Gotham Gazette

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Criminal Justice

Stated Meeting: Crane Safety Beefed Up

In the wake of another construction fatality last week, the City Council passed three bills Thursday aimed at increasing safety at building sites with cranes, including increasing coordination between operators and engineers and limiting the use of nylon straps.

The council also approved legislation prohibiting individuals from climbing or basejumping off of buildings.

Crane Safety

At approximately 9:30 a.m. Thursday, a 48-year-old construction worker plummeted 40 stories to his death. He fell from the platform of a crane, where his harness was not properly secured.

That afternoon, the council unanimously approved three bills – part of a package of proposals introduced following two fatal crane accidents earlier this year. Most of the other measures have already been passed.

Thursday's accident was the third in six months. City officials suspended the license for the site's master rigger after an investigation found he had not supervised the crane operation.

The bills come as the city buildings department continues to be under intense scrutiny. Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the legilsation is not meant to restrict development but to enhance safety.

"Yes, we want development to happen in New York," said Quinn. "But we're not going to compromise safety."

The first bill (Intro 796 ) requires an engineer or rigger draft a plan for the crane's operation and submit it to the city's Department of Buildings. It also requires pre-jump safety meetings, which the department must be notified of at least 48 hours beforehand.

Another bill (Intro 794) requires crane operators take a 30-hour training course at least every five years. The final bill ( Intro 795) will restrict the use of nylon strings to hold cranes in place. A crane accident in March, which killed seven people, could have been caused by the failure of nylon straps.

Scaling Structures

In early June, two men in one day – one a skilled climber, another reportedly raising awareness for malaria – scaled the New York Times building.

The incident caught the attention of one member of the City Council, who introduced legislation (Intro 721) that would make it easier to prosecute people who try similar stunts. Councilmember Peter Vallone said that previously prosecutors had to prove the climber recklessly endangered the public. Now, he said, just climbing, jumping or suspending oneself from any structure will be illegal.

“Clearly, we don’t want our city to continue to be Disneyland for daredevils,” said Vallone.

Anyone found guilty could face one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The bill was approved by a vote of 48 to 1, with Councilmember Helen Sears voting no.

Aging Abuse

Legislation to boost training on elder abuse for nonprofits that contract with the Department for the Aging was unanimously approved by the City Council.

The bill (Intro 737 ) requires the department develop training programs on detecting and eliminating elder abuse. The service groups will have to be trained every three years and hold at least two educational sessions annually.  

Guns, the Supreme Court and New York

After Rashawn Handsome of Brooklyn was arrested for keeping three handguns in a sneaker box in his apartment -- without any license for them -- his Legal Aid attorney argued that Handsome had a right to bear arms under the Second Amendment of the Constitution. As we reported last year, a Criminal Court judge emphatically disagreed. The guarantee of the right to bear arms, Judge Michael Gerstein said, referred to state militias. No one, the judge reasoned, intended for every individual to "own firearms for their private, civilian use."

But now the Supreme Court has spoken on this issue -- in a case involving the District of Columbia's restrictions on guns. Could Handsome and his Legal Aid Society attorney have been right?

Exactly what the Second Amendment means has been debated for years -- centuries, actually. This summer the Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of District of Columbia v Heller, addressed the question for the first time. According to five of the nine justices, the words, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," means that individuals have a right to possess weapons. The amendment, the court held, is not limited to states providing weapons to militias or, in modern times, the National Guard.

In light of that opinion, New York City cases that were held in abeyance must now be decided.

The New York Rules

The Washington, D.C. and the New York state and city laws are quite different. Washington's laws, considered the strictest in the country, totally banned handgun possession and did not allow for the lawful registration of weapons. New York, on the other hand, permits gun ownership provided the individual wanting a gun obtains a license first.

New York's current requirements for a license are "good moral character" and that there be "no good cause" for denial. For the even more elusive right to obtain a "carry permit," which enables the owner to have the gun outside the home or business, "proper cause" must be established.

Defense lawyers have already challenged these restrictions in criminal cases where their clients have been arrested for possession of guns. These criminal defense lawyers argue that the New York laws are unconstitutional and therefore the charges must be dismissed. While lower criminal courts will continue to uphold city and state restrictions, those decisions will be appealed. It is considered unlikely that the appellate courts will find the licensing requirements unreasonable or unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court clearly said that the Second Amendment is not an unlimited right, and that conditions and qualifications, including a licensing law, could be imposed if they were not enforced "arbitrarily and capriciously." In other words, the justices expressly upheld both the ability of individuals to possess guns and licensing.

Richard M. Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City and a gun control advocate, calls the decision, "a victory." It "validates that the Second Amendment is not a barrier to laws we need, such as licensing, registration, safety training," Aborn, a former prosecutor and candidate for Manhattan district attorney, said. "The issue is about keeping guns out of the hands of bad guys."

The court, however, clearly determined that an outright ban "amounts to a prohibition of an entire class of 'arms' that is overwhelmingly chosen by American society for that lawful purpose." Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said, "Handguns are the most popular weapons chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home, and a complete prohibition of their use is invalid."

"We are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country," the justices said, "but when it comes to an absolute prohibition of handguns kept and used for self defense in the home ... [such] policy choices [are] off the table."

This concerns some gun control advocates. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence issued a statement saying, "After the Heller ruling as before, approximately 80 Americans will continue to die from guns every day. Our weak or nonexistent gun laws contribute to the thousands of senseless gun deaths and injuries in this country every year. We must continue to fight for sensible gun laws to help protect our families and our communities."

Limits to Ownership

Motions filed by the Legal Aid Society in a variety of gun cases claim that the licensing process and the difficulty of obtaining licenses amount to a complete ban on the ability to legally possess firearms, which, under the Heller case would be unconstitutional. The standards that a person be of "good moral character" and that "no good cause" exist for the denial are, defense lawyers maintain, flawed, vague, and insufficient.

Despite that, the argument that there is an absolute, unrestricted constitutional right to possess weapons of any type, at any place and by any person, is not expected to succeed in any court or even be raised. Constitutional amendments, including the second, may be subject to some restrictions. For example, the First Amendment guarantees the right to freedom of speech, but "not a right to falsely yell fire in a crowded theater." These are not absolutes.

