to profit from prosecution decisions. In February, <a href="https://twitter.com/CabanForQueens/status/1099804420089483266" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she called</a> civil asset forfeiture “a terrible practice where money is seized from people who haven’t even been convicted of a crime.”</p> <p>10. Consider defendant’s ability to pay in imposing fees and fines, according to her campaign website.</p> <p>11. Give money obtained from legal proceedings to housing, job, and education services, which “evidence shows actually reduce crime,” according to her campaign website.</p> <p>12. Create a Conviction Integrity Unit to review cases. “Part of what [it] will do is not just look at the quote on quote typical innocent cases but looking at cases that involved officers who have histories of misconduct, looking at cases that involve prosecutorial misconduct, looking at cases that relied on bad science to get convictions,” <a href="https://pix11.com/2019/06/24/caban-looks-to-upset-establishment-in-queens-da-race/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she said</a> in a June interview with PIX11.</p> <p>13. Create a Retroactive Release Unit “so that we are making sure that we are not unnecessarily keeping people incarcerated for offenses that we recognize really should be treated with treatment or supportive services,” <a href="https://pix11.com/2019/06/24/caban-looks-to-upset-establishment-in-queens-da-race/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she said</a> in a June interview with PIX11.</p> <p>14. Create a Record Review Unit to clear the record of those in prison for no-longer-prosecuted offenses, according to her campaign website.</p> <p>15. Create a Reentry Services Unit to help the recently-released and reduce recidivism, according to her campaign website, “because 97 to 98 percent of people who are removed from their community reenter their communities no better than what they were, [and] in fact oftentimes worse,” as <a href="http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/06/tiffany-cabn-candidate-for-district-attorney-in-queens.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she said</a> in an interview with New York Magazine.</p> <p>16. Create units for corporate crime, consumer protection, wage theft, and antitrust investigations, according to her campaign website.</p> <p>17. Prosecute ICE agents who engage in abusive conduct, according to her campaign website, and “Ban ICE from our courtrooms, not let them terrorize our neighbors,” <a href="https://twitter.com/CabanForQueens/status/1141452058693918720" target="_blank" rel="noopener">she tweeted</a> on June 19.</p> <p>18. Help close Rikers Island jails, “faster than the proposed timeline,” with no new jails built in its place. “Every time new jails are built throughout this country's history, they are filled, she’s said. She promised to <a href="http://5bd.org/_assests/_surveys/Coalition_Caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fight</a> instead for “significantly smaller, better equipped community based jails next to court houses,” according to her Accountability survey.</p> <p>19.&nbsp;<a href="http://5bd.org/_assests/_surveys/Coalition_Caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Hold quarterly town halls</a>, per her Accountability survey, and create a Community Advisory Board, according to her website.&nbsp;</p> <p>20. Exit the District Attorney Association of New York. “I will exit DAASNY &amp; work instead with DAs who share our values,” <a href="https://twitter.com/cabanforqueens/status/1097503148476895232">she said</a>, due to DAASNY’s opposition to open discovery. <a href="http://5bd.org/_assests/_surveys/Coalition_Caban.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">“These associations</a> tend to have regressive, racist, and classist “tough on crime” mentalities,” she wrote in an Accountability survey.</p> <p>

***
by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Public Defenders as Prosecutors: Unanswered Questions 2019-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 2019-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8607-public-defenders-as-prosecutors-unanswered-questions Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/governorcuomo-chief-judge-difiore-remarks.jpg" alt="governorcuomo chief judge difiore remarks" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: the governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p>Common features of a progressive prosecutor include emphasizing diversion over prosecution for minor crimes; declining to prosecute marijuana arrests in certain circumstances; and reducing or eliminating calls for money bail. While to many these adjustments seem more like correctives than anything particularly progressive, they do signal important changes to the prosecutorial status quo.</p> <p>As surprising as it is to witness the number of District Attorney candidates running as criminal justice reformers, it is even more remarkable that many of these candidates are current or former Public Defenders campaigning to be the prosecutor in the very court in which they have been defending their clients. To devotees of the progressive prosecutor movement, this development is like manna from heaven; every Public Defender is seen as uniquely qualified by virtue of having been a Public Defender.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the years since the Supreme Court ruled that anyone facing incarceration is entitled to an attorney, there have been countless reports about the crisis in indigent defense and the effectiveness of government appointed lawyers. Often, the crisis centers around resources; Public Defenders have too many clients and too little funding. Yet there is also the reality that not all Public Defenders are vigorous, dedicated and indefatigably zealous advocates for their clients.