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 2019-12-07T05:18:46+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com With Push from Cuomo and Funding from Vance, New York College-in-Prisons Program is Flourishing 2019-12-02T05:00:00+00:00 2019-12-02T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8959-5-years-after-abandoned-cuomo-plan-college-in-prisons-program-is-flourishing-behind-bars-vance Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bpi_photo_3.jpeg" alt="bpi photo 3" width="600" height="315" /></p> <p>(photo: Bard Prison Initiative)</p> <hr /> <p>In February 2014, early in his first reelection year, Governor Andrew Cuomo made what proved to be a bold proposal to reduce recidivism by creating opportunities for higher education in state prisons, seizing on an enduring problem at the intersection of social and criminal justice reform efforts. But he had misjudged the political landscape and the announcement was met with significant backlash followed by an uncharacteristic reversal for the seasoned New York powerbroker.</p> <p>It took nearly four more years, and litigation with the world’s largest banking institutions, before a similar plan was recrafted and set in motion again.&nbsp;Two years into the rebooted plan, the state’s College-in-Prison Reentry Program has served 506 incarcerated students. Sixty-two of those students completed a degree behind bars before being released.</p> <p>It was a cold Sunday morning in 2014 when Cuomo, then a first-term Democrat, was flanked by clergy and a smattering of elected officials as he announced a plan to provide <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-launches-initiative-provide-college-classes-new-york-prison">state funding to college programs</a> in 10 New York State prisons, an approach he said would cut recidivism and save taxpayer money. He was speaking at an event hosted by the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus of the State Legislature at Wilborn Temple, a black Pentecostal church near the State Capitol in Albany.</p> <p>“In this great state of New York, this laboratory of democracy, this progressive capital of the country, there is nothing that we can’t do when we’re willing to work together,” he said to fanfare at the end of a speech that tied together employment, education, and incarceration while invoking familiar themes from the Civil Rights Movement and the New Testament.</p> <p>But by the time the state budget was passed six weeks later, Cuomo had <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/03/nyregion/cuomo-drops-plan-to-use-state-money-to-pay-for-college-classes-for-inmates.html?module=inline">pulled the idea</a> in the face of intense criticism from conservatives, including his Republican challenger Rob Astorino, who said the state should not be funding college for convicted criminals while law-abiding students struggle with the rising costs of higher education.</p> <p>It wasn’t until August 2017 that the governor launched a second attempt, this time in partnership with Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, announcing a <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-and-manhattan-district-attorney-vance-announce-award-recipients-73-million">five-year $7.3 million initiative</a> to fund higher education programs in prisons using money raised not through taxes, but through <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6686-massive-bank-settlements-fueled-spending-spree-by-electeds">criminal asset forfeitures</a>. The money was handed over by banks as part of settlements in the wake of the financial crisis late last decade, and is controlled by Vance’s office, which now oversees the college-in-prison program, run by the CUNY Institute of State and Local Governance.</p> <p>The largest of the state’s prison-based college programs, the Bard Prison Initiative, is now the subject of a heralded&nbsp;<a href="https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/college-behind-bars/">four-part documentary series</a>, “College Behind Bars,” which first aired Monday, November 25, to praise from many advocates and elected officials across the country.</p> <p>First announced as part of Cuomo’s State of the State agenda in 2016, the College-in-Prison Reentry Program is intended to help standardize and provide consistent funding for college programs operating in state prisons, which lost their main sources of public financing when state and federal grant programs were peeled back in the mid-nineties. To date, no state budget funds have been allocated to the program, a spokesperson for the state Division of the Budget told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Despite the controversy around the program’s inception, prison reformers, elected officials, graduates of the offerings, and the new PBS series are attempting to show the value of higher education in prisons -- both for incarcerated people on the threshold of reentry to the larger society, and for state coffers.</p> <p>“Going to the college courses, interacting with the professors, engaging theories and texts that I would have never come across in the life I was living beforehand made me want to be a better person and made me want to go back to my community and become an asset and not a liability,” said George Chochos, a BA-recipient through the Bard Prison Initiative, which offers courses in six state correctional facilities and is now partially funded through asset forfeitures.</p> <p>“It provided hope in a hopeless situation,” he told Gotham Gazette by phone after work Wednesday evening. Chochos is the assistant director of program management at the Georgetown University Pivot Program, a business certificate program for formerly incarcerated individuals. “It’s one of the few things inside of a prison that allows you to break away from the monotony of the prison system, to where your identity is a student not a number,” he said.</p> <p>The College-in-Prison Reentry Program is available to students regardless of the crime they were convicted of, requiring only that they have fewer than five years remaining in their sentences, according to Danny Frost, Vance’s director of communications. Seven colleges and universities were selected to receive funding through the program to deliver courses and reentry services at 17 New York State correctional facilities.</p> <p>It is intended to create 2,500 seats in prison-based college over five years. Two years into the project, nearly $2.8 million has been paid out to the schools and the CUNY Institute of State and Local Governance for program evaluation and support.</p> <p>In a <a href="https://www.manhattanda.org/da-vance-delivers-keynote-remarks-at-nys-corrections-and-youth-services-association-symposium-in-albany-ny/">speech</a> last fall, Vance said “the program is tailored by design to cover New Yorkers who are on that reentry journey -- who in just a few years will be expected to compete in a labor market with community members who were not incarcerated.”</p> <p>Studies have shown that higher education in prison can significantly reduce recidivism rates and leads to better outcomes for people exiting prison, including in terms of employment. But it has faced a rocky history in New York State and nationally, where critics say it rewards criminal behavior in a system created to penalize it.</p> <p>“I’ve been incarcerated for 13 years, and from my experience I can tell you prison is here to punish us, it’s here to warehouse us. But it’s not about rehabilitating, it’s not about creating productive beings, it just isn’t,” said Rodney Spivey-Jones, a BA student in the Bard Prison Initiative, in the first episode of College Behind Bars, which is directed by Lynn Novick.</p> <p>The Bard Prison Initiative, launched in 2001 by Bard College, is the <a href="https://cjii.org/funding/funded-programs/">largest recipient</a> of College-in-Prison Reentry funding at $1.3 million over the five year period (2017-2022). It became <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/prisoners-surprised-by-reaction-after-defeating-harvard-in-debate-1444346819?mod=article_inline">internationally famous</a> in 2015, when the BPI debate team at Eastern New York Correctional Facility beat Harvard’s.</p> <p>The six other schools receiving grants through the program are Jefferson Community College, Medaille College, Mercy College, Mohawk Valley Community College, New York University, and Cornell University in partnership with Cayuga Community College. To receive the money, the schools must be able to match the grants with other funding sources like charitable foundations or federal grants.</p> <p>Each school offers different courses and degrees in line with the curriculum standards offered on their main campuses. Five offer associate’s degree programs and two offer bachelor’s degrees. They provide between 1 and 10 courses per semester, with most offering more than six.</p> <p>College programs have been operating in New York State prisons since 1876, but they received a boon in the mid-twentieth century through post-World War II charitable initiatives and federal funding like the GI Bill, according to a <a href="http://johnjaypri.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Mapping-the-Landscape-of-Higher-Ed-in-NYS-Prisons-6.10.19.pdf">report</a> from John Jay College’s Prisoner Reentry Institute. In the mid-1970s, the establishment of federal Pell grants and the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) for low-income students allowed prison-based college programs to significantly expand. Nationwide, the number of programs exploded from from 12 in 1965 to nearly 350 in 1994, the report says.</p> <p>But in 1994, the funding rapidly dried up. That year Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (often referred to as the 1994 crime bill), which barred Pell grants from going to incarcerated students. The following year the New York State Legislature rescinded TAP for students in state prisons. The results were dramatic: in the spring of 1995, 25 college-in-prison programs served 3,445 students in New York; a year later, only 256 students were being served in four prison-based programs across the state, according to the John Jay report.</p> <p>Since then, higher education in New York State prisons has relied mostly on private funding. In 2015, the Obama administration launched the <a href="https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-launches-second-chance-pell-pilot-program-incarcerated-individuals">Second Chance Pell pilot program</a>, which allow Pell grants to be distributed for prison-based programs to test their impact on post-release outcomes. A number of the schools participating in the College-in-Prison Reentry Program have used the pilot to match grants from the Manhattan District Attorney, according to Vance’s office. In May, the federal Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos <a href="https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/secretary-devos-builds-rethink-higher-education-agenda-expands-opportunities-students-through-innovative-experimental-sites">announced</a> the Second Chance Pell pilot would be expanded.</p> <p>As of November 26, 44,710 individuals were incarcerated across the state’s 52 prisons, operated by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), according to a department spokesperson. At the beginning of the month, 1,580 of those individuals were enrolled in college programs in 29 facilities, DOCCS representatives said.</p> <p>When the College-in-Prison Reentry Program was launched in 2017, there were just over 1,000 students already in prison-based college programs, according to a <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-and-manhattan-district-attorney-vance-announce-award-recipients-73-million">press release</a> announcing the program.</p> <p>Providing access to higher education in prisons has for decades been a contentious issue in the state, where it is often expressed in political discourse as a trade-off between support for “law-abiding” students struggling to go to college and “criminals” receiving taxpayer benefits.</p> <p>In 2014, two days after Cuomo first announced a plan to fund prison-based programs with state funds, then-State Senator Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican, <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/mark-grisanti/senator-grisanti-launches-petition-against-free-college">released a petition</a> opposing the plan.</p> <p>"I support rehabilitation and reduced recidivism, but not on the taxpayer's dime when so many individuals and families in New York are struggling to meet the ever-rising costs of higher education," said Grisanti in a press release launching the petition. (Grisanti lost his reelection bid that year and was appointed by Cuomo to the New York State Court of Claims in 2015. He now serves as a state Supreme Court Justice in Erie County.)</p> <p>Reducing recidivism has always been a focal point of college-in-prison programs, and fewer individuals living in state prisons means taxpayers are spending less on detention. Cuomo, in 2014, said the math favors more prison-based programs, which studies have shown significantly cut recidivism rates for participants. Despite that outlook, he did not put up an aggressive fight for the program when crafting the state budget with legislative leaders that year (at the time, the Assembly was controlled by Democrats, while Republicans controlled the Senate with help from a breakaway group of Democrats).</p> <p>In 2014, it cost the state $60,000 annually to incarcerate one person and approximately $5,000 to educate them, Cuomo <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-launches-initiative-provide-college-classes-new-york-prison">said</a> when announcing the later-abandoned initiative. But supporters say higher education in prison has a good return on investment, both for the individuals served and in terms of recidivism. An oft-cited <a href="https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR266.html">2013 RAND Corporation study</a> found that people participating in correctional education programs were 43 percent less likely to return to prison and 13 percent more likely to find employment upon release.</p> <p>“Providing the opportunity of a college education to the men and women in New York State prisons is a no brainer – it saves the state money in the long run while benefiting our society and those looking to make a better life for themselves and their families,” wrote Caitlin Girouard, a spokesperson for the governor, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “College degrees for people exiting prison provide them with a real chance at getting a job and staying out of the cycle of crime, and we are proud that in New York we’re helping make that a reality.”</p> <p>The governor’s office did not respond to questions about whether there are plans to expand the initiative, including through the state budget.</p> <p>The Vera Institute for Justice is expected to release an evaluation of the College-in-Prison Reentry Program in mid-2023, which will analyze recidivism rates for participants, according to a spokesperson for Vance. According to the <a href="http://www.doccs.ny.gov/Research/Reports/2017/2012_releases_3yr_out.pdf">latest data available to DOCCS</a>, people released from state prisons in 2012 had a 43 percent chance of returning to prison within three years, in most cases for violating parole conditions (since 1996 the recidivism rate has hovered around 40 percent).</p> <p>A DOCCS representative wrote in an email that recidivism rates could fall to as low as 16 percent for people who have attended college in prison, citing “decades of data.”</p> <p>“I remember when I first got in, calling my mother and hearing the joy in her voice. Neither of us knew where it would take us,” Chochos said. He was accepted into Bard’s program in 2004 at Eastern New York Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison, four years into his term. He went on to receive an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s in social studies from Bard, and a masters from New York Theological Seminary before being released in 2011.</p> <p>Since exiting the state prison system, Chochos has received two master’s degrees from Yale Divinity School, graduating with honors in one of them in 2016.</p> <p>“It gave me a new language by which to contextualize my own life and the choices that I made,” Chochos said of the education he received behind bars. “It encouraged me to dream for the first time.”</p> <p>Prison-based college programs serve a more diverse student population than traditional college programs. According to the 2019 John Jay College report, citing DOCCS data from 2016, the state prison population is “25 percent white, 48 percent black/African-American, and 23 percent Hispanic/Latino,” with a similar distribution among the subpopulation participating in college programs. By contrast, “[w]ithin the SUNY system, 57.3 percent of undergraduates are white, 12.3 percent Hispanic, and 10.8 percent are black/African American,” the report notes. (Three of the colleges involved in the College-in-Prison Reentry program are part of the SUNY system.)</p> <p>Two bills in the State Legislature could impact the future of prison-based college in New York. One sponsored by Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry and Senator Velmanette Montgomery, two New York City Democrats, <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/a3975">would restore eligibility for TAP</a>, the state-funded tuition assistance program, to students in prison.</p> <p>Another sponsored by Aubry and Senator Jamaal Bailey, a Bronx Democrat, <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/s2206">would establish a commission</a> on post-secondary education in prisons to evaluate and make recommendations on higher education in the state prison system. But they face an uphill battle: the commission bill stalled in committee last year, according to a spokesperson for Assembly Member David Weprin, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Correction.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the New York City Council has committed city funding to education programs for people involved in the criminal legal system as part of a <a href="https://council.nyc.gov/press/2019/09/03/1804/">$13.5 million investment</a> in alternatives to incarceration in the current fiscal year. This year, $850,000 was allocated to support education for formerly-incarcerated individuals after being released. Of that funding, $250,000 will go to the Bard Prison Initiative to support reentry and alumni career development activities in prisons for the 6-12 month period before release.</p> <p>The remaining money will go to the College and Community Fellowship, which provides educational support for women upon reentry and serves approximately 120 women, according to a spokesperson for Speaker Corey Johnson.</p> <p>

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bpi_photo_3.jpeg" alt="bpi photo 3" width="600" height="315" /></p> <p>(photo: Bard Prison Initiative)</p> <hr /> <p>In February 2014, early in his first reelection year, Governor Andrew Cuomo made what proved to be a bold proposal to reduce recidivism by creating opportunities for higher education in state prisons, seizing on an enduring problem at the intersection of social and criminal justice reform efforts. But he had misjudged the political landscape and the announcement was met with significant backlash followed by an uncharacteristic reversal for the seasoned New York powerbroker.</p> <p>It took nearly four more years, and litigation with the world’s largest banking institutions, before a similar plan was recrafted and set in motion again.&nbsp;Two years into the rebooted plan, the state’s College-in-Prison Reentry Program has served 506 incarcerated students. Sixty-two of those students completed a degree behind bars before being released.</p> <p>It was a cold Sunday morning in 2014 when Cuomo, then a first-term Democrat, was flanked by clergy and a smattering of elected officials as he announced a plan to provide <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-launches-initiative-provide-college-classes-new-york-prison">state funding to college programs</a> in 10 New York State prisons, an approach he said would cut recidivism and save taxpayer money. He was speaking at an event hosted by the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus of the State Legislature at Wilborn Temple, a black Pentecostal church near the State Capitol in Albany.</p> <p>“In this great state of New York, this laboratory of democracy, this progressive capital of the country, there is nothing that we can’t do when we’re willing to work together,” he said to fanfare at the end of a speech that tied together employment, education, and incarceration while invoking familiar themes from the Civil Rights Movement and the New Testament.</p> <p>But by the time the state budget was passed six weeks later, Cuomo had <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/03/nyregion/cuomo-drops-plan-to-use-state-money-to-pay-for-college-classes-for-inmates.html?module=inline">pulled the idea</a> in the face of intense criticism from conservatives, including his Republican challenger Rob Astorino, who said the state should not be funding college for convicted criminals while law-abiding students struggle with the rising costs of higher education.</p> <p>It wasn’t until August 2017 that the governor launched a second attempt, this time in partnership with Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, announcing a <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-and-manhattan-district-attorney-vance-announce-award-recipients-73-million">five-year $7.3 million initiative</a> to fund higher education programs in prisons using money raised not through taxes, but through <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6686-massive-bank-settlements-fueled-spending-spree-by-electeds">criminal asset forfeitures</a>. The money was handed over by banks as part of settlements in the wake of the financial crisis late last decade, and is controlled by Vance’s office, which now oversees the college-in-prison program, run by the CUNY Institute of State and Local Governance.</p> <p>The largest of the state’s prison-based college programs, the Bard Prison Initiative, is now the subject of a heralded&nbsp;<a href="https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/college-behind-bars/">four-part documentary series</a>, “College Behind Bars,” which first aired Monday, November 25, to praise from many advocates and elected officials across the country.</p> <p>First announced as part of Cuomo’s State of the State agenda in 2016, the College-in-Prison Reentry Program is intended to help standardize and provide consistent funding for college programs operating in state prisons, which lost their main sources of public financing when state and federal grant programs were peeled back in the mid-nineties. To date, no state budget funds have been allocated to the program, a spokesperson for the state Division of the Budget told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Despite the controversy around the program’s inception, prison reformers, elected officials, graduates of the offerings, and the new PBS series are attempting to show the value of higher education in prisons -- both for incarcerated people on the threshold of reentry to the larger society, and for state coffers.</p> <p>“Going to the college courses, interacting with the professors, engaging theories and texts that I would have never come across in the life I was living beforehand made me want to be a better person and made me want to go back to my community and become an asset and not a liability,” said George Chochos, a BA-recipient through the Bard Prison Initiative, which offers courses in six state correctional facilities and is now partially funded through asset forfeitures.</p> <p>“It provided hope in a hopeless situation,” he told Gotham Gazette by phone after work Wednesday evening. Chochos is the assistant director of program management at the Georgetown University Pivot Program, a business certificate program for formerly incarcerated individuals. “It’s one of the few things inside of a prison that allows you to break away from the monotony of the prison system, to where your identity is a student not a number,” he said.</p> <p>The College-in-Prison Reentry Program is available to students regardless of the crime they were convicted of, requiring only that they have fewer than five years remaining in their sentences, according to Danny Frost, Vance’s director of communications. Seven colleges and universities were selected to receive funding through the program to deliver courses and reentry services at 17 New York State correctional facilities.