In the Heller decision, the Supreme Court expressly approved certain categories of denial used in New York including those applying to individuals who have a felony record or a mental health disability. It is considered unlikely that a license would be granted to anyone who has ever been arrested, lives with anyone with a criminal record or uses controlled substances. In the meantime, the National Rifle Association is planning its attacks, which will involve civil law suits, on various state laws. New York is not on its list.

Challenges to pending cases and future arrests involving firearms will be the subject of litigation for years before the constitutionality of New York's laws is decided. There could well be more trips to the Supreme Court. The court said as much: "Since this case represents this Court's first in-depth examination of the Second Amendment, one should not expect it to clarify the entire field."

Emily Jane Goodman is a New York State Supreme Court Justice 

Safety on Site -- or In Sight?

The buildings department just might be Mayor Michael Bloomberg's brooding, dark shadow -- he can't seem to escape the destruction that plagues it.

Already in the first six months of 2008 the city has seen more fatalities at construction sites, 15 to be exact, than it did in all of 2007, Bloomberg said at a press conference last week. Just two days after that press conference, the city's top crane inspector was accused of taking bribes to allow cranes to pass inspection.

Although the mayor is credited with reworking the Department of Buildings -- within the past six years the number of inspectors has climbed 66 percent -- the fatalities have brought the department's alleged dysfunction back to the fore.

Even industry professionals, some of whom balked at additional reforms to the department after an exhaustive review of the building code earlier in the Bloomberg administration, have come around, saying that two crane accidents in three months calls for serious change.

Last week Bloomberg, with members of the City Council and the acting buildings commissioner, Robert D. LiMandri, tried again. A package of more than a dozen legislative proposals -- some of which were introduced at the City Council following the first accident in March -- was announced in an attempt to promote safety as the city continues to experience a building boom.

Industry professionals and observers have already debated those proposals, which range from crane safety to the qualifications of the buildings commissioner. But more dialogue is sure to come.

The Proposals

Since the city's first crane accident this year, there have been eight bills introduced at the City Council regarding construction site safety. Some of them were included in the package the mayor revealed last week.

The legislation intends to enhance safety at construction sites, but not halt construction, said Bloomberg. While safety is the city's first priority, the city will continue constructing skyscrapers and transit hubs.

"Our priority is not to balance two competing forces: economic development and safety," the mayor said. "It is, it has to be, safety -- safety of construction workers, safety of the public. No compromises and no excuses."

A key part of that effort, city officials said, is a revision of how the city tracks general contractors. In addition to the building permits contractors must obtain for each site, the city would now require every contractor to register for a safety control number, which would allow the department to track contractors across sites, including by who their principals are. That way, if one developer is an officer at several general contractors, the city can determine, the safety records of all of them. This step, officials said, will force contractors to embrace safety practices, instead of treating city violations and fines as a cost of doing business.

The city could also require contractors to keep concrete safety managers on site to ensure compliance with city regulations. The city's new building code mandates a similar position for demolition and high-rise construction. Bloomberg said 60 percent of all construction incidents involving falling debris in 2007 occurred during concrete operations.

One bill included in the mayor's proposal (Intro 763), which was introduced by Councilmember Annabel Palma in April, would classify "housekeeping" violations at construction sites, like tripping hazards or inadequate safety netting, immediately hazardous violations -- a type of violation which can carry fines as high as $25,000.

This package would also assign independent safety monitors to sites that have poor safety records. The monitors would be hired under contract by the city, and a general contractor would have to reimburse the department for the monitor's cost before the building received a certificate of occupancy. This proposal was adapted from a bill (Intro 760) introduced by Councilmember Jessica Lappin, whose district includes both crane accident sites, in April .

For crane safety, the city will require a safety meeting before any jumping, erecting or dismantling of equipment with the site safety manager, the crane engineer and any other responsible parties. The city will also require more intensive training for crane operators and restrict the use of nylon slings, which were a cause of the March accident. Bloomberg also said the city would roll out more proposals specifically pertaining to the operation of cranes in the coming weeks and months.

In addition to these proposals, the city would also mandate the following:


  • Reporting Unsafe Conditions in Hazardous Structures: Private property owners will have to file reports with the department for buildings that are vacant and structurally unsound. The city would then inspect the buildings and charge the owner for any emergency work.


  • Inspection of Retaining Walls: Require cyclical inspection of retaining walls by private property owners to ensure those fronting on public areas remain in good repair.


  • Disciplinary Action: Notify the state of any disciplinary action against an architect or engineer, allowing licenses to be revoked if necessary.


  • Qualifications for Commissioner: The city could no longer require its Department of Buildings commissioner to be a registered architect or licensed engineer (Intro 755) under new legislation at the City Council. Bloomberg said the department needs a manager, not necessarily an architect. While that move received some praise from industry professionals, like the Real Estate Board of New York, Fredric Bell, director of AIA New York, raised some concerns here.


  • Annual Safety Reports: The city could also (Intro 754) mandate an annual report on construction related injures, including the type of activity associated with the injury.

    Moving Forward and Building Up

    These are not the first steps the Bloomberg administration has taken following the fatalities in March .

    Since the first accident on March 15, when a crane collapsed into a townhouse and killed seven people, the city has provided the Department of Buildings with $4 million to equip 20 specialized engineers for a citywide analysis of construction site safety.

    Bloomberg also required crane inspectors to oversee sites whenever a crane jumped -- that requirement was scaled back a day before the city's second crane accident in May.

    Despite these efforts, the city still has received some criticism. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer expressed support for the mayor's proposals last week but also warned that the department did not have enough resources, employees or know-how to see them through.

    "We need to know when it's going to happen, who is doing the work, how is it going to get done and we need to get it done now," said Stringer in a prepared statement. "We are piling all of this onto one agency. We must involve multiple agencies or I fear we will not be able to accomplish these goals."

    U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, whose district includes parts of Queens and Manhattan, called for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to inspect all of the city's construction sites. The mayor balked at that idea.

    As some of the latest proposals were introduced at the City Council last month, some industry professionals suggested the city would be better off doing away with the buildings department and remaking it into a public corporation to oversee construction sites. But since the latest fatalities on May 30, several of the city's most powerful groups have reversed that position.

