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/jonathan-lippman 2019-07-23T20:34:28+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Max & Murphy Podcast: City Plan to Replace Rikers Island Jails Moves Ahead 2019-07-17T04:00:00+00:00 2019-07-17T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8678-max-murphy-city-plan-to-replace-rikers-island-jails-moves-ahead Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/bk_jail_rendering_mocj.png" alt="bk jail rendering mocj" width="600" height="425" /></p> <p>(image: mayor's office rendering of new Brooklyn jail)</p> <hr /> <p><strong>July 17, 2019 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: City Plan to Replace Rikers Island Jails Moves Ahead<br /></strong></p> <p>Tyler Nims, executive director of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, also known as the Lippman Commission, joined the show to discuss the city's plan to close the Rikers Island jails and replace some of the inmate and detainee capacity with four local jails, one in each borough other than Staten Island. He addressed details of the plan, which was largely based on his commission's work, and some of the pushback that has arisen as the land use review process moves ahead.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/652664267&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Rikers Commission Study Finds Local Jails Have No Impact on Property Values or Crime Rates 2019-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 2019-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8571-rikers-commission-study-finds-local-jails-have-no-impact-on-property-values-or-crime Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/39559816324_a977e94959_z.jpg" alt="Lippman Rikers" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Jonathan Lippman (photo:&nbsp;John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>As the city eyes sites for the four borough-based jails that will replace the Rikers Island jail complex, some residents have sounded off concerns about negative impacts they believe local facilities may have on their neighborhoods. A new analysis may assuage some of those worries, finding that detention facilities in New York City have not, historically, had observable impacts on neighborhood property values or crime rates.</p> <p><a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b6de4731aef1de914f43628/t/5cf7bd74342c7a0001525284/1559739765822/NYC+Detention+Facilities+Analysis+%28May+2019%29-Final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The study</a>, conducted by the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, which first crafted a plan for closing the Rikers jails, analyzed five operating or recently-closed city detention facilities using data from over 10,000 real estate transactions and 500,000 criminal complaints over the past decade.</p> <p>It shows that areas within a five-minute walk of four existing adult detention facilities had property value trends and crime rates that matched comparable adjacent neighborhoods. The analysis also looked at what happened to these trends locally when a detention complex in Queens closed in 2001 and when one opened in Brooklyn in 2012. In both cases, property value and crime rates remained consistent with comparable surroundings, suggesting the placement of borough-based jails has little impact on those metrics.</p> <p>“This study validates what we’ve been saying the whole time, that this old story that jails are damaging to the neighborhoods that they are in just doesn’t hold true,” Jonathan Lippman, chair of the commission and former New York State Chief Judge, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>“There is absolutely no correlation between crime or declining property values and having local jails,” he added.</p> <p>The new information is the latest development in the debate over how best to move forward on the plan to close the ailing Rikers Island jail complex and reduce the city’s inmate population in an era critical of mass incarceration and discriminatory policing. A poll released by the commission last month showed 59 percent of New Yorkers support the plan to replace Rikers Island with borough-based jails.</p> <p>Contending with the zeitgeist of decarceration and criminal justice reform is the enduring struggle by some New York City residents to prevent what they view as dangerous facilities from setting down roots in their neighborhoods. Residents may recognize the importance of closing Rikers and utilizing borough-based jails, in part to keep defendants closer to the courts and their families, but often wonder -- aloud,&nbsp;at <a href="https://www.bxtimes.com/stories/2019/21/21-jail-2019-05-24-bx.html?utm_medium=web&amp;utm_campaign=module&amp;utm_source=similar&amp;utm_content=intra">community board meetings</a>, <a href="https://www.bxtimes.com/stories/2019/14/14-jail-2019-04-05-bx.html?utm_medium=web&amp;utm_campaign=module&amp;utm_source=similar&amp;utm_content=intra">public demonstrations, and in open letters</a> -- why their community must bear the burden. A nuance of that refrain, often coming from residents in historically underserved areas, suggests siting jails in their neighborhoods is another form of government divestment.</p> <p>Local community boards representing the borough-based jail sites are all pushing back against the city’s plan, though the plan was crafted with the approval of each of the four local City Council members and the Council Speaker, Corey Johnson.</p> <p>“We’re hearing a lot of concern from some people, particularly in places where they don’t have an operating jail, ‘What does this mean for our property values? What does this mean for the safety of our neighborhood?’” the commission’s executive director, Tyler Nims, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The commission was empaneled by then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in 2016 after years of reports that Rikers Island is dilapidated, unsafe, and inhumane. Its stated goal was to study the possibility of closing the jail complex in the context of the city’s broader criminal justice system and make recommendations for change, which it did in March 2017. Just days before the commission released its report, and following pressure from Mark-Viverito and activists as he sought reelection, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a ten-year plan to shutter the Rikers jail complex and replace it with local facilities, while significantly reducing the city’s incarcerated population.</p> <p>Advocates, including the commission, believe borough-based jail facilities will go a long way in ameliorating the troubles plaguing Rikers both for the city and for the people incarcerated there and their families. The idea behind the borough-based jails is to bring incarcerated New Yorkers closer to the courthouses and to communities with access to public transportation, reducing the time and money it costs the city to transport inmates to court, helping the legal system run more smoothly, and easing the burden on families visiting loved ones. They would also bring incarcerated people closer to their lawyers and service providers.</p> <p>At the same time, the plan is to wipe the slate of Rikers’ culture of violence, which has witnessed brutality by inmates and guards, and a well-documented history of inhumane conditions. The city has plans to site the four borough-based jails in Mott Haven in the Bronx, Boerum Hill in Brooklyn, Kew Gardens in Queens, and Lower Manhattan.</p> <p>New York City currently has the capacity to house approximately 13,800 people in its jails, while the new facilities together would hold fewer than 5,000 people, according to the commission’s new report. There are approximately 7,800 people in New York City jails, according to the report (a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2019/5/7/18535679/rikers-island-closing-borough-jails-prison-population-de-blasio" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently told Curbed New York</a> that figure was just over 7,600), and the city wants to reduce that number to 4,000 by 2026 through a series of criminal justice reforms at the city and state level, like changing the bail rules that contribute to the mass incarceration of poor New Yorkers of color.</p> <p>In March, the city began a single Universal Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which involves input from local stakeholders and gives a fair degree of discretion to local politicians, for all four of the borough-based jails. Critics have decried the use of a broad brush to paint the local impact of siting the jails, observing that the characteristics of each neighborhood are different and the effect of each facility on the community will be unique. Three of the four sites are on existing detention facilities, while the fourth, in Mott Haven, will be built on the site of a police tow pound. They must all go through ULURP because even the existing detention facilities will require rezoning to meet the city’s needs.</p> <p>The commission shared the new report on property values and crime rates near jails with Gotham Gazette in anticipation of the upcoming ULURP hearings for borough presidents to express their positions, which begin in Brooklyn on June 6.</p> <p>Another subject of concern for many residents is the potential increase of vehicle and foot traffic, and Nims acknowledged the commission had heard this at several of its public hearings. The commission does not plan to study the impact of detention facilities on traffic patterns, but Nims says the issue will be examined by the city during ULURP. “Traffic can be beneficial to a community,” he noted, referring to the potential increase in commerce that large and busy facilities might bring to local economies.</p> <p>In addition to the four borough-based jails, the new report calls on the city to move away from the practice of housing people with mental health needs in its jails. “We call on the City to seek out alternative, non-jail locations for populations with discrete needs, including people with serious mental health diagnoses and people in need of drug and alcohol treatment,” the report reads.</p> <p>The push for specially tailored facilities comes amidst broader calls for criminal justice reform to address the intersection between mental health and incarceration. <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8533-johnson-unveils-criminal-justice-agenda-with-focus-on-reducing-jail-population" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Announcing a criminal justice platform</a> last month, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told an audience at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, “The health care system has turned away the chronically ill, and left jails as the public caretaker of last resort. But incarcerating people with mental health issues is a profound injustice, and something that we should never allow in our city.”</p> <p>Lippman’s commission hopes the new data will lead people to reconsider assumptions about jails and land use. The former chief judge pointed to two examples he feels are illustrative where a detention facility had no discernible impact on neighborhood property values and crime rates: Downtown Brooklyn and Tribeca. In each case, “the neighborhood is thriving,” he said.</p> <p>

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/39559816324_a977e94959_z.jpg" alt="Lippman Rikers" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Jonathan Lippman (photo:&nbsp;John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>As the city eyes sites for the four borough-based jails that will replace the Rikers Island jail complex, some residents have sounded off concerns about negative impacts they believe local facilities may have on their neighborhoods. A new analysis may assuage some of those worries, finding that detention facilities in New York City have not, historically, had observable impacts on neighborhood property values or crime rates.</p> <p><a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b6de4731aef1de914f43628/t/5cf7bd74342c7a0001525284/1559739765822/NYC+Detention+Facilities+Analysis+%28May+2019%29-Final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The study</a>, conducted by the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, which first crafted a plan for closing the Rikers jails, analyzed five operating or recently-closed city detention facilities using data from over 10,000 real estate transactions and 500,000 criminal complaints over the past decade.</p> <p>It shows that areas within a five-minute walk of four existing adult detention facilities had property value trends and crime rates that matched comparable adjacent neighborhoods. The analysis also looked at what happened to these trends locally when a detention complex in Queens closed in 2001 and when one opened in Brooklyn in 2012. In both cases, property value and crime rates remained consistent with comparable surroundings, suggesting the placement of borough-based jails has little impact on those metrics.</p> <p>“This study validates what we’ve been saying the whole time, that this old story that jails are damaging to the neighborhoods that they are in just doesn’t hold true,” Jonathan Lippman, chair of the commission and former New York State Chief Judge, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>“There is absolutely no correlation between crime or declining property values and having local jails,” he added.</p> <p>The new information is the latest development in the debate over how best to move forward on the plan to close the ailing Rikers Island jail complex and reduce the city’s inmate population in an era critical of mass incarceration and discriminatory policing. A poll released by the commission last month showed 59 percent of New Yorkers support the plan to replace Rikers Island with borough-based jails.</p> <p>Contending with the zeitgeist of decarceration and criminal justice reform is the enduring struggle by some New York City residents to prevent what they view as dangerous facilities from setting down roots in their neighborhoods. Residents may recognize the importance of closing Rikers and utilizing borough-based jails, in part to keep defendants closer to the courts and their families, but often wonder -- aloud,&nbsp;at <a href="https://www.bxtimes.com/stories/2019/21/21-jail-2019-05-24-bx.html?utm_medium=web&amp;utm_campaign=module&amp;utm_source=similar&amp;utm_content=intra">community board meetings</a>, <a href="https://www.bxtimes.com/stories/2019/14/14-jail-2019-04-05-bx.html?utm_medium=web&amp;utm_campaign=module&amp;utm_source=similar&amp;utm_content=intra">public demonstrations, and in open letters</a> -- why their community must bear the burden. A nuance of that refrain, often coming from residents in historically underserved areas, suggests siting jails in their neighborhoods is another form of government divestment.</p> <p>Local community boards representing the borough-based jail sites are all pushing back against the city’s plan, though the plan was crafted with the approval of each of the four local City Council members and the Council Speaker, Corey Johnson.</p> <p>“We’re hearing a lot of concern from some people, particularly in places where they don’t have an operating jail, ‘What does this mean for our property values? What does this mean for the safety of our neighborhood?’” the commission’s executive director, Tyler Nims, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The commission was empaneled by then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in 2016 after years of reports that Rikers Island is dilapidated, unsafe, and inhumane. Its stated goal was to study the possibility of closing the jail complex in the context of the city’s broader criminal justice system and make recommendations for change, which it did in March 2017. Just days before the commission released its report, and following pressure from Mark-Viverito and activists as he sought reelection, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a ten-year plan to shutter the Rikers jail complex and replace it with local facilities, while significantly reducing the city’s incarcerated population.</p> <p>Advocates, including the commission, believe borough-based jail facilities will go a long way in ameliorating the troubles plaguing Rikers both for the city and for the people incarcerated there and their families. The idea behind the borough-based jails is to bring incarcerated New Yorkers closer to the courthouses and to communities with access to public transportation, reducing the time and money it costs the city to transport inmates to court, helping the legal system run more smoothly, and easing the burden on families visiting loved ones. They would also bring incarcerated people closer to their lawyers and service providers.</p> <p>At the same time, the plan is to wipe the slate of Rikers’ culture of violence, which has witnessed brutality by inmates and guards, and a well-documented history of inhumane conditions. The city has plans to site the four borough-based jails in Mott Haven in the Bronx, Boerum Hill in Brooklyn, Kew Gardens in Queens, and Lower Manhattan.</p> <p>New York City currently has the capacity to house approximately 13,800 people in its jails, while the new facilities together would hold fewer than 5,000 people, according to the commission’s new report. There are approximately 7,800 people in New York City jails, according to the report (a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice <a href="https://ny.curbed.com/2019/5/7/18535679/rikers-island-closing-borough-jails-prison-population-de-blasio" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently told Curbed New York</a> that figure was just over 7,600), and the city wants to reduce that number to 4,000 by 2026 through a series of criminal justice reforms at the city and state level, like changing the bail rules that contribute to the mass incarceration of poor New Yorkers of color.</p> <p>In March, the city began a single Universal Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which involves input from local stakeholders and gives a fair degree of discretion to local politicians, for all four of the borough-based jails. Critics have decried the use of a broad brush to paint the local impact of siting the jails, observing that the characteristics of each neighborhood are different and the effect of each facility on the community will be unique. Three of the four sites are on existing detention facilities, while the fourth, in Mott Haven, will be built on the site of a police tow pound. They must all go through ULURP because even the existing detention facilities will require rezoning to meet the city’s needs.</p> <p>The commission shared the new report on property values and crime rates near jails with Gotham Gazette in anticipation of the upcoming ULURP hearings for borough presidents to express their positions, which begin in Brooklyn on June 6.</p> <p>Another subject of concern for many residents is the potential increase of vehicle and foot traffic, and Nims acknowledged the commission had heard this at several of its public hearings. The commission does not plan to study the impact of detention facilities on traffic patterns, but Nims says the issue will be examined by the city during ULURP. “Traffic can be beneficial to a community,” he noted, referring to the potential increase in commerce that large and busy facilities might bring to local economies.</p> <p>In addition to the four borough-based jails, the new report calls on the city to move away from the practice of housing people with mental health needs in its jails. “We call on the City to seek out alternative, non-jail locations for populations with discrete needs, including people with serious mental health diagnoses and people in need of drug and alcohol treatment,” the report reads.</p> <p>The push for specially tailored facilities comes amidst broader calls for criminal justice reform to address the intersection between mental health and incarceration. <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8533-johnson-unveils-criminal-justice-agenda-with-focus-on-reducing-jail-population" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Announcing a criminal justice platform</a> last month, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told an audience at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, “The health care system has turned away the chronically ill, and left jails as the public caretaker of last resort. But incarcerating people with mental health issues is a profound injustice, and something that we should never allow in our city.”</p> <p>Lippman’s commission hopes the new data will lead people to reconsider assumptions about jails and land use. The former chief judge pointed to two examples he feels are illustrative where a detention facility had no discernible impact on neighborhood property values and crime rates: Downtown Brooklyn and Tribeca. In each case, “the neighborhood is thriving,” he said.</p> <p>

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

Read more by this writer.