</p> <p>It is intended to create 2,500 seats in prison-based college over five years. Two years into the project, nearly $2.8 million has been paid out to the schools and the CUNY Institute of State and Local Governance for program evaluation and support.</p> <p>In a <a href="https://www.manhattanda.org/da-vance-delivers-keynote-remarks-at-nys-corrections-and-youth-services-association-symposium-in-albany-ny/">speech</a> last fall, Vance said “the program is tailored by design to cover New Yorkers who are on that reentry journey -- who in just a few years will be expected to compete in a labor market with community members who were not incarcerated.”</p> <p>Studies have shown that higher education in prison can significantly reduce recidivism rates and leads to better outcomes for people exiting prison, including in terms of employment. But it has faced a rocky history in New York State and nationally, where critics say it rewards criminal behavior in a system created to penalize it.</p> <p>“I’ve been incarcerated for 13 years, and from my experience I can tell you prison is here to punish us, it’s here to warehouse us. But it’s not about rehabilitating, it’s not about creating productive beings, it just isn’t,” said Rodney Spivey-Jones, a BA student in the Bard Prison Initiative, in the first episode of College Behind Bars, which is directed by Lynn Novick.</p> <p>The Bard Prison Initiative, launched in 2001 by Bard College, is the <a href="https://cjii.org/funding/funded-programs/">largest recipient</a> of College-in-Prison Reentry funding at $1.3 million over the five year period (2017-2022). It became <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/prisoners-surprised-by-reaction-after-defeating-harvard-in-debate-1444346819?mod=article_inline">internationally famous</a> in 2015, when the BPI debate team at Eastern New York Correctional Facility beat Harvard’s.</p> <p>The six other schools receiving grants through the program are Jefferson Community College, Medaille College, Mercy College, Mohawk Valley Community College, New York University, and Cornell University in partnership with Cayuga Community College. To receive the money, the schools must be able to match the grants with other funding sources like charitable foundations or federal grants.</p> <p>Each school offers different courses and degrees in line with the curriculum standards offered on their main campuses. Five offer associate’s degree programs and two offer bachelor’s degrees. They provide between 1 and 10 courses per semester, with most offering more than six.</p> <p>College programs have been operating in New York State prisons since 1876, but they received a boon in the mid-twentieth century through post-World War II charitable initiatives and federal funding like the GI Bill, according to a <a href="http://johnjaypri.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Mapping-the-Landscape-of-Higher-Ed-in-NYS-Prisons-6.10.19.pdf">report</a> from John Jay College’s Prisoner Reentry Institute. In the mid-1970s, the establishment of federal Pell grants and the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) for low-income students allowed prison-based college programs to significantly expand. Nationwide, the number of programs exploded from from 12 in 1965 to nearly 350 in 1994, the report says.</p> <p>But in 1994, the funding rapidly dried up. That year Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (often referred to as the 1994 crime bill), which barred Pell grants from going to incarcerated students. The following year the New York State Legislature rescinded TAP for students in state prisons. The results were dramatic: in the spring of 1995, 25 college-in-prison programs served 3,445 students in New York; a year later, only 256 students were being served in four prison-based programs across the state, according to the John Jay report.</p> <p>Since then, higher education in New York State prisons has relied mostly on private funding. In 2015, the Obama administration launched the <a href="https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-launches-second-chance-pell-pilot-program-incarcerated-individuals">Second Chance Pell pilot program</a>, which allow Pell grants to be distributed for prison-based programs to test their impact on post-release outcomes. A number of the schools participating in the College-in-Prison Reentry Program have used the pilot to match grants from the Manhattan District Attorney, according to Vance’s office. In May, the federal Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos <a href="https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/secretary-devos-builds-rethink-higher-education-agenda-expands-opportunities-students-through-innovative-experimental-sites">announced</a> the Second Chance Pell pilot would be expanded.</p> <p>As of November 26, 44,710 individuals were incarcerated across the state’s 52 prisons, operated by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), according to a department spokesperson. At the beginning of the month, 1,580 of those individuals were enrolled in college programs in 29 facilities, DOCCS representatives said.</p> <p>When the College-in-Prison Reentry Program was launched in 2017, there were just over 1,000 students already in prison-based college programs, according to a <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-and-manhattan-district-attorney-vance-announce-award-recipients-73-million">press release</a> announcing the program.</p> <p>Providing access to higher education in prisons has for decades been a contentious issue in the state, where it is often expressed in political discourse as a trade-off between support for “law-abiding” students struggling to go to college and “criminals” receiving taxpayer benefits.</p> <p>In 2014, two days after Cuomo first announced a plan to fund prison-based programs with state funds, then-State Senator Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican, <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/mark-grisanti/senator-grisanti-launches-petition-against-free-college">released a petition</a> opposing the plan.</p> <p>"I support rehabilitation and reduced recidivism, but not on the taxpayer's dime when so many individuals and families in New York are struggling to meet the ever-rising costs of higher education," said Grisanti in a press release launching the petition. (Grisanti lost his reelection bid that year and was appointed by Cuomo to the New York State Court of Claims in 2015. He now serves as a state Supreme Court Justice in Erie County.)</p> <p>Reducing recidivism has always been a focal point of college-in-prison programs, and fewer individuals living in state prisons means taxpayers are spending less on detention. Cuomo, in 2014, said the math favors more prison-based programs, which studies have shown significantly cut recidivism rates for participants. Despite that outlook, he did not put up an aggressive fight for the program when crafting the state budget with legislative leaders that year (at the time, the Assembly was controlled by Democrats, while Republicans controlled the Senate with help from a breakaway group of Democrats).</p> <p>In 2014, it cost the state $60,000 annually to incarcerate one person and approximately $5,000 to educate them, Cuomo <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-launches-initiative-provide-college-classes-new-york-prison">said</a> when announcing the later-abandoned initiative. But supporters say higher education in prison has a good return on investment, both for the individuals served and in terms of recidivism. An oft-cited <a href="https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR266.html">2013 RAND Corporation study</a> found that people participating in correctional education programs were 43 percent less likely to return to prison and 13 percent more likely to find employment upon release.</p> <p>“Providing the opportunity of a college education to the men and women in New York State prisons is a no brainer – it saves the state money in the long run while benefiting our society and those looking to make a better life for themselves and their families,” wrote Caitlin Girouard, a spokesperson for the governor, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “College degrees for people exiting prison provide them with a real chance at getting a job and staying out of the cycle of crime, and we are proud that in New York we’re helping make that a reality.”</p> <p>The governor’s office did not respond to questions about whether there are plans to expand the initiative, including through the state budget.</p> <p>The Vera Institute for Justice is expected to release an evaluation of the College-in-Prison Reentry Program in mid-2023, which will analyze recidivism rates for participants, according to a spokesperson for Vance. According to the <a href="http://www.doccs.ny.gov/Research/Reports/2017/2012_releases_3yr_out.pdf">latest data available to DOCCS</a>, people released from state prisons in 2012 had a 43 percent chance of returning to prison within three years, in most cases for violating parole conditions (since 1996 the recidivism rate has hovered around 40 percent).</p> <p>A DOCCS representative wrote in an email that recidivism rates could fall to as low as 16 percent for people who have attended college in prison, citing “decades of data.”</p> <p>“I remember when I first got in, calling my mother and hearing the joy in her voice. Neither of us knew where it would take us,” Chochos said. He was accepted into Bard’s program in 2004 at Eastern New York Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison, four years into his term. He went on to receive an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s in social studies from Bard, and a masters from New York Theological Seminary before being released in 2011.</p> <p>Since exiting the state prison system, Chochos has received two master’s degrees from Yale Divinity School, graduating with honors in one of them in 2016.</p> <p>“It gave me a new language by which to contextualize my own life and the choices that I made,” Chochos said of the education he received behind bars. “It encouraged me to dream for the first time.”</p> <p>Prison-based college programs serve a more diverse student population than traditional college programs. According to the 2019 John Jay College report, citing DOCCS data from 2016, the state prison population is “25 percent white, 48 percent black/African-American, and 23 percent Hispanic/Latino,” with a similar distribution among the subpopulation participating in college programs. By contrast, “[w]ithin the SUNY system, 57.3 percent of undergraduates are white, 12.3 percent Hispanic, and 10.8 percent are black/African American,” the report notes. (Three of the colleges involved in the College-in-Prison Reentry program are part of the SUNY system.)</p> <p>Two bills in the State Legislature could impact the future of prison-based college in New York. One sponsored by Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry and Senator Velmanette Montgomery, two New York City Democrats, <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/a3975">would restore eligibility for TAP</a>, the state-funded tuition assistance program, to students in prison.</p> <p>Another sponsored by Aubry and Senator Jamaal Bailey, a Bronx Democrat, <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/s2206">would establish a commission</a> on post-secondary education in prisons to evaluate and make recommendations on higher education in the state prison system. But they face an uphill battle: the commission bill stalled in committee last year, according to a spokesperson for Assembly Member David Weprin, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Correction.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the New York City Council has committed city funding to education programs for people involved in the criminal legal system as part of a <a href="https://council.nyc.gov/press/2019/09/03/1804/">$13.5 million investment</a> in alternatives to incarceration in the current fiscal year. This year, $850,000 was allocated to support education for formerly-incarcerated individuals after being released. Of that funding, $250,000 will go to the Bard Prison Initiative to support reentry and alumni career development activities in prisons for the 6-12 month period before release.</p> <p>The remaining money will go to the College and Community Fellowship, which provides educational support for women upon reentry and serves approximately 120 women, according to a spokesperson for Speaker Corey Johnson.</p> <p>

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Max & Murphy Podcast: Debating Major Criminal Justice Reforms Taking Effect in January 2019-11-29T05:00:00+00:00 2019-11-29T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8957-max-murphy-podcast-debating-major-criminal-justice-reforms-bail-discovery Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/nycpba-wbai-600.jpg" alt="nycpba wbai 600" width="600" /></p> <p>SI DA McMahon at a press conference (photo: @NYCPBA)</p> <hr /> <p><strong>November 27, 2019 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Debating Major Criminal Justice Reforms Set to Take Effect in January<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/da-mcmahon-marie-nidaye-150.jpg" alt="da mcmahon marie nidaye 150" width="250" height="137" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon and Marie Ndiaye of Legal Aid Society joined the show to discuss their respective concerns about and support for major criminal justice reforms passed earlier this year in Albany an set to take effect in January, especially bail reform and discovery reform.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy">@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/718870087%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-6rdvI&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/2019/podcast19/nycpba-wbai-600.jpg" alt="nycpba wbai 600" width="600" /></p> <p>SI DA McMahon at a press conference (photo: @NYCPBA)</p> <hr /> <p><strong>November 27, 2019 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Debating Major Criminal Justice Reforms Set to Take Effect in January<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/da-mcmahon-marie-nidaye-150.jpg" alt="da mcmahon marie nidaye 150" width="250" height="137" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon and Marie Ndiaye of Legal Aid Society joined the show to discuss their respective concerns about and support for major criminal justice reforms passed earlier this year in Albany an set to take effect in January, especially bail reform and discovery reform.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy">@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/718870087%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-6rdvI&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>
Vast Difference in NYPD Provision of Body Camera Footage to District Attorneys Versus Police Watchdog 2019-11-11T05:00:00+00:00 2019-11-11T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8880-nypd-body-camera-footage-district-attorneys-ccrb Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/first-comm-holds.jpg" alt="first comm holds" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>One of the most visible changes to American policing in the wake of the controversial 2014 killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men, by law enforcement, is the proliferation of body-worn cameras. But as the cameras become a larger part of the police oversight constellation in New York City, the NYPD has been slow to release footage to the very agency meant to investigate alleged officer misconduct, including excessive, even deadly, force.</p> <p>When Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the launch of phase one of the body-worn camera (BWC) program in 2017, it was billed as a transparency measure aimed at reducing “mistrust between police and community.” But the purported effort to improve police accountability has been more focused on producing evidence in criminal cases — where discovery laws now require it — and less on supporting misconduct investigations by the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), the main agency tasked with carrying them out.</p> <p>When an arrest is made, the arresting officer sends complete BWC footage of the event to prosecutors almost immediately and in raw, unedited form, according to spokespeople from several New York City district attorneys’ offices. But the NYPD has been delayed or completely delinquent in providing footage to the CCRB in roughly a third of the Board’s open cases — cases raised by civilians against police officers, including ones that may not have involved an arrest.</p> <p>The CCRB is a civilian body separate from the police department and district attorneys, with jurisdiction over claims of excessive force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, and offensive language. Its Board members are appointed by the mayor in conjunction with the City Council and police commissioner, and it is led by an executive director supervising roughly 180 employees. Under a 2012 agreement with the NYPD, the Board can prosecute allegations it substantiates in an administrative trial setting. Such a trial led outgoing Police Commissioner James O’Neill to fire Daniel Pantaleo this summer for misconduct during Garner’s fatal arrest.</p> <p>The de Blasio administration announced the completed roll-out of roughly 20,000 BWCs to all uniformed police officers in March, after two years piloting the program. Another 4,000 cameras have since been deployed to members of specialized NYPD units.</p> <p>Month-to-month data published by the CCRB in October shows that since the full implementation of body cameras was announced, between 29 and 37 percent of its open investigations have footage requests pending with the NYPD. Prosecutors, on the other hand, have received hundreds of thousands of BWC videos since the technology was adopted, and in most cases the footage is transmitted automatically following an arrest.</p> <p>Police officers are required to turn body cameras on during arrests, incidents where force is used, as well as certain stops and searches, patrols, and interactions with the public. The NYPD Patrol Guide also requires cameras be turned on during “potential crime-in-progress assignments,” including investigations into a “suspicious person” and any incident involving a weapon.</p> <p>As body cameras have proliferated across New York, they have become increasingly essential to the work of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, according to officials who say the evidence is “crucial” in investigating alleged misconduct -- the CCRB can only open a case when a civilian complaint is lodged.</p> <p>They are also used by prosecutors in nearly every criminal case and the footage now falls under the state’s discovery laws, which lawmakers overhauled this year.</p> <p>According to the communications director for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Oren Yaniv, Gonzalez’s office has accessed over 140,000 body worn camera videos since 2018. Other district attorney offices also reported receiving thousands of BWC videos.</p> <p>Spokespeople for New York City district attorneys described a proprietary management system used by the NYPD that automatically transmits footage once an officer plugs their camera into a docking station and registers an arrest. “The NYPD system does not allow deleting, editing or altering the videos,” Yaniv wrote in an email.</p> <p><strong>Cooperating with the CCRB</strong><br />The CCRB’s requests are handled differently. The results can mean censored and incomplete footage and significant delays in responding to investigators, who are operating under a statute of limitations.</p> <p>Video footage, whether from a body-worn device, cell phone, or security camera, has become instrumental to CCRB investigations. In September, the CCRB substantiated 38 percent of misconduct allegations where video of the incident was available, compared with just 11 percent of cases where no video was available, according to an analysis released by the agency.</p> <p>“The reality of policing in New York City is that Eric Garner’s death in 2014 is not the only instance of police misconduct captured on video,” said CCRB Chair Fred Davie, at the agency’s September Board meeting.</p> <p>Body-worn cameras help the CCRB make conclusive determinations, “but we can do so only if we receive that body-worn camera footage and receive it from the NYPD in a timely fashion,” Davie said.</p> <p>Under the City Charter, the police department has a legal obligation to provide BWC video and other evidence to the CCRB, according to a CCRB representative. But, unlike prosecutors collecting evidence related to an arrest, the CCRB’s requests are subject to redaction and censorship, as well as delay.</p> <p>Before sending footage to the CCRB, the NYPD is legally required to “pixelate-out” people’s faces under certain circumstances captured on film, according to Al Baker, director of media relations at the police department. “For example, potential medical treatment (protected under federal law) or other prisoners in a cell whose arrest may be sealed,” he wrote in an email.</p> <p>“Also, we withhold the sex-crimes videos in their entirety, pursuant to CRL 50-b [part of the state’s civil rights statute], unless a waiver is provided by the victim of the sex crime. This is a meticulous process that is necessary before release,” he added.</p> <p>Baker said the department has a dedicated body-worn camera unit for processing requests, which he says has received additional personnel to address the “backlog.”</p> <p>CCRB officials are indeed concerned that “unless there is a significant change, the backlog of CCRB requests for video evidence will continue to increase and impair the CCRB’s ability to complete investigations within the 18-month statute of limitations,” according to <a href="https://twitter.com/CCRB_NYC/status/1172282548468310018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a September tweet</a> from the Board’s account.</p> <p>“With all of its resources and technical expertise, the NYPD can and must produce body-camera footage much more quickly,” wrote Christopher Dunn, Legal Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in an email to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>From January 2018 to November 7, 2019, the CCRB requested body camera footage in 5,149 investigations, according to data shared with Gotham Gazette. Throughout 2019, the number of requests has been between 300 and 400 per month, with two exceptions. The first month that the number of active body camera-involved cases reached 300 was in October 2018, five months before City Hall announced the full rollout of the cameras.</p> <p>But it wasn’t until the complete implementation in March of this year that the NYPD’s response rate precipitously fell. Between January 2018 and February 2019, the portion of CCRB cases awaiting NYPD body camera footage hovered between just 1 and 17 percent. Since March, that range has lept to between 29 and 37 percent.</p> <p>Footage in about 43 percent of requests is turned over by the NYPD to the CCRB within 30 days, and another 35 percent take between 30 and 60 days. In about 13 percent of footage requests by the CCRB — 79 cases as of the end of September — the calls have gone unanswered by the NYPD for more than 90 days.</p> <p>“Even now, there is one case in particular — an allegation of excessive force and a civilian experiencing several broken bones and brain hemorrhaging — for which our investigators per the NYPD cannot access the body-worn camera footage related to that case,” Davie said at the September Board meeting. The police department, he said, had denied the request in order to protect the privacy of a minor who was present in the relevant footage.</p> <p>Asked about the CCRB's trouble getting police body camera footage, the mayor's office said it is under review. “We are reviewing these reports, and we will work with PD and CCRB on next steps,” wrote Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, in an October email to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The City Council Committee on Public Safety plans to hold an oversight hearing on Monday, November 18 to examine the police department’s implementation of the cameras. The committee will discuss a bill introduced by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams that would require the NYPD to report information on the BWC program, including each incident where an officer uses their camera.</p> <p>Baker noted that the NYPD this year has the largest deployment of body cameras in the nation, “therefore, we need to locate all BWC footage from any responding officer to a particular scene and make sure it goes through that rigorous process before being released.”</p> <p>Even the process of releasing footage to the CCRB and the public has been opaque since the city’s rollout of BWCs, and remains so for the CCRB.</p> <p>The police department <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8896-nypd-releases-body-camera-footage-policy" target="_blank">recently published</a> a two-page policy, an “operations order” within the department, for release of body camera footage of what it calls “critical incidents” —&nbsp; cases of death or serious injury because of police force — to the public, seven months since full implementation of the cameras was announced.</p> <p>But while it discusses release of body camera footage to prosecutors and the public, the policy makes no explicit mention of footage capturing other potential misconduct that would fall under the CCRB’s jurisdiction. An NYPD spokesperson confirmed by phone that dealing with CCRB requests falls outside the newly-published policy.</p> <p>When asked if any written procedure exists, Baker wrote in an email, “That practice is constantly being fine-tuned to offer even faster turnarounds considering that a single request from the CCRB, about a single policing encounter, can mean that lengthy videos from dozens of officers must be carefully reviewed and possibly redacted.”</p> <p>