    "It's no secret that we raised some issues, but working over the past two weeks we have resolved just about all those issues," said Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York. "This is a package that will generate additional training, it will require accountability by us in the private sector and, when necessary, it will add additional professional oversight by the proper people."  

    Can New York Break Its Incarceration Habit?


    youth justice
    Photo (cc) Yoshi
    Rochester detention center

    It’s an experiment that has arguably run its course.

    In the last 20 years, states across the country have quadrupled their spending on jails and prisons from $11 billion in 1987 to $44 billion last year, while imprisoning 2.3 million individuals – or one in 100 American adults, according to a report released by the Pew Center on the States. While some criminologists give incarceration partial credit for cutting crime in the 1990s, many argue that these public safety benefits are evaporating and that money for jails would be better spent in other areas such as health care and education.

    Among policymakers and experienced corrections officials, there is a palpable sense of optimism that the political will exists to tackle the issue of mass imprisonment. To them, the Pew Center report’s eye-catching title, "One in 100," has helped focus a long-running debate about the fiscal and human costs of incarcerating so many Americans for so many years. "The report is engaging people who are normally not part of the conversation," said New York City’s Probation and Corrections Commissioner Martin Horn. "I think it’s created a real opportunity."

    Even conservative states like Kansas and Texas are beginning to embrace prison reform, with legislators from both sides of the aisle coming together to make change. "There is a growing realization around the country that we can’t build our way out of the crime problem with more prisons," said Adam Gelb, one of the authors of the Pew report.

    For New Yorkers this shift in attitude poses a number of questions. How will the state respond? Will it close the prisons that now play such a major role in the upstate economy? And, if the state does realize savings on prisons, how could that money best be used to further reduce crime?

    The New York Exception

    New York is exhibit number one for reformers who seek to reassure citizens that it is possible to cut crime and incarceration rates at the same time. Virtually alone among states, New York has seen the number of inmates in its prisons decline over the past decade. It has 9,000 fewer state prison inmates than it did 10 years ago, a 12 percent decrease, as crime rates have continued to drop. By the end of 2007, there were a total of 62,260 individuals in state prison. At the same time, the number of people held in New York City jails awaiting trial or imprisoned for a short period shrank from a high of 23,000 in 1993 to just over 13,000 in 2007.

    These sharp drops have been driven largely by the city’s plunging felony arrest rate. Violent crime in New York City declined by 75 percent between 1991 and 2004. The city now sends about 8,000 inmates each year to the state’s prison system, down from 20,000, according to Michael Jacobson, director of the Vera Institute of Justice and a nationally known expert on incarceration.

    Other parts of the correctional system have seen similar declines. In New York City, the number of individuals under probation supervision dropped from 50,870 in 1998 to 45,844 in 2007. The population on parole dropped by 18 percent over the same period for the state as a whole, fueled entirely by a dramatic, 30 percent decline in the number of parolees under supervision in New York City. That translates to 24,756 parolees in New York City in 2007, down from 35,286 in 1998. Probation is a city program that supervises offenders as an alternative to prison or jail. Parole, which in New York is run by the state, supervises offenders after they are released from state prison.

    This drop has helped relieve pressure on New York’s budget at a time when other states are grappling with exploding incarceration rates. For example, California spends $8.8 billion a year on corrections, a staggering 216 percent increase in inflation-adjusted dollars over the last 20 years and 8.8 percent of the state’s budget, according to the Pew Center. By contrast, New York spends $2.6 billion on corrections, or 5.1 percent of the budget.

    The Politics of Prison Closings

    Despite the decline in prisoners, though, New York has had mixed success in meeting another challenge posed by prison reformers: shutting prisons and re-allocating the money spent on them to other uses, such as providing drug treatment, job training and other services to recently released prisoners.

    If anything, the process of closing prisons has gotten harder, not easier, in recent years. For example, in 2006 the state legislature passed a bill requiring that employees must receive a year's notice before any prison can be closed.

    Then in April Gov. David Patterson quietly withdrew his predecessor's plan to close four upstate prisons. The move would have saved taxpayers $70 million over the next two years, but was shelved in the face of objections from state Senate Republicans, many of whom represent upstate communities where the prisons are located.

    The prison system is a $2.7 billion a year industry in New York State, concentrated in many upstate communities. As the economies of these areas have declined, the prisons have remained a source of jobs, income and people. While about two thirds of the prisoners in the state are from New York City, the U.S. Census counts themas residents of the place where they are incarcerated. This boosts the populations of many rural communities, giving them more votes in the legislature than they might otherwise have, along with other benefits.


    Gov. Eliot Spitzer had attempted to neutralize political objections to prison closures by proposing that a state commission look into the issue in 2007. Modeled after the federal government's successful effort to shut excess military bases, the idea was the panel would present the legislature with a comprehensive plan that would be difficult to oppose.

    The legislature, though, blocked that effort. Spitzer then turned to his state Department of Correctional Services. After what department spokesperson Erik Kriss has described as a "thorough internal review," officials proposed closing a medium security prison, the Hudson Correctional Facility in Columbia County, as well as three minimum security facilities. The department had even begun to transfer "a few dozen" employees out of the facilities slated for closure.

    That was clearly premature. When the state budget was announced in April, it restored full funding for all four.

    Advocates responded with outrage. "It’s really a jobs program for economically depressed communities," Robert Gangi, the executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, told the New York Times. Gangi holds out hope that Patterson will fight for prison closures in the future. He notes that Patterson has a record of opposing mass incarceration and was even arrested at a demonstration protesting the state's harsh drug laws in 2002. "Maybe [Patterson] will return to it when he gets his sea legs under him," said Gangi.

    Reforming Parole

    The failure to close state prisons is a blow to state officials who hoped to use the savings to comply with tighter supervision standards for sex offenders, introduced by the legislature in 2006. It also gives the state less flexibility to help re-invigorate parts of the correctional system, like parole and probation, which have long suffered from neglect and under funding.

    Advocates are particularly interested in transferring money from prisons to parole, which they see as key to reducing incarceration rates and increasing public safety. Improving parole would have a kind of domino effect: Better supervision of released offenders would reduce the number of offenders who go back to prison, thereby further diminishing the need for prisons, which in turn would free up more money for parole.