</p>
The Next Battleground in the Fight to Close the Rikers Island Jails 2019-05-20T04:00:00+00:00 2019-05-20T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8538-the-next-battleground-in-the-fight-to-close-rikers-island Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/remarks-conf.jpg" alt="remarks conf" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Jonathan Lippman, one of the authors (photo:&nbsp;John McCarten/NYC Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York State Legislature recently passed a landmark suite of criminal justice reforms that will profoundly re-shape the justice system in New York. Among other things, the reforms should help recalibrate the balance of power between prosecutors and defense attorneys and accelerate the effort to close the notorious jail complex on Rikers Island.</p> <p>A recent analysis found that by reducing the use of bail, the legislative reforms would result in the release of more than 40% of the defendants held in pretrial detention in New York City.</p> <p>Legislative changes like these almost always generate significant public attention -- newspaper headlines, social media traffic, and the like. But if we hope to create a justice system that truly serves as an international model of fairness and effectiveness, we cannot rely solely, or even primarily, on legislation.</p> <p>The kind of cultural change that is required in New York cannot simply be imposed from on high by political actors; it must be embraced by frontline practitioners – judges, attorneys, police officers, and others. These officials must be given the tools they need to both maintain public safety and ensure that every defendant and every victim is treated with dignity and respect.</p> <p>This means making long-term investments in training and education – for example, teaching justice officials about the long-lasting effects of trauma among the justice-involved population. &nbsp;It means reshaping the physical plant of the justice system so that our police precincts and courthouses and jails are designed to welcome rather than intimidate users. And it means focusing in the trenches on boring and technical issues like the speed with which cases are processed by the justice system. &nbsp;</p> <p>Take felony cases. New York’s court system has long expected felonies to be resolved within 180 days of an indictment. Yet, among indicted felonies resolved in 2018 in New York City, despite the herculean efforts of court administrators, cases averaged more than ten months to a resolution. Shortening this timeframe doesn't make sense just from an efficiency standpoint -- it should also help reduce the jail population in New York City, since many of these defendants are currently detained on Rikers Island while their cases are pending.</p> <p>The new legislative reform should make a real difference -- most discovery becomes automatic and must be completed within 15 days of arraignment. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has also made inroads in recent months, employing new technology, changing judicial assignments, and using her bully pulpit to make improved timeliness the top judicial priority.</p> <p>And, yet, there is still enormous potential for delay within the courts. What else can be done?</p> <p>Judges and attorneys can take several practical steps to make the constitutional right to a speedy trial more of an everyday reality.</p> <p>For one, the parties can shrink the number of days in between each court appearance. In 2016, the Office of Court Administration endorsed a 30-day cap. As adjournment length declines, there will be less idle time waiting for the next court date.</p> <p>Second, once discovery is complete, judges can make it a routine practice to convene attorneys in a case conference outside the courtroom. A conference is an opportunity to have an honest discussion about the strengths and weaknesses in each side’s case and, potentially, to reach a good faith plea agreement sooner rather than later in case proceedings.</p> <p>Third, judges and attorneys can agree to formal guidelines up front that state exactly what each party is responsible for accomplishing in between each court appearance -- in lieu of constantly reassessing progress at each successive court date.</p> <p>Earlier this year, the Brooklyn Supreme Court, with the cooperation of the Brooklyn District Attorney and the local defense bar, launched an experiment that seeks to move in these directions. With support from the Art for Justice Fund and the Center for Court Innovation, the parties agreed to use a case processing roadmap that clearly defines what should happen from one court appearance to the next in indicted felony cases.</p> <p>The Brooklyn pilot is an attempt to implement case processing reforms recommended by both the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform. If successful, it can potentially serve as a model for the rest of the city.</p> <p>To close the Rikers Island jails and create a better justice system is a complicated endeavor that will require sustained effort over the course of many years. Policy, at both the city and state level, has an important role to play. But so does practice.</p> <p>There aren’t going to be any ticker-tape parades when felony cases are resolved four months quicker, but it is precisely these kinds of changes that are the critical next frontier in the fight for criminal justice reform in New York.</p> <p>***<br />Jonathan Lippman is a former chief judge of New York State, of counsel at Latham &amp; Watkins LLP, and chair of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform. Greg Berman is Director of Center for Court Innovation.</p> <p>

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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/remarks-conf.jpg" alt="remarks conf" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Jonathan Lippman, one of the authors (photo:&nbsp;John McCarten/NYC Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York State Legislature recently passed a landmark suite of criminal justice reforms that will profoundly re-shape the justice system in New York. Among other things, the reforms should help recalibrate the balance of power between prosecutors and defense attorneys and accelerate the effort to close the notorious jail complex on Rikers Island.</p> <p>A recent analysis found that by reducing the use of bail, the legislative reforms would result in the release of more than 40% of the defendants held in pretrial detention in New York City.</p> <p>Legislative changes like these almost always generate significant public attention -- newspaper headlines, social media traffic, and the like. But if we hope to create a justice system that truly serves as an international model of fairness and effectiveness, we cannot rely solely, or even primarily, on legislation.</p> <p>The kind of cultural change that is required in New York cannot simply be imposed from on high by political actors; it must be embraced by frontline practitioners – judges, attorneys, police officers, and others. These officials must be given the tools they need to both maintain public safety and ensure that every defendant and every victim is treated with dignity and respect.</p> <p>This means making long-term investments in training and education – for example, teaching justice officials about the long-lasting effects of trauma among the justice-involved population. &nbsp;It means reshaping the physical plant of the justice system so that our police precincts and courthouses and jails are designed to welcome rather than intimidate users. And it means focusing in the trenches on boring and technical issues like the speed with which cases are processed by the justice system. &nbsp;</p> <p>Take felony cases. New York’s court system has long expected felonies to be resolved within 180 days of an indictment. Yet, among indicted felonies resolved in 2018 in New York City, despite the herculean efforts of court administrators, cases averaged more than ten months to a resolution. Shortening this timeframe doesn't make sense just from an efficiency standpoint -- it should also help reduce the jail population in New York City, since many of these defendants are currently detained on Rikers Island while their cases are pending.</p> <p>The new legislative reform should make a real difference -- most discovery becomes automatic and must be completed within 15 days of arraignment. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has also made inroads in recent months, employing new technology, changing judicial assignments, and using her bully pulpit to make improved timeliness the top judicial priority.</p> <p>And, yet, there is still enormous potential for delay within the courts. What else can be done?</p> <p>Judges and attorneys can take several practical steps to make the constitutional right to a speedy trial more of an everyday reality.</p> <p>For one, the parties can shrink the number of days in between each court appearance. In 2016, the Office of Court Administration endorsed a 30-day cap. As adjournment length declines, there will be less idle time waiting for the next court date.</p> <p>Second, once discovery is complete, judges can make it a routine practice to convene attorneys in a case conference outside the courtroom. A conference is an opportunity to have an honest discussion about the strengths and weaknesses in each side’s case and, potentially, to reach a good faith plea agreement sooner rather than later in case proceedings.</p> <p>Third, judges and attorneys can agree to formal guidelines up front that state exactly what each party is responsible for accomplishing in between each court appearance -- in lieu of constantly reassessing progress at each successive court date.</p> <p>Earlier this year, the Brooklyn Supreme Court, with the cooperation of the Brooklyn District Attorney and the local defense bar, launched an experiment that seeks to move in these directions. With support from the Art for Justice Fund and the Center for Court Innovation, the parties agreed to use a case processing roadmap that clearly defines what should happen from one court appearance to the next in indicted felony cases.</p> <p>The Brooklyn pilot is an attempt to implement case processing reforms recommended by both the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform. If successful, it can potentially serve as a model for the rest of the city.</p> <p>To close the Rikers Island jails and create a better justice system is a complicated endeavor that will require sustained effort over the course of many years. Policy, at both the city and state level, has an important role to play. But so does practice.</p> <p>There aren’t going to be any ticker-tape parades when felony cases are resolved four months quicker, but it is precisely these kinds of changes that are the critical next frontier in the fight for criminal justice reform in New York.</p> <p>***<br />Jonathan Lippman is a former chief judge of New York State, of counsel at Latham &amp; Watkins LLP, and chair of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform. Greg Berman is Director of Center for Court Innovation.</p> <p>

***
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</p>
We Must Seize Today’s Path to Actually Closing Rikers; It May Not Be Here Tomorrow 2019-04-22T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-22T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8465-seizing-path-to-actually-closing-rikers-jails-corey-johnson-lippman Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/city-council-speaker.jpg" alt="city council speaker" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Speaker Corey Johnson, one of the authors, with Mayor de Blasio (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Three years ago, the idea of closing the nine jails on Rikers Island was widely considered impossible. But in April 2017, after an intense campaign by advocates and the findings of an independent commission convened by former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and chaired by Judge Jonathan Lippman, Mayor de Blasio committed to the goal.</p> <p>Today, we are within hailing distance.</p> <p>The starting point for closing the Rikers jails is dramatically cutting the number of people who are incarcerated, and we have made real strides towards this goal. Thanks to reforms to policing and prosecution, investments in alternatives to incarceration, and continuing pressure from advocates, there are 1,800 fewer people in city jails than there were two years ago—all while the city remains safer than ever.</p> <p>The total number of people in jails is now under 8,000, the lowest it has been in many decades and representative of a lower incarceration rate than any other major United States city. Reforms recently enacted in Albany to bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws will reduce that number further and bring us much closer to the goal of 5,000 or fewer people incarcerated that would eventually permit the end of Rikers jails.</p> <p>But to actually shutter the Rikers jails, and not just talk about it, it is imperative for the city to build a smaller system of facilities located in the boroughs to hold those who remain. Today there are three operating non-Rikers jails, including a 1950s-era tower in downtown Brooklyn and a 30-year-old barge docked in the Bronx that would be closed along with Rikers. None are examples of humane design, and together they have space for fewer than 2,400 people.&nbsp;</p> <p>New York City has launched the land use process that will determine whether Rikers jails can be shut down. If successful, it will lead to the authorization of four redesigned facilities to hold 5,000 people or fewer in total. Three of the planned facilities—in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan—are on the site of existing jails, next to borough courthouses. The fourth, in the Bronx, is on an NYPD tow pound lot in Mott Haven. The Bronx site is farther from the courthouse than the others, but still exponentially closer and more accessible than Rikers.</p> <p>Of course, a plan of this scale and impact has critics.</p> <p>Some say that closing Rikers is impossible. These are the same voices that said, two years ago, that everyone in city jails deserved to be there. They are the same voices that said, five years ago, that ending the policy of widespread stop-and-frisk that was devastating communities of color would lead to an outbreak of crime. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now.</p> <p>Then there are those who oppose borough facilities for the exact opposite reason. They argue that borough jails would “normalize” incarceration. Nothing could do more to normalize incarceration and to perpetuate a toxic culture of violence and mass incarceration than continuing to warehouse New Yorkers on a hidden penal colony.</p> <p>Others have said that we must pause this process. But every day that we wait is an extra day that the Rikers jails will remain open, harming the people who work and are incarcerated there. And many who call for delay understand that it would squander the once-in-a-generation opportunity the city has to move towards closing Rikers now, ultimately derailing the project.&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, some people who live near the proposed facilities are concerned about the impact on their neighborhoods. These concerns, which include traffic, safety, and size, are understandable and must be thoroughly assessed, and that is what is happening in the land use process now underway. Yet we must remember: there are jails currently operating in downtown Manhattan&nbsp;and Brooklyn without any negative impact to property values or crime.</p> <p>The plan that the mayor has put forward is an essential step in the path to close the Rikers jail complex. Conversations with communities have already led to initial reductions in the height and density of the planned facilities and more thoughtful plans regarding the treatment of incarcerated women. Moving forward, we expect to see more work from the administration to improve the plan—such as finding non-jail, hospital-based alternatives for people with serious mental health diagnoses—and to address neighborhood concerns.</p> <p>Equally important, the administration must invest in the socio-economic needs of the communities that historically have been hit hard by the inequities of the criminal justice system. And to demonstrate his seriousness about changing the justice system, Mayor de Blasio should raze the jail on Rikers that he closed last summer.</p> <p>The land use process that began is necessary to put an end to Rikers, but it is not the end of the road. We will still need to determine crucial issues like how the facilities will be operated and what services and programs they will provide. Finishing the job will require the same focus and advocacy that got us to this point.</p> <p>The misery of Rikers has been well-known, and well-documented, for decades. The reason those jails continue to exist today is that closing them was always considered too difficult. But to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we are not doing this because it is easy; we are doing it because it is hard—and absolutely necessary for a justice system that is worthy of our city.</p> <p>***<br />Corey Johnson is the Speaker of the New York City Council. Jonathan Lippman is a former chief judge of New York State, of counsel at Latham &amp; Watkins LLP, and chair of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform.</p> <p>

***
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</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/city-council-speaker.jpg" alt="city council speaker" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Speaker Corey Johnson, one of the authors, with Mayor de Blasio (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Three years ago, the idea of closing the nine jails on Rikers Island was widely considered impossible. But in April 2017, after an intense campaign by advocates and the findings of an independent commission convened by former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and chaired by Judge Jonathan Lippman, Mayor de Blasio committed to the goal.</p> <p>Today, we are within hailing distance.</p> <p>The starting point for closing the Rikers jails is dramatically cutting the number of people who are incarcerated, and we have made real strides towards this goal. Thanks to reforms to policing and prosecution, investments in alternatives to incarceration, and continuing pressure from advocates, there are 1,800 fewer people in city jails than there were two years ago—all while the city remains safer than ever.</p> <p>The total number of people in jails is now under 8,000, the lowest it has been in many decades and representative of a lower incarceration rate than any other major United States city. Reforms recently enacted in Albany to bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws will reduce that number further and bring us much closer to the goal of 5,000 or fewer people incarcerated that would eventually permit the end of Rikers jails.</p> <p>But to actually shutter the Rikers jails, and not just talk about it, it is imperative for the city to build a smaller system of facilities located in the boroughs to hold those who remain. Today there are three operating non-Rikers jails, including a 1950s-era tower in downtown Brooklyn and a 30-year-old barge docked in the Bronx that would be closed along with Rikers. None are examples of humane design, and together they have space for fewer than 2,400 people.&nbsp;</p> <p>New York City has launched the land use process that will determine whether Rikers jails can be shut down. If successful, it will lead to the authorization of four redesigned facilities to hold 5,000 people or fewer in total. Three of the planned facilities—in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan—are on the site of existing jails, next to borough courthouses. The fourth, in the Bronx, is on an NYPD tow pound lot in Mott Haven. The Bronx site is farther from the courthouse than the others, but still exponentially closer and more accessible than Rikers.</p> <p>Of course, a plan of this scale and impact has critics.</p> <p>Some say that closing Rikers is impossible. These are the same voices that said, two years ago, that everyone in city jails deserved to be there. They are the same voices that said, five years ago, that ending the policy of widespread stop-and-frisk that was devastating communities of color would lead to an outbreak of crime. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now.</p> <p>Then there are those who oppose borough facilities for the exact opposite reason. They argue that borough jails would “normalize” incarceration. Nothing could do more to normalize incarceration and to perpetuate a toxic culture of violence and mass incarceration than continuing to warehouse New Yorkers on a hidden penal colony.</p> <p>Others have said that we must pause this process. But every day that we wait is an extra day that the Rikers jails will remain open, harming the people who work and are incarcerated there. And many who call for delay understand that it would squander the once-in-a-generation opportunity the city has to move towards closing Rikers now, ultimately derailing the project.&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, some people who live near the proposed facilities are concerned about the impact on their neighborhoods. These concerns, which include traffic, safety, and size, are understandable and must be thoroughly assessed, and that is what is happening in the land use process now underway. Yet we must remember: there are jails currently operating in downtown Manhattan&nbsp;and Brooklyn without any negative impact to property values or crime.</p> <p>The plan that the mayor has put forward is an essential step in the path to close the Rikers jail complex. Conversations with communities have already led to initial reductions in the height and density of the planned facilities and more thoughtful plans regarding the treatment of incarcerated women. Moving forward, we expect to see more work from the administration to improve the plan—such as finding non-jail, hospital-based alternatives for people with serious mental health diagnoses—and to address neighborhood concerns.</p> <p>Equally important, the administration must invest in the socio-economic needs of the communities that historically have been hit hard by the inequities of the criminal justice system. And to demonstrate his seriousness about changing the justice system, Mayor de Blasio should raze the jail on Rikers that he closed last summer.</p> <p>The land use process that began is necessary to put an end to Rikers, but it is not the end of the road. We will still need to determine crucial issues like how the facilities will be operated and what services and programs they will provide. Finishing the job will require the same focus and advocacy that got us to this point.</p> <p>The misery of Rikers has been well-known, and well-documented, for decades. The reason those jails continue to exist today is that closing them was always considered too difficult. But to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we are not doing this because it is easy; we are doing it because it is hard—and absolutely necessary for a justice system that is worthy of our city.</p> <p>***<br />Corey Johnson is the Speaker of the New York City Council. Jonathan Lippman is a former chief judge of New York State, of counsel at Latham &amp; Watkins LLP, and chair of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform.</p> <p>