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/first-comm-holds.jpg" alt="first comm holds" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>One of the most visible changes to American policing in the wake of the controversial 2014 killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men, by law enforcement, is the proliferation of body-worn cameras. But as the cameras become a larger part of the police oversight constellation in New York City, the NYPD has been slow to release footage to the very agency meant to investigate alleged officer misconduct, including excessive, even deadly, force.</p> <p>When Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the launch of phase one of the body-worn camera (BWC) program in 2017, it was billed as a transparency measure aimed at reducing “mistrust between police and community.” But the purported effort to improve police accountability has been more focused on producing evidence in criminal cases — where discovery laws now require it — and less on supporting misconduct investigations by the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), the main agency tasked with carrying them out.</p> <p>When an arrest is made, the arresting officer sends complete BWC footage of the event to prosecutors almost immediately and in raw, unedited form, according to spokespeople from several New York City district attorneys’ offices. But the NYPD has been delayed or completely delinquent in providing footage to the CCRB in roughly a third of the Board’s open cases — cases raised by civilians against police officers, including ones that may not have involved an arrest.</p> <p>The CCRB is a civilian body separate from the police department and district attorneys, with jurisdiction over claims of excessive force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, and offensive language. Its Board members are appointed by the mayor in conjunction with the City Council and police commissioner, and it is led by an executive director supervising roughly 180 employees. Under a 2012 agreement with the NYPD, the Board can prosecute allegations it substantiates in an administrative trial setting. Such a trial led outgoing Police Commissioner James O’Neill to fire Daniel Pantaleo this summer for misconduct during Garner’s fatal arrest.</p> <p>The de Blasio administration announced the completed roll-out of roughly 20,000 BWCs to all uniformed police officers in March, after two years piloting the program. Another 4,000 cameras have since been deployed to members of specialized NYPD units.</p> <p>Month-to-month data published by the CCRB in October shows that since the full implementation of body cameras was announced, between 29 and 37 percent of its open investigations have footage requests pending with the NYPD. Prosecutors, on the other hand, have received hundreds of thousands of BWC videos since the technology was adopted, and in most cases the footage is transmitted automatically following an arrest.</p> <p>Police officers are required to turn body cameras on during arrests, incidents where force is used, as well as certain stops and searches, patrols, and interactions with the public. The NYPD Patrol Guide also requires cameras be turned on during “potential crime-in-progress assignments,” including investigations into a “suspicious person” and any incident involving a weapon.</p> <p>As body cameras have proliferated across New York, they have become increasingly essential to the work of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, according to officials who say the evidence is “crucial” in investigating alleged misconduct -- the CCRB can only open a case when a civilian complaint is lodged.</p> <p>They are also used by prosecutors in nearly every criminal case and the footage now falls under the state’s discovery laws, which lawmakers overhauled this year.</p> <p>According to the communications director for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Oren Yaniv, Gonzalez’s office has accessed over 140,000 body worn camera videos since 2018. Other district attorney offices also reported receiving thousands of BWC videos.</p> <p>Spokespeople for New York City district attorneys described a proprietary management system used by the NYPD that automatically transmits footage once an officer plugs their camera into a docking station and registers an arrest. “The NYPD system does not allow deleting, editing or altering the videos,” Yaniv wrote in an email.</p> <p><strong>Cooperating with the CCRB</strong><br />The CCRB’s requests are handled differently. The results can mean censored and incomplete footage and significant delays in responding to investigators, who are operating under a statute of limitations.</p> <p>Video footage, whether from a body-worn device, cell phone, or security camera, has become instrumental to CCRB investigations. In September, the CCRB substantiated 38 percent of misconduct allegations where video of the incident was available, compared with just 11 percent of cases where no video was available, according to an analysis released by the agency.</p> <p>“The reality of policing in New York City is that Eric Garner’s death in 2014 is not the only instance of police misconduct captured on video,” said CCRB Chair Fred Davie, at the agency’s September Board meeting.</p> <p>Body-worn cameras help the CCRB make conclusive determinations, “but we can do so only if we receive that body-worn camera footage and receive it from the NYPD in a timely fashion,” Davie said.</p> <p>Under the City Charter, the police department has a legal obligation to provide BWC video and other evidence to the CCRB, according to a CCRB representative. But, unlike prosecutors collecting evidence related to an arrest, the CCRB’s requests are subject to redaction and censorship, as well as delay.</p> <p>Before sending footage to the CCRB, the NYPD is legally required to “pixelate-out” people’s faces under certain circumstances captured on film, according to Al Baker, director of media relations at the police department. “For example, potential medical treatment (protected under federal law) or other prisoners in a cell whose arrest may be sealed,” he wrote in an email.</p> <p>“Also, we withhold the sex-crimes videos in their entirety, pursuant to CRL 50-b [part of the state’s civil rights statute], unless a waiver is provided by the victim of the sex crime. This is a meticulous process that is necessary before release,” he added.</p> <p>Baker said the department has a dedicated body-worn camera unit for processing requests, which he says has received additional personnel to address the “backlog.”</p> <p>CCRB officials are indeed concerned that “unless there is a significant change, the backlog of CCRB requests for video evidence will continue to increase and impair the CCRB’s ability to complete investigations within the 18-month statute of limitations,” according to <a href="https://twitter.com/CCRB_NYC/status/1172282548468310018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a September tweet</a> from the Board’s account.</p> <p>“With all of its resources and technical expertise, the NYPD can and must produce body-camera footage much more quickly,” wrote Christopher Dunn, Legal Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in an email to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>From January 2018 to November 7, 2019, the CCRB requested body camera footage in 5,149 investigations, according to data shared with Gotham Gazette. Throughout 2019, the number of requests has been between 300 and 400 per month, with two exceptions. The first month that the number of active body camera-involved cases reached 300 was in October 2018, five months before City Hall announced the full rollout of the cameras.</p> <p>But it wasn’t until the complete implementation in March of this year that the NYPD’s response rate precipitously fell. Between January 2018 and February 2019, the portion of CCRB cases awaiting NYPD body camera footage hovered between just 1 and 17 percent. Since March, that range has lept to between 29 and 37 percent.</p> <p>Footage in about 43 percent of requests is turned over by the NYPD to the CCRB within 30 days, and another 35 percent take between 30 and 60 days. In about 13 percent of footage requests by the CCRB — 79 cases as of the end of September — the calls have gone unanswered by the NYPD for more than 90 days.</p> <p>“Even now, there is one case in particular — an allegation of excessive force and a civilian experiencing several broken bones and brain hemorrhaging — for which our investigators per the NYPD cannot access the body-worn camera footage related to that case,” Davie said at the September Board meeting. The police department, he said, had denied the request in order to protect the privacy of a minor who was present in the relevant footage.</p> <p>Asked about the CCRB's trouble getting police body camera footage, the mayor's office said it is under review. “We are reviewing these reports, and we will work with PD and CCRB on next steps,” wrote Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, in an October email to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The City Council Committee on Public Safety plans to hold an oversight hearing on Monday, November 18 to examine the police department’s implementation of the cameras. The committee will discuss a bill introduced by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams that would require the NYPD to report information on the BWC program, including each incident where an officer uses their camera.</p> <p>Baker noted that the NYPD this year has the largest deployment of body cameras in the nation, “therefore, we need to locate all BWC footage from any responding officer to a particular scene and make sure it goes through that rigorous process before being released.”</p> <p>Even the process of releasing footage to the CCRB and the public has been opaque since the city’s rollout of BWCs, and remains so for the CCRB.</p> <p>The police department <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8896-nypd-releases-body-camera-footage-policy" target="_blank">recently published</a> a two-page policy, an “operations order” within the department, for release of body camera footage of what it calls “critical incidents” —&nbsp; cases of death or serious injury because of police force — to the public, seven months since full implementation of the cameras was announced.</p> <p>But while it discusses release of body camera footage to prosecutors and the public, the policy makes no explicit mention of footage capturing other potential misconduct that would fall under the CCRB’s jurisdiction. An NYPD spokesperson confirmed by phone that dealing with CCRB requests falls outside the newly-published policy.</p> <p>When asked if any written procedure exists, Baker wrote in an email, “That practice is constantly being fine-tuned to offer even faster turnarounds considering that a single request from the CCRB, about a single policing encounter, can mean that lengthy videos from dozens of officers must be carefully reviewed and possibly redacted.”</p> <p>

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Close Attica — and Build No New Prisons 2019-11-06T05:00:00+00:00 2019-11-06T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8906-close-attica-and-build-no-new-prisons Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/attica-correct-fac.jpg" alt="attica correct fac" width="600" height="355" /></p> <p>Attica (photo: Wikimedia Commons)</p> <hr /> <p>As the heated debate over the movement to close the Rikers Island jail complex rages on despite or because of the New York City Council’s vote to build four new jails and close Rikers by 2026, where is the corresponding clarion call to close Attica, Auburn, Clinton Dannemora, or any number of New York State’s brutal and archaic prisons?&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, when Mayor de Blasio and the Lippman Commission released reports laying out proposals to close Rikers, there were about 10,000 people in New York City jails.&nbsp; The mayor said that reducing the jail population to under 5,000 was a precondition to shuttering Rikers. Today, there are about 7,000 people held in city jails. The proposal approved by the City Council projects a city jail population of 3,300 by 2026. As the number of people held in cages at Rikers continues to fall, where is the equivalent pressure and effort to reduce the New York State prison population from its present 46,000?</p> <p>Several rationales were used to support the movement to close Rikers. Most of those same justifications apply with even greater force to New York’s patchwork of 52 state prisons that hold almost seven times the number of people at Rikers.&nbsp;</p> <p>Close Rikers advocates pointed out that the Rikers jails, which first opened in 1935, were decrepit and dangerous. Rikers is young in comparison to several of New York’s notorious state prisons like Auburn (1818) or Clinton Dannemora (1845). Even Attica (1931) predates Rikers.&nbsp; These antiquated and dilapidated state institutions struggle to provide heat in the winter and to cool down in the summer. One can easily imagine the layers of asbestos and other environmental hazards that afflict everyone inside.</p> <p>Stories of the prevalent brutality at Rikers are legion as it earned labels like Torture Island and Gladiator School, but there is also abundant evidence of violence and corruption in New York’s state prisons, including homicides at the hands of prison guards. The frequency of brutality compelled the United States Attorney’s office to charge five corrections officers with civil rights violations, with then-United States Attorney Preet Bharara declaring that “excessive use of force in prisons...has reached crisis proportions in New York State.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The racial disparities at Rikers Island are reflected as well in the state prisons as black and Latino people make up 73% of the prison population, nearly double their numbers in the general population. The undeniable link from slavery to incarceration is nowhere more evident than in prisons in northern and western New York, where an almost exclusively black and brown prison population is overseen by an enclave of almost exclusively white correction officers as the local prison is the primary source of employment.&nbsp;</p> <p>Visits to Rikers Island are notoriously exhausting and humiliating, but visits to state prisons add another layer of torment – many are hidden in remote corners of the state, some near Canada, even though most state prisoners are from New York City. Visits are necessarily infrequent, and families are decimated.&nbsp;</p> <p>Vast financial resources are poured into city and state corrections budgets. The fiscal 2020 preliminary budget for the New York City Department of Correction was $1.4 billion. The state prison budget is seemingly ever expanding. From 1999-2015, the budget grew to almost $3 billion even as the number of incarcerated people dropped. Estimated spending for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision for 2019-20 is $3,248,250.&nbsp;</p> <p>The average stay on Rikers is 61 days. People are harmed physically, emotionally, spiritually, and in other concrete ways such as lost jobs, housing, etc. The average minimum stay in New York state prison is more than 10 years. The devastation caused is incalculable.&nbsp;</p> <p>The initial call to close Rikers focused on the brutality of life at Rikers. That long overdue recognition led to revelations about who was held inside. The Close Rikers movement gathered steam when it became common knowledge that most people held at Rikers -- upwards of 70% -- are pretrial detainees, people not convicted and presumed innocent. That realization was coupled with the awareness that countless of those pretrial detainees were in jail simply because they couldn’t afford to post bail, often in amounts under $2,500.</p> <p>In short order, the close Rikers refrain was coupled with statements from advocates and elected officials alike that freedom should not depend on the size of your bank account. Soon added to the mix was the awareness that many people were on Rikers for minor parole violations such as missing curfew or being late for appointments with a parole officer. Now the movement was less about closing an old, vicious jail, and more about getting people out of jail altogether.&nbsp;</p> <p>So why hasn’t the movement to close Rikers carried over to New York’s state prisons? Most likely, it has to do with perceptions of who is held in city jails versus state prisons. State prisoners are not incarcerated because they are too poor to post bail or because of technical parole violations. For the most part, they are serving sentences after having been convicted of violent crime. Yet an examination of who is being held inside state prisons should lead to the same result as with Rikers – the prison population can, should, and must be dramatically reduced.</p> <p>New York State is notoriously punitive, as prosecutors have routinely asked for maximum sentences and judges have been happy to oblige. According to the Sentencing Project, New York is one of eight states where the proportion of prisoners serving life or “virtual life” (50 years or more) sentences is at least one in five. Almost 10,000 people in New York prisons are serving life sentences or its functional equivalent, a number topped only in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and California.&nbsp;</p> <p>As a result, New York State prisons are filled with a rapidly aging population even as studies reveal that people “age out” of criminal activity. There are more than 10,000 people over the age of 50 inside state prison. Almost 3,000 are over 60. According to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the average age of death of those who died from natural causes inside New York state prison was 57. The vast number of people who are largely condemned to die in prison is unjustifiable and barbaric.</p> <p>Thousands of New York prisoners have served their time, often several decades, remarkably.&nbsp; There are countless stories of transformation, redemption, and profound change. Yet these men and women languish in prison for no reason other than to satisfy a seemingly unquenchable thirst for interminable punishment.&nbsp;</p> <p>New York can in several ways decarcerate its state prisons, with no threat to public safety and with an enormous gain in talent and contributions to society. The notoriously unforgiving parole system must be overhauled. Parole Board members must be people steeped in clinical and therapeutic services who recognize and value the capacity for rehabilitation.</p> <p>Passage of the Fair and Timely Parole Bill (S497A) can transform the process by dictating a forward-looking approach that examines evidence-based risk assessment scores and the individual’s institutional record, as opposed to looking backward and focusing exclusively on the crime of conviction, a factor the individual can never change.&nbsp;</p> <p>The discretionary power to grant clemency is enshrined in the New York State constitution that vests the Governor with the power “to grant reprieves, commutations and&nbsp;pardons&nbsp;after convictions, for all offenses except treason and cases of impeachment, upon such conditions and with such restrictions and limitations, as he may think proper.” To date, Governor Cuomo has commuted the sentences of only 18 people. Thousands of meritorious clemency applications are pending. The governor, with the stroke of a pen, could send those men and women home.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The punitive sentences of the past 40 years must be corrected. The American Law Institute (ALI) sought to address the decades of punitiveness that led to the current state of mass incarceration, made more shameful by the racial disparities in American jails and prisons. ALI now calls for state legislatures to enact “second look” mechanisms that reexamine a person’s sentence after fifteen years no matter the crime of conviction or how long the original sentence.</p> <p>In similar fashion, the Elder Parole Bill (S2144) that gathered momentum in last year’s legislative session in Albany provides that anyone who is over 55 years old and has served at least 15 years would have the opportunity to appear before the Parole Board.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is advocating for legislation that would permit resentencing where prosecutors deem it appropriate in the interests of justice after a person has served 20 years for the most serious crimes. There are similar calls for prosecutors to establish sentencing review units to reevaluate the cases of all people serving lengthy prison terms.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Supreme Court now recognizes the mitigating qualities of youth and, relying on growing scientific awareness of adolescent brain development, concluded that youth are less culpable than adults and have greater capacity for rehabilitation. As a result, judges must now consider youth and its attendant traits before sentencing young people to die in prison. There are nearly 1,200 people in New York State prison serving life sentences for acts committed when they were teenagers. Each of those cases now demands reconsideration.</p> <p>Important questions remain since the City Council’s vote to close the Rikers jails, but there is one thing on which everyone should agree -- the movement to get people out of jail and close Rikers Island should be applied with equal force to New York’s state prisons.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>***<br />Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law. On Twitter&nbsp;<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/2014/attica-correct-fac.jpg" alt="attica correct fac" width="600" height="355" /></p> <p>Attica (photo: Wikimedia Commons)</p> <hr /> <p>As the heated debate over the movement to close the Rikers Island jail complex rages on despite or because of the New York City Council’s vote to build four new jails and close Rikers by 2026, where is the corresponding clarion call to close Attica, Auburn, Clinton Dannemora, or any number of New York State’s brutal and archaic prisons?&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, when Mayor de Blasio and the Lippman Commission released reports laying out proposals to close Rikers, there were about 10,000 people in New York City jails.&nbsp; The mayor said that reducing the jail population to under 5,000 was a precondition to shuttering Rikers. Today, there are about 7,000 people held in city jails. The proposal approved by the City Council projects a city jail population of 3,300 by 2026. As the number of people held in cages at Rikers continues to fall, where is the equivalent pressure and effort to reduce the New York State prison population from its present 46,000?</p> <p>Several rationales were used to support the movement to close Rikers. Most of those same justifications apply with even greater force to New York’s patchwork of 52 state prisons that hold almost seven times the number of people at Rikers.&nbsp;</p> <p>Close Rikers advocates pointed out that the Rikers jails, which first opened in 1935, were decrepit and dangerous. Rikers is young in comparison to several of New York’s notorious state prisons like Auburn (1818) or Clinton Dannemora (1845). Even Attica (1931) predates Rikers.