&nbsp;</p> <p>Before anointing any Public Defenders as righteous District Attorneys, it is imperative to discern what kind of Public Defender they were. Did they pound the pavement looking for witnesses? Did they spend hours researching the law and writing novel arguments to expand the law and protect their clients’ rights? Did they visit their clients whether in jail, prison, or at home? Did they regularly push back against prosecutors and fight in court with judges who ran roughshod over their clients?&nbsp;</p> <p>The paradox is that most, if not all, of the fierce and tireless Public Defenders who meet the “test” spelled out above are the very ones who likely could not imagine prosecuting their clients in any way shape or form. And after all the cases are diverted from court, and all the low-level offenses are dismissed, that is what Public Defenders turned District Attorneys will do -- prosecute their former clients. That prosecution will be kinder, gentler, and more attuned to race and poverty, but thousands and thousands of people will still be prosecuted, and many of them will end up enduring the brutality, despair, and violence of years lived in prison cells.&nbsp;</p> <p>The progressive prosecutor won’t ask for money bail very often, or maybe not at all, but will ask that any number of people be held without bail or subject to all kinds of surveillance and restraints on their liberty.</p> <p>The progressive prosecutor won’t seek incarceration except as necessary, or even only as a last resort, but will find that last resort with respect to thousands of people.</p> <p>The progressive prosecutor won’t ask for the maximum sentence all the time, and maybe only in some cases, but will still often ask for jail or prison sentences.</p> <p>These truths make most committed Public Defenders shudder at the thought of being the elected prosecutor and having people incarcerated, even for a day, in their name.</p> <p>Public Defenders daily witness all manner of damage, indignity and violence inflicted on clients, their families, and their communities. They argue every day that the criminal legal system is unjust from biased and unconstitutional stops, arrests, interrogations. and line-ups, to rubber stamp Grand Juries, and through plea bargaining and trial processes that promote efficiency and punishment over fairness and decency.</p> <p>They are called to stand, literally and figuratively, between the awesome power of the government and their clients. Public Defenders as prosecutors will now face their former clients, level accusations against them, and frequently argue against the assertion, let alone expansion, of their constitutional rights. Suddenly, warrants are not always required, the Grand Jury isn’t so bad, and police interrogations are a valuable societal tool.</p> <p>When I was a fledgling Public Defender, I was assigned to assist a supervisor representing a man charged with a particularly brutal crime. Several lawyers from the assigned counsel panel had already declined to take the case, the prosecutor was seeking a maximum sentence, the judge didn’t even try to hide his contempt for our client, and the media coverage was dehumanizing.</p> <p>In his audiotaped confession, our client recounted in graphic detail what he did and why he did it. I asked my supervisor how he felt about representing this client. He responded by saying that it was exactly clients like this, who just about everyone wants to throw away, that most desperately needed a committed Public Defender.</p> <p>Ironically, this is the very man the progressive prosecutor will prosecute, albeit with greater awareness and sensitivity. His case will not be dismissed or diverted out of court. He will not be released without bail. And the progressive prosecutor will seek a prison sentence.&nbsp;</p> <p>Accepting for now the current system, the question is not so much whether that man should be prosecuted but who should, or could, do the prosecuting. A consummate Public Defender couldn’t be the person standing in court saying that this person, this man standing five feet from me, must, in my name and my role as prosecutor, go to state prison. Maybe the Public Defender who could do that made the right move in becoming a prosecutor. Maybe they didn’t have the right stuff to be a Public Defender in the first place.</p> <p>***<br />Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/SteveZeidman" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@SteveZeidman</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/governorcuomo-chief-judge-difiore-remarks.jpg" alt="governorcuomo chief judge difiore remarks" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: the governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p>Common features of a progressive prosecutor include emphasizing diversion over prosecution for minor crimes; declining to prosecute marijuana arrests in certain circumstances; and reducing or eliminating calls for money bail. While to many these adjustments seem more like correctives than anything particularly progressive, they do signal important changes to the prosecutorial status quo.