***
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</p>
'We're in a New Era’: Inside the Crowded Race to Elect the Next Queens District Attorney and Reset the Borough’s Prosecutorial Agenda 2019-03-04T05:00:00+00:00 2019-03-04T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8326-crowded-race-election-queens-district-attorney-and-reset-prosecutorial-agenda Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/dwamhvfwoaejtul.jpg" alt="dwamhvfwoaejtul" width="600" height="357" /></p> <p>Queens Borough President Katz swears-in community board members (photo:&nbsp;@QueensBPKatz)</p> <hr /> <p>Uncontested for seven terms spanning more than a quarter-century, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has hung back while his counterparts in Brooklyn and Manhattan join a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/30/magazine/larry-krasner-philadelphia-district-attorney-progressive.html">growing national conversation</a> about criminal justice reform and the power of prosecutors to decarcerate jails. While the retiring Brown is a “dear friend,” former New York Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman told Gotham Gazette recently, “it’s time for a new prosecutor with new, up-to-date modern views.”</p> <p>Answering that call, six of seven announced candidates in the upcoming Democratic primary are campaigning as the best progressive reformer for the job. Even the exception, self-described “middle of the road” attorney Betty Lugo, has aligned herself with the pack in promising fewer low-level prosecutions and condemning a <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/2019/1/29/ice-arrests-have-surged-at-queens-courts-report-reveals">surge</a> in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests outside Queens courts.</p> <p>The June 25 election will almost certainly determine Brown’s successor and reset the prosecutorial tone in a vast, diverse borough of more than two million residents. “We’re really looking for someone who works with the community and understands that we’re in a new era. We’re no longer in a tough-on-crime, war on drugs era,” said 18-year-old Andrea Colon, a member of the Rockaway Youth Task Force, one of several criminal justice and immigrant rights groups <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8194-community-demands-for-the-next-queens-district-attorney">demanding change in the office</a>.</p> <p>But Queens is an ideological patchwork. “It's an older voter, especially out east where it's more suburban,” said one party insider, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely. “They don't like people who jump turnstiles. They don’t want people smoking [marijuana] on the streets.” Former Queens Supreme Court judge and county prosecutor Greg Lasak, who’s pitching himself as the only candidate who can properly balance public safety with reform, has endorsements and <a href="https://indypendent.org/2019/02/is-queens-ready-for-a-peoples-da/">donations</a> from a number of law enforcement unions, including court clerks and officers. He's leading in funds raised for this race, with more than $800,000 to date, but trails Borough President Melinda Katz and City Council Member Rory Lancman in money available given their resources from prior campaign accounts.</p> <p>Conversations with each candidate -- prosecutors Jose Nieves and Mina Malik and public defender Tiffany Cabán round out the field -- reveal real differences: on prosecutorial priorities and experience, as well as how they view the scope of the job. Now that the term progressive has wide application, says Steve Zeidman, director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at CUNY School of Law, “we have to push and get into the fine print.”</p> <p><strong>Prosecutorial Differences</strong><br />Katz and Lancman are both established politicians with law degrees, strong name recognition in the borough, and early fundraising success. Both formerly served in the state Assembly. “I think there needs to be a change in focus in the DA’s Office,” Katz told Gotham Gazette, outlining her plan for new bureaus focused on immigrant rights, housing fraud, and worker rights.</p> <p>But Katz -- who recently won the endorsement of the Queens County Democratic Party -- has proposed narrower prosecutorial reforms than most of the pack, pledging along with Lasak only to decline to prosecute marijuana possession cases. By contrast Lancman, Cabán, Malik, and Nieves have all outlined do-not-prosecute lists including fare evasion, drug possession, and prostitution -- in the style of recently-elected reform district attorneys like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and <a href="https://boston.cbslocal.com/2018/09/07/rachael-rollins-do-not-prosecute-list-crimes-boston-suffolk-county/">Rachael Rollins Boston</a>.</p> <p>Judge Lippman told Gotham Gazette that though he doesn’t typically endorse candidates, Lancman, the first candidate to enter the race, “was always the first one to be there to generate support for a new view for criminal justice.” But the City Council member has lots of company now. He, Cabán, and Nieves have all pledged to never request cash bail, on the grounds that it perpetuates racial- and class-based inequities.</p> <p>Four of the candidates -- Malik, Nieves, Lasak, and Lugo -- tout their prosecutorial experience. Malik, who is originally from Queens, served most recently as a deputy for the District of Columbia Attorney General. She also helped the late Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson implement a <a href="https://brooklyneagle.com/articles/2019/02/20/brooklyn-da-prosecution-of-low-level-marijuana-cases-down-98-percent/">policy for fewer marijuana prosecutions</a>. Like Lasak, she’s served in the very office she’s running to lead. “Queens deserves someone who can come into the DA’s office, know from day one how it operates,” Malik told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Nieves, meanwhile, emphasizes his recent experience prosecuting police officers at the state attorney general’s office and holding “the system itself accountable.”</p> <p>Cabán’s status as the only public defender in the race, most recently with New York County Defender Services, has won her endorsements from ascendant groups on the left. “Her ultimate responsibility is to the public and that's what it's always been,” said Zohran Mamdani, an electoral organizer with the Queens branch of the Democratic Socialists of America.</p> <p>Addressing a crowd of supporters in Jackson Heights this month, Cabán said she’ll fight for defendants, not convictions. As a queer Latina from a low-income family, she relates to the challenges her clients face. “For me, my decision to run in this race very much so feels like the natural progression of my advocacy for my clients,” she said.</p> <p>How the candidates approach the prosecution of violent crimes, from murder to burglary, is another useful differentiator. Most say that fewer misdemeanor cases will free up resources to prosecute violent crimes. In endorsing Lasak, Glen Damato, president of the New York State Court Clerks Association, praised “his work putting away Queens’ most violent criminals and his compassion in exonerating the wrongfully convicted.”</p> <p>When Katz was a child, a drunk driver struck and killed her mother. She said that if she’s elected district attorney cases involving intoxicated driving are going to be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law, in my administration.” She <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/2018/12/14/katz-death-penalty-vote-a-red-flag-for-criminal-justice-reformers">said</a> life sentences can be justified “on a case by case basis” while Lancman, Nieves, and Cabán say they’ll never request such a sentence.</p> <p>Cabán has been most vocal about a less punitive approach to violent crime. She says her father, a retired elevator mechanic, has struggled with alcoholism and that her grandfather, a veteran with PTSD, was abusive. Incarcerating people for repeat violent behavior “is not changing the behavior,” Cabán said, calling for a shift in funding towards alternatives such as mental health services. "Sometimes that means showing compassion for someone who does harm."</p> <p><strong>Race Strategy</strong><br />Increasingly, district attorney candidates are expected to weigh in on political debates outside the courtroom. Lancman and Cabán, for example, have promised not to join the statewide district attorney association, which has recently lobbied against pretrial reforms currently up for consideration in Albany, like open file discovery and the <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8245-new-york-democrats-on-eliminating-cash-bail-not-when-but-how">elimination of cash bail</a>.</p> <p>Everyone but Lasak, who declined to weigh in, told Gotham Gazette they support the city’s <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/07/05/de-blasio-and-the-difficult-task-of-closing-rikers-island/">commitment to close the jails on Rikers Island</a>. Cabán and Nieves have taken this a step further, saying they oppose replacing them with new or revamped jails across the city. “I don't think we need 40-story super structures to house more people,” Nevies said. “I think we need less people incarcerated.”</p> <p>Cabán is also refusing corporate donations: a position that aligns her with other DSA-endorsed New York candidates like Congressional Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon, who ran an unsuccessful 2018 Democratic primary challenge to Governor Andrew Cuomo. Doing so, Cabán says, will reassure Queens residents that she’s not afraid to prosecute landlords or employers accused of wage theft.</p> <p>Lancman is dismissive of the stance. “I am not bringing a knife to this gun fight,” he scoffed. “I am not in this race to lose but claim a moral victory and then see black and brown people terrorized.”</p> <p>Voters are also considering candidates’ proximity to the Queens County Democratic Party. Its endorsement of Katz is bad optics for both, according to Jesse Rose, founder of the New Queens Democrats, a progressive civic engagement group that has endorsed Cabán. “It was just absurd to me,” he said. “They didn’t have a forum. They didn’t have a vetting process. They didn’t ensure that there was transparency in any way.” (The party did not respond to a request for comment, but has defended its process <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/2019/2/11/queens-democrats-set-to-endorse-katz-dsa-backs-cabn" target="_blank" rel="noopener">to the Queens Daily Eagle</a>.)</p> <p>The dynamic isn’t a major concern for Lugo. A singer by hobby, she says she even performed the traditional Irish ballad Danny Boy at a recent county party dinner. “I think had they interviewed me they would have found me the most qualified, but it is what it is,” she said.</p> <p>But Katz, who has won two borough-wide elections, seems to be downplaying her endorsement. She plans to implement a grassroots strategy with “a volunteer army knocking on doors,” according to Doug Forand, a campaign advisor with Red Horse Strategies. “She'll be reaching out broadly, and engaging the newer voters who are bringing new energy into Democratic primaries, and we look forward to earning their support."</p> <p>The groups already rallying around Cabán have proven formidable in this realm, knocking on doors for Ocasio-Cortez and, more recently, protesting the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/14/nyregion/amazon-hq2-queens.html">ill-fated Amazon campus in Queens</a>. “I wouldn’t be surprised if their activity [and] endorsement means something considerable, even in Queens, which still has conservative areas,” said Baruch College political scientist Doug Muzzio.</p> <p>Regardless of who wins in June, advocates are hopeful that this election will increase awareness across the borough that district attorneys are powerful, and elected by their constituents.</p> <p>“This not about winning an election,” explained Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY, a nonprofit that works on criminal justice reform, among other issues. “It's about, how do you get into the public narrative and get people in Queens talking about criminal justice reform, the power of prosecutors, and how you hold them accountable?”</p> <p><em>Gotham Gazette is cosponsoring a candidate debate on March 12 at 6 p.m. RSVP <a href="https://vocal.ourpowerbase.net/civicrm/event/register?reset=1&amp;id=2067">here</a>.</em></p> <p><em>Note: soon after this article was published, DA Brown announced that due to health issues he would be stepping down as district attorney effective June 1. His chief assistant, John M. Ryan, will run the office in his absence.</em></p> <p>

***
by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Correction: this article has been updated to clarify that Lasak leads in funds raised for this race, though he does trail Katz and Lancman in funds available.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/dwamhvfwoaejtul.jpg" alt="dwamhvfwoaejtul" width="600" height="357" /></p> <p>Queens Borough President Katz swears-in community board members (photo:&nbsp;@QueensBPKatz)</p> <hr /> <p>Uncontested for seven terms spanning more than a quarter-century, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has hung back while his counterparts in Brooklyn and Manhattan join a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/30/magazine/larry-krasner-philadelphia-district-attorney-progressive.html">growing national conversation</a> about criminal justice reform and the power of prosecutors to decarcerate jails. While the retiring Brown is a “dear friend,” former New York Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman told Gotham Gazette recently, “it’s time for a new prosecutor with new, up-to-date modern views.”</p> <p>Answering that call, six of seven announced candidates in the upcoming Democratic primary are campaigning as the best progressive reformer for the job. Even the exception, self-described “middle of the road” attorney Betty Lugo, has aligned herself with the pack in promising fewer low-level prosecutions and condemning a <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/2019/1/29/ice-arrests-have-surged-at-queens-courts-report-reveals">surge</a> in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests outside Queens courts.</p> <p>The June 25 election will almost certainly determine Brown’s successor and reset the prosecutorial tone in a vast, diverse borough of more than two million residents. “We’re really looking for someone who works with the community and understands that we’re in a new era. We’re no longer in a tough-on-crime, war on drugs era,” said 18-year-old Andrea Colon, a member of the Rockaway Youth Task Force, one of several criminal justice and immigrant rights groups <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8194-community-demands-for-the-next-queens-district-attorney">demanding change in the office</a>.</p> <p>But Queens is an ideological patchwork. “It's an older voter, especially out east where it's more suburban,” said one party insider, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely. “They don't like people who jump turnstiles. They don’t want people smoking [marijuana] on the streets.” Former Queens Supreme Court judge and county prosecutor Greg Lasak, who’s pitching himself as the only candidate who can properly balance public safety with reform, has endorsements and <a href="https://indypendent.org/2019/02/is-queens-ready-for-a-peoples-da/">donations</a> from a number of law enforcement unions, including court clerks and officers. He's leading in funds raised for this race, with more than $800,000 to date, but trails Borough President Melinda Katz and City Council Member Rory Lancman in money available given their resources from prior campaign accounts.</p> <p>Conversations with each candidate -- prosecutors Jose Nieves and Mina Malik and public defender Tiffany Cabán round out the field -- reveal real differences: on prosecutorial priorities and experience, as well as how they view the scope of the job. Now that the term progressive has wide application, says Steve Zeidman, director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at CUNY School of Law, “we have to push and get into the fine print.”</p> <p><strong>Prosecutorial Differences</strong><br />Katz and Lancman are both established politicians with law degrees, strong name recognition in the borough, and early fundraising success. Both formerly served in the state Assembly. “I think there needs to be a change in focus in the DA’s Office,” Katz told Gotham Gazette, outlining her plan for new bureaus focused on immigrant rights, housing fraud, and worker rights.</p> <p>But Katz -- who recently won the endorsement of the Queens County Democratic Party -- has proposed narrower prosecutorial reforms than most of the pack, pledging along with Lasak only to decline to prosecute marijuana possession cases. By contrast Lancman, Cabán, Malik, and Nieves have all outlined do-not-prosecute lists including fare evasion, drug possession, and prostitution -- in the style of recently-elected reform district attorneys like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and <a href="https://boston.cbslocal.com/2018/09/07/rachael-rollins-do-not-prosecute-list-crimes-boston-suffolk-county/">Rachael Rollins Boston</a>.</p> <p>Judge Lippman told Gotham Gazette that though he doesn’t typically endorse candidates, Lancman, the first candidate to enter the race, “was always the first one to be there to generate support for a new view for criminal justice.” But the City Council member has lots of company now. He, Cabán, and Nieves have all pledged to never request cash bail, on the grounds that it perpetuates racial- and class-based inequities.</p> <p>Four of the candidates -- Malik, Nieves, Lasak, and Lugo -- tout their prosecutorial experience. Malik, who is originally from Queens, served most recently as a deputy for the District of Columbia Attorney General. She also helped the late Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson implement a <a href="https://brooklyneagle.com/articles/2019/02/20/brooklyn-da-prosecution-of-low-level-marijuana-cases-down-98-percent/">policy for fewer marijuana prosecutions</a>. Like Lasak, she’s served in the very office she’s running to lead. “Queens deserves someone who can come into the DA’s office, know from day one how it operates,” Malik told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Nieves, meanwhile, emphasizes his recent experience prosecuting police officers at the state attorney general’s office and holding “the system itself accountable.”</p> <p>Cabán’s status as the only public defender in the race, most recently with New York County Defender Services, has won her endorsements from ascendant groups on the left. “Her ultimate responsibility is to the public and that's what it's always been,” said Zohran Mamdani, an electoral organizer with the Queens branch of the Democratic Socialists of America.</p> <p>Addressing a crowd of supporters in Jackson Heights this month, Cabán said she’ll fight for defendants, not convictions. As a queer Latina from a low-income family, she relates to the challenges her clients face. “For me, my decision to run in this race very much so feels like the natural progression of my advocacy for my clients,” she said.</p> <p>How the candidates approach the prosecution of violent crimes, from murder to burglary, is another useful differentiator. Most say that fewer misdemeanor cases will free up resources to prosecute violent crimes. In endorsing Lasak, Glen Damato, president of the New York State Court Clerks Association, praised “his work putting away Queens’ most violent criminals and his compassion in exonerating the wrongfully convicted.”</p> <p>When Katz was a child, a drunk driver struck and killed her mother. She said that if she’s elected district attorney cases involving intoxicated driving are going to be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law, in my administration.” She <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/2018/12/14/katz-death-penalty-vote-a-red-flag-for-criminal-justice-reformers">said</a> life sentences can be justified “on a case by case basis” while Lancman, Nieves, and Cabán say they’ll never request such a sentence.</p> <p>Cabán has been most vocal about a less punitive approach to violent crime. She says her father, a retired elevator mechanic, has struggled with alcoholism and that her grandfather, a veteran with PTSD, was abusive. Incarcerating people for repeat violent behavior “is not changing the behavior,” Cabán said, calling for a shift in funding towards alternatives such as mental health services. "Sometimes that means showing compassion for someone who does harm."</p> <p><strong>Race Strategy</strong><br />Increasingly, district attorney candidates are expected to weigh in on political debates outside the courtroom. Lancman and Cabán, for example, have promised not to join the statewide district attorney association, which has recently lobbied against pretrial reforms currently up for consideration in Albany, like open file discovery and the <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8245-new-york-democrats-on-eliminating-cash-bail-not-when-but-how">elimination of cash bail</a>.</p> <p>Everyone but Lasak, who declined to weigh in, told Gotham Gazette they support the city’s <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/07/05/de-blasio-and-the-difficult-task-of-closing-rikers-island/">commitment to close the jails on Rikers Island</a>. Cabán and Nieves have taken this a step further, saying they oppose replacing them with new or revamped jails across the city. “I don't think we need 40-story super structures to house more people,” Nevies said. “I think we need less people incarcerated.”</p> <p>Cabán is also refusing corporate donations: a position that aligns her with other DSA-endorsed New York candidates like Congressional Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon, who ran an unsuccessful 2018 Democratic primary challenge to Governor Andrew Cuomo. Doing so, Cabán says, will reassure Queens residents that she’s not afraid to prosecute landlords or employers accused of wage theft.</p> <p>Lancman is dismissive of the stance. “I am not bringing a knife to this gun fight,” he scoffed. “I am not in this race to lose but claim a moral victory and then see black and brown people terrorized.”</p> <p>Voters are also considering candidates’ proximity to the Queens County Democratic Party. Its endorsement of Katz is bad optics for both, according to Jesse Rose, founder of the New Queens Democrats, a progressive civic engagement group that has endorsed Cabán. “It was just absurd to me,” he said. “They didn’t have a forum. They didn’t have a vetting process. They didn’t ensure that there was transparency in any way.” (The party did not respond to a request for comment, but has defended its process <a href="https://queenseagle.com/all/2019/2/11/queens-democrats-set-to-endorse-katz-dsa-backs-cabn" target="_blank" rel="noopener">to the Queens Daily Eagle</a>.)</p> <p>The dynamic isn’t a major concern for Lugo. A singer by hobby, she says she even performed the traditional Irish ballad Danny Boy at a recent county party dinner. “I think had they interviewed me they would have found me the most qualified, but it is what it is,” she said.</p> <p>But Katz, who has won two borough-wide elections, seems to be downplaying her endorsement. She plans to implement a grassroots strategy with “a volunteer army knocking on doors,” according to Doug Forand, a campaign advisor with Red Horse Strategies. “She'll be reaching out broadly, and engaging the newer voters who are bringing new energy into Democratic primaries, and we look forward to earning their support."</p> <p>The groups already rallying around Cabán have proven formidable in this realm, knocking on doors for Ocasio-Cortez and, more recently, protesting the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/14/nyregion/amazon-hq2-queens.html">ill-fated Amazon campus in Queens</a>. “I wouldn’t be surprised if their activity [and] endorsement means something considerable, even in Queens, which still has conservative areas,” said Baruch College political scientist Doug Muzzio.</p> <p>Regardless of who wins in June, advocates are hopeful that this election will increase awareness across the borough that district attorneys are powerful, and elected by their constituents.</p> <p>“This not about winning an election,” explained Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY, a nonprofit that works on criminal justice reform, among other issues. “It's about, how do you get into the public narrative and get people in Queens talking about criminal justice reform, the power of prosecutors, and how you hold them accountable?”</p> <p><em>Gotham Gazette is cosponsoring a candidate debate on March 12 at 6 p.m. RSVP <a href="https://vocal.ourpowerbase.net/civicrm/event/register?reset=1&amp;id=2067">here</a>.</em></p> <p><em>Note: soon after this article was published, DA Brown announced that due to health issues he would be stepping down as district attorney effective June 1. His chief assistant, John M. Ryan, will run the office in his absence.</em></p> <p>