    In recent years, however, parole officials have had to fend off challenges to the institution’s basic legitimacy. In 2005, the Urban Institute released a report, entitled "Does Parole Work?" It found that parole had little to no effect on re-arrest rates among offenders. After controlling for demographics and differences in criminal histories, the researchers found little difference between offenders released from prison with no conditions and those released under parole supervision. Roughly 60 percent of offenders in each group were re-arrested within two years. Some groups, such as white males with histories of violence and a long arrest records, actually fared worse under parole supervision than when they were released unconditionally.

    In addition, observers credit -- or blame -- parole for helping to fuel the country’s prison boom. Put simply, in many states, parole provides the reason to put many released convicts back in jail. Studies show that about a quarter of all released offenders are re-incarcerated within three years of their release on so-called "technical violations" of their parole, such as failing a drug test or missing a curfew, as opposed to a new arrest.


    In some states like California, the problem is particularly acute: According to Michael Jacobson, the state sends three quarters of its parole population back to jail every year for technical violations. In 2001, close to 15 percent of parolees were returned to jail in New York for technical violations, although that accounted for a large share (about one third) of all new prison admissions.

    As Jacobson and others describe it, over-taxed parole officers return parolees to jail for minor infractions in an effort to manage caseloads that average 65 or more. The irony is that the parole system, one of the government’s most poorly funded functions, has essentially unchecked authority to authorize millions of dollars of government expenditures by citing offender for violations, guaranteeing their return to jail and the need for more prisons.

    Some of parole’s toughest critics are system insiders such as Horn, the former executive director of New York’s Division of Parole. In a 2001 article in Corrections Management Quarterly, Horn called for "ending parole as we know it." He proposed replacing it with vouchers that would allow parolees to purchase needed services like drug treatment, job training or housing on their own. Before being released to the community, inmates would be placed in halfway houses to ease their reentry into society. The role of parole would shift from surveillance to supporting inmates and helping to link them to services. "I’m more convinced than ever that this is the right way to go," said Horn.

    Other prominent correctional reformers, such as Jacobson and Jeremy Travis, the president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, argue that it would be politically difficult to win support for any plan, like Horn's, that does away with post prison supervision of offenders. Instead, Travis favors transferring parole from the executive branch to the judicial branch. He would create "re-entry courts" in which judges would supervise the reentry process.

    Jacobson focuses more directly on reforms to parole itself, which include allocating resources so that recently released parolees get the most attention, limiting the length of time that a person stays on parole and curtailing the use of technical violations.

    What all these proposals share, however, is the urgent sense that parole in its current form simply does not work. "If almost any of the state parole systems were a Fortune 500 company, the CEO would take one look at it and shut it down," Jacobson writes.

    The View from New York

    Here again, New York looks pretty good – at least in comparison to other states.

    Although New York City’s plummeting crime rate gets most of the credit for the state’s declining incarceration population, some modest changes in correctional policy have had an impact as well. Some state prisoners are eligible for early release if they complete a so-called "shock incarceration" program that includes six months of hard labor. According to the state Department of Correctional Services, the program, in operation since 1987, has saved $1.18 billion in prison costs by granting over 36,000 participants a release an average of 345 days early.

    Small changes to the state’s Rockefeller Drug Laws, enacted by the state legislature in 2004, have resulted in the early release of about 3,000 individuals, according to the New York State Criminal Justice 2007 Crimestat Report. Finally, in April, four state agencies, including the Division of Parole, launched a new drug treatment center in Harlem aimed at reducing the rate at which parolees, including those who fail a drug test or commit other technical violations, return to prison.

    Perhaps most importantly, New York City offers a number of resources for the 15,000 parolees who returned home in 2007. Well-respected non-profit organizations like the Center for Employment Opportunities], the Fortune Society, the Women’s Prison Association and Family Justice all work with this population.

    For example, the Center for Employment Opportunities provides short-term paid jobs and other services to about 2,000 parolees every year. Participants spend about eight weeks painting classrooms on college campuses, mopping courthouse floors or filling other temporary positions. After finishing these paid internships, job experts work to match participants to permanent jobs. The goal is to help released inmates manage the transition from incarceration to paid work.

    "We feel strongly that a person coming home needs more than help than just creating a resume," said Marta Nelson, the director of policy and planning. "They need someone who can connect them to an employer." The program has cut re-incarceration rates among parolees by almost half, but only for individuals who begin the program within three months of their release. This finding mirrors national research that shows the importance of linking parolees to services immediately.

    Despite these signs of success, New York is subject to the same difficult policy and practical challenges faced all over the country. "Parole is hard," said Horn. "It really gets deep into social and psychological factors [of parolees], and operates in a world where there are so many factors outside of its control."

    For now, one of those factors seems to be New York State's commitment to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on prisons -- even without the prisoners to fill them.

    Aubrey Fox is project director of Bronx Community Solutions, aimed at changing the Bronx court system’s approach to low-level crime.





    Taking the Next Steps in Juvenile Justice

    Over the past few years, New York City has undertaken an impressive transformation of its juvenile justice system. Breaking from the policies of the previous mayor, the Bloomberg administration has embraced the notion that providing children with community-based services and support instead of sending them to jail or prison is a cheaper, more effective approach to reducing youth crime and recidivism.

    In the last two years, the city has joined with a number of non-profit organizations to create a network of alternatives to incarceration for children under the age of 16 involved in the court system. These new community-based options have led to a marked decrease in the number of children incarcerated in city detention centers and state-run prisons.

    However, these reforms are not enough.

    The city must change policies and practices to reduce the glaring disparities in arrest, prosecution and incarceration of youth of color. New York City must take the necessary next step in restructuring the system by developing a long-term plan to reduce detention capacity and redirect resources from juvenile jails to effective community-based programs. Closing pre-trial detention centers is the only way for the city to realize the savings from its increased use of community alternatives and to continue its progress in reducing youth incarceration.