</p> <p>As surprising as it is to witness the number of District Attorney candidates running as criminal justice reformers, it is even more remarkable that many of these candidates are current or former Public Defenders campaigning to be the prosecutor in the very court in which they have been defending their clients. To devotees of the progressive prosecutor movement, this development is like manna from heaven; every Public Defender is seen as uniquely qualified by virtue of having been a Public Defender.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the years since the Supreme Court ruled that anyone facing incarceration is entitled to an attorney, there have been countless reports about the crisis in indigent defense and the effectiveness of government appointed lawyers. Often, the crisis centers around resources; Public Defenders have too many clients and too little funding. Yet there is also the reality that not all Public Defenders are vigorous, dedicated and indefatigably zealous advocates for their clients.&nbsp;</p> <p>Before anointing any Public Defenders as righteous District Attorneys, it is imperative to discern what kind of Public Defender they were. Did they pound the pavement looking for witnesses? Did they spend hours researching the law and writing novel arguments to expand the law and protect their clients’ rights? Did they visit their clients whether in jail, prison, or at home? Did they regularly push back against prosecutors and fight in court with judges who ran roughshod over their clients?&nbsp;</p> <p>The paradox is that most, if not all, of the fierce and tireless Public Defenders who meet the “test” spelled out above are the very ones who likely could not imagine prosecuting their clients in any way shape or form. And after all the cases are diverted from court, and all the low-level offenses are dismissed, that is what Public Defenders turned District Attorneys will do -- prosecute their former clients. That prosecution will be kinder, gentler, and more attuned to race and poverty, but thousands and thousands of people will still be prosecuted, and many of them will end up enduring the brutality, despair, and violence of years lived in prison cells.&nbsp;</p> <p>The progressive prosecutor won’t ask for money bail very often, or maybe not at all, but will ask that any number of people be held without bail or subject to all kinds of surveillance and restraints on their liberty.</p> <p>The progressive prosecutor won’t seek incarceration except as necessary, or even only as a last resort, but will find that last resort with respect to thousands of people.</p> <p>The progressive prosecutor won’t ask for the maximum sentence all the time, and maybe only in some cases, but will still often ask for jail or prison sentences.</p> <p>These truths make most committed Public Defenders shudder at the thought of being the elected prosecutor and having people incarcerated, even for a day, in their name.</p> <p>Public Defenders daily witness all manner of damage, indignity and violence inflicted on clients, their families, and their communities. They argue every day that the criminal legal system is unjust from biased and unconstitutional stops, arrests, interrogations. and line-ups, to rubber stamp Grand Juries, and through plea bargaining and trial processes that promote efficiency and punishment over fairness and decency.</p> <p>They are called to stand, literally and figuratively, between the awesome power of the government and their clients. Public Defenders as prosecutors will now face their former clients, level accusations against them, and frequently argue against the assertion, let alone expansion, of their constitutional rights. Suddenly, warrants are not always required, the Grand Jury isn’t so bad, and police interrogations are a valuable societal tool.</p> <p>When I was a fledgling Public Defender, I was assigned to assist a supervisor representing a man charged with a particularly brutal crime. Several lawyers from the assigned counsel panel had already declined to take the case, the prosecutor was seeking a maximum sentence, the judge didn’t even try to hide his contempt for our client, and the media coverage was dehumanizing.</p> <p>In his audiotaped confession, our client recounted in graphic detail what he did and why he did it. I asked my supervisor how he felt about representing this client. He responded by saying that it was exactly clients like this, who just about everyone wants to throw away, that most desperately needed a committed Public Defender.</p> <p>Ironically, this is the very man the progressive prosecutor will prosecute, albeit with greater awareness and sensitivity. His case will not be dismissed or diverted out of court. He will not be released without bail. And the progressive prosecutor will seek a prison sentence.&nbsp;</p> <p>Accepting for now the current system, the question is not so much whether that man should be prosecuted but who should, or could, do the prosecuting. A consummate Public Defender couldn’t be the person standing in court saying that this person, this man standing five feet from me, must, in my name and my role as prosecutor, go to state prison. Maybe the Public Defender who could do that made the right move in becoming a prosecutor. Maybe they didn’t have the right stuff to be a Public Defender in the first place.</p> <p>***<br />Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/SteveZeidman" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@SteveZeidman</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