&nbsp; These antiquated and dilapidated state institutions struggle to provide heat in the winter and to cool down in the summer. One can easily imagine the layers of asbestos and other environmental hazards that afflict everyone inside.</p> <p>Stories of the prevalent brutality at Rikers are legion as it earned labels like Torture Island and Gladiator School, but there is also abundant evidence of violence and corruption in New York’s state prisons, including homicides at the hands of prison guards. The frequency of brutality compelled the United States Attorney’s office to charge five corrections officers with civil rights violations, with then-United States Attorney Preet Bharara declaring that “excessive use of force in prisons...has reached crisis proportions in New York State.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The racial disparities at Rikers Island are reflected as well in the state prisons as black and Latino people make up 73% of the prison population, nearly double their numbers in the general population. The undeniable link from slavery to incarceration is nowhere more evident than in prisons in northern and western New York, where an almost exclusively black and brown prison population is overseen by an enclave of almost exclusively white correction officers as the local prison is the primary source of employment.&nbsp;</p> <p>Visits to Rikers Island are notoriously exhausting and humiliating, but visits to state prisons add another layer of torment – many are hidden in remote corners of the state, some near Canada, even though most state prisoners are from New York City. Visits are necessarily infrequent, and families are decimated.&nbsp;</p> <p>Vast financial resources are poured into city and state corrections budgets. The fiscal 2020 preliminary budget for the New York City Department of Correction was $1.4 billion. The state prison budget is seemingly ever expanding. From 1999-2015, the budget grew to almost $3 billion even as the number of incarcerated people dropped. Estimated spending for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision for 2019-20 is $3,248,250.&nbsp;</p> <p>The average stay on Rikers is 61 days. People are harmed physically, emotionally, spiritually, and in other concrete ways such as lost jobs, housing, etc. The average minimum stay in New York state prison is more than 10 years. The devastation caused is incalculable.&nbsp;</p> <p>The initial call to close Rikers focused on the brutality of life at Rikers. That long overdue recognition led to revelations about who was held inside. The Close Rikers movement gathered steam when it became common knowledge that most people held at Rikers -- upwards of 70% -- are pretrial detainees, people not convicted and presumed innocent. That realization was coupled with the awareness that countless of those pretrial detainees were in jail simply because they couldn’t afford to post bail, often in amounts under $2,500.</p> <p>In short order, the close Rikers refrain was coupled with statements from advocates and elected officials alike that freedom should not depend on the size of your bank account. Soon added to the mix was the awareness that many people were on Rikers for minor parole violations such as missing curfew or being late for appointments with a parole officer. Now the movement was less about closing an old, vicious jail, and more about getting people out of jail altogether.&nbsp;</p> <p>So why hasn’t the movement to close Rikers carried over to New York’s state prisons? Most likely, it has to do with perceptions of who is held in city jails versus state prisons. State prisoners are not incarcerated because they are too poor to post bail or because of technical parole violations. For the most part, they are serving sentences after having been convicted of violent crime. Yet an examination of who is being held inside state prisons should lead to the same result as with Rikers – the prison population can, should, and must be dramatically reduced.</p> <p>New York State is notoriously punitive, as prosecutors have routinely asked for maximum sentences and judges have been happy to oblige. According to the Sentencing Project, New York is one of eight states where the proportion of prisoners serving life or “virtual life” (50 years or more) sentences is at least one in five. Almost 10,000 people in New York prisons are serving life sentences or its functional equivalent, a number topped only in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and California.&nbsp;</p> <p>As a result, New York State prisons are filled with a rapidly aging population even as studies reveal that people “age out” of criminal activity. There are more than 10,000 people over the age of 50 inside state prison. Almost 3,000 are over 60. According to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the average age of death of those who died from natural causes inside New York state prison was 57. The vast number of people who are largely condemned to die in prison is unjustifiable and barbaric.</p> <p>Thousands of New York prisoners have served their time, often several decades, remarkably.&nbsp; There are countless stories of transformation, redemption, and profound change. Yet these men and women languish in prison for no reason other than to satisfy a seemingly unquenchable thirst for interminable punishment.&nbsp;</p> <p>New York can in several ways decarcerate its state prisons, with no threat to public safety and with an enormous gain in talent and contributions to society. The notoriously unforgiving parole system must be overhauled. Parole Board members must be people steeped in clinical and therapeutic services who recognize and value the capacity for rehabilitation.</p> <p>Passage of the Fair and Timely Parole Bill (S497A) can transform the process by dictating a forward-looking approach that examines evidence-based risk assessment scores and the individual’s institutional record, as opposed to looking backward and focusing exclusively on the crime of conviction, a factor the individual can never change.&nbsp;</p> <p>The discretionary power to grant clemency is enshrined in the New York State constitution that vests the Governor with the power “to grant reprieves, commutations and&nbsp;pardons&nbsp;after convictions, for all offenses except treason and cases of impeachment, upon such conditions and with such restrictions and limitations, as he may think proper.” To date, Governor Cuomo has commuted the sentences of only 18 people. Thousands of meritorious clemency applications are pending. The governor, with the stroke of a pen, could send those men and women home.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The punitive sentences of the past 40 years must be corrected. The American Law Institute (ALI) sought to address the decades of punitiveness that led to the current state of mass incarceration, made more shameful by the racial disparities in American jails and prisons. ALI now calls for state legislatures to enact “second look” mechanisms that reexamine a person’s sentence after fifteen years no matter the crime of conviction or how long the original sentence.</p> <p>In similar fashion, the Elder Parole Bill (S2144) that gathered momentum in last year’s legislative session in Albany provides that anyone who is over 55 years old and has served at least 15 years would have the opportunity to appear before the Parole Board.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is advocating for legislation that would permit resentencing where prosecutors deem it appropriate in the interests of justice after a person has served 20 years for the most serious crimes. There are similar calls for prosecutors to establish sentencing review units to reevaluate the cases of all people serving lengthy prison terms.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Supreme Court now recognizes the mitigating qualities of youth and, relying on growing scientific awareness of adolescent brain development, concluded that youth are less culpable than adults and have greater capacity for rehabilitation. As a result, judges must now consider youth and its attendant traits before sentencing young people to die in prison. There are nearly 1,200 people in New York State prison serving life sentences for acts committed when they were teenagers. Each of those cases now demands reconsideration.</p> <p>Important questions remain since the City Council’s vote to close the Rikers jails, but there is one thing on which everyone should agree -- the movement to get people out of jail and close Rikers Island should be applied with equal force to New York’s state prisons.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>***<br />Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law. On Twitter&nbsp;<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>
19 Things Melinda Katz Promised To Do As Queens District Attorney 2019-11-03T04:00:00+00:00 2019-11-03T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8893-things-melinda-katz-promised-to-do-as-queens-district-attorney Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/33709817508_57ca6cd5de_c.jpg" alt="Melinda Katz" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Melinda Katz (photo: Queens Borough President office)</p> <hr /> <p>Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is well-positioned to be elected the next district attorney for Queens, filling a vacancy created earlier this year by longtime DA Richard Brown, who had not planned to run for another term even before his death in May. Katz emerged victorious in a hard-won Democratic primary that was decided after a recount and court battle by a razor thin margin, and she is now facing Joseph Murray, an attorney, former NYPD officer, and barely known Republican challenger in a borough where Democrats have a 6-to-1 enrollment advantage.</p> <p>Katz, a Democrat from Forest Hills, is currently in her second term as borough president and is term limited in 2021. A long-serving elected official, she has previously represented Queens in the New York City Council and State Assembly, and has unsuccessfully tried to run for City Comptroller and United States Congress in the past. Whomever wins the general election being decided this week, it will mark the first time a new Queens DA is elected in nearly 30 years.</p> <p>“As the borough president, I run a multi-million dollar budget, and we have a voice that we give to the vulnerable every single day,” Katz said in the only televised debate of the general election, hosted by <a href="https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/decision-2019/2019/10/24/queens-district-attorney-2019-election-debate-melinda-katz-joe-murray" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NY1 on October 23</a>. “To be the district attorney of an office of over 700 people, you need to have that skill set. And you need to have that experience to not only bring our office into the 21st century, but also to keep our borough safe.”</p> <p>In the crowded primary for the race, Katz was a somewhat moderate choice for voters, particularly compared to the insurgent public defender Tiffany Cabán, a newcomer to politics who appeared to grab the nomination on primary night but ultimately lost by only 55 votes in the recount. Cabán, a 31-year-old queer Latina, ran on a platform focused on decarceration and sweeping criminal justice reform, shifting the center of the race and pulling Katz to the left.</p> <p>Katz <a href="https://thecity.nyc/2019/09/katz-says-shes-ready-to-take-a-left-turn-as-queens-da.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">modified</a> some of her positions over the course of her campaign, aligning herself more closely with the progressive priorities of criminal justice reform advocates. In the general election, Murray has argued that Katz is far too progressive to responsibly take over as the borough’s chief law enforcement official. "I am running because I am against this progressive criminal justice reform that is being rammed down our throats," Murray said in the NY1 debate.</p> <p>Several questions have been raised about Katz’s qualifications to become district attorney – of the six candidates in the Democratic primary, she was the only one without any courtroom experience, and in her long career as an elected official, she has not particularly prioritized issues related to the criminal justice system.</p> <p>Katz summed up her campaign platform the same way she has done so in previous races. “If it’s good for families, it’s good for Queens,” she said. But the needs of families vary in an immigrant-heavy borough of more than 2.3 million people, where 48% of residents were born outside of the United States. And Katz has made broad promises about how she will enforce the law while protecting the safety of the people of Queens, even as she vows to reverse tough-on-crime policies that defined Brown’s decades-long record.</p> <p>“My biggest pride comes from knowing that every day that I have been in public service, I have stood up to powerful interests but I’ve also been a voice for people who didn’t have one,” Katz told Gotham Gazette <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8630-melinda-katz-queens-borough-president-district-attorney-tiffany-caban" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ahead of the primary election</a>. “And at every level that I’ve served, I have brought justice to people.”</p> <p>[Read: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8630-melinda-katz-queens-borough-president-district-attorney-tiffany-caban" target="_blank" rel="noopener">‘Hard to Define’: Melinda Katz’s Path to the Precipice of Becoming Queens District Attorney</a>]</p> <p>District attorneys have broad discretionary authority and, if she chooses to, Katz could very well transform the borough’s criminal justice system depending on which crimes she decides to prosecute and how harshly, among other major, far-reaching choices likely ahead of her. Those decisions, which also include how she might interpret and execute criminal justice reforms passed earlier this year in Albany, would have trickle-down effects as well, determining how many people end up incarcerated in city jails and even the types of arrests that police officers will choose to execute.</p> <p>As Katz stands on the verge of election as Queens District Attorney, here are 19 campaign promises she has made.</p> <p><strong>1. Reduce prosecutions for low-level, nonviolent offenses</strong><br />Katz has promised she will “refuse to prosecute low-level marijuana arrests within Queens and will instead urge the legislature to legalize adult recreational cannabis and expunge all convictions for past arrests,” according to <a href="https://katz4da.com/platform-end-marijuana-prosecustion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">her campaign website</a>. Though the state Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo came close to legalizing adult-use marijuana this year, the measure failed and instead marijuana was decriminalized. Katz’s platform notes that full legalization would also require strict enforcement of laws that prohibit driving under the influence.</p> <p>Katz has also promised to reduce, though not eliminate, prosecutions for low-level, nonviolent offenses such as transit fare evasion, trespassing, petit larceny, unlicensed driving and other minor driving offenses, among others.</p> <p>“While I would look to significantly reduce prosecution of these types of offenses, other than marijuana I would want to consider each arrest on its merits before declining to prosecute,” she said on a <a href="http://5bd.org/_assests/_surveys/Coalition_Katz.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">candidate questionnaire</a> circulated by Queens for DA Accountability, a coalition of several advocacy groups including 5Boro Defenders, Vocal-NY Action Fund, and New Queens Democrats.</p> <p><strong>2. Establish a Conviction Integrity Unit</strong><br />Former DA Brown was the only district attorney in the city to refuse an offer of funding from the New York City Council to create a conviction integrity unit to investigate potential wrongful convictions. Katz has vowed to create such a unit, which would also make recommendations for exonerations.</p> <p><strong>3. Create a legislative and lobbying committee for reform</strong><br />Katz has said she will create an internal committee to draft legislation and lobby the state Legislature on criminal justice reform. The committee will include members of the community, advocates and assistant district attorneys.</p> <p><strong>4. Enforcing hate crime laws</strong><br />Hate crimes have been steadily on the rise in New York City over the last few years, which many people, including Katz, have attributed to the election of Donald Trump as president. Katz has said she will make hate crime prevention and prosecutions a leading priority.</p> <p>Previously, as a state legislator, Katz cosponsored a law that made sexual orientation a protected class under the state hate crimes law. She also co-sponsored the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment, education, access to public accomodation and credit.</p> <p><strong>5. Boost construction worksite accountability and worker rights</strong><br />Katz has a lengthy platform focused on construction worker safety, though that did not dissuade the real estate industry from making large contributions to her campaign, <a href="https://thecity.nyc/2019/04/developers-back-katz-for-queens-da-despite-crackdown-vow.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as The City reported</a>. She told the media outlet that those donations would not stop her from prosecuting lawbreaking developers or construction contractors.</p> <p>She’s promised to use various tools to go after wrongdoing in the construction industry including strictly enforcing construction safety codes and cracking down on illegal conversions. Her platform notes that these violations are misdemeanors but she would seek higher charges that lead to jail time.</p> <p>In plea negotiations, she will seek the surrender of licenses from the Department of Business or other agencies, which are not automatic in cases of criminal convictions. She will also use asset forfeiture funds for construction safety training programs, which were made mandatory under a law passed by the City Council in 2017, she has said.</p> <p>Her platform also states that she will work on a multi-agency Construction Safety Task Force, and assign an investigator to every workplace accident that results in a serious injury. She says she will also “aggressively prosecute” employers for wage theft and overtime violations, establish a multilingual outreach program to inform workers of legal protections, as well as create a system so workers can anonymously report violations of their rights.</p> <p>“Developers and construction companies will be held accountable if they fail to follow the law and keep their workers safe, as they are now being held accountable in Brooklyn,” her platform reads. “This will not only provide justice for victims of workplace safety violations, but will also send a clear message to developers that any effort to cut corners will have severe consequences.”</p> <p><strong>6. Implementing discovery reform</strong><br />The state Legislature passed a slew of criminal justice reforms this year, including changing the discovery process so that defendants are better informed about the evidence against them. Implementation of the new law will be closely watched in Queens and beyond.</p> <p>In a March 17 <a href="https://qns.com/story/2019/03/17/op-ed-real-discovery-reform-is-essential-for-justice/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">op-ed in QNS</a>, prior to the passage of that legislation, Katz pledged her support for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s decision to voluntarily implement open-file discovery reform and criticized the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York for opposing it.</p> <p>“We need not fear fairness in the courtroom,” she wrote. “Providing immediate access to evidence means that both sides are on a level playing field, which is fundamental to our system of justice.”</p> <p><strong>7. Closing Rikers Island</strong> <br />Katz supports the city’s plan, recently approved by the New York City Council, to close the Rikers Island jail complex by 2026 and replace it with four borough-based facilities, including a new jail in Queens.</p> <p>But she has been critical of the process in which the plan advanced, what she saw as a lack of community input in the selection of jail sites and of the size of the proposed facilities.</p> <p>“My objection was, you're closing one horrible mass institution and replacing that with four horrible mass institutions,” Katz said in the NY1 general election debate, though not explaining why she believes the new jails will be so bad. “They think they're going to lower the rate of people that are in Rikers to about 3,000. So the math doesn't add up to put a 1,500-bed facility in the borough of Queens,” she continued, overstating the number of beds planned for Queens. It was a number that also came down further, to about 885 beds, just before the Council voted the plan through, which occurred several days prior to Katz’s debate statement.</p> <p>“I believe in community jails. It is the common construct of jails all around the country now and I believe that they will do good,” Katz added, “but with that, you also need a guarantee of services for the individuals that are in the jails. Nobody comes out of Rikers better than when they went in. But if we're going to do community jails, we have to do it right...But as far as the mayor's plan goes, they're too big. And the community was not involved in the initial placement of those jails. And so that's what I was truly against.”</p> <p>As DA, Katz would likely have to work closely with city officials on many aspects of prosecutions, diversions, and logistics as they close the Rikers jails, build the new Queens jail, and continue overall reforms.</p> <p><strong>8. Ending cash bail</strong><br />As DA, Katz will have to enforce recent reforms to the bail system made by the state Legislature, which eliminated bail for most misdemeanors and low-level offenses and will take effect at the start of next year. But during the primary, some of the candidates, including Katz, said they would eliminate cash bail entirely in their requests to judges.</p> <p>Katz was initially unwilling to commit to that position but later shifted her stance saying she will completely do away with it, though with considerations of whether an individual is dangerous or has repeatedly been arrested. “If someone is a threat to our community’s safety, they shouldn’t be on the streets; if they’re not, they should not have to sit in jail awaiting trial regardless of their financial situation,” her platform reads.</p> <p>At the NY1 general election debate, she explained further, insisting that she would focus on alternatives to incarceration and diversion programs. “Whether you get out of jail before you are convicted should not depend on the amount of money that you have in the bank. That is the unfairness of the bail system,’ she said.</p> <p><strong>9. Night duty for ADAs</strong><br />At the NY1 debate, Katz indicated that she would make assistant district attorneys more accessible so that a person arrested after the end of the typical DA office work day won’t end up spending a night in jail.</p> <p>“We're going to have ADAs that are on duty in the evenings, and they will be able to be approached any time of night, any time of day,” she said, “to look at what the charges should be of those that are brought in. And one of the ways to get diversionary programs intact and make sure that people also don't end up going through the justice system when they shouldn't have to is to make sure that they go into these programs pre-charge.”</p> <p><strong>10. Tackle housing fraud and predatory practices</strong><br />Katz has promised to create a Bureau of Housing and Loan Fraud at the Queens DA office to prosecute predatory lenders and landlords, and to educate homeowners and renters in the borough about their rights and protections.</p> <p>“For too long, white collar criminals have gotten off with little more than a slap on the wrist or a fine they can write off as a cost of doing business, while regular homeowners, borrowers, small businesses and renters have their lives destroyed,” she wrote in a February <a href="http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2019/feb/21/bringing-justice-home-creating-bureau-housing-and-/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">op-ed in Amsterdam News</a>. “Theft is theft, whether the robber wears a mask or a three-piece suit; whether it’s stealing a car or robbing a family of their financial security through housing fraud. As district attorney, I will make it clear that predatory lending has no home in Queens.”