    Lock 'Em Up No More

    In the 1990s, the city’s juvenile justice system relied heavily on incarcerating young people before they went to trial. Faced with a lack of community options and a punitive political climate, Family Court judges routinely placed children in juvenile detention centers while they awaited trial for misdemeanors and other non-violent delinquency charges. Because the city was locking up children charged with minor offenses, the detention population increased by 60 percent from 1993 to 2000, even as youth crime and arrests markedly decreased.

    One of the most troubling aspects of the spike in youth incarceration was the disproportionate impact it had on African American and Latino youth. During the 1990s, over 95 percent of young people in city detention centers were African American or Latino. This continues to be the case today.

    In response to the rising detention population, the city Department of Juvenile Justice in 1998 opened two new youth jails, the Crossroads center in Brownsville and the Horizons in the South Bronx, and jettisoned a plan to shut down the notorious Spofford detention center in the Hunts Point neighborhood in the Bronx. By 2000, however, the department was running out of space in these three secure juvenile detention centers. Despite the fact that that the majority of detained children had been arrested for non-violent offenses, city officials did not even consider developing community-based programs.

    Five years later and following the change in administrations, the mayor’s office implemented a range of community-based alternatives to detention for children charged in Family Court for delinquency offenses, such as graffiti, theft or fighting in school. The city partnered with a non-profit organization in each borough to operate community monitoring and after-school reporting centers. Notably, between 2005 and 2007, the number of court admissions to Department of Juvenile Justice facilities decreased by 16 percent.

    In addition to new community programs that have reduced the use of pre-trial detention in the city, the Bloomberg administration has created other alternative-to-incarceration programs that have significantly decreased the number of children sent to upstate facilities operated by the State Office of Children and Family Services. These alternative programs have recidivism rates of between 18 and 35 percent, considerably lower than the nearly 80 percent recidivism rate for youth released from state facilities.

    As a result of the new alternative-to-incarceration programs, the number of children incarcerated in state and private facilities dropped by 68 percent between 2000 and 2008. Recognizing that this dramatic population decline presented a significant opportunity to realign agency resources, children and family services commissioner Gladys Carrion proposed closing six facilities, a move that would generate $16 million a year in savings. After much negotiation, the state legislature ultimately approved shutting four facilities in its fiscal year 2009 budget.

    New York City should look to the state’s example of how political will and leadership can close costly and ineffective facilities.

    'Rightsizing' the City’s System

    A December 2007 report from the city's Independent Budget Office revealed the staggering costs of pretrial youth detention in New York City: an estimated $84 million a year -- a 42 percent increase in just five years. It costs an average of $594 to provide secure detention for one juvenile for one day. On an annualized basis, the city spends over $216,000 to incarcerate a child in a secure detention facility. The report found that the average secure detention stay of 50 days costs the city about $30,000 per child. In contrast, the city spends around $1,300 on average to supervise one child in an alternative-to-detention program for up to two months.

    As the city diverts more young people from jails, policymakers should seek to downsize the city’s inefficient and wasteful detention system. The city will not save money by diverting youth from detention unless it cuts detention capacity – either by reducing beds or shutting down entire facilities. Otherwise, every year, the city will spend more - not less - on detention.

    The cost to operate detention centers is fixed. That means that, even though there may be fewer residents of each facility, it costs no less to run it. Instead the expense of running these extraordinarily expensive facilities is spread over a smaller population. As a result, the number of children in detention has decreased while the per diem cost to incarcerate youth has increased. The most sensible way for the city to reduce capacity is to honor its long-standing commitment to close the Spofford detention center.

    Building a Community-Focused Agenda

    Most importantly, reducing detention capacity will prevent the juvenile justice system from finding new ways to keep locking up young people of color. As the number of court admissions to detention decreased last year, there was a marked increase in the number of police admissions – children who the police brought directly to detention because the court was closed and the police could not contact a parent or guardian.

    This year, just as the city has taken steps to reduce police admissions, the number of readmissions to detention has started to increase. Notably, the one constant trend has been that virtually all of those detained are African American and Latino children from under-resourced and over-policed schools and neighborhoods.

    The state has a role here as well. It should enact legislation called Re-Direct New York, which would provide state reimbursement for alternatives to incarceration. It would be modeled after the successful state reimbursement plan for community programs that work to keep young people out of the foster care system. State reimbursements could also support alternatives to juvenile court, such as neighborhood youth courts and mediation programs as well as aftercare services for young people returning home from jail or prison.

    The city should also develop a comprehensive plan to dismantle the “cradle to prison pipeline” for New York City’s African American and Latino children living in poverty. The vast majority of children of color in the juvenile justice system have been failed by other public systems – particularly the education, child welfare and mental health systems.

    A collaborative effort between public officials and community groups can help to dismantle this pipeline by redistributing detention dollars to create quality schools, community-based mental heath services, family support programs and other neighborhood-based efforts that offer long-term help for vulnerable children and their families.

    Mishi Faruqee is the director of the youth justice program at the Children's Defense Fund

    For Juveniles, Alternatives to Incarceration

    Last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged the most sweeping reform in decades to the City’s juvenile justice system which would reduce the average length of stay in detention, create alternatives to detention and placement for youth, assist young people leaving detention with re-entry into their home communities; and engage families in addressing mental health issues by ensuring uninterrupted service delivery upon release.

    That reform effort has already yielded significant results. The success of the overall reform effort has resulted in a decrease in detention population levels, with the population in Non-Secure Detention group homes declining by 13.4 percent and in Secure Detention by 1.7 percent from July 2007 through March 2008.

    These successes have enabled Department of Juvenile Justice to reduce capacity, cutting annual costs to taxpayers by $1.8 million.

    A series of innovation programs have contributed to this.

    Collaborative Family Initiative

    Launched in February 2007, the Collaborative Family Initiative provides juveniles who are in need of mental health support with continuing, uninterrupted services upon release.

    Nationwide, youth with mental health service needs are overrepresented in juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Of the more than 600,000 youth processed through juvenile detention centers each year, 70 percent suffer from mental health disorders. In New York City, youth with mental health issues comprise 82 percent of all juveniles in detention. On average, young people needing mental health service stay in detention twice as long as unaffected youth and are more likely to be incarcerated.