Lives on the Line: Legislature Must Reform Solitary Confinement Before Session's End 2019-06-18T04:00:00+00:00 2019-06-18T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8616-lives-on-the-line-legislature-must-reform-solitary-confinement-before-session-s-end Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18348963500_b18fe5aedf_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo solitary confinement prison" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Thousands of people are subjected to long-term solitary confinement in New York. The United Nations <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2011/10/392012-solitary-confinement-should-be-banned-most-cases-un-expert-says">calls</a> it torture. New York’s jails and prisons call it business as usual.</p> <p>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 physical trauma. Its effects can be deadly. The <a href="https://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/transgender-woman-s-death-in-nyc-jail-under-investigation-1.32263735">death</a> this month of Layleen Polanco in a solitary cell at Rikers is just the latest example.</p> <p>In 2015, the state and the New York Civil Liberties Union reached a <a href="https://www.nyclu.org/sites/default/files/releases/20151216_factsheet_final_0.pdf">settlement</a> that required critical changes to the use of solitary confinement in state prisons. Although the state has made important efforts to reform solitary confinement for people in prisons, we need the legislature to pass more comprehensive changes to ensure that individuals held in both prisons and jails are no longer subjected to solitary confinement in state prisons and local jails that lasts longer than 15 consecutive days.</p> <p>People in solitary confinement are <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/inmates-in-solitary-confinement-7-times-more-likely-to-harm-themselves-study/">seven times</a> more likely to hurt or kill themselves. We cannot afford to wait on reform. Thousands of people are in danger and there is a bill in the state legislature that could help them.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement (HALT) Act would make several important changes to the way our state currently uses solitary. First, it would prohibit long-term solitary confinement by limiting the time spent in confinement to no more than 15 consecutive days or 20 days total in any 60-day period.</p> <p>The HALT Act would ban the solitary confinement of especially vulnerable people, including those 21 years or younger, 55 years or older, and people with certain disabilities. The government would also be barred from locking up in solitary anyone who is pregnant or in post-partum recovery or anyone who is a new mother or caring for a child while incarcerated.</p> <p>Critically, the legislation would prohibit solitary for all but a small set of serious offenses. And HALT would provide rehabilitative programming that would help keep jails and prisons safer for everyone, including staff. To that end, it mandates that all people in solitary receive at least six hours of out-of-cell rehabilitative programming, plus one hour of out-of-cell recreation per day.</p> <p>In settling the NYCLU’s lawsuit, Governor Cuomo has acknowledged that the state needs to reduce its reliance on solitary confinement. The settlement was critical to reducing the state’s reliance on isolated confinement. But we need his leadership to push for more comprehensive reform that protects the health of everyone in our jails and prisons by ending prolonged solitary confinement.</p> <p>No one should be subject to torture.</p> <p>Speaker Carl Heastie and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins must act now and bring HALT to a vote. In 2018, New Yorkers voted to end the gridlock in Albany that kept progressive legislation like HALT from passing. By voting for this bill, lawmakers will help show that this legislative session is different and that the status quo of Albany inaction is over.</p> <p>***<br />Donna Lieberman is the Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JustAskDonna" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JustAskDonna</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCLU" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NYCLU</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18348963500_b18fe5aedf_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo solitary confinement prison" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>(photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Thousands of people are subjected to long-term solitary confinement in New York. The United Nations <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2011/10/392012-solitary-confinement-should-be-banned-most-cases-un-expert-says">calls</a> it torture. New York’s jails and prisons call it business as usual.</p> <p>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 physical trauma. Its effects can be deadly. The <a href="https://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/transgender-woman-s-death-in-nyc-jail-under-investigation-1.32263735">death</a> this month of Layleen Polanco in a solitary cell at Rikers is just the latest example.</p> <p>In 2015, the state and the New York Civil Liberties Union reached a <a href="https://www.nyclu.org/sites/default/files/releases/20151216_factsheet_final_0.pdf">settlement</a> that required critical changes to the use of solitary confinement in state prisons. Although the state has made important efforts to reform solitary confinement for people in prisons, we need the legislature to pass more comprehensive changes to ensure that individuals held in both prisons and jails are no longer subjected to solitary confinement in state prisons and local jails that lasts longer than 15 consecutive days.