***
by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Correction: this article has been updated to clarify that Lasak leads in funds raised for this race, though he does trail Katz and Lancman in funds available.</p>
Key Question in Closing Rikers: How to Design Replacement Jails 2018-07-24T04:00:00+00:00 2018-07-24T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7823-key-question-in-closing-rikers-how-to-design-replacement-jails Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/rikers-renditions.jpg" alt="rikers renditions" width="600" height="463" /></p> <p>Jail space rendering via <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/577d72ee2e69cfa9dd2b7a5e/t/595d484de4fcb5935fbc34fd/1499285601075/Justice+in+Design+Report.pdf" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=https://static1.squarespace.com/static/577d72ee2e69cfa9dd2b7a5e/t/595d484de4fcb5935fbc34fd/1499285601075/Justice%2Bin%2BDesign%2BReport.pdf&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1532550868569000&amp;usg=AFQjCNGThA6OpjuL8Tu1oNaqeQ_3yvON1g">"Justice in Design"</a></p> <hr /> <p>The first part of the plan is clear: the jails on Rikers Island will be closed. Less clear is the second part: what, exactly, the replacement jails will look like.</p> <p>Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, empaneled by then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, came to the same conclusion: Rikers – the isolated island, sandwiched between the Bronx and Queens on the East River, holding 10 of the city’s jails and over 7,000 inmates – must be shut down.</p> <p>In June 2017, de Blasio <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/427-17/mayor-de-blasio-smaller-safer-fairer--roadmap-closing-rikers-island-" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announced a broad plan</a> to do just that. His controversial proposal calls for continued reduction of the city’s plummeting jail population and the complete closure of all Rikers facilities within a period of 10 years, with remaining Rikers detainees transferred into jails in other parts of the city, using one facility in each borough other than Staten Island. For the plan to close Rikers to work, de Blasio has said, the city must get from the current 8,000-plus inmates across the city to about 5,000, while expanding or opening four facilities.</p> <p>Challenges and questions remain, one of them being that the existing borough jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens don’t have the capacity to hold even 5,000 detainees (most of the individuals held in Rikers jails are pre-trial and have not been convicted of a crime, though some are serving relatively short sentences).</p> <p>Shutting down Rikers jails requires the expansion or complete reconstruction of the current facilities, as well as erecting a new one in the Bronx. However, another challenge, which may pose far greater obstacles than merely laying down the bricks of these facilities, is establishing the foundation for a new way of thinking when it comes to designing and building jails.</p> <p>“What we emphasized is that we’re trying to reimagine every step of the criminal justice system and, in particular, the jail facilities themselves,” said Jonathan Lippman, the former Chief Judge of the State of New York and the chair of the independent commission, which released a <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/577d72ee2e69cfa9dd2b7a5e/t/58e0d7c08419c29a7b1f2da8/1491130312339/Independent+Commission+Final+Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">study</a> advocating for the total shutdown of Rikers Island last April, preceding the mayor’s proposal, which differs in some ways. “So, wherever we’re having the kind of haphazard, decrepit, depressing conditions that you have now, we’re trying to look at ‘what should it be if you started from scratch?’”</p> <p>The question of jail design is one of the most important facing the city as it moves toward closing Rikers Island, and aims to utilize the jails themselves as part of the equation in helping people transition after a jail stay of any length and reduce the chances they will ever be back.</p> <p>Among others, one task force convened by the de Blasio administration is working on the issue, while a private architecture firm, Perkins Eastman, has been hired in a $7.5 million contract to take the task force’s input into consideration as it makes design and construction plans.</p> <p>The culmination of the efforts of the task force and of Perkins Eastman will first be manifested into the Capital Scope Development Project Study, set for release by the end of this year, which will gauge the costs of the project as well as assess the capacity of the current borough facilities and explore how these facilities may be expanded or completely reconstructed.</p> <p>For Lippman, the new network of jail facilities that will replace Rikers would imitate a “more normative environment that supports rehabilitation while simultaneously providing the neighborhoods with a couple of amenities,” as indicated in his commission’s study. Crafting such jails would mean to upend the existing conditions on Rikers – a place that Lippman calls an “accelerator of human misery,” with rotting floorboards, sewage backups, impaired heating and cooling systems and incessant violence, according to the commission’s report – and, instead, enhance access to natural light, activity spaces, direct supervision and community involvement.</p> <p>The study also indicated the importance of a facility’s geographic location, since proximity to courthouses can cut travel costs of moving detainees from the jails to courthouses and back, and visitors should have easier access to visit their detained loved ones, which is part of reducing recidivism. Rikers Island is accessible to the outside world by one bridge, and anyone attempting a visit to the island can only go by car (although private parking is limited) and bus -- there is no subway access. &nbsp;</p> <p>“I think jails today, modern jails, can actually be a boon to the community,” Lippman said, citing the prosperity of Boerum Hill, the Brooklyn neighborhood where the Brooklyn House of Detention currently stands, “and rebut the idea that being in close proximity to the jail makes people unsafe or that it’s ugly or that it’s destructive to the community.”</p> <p>In another <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/577d72ee2e69cfa9dd2b7a5e/t/595d484de4fcb5935fbc34fd/1499285601075/Justice+in+Design+Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> produced by the Lippman commission and the Van Alen Institute, providing room for civic services, retail shops or community spaces would be a basic function of a jail facility built with the intent of fully integrating into the community it’s in. Such a building would open up part of the first floor to the needs or desires of the community – say, for an art gallery, or a medical clinic, or a social services agency – while the upper floors would be where the jail operates.</p> <p>“This is an opportunity for us, not to recreate what we have, but to really begin to think outside the box in terms of what we want,” said <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7712-max-murphy-podcast-criminal-justice-reform-in-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Stanley Richards</a>, a member of the independent commission and the executive vice president of The Fortune Society, an organization that provides reentry services for formerly incarcerated people.</p> <p>Richards additionally co-chairs the design committee of the mayor’s task force, where he works on developing design principles that will guide architects and general contractors in the design of the borough facilities.</p> <p>“The only principles that were guiding the design and the development of the facilities that we currently have is, ‘How do you keep people detained and keep them away from society? How do you punish people?’ And that’s how they were built,” said Richards, who is formerly incarcerated himself, having spent two years in a Rikers jail. “That is not the design principles that we’re operating from.”</p> <p>One important question on the table is what will be done with the existing, in-use Brooklyn and Manhattan jails, which are in especially busy areas of the city -- will they be refurbished or torn down and constructed anew, using modern design principles?</p> <p>While the decision to expand or overhaul the existing facilities has not yet reached an official decision, Richards said, “Based on the design principles that we’re coming up and based on the capacity we need to build in the borough houses, it is highly unlikely that it will be done in the existing facilities. I believe it will require new facilities.”</p> <p>The recommendations of the commission also provide a basis for what these new facilities have the potential to look like. A network of cells that surround a common living area, for example, can make way for a system of direct supervision, where a correctional officer can oversee more detainees with improved lines of sight. Grouping detainees into housing units based on similar needs or risk-levels also allows officers to apply a more responsive approach when dealing with detainee misconduct, since the traditional approach has been to rely on punitive segregation, or solitary confinement, even for detainees who engage in low-level misconduct.</p> <p>The commission also recommends that inmates have access to a sort of “town center,” or an area that would include a clinic, pharmacy, dining hall, and programming spaces, thus providing detainees more freedom of movement, and they should be furnished in a way that imitates normative settings, with fittings as basic as seated, porcelain toilets and upholstered furniture, all of which contributes to the humanization their detention. The de Blasio administration has already announced programs to provide more education and job training to inmates, and has <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7788-de-blasio-jails-to-jobs-program-launches-close-rikers" target="_blank" rel="noopener">launched the “jails to jobs” program</a> to facilitate short-term employment for those finishing a sentence in a city jail.</p> <p>The mayor and the City Council settled on the sites of the Rikers-replacement facilities in an <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/094-18/mayor-de-blasio-city-council-reach-agreement-replace-rikers-island-jails-with/#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announcement</a> this past February, with the projected borough facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens to be held at the location of the standing detention centers, and the jail in the Bronx being at a city-owned tow pound lot in Mott Haven, though the Bronx site quickly became the subject of <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7715-the-wrong-site-for-a-bronx-jail" target="_blank" rel="noopener">controversy</a> and it is still unclear exactly where <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7486-bronx-electeds-residents-cry-foul-as-mayor-and-council-announce-jail-site" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a Bronx jail</a> will be built.</p> <p>All sites will additionally undergo a single public review process, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, set to kick off either by the end of this year or at the start of 2019, involving hearings with the local community boards, borough presidents, City Council members, and the City Planning Commission. One combined ULURP was announced by the mayor and Council Speaker Corey Johnson in order to speed the process, though some have questioned if that will allow enough local input in each affected community.</p> <p>“New York City is a very different environment to build in and each borough is quite different,” said Elizabeth Glazer, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and co-chair of the Justice Implementation Task Force. “And, so there’s always going to be that sort of tug between the function that the jail must serve and the function that we want it to serve, and how space provides opportunities or constraints as desires.”</p> <p>In May, the city’s average daily jail population <a href="https://rikers.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/rikers-scorecard_may_final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fell to 8,402</a> – the lowest number it has reached since 1981. In a <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/577d72ee2e69cfa9dd2b7a5e/t/5ac77dc070a6ad5c6a346b0f/1523023300603/MJNYC_OneYearFwd_Singles.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">follow-up report</a> produced by the Lippman commission, it is projected that the city could close Rikers as soon as 2024 and even have the new facilities constructed before then. Still, while it is one thing to build the new facilities, it is another to maintain them in a way that keeps them from defaulting back to today’s conditions on Rikers Island.</p> <p>“It’s not a resource issue, but it is an institutional issue about how you treat people, how you classify people, how you house people, how you make security decisions,” said <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7351-what-s-the-data-point-10-with-michael-jacobson" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Michael Jacobson</a>, executive director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance and the city’s correction commissioner from 1995 to 1996. “All of that kind of goes to very poor training issues and a lot of this is gonna be complicated.”</p> <p>Jacobson, who is also a member of the task force’s committee on Culture Change, recalled dealing with staff inefficiency and deteriorating infrastructure during his time as correction commissioner.</p> <p>“The design is necessary but not sufficient to completely change the way jails operate,” he said. “You can do an incredible amount just with design, but in the end, those places have to be run with a sort of principle of human dignity.”</p> <p>Jacobson made reference to the jail facilities in downtown Denver and in San Diego, places that emulate the humanizing principles indicated in the commission’s study; they enhance access to communal living spaces, lines of direct supervision and even natural light. From the outside, they hardly look like a jail.</p> <p>“They’re still gonna be jails, but they don’t have to look or feel anything like those jails do,” Jacobson said. “You want to make it less stressful, less anxiety producing, safer, et cetera, et cetera. You can’t do all that with design, but you can do an incredible amount just with design.”</p> <p>