    The initiative links these young people and their families to community-based providers, ensuring that after release they continue to receive critical mental health and psychiatry services in their neighborhoods without interruption or delay. The young people are enrolled in the program while still in detention so that upon release from custody, the youth receive immediate psychiatry and/or mental health services free-of-charge through community-based not-for-profit providers. Their families receive supportive counseling, direct mental health services if they have an unmet need, and additional referrals as necessary. The city pays for services to the young people for the first 90 days following release.

    Participation in the Collaborative Family Initiative also has helped reduce the average length of stay in detention for youth with mental health and psychiatric needs. According to an interim report on the initiative issued May 23 by John Jay College and the Department of Juvenile Justice, 81 percent of youth released during the initial phase of the program remained with their families and were not re-arrested on new charges during the post-release period.

    Risk Assessment

    In another effort to ensure that the city keeps in custody only those youth that need to be detained, the department will factor in the results of the new Risk Assessment Instrument into its decisions about releasing youth to their families. The instrument was created by the Vera Institute of Justice in conjunction with the Criminal Justice Coordinator’s Office and other juvenile justice stakeholders.

    Before a youth's case concludes, the tool assesses the probability of the youth returning to court and the likelihood of re-arrest. The Risk Assessment Instrument is a proven approach that has yielded significant results in other jurisdictions where it has been adopted, including Multnomah County, Ore.; Santa Clara County, Calif; Cook County, Ill.; and the State of Virginia. The risk assessment complements the Release to Parent initiative, implemented in October 2007, that enables the department to discharge those youth arrested on nights, weekends and holidays, who do not pose a serious risk to public safety.

    Re-entry Supports Program

    The juvenile justice system and the Family Court process can be complex and intimidating to youth and their families. Little comprehensive information on juvenile justice processing exists, and much of it involves abstract legal concepts. As a result, young people and their parents or guardians sometimes feel that they lack any kind of meaningful influence over the outcome of their case and may decide against actively participating in the adjudication process. This can result in young people remaining in detention when they simply don’t have to.

    To address this, the department recently established the Re-entry Supports Program, in partnership with John Jay College, to familiarize youth and families with early-release options and to formulate tools to help young people re-entering their communities better understand and navigate the juvenile justice system and connect with local resources.

    The Re-entry Supports Program will provide every resident of a detention facility with easy-to-understand information about the court process, hearings and how to act in court. Every family with a young person in detention also will receive instruction, through multi-media, a multi-lingual court guide, and Internet tool, on parental involvement and navigating the court process.

    LIFE Transition Program

    As part of the mayor's effort to reduce poverty in the city, the Department of Juvenile Justice’s LIFE Transitions Program targets young people with school attendance issues or performing below grade level in an effort to get them back in school. It also promotes early career exploration. The LIFE Transitions Program, which includes juvenile offenders whose cases are processed before the adult courts, is a significant investment in youth who are considered likely to enter state detention facilities. The program prepares them for transition back to their communities and enables them to continue working with the same community-based organizations upon release from detention.

    The Next Steps

    Given the success of the overall reform effort in reducing the demand for Non-Secure Detention group homes, the department will close two of these facilities in the city’s next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Despite citywide budget reductions, the administration has expressed its commitment to the Collaborative Family Initiative by ensuring its continued funding through fiscal 2009.

    While the reforms and the results they have produced so far are compelling, simply sustaining these programs is not enough. We can and must do more for our families and our young people by investing in programs that reduce the use of detention while still ensuring public safety, and that offer the promise of more positive and meaningful outcomes for juveniles. In the last decade, New York City’s juvenile justice system has evolved from one focused on custody and security to one that promotes public safety, addresses risk factors, including mental health and poverty, and serves the needs of youth. At the same time, it strengthens families and communities.

    The support of the public, including community and faith-based groups, is essential to continue these efforts and to ensure that critical services are sustained for youth and families. In addition, the department needs New York State to be an equal fiscal partner and the courts to continue this forward momentum and make certain that the goals identified in the mayor’s vision for juvenile justice reform are fully achieved.

    Neil Hernandez is commissioner of the New York City Department of Juvenile Justice.

    Looking at Incarceration

    One percent of all American adults are now in prison or jail, the Pew Center on the States reported earlier this year. That's more than 2.3 million people. In New York alone, 62,260 adult spent their days behind bars at the end of last year. Out of every 100,000 New Yorkers, 482 were incarcerated.

    While New York's incarceration rate may seem high, it falls in the lowest fifth of states, with a few -- Louisiana, Texas and Georgia -- incarcerating people at twice the rate of New York. (Louisiana imprisons 1,132 people for every 100,000 state residents.)

    The current numbers for New York come at what maybe the end of a kind of prison boom in the state. In 1972, New York's prison population was at about a 20-year low. Then the state passed the Rockefeller drug laws, setting jail sentences of 15 years to life for selling relatively small amount of drugs. The prison population soared. During Gov. Mario Cuomo's first term -- from 1983 to 1987 -- the number of people in state prisons increased by some 10,000. In his 12 years in office, Cuomo would add more prison beds in New York than all the previous governors in state history combined, at a cost that would eventually reach about $7 billion, Eric Schlosser wrote in the Atlantic.

    The state's prisoner population continued to climb, reaching 71,750 in 2000. Then, the numbers began to decline. Currently about 62,260 individuals are in state prisons.

    Felony rates in the state have fallen dramatically, fueled by the large decreases in serious offenses in New York City. And in 2005, the state enacted some reforms in the Rockefeller drug laws. Finally, experts and even ordinary citizens have questioned whether mass incarceration has really increased public safety.

    "Through the 1980s, policymakers abandoned the philosophy of rehabilitation. Keeping criminals off the streets and exacting retribution became the main goals of punishment," Harvard sociologist Bruce Western has written. But, according to Western, this approach can be self-defeating. "Incarceration reduces the yearly earnings of ex-prisoners by 40 percent and increases the risks of divorce and separation. A steady job and a good marriage provide pathways out of crime, but incarceration undermines these steps to an honest living," he said.

    This week, we look at the changes in incarceration in New York, both among adults and under the city's juvenile justice system. Writers examine efforts to further reduce detention, of both adults and young people. Two articles -- one on health care on Rikers and the other on protecting particularly vulnerable juvenile inmates -- examine treatment of incarcerated people.