</p> <p>People in solitary confinement are <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/inmates-in-solitary-confinement-7-times-more-likely-to-harm-themselves-study/">seven times</a> more likely to hurt or kill themselves. We cannot afford to wait on reform. Thousands of people are in danger and there is a bill in the state legislature that could help them.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement (HALT) Act would make several important changes to the way our state currently uses solitary. First, it would prohibit long-term solitary confinement by limiting the time spent in confinement to no more than 15 consecutive days or 20 days total in any 60-day period.</p> <p>The HALT Act would ban the solitary confinement of especially vulnerable people, including those 21 years or younger, 55 years or older, and people with certain disabilities. The government would also be barred from locking up in solitary anyone who is pregnant or in post-partum recovery or anyone who is a new mother or caring for a child while incarcerated.</p> <p>Critically, the legislation would prohibit solitary for all but a small set of serious offenses. And HALT would provide rehabilitative programming that would help keep jails and prisons safer for everyone, including staff. To that end, it mandates that all people in solitary receive at least six hours of out-of-cell rehabilitative programming, plus one hour of out-of-cell recreation per day.</p> <p>In settling the NYCLU’s lawsuit, Governor Cuomo has acknowledged that the state needs to reduce its reliance on solitary confinement. The settlement was critical to reducing the state’s reliance on isolated confinement. But we need his leadership to push for more comprehensive reform that protects the health of everyone in our jails and prisons by ending prolonged solitary confinement.</p> <p>No one should be subject to torture.</p> <p>Speaker Carl Heastie and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins must act now and bring HALT to a vote. In 2018, New Yorkers voted to end the gridlock in Albany that kept progressive legislation like HALT from passing. By voting for this bill, lawmakers will help show that this legislative session is different and that the status quo of Albany inaction is over.</p> <p>***<br />Donna Lieberman is the Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JustAskDonna" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JustAskDonna</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCLU" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NYCLU</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
For Bail Reform to Work Invest in Communities, Not Prosecutors 2019-06-11T04:00:00+00:00 2019-06-11T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8584-for-bail-reform-to-work-invest-in-communities-not-prosecutors Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/dept-corrections-commissioner.jpg" alt="dept corrections commissioner" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>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 carries monumental opportunities and tremendous risks.</p> <p>For New York City to make the most of this movement, we must reconsider how we think about criminal justice reform and reset the dial towards progress and equity outside the system.</p> <p>Actions and planning cannot be narrowly focused; instead our elected officials must be prepared to fight for the fundamental needs of the communities from which city jails draw their populations. This must include massive investments -- billions of dollars -- to fund what communities have long been starved for: healthcare, housing, education, and other fundamental resources.</p> <p>Recently in Manhattan, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice presented at the last of four community board hearings on the city’s new jails plan. Just after, the City Council held its first hearing on the implementation of statewide reforms to bail and discovery rules. Just before, Council Speaker Corey Johnson unveiled his own plans for criminal justice reform in New York City.</p> <p>Each of these presentations were standard: they focused on prosecutors, public defenders, courts, police, infrastructure, land use, and “off-ramps” for people already caught up in the system. This is typical criminal justice reform rhetoric. But they also mirror “reforms” across the country which have (unwittingly or not) ended up expanding the reach of the carceral system rather than shrinking it.</p> <p>New York State has reached a tipping point, and could serve as a model for the rest of the country by calling for a dramatic expansion in the scope of what would be required to truly take on “mass incarceration.” We must get away from the old-fashioned notion that crime is a result of moral or personal failures that can be cured one case at at time, instead of a socio-political problem dictated by structural inequality, poverty, race and politics. We must acknowledge and act on the reality that criminal justice reform will never be successful or sustainable when it is siloed off from other crucial social issues that impact our society’s most marginalized.</p> <p>Jails have long served as the catchall way to manage New York City’s most pressing crises: record homelessness, unmet mental and behavioral health needs, substance use disorders (SUD), joblessness, and poverty. (The same is true across the country.)</p> <p>In general jail populations are symptoms of failed social policies and the politics of mass incarceration. According to reports, 16% of the daily jail population in New York is people who have been diagnosed with a<a href="http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/03/nyc-seeks-to-move-mentally-ill-inmates-to-hospitals.