</p> <p><strong>11. Transparency in asset seizure and refocusing resources</strong><br />District attorneys seize millions of dollars in assets each year in the course of prosecutions, which help bolster their budgets and fund pet projects under their jurisdictions. But the way these funds are collected and used isn’t always clear to the public. Katz has promised that she will release an annual report on asset seizure and the programs that are funded by it, and will retool spending towards reducing and preventing crime.</p> <p>Specifically, she has promised to invest in overdose clinics and services for those suffering from opioid addiction, including by setting up a program similar to Staten Island’s Heroin Overdose Prevention and Education (HOPE) program. She also aims to invest in Cure Violence programs that seek to prevent gun violence, and will partner with ride-sharing services to fund free rides during major holidays to prevent driving while intoxicated.</p> <p><strong>12. Speedy trials and plea bargains</strong><br />Katz’s platform states that her office will immediately review any case that has gone more than six months without a trial date to see if it can be disposed.</p> <p>She will also end a current practice where the Queens DA’s office refuses to consider plea bargains after indictments are made. That practice can coerce defendants to accept plea deals even if they are innocent and before they can see the evidence against them, her platform states.</p> <p><strong>13. Protect child victims</strong><br />Katz’s platform also takes stock of the recent passage of the Child Victims Act, which extends the statute of limitations for adult survivors of child abuse to seek civil and criminal action against their abusers. “As District Attorney, Melinda will work with victims’ organizations to assist all survivors seeking justice even if years have passed since they were harmed,” her platform states.</p> <p>It also promises that Katz will take efforts to prevent children from being victimized by online sexual predators, will create new educational programs for parents, run sting operations and help organizations screen potential employees if they frequently interact with children.</p> <p><strong>14. Fight elder abuse and fraud</strong> <br />According to Katz’s campaign website, she will “ensure that seniors, their families and other caregivers are provided information on identifying signs of elder abuse, as well as information on reporting suspected abuse.” She also promised to vehemently prosecute real estate scammers and identity thieves that target seniors.</p> <p><strong>15. Help those with mental illness</strong> <br />Noting that people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crime, Katz pledged to work with law enforcement to create strategies to provide services to those suffering from mental illness rather than criminalize them.</p> <p>“When a person with mental illness is accused of a crime, it demands specific protocols within the District Attorney’s office, working with advocates and mental health professionals to determine the appropriate course of action from a prosecutorial and/or treatment perspective,” her platform reads. She also promises to advocate for improved mental health services for incarcerated individuals.</p> <p><strong>16. Fight for LGBTQ rights</strong><br />Katz pledged to create an LGBTQ Rights Advisory Board to deal with issues that are specific to the community such as bullying and intimidation, and discrimination in employment or housing opportunities.</p> <p><strong>17. Fight domestic violence in immigrant communities</strong> <br />Katz intends to create an Immigrant Justice Unit which will, among other duties, target domestic violence in immigrant communities. “Domestic violence is a particular challenge in immigrant communities, where women are often reluctant to report abuse to police because of fears of deportation,” her website notes. “Through her Immigrant Justice Unit, Melinda will partner will immigrant advocacy groups to educate women about their rights, protect them from Trump’s ICE, assist them in leaving an abusive situation and prosecute abusers as appropriate.”</p> <p><strong>18. Train employees to recognize and fight internal bias</strong><br />Responding to the questionnaire from the Queens for DA Accountability coalition, Katz committed to implicit bias training for employees of her office and ongoing training in diversity, inclusion, and equity. “[It] is imperative that all staff members have received the latest training to best serve all members of our community,” she wrote.</p> <p><strong>19. Refuse to prosecute sex workers</strong><br />Katz has said she will not prosecute sex workers but will rather target traffickers and pimps. “We're not going to convict people for sex work,” she said at the NY1 debate, “and we're going to actually try and get to the sex traffickers and those that are forcing people into this industry, and at the same time try and make sure that if there's other issues like drug abuse or anything else that comes with the industry, that we can be of service. These are women that are being double victimized. These are people that are being double victimized.”</p> <p>She has, however, been less willing to investigate the NYPD’s Vice unit which effectuates arrests of sex workers and has been criticized for alleged corruption and abuse of sex workers. “[I] am reluctant to publicize information on investigation and arrest procedures that may make it easier for sex traffickers and others to commit their crimes,” she said on the candidate questionnaire.</p> <p>[READ: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8630-melinda-katz-queens-borough-president-district-attorney-tiffany-caban" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Melinda Katz's Path to the Precipice of Becoming Queens District Attorney</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Stephen Wyer contributed to this story.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/33709817508_57ca6cd5de_c.jpg" alt="Melinda Katz" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Melinda Katz (photo: Queens Borough President office)</p> <hr /> <p>Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is well-positioned to be elected the next district attorney for Queens, filling a vacancy created earlier this year by longtime DA Richard Brown, who had not planned to run for another term even before his death in May. Katz emerged victorious in a hard-won Democratic primary that was decided after a recount and court battle by a razor thin margin, and she is now facing Joseph Murray, an attorney, former NYPD officer, and barely known Republican challenger in a borough where Democrats have a 6-to-1 enrollment advantage.</p> <p>Katz, a Democrat from Forest Hills, is currently in her second term as borough president and is term limited in 2021. A long-serving elected official, she has previously represented Queens in the New York City Council and State Assembly, and has unsuccessfully tried to run for City Comptroller and United States Congress in the past. Whomever wins the general election being decided this week, it will mark the first time a new Queens DA is elected in nearly 30 years.</p> <p>“As the borough president, I run a multi-million dollar budget, and we have a voice that we give to the vulnerable every single day,” Katz said in the only televised debate of the general election, hosted by <a href="https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/decision-2019/2019/10/24/queens-district-attorney-2019-election-debate-melinda-katz-joe-murray" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NY1 on October 23</a>. “To be the district attorney of an office of over 700 people, you need to have that skill set. And you need to have that experience to not only bring our office into the 21st century, but also to keep our borough safe.”</p> <p>In the crowded primary for the race, Katz was a somewhat moderate choice for voters, particularly compared to the insurgent public defender Tiffany Cabán, a newcomer to politics who appeared to grab the nomination on primary night but ultimately lost by only 55 votes in the recount. Cabán, a 31-year-old queer Latina, ran on a platform focused on decarceration and sweeping criminal justice reform, shifting the center of the race and pulling Katz to the left.</p> <p>Katz <a href="https://thecity.nyc/2019/09/katz-says-shes-ready-to-take-a-left-turn-as-queens-da.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">modified</a> some of her positions over the course of her campaign, aligning herself more closely with the progressive priorities of criminal justice reform advocates. In the general election, Murray has argued that Katz is far too progressive to responsibly take over as the borough’s chief law enforcement official. "I am running because I am against this progressive criminal justice reform that is being rammed down our throats," Murray said in the NY1 debate.</p> <p>Several questions have been raised about Katz’s qualifications to become district attorney – of the six candidates in the Democratic primary, she was the only one without any courtroom experience, and in her long career as an elected official, she has not particularly prioritized issues related to the criminal justice system.</p> <p>Katz summed up her campaign platform the same way she has done so in previous races. “If it’s good for families, it’s good for Queens,” she said. But the needs of families vary in an immigrant-heavy borough of more than 2.3 million people, where 48% of residents were born outside of the United States. And Katz has made broad promises about how she will enforce the law while protecting the safety of the people of Queens, even as she vows to reverse tough-on-crime policies that defined Brown’s decades-long record.</p> <p>“My biggest pride comes from knowing that every day that I have been in public service, I have stood up to powerful interests but I’ve also been a voice for people who didn’t have one,” Katz told Gotham Gazette <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8630-melinda-katz-queens-borough-president-district-attorney-tiffany-caban" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ahead of the primary election</a>. “And at every level that I’ve served, I have brought justice to people.”</p> <p>[Read: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8630-melinda-katz-queens-borough-president-district-attorney-tiffany-caban" target="_blank" rel="noopener">‘Hard to Define’: Melinda Katz’s Path to the Precipice of Becoming Queens District Attorney</a>]</p> <p>District attorneys have broad discretionary authority and, if she chooses to, Katz could very well transform the borough’s criminal justice system depending on which crimes she decides to prosecute and how harshly, among other major, far-reaching choices likely ahead of her. Those decisions, which also include how she might interpret and execute criminal justice reforms passed earlier this year in Albany, would have trickle-down effects as well, determining how many people end up incarcerated in city jails and even the types of arrests that police officers will choose to execute.</p> <p>As Katz stands on the verge of election as Queens District Attorney, here are 19 campaign promises she has made.</p> <p><strong>1. Reduce prosecutions for low-level, nonviolent offenses</strong><br />Katz has promised she will “refuse to prosecute low-level marijuana arrests within Queens and will instead urge the legislature to legalize adult recreational cannabis and expunge all convictions for past arrests,” according to <a href="https://katz4da.com/platform-end-marijuana-prosecustion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">her campaign website</a>. Though the state Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo came close to legalizing adult-use marijuana this year, the measure failed and instead marijuana was decriminalized. Katz’s platform notes that full legalization would also require strict enforcement of laws that prohibit driving under the influence.</p> <p>Katz has also promised to reduce, though not eliminate, prosecutions for low-level, nonviolent offenses such as transit fare evasion, trespassing, petit larceny, unlicensed driving and other minor driving offenses, among others.</p> <p>“While I would look to significantly reduce prosecution of these types of offenses, other than marijuana I would want to consider each arrest on its merits before declining to prosecute,” she said on a <a href="http://5bd.org/_assests/_surveys/Coalition_Katz.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">candidate questionnaire</a> circulated by Queens for DA Accountability, a coalition of several advocacy groups including 5Boro Defenders, Vocal-NY Action Fund, and New Queens Democrats.</p> <p><strong>2. Establish a Conviction Integrity Unit</strong><br />Former DA Brown was the only district attorney in the city to refuse an offer of funding from the New York City Council to create a conviction integrity unit to investigate potential wrongful convictions. Katz has vowed to create such a unit, which would also make recommendations for exonerations.</p> <p><strong>3. Create a legislative and lobbying committee for reform</strong><br />Katz has said she will create an internal committee to draft legislation and lobby the state Legislature on criminal justice reform. The committee will include members of the community, advocates and assistant district attorneys.</p> <p><strong>4. Enforcing hate crime laws</strong><br />Hate crimes have been steadily on the rise in New York City over the last few years, which many people, including Katz, have attributed to the election of Donald Trump as president. Katz has said she will make hate crime prevention and prosecutions a leading priority.</p> <p>Previously, as a state legislator, Katz cosponsored a law that made sexual orientation a protected class under the state hate crimes law. She also co-sponsored the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment, education, access to public accomodation and credit.</p> <p><strong>5. Boost construction worksite accountability and worker rights</strong><br />Katz has a lengthy platform focused on construction worker safety, though that did not dissuade the real estate industry from making large contributions to her campaign, <a href="https://thecity.nyc/2019/04/developers-back-katz-for-queens-da-despite-crackdown-vow.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">as The City reported</a>. She told the media outlet that those donations would not stop her from prosecuting lawbreaking developers or construction contractors.</p> <p>She’s promised to use various tools to go after wrongdoing in the construction industry including strictly enforcing construction safety codes and cracking down on illegal conversions. Her platform notes that these violations are misdemeanors but she would seek higher charges that lead to jail time.</p> <p>In plea negotiations, she will seek the surrender of licenses from the Department of Business or other agencies, which are not automatic in cases of criminal convictions. She will also use asset forfeiture funds for construction safety training programs, which were made mandatory under a law passed by the City Council in 2017, she has said.</p> <p>Her platform also states that she will work on a multi-agency Construction Safety Task Force, and assign an investigator to every workplace accident that results in a serious injury. She says she will also “aggressively prosecute” employers for wage theft and overtime violations, establish a multilingual outreach program to inform workers of legal protections, as well as create a system so workers can anonymously report violations of their rights.</p> <p>“Developers and construction companies will be held accountable if they fail to follow the law and keep their workers safe, as they are now being held accountable in Brooklyn,” her platform reads. “This will not only provide justice for victims of workplace safety violations, but will also send a clear message to developers that any effort to cut corners will have severe consequences.”</p> <p><strong>6. Implementing discovery reform</strong><br />The state Legislature passed a slew of criminal justice reforms this year, including changing the discovery process so that defendants are better informed about the evidence against them. Implementation of the new law will be closely watched in Queens and beyond.</p> <p>In a March 17 <a href="https://qns.com/story/2019/03/17/op-ed-real-discovery-reform-is-essential-for-justice/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">op-ed in QNS</a>, prior to the passage of that legislation, Katz pledged her support for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s decision to voluntarily implement open-file discovery reform and criticized the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York for opposing it.</p> <p>“We need not fear fairness in the courtroom,” she wrote. “Providing immediate access to evidence means that both sides are on a level playing field, which is fundamental to our system of justice.”</p> <p><strong>7. Closing Rikers Island</strong> <br />Katz supports the city’s plan, recently approved by the New York City Council, to close the Rikers Island jail complex by 2026 and replace it with four borough-based facilities, including a new jail in Queens.</p> <p>But she has been critical of the process in which the plan advanced, what she saw as a lack of community input in the selection of jail sites and of the size of the proposed facilities.</p> <p>“My objection was, you're closing one horrible mass institution and replacing that with four horrible mass institutions,” Katz said in the NY1 general election debate, though not explaining why she believes the new jails will be so bad. “They think they're going to lower the rate of people that are in Rikers to about 3,000. So the math doesn't add up to put a 1,500-bed facility in the borough of Queens,” she continued, overstating the number of beds planned for Queens. It was a number that also came down further, to about 885 beds, just before the Council voted the plan through, which occurred several days prior to Katz’s debate statement.</p> <p>“I believe in community jails. It is the common construct of jails all around the country now and I believe that they will do good,” Katz added, “but with that, you also need a guarantee of services for the individuals that are in the jails. Nobody comes out of Rikers better than when they went in. But if we're going to do community jails, we have to do it right...But as far as the mayor's plan goes, they're too big. And the community was not involved in the initial placement of those jails. And so that's what I was truly against.”</p> <p>As DA, Katz would likely have to work closely with city officials on many aspects of prosecutions, diversions, and logistics as they close the Rikers jails, build the new Queens jail, and continue overall reforms.</p> <p><strong>8. Ending cash bail</strong><br />As DA, Katz will have to enforce recent reforms to the bail system made by the state Legislature, which eliminated bail for most misdemeanors and low-level offenses and will take effect at the start of next year. But during the primary, some of the candidates, including Katz, said they would eliminate cash bail entirely in their requests to judges.</p> <p>Katz was initially unwilling to commit to that position but later shifted her stance saying she will completely do away with it, though with considerations of whether an individual is dangerous or has repeatedly been arrested. “If someone is a threat to our community’s safety, they shouldn’t be on the streets; if they’re not, they should not have to sit in jail awaiting trial regardless of their financial situation,” her platform reads.</p> <p>At the NY1 general election debate, she explained further, insisting that she would focus on alternatives to incarceration and diversion programs. “Whether you get out of jail before you are convicted should not depend on the amount of money that you have in the bank. That is the unfairness of the bail system,’ she said.</p> <p><strong>9. Night duty for ADAs</strong><br />At the NY1 debate, Katz indicated that she would make assistant district attorneys more accessible so that a person arrested after the end of the typical DA office work day won’t end up spending a night in jail.</p> <p>“We're going to have ADAs that are on duty in the evenings, and they will be able to be approached any time of night, any time of day,” she said, “to look at what the charges should be of those that are brought in. And one of the ways to get diversionary programs intact and make sure that people also don't end up going through the justice system when they shouldn't have to is to make sure that they go into these programs pre-charge.”</p> <p><strong>10. Tackle housing fraud and predatory practices</strong><br />Katz has promised to create a Bureau of Housing and Loan Fraud at the Queens DA office to prosecute predatory lenders and landlords, and to educate homeowners and renters in the borough about their rights and protections.</p> <p>“For too long, white collar criminals have gotten off with little more than a slap on the wrist or a fine they can write off as a cost of doing business, while regular homeowners, borrowers, small businesses and renters have their lives destroyed,” she wrote in a February <a href="http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2019/feb/21/bringing-justice-home-creating-bureau-housing-and-/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">op-ed in Amsterdam News</a>. “Theft is theft, whether the robber wears a mask or a three-piece suit; whether it’s stealing a car or robbing a family of their financial security through housing fraud. As district attorney, I will make it clear that predatory lending has no home in Queens.”</p> <p><strong>11. Transparency in asset seizure and refocusing resources</strong><br />District attorneys seize millions of dollars in assets each year in the course of prosecutions, which help bolster their budgets and fund pet projects under their jurisdictions. But the way these funds are collected and used isn’t always clear to the public. Katz has promised that she will release an annual report on asset seizure and the programs that are funded by it, and will retool spending towards reducing and preventing crime.</p> <p>Specifically, she has promised to invest in overdose clinics and services for those suffering from opioid addiction, including by setting up a program similar to Staten Island’s Heroin Overdose Prevention and Education (HOPE) program. She also aims to invest in Cure Violence programs that seek to prevent gun violence, and will partner with ride-sharing services to fund free rides during major holidays to prevent driving while intoxicated.</p> <p><strong>12. Speedy trials and plea bargains</strong><br />Katz’s platform states that her office will immediately review any case that has gone more than six months without a trial date to see if it can be disposed.</p> <p>She will also end a current practice where the Queens DA’s office refuses to consider plea bargains after indictments are made. That practice can coerce defendants to accept plea deals even if they are innocent and before they can see the evidence against them, her platform states.</p> <p><strong>13. Protect child victims</strong><br />Katz’s platform also takes stock of the recent passage of the Child Victims Act, which extends the statute of limitations for adult survivors of child abuse to seek civil and criminal action against their abusers. “As District Attorney, Melinda will work with victims’ organizations to assist all survivors seeking justice even if years have passed since they were harmed,” her platform states.</p> <p>It also promises that Katz will take efforts to prevent children from being victimized by online sexual predators, will create new educational programs for parents, run sting operations and help organizations screen potential employees if they frequently interact with children.</p> <p><strong>14. Fight elder abuse and fraud</strong> <br />According to Katz’s campaign website, she will “ensure that seniors, their families and other caregivers are provided information on identifying signs of elder abuse, as well as information on reporting suspected abuse.” She also promised to vehemently prosecute real estate scammers and identity thieves that target seniors.</p> <p><strong>15. Help those with mental illness</strong> <br />Noting that people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crime, Katz pledged to work with law enforcement to create strategies to provide services to those suffering from mental illness rather than criminalize them.</p> <p>“When a person with mental illness is accused of a crime, it demands specific protocols within the District Attorney’s office, working with advocates and mental health professionals to determine the appropriate course of action from a prosecutorial and/or treatment perspective,” her platform reads. She also promises to advocate for improved mental health services for incarcerated individuals.</p> <p><strong>16. Fight for LGBTQ rights</strong><br />Katz pledged to create an LGBTQ Rights Advisory Board to deal with issues that are specific to the community such as bullying and intimidation, and discrimination in employment or housing opportunities.</p> <p><strong>17. Fight domestic violence in immigrant communities</strong> <br />Katz intends to create an Immigrant Justice Unit which will, among other duties, target domestic violence in immigrant communities. “Domestic violence is a particular challenge in immigrant communities, where women are often reluctant to report abuse to police because of fears of deportation,” her website notes. “Through her Immigrant Justice Unit, Melinda will partner will immigrant advocacy groups to educate women about their rights, protect them from Trump’s ICE, assist them in leaving an abusive situation and prosecute abusers as appropriate.”</p> <p><strong>18. Train employees to recognize and fight internal bias</strong><br />Responding to the questionnaire from the Queens for DA Accountability coalition, Katz committed to implicit bias training for employees of her office and ongoing training in diversity, inclusion, and equity. “[It] is imperative that all staff members have received the latest training to best serve all members of our community,” she wrote.</p> <p><strong>19. Refuse to prosecute sex workers</strong><br />Katz has said she will not prosecute sex workers but will rather target traffickers and pimps. “We're not going to convict people for sex work,” she said at the NY1 debate, “and we're going to actually try and get to the sex traffickers and those that are forcing people into this industry, and at the same time try and make sure that if there's other issues like drug abuse or anything else that comes with the industry, that we can be of service. These are women that are being double victimized. These are people that are being double victimized.”</p> <p>She has, however, been less willing to investigate the NYPD’s Vice unit which effectuates arrests of sex workers and has been criticized for alleged corruption and abuse of sex workers. “[I] am reluctant to publicize information on investigation and arrest procedures that may make it easier for sex traffickers and others to commit their crimes,” she said on the candidate questionnaire.</p> <p>[READ: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8630-melinda-katz-queens-borough-president-district-attorney-tiffany-caban" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Melinda Katz's Path to the Precipice of Becoming Queens District Attorney</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Stephen Wyer contributed to this story.</p>