    Cutting Prisons, Keeping Prisoners: Crime and the number of felons are down in New York, but the state continues to keep its prisons open, eating up money that could be used for drug treatment, better supervision of released offenders and improving parole.

    Rating Health Care Behind Bars: The city recently renewed its contract with the company that provides health care on Riker's Island -- even though the provider has repeatedly failed to meet the city's own standards.

    How to Reform Juvenile Justice: While applauding steps the city has made to improve its ways of dealing with young offenders, much remains to be done, an advocate writes. Now, she argues, the city must close detention facilities and reduce the glaring racial disparities in the system.

    Keeping Young People out of Jail: In six years, New York City has greatly reduced the number of young offenders held in detention. The city's director of juvenile justice describes what's been done and what the administration plans to do next.

    Protecting Vulnerable Youth: Young gays and lesbians frequently find themselves victims of discrimination and harassment, and the situation in correctional facilities can be even worse. A new state policy tries to address that. Also, making criminals pay -- more and more.


    Stated Meeting: A New Fire Code and Surplus

    Who knew there were provisions for wagons and regulations for kite flying around the city's telegraph system within the city's fire code.

    Well, no more.

    After a three-year review, the City Council unanimously approved a revised fire code on Wednesday. The code was last revised in 1913. In response to changing times, the update requires more informative evacuation plans and includes construction sites into fire safety management.

    In addition to updating the code, the council also approved a budget modification to fiscal year 2008 -- initially approved last June -- which included an additional $2.2 billion surplus from tax revenues. The move sparked some opposition from several council members, who said they did not have enough time to review the documents and questioned the additional surplus found by the administration.

    The council also approved a lease for a recycling station in Sunset Park.

    The Fire Code

    The city's new fire code ( Intro 732-A ) will bring the city's standards in line with the International Fire Code and with the city's recently revised building code in order to improve safety conditions, said officials.

    The plan, which goes into effect in July, will require the development of a fire safety program for construction sites and provisions for rooftop access. Under the new code, temporarily vacant buildings will also have to maintain their fire safety systems.

    "Oh course it's not as sexy as the building code," said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta. "But it's still very, very important."

    Many of the new provisions might pertain to tragedies like the Deutsche Bank fire last August, where the fire safety system, including the building's standpipes, was not fully maintained while it was being taken down floor by floor.

    Though some buildings, like the the United Nations, will not be covered by the fire code, because they are out of the fire department's jurisdiction. Scoppetta said the department is in the process of reviewing some of these so-called loopholes.

    Scoppetta said the department's primary focus was on safety, but it did consider some of the code's economic impact on construction and building costs. Officials said the City Council and the department received feedback from multiple industries, from fire extinguisher companies to real estate boards.

    A Revised Budget

    What is typically a procedural issue turned controversial on Wednesday when the City Council considered a budget modification that took a unexpected $2.2 billion surplus and used it to prepay debt in 2009 and 2010.

    Though the council approved the change unanimously, members raised concerns that they had not had enough time to review the documents. The budget modification, which is an inch thick and about 130 pages, was released to some members during a political meeting 24 hours before the vote.

    "There should be a minimum time period," said Councilmember Alan Gerson.

    The vote came on the heels of an effort by Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has presented herself as a reformer and champion of transparency, to make the budget process more transparent following the City Council's slush fund scandal.

    Other members questioned the use of the city's surplus -- especially when the Department of Education is facing budget cuts.

    Both Quinn and the council's Finance Committee chair David Weprin said paying down debt was a smart move.

    "It may appear that the city is flush with money, but we're not," said Quinn. "We have to use that money to pre-pay debt or we'll be in a worse place."

    Councilmember Lewis Fidler and others questioned the administration's motive for this newfound surplus. Fidler suggested the over estimation of spending and under estimation of revenues during budget negotations could be a tactic to keep the City Council's spending in check. The council has to approve a balanced budget by June 30. But if a surplus appears later in the year, the mayor can determine where the extra money will go.

    "The Office of Management and Budget underestimates revenue every year so we don't spend money they don't want us to spend," said Fidler. It's just another way of maneuvering the budget dance, he added.

    A Recycling Station

    As part of the Bloomberg administration's solid waste management plan, approved by the City Council in 2006, the city is dispersing the recycling and waste facilities throughout the five boroughs.

    As a result, Sunset Park will host a large recycling station, operated by the Sims Group, to manage part of the city's sorted trash. The station, which will receive material via barge, will be more than 1 million square feet. The council unanimously approved the lease of the 30th Street Pier to the Sims Group for the facility.

    To see how else the city manages its waste, check out Gotham Gazette's Garbage Game.  

    Batterers, Their Victims and the Right to Confront Witnesses

    photo courtesy of JR Goleno
    Photo (c) 2005 JR Goleno

    When Jimmy Byrd went on trial for nearly murdering the woman he lived with -- the mother of their young daughter -- the victim did not appear in court and Byrd's lawyer never cross-examined her. Byrd was convicted anyway. This, he said, violated his constitutional right to confront witnesses. The trial judge disagreed and now, so has the Supreme Court Appellate Division in Manhattan.

    Byrd had abused Jill J, as the victim is identified in court papers, physically and mentally for many years. On July 26, 2002, he became enraged when she poured water into a glass in which there was a residue of juice, an action that, in Byrd's view, demonstrated her incompetence. The evidence established that he slammed her head on the tile floor, repeatedly stomped on her abdomen, breaking her ribs and causing her pancreas to split in half. He then refused to take her to the hospital. The police were not called, and it was only when Byrd left the house six days later that Jill J managed to get herself to the emergency room, nearly dead. Surgery saved her life.

    After Jill J gave her testimony to a grand jury by videotape while in the hospital, Byrd, who had already been arrested, was indicted, charged with attempted murder and assault, and held at Riker's Island. But as frequently happens in domestic violence cases, Jill J refused to cooperate any further with the prosecution, deciding that she loved Jimmy Byrd and that perhaps he needed help, but not punishment.