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> serious</a> mental illness, and 75% have a<a href="https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2016/05/23/at-rikers-island-a-legacy-of-medication-assisted-opioid-treatment" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> substance</a> use disorder. These numbers are similar to incarcerated populations across the<a href="https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/jailexpansion.html#substanceusereforms" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> country</a>.</p> <p>New jails cannot address record high homelessness, record high overdose deaths (which remains the<a href="https://www.politico.com/states/f/?id=00000168-4ec8-daaf-a9fc-def8fbd40001" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> leading cause of death</a> in New York City shelters), joblessness, and poverty. Nor can they address the shameful history of racial discrimination and divestment from our communities. Bail reform—which should reduce the jail population—can’t address these issues either if implementation focuses solely on city government’s new legal responsibilities under the law.</p> <p>At the most recent hearing on the city’s response to statewide reforms, City Council members and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOC-J) both listed as their partners in implementation the local district attorneys, the office of court administration, public defenders, and the police department. Implementation would only be successful, testimony suggested, if millions of dollars were poured into prosecutor offices. But there was no mention of Health + Hospitals, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, or the Department of Social Services in this conversation. No one raised the fact that jails operate as one of the city’s largest homeless shelters, and neither the Department of Homeless Services or the Department of Housing Preservation and Development were invited.</p> <p>The city risks missing the point here. Omitting the fundamental needs of the community means more overdose deaths, homelessness, joblessness, and poverty. It ultimately means, more incarceration and criminalization. As the jail population drops, what resources are we giving directly to communities in order to keep them safe, thriving, and able to manage inevitable conflicts and tensions without relying on a criminal punishment system that has historically failed to resolve any social problem? Why isn’t Steve Banks -- the Department of Social Services commissioner -- leading this work, instead of a thin MOCJ task<a href="https://brooklyneagle.com/articles/2019/05/24/new-task-force-announced-to-smooth-rollout-of-criminal-justice-reform/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> force</a>?</p> <p>The city is preparing to spend $8.7 billion to construct four new jails over the next several years as part of a plan to close the Rikers Island complex. That plan does not include ANY investment into marginalized communities impacted by incarceration -- despite research that these investments can credibly<a href="https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2018/01/03/new-evidence-that-access-to-health-care-reduces-crime/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> decrease</a> incarceration, which is, after all, the city’s stated goal. The City Council’s first stab at bail reform implementation also appears headed towards massive investments into the system, while ignoring community investments.</p> <p>New York City has a tremendous opportunity to reinvest in communities to help them thrive and to make them safer. To get there, we must expand the scope of this discussion and address the root causes of the social problems that we have tried and failed to address through mass incarceration, policing, and criminalization while stigmatizing generations of our fellow New Yorkers.</p> <p>***<br />Nick Encalada-Malinowski is the Civil Rights Campaign Director at VOCAL-NY. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/nwmalinowski" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@nwmalinowski</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/dept-corrections-commissioner.jpg" alt="dept corrections commissioner" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>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 carries monumental opportunities and tremendous risks.</p> <p>For New York City to make the most of this movement, we must reconsider how we think about criminal justice reform and reset the dial towards progress and equity outside the system.</p> <p>Actions and planning cannot be narrowly focused; instead our elected officials must be prepared to fight for the fundamental needs of the communities from which city jails draw their populations. This must include massive investments -- billions of dollars -- to fund what communities have long been starved for: healthcare, housing, education, and other fundamental resources.</p> <p>Recently in Manhattan, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice presented at the last of four community board hearings on the city’s new jails plan. Just after, the City Council held its first hearing on the implementation of statewide reforms to bail and discovery rules. Just before, Council Speaker Corey Johnson unveiled his own plans for criminal justice reform in New York City.</p> <p>Each of these presentations were standard: they focused on prosecutors, public defenders, courts, police, infrastructure, land use, and “off-ramps” for people already caught up in the system. This is typical criminal justice reform rhetoric. But they also mirror “reforms” across the country which have (unwittingly or not) ended up expanding the reach of the carceral system rather than shrinking it.