Mass Incarceration and Remorse 2019-10-21T04:00:00+00:00 2019-10-21T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8862-mass-incarceration-prison-prosecution-remorse Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/govandcouomo-consumer-awa.jpg" alt="govandcouomo consumer awa" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: the governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger faced up to 99 years for killing her neighbor, Botham Jean, in his own home. According to most observers, the forgiveness offered by Mr. Jean’s 18-year-old brother in his victim impact statement, capped by his request to hug Ms. Guyger, was the key reason why the jury settled on 10 years, a far lower number than even the 28 years urged by the prosecutor.</p> <p>However important a role forgiveness played in the jury’s decision to spare Guyger decades behind bars, according to interviews with some of the jurors an even greater factor was Guyger’s expression of remorse during her trial testimony: “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I never wanted to take an innocent person’s life...I wish he was the one with the gun that killed me.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The role of remorse in sentencing and punishment was a central theme of the recent Parole Summit organized by the Lifers and Longtermers Organization at Otisville Correctional Facility in New York.</p> <p>In years past, the Summit focused on the parole process itself -- the parole interview, the parole decision, and appeals from parole denials -- and yielded suggestions for reforming an unforgiving system. But this year, the lifers decided to look inward, and bring to the forefront conceptions of restorative justice, victim centered awareness, and individual transformation.</p> <p>The overarching emphasis on healing led inexorably to exhortations for offenders to gain insight into what led them to their crimes; to reflect on the motivations for their behavior. Many of the day’s speakers stressed that the lifers had to accept responsibility for the harm they caused, and to develop and express authentic contrition in order to promote healing for themselves as well as for their victims.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Criminal legal systems place a premium on remorse. Studies here and abroad have shown that remorse is the most commonly named mitigating factor for a reduced sentence, and perceived lack of remorse often leads to an enhanced sentence. Remorse is specifically and instrumentally relevant to the Parole Summit – most states allow parole boards to consider a person’s insight and remorse when deciding whether to grant parole, and parole boards typically probe those areas in depth at parole interviews. Many lifers have been denied parole based on a perceived lack of genuine or sufficient remorse.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Many rationales explain the outsize role remorse plays in sentencing and punishment. Sincere remorse as a sign of moral improvement suggests that the person has been rehabilitated and no longer poses a danger. Expressions of remorse also have a confessional aspect and are preconditions to receiving understanding or forgiveness. Remorse also serves as an apology to the victims and restores a measure of dignity that the crime violated.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>But remorse is an emotion. Can anyone accurately evaluate whether a statement of remorse is genuine or self-serving? Typically, determinations of the authenticity of remorse are made by judges and members of parole boards who lack any training or special competence in assessing the complexities of human emotions. How do these evaluators distinguish remorse from guilt or from shame, or just generally decide whether a person is being sincere? Some people are better able to verbalize their feelings than are others, and cultural differences surely influence evaluations of remorse. How is remorse gauged when a person professes their innocence?&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Studies show judges disagree about indicators of remorse – behavior that indicated remorse to some suggested remorselessness to others. Research has debunked the notion that remorse can be evaluated by words used, non-verbal cues, attitudes, and demeanor.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The many lifers denied parole for alleged inadequate contrition recognize that their words are necessary but not sufficient. It is too easy for words to be dismissed as uttered only in the hope of obtaining freedom. Instead, lifers want their remorse to be judged by their actions and deeds as well as by their words; by the affirmative steps they have taken while incarcerated to try to make amends for the harm they caused.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The reality of the enduring impact of remorse revealed a fundamental irony as the lifers listened patiently and attentively to remarks from prosecutors, members of the parole board, elected officials and others. While all the speakers talked about their reforms and self-defined progressive policies, something was missing.</p> <p>Seated silently next to me was a man serving 50 years to life as a high-ranking prosecutor from the office that prosecuted him talked about all his office is doing in progressive criminal justice. Another man at my table who has been denied parole six times listened stoically as a parole board member talked about the virtue of accepting responsibility and expressing concern for victims – something the man has done to no avail at every one of his six parole appearances</p> <p>By now, most people agree that prosecutors and those connected with law enforcement were the primary architects of mass incarceration. Yet what was sorely lacking from the speakers extolling the righteousness of victim-centeredness and offender accountability was any acknowledgement and acceptance of their individual, or their office’s, responsibility for the blight of mass incarceration. There was nothing said that remotely resembled insight, remorse, or apology.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>And while words matter, in the end, just as lifers beg not to be judged solely by the words they utter in a brief and nerve-wracking parole interview but by their actions over the past many decades -- the things they have accomplished in prison and the men and women they have become -- law enforcement actors should be similarly judged.</p> <p>Words matter, they are necessary if there is to be any reconciliation for past harms, but ultimately actions speak louder than words. If those who caused the crisis of mass incarceration and resultant decimation of families and communities cannot bring themselves to publicly accept responsibility and offer contrition to the tens of thousands of men and women serving life and massive long-term sentences, they can at the very least show their genuine and authentic remorse by taking every necessary step to secure their release.</p> <p>***<br />Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law. On Twitter&nbsp;<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/govandcouomo-consumer-awa.jpg" alt="govandcouomo consumer awa" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo: the governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger faced up to 99 years for killing her neighbor, Botham Jean, in his own home. According to most observers, the forgiveness offered by Mr. Jean’s 18-year-old brother in his victim impact statement, capped by his request to hug Ms. Guyger, was the key reason why the jury settled on 10 years, a far lower number than even the 28 years urged by the prosecutor.</p> <p>However important a role forgiveness played in the jury’s decision to spare Guyger decades behind bars, according to interviews with some of the jurors an even greater factor was Guyger’s expression of remorse during her trial testimony: “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I never wanted to take an innocent person’s life...I wish he was the one with the gun that killed me.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The role of remorse in sentencing and punishment was a central theme of the recent Parole Summit organized by the Lifers and Longtermers Organization at Otisville Correctional Facility in New York.</p> <p>In years past, the Summit focused on the parole process itself -- the parole interview, the parole decision, and appeals from parole denials -- and yielded suggestions for reforming an unforgiving system. But this year, the lifers decided to look inward, and bring to the forefront conceptions of restorative justice, victim centered awareness, and individual transformation.</p> <p>The overarching emphasis on healing led inexorably to exhortations for offenders to gain insight into what led them to their crimes; to reflect on the motivations for their behavior. Many of the day’s speakers stressed that the lifers had to accept responsibility for the harm they caused, and to develop and express authentic contrition in order to promote healing for themselves as well as for their victims.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Criminal legal systems place a premium on remorse. Studies here and abroad have shown that remorse is the most commonly named mitigating factor for a reduced sentence, and perceived lack of remorse often leads to an enhanced sentence. Remorse is specifically and instrumentally relevant to the Parole Summit – most states allow parole boards to consider a person’s insight and remorse when deciding whether to grant parole, and parole boards typically probe those areas in depth at parole interviews. Many lifers have been denied parole based on a perceived lack of genuine or sufficient remorse.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Many rationales explain the outsize role remorse plays in sentencing and punishment. Sincere remorse as a sign of moral improvement suggests that the person has been rehabilitated and no longer poses a danger. Expressions of remorse also have a confessional aspect and are preconditions to receiving understanding or forgiveness. Remorse also serves as an apology to the victims and restores a measure of dignity that the crime violated.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>But remorse is an emotion. Can anyone accurately evaluate whether a statement of remorse is genuine or self-serving? Typically, determinations of the authenticity of remorse are made by judges and members of parole boards who lack any training or special competence in assessing the complexities of human emotions. How do these evaluators distinguish remorse from guilt or from shame, or just generally decide whether a person is being sincere? Some people are better able to verbalize their feelings than are others, and cultural differences surely influence evaluations of remorse. How is remorse gauged when a person professes their innocence?&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Studies show judges disagree about indicators of remorse – behavior that indicated remorse to some suggested remorselessness to others. Research has debunked the notion that remorse can be evaluated by words used, non-verbal cues, attitudes, and demeanor.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The many lifers denied parole for alleged inadequate contrition recognize that their words are necessary but not sufficient. It is too easy for words to be dismissed as uttered only in the hope of obtaining freedom. Instead, lifers want their remorse to be judged by their actions and deeds as well as by their words; by the affirmative steps they have taken while incarcerated to try to make amends for the harm they caused.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The reality of the enduring impact of remorse revealed a fundamental irony as the lifers listened patiently and attentively to remarks from prosecutors, members of the parole board, elected officials and others. While all the speakers talked about their reforms and self-defined progressive policies, something was missing.</p> <p>Seated silently next to me was a man serving 50 years to life as a high-ranking prosecutor from the office that prosecuted him talked about all his office is doing in progressive criminal justice. Another man at my table who has been denied parole six times listened stoically as a parole board member talked about the virtue of accepting responsibility and expressing concern for victims – something the man has done to no avail at every one of his six parole appearances</p> <p>By now, most people agree that prosecutors and those connected with law enforcement were the primary architects of mass incarceration. Yet what was sorely lacking from the speakers extolling the righteousness of victim-centeredness and offender accountability was any acknowledgement and acceptance of their individual, or their office’s, responsibility for the blight of mass incarceration. There was nothing said that remotely resembled insight, remorse, or apology.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>And while words matter, in the end, just as lifers beg not to be judged solely by the words they utter in a brief and nerve-wracking parole interview but by their actions over the past many decades -- the things they have accomplished in prison and the men and women they have become -- law enforcement actors should be similarly judged.</p> <p>Words matter, they are necessary if there is to be any reconciliation for past harms, but ultimately actions speak louder than words. If those who caused the crisis of mass incarceration and resultant decimation of families and communities cannot bring themselves to publicly accept responsibility and offer contrition to the tens of thousands of men and women serving life and massive long-term sentences, they can at the very least show their genuine and authentic remorse by taking every necessary step to secure their release.</p> <p>***<br />Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law. On Twitter&nbsp;<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>
I’ve Seen It First-Hand Over Decades and Know: Rikers Cannot Be Redeemed 2019-10-14T04:00:00+00:00 2019-10-14T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8850-ive-seen-it-first-hand-know-rikers-cannot-be-redeemed-richards Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/29104861780_6cb6772e58_c.jpg" alt="Rikers jails de Blasio" width="600" /></p> <p>On Rikers Island (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The narrow bridge to Rikers Island still puts a knot in my stomach. In the late 1980s, I spent two years behind bars in one of the eight active jails on Rikers. Back then, crossing that bridge meant disappearing from society and entering a world defined by violence and inhumanity. <br /><br />Little has changed. These days, I visit Rikers regularly as vice chair of the Board of Correction, the independent oversight body for New York City jails, and as executive vice president of the Fortune Society, an organization that helps people succeed when they come home from jail and prison.<br /><br />Rikers still sends one message to everyone who crosses that bridge, no matter if you’re a correction officer, incarcerated person, or visitor: you are worthless. People feel like animals, caged and mistreated. They react accordingly. <br /><br />During my first year at Rikers, this combustible mix exploded into a riot led by people brought down from upstate prisons for legal proceedings in the city. In theory, these men should have been happy to be closer to their families. But to visit Rikers, their loved ones still had to spend all day traveling to the island for just an hour together—as my father once did when I was jailed on Rikers. I hated to see the effect on him so much that I asked him not to come back.<br /><br />The men from the state prisons experienced the same pain. The anger they felt from mistreatment by correction officers and the brutal physical conditions of Rikers drove them to barricade themselves in their housing unit and erupt in the mess hall.<br /><br />Thirty years later, violence still permeates Rikers, where hints of disrespect are met with force. The jails remain inaccessible to families, lawyers, and other much-needed connections to the outside world. The conditions are still dehumanizing. During the July heatwave, I toured the jail where I was held so many years ago. The cinder blocks and metal worked like an oven. Officers patrolled in shirts drenched with sweat. A few cheap fans pushed around hot air, never reaching the people sweltering in their cells or stationed at their posts. <br /><br />The vast majority of people at Rikers are awaiting trial, as I was. Almost all of them are people of color. Every day, nearly 800 people must be bussed to and from courts in the boroughs at cost of $41 million a year.<br /><br />Moving around inside the poorly-designed jails is also difficult, requiring an officer escort down hallways that can stretch hundreds of yards. Too often, incarcerated people do not make it to medical appointments, family visits, recreation, commissary, and court. Cases are delayed, anger rises, and health suffers.<br /><br />We can change this. In April 2017, after years of pressure, Mayor Bill de Blasio committed to shutting down the Rikers jails, reducing the number of people locked up by half or more, and holding this smaller jail population in facilities near the borough courthouses.<br /><br />Since then, the number of people in jail has dropped by thousands. Our city remains as safe as ever, demonstrating we do not need mass incarceration to achieve safety.<br /><br />This week, the City Council will vote whether to authorize four redesigned borough jails that will enable the permanent closure of the eight jails on Rikers and the jail barge moored to Hunts Point.<br /><br />This plan is a once-in-a-generation chance to close Rikers and replace it with something far better, and far smaller. But no one should underestimate how hard it is to close an institution like Rikers.<br /><br />It will require more changes to police and district attorney practices. It will take continued reforms in Albany, like passing the Less Is More Act to fix New York State’s broken parole system.<br /><br />It will also require approval of the smaller borough system under consideration by the City Council. The initial designs for these facilities would promote safety and facilitate re-entry. Located much closer to courthouses and public transit, they would speed up cases and increase access for attorneys, family members, and others. They would be more accountable to oversight, leading to better conditions.<br /><br />In final negotiations, the Council can improve the current plan by securing major community investments, so people never end up in jail in the first place. But this plan has to pass or we will be stuck with the horrors of Rikers for decades to come. We cannot allow the quest for the perfect to stop us from doing what is right.<br /><br />Since I came home to the Bronx, I have dedicated myself to helping others succeed. The sprawling, unmanageable, and violent jails on Rikers undermine that goal and our communities. Let’s end this disgraceful chapter in our history.<br /><br />***<br />Stanley Richards is Executive Vice President at The Fortune Society, a member of the Independent Commission on Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, and a member of the Justice Implementation Task Force. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/Stan_Fortune" target="_blank" rel="noopener" data-mentioned-user-id="4879110869" data-scribe="element:mention">@Stan_Fortune</a> of <a href="https://twitter.com/thefortunesoc" target="_blank" rel="noopener" data-mentioned-user-id="157306826" data-scribe="element:mention">@thefortunesoc</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/MoreJustNYC" target="_blank" rel="noopener" data-mentioned-user-id="752829961468338176" data-scribe="element:mention">@MoreJustNYC</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/29104861780_6cb6772e58_c.jpg" alt="Rikers jails de Blasio" width="600" /></p> <p>On Rikers Island (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The narrow bridge to Rikers Island still puts a knot in my stomach. In the late 1980s, I spent two years behind bars in one of the eight active jails on Rikers. Back then, crossing that bridge meant disappearing from society and entering a world defined by violence and inhumanity. <br /><br />Little has changed. These days, I visit Rikers regularly as vice chair of the Board of Correction, the independent oversight body for New York City jails, and as executive vice president of the Fortune Society, an organization that helps people succeed when they come home from jail and prison.<br /><br />Rikers still sends one message to everyone who crosses that bridge, no matter if you’re a correction officer, incarcerated person, or visitor: you are worthless. People feel like animals, caged and mistreated. They react accordingly. <br /><br />During my first year at Rikers, this combustible mix exploded into a riot led by people brought down from upstate prisons for legal proceedings in the city. In theory, these men should have been happy to be closer to their families. But to visit Rikers, their loved ones still had to spend all day traveling to the island for just an hour together—as my father once did when I was jailed on Rikers. I hated to see the effect on him so much that I asked him not to come back.