Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Criminal justice reform

Criminal justice reform

  • New York Must Address Racist State Violence from Policing to Jails and Prisons

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    A rally to end solitary confinement (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


    On April 14, 60-year-old Leonard Carter died of COVID-19 while incarcerated at Queensboro Correctional Facility. He had already been granted parole and, after a quarter century behind bars, was just weeks from his release date. He was the brother of one of us writing to demand change here

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  • Toppling Statues, and Prisons

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    Sing Sing prison, 19th century (photo: New York Public Library)


    Monuments of all kinds are facing renewed scrutiny as protesters, fueled by the police killing of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, have taken to the streets in more than 140 cities. Statues that glorify and venerate slavery and slaveholders are coming down, with or without governmental approval, across the country. The sight of these prominently displayed symbols of brutality, inhumanity, and state-sponsored racism tumbling down inspires hope that there may also be a long-overdue

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  • We Were Proud to Vote for Police Reforms, Now It’s Time for Prison Reform

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    The State Capitol Building (photo: Governor's Office)


    The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black people at the hands of police sparked righteous calls for change across New York State and led to meaningful action in Albany. We were proud to vote for police reforms that promote more transparency, accountability, and justice for those we represent. These were important steps, but they fall short of addressing the harm that happens to our constituents behind bars.

    For years, we’ve spoken with

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  • Life and Death at the Stroke of the Governor's Pen

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    Governor Cuomo signs criminal justice reforms (photo: Governor's Office)


    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been trying in his daily press briefings to position himself as the national voice of reason, truth, and compassion regarding the coronavirus. To that end, he has liberally signed an array of executive orders ranging from shutting down businesses and closing schools to limiting the size of social gatherings.

    When the evidence revealed that COVID-19 was especially ravaging communities of color, the governor then tried to assume the mantle of race

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  • New York’s Next Step Toward More Justice and Better Democracy

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    Questioning which New Yorkers can go to the polls (photo: Gotham Gazette)


    Practicing social distancing is by no means easy, but the guidelines are simple: maintain six feet of distance from others, avoid crowded environments, public bathrooms, and shared dining facilities, and to blow off steam, go outside. Stick to the guidelines, health officials assure us, and we can all help protect each other, especially the vulnerable. 

    But many of the most vulnerable people during the COVID-19 crisis are those whom most of us will never see and for whom social

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  • The Governor’s Clemency Negligence

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    Governor Cuomo (photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


    At his daily coronavirus press briefing on Sunday, April 26, Governor Cuomo was asked  whether he had any plans to grant broad clemencies to people in prison, particularly to vulnerable populations. His testy and dismissive response – “How about if they are violent and just started their sentence?” – was telling. Presumably, the governor meant to remove from consideration people he believed remained a threat to public safety and had not been sufficiently punished.

    The reporter’s question was

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  • The State Legislature Claims To Be Co-Equal, So Why Is It Letting The Governor Block Popular Solitary Confinement Restrictions

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    Gov. Cuomo at a correctional facility (photo: governor's office)


    On April 3, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo rammed through a budget that will be devastating to New Yorkers and then on April 4 declared that the legislative session was “effectively over” for the year. Several legislators immediately pushed back.

    Comments from legislators on social media ranged from “Hell no” to “...

  • Bail Reform Rollbacks are a Dangerous Failing of Moral Courage

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


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

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

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  • Amid Coronavirus Crisis and Beyond, Equal Justice for All, Including U.S. Senators

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


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

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  • Rolling Back Bail Reform Amid Coronavirus Outbreak Would Be Additionally Irresponsible

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    Sochie Nnaemeka, the author (photo: @sochiesays)


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

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  • What’s Really Behind Efforts to Reform Bail Reform? A Familiar Theme

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


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

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

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  • Coronavirus, Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties

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    (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


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

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  • Fare Evasion Shouldn’t Be a Crime; Neither Should Putting Your Feet Up on the Subway

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


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

  • A Renewed Appreciation for Freedom, and for Serving My Community

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    Alec Brook-Krasny (photo: @AlecBrookKrasny)


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

    Twenty years

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  • Surveillance and the City: Tracked Until Proven Innocent?

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


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

  • In Presidential Campaign, Progressive Democrats’ Death Penalty Stances Fall Short

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    Attica (photo: Wikimedia Commons)


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

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  • The Social Value of Bail Reform

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


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

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  • Pursuing More Justice: Elder Parole is Good for Communities Across New York

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    (photo: Andrew Bardwell/Wikimedia Commons)


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

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

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  • Three Democratic Leaders in Albany, Three Different Positions on Altering Bail Reforms

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


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

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

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  • Real Criminal Justice Reform Requires Standing Up to Fear-Mongering

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    (photo: Governor's Office)


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

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  • Truly Equipping New York City to End Mass Incarceration and Close Rikers

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    (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


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

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  • Letter to the Editor: Next Step for New York College-in-Prison Program That Turned My Life Around

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


    To the Editor:

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

    In 2013,

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  • With Push from Cuomo and Funding from Vance, New York College-in-Prisons Program is Flourishing

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    (photo: Bard Prison Initiative)


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

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

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  • Max & Murphy Podcast: Debating Major Criminal Justice Reforms Taking Effect in January

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


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

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

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  • Vast Difference in NYPD Provision of Body Camera Footage to District Attorneys Versus Police Watchdog

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    (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


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

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

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