</p> <p>New York State has reached a tipping point, and could serve as a model for the rest of the country by calling for a dramatic expansion in the scope of what would be required to truly take on “mass incarceration.” We must get away from the old-fashioned notion that crime is a result of moral or personal failures that can be cured one case at at time, instead of a socio-political problem dictated by structural inequality, poverty, race and politics. We must acknowledge and act on the reality that criminal justice reform will never be successful or sustainable when it is siloed off from other crucial social issues that impact our society’s most marginalized.</p> <p>Jails have long served as the catchall way to manage New York City’s most pressing crises: record homelessness, unmet mental and behavioral health needs, substance use disorders (SUD), joblessness, and poverty. (The same is true across the country.)</p> <p>In general jail populations are symptoms of failed social policies and the politics of mass incarceration. According to reports, 16% of the daily jail population in New York is people who have been diagnosed with a<a href="http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/03/nyc-seeks-to-move-mentally-ill-inmates-to-hospitals.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> serious</a> mental illness, and 75% have a<a href="https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2016/05/23/at-rikers-island-a-legacy-of-medication-assisted-opioid-treatment" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> substance</a> use disorder. These numbers are similar to incarcerated populations across the<a href="https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/jailexpansion.html#substanceusereforms" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> country</a>.</p> <p>New jails cannot address record high homelessness, record high overdose deaths (which remains the<a href="https://www.politico.com/states/f/?id=00000168-4ec8-daaf-a9fc-def8fbd40001" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> leading cause of death</a> in New York City shelters), joblessness, and poverty. Nor can they address the shameful history of racial discrimination and divestment from our communities. Bail reform—which should reduce the jail population—can’t address these issues either if implementation focuses solely on city government’s new legal responsibilities under the law.</p> <p>At the most recent hearing on the city’s response to statewide reforms, City Council members and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOC-J) both listed as their partners in implementation the local district attorneys, the office of court administration, public defenders, and the police department. Implementation would only be successful, testimony suggested, if millions of dollars were poured into prosecutor offices. But there was no mention of Health + Hospitals, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, or the Department of Social Services in this conversation. No one raised the fact that jails operate as one of the city’s largest homeless shelters, and neither the Department of Homeless Services or the Department of Housing Preservation and Development were invited.</p> <p>The city risks missing the point here. Omitting the fundamental needs of the community means more overdose deaths, homelessness, joblessness, and poverty. It ultimately means, more incarceration and criminalization. As the jail population drops, what resources are we giving directly to communities in order to keep them safe, thriving, and able to manage inevitable conflicts and tensions without relying on a criminal punishment system that has historically failed to resolve any social problem? Why isn’t Steve Banks -- the Department of Social Services commissioner -- leading this work, instead of a thin MOCJ task<a href="https://brooklyneagle.com/articles/2019/05/24/new-task-force-announced-to-smooth-rollout-of-criminal-justice-reform/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> force</a>?</p> <p>The city is preparing to spend $8.7 billion to construct four new jails over the next several years as part of a plan to close the Rikers Island complex. That plan does not include ANY investment into marginalized communities impacted by incarceration -- despite research that these investments can credibly<a href="https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2018/01/03/new-evidence-that-access-to-health-care-reduces-crime/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> decrease</a> incarceration, which is, after all, the city’s stated goal. The City Council’s first stab at bail reform implementation also appears headed towards massive investments into the system, while ignoring community investments.</p> <p>New York City has a tremendous opportunity to reinvest in communities to help them thrive and to make them safer. To get there, we must expand the scope of this discussion and address the root causes of the social problems that we have tried and failed to address through mass incarceration, policing, and criminalization while stigmatizing generations of our fellow New Yorkers.</p> <p>***<br />Nick Encalada-Malinowski is the Civil Rights Campaign Director at VOCAL-NY. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/nwmalinowski" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@nwmalinowski</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>