<br /><br />The men from the state prisons experienced the same pain. The anger they felt from mistreatment by correction officers and the brutal physical conditions of Rikers drove them to barricade themselves in their housing unit and erupt in the mess hall.<br /><br />Thirty years later, violence still permeates Rikers, where hints of disrespect are met with force. The jails remain inaccessible to families, lawyers, and other much-needed connections to the outside world. The conditions are still dehumanizing. During the July heatwave, I toured the jail where I was held so many years ago. The cinder blocks and metal worked like an oven. Officers patrolled in shirts drenched with sweat. A few cheap fans pushed around hot air, never reaching the people sweltering in their cells or stationed at their posts. <br /><br />The vast majority of people at Rikers are awaiting trial, as I was. Almost all of them are people of color. Every day, nearly 800 people must be bussed to and from courts in the boroughs at cost of $41 million a year.<br /><br />Moving around inside the poorly-designed jails is also difficult, requiring an officer escort down hallways that can stretch hundreds of yards. Too often, incarcerated people do not make it to medical appointments, family visits, recreation, commissary, and court. Cases are delayed, anger rises, and health suffers.<br /><br />We can change this. In April 2017, after years of pressure, Mayor Bill de Blasio committed to shutting down the Rikers jails, reducing the number of people locked up by half or more, and holding this smaller jail population in facilities near the borough courthouses.<br /><br />Since then, the number of people in jail has dropped by thousands. Our city remains as safe as ever, demonstrating we do not need mass incarceration to achieve safety.<br /><br />This week, the City Council will vote whether to authorize four redesigned borough jails that will enable the permanent closure of the eight jails on Rikers and the jail barge moored to Hunts Point.<br /><br />This plan is a once-in-a-generation chance to close Rikers and replace it with something far better, and far smaller. But no one should underestimate how hard it is to close an institution like Rikers.<br /><br />It will require more changes to police and district attorney practices. It will take continued reforms in Albany, like passing the Less Is More Act to fix New York State’s broken parole system.<br /><br />It will also require approval of the smaller borough system under consideration by the City Council. The initial designs for these facilities would promote safety and facilitate re-entry. Located much closer to courthouses and public transit, they would speed up cases and increase access for attorneys, family members, and others. They would be more accountable to oversight, leading to better conditions.<br /><br />In final negotiations, the Council can improve the current plan by securing major community investments, so people never end up in jail in the first place. But this plan has to pass or we will be stuck with the horrors of Rikers for decades to come. We cannot allow the quest for the perfect to stop us from doing what is right.<br /><br />Since I came home to the Bronx, I have dedicated myself to helping others succeed. The sprawling, unmanageable, and violent jails on Rikers undermine that goal and our communities. Let’s end this disgraceful chapter in our history.<br /><br />***<br />Stanley Richards is Executive Vice President at The Fortune Society, a member of the Independent Commission on Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, and a member of the Justice Implementation Task Force. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/Stan_Fortune" target="_blank" rel="noopener" data-mentioned-user-id="4879110869" data-scribe="element:mention">@Stan_Fortune</a> of <a href="https://twitter.com/thefortunesoc" target="_blank" rel="noopener" data-mentioned-user-id="157306826" data-scribe="element:mention">@thefortunesoc</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/MoreJustNYC" target="_blank" rel="noopener" data-mentioned-user-id="752829961468338176" data-scribe="element:mention">@MoreJustNYC</a></p> <p>

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

</p>
Fighting and Dying for Dignity in Prison 2019-10-02T04:00:00+00:00 2019-10-02T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8829-fighting-and-dying-for-dignity-in-prison Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/attica-corr-fac.jpg" alt="attica corr fac" width="600" height="306" /></p> <p>(photo: Wikimedia Commons)</p> <hr /> <p>Last week, my friend and client Carlos passed away in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections. His life had been filled with so much suffering and pain, and yet he showed me only friendship and kindness during the three years I was privileged to know him. Known to his friends and family as Carlos, Edgardo Gonzalez was a professional boxer before he was sent away to serve a sentence of 50 years to life after an attempt was made on his life in a South Williamsburg bar and he killed two people.</p> <p>He had fought Olympic champion Howard Davis at Madison Square Garden in 1977, had a daughter he loved more than life, several brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and a mom and dad whom he was so proud to be able to financially support during their lifetimes. He was one of the toughest guys I’d ever met, a Lower East Side legend, but he was warm and patient and always checked in on me during our weekly calls.&nbsp;</p> <p>Once inside the prison walls, Carlos earned his master’s degree and an impeccable institutional record. He received one disciplinary ticket in 36 years for having an “untidy cell” after he was found with a photograph of his mother on his cell wall. Carlos tried his best to maintain relationships with his family members&nbsp;despite the barriers placed between them, but he was mostly alone and left to grow old in prison.</p> <p>I met Carlos while attending law school at City University of New York School of Law. Together with two classmates we filed a clemency application on his behalf in 2018, which was never even acknowledged by the Governor’s office or supported by the supposedly progressive elected officials we reached out to. Hundreds of pages and years of dedication to his personal growth were discarded. A cruel and false sense of hope taken from Carlos.&nbsp;</p> <p>A year later, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8758-depraved-indifference-and-second-look-sentencing" target="_blank">after 36 years behind bars</a> and a diagnosis of liver failure absolutely brought on by years of medical neglect and the toxic prison environment he’d endured, I requested and was finally granted <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8758-depraved-indifference-and-second-look-sentencing" target="_blank">a medical parole board hearing for Carlos where his release would be considered 15 years ahead of its scheduled date</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>At the beginning of August, I sat with Carlos, a 75-year-old man who lost his breath when he said more than a few words, to prepare for a hearing that would unearth decades-old traumas and memories from what seemed like another life to him now. He would be forced to claim full responsibility in a room of ex-cops and prosecutors, people who knew nothing about what incarceration does to a person, a family, a soul, and would diminish all the successes he had earned no thanks to the system that locked him in a cage, a system that tried and finally succeeded at killing him.&nbsp;</p> <p>After 36 years of solitude and hopelessness, and despite all his physical pain, he found the strength to do this. He opened himself up to an audience who had taken everything from him, the same kind of minds that believed in jail sentences that last entire lifetimes. He found the grace to thank them.&nbsp;</p> <p>About a week later, Carlos called me while opening the letter that would grant him his release. He said, “Does this mean I’ll be free?” I said yes, soon. He cried and said he wished he wasn’t so sick.</p> <p>Carlos fought so hard, but before parole would approve his placement in his family’s home, a process that may have taken months or up to a year, he was rushed to a non-prison doctor and hospital where they found his body incurably riddled with cancer. It was too late for any treatment, a doctor said to me while asking that I make decisions about his end of life care. I was also too late and the system too slow, and his hope was once again lost.&nbsp;</p> <p>Carlos held my hand when I visited him last week and we looked out his hospital window at a view of trees and concrete, prison guards surrounding his bed. He said, “I was so close and now I’m so far.” At the hospital in Westchester, we were less than 30 miles from the neighborhood he grew up in New York City, closer than he’d been in nearly 40 years. He joked with me, at least I think he was joking, saying I should flush his ashes down the toilet when he passed. I said no way, Carlos, your soul will be reunited with your sweet mom and dad in Puerto Rico when you go.</p> <p>I am heartbroken and angry, and I am in court each day trying to be there and be outraged for my clients who are also fighting for their hope and survival.</p> <p>I have clients who tell me they’d rather kill themselves than go to jail. It is long past time to abolish jails and prisons, and, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8758-depraved-indifference-and-second-look-sentencing" target="_blank">as implored by my former professor</a>, urgent and immediate action must be taken to rectify the massive and inhumane sentences handed down to Carlos and thousands of others. Prosecutors and judges must support efforts at resentencing, the Legislature must reform a punitive parole system, and the Governor must grant clemency to countless people languishing in prison.&nbsp;</p> <p>Prison killed Carlos and despite my pleas the system refused to let him die a free man. He had more than earned that last dignity if you believe such a thing needs to be earned, but he did not get it. Prison guards surrounded him in his final moments, often watching his television at a volume that prevented him from resting and blocking his medical providers’ access to him.</p> <p>Every day, jails and prisons take lives, and those losses are almost exclusively suffered by communities of color. Prison walls are not built just to keep incarcerated people locked inside, but to keep the rest of us from looking in. We must refuse to accept the lie that prison is about rehabilitation. The only thing these systems of incarceration believe in is taking every last thing, especially hope, from the humans they trap inside.</p> <p>Prosecutors, judges, police, court officers, prison guards, caseworkers, parole officers, and defense attorneys all participate and are culpable in the process of dehumanizing those inside. Carlos worked for decades to show them who he really was, so much more than a “body” or the worst thing he’d ever done, and he never quit. He died fighting to be free.&nbsp;</p> <p>Thank you, Carlos, for sharing some of your precious time with me and for teaching me more than I could ever put into words. It was a privilege to sit by your side and bear witness to the end of your life. Your struggle will be remembered, and I will continue to fight, harder than ever, for you.</p> <p>***<br />Claire Stottlemyer is a graduate of CUNY School of Law and a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice in Manhattan.</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/attica-corr-fac.jpg" alt="attica corr fac" width="600" height="306" /></p> <p>(photo: Wikimedia Commons)</p> <hr /> <p>Last week, my friend and client Carlos passed away in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections. His life had been filled with so much suffering and pain, and yet he showed me only friendship and kindness during the three years I was privileged to know him. Known to his friends and family as Carlos, Edgardo Gonzalez was a professional boxer before he was sent away to serve a sentence of 50 years to life after an attempt was made on his life in a South Williamsburg bar and he killed two people.</p> <p>He had fought Olympic champion Howard Davis at Madison Square Garden in 1977, had a daughter he loved more than life, several brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and a mom and dad whom he was so proud to be able to financially support during their lifetimes. He was one of the toughest guys I’d ever met, a Lower East Side legend, but he was warm and patient and always checked in on me during our weekly calls.&nbsp;</p> <p>Once inside the prison walls, Carlos earned his master’s degree and an impeccable institutional record. He received one disciplinary ticket in 36 years for having an “untidy cell” after he was found with a photograph of his mother on his cell wall. Carlos tried his best to maintain relationships with his family members&nbsp;despite the barriers placed between them, but he was mostly alone and left to grow old in prison.</p> <p>I met Carlos while attending law school at City University of New York School of Law. Together with two classmates we filed a clemency application on his behalf in 2018, which was never even acknowledged by the Governor’s office or supported by the supposedly progressive elected officials we reached out to. Hundreds of pages and years of dedication to his personal growth were discarded. A cruel and false sense of hope taken from Carlos.&nbsp;</p> <p>A year later, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8758-depraved-indifference-and-second-look-sentencing" target="_blank">after 36 years behind bars</a> and a diagnosis of liver failure absolutely brought on by years of medical neglect and the toxic prison environment he’d endured, I requested and was finally granted <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8758-depraved-indifference-and-second-look-sentencing" target="_blank">a medical parole board hearing for Carlos where his release would be considered 15 years ahead of its scheduled date</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>At the beginning of August, I sat with Carlos, a 75-year-old man who lost his breath when he said more than a few words, to prepare for a hearing that would unearth decades-old traumas and memories from what seemed like another life to him now. He would be forced to claim full responsibility in a room of ex-cops and prosecutors, people who knew nothing about what incarceration does to a person, a family, a soul, and would diminish all the successes he had earned no thanks to the system that locked him in a cage, a system that tried and finally succeeded at killing him.&nbsp;</p> <p>After 36 years of solitude and hopelessness, and despite all his physical pain, he found the strength to do this. He opened himself up to an audience who had taken everything from him, the same kind of minds that believed in jail sentences that last entire lifetimes. He found the grace to thank them.&nbsp;</p> <p>About a week later, Carlos called me while opening the letter that would grant him his release. He said, “Does this mean I’ll be free?” I said yes, soon. He cried and said he wished he wasn’t so sick.</p> <p>Carlos fought so hard, but before parole would approve his placement in his family’s home, a process that may have taken months or up to a year, he was rushed to a non-prison doctor and hospital where they found his body incurably riddled with cancer. It was too late for any treatment, a doctor said to me while asking that I make decisions about his end of life care. I was also too late and the system too slow, and his hope was once again lost.&nbsp;</p> <p>Carlos held my hand when I visited him last week and we looked out his hospital window at a view of trees and concrete, prison guards surrounding his bed. He said, “I was so close and now I’m so far.” At the hospital in Westchester, we were less than 30 miles from the neighborhood he grew up in New York City, closer than he’d been in nearly 40 years. He joked with me, at least I think he was joking, saying I should flush his ashes down the toilet when he passed. I said no way, Carlos, your soul will be reunited with your sweet mom and dad in Puerto Rico when you go.</p> <p>I am heartbroken and angry, and I am in court each day trying to be there and be outraged for my clients who are also fighting for their hope and survival.</p> <p>I have clients who tell me they’d rather kill themselves than go to jail. It is long past time to abolish jails and prisons, and, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8758-depraved-indifference-and-second-look-sentencing" target="_blank">as implored by my former professor</a>, urgent and immediate action must be taken to rectify the massive and inhumane sentences handed down to Carlos and thousands of others. Prosecutors and judges must support efforts at resentencing, the Legislature must reform a punitive parole system, and the Governor must grant clemency to countless people languishing in prison.&nbsp;</p> <p>Prison killed Carlos and despite my pleas the system refused to let him die a free man. He had more than earned that last dignity if you believe such a thing needs to be earned, but he did not get it. Prison guards surrounded him in his final moments, often watching his television at a volume that prevented him from resting and blocking his medical providers’ access to him.</p> <p>Every day, jails and prisons take lives, and those losses are almost exclusively suffered by communities of color. Prison walls are not built just to keep incarcerated people locked inside, but to keep the rest of us from looking in. We must refuse to accept the lie that prison is about rehabilitation. The only thing these systems of incarceration believe in is taking every last thing, especially hope, from the humans they trap inside.</p> <p>Prosecutors, judges, police, court officers, prison guards, caseworkers, parole officers, and defense attorneys all participate and are culpable in the process of dehumanizing those inside. Carlos worked for decades to show them who he really was, so much more than a “body” or the worst thing he’d ever done, and he never quit. He died fighting to be free.&nbsp;</p> <p>Thank you, Carlos, for sharing some of your precious time with me and for teaching me more than I could ever put into words. It was a privilege to sit by your side and bear witness to the end of your life. Your struggle will be remembered, and I will continue to fight, harder than ever, for you.</p> <p>***<br />Claire Stottlemyer is a graduate of CUNY School of Law and a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice in Manhattan.</p> <p>

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

</p>
Sentenced to Death by Incarceration in New York State Prison 2019-09-20T04:00:00+00:00 2019-09-20T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8807-sentenced-to-death-by-incarceration-in-new-york-state-prison Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/eastern_correctional_facility_ny1.jpg" alt="eastern correctional facility ny1" width="600" height="254" /></p> <p>Eastern Correctional (photo: wikimedia commons)</p> <hr /> <p>The conversation around criminal justice reform is finally moving from general talk about mass incarceration to the specific reality of the multitude of people serving massive sentences. The more accurate description of these sentences – death by incarceration – is replacing antiseptic phrases like “life without parole.” These long-term sentences are, in truth, sentences to death in prison.&nbsp;</p> <p>Several years ago, the Defenders Clinic at CUNY Law School began working with people serving death in prison sentences on their only path to freedom: gubernatorial clemency. While we have worked with only a small fraction of the nearly 9,000 people serving life sentences in New York, it is enough to reveal the criminal legal system’s obsession with processing, convicting, and punishing.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Virtually everyone we have worked with was convicted after a trial, the case for most people serving life sentences in New York. This raises two questions: why weren’t those cases resolved through plea negotiations like virtually all other criminal cases, and what was the justification for meting out massive sentences on people who exercised their constitutional right to trial?</p> <p>In several cases, we heard from clients that the defense lawyer never mentioned any plea offer. In many others, we heard about plea offers being superficially conveyed but virtually no time spent having the difficult yet crucial discussion of the pros and cons of a plea versus a trial. We repeatedly heard about a complete lack of advice from the attorney about the wisdom of accepting or rejecting a plea offer.</p> <p>It became clear from conversations with lifers that many of their assigned lawyers had been eager to take cases to trial and forgo the serious consideration of a plea, especially since most were being paid an hourly rate by the court and had a financial incentive to take a case to trial regardless of the risks to their clients.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Almost all the people we worked with were represented by a lawyer assigned by the court. They had no say in who their lawyer was and had no realistic way of replacing that lawyer (and many tried). Over and over we heard the same thing: ‘my lawyer did not come to the jail to meet with me a single time while my charges were pending.’</p> <p>We also learned that the failures of many of these attorneys did not end with the lack of client counseling. Considering the enormous sentences handed down after trial, perhaps the lawyers’ greatest deficiency was at the sentencing proceeding itself. In most cases, there was no pre-sentence memorandum supporting an argument for a lesser sentence and no mitigation advocacy of any kind.</p> <p>In several cases, sentencing advocacy consisted of a few generic sentences from counsel asking the court to be lenient. In one case, there were serious pretrial issues regarding the accused’s mental capacity, but at sentencing the defense counsel said nothing about his client’s documented history of mental illness.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>It would be a grievous mistake to blame defense counsel for all the ills that define the criminal legal system. After trial, prosecutors routinely asked judges to impose the maximum sentence and judges were glad to oblige, often tacking on consecutive sentences to ensure that the person would die in prison -- and to send a loud message to anyone else who had the temerity to insist on the right to a trial.</p> <p>One man was offered a plea of three to nine years, went to trial, and is currently serving 25 to life. Another was offered 25 to life pre-trial yet sentenced after trial to 125 to life. Some argue that plea offers are a discount and a necessary ingredient of the adjudication of criminal cases in an imperfect system. However, such disparate outcomes – 25 to life if you plead, 125 to life after trial – cannot be justified.&nbsp;</p> <p>As we spent more time with those serving life sentences, we saw the impact of a merciless and punitive system in countless ways.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Many lifers are from rapidly gentrifying parts of New York City. Most were sentenced in the 1980s. They are black and Latinx. A majority are from places like Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, and the Lower East Side. Their families were long ago priced out of the neighborhood as long-neglected zip codes have changed so drastically that the lifers would barely recognize where they grew up.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In New York, there are 613 lifers who were 17 and under at the time of their charges. There are thousands more convicted when they were 18, 19 or in their early twenties. Many are now in their forties and fifties having served decades in prison for crimes committed in their youth when labels like “super-predator” fed into racist narratives and massive sentences.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet neuroscience now informs us that brain development continues into our mid-twenties. Even the Supreme Court now recognizes that youth have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility, are less culpable than adults, and have a greater capacity for rehabilitation.&nbsp;A growing number of states have passed laws that give young offenders an opportunity to seek parole or a sentence reduction after having served a proscribed number of years in prison.