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by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/rikers-renditions.jpg" alt="rikers renditions" width="600" height="463" /></p> <p>Jail space rendering via <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/577d72ee2e69cfa9dd2b7a5e/t/595d484de4fcb5935fbc34fd/1499285601075/Justice+in+Design+Report.pdf" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&amp;q=https://static1.squarespace.com/static/577d72ee2e69cfa9dd2b7a5e/t/595d484de4fcb5935fbc34fd/1499285601075/Justice%2Bin%2BDesign%2BReport.pdf&amp;source=gmail&amp;ust=1532550868569000&amp;usg=AFQjCNGThA6OpjuL8Tu1oNaqeQ_3yvON1g">"Justice in Design"</a></p> <hr /> <p>The first part of the plan is clear: the jails on Rikers Island will be closed. Less clear is the second part: what, exactly, the replacement jails will look like.</p> <p>Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, empaneled by then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, came to the same conclusion: Rikers – the isolated island, sandwiched between the Bronx and Queens on the East River, holding 10 of the city’s jails and over 7,000 inmates – must be shut down.</p> <p>In June 2017, de Blasio <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/427-17/mayor-de-blasio-smaller-safer-fairer--roadmap-closing-rikers-island-" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announced a broad plan</a> to do just that. His controversial proposal calls for continued reduction of the city’s plummeting jail population and the complete closure of all Rikers facilities within a period of 10 years, with remaining Rikers detainees transferred into jails in other parts of the city, using one facility in each borough other than Staten Island. For the plan to close Rikers to work, de Blasio has said, the city must get from the current 8,000-plus inmates across the city to about 5,000, while expanding or opening four facilities.</p> <p>Challenges and questions remain, one of them being that the existing borough jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens don’t have the capacity to hold even 5,000 detainees (most of the individuals held in Rikers jails are pre-trial and have not been convicted of a crime, though some are serving relatively short sentences).</p> <p>Shutting down Rikers jails requires the expansion or complete reconstruction of the current facilities, as well as erecting a new one in the Bronx. However, another challenge, which may pose far greater obstacles than merely laying down the bricks of these facilities, is establishing the foundation for a new way of thinking when it comes to designing and building jails.</p> <p>“What we emphasized is that we’re trying to reimagine every step of the criminal justice system and, in particular, the jail facilities themselves,” said Jonathan Lippman, the former Chief Judge of the State of New York and the chair of the independent commission, which released a <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/577d72ee2e69cfa9dd2b7a5e/t/58e0d7c08419c29a7b1f2da8/1491130312339/Independent+Commission+Final+Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">study</a> advocating for the total shutdown of Rikers Island last April, preceding the mayor’s proposal, which differs in some ways. “So, wherever we’re having the kind of haphazard, decrepit, depressing conditions that you have now, we’re trying to look at ‘what should it be if you started from scratch?’”</p> <p>The question of jail design is one of the most important facing the city as it moves toward closing Rikers Island, and aims to utilize the jails themselves as part of the equation in helping people transition after a jail stay of any length and reduce the chances they will ever be back.</p> <p>Among others, one task force convened by the de Blasio administration is working on the issue, while a private architecture firm, Perkins Eastman, has been hired in a $7.5 million contract to take the task force’s input into consideration as it makes design and construction plans.</p> <p>The culmination of the efforts of the task force and of Perkins Eastman will first be manifested into the Capital Scope Development Project Study, set for release by the end of this year, which will gauge the costs of the project as well as assess the capacity of the current borough facilities and explore how these facilities may be expanded or completely reconstructed.</p> <p>For Lippman, the new network of jail facilities that will replace Rikers would imitate a “more normative environment that supports rehabilitation while simultaneously providing the neighborhoods with a couple of amenities,” as indicated in his commission’s study. Crafting such jails would mean to upend the existing conditions on Rikers – a place that Lippman calls an “accelerator of human misery,” with rotting floorboards, sewage backups, impaired heating and cooling systems and incessant violence, according to the commission’s report – and, instead, enhance access to natural light, activity spaces, direct supervision and community involvement.</p> <p>The study also indicated the importance of a facility’s geographic location, since proximity to courthouses can cut travel costs of moving detainees from the jails to courthouses and back, and visitors should have easier access to visit their detained loved ones, which is part of reducing recidivism. Rikers Island is accessible to the outside world by one bridge, and anyone attempting a visit to the island can only go by car (although private parking is limited) and bus -- there is no subway access. &nbsp;</p> <p>“I think jails today, modern jails, can actually be a boon to the community,” Lippman said, citing the prosperity of Boerum Hill, the Brooklyn neighborhood where the Brooklyn House of Detention currently stands, “and rebut the idea that being in close proximity to the jail makes people unsafe or that it’s ugly or that it’s destructive to the community.”</p> <p>In another <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/577d72ee2e69cfa9dd2b7a5e/t/595d484de4fcb5935fbc34fd/1499285601075/Justice+in+Design+Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> produced by the Lippman commission and the Van Alen Institute, providing room for civic services, retail shops or community spaces would be a basic function of a jail facility built with the intent of fully integrating into the community it’s in. Such a building would open up part of the first floor to the needs or desires of the community – say, for an art gallery, or a medical clinic, or a social services agency – while the upper floors would be where the jail operates.</p> <p>“This is an opportunity for us, not to recreate what we have, but to really begin to think outside the box in terms of what we want,” said <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7712-max-murphy-podcast-criminal-justice-reform-in-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Stanley Richards</a>, a member of the independent commission and the executive vice president of The Fortune Society, an organization that provides reentry services for formerly incarcerated people.</p> <p>Richards additionally co-chairs the design committee of the mayor’s task force, where he works on developing design principles that will guide architects and general contractors in the design of the borough facilities.</p> <p>“The only principles that were guiding the design and the development of the facilities that we currently have is, ‘How do you keep people detained and keep them away from society? How do you punish people?’ And that’s how they were built,” said Richards, who is formerly incarcerated himself, having spent two years in a Rikers jail. “That is not the design principles that we’re operating from.”</p> <p>One important question on the table is what will be done with the existing, in-use Brooklyn and Manhattan jails, which are in especially busy areas of the city -- will they be refurbished or torn down and constructed anew, using modern design principles?</p> <p>While the decision to expand or overhaul the existing facilities has not yet reached an official decision, Richards said, “Based on the design principles that we’re coming up and based on the capacity we need to build in the borough houses, it is highly unlikely that it will be done in the existing facilities. I believe it will require new facilities.”</p> <p>The recommendations of the commission also provide a basis for what these new facilities have the potential to look like. A network of cells that surround a common living area, for example, can make way for a system of direct supervision, where a correctional officer can oversee more detainees with improved lines of sight. Grouping detainees into housing units based on similar needs or risk-levels also allows officers to apply a more responsive approach when dealing with detainee misconduct, since the traditional approach has been to rely on punitive segregation, or solitary confinement, even for detainees who engage in low-level misconduct.</p> <p>The commission also recommends that inmates have access to a sort of “town center,” or an area that would include a clinic, pharmacy, dining hall, and programming spaces, thus providing detainees more freedom of movement, and they should be furnished in a way that imitates normative settings, with fittings as basic as seated, porcelain toilets and upholstered furniture, all of which contributes to the humanization their detention. The de Blasio administration has already announced programs to provide more education and job training to inmates, and has <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7788-de-blasio-jails-to-jobs-program-launches-close-rikers" target="_blank" rel="noopener">launched the “jails to jobs” program</a> to facilitate short-term employment for those finishing a sentence in a city jail.</p> <p>The mayor and the City Council settled on the sites of the Rikers-replacement facilities in an <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/094-18/mayor-de-blasio-city-council-reach-agreement-replace-rikers-island-jails-with/#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announcement</a> this past February, with the projected borough facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens to be held at the location of the standing detention centers, and the jail in the Bronx being at a city-owned tow pound lot in Mott Haven, though the Bronx site quickly became the subject of <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7715-the-wrong-site-for-a-bronx-jail" target="_blank" rel="noopener">controversy</a> and it is still unclear exactly where <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7486-bronx-electeds-residents-cry-foul-as-mayor-and-council-announce-jail-site" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a Bronx jail</a> will be built.</p> <p>All sites will additionally undergo a single public review process, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, set to kick off either by the end of this year or at the start of 2019, involving hearings with the local community boards, borough presidents, City Council members, and the City Planning Commission. One combined ULURP was announced by the mayor and Council Speaker Corey Johnson in order to speed the process, though some have questioned if that will allow enough local input in each affected community.</p> <p>“New York City is a very different environment to build in and each borough is quite different,” said Elizabeth Glazer, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and co-chair of the Justice Implementation Task Force. “And, so there’s always going to be that sort of tug between the function that the jail must serve and the function that we want it to serve, and how space provides opportunities or constraints as desires.”</p> <p>In May, the city’s average daily jail population <a href="https://rikers.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/rikers-scorecard_may_final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fell to 8,402</a> – the lowest number it has reached since 1981. In a <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/577d72ee2e69cfa9dd2b7a5e/t/5ac77dc070a6ad5c6a346b0f/1523023300603/MJNYC_OneYearFwd_Singles.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">follow-up report</a> produced by the Lippman commission, it is projected that the city could close Rikers as soon as 2024 and even have the new facilities constructed before then. Still, while it is one thing to build the new facilities, it is another to maintain them in a way that keeps them from defaulting back to today’s conditions on Rikers Island.</p> <p>“It’s not a resource issue, but it is an institutional issue about how you treat people, how you classify people, how you house people, how you make security decisions,” said <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7351-what-s-the-data-point-10-with-michael-jacobson" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Michael Jacobson</a>, executive director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance and the city’s correction commissioner from 1995 to 1996. “All of that kind of goes to very poor training issues and a lot of this is gonna be complicated.”</p> <p>Jacobson, who is also a member of the task force’s committee on Culture Change, recalled dealing with staff inefficiency and deteriorating infrastructure during his time as correction commissioner.</p> <p>“The design is necessary but not sufficient to completely change the way jails operate,” he said. “You can do an incredible amount just with design, but in the end, those places have to be run with a sort of principle of human dignity.”</p> <p>Jacobson made reference to the jail facilities in downtown Denver and in San Diego, places that emulate the humanizing principles indicated in the commission’s study; they enhance access to communal living spaces, lines of direct supervision and even natural light. From the outside, they hardly look like a jail.</p> <p>“They’re still gonna be jails, but they don’t have to look or feel anything like those jails do,” Jacobson said. “You want to make it less stressful, less anxiety producing, safer, et cetera, et cetera. You can’t do all that with design, but you can do an incredible amount just with design.”</p> <p>