&nbsp;There is no similar movement afoot in New York to correct those morally indefensible, and arguably illegal, sentences.</p> <p>There is a rapidly growing aging population in New York prisons. These people have long since aged out of any real possibility of future criminal behavior. Many are dying. New York has a mechanism in place for compassionate release for those with terminal illness but from 2013-2017 only 72 people were granted medical release.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Many law students came to this work inspired by Innocence Projects across the country. We have worked with several people with undeniable innocence claims that have fallen on deaf prosecutorial and judicial ears. But while the students wanted to join the battle for justice for the wrongly convicted, they soon discovered a much larger area of unjust convictions – the many lifers who, even if not factually innocent, were denied any semblance of due process.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>One man’s lawyer, unbeknownst to him, had a pending lawsuit against New York City based on an incident where a client less than a year earlier slashed him with a razor during a visit in the holding cells. As part of that lawsuit, the lawyer testified that he was seeing a psychiatrist and had trouble relating to clients.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Another man’s lawyer, unbeknownst to him, was under investigation by the very same District Attorney’s office prosecuting him. The lawyer was indicted soon after the verdict (and ended up in state prison), and a new lawyer appeared at sentencing.</p> <p>In another case, the defense claimed that a prosecution witness had been coerced into testifying falsely by the prosecutor. That prosecutor thereafter became a defense attorney and is now in federal prison for suborning perjury.</p> <p>Another man is serving a life sentence based on a case where the lead detective turned out to be a serial murderer for the mob. The police file in the case is nowhere to be found.&nbsp;</p> <p>In each of these cases, all appeals were fought by the prosecution and denied by the court.</p> <p>Since we were working with people serving life sentences, many students assumed that these were people convicted of murder; people who had taken a human life. However, many of the lifers we’ve worked with were convicted of felony murder, a rule&nbsp;that allows a person to be charged with murder&nbsp;even if the death is at the hands of someone else. Several people did not kill anyone, fire any shots, possess a weapon, or have any intention, or even expectation, that anyone would be killed. Still, because they participated in an underlying robbery, they were convicted of felony murder and given a life sentence. Several of these men were teenagers at the time they were arrested. There is a growing movement for states to reconsider the felony murder rule, but New York is missing in action.</p> <p>We have worked with only a small number of the people serving life sentences in New York, and an even smaller percentage of the 47,000 people in state prison. Nevertheless, we have found ample reason to fear that the impact of long overdue criminal justice reforms, trumpeted daily&nbsp;and endorsed by countless politicians, may be far less than hoped until the extant incarceratory system within which those changes operate is dismantled or radically overhauled.</p> <p>Meanwhile, it is time to demand clemency for the countless number of people who merit that relief, and to create second-look mechanisms that require immediate review of the massive sentences that fed mass incarceration.&nbsp;</p> <p>***<br />Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law and a former Public Defender. On Twitter&nbsp;<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/podcast19/eastern_correctional_facility_ny1.jpg" alt="eastern correctional facility ny1" width="600" height="254" /></p> <p>Eastern Correctional (photo: wikimedia commons)</p> <hr /> <p>The conversation around criminal justice reform is finally moving from general talk about mass incarceration to the specific reality of the multitude of people serving massive sentences. The more accurate description of these sentences – death by incarceration – is replacing antiseptic phrases like “life without parole.” These long-term sentences are, in truth, sentences to death in prison.&nbsp;</p> <p>Several years ago, the Defenders Clinic at CUNY Law School began working with people serving death in prison sentences on their only path to freedom: gubernatorial clemency. While we have worked with only a small fraction of the nearly 9,000 people serving life sentences in New York, it is enough to reveal the criminal legal system’s obsession with processing, convicting, and punishing.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Virtually everyone we have worked with was convicted after a trial, the case for most people serving life sentences in New York. This raises two questions: why weren’t those cases resolved through plea negotiations like virtually all other criminal cases, and what was the justification for meting out massive sentences on people who exercised their constitutional right to trial?</p> <p>In several cases, we heard from clients that the defense lawyer never mentioned any plea offer. In many others, we heard about plea offers being superficially conveyed but virtually no time spent having the difficult yet crucial discussion of the pros and cons of a plea versus a trial. We repeatedly heard about a complete lack of advice from the attorney about the wisdom of accepting or rejecting a plea offer.</p> <p>It became clear from conversations with lifers that many of their assigned lawyers had been eager to take cases to trial and forgo the serious consideration of a plea, especially since most were being paid an hourly rate by the court and had a financial incentive to take a case to trial regardless of the risks to their clients.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Almost all the people we worked with were represented by a lawyer assigned by the court. They had no say in who their lawyer was and had no realistic way of replacing that lawyer (and many tried). Over and over we heard the same thing: ‘my lawyer did not come to the jail to meet with me a single time while my charges were pending.’</p> <p>We also learned that the failures of many of these attorneys did not end with the lack of client counseling. Considering the enormous sentences handed down after trial, perhaps the lawyers’ greatest deficiency was at the sentencing proceeding itself. In most cases, there was no pre-sentence memorandum supporting an argument for a lesser sentence and no mitigation advocacy of any kind.</p> <p>In several cases, sentencing advocacy consisted of a few generic sentences from counsel asking the court to be lenient. In one case, there were serious pretrial issues regarding the accused’s mental capacity, but at sentencing the defense counsel said nothing about his client’s documented history of mental illness.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>It would be a grievous mistake to blame defense counsel for all the ills that define the criminal legal system. After trial, prosecutors routinely asked judges to impose the maximum sentence and judges were glad to oblige, often tacking on consecutive sentences to ensure that the person would die in prison -- and to send a loud message to anyone else who had the temerity to insist on the right to a trial.</p> <p>One man was offered a plea of three to nine years, went to trial, and is currently serving 25 to life. Another was offered 25 to life pre-trial yet sentenced after trial to 125 to life. Some argue that plea offers are a discount and a necessary ingredient of the adjudication of criminal cases in an imperfect system. However, such disparate outcomes – 25 to life if you plead, 125 to life after trial – cannot be justified.&nbsp;</p> <p>As we spent more time with those serving life sentences, we saw the impact of a merciless and punitive system in countless ways.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Many lifers are from rapidly gentrifying parts of New York City. Most were sentenced in the 1980s. They are black and Latinx. A majority are from places like Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, and the Lower East Side. Their families were long ago priced out of the neighborhood as long-neglected zip codes have changed so drastically that the lifers would barely recognize where they grew up.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In New York, there are 613 lifers who were 17 and under at the time of their charges. There are thousands more convicted when they were 18, 19 or in their early twenties. Many are now in their forties and fifties having served decades in prison for crimes committed in their youth when labels like “super-predator” fed into racist narratives and massive sentences.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet neuroscience now informs us that brain development continues into our mid-twenties. Even the Supreme Court now recognizes that youth have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility, are less culpable than adults, and have a greater capacity for rehabilitation.&nbsp;A growing number of states have passed laws that give young offenders an opportunity to seek parole or a sentence reduction after having served a proscribed number of years in prison.&nbsp;There is no similar movement afoot in New York to correct those morally indefensible, and arguably illegal, sentences.</p> <p>There is a rapidly growing aging population in New York prisons. These people have long since aged out of any real possibility of future criminal behavior. Many are dying. New York has a mechanism in place for compassionate release for those with terminal illness but from 2013-2017 only 72 people were granted medical release.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Many law students came to this work inspired by Innocence Projects across the country. We have worked with several people with undeniable innocence claims that have fallen on deaf prosecutorial and judicial ears. But while the students wanted to join the battle for justice for the wrongly convicted, they soon discovered a much larger area of unjust convictions – the many lifers who, even if not factually innocent, were denied any semblance of due process.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>One man’s lawyer, unbeknownst to him, had a pending lawsuit against New York City based on an incident where a client less than a year earlier slashed him with a razor during a visit in the holding cells. As part of that lawsuit, the lawyer testified that he was seeing a psychiatrist and had trouble relating to clients.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Another man’s lawyer, unbeknownst to him, was under investigation by the very same District Attorney’s office prosecuting him. The lawyer was indicted soon after the verdict (and ended up in state prison), and a new lawyer appeared at sentencing.</p> <p>In another case, the defense claimed that a prosecution witness had been coerced into testifying falsely by the prosecutor. That prosecutor thereafter became a defense attorney and is now in federal prison for suborning perjury.</p> <p>Another man is serving a life sentence based on a case where the lead detective turned out to be a serial murderer for the mob. The police file in the case is nowhere to be found.&nbsp;</p> <p>In each of these cases, all appeals were fought by the prosecution and denied by the court.</p> <p>Since we were working with people serving life sentences, many students assumed that these were people convicted of murder; people who had taken a human life. However, many of the lifers we’ve worked with were convicted of felony murder, a rule&nbsp;that allows a person to be charged with murder&nbsp;even if the death is at the hands of someone else. Several people did not kill anyone, fire any shots, possess a weapon, or have any intention, or even expectation, that anyone would be killed. Still, because they participated in an underlying robbery, they were convicted of felony murder and given a life sentence. Several of these men were teenagers at the time they were arrested. There is a growing movement for states to reconsider the felony murder rule, but New York is missing in action.</p> <p>We have worked with only a small number of the people serving life sentences in New York, and an even smaller percentage of the 47,000 people in state prison. Nevertheless, we have found ample reason to fear that the impact of long overdue criminal justice reforms, trumpeted daily&nbsp;and endorsed by countless politicians, may be far less than hoped until the extant incarceratory system within which those changes operate is dismantled or radically overhauled.</p> <p>Meanwhile, it is time to demand clemency for the countless number of people who merit that relief, and to create second-look mechanisms that require immediate review of the massive sentences that fed mass incarceration.&nbsp;</p> <p>***<br />Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law and a former Public Defender. On Twitter&nbsp;<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>
How to Close Rikers with No New Jails 2019-09-19T04:00:00+00:00 2019-09-19T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8795-how-to-close-rikers-with-no-new-jails Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/comm-ublic-hearings.jpg" alt="comm ublic hearings" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>While not surprising from a political perspective given Mayor de Blasio's support for the plan, the City Planning Commission's recent vote to approve the very costly (about $9 billion current estimate) construction of new jails for the worthy purpose of closing the deeply inhumane facilities on Rikers Island was wrong and wrong-headed.</p> <p>As the City Council now considers the four-jail plan, one in each borough but Staten Island, it should recognize that the city can take the much smarter and cheaper course: sufficiently reduce the overall jail population so it can close the Rikers jails and house the remaining imprisoned New Yorkers in the already-existing borough facilities, which have the capacity to hold about 3,000 people.</p> <p>Here's how and why:</p> <p>About 70% of the approximately 5,000 New Yorkers confined on Rikers are pre-trial detainees, presumed innocent under our system of justice, locked up mainly because an NYPD officer has arrested them and they are too poor to afford even the low bails set on them. The major bail reforms passed in Albany earlier this year will, as of January 2020, substantially limit the kinds of cases where judges can apply bail, thereby contributing to a significant reduction in the number of people remanded to Rikers.</p> <p>None of the many sentenced people confined on Rikers have been convicted of serious offenses. If they had been, they would have been sent to a state prison. Many of them serve terms of 90 days or fewer. The city could readily find alternative ways to respond to most, if not all, of their cases.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio has rejected the blue-ribbon Lippman Commission's most important recommendation, which is to decriminalize four offenses: fare evasion, sex work, marijuana possession, and gravity knife possession (Albany did enact legislation in June legalizing the latter).</p> <p>De Blasio backs NYPD "broken windows" policing, which targets and arrests low-income New Yorkers of color for petty infractions, sometimes via false arrests and bogus summonses, that police virtually ignore in white areas. Ending this starkly biased law enforcement tactic and following the Lippman Commission's proposal to decriminalize offenses above would contribute appreciably to reducing the population on Rikers.</p> <p>In addition to ending "broken windows" practices, the city should jettison the NYPD quota system that puts pressure on officers to make a prescribed number of arrests and stops and to issue a certain number of summonses in order to earn positive job evaluations and to qualify for promotions and sought-after posts. While NYPD brass deny the existence of quotas—they are illegal, after all— a number of whistle-blowing officers have attested publicly (and privately to PROP representatives) about their use and the consequent harmful effects on cops and the community.</p> <p>The Department is known, for example, to sanction officers who do not "make their numbers" by assigning them to precincts far from their homes -- dubbed "transportation therapy" -- or by denying them time off even for family emergencies.</p> <p>The city could and should establish a task force accountable to City Hall that monitors court case processing. New York City's legal culture permits our courts to move much more slowly than other municipal systems in our country. The task force can, for instance, put pressure on judges to limit the number of court appearances per case as a way to prevent the longtime incarceration of detainees -- the tragic case of Kalief Browder comes to mind -- as they await disposition of the charges against them.</p> <p>As city officials talk up new “modern” jails, the famous George Santayana quote is noteworthy here: "Those who don't remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I have worked on prison and related issues for nearly 50 years and cannot recall a single instance in history where promises that the new proposed facility will break the cycle of corruption and abuse that plague jails has become reality.</p> <p>Opened in 1931, Attica was the most expensive prison in the world, advertised as being equipped with all available modern amenities and as being safe and humane. Similar claims were made regarding Rikers Island when the city opened jails there in the 1930s.</p> <p>People now claiming that the proposed new jails, run by the same Department of Correction and personnel responsible for Rikers, will not feature the same harsh and perilous conditions of confinement as Rikers are drinking an age old Kool Aid -- some are engaged in pouring it.</p> <p>Closing Rikers without spending billions of dollars on unneeded new jails —under this no new jails plan the city will have to allocate some funds to fix up, and improve conditions inside, its existing borough facilities—will not only remove from our great city's landscape the stain of operating notorious Rikers jails. It will also eliminate some of our police and criminal justice systems' abusive and discriminatory practices that inflict harm and hardship on vulnerable New Yorkers every day. Our city will be a better place for it -- more just, safe, and livable for all our people.</p> <p>***<br />Bob Gangi is Director of the Police Reform Organizing Project. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/GangiFromProp" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@GangiFromPROP</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/propnyc" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@PROPNYC</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/comm-ublic-hearings.jpg" alt="comm ublic hearings" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>While not surprising from a political perspective given Mayor de Blasio's support for the plan, the City Planning Commission's recent vote to approve the very costly (about $9 billion current estimate) construction of new jails for the worthy purpose of closing the deeply inhumane facilities on Rikers Island was wrong and wrong-headed.</p> <p>As the City Council now considers the four-jail plan, one in each borough but Staten Island, it should recognize that the city can take the much smarter and cheaper course: sufficiently reduce the overall jail population so it can close the Rikers jails and house the remaining imprisoned New Yorkers in the already-existing borough facilities, which have the capacity to hold about 3,000 people.</p> <p>Here's how and why:</p> <p>About 70% of the approximately 5,000 New Yorkers confined on Rikers are pre-trial detainees, presumed innocent under our system of justice, locked up mainly because an NYPD officer has arrested them and they are too poor to afford even the low bails set on them. The major bail reforms passed in Albany earlier this year will, as of January 2020, substantially limit the kinds of cases where judges can apply bail, thereby contributing to a significant reduction in the number of people remanded to Rikers.</p> <p>None of the many sentenced people confined on Rikers have been convicted of serious offenses. If they had been, they would have been sent to a state prison. Many of them serve terms of 90 days or fewer. The city could readily find alternative ways to respond to most, if not all, of their cases.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio has rejected the blue-ribbon Lippman Commission's most important recommendation, which is to decriminalize four offenses: fare evasion, sex work, marijuana possession, and gravity knife possession (Albany did enact legislation in June legalizing the latter).</p> <p>De Blasio backs NYPD "broken windows" policing, which targets and arrests low-income New Yorkers of color for petty infractions, sometimes via false arrests and bogus summonses, that police virtually ignore in white areas. Ending this starkly biased law enforcement tactic and following the Lippman Commission's proposal to decriminalize offenses above would contribute appreciably to reducing the population on Rikers.</p> <p>In addition to ending "broken windows" practices, the city should jettison the NYPD quota system that puts pressure on officers to make a prescribed number of arrests and stops and to issue a certain number of summonses in order to earn positive job evaluations and to qualify for promotions and sought-after posts. While NYPD brass deny the existence of quotas—they are illegal, after all— a number of whistle-blowing officers have attested publicly (and privately to PROP representatives) about their use and the consequent harmful effects on cops and the community.</p> <p>The Department is known, for example, to sanction officers who do not "make their numbers" by assigning them to precincts far from their homes -- dubbed "transportation therapy" -- or by denying them time off even for family emergencies.</p> <p>The city could and should establish a task force accountable to City Hall that monitors court case processing. New York City's legal culture permits our courts to move much more slowly than other municipal systems in our country. The task force can, for instance, put pressure on judges to limit the number of court appearances per case as a way to prevent the longtime incarceration of detainees -- the tragic case of Kalief Browder comes to mind -- as they await disposition of the charges against them.</p> <p>As city officials talk up new “modern” jails, the famous George Santayana quote is noteworthy here: "Those who don't remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I have worked on prison and related issues for nearly 50 years and cannot recall a single instance in history where promises that the new proposed facility will break the cycle of corruption and abuse that plague jails has become reality.</p> <p>Opened in 1931, Attica was the most expensive prison in the world, advertised as being equipped with all available modern amenities and as being safe and humane. Similar claims were made regarding Rikers Island when the city opened jails there in the 1930s.</p> <p>People now claiming that the proposed new jails, run by the same Department of Correction and personnel responsible for Rikers, will not feature the same harsh and perilous conditions of confinement as Rikers are drinking an age old Kool Aid -- some are engaged in pouring it.</p> <p>Closing Rikers without spending billions of dollars on unneeded new jails —under this no new jails plan the city will have to allocate some funds to fix up, and improve conditions inside, its existing borough facilities—will not only remove from our great city's landscape the stain of operating notorious Rikers jails. It will also eliminate some of our police and criminal justice systems' abusive and discriminatory practices that inflict harm and hardship on vulnerable New Yorkers every day. Our city will be a better place for it -- more just, safe, and livable for all our people.</p> <p>***<br />Bob Gangi is Director of the Police Reform Organizing Project. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/GangiFromProp" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@GangiFromPROP</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/propnyc" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@PROPNYC</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>