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by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Pulled to Rikers Closure by Mark-Viverito, Activists 2017-03-31T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-31T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6846-de-blasio-pulled-to-rikers-closure-by-mark-viverito-activists Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/16796625845_570564e71e_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio Rikers" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio at Rikers (photo: Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday that he is putting into motion a planning process to close the jails on Rikers Island. The mayor, a first-term Democrat up for re-election this fall, was pulled somewhat begrudgingly to the politically- and fiscally-tenuous position by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who called for Rikers to be closed in her 2016 State of the City speech and formed a commission to create a plan to do so. That commission, led by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, is set to release its recommendations at a news conference on Sunday.</p> <p>"New York City will close the Rikers Island jail complex," de Blasio said Friday at the outset of a press conference at City Hall, which he held with Mark-Viverito and his criminal justice coordinator, Liz Glazer, and Correction Commissioner Joe Ponte.</p> <p>After news reports about the Lippman Commission plan and support for it surfaced Thursday evening in <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/03/30/plan-to-shut-down-rikers-island-revealed/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The New York Post</a> and <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/03/city-to-announce-10-year-plan-to-shutter-rikers-110898" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a>, the mayor decided to hold the Friday press conference. De Blasio and Mark-Viverito both said they had not yet seen the Lippman report, though a reporter from The New York Times was shown a copy, indicating that the&nbsp;mayor and speaker will explore the broad contours of <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/nyregion/mayor-de-blasio-is-said-to-back-plan-to-close-jails-on-rikers-island.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a 10-year, $10-plus billion plan</a>. As de Blasio said Friday, the city will consider the Lippman Commission plan, but then formulate its own, which will involve continuing efforts to reduce the city’s jails population, which has been decreasing over decades and is currently about 9,300 (three-quarters, or 7,500, of whom are on Rikers) and expanding and creating local jails. The latter is likely to cause a good deal of political turmoil in the city.</p> <p>The mayor and speaker have not decided how many facilities they will seek to open, or what they will do with the city's jails that are not on Rikers, which are home to about 2,400 beds. The mayor said that for the plan to come to fruition over ten years, the total city jail population will need to be around 5,000 and at least two local communities will have to be open to new facilities.</p> <p>De Blasio, who originally called closing down Rikers jails a “noble idea” but virtually implausible, was privately frustrated by the speaker forcing the issue onto his agenda last year. He came around as the plan was being finalized by the commission, and also after a loud, persistent, and well-organized “Close Rikers” coalition had been protesting outside his re-election fundraisers, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/130-opinion/6543-why-we-re-marching-to-close-rikers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">publishing op-eds</a>, and accruing support.</p> <p>On Friday, de Blasio indicated that not only had he needed time to see more of where crime and the jail population in the city were heading during his ongoing tenure, but that Mark-Viverito had been especially persistent.&nbsp;"The Speaker did something extraordinarily important here by looking constantly for a new solution and pushing hard for a path that would get us to this day. And I will be clear, there were many times I could not see that path – and many attempts we made to find a path off of Rikers Island that we did not find effective – but the Speaker kept not only pushing, but offering more and more ideas and more alternatives to help us get there. Her work has been crucial in bringing us to this day."</p> <p>"[T]he Speaker raised this issue with me – and I have to say – dozens of times over the last few years," de Blasio said during a question-and-answer session with reporters. "We had to do a lot of work to figure out a path that actually could achieve this goal. And my feeling in the beginning was – if I didn’t believe it could be done, I wasn’t going to say it could be done."</p> <p>The mayor’s decision to back a Rikers closure plan also comes after many years of terrible conditions at the jails on the island, recently cemented in the public discourse throughout 2014, including from the tragic <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/06/before-the-law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">story of Kalief Browder</a>, who was tormented during his jail stay and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/09/nyregion/kalief-browder-held-at-rikers-island-for-3-years-without-trial-commits-suicide.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">later killed himself</a>, while no charges were ever brought against him.</p> <p>There were also in-depth investigative reports of horrific conditions on the island, particularly <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/14/nyregion/rikers-study-finds-prisoners-injured-by-employees.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by The New York Times</a>, including details of violence in all directions involving guards and inmates, and a lawsuit <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/nyregion/us-plans-to-sue-new-york-over-rikers-island-conditions.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">brought against</a> the city by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York over civil rights violations. De Blasio has indicated that before becoming mayor he did not have a full grasp on how bad things were on Rikers and he has moved a number of reforms on the island, which he has also was long-ignored by his predecessors.</p> <p>There have been calls to shut down the Rikers facilities for years, including by Neil Barsky, who, in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/19/opinion/shut-down-rikers-island.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a 2015 New York Times op-ed</a>, argued that “the only way to transform Rikers is to destroy it; it needs to be permanently closed. The buildings are crumbling. The guard culture of prisoner abuse and the gang culture of violence are ingrained. The complex is New York’s Guantánamo Bay: a secluded island, beyond the gaze of watchdogs, where the Constitution is no guide. It is a place that has outlived its usefulness.”</p> <p>Over time, elected officials like <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5998-stringer-joins-calls-to-shut-down-rikers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Comptroller Scott Stringer</a>, in late 2015,&nbsp;and City Council Member Dan Garodnick, last week, joined calls for Rikers closure; even Governor Andrew Cuomo began to voice the opinion in recent weeks. The "Close Rikers" campaign, which has many coalition members, has been gaining steam in part based on the strategy and force of the activists involved, led by JustLeadershipUSA's Glenn Martin, who was incarcerated at Rikers and has become a leading national voice on criminal justice reform. He has led protests outside de Blasio fundraising events, which have gotten the mayor's attention.</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/mmv_bdb_rikers.jpg" alt="mmv bdb rikers" width="300" height="200" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />For weeks de Blasio has been saying that he would have more to announce about the future of the city’s jails around the time of his executive budget plan, which is due in May. But, the timeline was sped up.</p> <p>In her 2016 State of the City speech, Mark-Viverito <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/press/2016/02/11/46/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>, “Our current Rikers-centric system has been plagued by a culture of violence requiring federal oversight. It is also wildly inefficient.” In announcing the Lippman commission, she concluded, “We must explore how we can get the population of Rikers to be so small that the dream of shutting it down becomes a reality.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s initial public reaction was tepid. On WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show just after Mark-Viverito’s speech, de Blasio called Rikers closure is “a noble idea” and said, “we’re going to work with Judge Lippman...to see what’s possible.” While stressing that no matter what the city must continue improving conditions at Rikers in the short-term, de Blasio said of closure, “any proposal like that would take many years to be achieved.” He promised to “look at every alternative going forward. I have to remind people, it could well cost many billions of dollars and we have to prove that we have the money but we’ll certainly work with the Speaker and Judge Lippman.”</p> <p>Earlier this week, de Blasio announced a new set of education and job-training programs to help those detained at the city’s jails, including a guaranteed temporary job for everyone who has completed a sentence at a city jail. Most of the population at Rikers are pretrial detainees, often those who cannot afford bail, which was the case for Browder. De Blasio and others have been <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6658-much-agreement-on-need-for-bail-reform-but-little-movement" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">working on bail reform</a>, as well as other efforts to reduce the jail population, which includes a City Council-led effort to move enforcement of many low-level, nonviolent offenses from criminal to civil proceedings.</p> <p>When making his reentry program announcement on Wednesday, de Blasio highlighted that the city’s jail population is down 18% since he took office, bolstered by a 23% drop on Rikers Island. Still, the complex has been plagued by violence and is notoriously dangerous, expensive, and antiquated.</p> <p>De Blasio repeatedly stressed on Friday that it will be a long-term plan that could be adjusted. He said a lot will ride on the City Council and the land use process in which individual Council members hold a lot of sway over whether a new facility comes to their district. Mark-Viverito, who is term-limited out of office at the end of this year, promised to fight for the plan into the future. A lot will ride on her successor as Council Speaker, as well as individual members being willing to explore siting a jail facility in their neighborhoods.</p> <p>“Shuttering Rikers would be an audacious move for Mr. de Blasio,” Barsky wrote in 2015, “who would have to find alternatives for the island’s roughly 10,000 overwhelmingly male, African-American and Latino inmates. This may not be as hard as it might seem, though it would probably involve some new or expanded detention facilities in the boroughs, risking not-in-my-backyard blowback.”</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated in several places to include information from Friday's press conference and clarify several points.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/16796625845_570564e71e_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio Rikers" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio at Rikers (photo: Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday that he is putting into motion a planning process to close the jails on Rikers Island. The mayor, a first-term Democrat up for re-election this fall, was pulled somewhat begrudgingly to the politically- and fiscally-tenuous position by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who called for Rikers to be closed in her 2016 State of the City speech and formed a commission to create a plan to do so. That commission, led by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, is set to release its recommendations at a news conference on Sunday.</p> <p>"New York City will close the Rikers Island jail complex," de Blasio said Friday at the outset of a press conference at City Hall, which he held with Mark-Viverito and his criminal justice coordinator, Liz Glazer, and Correction Commissioner Joe Ponte.</p> <p>After news reports about the Lippman Commission plan and support for it surfaced Thursday evening in <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/03/30/plan-to-shut-down-rikers-island-revealed/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The New York Post</a> and <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/03/city-to-announce-10-year-plan-to-shutter-rikers-110898" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a>, the mayor decided to hold the Friday press conference. De Blasio and Mark-Viverito both said they had not yet seen the Lippman report, though a reporter from The New York Times was shown a copy, indicating that the&nbsp;mayor and speaker will explore the broad contours of <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/nyregion/mayor-de-blasio-is-said-to-back-plan-to-close-jails-on-rikers-island.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a 10-year, $10-plus billion plan</a>. As de Blasio said Friday, the city will consider the Lippman Commission plan, but then formulate its own, which will involve continuing efforts to reduce the city’s jails population, which has been decreasing over decades and is currently about 9,300 (three-quarters, or 7,500, of whom are on Rikers) and expanding and creating local jails. The latter is likely to cause a good deal of political turmoil in the city.</p> <p>The mayor and speaker have not decided how many facilities they will seek to open, or what they will do with the city's jails that are not on Rikers, which are home to about 2,400 beds. The mayor said that for the plan to come to fruition over ten years, the total city jail population will need to be around 5,000 and at least two local communities will have to be open to new facilities.</p> <p>De Blasio, who originally called closing down Rikers jails a “noble idea” but virtually implausible, was privately frustrated by the speaker forcing the issue onto his agenda last year. He came around as the plan was being finalized by the commission, and also after a loud, persistent, and well-organized “Close Rikers” coalition had been protesting outside his re-election fundraisers, <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/130-opinion/6543-why-we-re-marching-to-close-rikers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">publishing op-eds</a>, and accruing support.</p> <p>On Friday, de Blasio indicated that not only had he needed time to see more of where crime and the jail population in the city were heading during his ongoing tenure, but that Mark-Viverito had been especially persistent.&nbsp;"The Speaker did something extraordinarily important here by looking constantly for a new solution and pushing hard for a path that would get us to this day. And I will be clear, there were many times I could not see that path – and many attempts we made to find a path off of Rikers Island that we did not find effective – but the Speaker kept not only pushing, but offering more and more ideas and more alternatives to help us get there. Her work has been crucial in bringing us to this day."</p> <p>"[T]he Speaker raised this issue with me – and I have to say – dozens of times over the last few years," de Blasio said during a question-and-answer session with reporters. "We had to do a lot of work to figure out a path that actually could achieve this goal. And my feeling in the beginning was – if I didn’t believe it could be done, I wasn’t going to say it could be done."</p> <p>The mayor’s decision to back a Rikers closure plan also comes after many years of terrible conditions at the jails on the island, recently cemented in the public discourse throughout 2014, including from the tragic <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/06/before-the-law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">story of Kalief Browder</a>, who was tormented during his jail stay and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/09/nyregion/kalief-browder-held-at-rikers-island-for-3-years-without-trial-commits-suicide.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">later killed himself</a>, while no charges were ever brought against him.</p> <p>There were also in-depth investigative reports of horrific conditions on the island, particularly <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/14/nyregion/rikers-study-finds-prisoners-injured-by-employees.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by The New York Times</a>, including details of violence in all directions involving guards and inmates, and a lawsuit <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/nyregion/us-plans-to-sue-new-york-over-rikers-island-conditions.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">brought against</a> the city by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York over civil rights violations. De Blasio has indicated that before becoming mayor he did not have a full grasp on how bad things were on Rikers and he has moved a number of reforms on the island, which he has also was long-ignored by his predecessors.</p> <p>There have been calls to shut down the Rikers facilities for years, including by Neil Barsky, who, in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/19/opinion/shut-down-rikers-island.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a 2015 New York Times op-ed</a>, argued that “the only way to transform Rikers is to destroy it; it needs to be permanently closed. The buildings are crumbling. The guard culture of prisoner abuse and the gang culture of violence are ingrained. The complex is New York’s Guantánamo Bay: a secluded island, beyond the gaze of watchdogs, where the Constitution is no guide. It is a place that has outlived its usefulness.”</p> <p>Over time, elected officials like <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5998-stringer-joins-calls-to-shut-down-rikers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Comptroller Scott Stringer</a>, in late 2015,&nbsp;and City Council Member Dan Garodnick, last week, joined calls for Rikers closure; even Governor Andrew Cuomo began to voice the opinion in recent weeks. The "Close Rikers" campaign, which has many coalition members, has been gaining steam in part based on the strategy and force of the activists involved, led by JustLeadershipUSA's Glenn Martin, who was incarcerated at Rikers and has become a leading national voice on criminal justice reform. He has led protests outside de Blasio fundraising events, which have gotten the mayor's attention.</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/mmv_bdb_rikers.jpg" alt="mmv bdb rikers" width="300" height="200" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" />For weeks de Blasio has been saying that he would have more to announce about the future of the city’s jails around the time of his executive budget plan, which is due in May. But, the timeline was sped up.</p> <p>In her 2016 State of the City speech, Mark-Viverito <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/press/2016/02/11/46/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>, “Our current Rikers-centric system has been plagued by a culture of violence requiring federal oversight. It is also wildly inefficient.” In announcing the Lippman commission, she concluded, “We must explore how we can get the population of Rikers to be so small that the dream of shutting it down becomes a reality.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s initial public reaction was tepid. On WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show just after Mark-Viverito’s speech, de Blasio called Rikers closure is “a noble idea” and said, “we’re going to work with Judge Lippman...to see what’s possible.” While stressing that no matter what the city must continue improving conditions at Rikers in the short-term, de Blasio said of closure, “any proposal like that would take many years to be achieved.” He promised to “look at every alternative going forward. I have to remind people, it could well cost many billions of dollars and we have to prove that we have the money but we’ll certainly work with the Speaker and Judge Lippman.”</p> <p>Earlier this week, de Blasio announced a new set of education and job-training programs to help those detained at the city’s jails, including a guaranteed temporary job for everyone who has completed a sentence at a city jail. Most of the population at Rikers are pretrial detainees, often those who cannot afford bail, which was the case for Browder. De Blasio and others have been <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6658-much-agreement-on-need-for-bail-reform-but-little-movement" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">working on bail reform</a>, as well as other efforts to reduce the jail population, which includes a City Council-led effort to move enforcement of many low-level, nonviolent offenses from criminal to civil proceedings.</p> <p>When making his reentry program announcement on Wednesday, de Blasio highlighted that the city’s jail population is down 18% since he took office, bolstered by a 23% drop on Rikers Island. Still, the complex has been plagued by violence and is notoriously dangerous, expensive, and antiquated.</p> <p>De Blasio repeatedly stressed on Friday that it will be a long-term plan that could be adjusted. He said a lot will ride on the City Council and the land use process in which individual Council members hold a lot of sway over whether a new facility comes to their district. Mark-Viverito, who is term-limited out of office at the end of this year, promised to fight for the plan into the future. A lot will ride on her successor as Council Speaker, as well as individual members being willing to explore siting a jail facility in their neighborhoods.</p> <p>“Shuttering Rikers would be an audacious move for Mr. de Blasio,” Barsky wrote in 2015, “who would have to find alternatives for the island’s roughly 10,000 overwhelmingly male, African-American and Latino inmates. This may not be as hard as it might seem, though it would probably involve some new or expanded detention facilities in the boroughs, risking not-in-my-backyard blowback.”</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated in several places to include information from Friday's press conference and clarify several points.</p>
Much Agreement on Need for Bail Reform, But Little Movement 2016-12-08T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-08T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6658-much-agreement-on-need-for-bail-reform-but-little-movement Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/29104861780_6cb6772e58_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio rikers ponte officers" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">On Rikers Island (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">There is an ongoing conversation in New York about how to fix the bail system that many agree is broken, keeping too many poor people in jail after they are arrested for low-level nonviolent offenses but cannot afford to post bond and, at times, allowing individuals back onto the street who are prone to violence but able to pay bail. Efforts at reform have been full of fits and starts.</p> <p dir="ltr">About a month ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced measures to make it easier for people to pay bail through an online payment system, as opposed to the insistence that bail is paid in person. More recently, City Council Member Rory Lancman introduced <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2895202&amp;GUID=FC7C10BE-F3FA-4388-935C-D01544F0940A&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">legislation</a> that would require a city service provider to furnish judges setting bail with details of a defendant’s financial situation.</p> <p dir="ltr">These latest incremental local reform ideas and others are aimed at chipping away at the problems with the system, but many advocates, legal experts, and elected officials agree that there is a need for an expanded statewide conversation around the culture of bail and actual statutory reform, chiefly to ensure that those with limited material resources are not punished simply for their economic status.</p> <p dir="ltr">Reforming the bail system in New York has been something of a priority at both the city and state levels, though tangible progress has been limited.</p> <p dir="ltr">In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo included the issue in his <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/2016_State_of_the_State_Book.pdf" target="_blank">policy agenda</a> for this year, although there has been little follow-up through legislation. Cuomo proposed requiring judges to assess risk to public safety when making a bail decision -- something de Blasio and others are in agreement with -- and stronger regulations of bail bondsman practices.</p> <p dir="ltr">In New York City, the de Blasio administration has implemented a number of initiatives this year to make bail payments less complicated and to provide alternatives to bail that keep people from being incarcerated. There have also been concerted efforts both in policing practice and through legislation to reduce arrests for low-level offenses in the first place, and arrests are down significantly while the city has become safer in terms of major crimes.</p> <p dir="ltr">The population at Rikers Island jails, where about three-quarters of the city’s jail population is housed, hovers around 7,500 daily, down significantly from peak years over recent decades.</p> <p dir="ltr">In April, the mayor <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/336-16/mayor-de-blasio-citywide-rollout-17-8-million-bail-alternative-program" target="_blank">committed</a> nearly $18 million for a citywide expansion of a supervised release program that will allow as many as 3,000 low-level offenders each year to remain out of jail and work while they await trial. The program cuts down on the use of monetary bail, ensuring that people who are of low risk to public safety but cannot afford bail do not languish in prison.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last month, the mayor announced the creation of a system that allows cash bail to be paid online, by a phone, or through a courthouse kiosk by family members and friends of defendants. The system, due to be launched citywide by the spring, aims at alleviating the difficulty of having to physically visit a corrections facility to pay bail. “Nobody with the ability to pay bail should sit in jail just because the bail process is an inconvenience,” de Blasio said at the announcement.</p> <p dir="ltr">The City Council has also been <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6650-city-council-bail-fund-continues-slow-path-to-reality" target="_blank">inching closer</a> to establishing a public bail fund, which was first announced by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in her February 2015 State of the City speech. The fund received a license from the state Department of Financial Services in August but cannot begin operations until a pending license application for a bail bond agent is approved. If it becomes operational, the fund will provide bail money for qualifying participants so that they can leave jail between arrest and court appearance.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bail reform is a key consideration for the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, a body that was set up at the speaker’s behest earlier this year to recommend broad criminal justice reforms, with an eye toward creating a plan for closing the Rikers Island prison complex. The body is being headed by former New York State chief judge Jonathan Lippman, who, when he filled that role, argued vehemently for bail reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lippman believes that bail reform is moving ahead slowly in the city, but he stressed in a phone interview that there needs to be statutory change in law to effect broad change. “The city is doing really good things but they’re nibbling around the edges, not able to get at the heart of it,” he said. “My belief is that we need cooperation from Albany and we need a new bail statute.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Lippman suggested a two-fold approach to bail: giving judges the authority to assess risk to public safety and the need to “flip the assumption” that someone should be incarcerated instead of being released while waiting for a court date. “Bail doesn’t assure the person coming back and it’s an anachronism,” he said, promising that the commission will directly address the issue when it releases its recommendations sometime in spring 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, when Lippman was serving as chief judge (he was forced to retire due to age restrictions and is now “of counsel” at Latham &amp; Watkins), he <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/02/nyregion/jonathan-lippman-bail-incarceration-new-york-state-chief-judge.html" target="_blank">announced</a> administrative measures to reform the bail system in the absence of legislative action by the state. His own proposals from 2013 to essentially do away with cash bail have not been taken up by legislators in Albany, where Republicans control the state Senate and are often opposed to what is seen as progressive criminal justice reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think we got a lot of attention when I proposed the legislation,” Lippman said, rueing that “getting a lot of attention and getting things done are two different things.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The challenge to changing the bail statute, he said, is the same that creeps up in any issue of criminal justice reform. “Legislators are elected and get into this soft-on-crime/tough-on-crime syndrome,” he said. “I think we need to be smart on crime.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A major impetus to the conversation around bail reform was the tragic death of Kalief Browder, a young Bronx resident who spent three years on Rikers Island awaiting trial on charges of stealing a backpack. Browder couldn’t pay bail but was eventually released when the case was dismissed. In jail, he faced physical and mental abuse and was placed in solitary confinement for nearly two years. In June 2015, Browder committed suicide.</p> <p dir="ltr">The case prompted widespread outrage and besides putting a spotlight on the culture of violence at Rikers, it highlighted the problems in the bail system. Advocates use Browder’s experience as a rallying cry in their push for change.</p> <p dir="ltr">While there’s a lot of agreement that an update of the legal statutes is necessary, there’s a greater need, many say, for reexamining the purpose of the bail mechanism and reeducation in how it is practiced.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Bail, by definition, discriminates against the poor,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris, deputy Democratic Conference leader, who proposed a bill last year to scrap cash bail. “There’s no rational basis for continuing this process.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Gianaris, of Queens, believes that reform is being slowed by a misunderstanding of the issue. “Bail was never intended to keep dangerous people off the street,” he said, pointing out that defendants have a constitutional presumption of innocence and cannot be considered dangerous for the purposes of bail if they haven’t been convicted yet.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Ezra Ritchin, project director of the Bronx Freedom Fund, one of two charitable bail funds already operating in New York City, commends the mayor and the City Council for the steps they’ve taken and says there is an urgency around bail reform at the state level.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re in an important moment right now where there’s a lot of change happening,” he said. “Since Kalief Browder...there has been momentum for reform.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But Ritchin warned, “There are things that we are missing in all of this.” The root of the issue, he said, is the high volume of arrests in New York City, and the consideration that a defendant is likely to miss their court date. “It’s often labeled as flight-risk,” he said. “That’s a massive misunderstanding of what’s going on. No one is fleeing.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s a question of the way that we frame risk,” Ritchin said, referring to the chances that a person might flee or even be a risk to public safety, which is a consideration that both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have proposed as an addition to the bail statute. “What we don’t talk about,” Ritchin said, “is the risk of a person’s life falling apart from being wrenched into the system.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Therein lies the biggest issue for Ritchin, the way the bail statute is put into practice. The current statute allows nine different forms of bail, including cash bail, that a judge can impose, some of which are less onerous.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think the statute, if used correctly, could result in a very different system than the one we see now,” Ritchin said. This “golden question” of how to change the culture of imposing bail, among prosecutors and judges, is one for which Ritchin said he has no clear answer.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Lancman echoed that sentiment. As the chair of the Council’s Committee on Courts and Legal Services, Lancman is at the frontline of this issue. “The major obstacle is the unwillingness of judges and prosecutors to accept other forms of assurances for a defendant...than cash bail or bond, as well as the unwillingness to look at each defendant’s financial circumstances,” Lancman told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “The system in every way possible -- from the city side, the judiciary side, the district attorney’s side, and, to a lesser extent, from the defense’s side -- is not focused on eliminating this reality of people being sent to Rikers Island because they’re poor.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Under the bill Lancman introduced November 29, an arraignment screening organization contracted by the city to provide details about a defendant, including a recommendation on their risk of flight, would also have to include information on a defendant’s ability to pay bail. This is just one of the few ways the city can change how the bail system works, Lancman said, stressing the need for action at multiple levels. “The effort to reform bail requires many stakeholders adopting the new procedures and policies and outlook, which cumulatively would have an effect of greatly reducing the number of people on Rikers Island because they’re poor,” he said.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The understanding that cash bail is a misguided concept has taken hold in an unprecedented way at the city and state level, according to Insha Rahman, senior planner at the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute of Justice. Less than a decade ago, “it wasn’t a part of the rhetoric and conversation around bail as it is now,” Rahman said.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">She insisted that any legislative proposal, such as one that would consider adding public safety as a consideration, should be informed by data obtained through a statewide survey. “The push needs to be to understand the problems with the use of bail statewide to avoid unintended consequences in places where it’s being used effectively as opposed to ineffectively,” she added, pointing out that different counties employ different practices and that the system is far from a monolith even within New York City’s five boroughs.</p> <p dir="ltr">There is no cash bail <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/when-it-comes-to-pretrial-release-few-other-jurisdictions-do-it-dcs-way/2016/07/04/8eb52134-e7d3-11e5-b0fd-073d5930a7b7_story.html?utm_term=.562833e8fc1c" target="_blank">in Washington D.C.</a>, where defendants are only detained if they are considered a risk to public safety. It’s considered a model by many advocates of bail reform in New York. But, as Rahman argued, adding risk as a consideration in setting bail could create problems if not studied carefully. “Any change to that is basically change in the sorting mechanism of who stays in and who is released,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Judge Lippman supports the idea of factoring public risk. So do Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, and they <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6106-dangerousness-aspect-of-cuomos-bail-plan-troubles-reformers" target="_blank">have been criticized</a> for it. The proposal has also held up reform at the state level as different stakeholders struggle to find middle ground. Advocates and legal experts fear that it could deprive defendants of their rights and further institutionalize racism in the judicial system.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cuomo has not changed his stance since he first included it in his 2016 agenda, according to his office. “The Governor continues to champion comprehensive criminal justice reform, including changes to the state’s antiquated bail system,” said Abbey Fashouer, a spokesperson for the governor, in a statement. “New York is one of only four states in the nation that does not currently take into account public safety risks when making bail and release decisions – and it’s past time to develop a new approach.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor recently doubled down on his support for the proposal. During a November 7 appearance on <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/inside-city-hall/2016/11/7/ny1-online---mondays-with-the-mayor--shakeup-at-health-and-hospitals-and-more.html" target="_blank">NY1’s Inside City Hall</a>, de Blasio spoke of the need for bail reform in the context of the fatal shooting of NYPD Sergeant Paul Tuozzolo in the Bronx just three days prior. Tuozzolo was shot and killed by a man who was out on bail and suffered from mental health problems. It was reminiscent of the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/21/nyregion/police-officer-is-shot-in-east-harlem.html" target="_blank">October 2015 killing</a> of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder, which the mayor referenced in the interview as well. Holder was killed in East Harlem while pursuing an armed suspect who had earlier been sentenced to a treatment program by a drug court rather than being sent to jail.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This is a reminder that we need bail reform in the State of New York,” de Blasio told NY1 anchor Errol Louis of Tuozzolo’s murder. “We need to include the question of how dangerous a criminal is in the bail decision because there are times when someone is not – a criminal is not a flight risk, but they are a threat to the community, or they have a profound mental health challenge that needs to be addressed. These issues have to be taken into account and we need a state law that recognizes that bail – judges should have the opportunity to consider the dangerousness of the individual when making a bail decision.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Peter Goldberg, executive director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, said, as others did, that, “The fundamental problem with how bail operates is that it cages presumptively innocent people for their inability to come up with a certain amount of money.” He warns that replacing it with a system that assesses public safety might ignore that presumption as well.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There’s a risk that &nbsp;a system that replaces it will exacerbate existing racial and socioeconomic inequalities,” Goldberg said. “And in any system that looks to judge a person’s dangerousness merely based on the accusation of a crime, the data being used to create that system needs to be made available to the public, to be vigorously validated, but the bedrock principle needs to be the presumption of release.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As 2017 approaches and with it the next budget and legislative agendas for state legislators and the governor, there’s widespread optimism that bail reform will be a priority. Judge Lippman believes the issue has gestated long enough. “That digestive process has already taken place and it’s time to pick it up and run with it,” he said, confident that his commission’s recommendations will be bold and “out of the box” and will not be politically constrained. “Because of the credibility of the commission, because of the depth of the research...no public official is going to be able to fuzz around these issues,” he said. “That releases some of the political pressure.”</p> <p>Senator Gianaris is bullish on bail reform as well. “We’ve seen enough injustice,” he said, “that the time has come to take a comprehensive look at this and get rid of bail once and for all.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/29104861780_6cb6772e58_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio rikers ponte officers" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">On Rikers Island (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">There is an ongoing conversation in New York about how to fix the bail system that many agree is broken, keeping too many poor people in jail after they are arrested for low-level nonviolent offenses but cannot afford to post bond and, at times, allowing individuals back onto the street who are prone to violence but able to pay bail. Efforts at reform have been full of fits and starts.</p> <p dir="ltr">About a month ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced measures to make it easier for people to pay bail through an online payment system, as opposed to the insistence that bail is paid in person. More recently, City Council Member Rory Lancman introduced <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2895202&amp;GUID=FC7C10BE-F3FA-4388-935C-D01544F0940A&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">legislation</a> that would require a city service provider to furnish judges setting bail with details of a defendant’s financial situation.</p> <p dir="ltr">These latest incremental local reform ideas and others are aimed at chipping away at the problems with the system, but many advocates, legal experts, and elected officials agree that there is a need for an expanded statewide conversation around the culture of bail and actual statutory reform, chiefly to ensure that those with limited material resources are not punished simply for their economic status.</p> <p dir="ltr">Reforming the bail system in New York has been something of a priority at both the city and state levels, though tangible progress has been limited.</p> <p dir="ltr">In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo included the issue in his <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/2016_State_of_the_State_Book.pdf" target="_blank">policy agenda</a> for this year, although there has been little follow-up through legislation. Cuomo proposed requiring judges to assess risk to public safety when making a bail decision -- something de Blasio and others are in agreement with -- and stronger regulations of bail bondsman practices.</p> <p dir="ltr">In New York City, the de Blasio administration has implemented a number of initiatives this year to make bail payments less complicated and to provide alternatives to bail that keep people from being incarcerated. There have also been concerted efforts both in policing practice and through legislation to reduce arrests for low-level offenses in the first place, and arrests are down significantly while the city has become safer in terms of major crimes.</p> <p dir="ltr">The population at Rikers Island jails, where about three-quarters of the city’s jail population is housed, hovers around 7,500 daily, down significantly from peak years over recent decades.</p> <p dir="ltr">In April, the mayor <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/336-16/mayor-de-blasio-citywide-rollout-17-8-million-bail-alternative-program" target="_blank">committed</a> nearly $18 million for a citywide expansion of a supervised release program that will allow as many as 3,000 low-level offenders each year to remain out of jail and work while they await trial. The program cuts down on the use of monetary bail, ensuring that people who are of low risk to public safety but cannot afford bail do not languish in prison.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last month, the mayor announced the creation of a system that allows cash bail to be paid online, by a phone, or through a courthouse kiosk by family members and friends of defendants. The system, due to be launched citywide by the spring, aims at alleviating the difficulty of having to physically visit a corrections facility to pay bail. “Nobody with the ability to pay bail should sit in jail just because the bail process is an inconvenience,” de Blasio said at the announcement.</p> <p dir="ltr">The City Council has also been <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6650-city-council-bail-fund-continues-slow-path-to-reality" target="_blank">inching closer</a> to establishing a public bail fund, which was first announced by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in her February 2015 State of the City speech. The fund received a license from the state Department of Financial Services in August but cannot begin operations until a pending license application for a bail bond agent is approved. If it becomes operational, the fund will provide bail money for qualifying participants so that they can leave jail between arrest and court appearance.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bail reform is a key consideration for the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, a body that was set up at the speaker’s behest earlier this year to recommend broad criminal justice reforms, with an eye toward creating a plan for closing the Rikers Island prison complex. The body is being headed by former New York State chief judge Jonathan Lippman, who, when he filled that role, argued vehemently for bail reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lippman believes that bail reform is moving ahead slowly in the city, but he stressed in a phone interview that there needs to be statutory change in law to effect broad change. “The city is doing really good things but they’re nibbling around the edges, not able to get at the heart of it,” he said. “My belief is that we need cooperation from Albany and we need a new bail statute.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Lippman suggested a two-fold approach to bail: giving judges the authority to assess risk to public safety and the need to “flip the assumption” that someone should be incarcerated instead of being released while waiting for a court date. “Bail doesn’t assure the person coming back and it’s an anachronism,” he said, promising that the commission will directly address the issue when it releases its recommendations sometime in spring 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, when Lippman was serving as chief judge (he was forced to retire due to age restrictions and is now “of counsel” at Latham &amp; Watkins), he <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/02/nyregion/jonathan-lippman-bail-incarceration-new-york-state-chief-judge.html" target="_blank">announced</a> administrative measures to reform the bail system in the absence of legislative action by the state. His own proposals from 2013 to essentially do away with cash bail have not been taken up by legislators in Albany, where Republicans control the state Senate and are often opposed to what is seen as progressive criminal justice reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think we got a lot of attention when I proposed the legislation,” Lippman said, rueing that “getting a lot of attention and getting things done are two different things.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The challenge to changing the bail statute, he said, is the same that creeps up in any issue of criminal justice reform. “Legislators are elected and get into this soft-on-crime/tough-on-crime syndrome,” he said. “I think we need to be smart on crime.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A major impetus to the conversation around bail reform was the tragic death of Kalief Browder, a young Bronx resident who spent three years on Rikers Island awaiting trial on charges of stealing a backpack. Browder couldn’t pay bail but was eventually released when the case was dismissed. In jail, he faced physical and mental abuse and was placed in solitary confinement for nearly two years. In June 2015, Browder committed suicide.</p> <p dir="ltr">The case prompted widespread outrage and besides putting a spotlight on the culture of violence at Rikers, it highlighted the problems in the bail system. Advocates use Browder’s experience as a rallying cry in their push for change.</p> <p dir="ltr">While there’s a lot of agreement that an update of the legal statutes is necessary, there’s a greater need, many say, for reexamining the purpose of the bail mechanism and reeducation in how it is practiced.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Bail, by definition, discriminates against the poor,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris, deputy Democratic Conference leader, who proposed a bill last year to scrap cash bail. “There’s no rational basis for continuing this process.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Gianaris, of Queens, believes that reform is being slowed by a misunderstanding of the issue. “Bail was never intended to keep dangerous people off the street,” he said, pointing out that defendants have a constitutional presumption of innocence and cannot be considered dangerous for the purposes of bail if they haven’t been convicted yet.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Ezra Ritchin, project director of the Bronx Freedom Fund, one of two charitable bail funds already operating in New York City, commends the mayor and the City Council for the steps they’ve taken and says there is an urgency around bail reform at the state level.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re in an important moment right now where there’s a lot of change happening,” he said. “Since Kalief Browder...there has been momentum for reform.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But Ritchin warned, “There are things that we are missing in all of this.” The root of the issue, he said, is the high volume of arrests in New York City, and the consideration that a defendant is likely to miss their court date. “It’s often labeled as flight-risk,” he said. “That’s a massive misunderstanding of what’s going on. No one is fleeing.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s a question of the way that we frame risk,” Ritchin said, referring to the chances that a person might flee or even be a risk to public safety, which is a consideration that both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have proposed as an addition to the bail statute. “What we don’t talk about,” Ritchin said, “is the risk of a person’s life falling apart from being wrenched into the system.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Therein lies the biggest issue for Ritchin, the way the bail statute is put into practice. The current statute allows nine different forms of bail, including cash bail, that a judge can impose, some of which are less onerous.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think the statute, if used correctly, could result in a very different system than the one we see now,” Ritchin said. This “golden question” of how to change the culture of imposing bail, among prosecutors and judges, is one for which Ritchin said he has no clear answer.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Lancman echoed that sentiment. As the chair of the Council’s Committee on Courts and Legal Services, Lancman is at the frontline of this issue. “The major obstacle is the unwillingness of judges and prosecutors to accept other forms of assurances for a defendant...than cash bail or bond, as well as the unwillingness to look at each defendant’s financial circumstances,” Lancman told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “The system in every way possible -- from the city side, the judiciary side, the district attorney’s side, and, to a lesser extent, from the defense’s side -- is not focused on eliminating this reality of people being sent to Rikers Island because they’re poor.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Under the bill Lancman introduced November 29, an arraignment screening organization contracted by the city to provide details about a defendant, including a recommendation on their risk of flight, would also have to include information on a defendant’s ability to pay bail. This is just one of the few ways the city can change how the bail system works, Lancman said, stressing the need for action at multiple levels. “The effort to reform bail requires many stakeholders adopting the new procedures and policies and outlook, which cumulatively would have an effect of greatly reducing the number of people on Rikers Island because they’re poor,” he said.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The understanding that cash bail is a misguided concept has taken hold in an unprecedented way at the city and state level, according to Insha Rahman, senior planner at the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute of Justice. Less than a decade ago, “it wasn’t a part of the rhetoric and conversation around bail as it is now,” Rahman said.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">She insisted that any legislative proposal, such as one that would consider adding public safety as a consideration, should be informed by data obtained through a statewide survey. “The push needs to be to understand the problems with the use of bail statewide to avoid unintended consequences in places where it’s being used effectively as opposed to ineffectively,” she added, pointing out that different counties employ different practices and that the system is far from a monolith even within New York City’s five boroughs.</p> <p dir="ltr">There is no cash bail <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/when-it-comes-to-pretrial-release-few-other-jurisdictions-do-it-dcs-way/2016/07/04/8eb52134-e7d3-11e5-b0fd-073d5930a7b7_story.html?utm_term=.562833e8fc1c" target="_blank">in Washington D.C.</a>, where defendants are only detained if they are considered a risk to public safety. It’s considered a model by many advocates of bail reform in New York. But, as Rahman argued, adding risk as a consideration in setting bail could create problems if not studied carefully. “Any change to that is basically change in the sorting mechanism of who stays in and who is released,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Judge Lippman supports the idea of factoring public risk. So do Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, and they <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6106-dangerousness-aspect-of-cuomos-bail-plan-troubles-reformers" target="_blank">have been criticized</a> for it. The proposal has also held up reform at the state level as different stakeholders struggle to find middle ground. Advocates and legal experts fear that it could deprive defendants of their rights and further institutionalize racism in the judicial system.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cuomo has not changed his stance since he first included it in his 2016 agenda, according to his office. “The Governor continues to champion comprehensive criminal justice reform, including changes to the state’s antiquated bail system,” said Abbey Fashouer, a spokesperson for the governor, in a statement. “New York is one of only four states in the nation that does not currently take into account public safety risks when making bail and release decisions – and it’s past time to develop a new approach.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor recently doubled down on his support for the proposal. During a November 7 appearance on <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/inside-city-hall/2016/11/7/ny1-online---mondays-with-the-mayor--shakeup-at-health-and-hospitals-and-more.html" target="_blank">NY1’s Inside City Hall</a>, de Blasio spoke of the need for bail reform in the context of the fatal shooting of NYPD Sergeant Paul Tuozzolo in the Bronx just three days prior. Tuozzolo was shot and killed by a man who was out on bail and suffered from mental health problems. It was reminiscent of the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/21/nyregion/police-officer-is-shot-in-east-harlem.html" target="_blank">October 2015 killing</a> of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder, which the mayor referenced in the interview as well. Holder was killed in East Harlem while pursuing an armed suspect who had earlier been sentenced to a treatment program by a drug court rather than being sent to jail.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This is a reminder that we need bail reform in the State of New York,” de Blasio told NY1 anchor Errol Louis of Tuozzolo’s murder. “We need to include the question of how dangerous a criminal is in the bail decision because there are times when someone is not – a criminal is not a flight risk, but they are a threat to the community, or they have a profound mental health challenge that needs to be addressed. These issues have to be taken into account and we need a state law that recognizes that bail – judges should have the opportunity to consider the dangerousness of the individual when making a bail decision.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Peter Goldberg, executive director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, said, as others did, that, “The fundamental problem with how bail operates is that it cages presumptively innocent people for their inability to come up with a certain amount of money.” He warns that replacing it with a system that assesses public safety might ignore that presumption as well.</p> <p dir="ltr">“There’s a risk that &nbsp;a system that replaces it will exacerbate existing racial and socioeconomic inequalities,” Goldberg said. “And in any system that looks to judge a person’s dangerousness merely based on the accusation of a crime, the data being used to create that system needs to be made available to the public, to be vigorously validated, but the bedrock principle needs to be the presumption of release.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As 2017 approaches and with it the next budget and legislative agendas for state legislators and the governor, there’s widespread optimism that bail reform will be a priority. Judge Lippman believes the issue has gestated long enough. “That digestive process has already taken place and it’s time to pick it up and run with it,” he said, confident that his commission’s recommendations will be bold and “out of the box” and will not be politically constrained. “Because of the credibility of the commission, because of the depth of the research...no public official is going to be able to fuzz around these issues,” he said. “That releases some of the political pressure.”</p> <p>Senator Gianaris is bullish on bail reform as well. “We’ve seen enough injustice,” he said, “that the time has come to take a comprehensive look at this and get rid of bail once and for all.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Shut Down the Criminal Court 2016-02-24T21:23:54+00:00 2016-02-24T21:23:54+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6190-shut-down-the-criminal-court Super User <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/courtroom.jpg" alt="courtroom" width="600" height="374" /></p> <hr /> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito should be commended for using her State of the City address, titled "More Justice," <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6164-mark-viverito-doubles-down-on-criminal-justice-reform-in-state-of-the-city" target="_blank">to call for criminal justice reform</a>. She rightly observes that "we need more justice in the justice system" and ticked off some specific goals, including reducing the population at Rikers Island, creating civil procedures for minor violations, and improving the warrant process. However, the speaker must aim higher if she truly wants "more justice." More specifically, just as she referred to the "dream" of shutting down Rikers Island, so too should she call for abolishing the present Criminal Court.</p> <p>While the tactics of the NYPD have been subject to vigorous debate, and the horrific conditions at Rikers Island have been increasingly exposed, <a href="https://www.nycourts.gov/COURTS/nyc/criminal/cc_annl_rpt_2014.pdf" target="_blank">the Criminal Court</a>, the entity that reviews arrests and metes out sentences, has been free from any serious scrutiny.</p> <p>Last year, about 350,000 people were arraigned in the city's Criminal Courts. More than 90% of the defendants were black or Latino. Only 14% of the cases were felonies and owing to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton's devotion to "broken windows" policing, misdemeanors and violations accounted for a whopping 81%. Almost 60% of those cases ended at arraignment, the accused's first appearance before a judge - a moment in time when the prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge don't know much of anything about the charges, the accused, the arresting officer, or any actual victim. This is not anyone's conception of a "court."</p> <p>The speaker's call for "more" justice assumes there is already some amount present. It is hard to imagine the word "justice" occurring to anyone observing the court in action. Instead, it is as it has always been – an assembly line concerned primarily, if not exclusively, with rushing through cases. It is no secret that court administrators regularly evaluate judges on the speed with which they move their calendars and the number of guilty pleas they obtain in the process.</p> <p>Most people assume that the Criminal Court adjudicates guilt or innocence with witnesses testifying under oath, an attentive jury, and a judge at the helm. In fact, there are virtually no jury trials in the Criminal Court as defendants are pressured in myriad ways to plead guilty or resolve their cases in any way other than a trial.</p> <p>Consider this – the average time citywide from arraignment until the start of jury trial is 570 days. In the Bronx it is 826 days. Who can languish in jail or repeatedly come back to court for that long a period of time without experiencing emotional strain, missed work, missed school, etc.?</p> <p>More deliberately pernicious is the time-honored "trial tax" – defendants are aware that they will get severely sentenced if convicted for having the temerity to exercise their constitutional right to a trial by jury. The result? In 2014, there were only 175 jury trials in the entire New York City Criminal Court (about 1/20 of 1% of the cases that entered the court the same year). On the other hand, there were about 175,000 guilty pleas.</p> <p>Most people assume that the Criminal Court adjudicates the constitutionality of the arrest, as even non-lawyers are familiar with the prohibition against illegal search and seizure. However, pretrial suppression hearings, where officers testify under oath and judges determine whether they acted legally, are as rare as jury trials. It took a trial in federal court for a judge to find that the NYPD was engaging in hundreds of thousands of violations of the Fourth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. If the Criminal Court focused on its role as protector of constitutional rights and less on its self-imposed mandate to speed through cases, the stop-and-frisk debacle might have been stopped in its tracks years earlier.</p> <p>What, then, does the Criminal Court actually do? Twenty-five years ago, a colleague examined Criminal Court data and argued that the court didn't do anything of substance. He found that the court failed to assure that persons accused of crime are accorded their rights under law, failed to seriously assess guilt or innocence, failed to mete out any kind of meaningful sentence to those ultimately convicted, and cost the taxpayer a huge sum of money. He pointed to the lack of adversarial litigation and concluded that the Court's essential function was taking guilty pleas to minor charges. As a result, he suggested it should be abolished.</p> <p>I disagreed then, and still do now, with his finding that the Criminal Court didn't do much of anything significant. The Criminal Court does many things. Daily, it processes a multitude of young men of color, saddles them with arrest or criminal records, and renders them less employable, less likely to get into college, less able to get loans, less able to get licenses, etc. That reality breeds frustration, pain, anger, and alienation.</p> <p>The Criminal Court brings in revenue. Ferguson, Missouri is not the only city that grows its coffers through its criminal justice system. In 2014, fines, surcharges, bail and related fees netted $31,884,569 - that's just under $32 million.</p> <p>Ultimately, the Criminal Court is a highly efficient instrument of social control that maintains the status quo (or, as our Mayor might say, it perpetuates a tale of two cities).</p> <p>Yet, while I reject my colleague's conclusion, I agree wholeheartedly with his ultimate recommendation -- the Criminal Court should be abolished. This goal is not so far-fetched. Consider that while advocates for prison abolition were initially seen as wild-eyed dreamers, we now hear that Speaker Mark-Viverito's "dream" of shutting down Rikers Island even has the support of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio conceded that the Criminal Court needed to be re-examined several months ago when he announced his "<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/235-15/mayor-de-blasio-chief-judge-lippman-justice-reboot-initiative-modernize-the" target="_blank">Justice Reboot</a>" initiative. However, meaningful change requires more than shutting down and restarting or tinkering with the same basic program. The usual slate of reforms offered to improve the Criminal Court – generally centered around the supposed need for swifter dispositions – will accomplish little. A reduced backlog won't change the color of the defendants nor the continued meting out of unnecessary and undeserved criminal records.</p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito recognizes the dysfunction that characterizes the Criminal Court. She is creating a commission, headed by New York's former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, charged with re-imagining "our entire criminal justice system."</p> <p>To his credit, Judge Lippman has already promised to "pull no punches." That is exactly the right approach. The Criminal Court hasn't been fundamentally changed since its inception in 1962 and has repeatedly been referred to as a system in crisis. It is well past time for a new approach that focuses on assessing the nature and quality of justice delivered instead of the quantity and alacrity of cases disposed. Isn't that the true measure of a "court?"</p> <p>***<br />Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law.</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/2016/courtroom.jpg" alt="courtroom" width="600" height="374" /></p> <hr /> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito should be commended for using her State of the City address, titled "More Justice," <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6164-mark-viverito-doubles-down-on-criminal-justice-reform-in-state-of-the-city" target="_blank">to call for criminal justice reform</a>. She rightly observes that "we need more justice in the justice system" and ticked off some specific goals, including reducing the population at Rikers Island, creating civil procedures for minor violations, and improving the warrant process. However, the speaker must aim higher if she truly wants "more justice." More specifically, just as she referred to the "dream" of shutting down Rikers Island, so too should she call for abolishing the present Criminal Court.</p> <p>While the tactics of the NYPD have been subject to vigorous debate, and the horrific conditions at Rikers Island have been increasingly exposed, <a href="https://www.nycourts.gov/COURTS/nyc/criminal/cc_annl_rpt_2014.pdf" target="_blank">the Criminal Court</a>, the entity that reviews arrests and metes out sentences, has been free from any serious scrutiny.</p> <p>Last year, about 350,000 people were arraigned in the city's Criminal Courts. More than 90% of the defendants were black or Latino. Only 14% of the cases were felonies and owing to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton's devotion to "broken windows" policing, misdemeanors and violations accounted for a whopping 81%. Almost 60% of those cases ended at arraignment, the accused's first appearance before a judge - a moment in time when the prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge don't know much of anything about the charges, the accused, the arresting officer, or any actual victim. This is not anyone's conception of a "court."</p> <p>The speaker's call for "more" justice assumes there is already some amount present. It is hard to imagine the word "justice" occurring to anyone observing the court in action. Instead, it is as it has always been – an assembly line concerned primarily, if not exclusively, with rushing through cases. It is no secret that court administrators regularly evaluate judges on the speed with which they move their calendars and the number of guilty pleas they obtain in the process.</p> <p>Most people assume that the Criminal Court adjudicates guilt or innocence with witnesses testifying under oath, an attentive jury, and a judge at the helm. In fact, there are virtually no jury trials in the Criminal Court as defendants are pressured in myriad ways to plead guilty or resolve their cases in any way other than a trial.</p> <p>Consider this – the average time citywide from arraignment until the start of jury trial is 570 days. In the Bronx it is 826 days. Who can languish in jail or repeatedly come back to court for that long a period of time without experiencing emotional strain, missed work, missed school, etc.?</p> <p>More deliberately pernicious is the time-honored "trial tax" – defendants are aware that they will get severely sentenced if convicted for having the temerity to exercise their constitutional right to a trial by jury. The result? In 2014, there were only 175 jury trials in the entire New York City Criminal Court (about 1/20 of 1% of the cases that entered the court the same year). On the other hand, there were about 175,000 guilty pleas.</p> <p>Most people assume that the Criminal Court adjudicates the constitutionality of the arrest, as even non-lawyers are familiar with the prohibition against illegal search and seizure. However, pretrial suppression hearings, where officers testify under oath and judges determine whether they acted legally, are as rare as jury trials. It took a trial in federal court for a judge to find that the NYPD was engaging in hundreds of thousands of violations of the Fourth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. If the Criminal Court focused on its role as protector of constitutional rights and less on its self-imposed mandate to speed through cases, the stop-and-frisk debacle might have been stopped in its tracks years earlier.</p> <p>What, then, does the Criminal Court actually do? Twenty-five years ago, a colleague examined Criminal Court data and argued that the court didn't do anything of substance. He found that the court failed to assure that persons accused of crime are accorded their rights under law, failed to seriously assess guilt or innocence, failed to mete out any kind of meaningful sentence to those ultimately convicted, and cost the taxpayer a huge sum of money. He pointed to the lack of adversarial litigation and concluded that the Court's essential function was taking guilty pleas to minor charges. As a result, he suggested it should be abolished.</p> <p>I disagreed then, and still do now, with his finding that the Criminal Court didn't do much of anything significant. The Criminal Court does many things. Daily, it processes a multitude of young men of color, saddles them with arrest or criminal records, and renders them less employable, less likely to get into college, less able to get loans, less able to get licenses, etc. That reality breeds frustration, pain, anger, and alienation.</p> <p>The Criminal Court brings in revenue. Ferguson, Missouri is not the only city that grows its coffers through its criminal justice system. In 2014, fines, surcharges, bail and related fees netted $31,884,569 - that's just under $32 million.</p> <p>Ultimately, the Criminal Court is a highly efficient instrument of social control that maintains the status quo (or, as our Mayor might say, it perpetuates a tale of two cities).</p> <p>Yet, while I reject my colleague's conclusion, I agree wholeheartedly with his ultimate recommendation -- the Criminal Court should be abolished. This goal is not so far-fetched. Consider that while advocates for prison abolition were initially seen as wild-eyed dreamers, we now hear that Speaker Mark-Viverito's "dream" of shutting down Rikers Island even has the support of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio conceded that the Criminal Court needed to be re-examined several months ago when he announced his "<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/235-15/mayor-de-blasio-chief-judge-lippman-justice-reboot-initiative-modernize-the" target="_blank">Justice Reboot</a>" initiative. However, meaningful change requires more than shutting down and restarting or tinkering with the same basic program. The usual slate of reforms offered to improve the Criminal Court – generally centered around the supposed need for swifter dispositions – will accomplish little. A reduced backlog won't change the color of the defendants nor the continued meting out of unnecessary and undeserved criminal records.</p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito recognizes the dysfunction that characterizes the Criminal Court. She is creating a commission, headed by New York's former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, charged with re-imagining "our entire criminal justice system."</p> <p>To his credit, Judge Lippman has already promised to "pull no punches." That is exactly the right approach. The Criminal Court hasn't been fundamentally changed since its inception in 1962 and has repeatedly been referred to as a system in crisis. It is well past time for a new approach that focuses on assessing the nature and quality of justice delivered instead of the quantity and alacrity of cases disposed. Isn't that the true measure of a "court?"</p> <p>***<br />Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law.</p> <p>

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

</p>
To Eradicate Sex Trafficking, Prosecute the Pimps and Buyers 2016-02-01T22:17:30+00:00 2016-02-01T22:17:30+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6133-to-eradicate-sex-trafficking-prosecute-the-pimps-and-buyers Super User <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/ehibibcb.jpg" alt="hersh" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Lauren Hersh, the author (at podium), and other activists&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>Sarah was 13 years old when she was lured into prostitution by two men from her New York City neighborhood. For the next two years, she was sold to buyers who were eager to purchase her adolescent body. Her pimp required her to meet a quota and when she didn't, she was brutalized.</p> <p>There were many moments when Sarah tried to leave the life of prostitution. Each time, her exploiter would threaten to harm her or worse, her little sister. Sarah felt helpless and trapped. So, she stayed.</p> <p>Sarah was bought by men who wore business suits and went home to their wives and children. The money they paid would pass through Sarah's hands and land in her pimp's pocket. While her pimp and the buyers operated with impunity, Sarah was harassed and arrested by police more times than she could count.</p> <p>For years, New York court dockets were filled with women and girls who were pulled off the street, brought before judges, sent to jail, and then returned back into the hands of their exploiters. This vicious cycle was fueled by laws that failed to adequately protect victims and a public perception that people in prostitution were there of their own free will and should be punished in an effort to "clean up the streets."</p> <p>In 2013, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman created Human Trafficking Intervention Courts after recognizing that the vast majority of women arrested for prostitution were, in fact, victims of trafficking or other forms of exploitation. These courts sought to provide people in prostitution with exit strategies and comprehensive services, instead of jail time and criminal records.</p> <p>Simultaneously, a widespread movement to change the New York State Human Trafficking Laws was gaining momentum. Survivors and advocates were frustrated that in New York, sex trafficking was still a non-violent felony and people who purchased children for sex were receiving lower penalties than those who committed a purse snatch.</p> <p>District Attorneys needed better tools to prosecute exploiters. Victims needed better protections. Change was necessary to reflect the growing understanding that in order to eliminate trafficking, it was necessary to hold traffickers and buyers accountable, not people in prostitution.</p> <p>Albany responded to pleas for progress. In October 2015, Governor Cuomo signed the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act into law, a comprehensive bill that increases accountability for those who exploit, while providing protections for some of society's most marginalized. Last week, survivors around the state cheered as this law went into effect.</p> <p>The Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act can absolutely be a game changer. But, like any law, it makes no difference if it is not enforced. And this is a significant task.</p> <p>Sarah's experience with our criminal justice system signals a need for change.</p> <p>Specifically, we need widespread police training not only about the new law, but the complexity of exploitation and best practices for prevention. Police departments must continue to shift perspectives on prostitution.</p> <p>Government resources must be used to prosecute traffickers and to eliminate the demand for prostitution by going after buyers. It's a simple case of supply and demand: without buyers, there's no profit for the sellers. Successful trafficking prevention must include sex-buyer accountability.</p> <p>Law enforcement cannot eliminate trafficking alone. Resources must be allocated to heighten community awareness and provide in-depth training for those on the front lines. School teachers, medical professionals, and those working with children in foster care, LGBT youth and other vulnerable populations often meet young victims, but without adequate trafficking training, they may miss critical signs of exploitation.</p> <p>Today, Sarah* is a lawyer and one of the fiercest anti-trafficking advocates you will ever meet. But she can't do it alone. The notion that prostitution is a victimless crime must be banished from our vernacular. People in prostitution must be seen for what they are: victims of modern-day slavery and sexual violence.</p> <p>It's incumbent on all of us – including our elected officials at the federal, state and local levels, the judiciary, law enforcement, and everyday citizens – to do what we can to prevent even one young girl from living the hell that Sarah endured.</p> <p><em>*Note: Sarah (a pseudonym), is now in her late twenties and still receives threats against her life from her former pimp. Her safety requires full anonymity.</em></p> <p>***<br />Lauren Hersh is Director of Anti-Trafficking Policy and Advocacy at the NYC-based <a href="https://www.sanctuaryforfamilies.org/" target="_blank">Sanctuary for Families</a>, a leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender violence.</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/2014/03/ehibibcb.jpg" alt="hersh" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Lauren Hersh, the author (at podium), and other activists&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>Sarah was 13 years old when she was lured into prostitution by two men from her New York City neighborhood. For the next two years, she was sold to buyers who were eager to purchase her adolescent body. Her pimp required her to meet a quota and when she didn't, she was brutalized.</p> <p>There were many moments when Sarah tried to leave the life of prostitution. Each time, her exploiter would threaten to harm her or worse, her little sister. Sarah felt helpless and trapped. So, she stayed.</p> <p>Sarah was bought by men who wore business suits and went home to their wives and children. The money they paid would pass through Sarah's hands and land in her pimp's pocket. While her pimp and the buyers operated with impunity, Sarah was harassed and arrested by police more times than she could count.</p> <p>For years, New York court dockets were filled with women and girls who were pulled off the street, brought before judges, sent to jail, and then returned back into the hands of their exploiters. This vicious cycle was fueled by laws that failed to adequately protect victims and a public perception that people in prostitution were there of their own free will and should be punished in an effort to "clean up the streets."</p> <p>In 2013, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman created Human Trafficking Intervention Courts after recognizing that the vast majority of women arrested for prostitution were, in fact, victims of trafficking or other forms of exploitation. These courts sought to provide people in prostitution with exit strategies and comprehensive services, instead of jail time and criminal records.</p> <p>Simultaneously, a widespread movement to change the New York State Human Trafficking Laws was gaining momentum. Survivors and advocates were frustrated that in New York, sex trafficking was still a non-violent felony and people who purchased children for sex were receiving lower penalties than those who committed a purse snatch.</p> <p>District Attorneys needed better tools to prosecute exploiters. Victims needed better protections. Change was necessary to reflect the growing understanding that in order to eliminate trafficking, it was necessary to hold traffickers and buyers accountable, not people in prostitution.</p> <p>Albany responded to pleas for progress. In October 2015, Governor Cuomo signed the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act into law, a comprehensive bill that increases accountability for those who exploit, while providing protections for some of society's most marginalized. Last week, survivors around the state cheered as this law went into effect.</p> <p>The Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act can absolutely be a game changer. But, like any law, it makes no difference if it is not enforced. And this is a significant task.</p> <p>Sarah's experience with our criminal justice system signals a need for change.</p> <p>Specifically, we need widespread police training not only about the new law, but the complexity of exploitation and best practices for prevention. Police departments must continue to shift perspectives on prostitution.</p> <p>Government resources must be used to prosecute traffickers and to eliminate the demand for prostitution by going after buyers. It's a simple case of supply and demand: without buyers, there's no profit for the sellers. Successful trafficking prevention must include sex-buyer accountability.</p> <p>Law enforcement cannot eliminate trafficking alone. Resources must be allocated to heighten community awareness and provide in-depth training for those on the front lines. School teachers, medical professionals, and those working with children in foster care, LGBT youth and other vulnerable populations often meet young victims, but without adequate trafficking training, they may miss critical signs of exploitation.</p> <p>Today, Sarah* is a lawyer and one of the fiercest anti-trafficking advocates you will ever meet. But she can't do it alone. The notion that prostitution is a victimless crime must be banished from our vernacular. People in prostitution must be seen for what they are: victims of modern-day slavery and sexual violence.</p> <p>It's incumbent on all of us – including our elected officials at the federal, state and local levels, the judiciary, law enforcement, and everyday citizens – to do what we can to prevent even one young girl from living the hell that Sarah endured.</p> <p><em>*Note: Sarah (a pseudonym), is now in her late twenties and still receives threats against her life from her former pimp. Her safety requires full anonymity.</em></p> <p>***<br />Lauren Hersh is Director of Anti-Trafficking Policy and Advocacy at the NYC-based <a href="https://www.sanctuaryforfamilies.org/" target="_blank">Sanctuary for Families</a>, a leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender violence.</p> <p>

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

</p>