    The question to be decided by Justice James Yates was whether her refusal to testify was a decision Jill J made of her own free will or under duress from Byrd. Criminal defendants do have an almost absolute right under the Sixth Amendment to hear and see their accuser's testimony and to have that witness cross-examined by the defense. There is, however, an exception. If the accused himself is responsible for the witness's refusal to come forward, he cannot then use that to his own advantage. He cannot both cause the witness to recant or retreat and then say that, without her testimony, his conviction is unconstitutional.

    In this case, People v Byrd, Jill J testified at a pre-trial hearing that she wanted to forgive Byrd and did not want him to go to prison. However, she also admitted, after first saying he had only called her a couple of times, that he had been calling her regularly from jail, sometimes as often as 10 times a day, asking her to send him money and proclaiming his love for her, telling her how wonderful life would be when he got out. All of this violated an order of protection, which prohibited Byrd from contacting Jill J.

    The court allowed an expert to testify in front of the trial jury that these were typical interactions in cases of domestic violence and battered woman syndrome. (The appellate court, perhaps for reasons of political correctness and notions of gender neutrality, refers to the battered person syndrome, but the literature on the subject does not, since the victim is almost always the woman.) Jill J fit the profile of a battered woman. She is isolated, fearful and emotionally dependent and vulnerable to her tormentor's protestations of love and remorse, which, she believes, will end the cycle of violence. She is therefore willing to believe that it is better not to testify against this man and have him taken from her. If only he can come home, she believes, there will be peace and harmony and a happy family life, though that has never existed before. In fact, although not part of the appellate opinion, court records show that Byrd had a history of violence with other women.

    Dr. Ann Burgess, a recognized authority on violence and victim counseling who testified for the prosecution, told the jury that the victim's poor self esteem, frequently a result of her batterer's treatment of her as well as her fear of him, often makes the battered woman believe that it is better not to continue the prosecution. While there was no evidence that Byrd actually told Jill J not to testify against him, Jill J had received more than 400 calls from Byrd while he was held at Riker's Island, and so, according to Burgess, was under his "coercive control."

    Burgess described the three stages of domestic violence: the tension building phase, the violence phase and the honeymoon phase. It is during the honeymoon phase, Burgess said, that the victim is "seduced into believing that the abuse will cease and that the family will remain intact. This cycle repeats itself over many years."

    Justice Yates found that Jill J's unavailability to testify was a direct result of the defendant's misconduct and allowed the videotape of her grand jury testimony to be shown to the trial jury. Byrd, who did not present any witnesses or evidence, was convicted of first and second degree assault.

    An opinion by Justice Karla Moskowitz, newly appointed to the appellate bench, affirmed that decision. According to the opinion, the defendant procured the witness's refusal to testify "through violence, threats or chicanery," and it was established that Byrd's actions following his arrest showed a pattern meant to, at least in part, silence the witness. The court concluded that Byrd had therefore forfeited the constitutional right to confront his accuser and to raise certain other legal objections.

    Emily Jane Goodman is a New York State Supreme Court Justice 

    The High Price of Counterfeit Goods

    Despite police raids, Chinatown shoppers still find counterfeit goods.

    The results of last month's Chinatown raid were dramatic: over $1 million in seized counterfeit goods, 32 illegal vendors closed down and an entire block emblazoned with orange "closed by court order" stickers.

    "Whoever you are, whatever you are, we are going to shut you down," Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced at a news conference.

    Yet only a few days later a visitor to Canal Street could easily purchase fake Gucci bags and other brand-name products, a testament to the deeply rooted nature of the counterfeit trade. A Daily News headline said it all: "Chinatown block shuttered in huge raid, but brassy bootleggers still hawk fakes."

    Welcome to the wild world of counterfeiting, which nets $23 billion in New York City annually and enriches a shadowy international underworld of smugglers and criminals - all supported by shoppers looking to save a buck.

    "Knock-Off Incorporated"

    About 8 percent of the approximately $287 billion in counterfeit goods sold in the United States annually is sold in New York City, resulting in over $1 billion in lost tax revenue, according to a 2004 report released by New York City Comptroller William Thompson. Counterfeiting also represents a drag on the economy: An estimated 750,000 jobs have been lost in the United States to counterfeiters, according to the United States Customs and Border Protection Agency.

    New York City is one of the world's chief counterfeit hubs. In addition to being a major tourist and retail destination, the city's ports handle 13.4 percent of U.S. container traffic, providing ample opportunities for illegal shipping. For example, last December, the New York Times reported that federal officials seized over $200 million in smuggled goods at the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal in New Jersey, including counterfeit Nike Air Jordan sneakers listed as "refrigerated noodles" on the ship's manifests.

    Most counterfeits come from China, where experts believe that anywhere between two-thirds and 85 percent of all fake goods are manufactured. According to Caroline Joiner, executive director of the Global Intellectual Property Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a quarter of China's non-farm workforce, or 35 million people, are engaged in the production of counterfeits. Many work the so-called "ghost," or third shift, in which factories produce two shifts of legitimate items but stay open overnight to produce counterfeit goods.

    These goods are typically shipped to wholesale vendors in the United States and other Western countries, and then distributed to smaller-scale street vendors like those in Chinatown. Sales of other goods like knock-off drugs and auto parts may bypass the street-level vendor and go directly to the consumer, who often does not know they are buying a fake.

    "There are very powerful market forces at work here" said Moises Naim, the editor of Foreign Policy Magazine and the author of Illicit: How Smuggler, Traffickers and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy. "There are hundreds of millions of hungry customers and hundreds of thousands of very sophisticated entrepreneurs."

    While most people associate counterfeiting with high-profile brand-name goods like Gucci bags, virtually everything we consume today is traded illegally. That includes "boot-leg" electronics, illegally downloaded music, toys, pharmaceutical drugs, software and even fake auto and airplane parts. Author Tim Phillips calls this thriving trade in fake goods "Knockoff Incorporated," because it represents 7 percent of world trade, twice the size of Wal-Mart. "Arguably it's the business success story of the modern era," Phillips writes.

    New York's Response

    Bloomberg has won high praise from experts for his aggressive anti-counterfeiting enforcement efforts. Since 2003, the city has seized $60 million in knock off goods and collected $1.5 million in fines. A number of observers also credit the city with shutting down bootleg CD and DVD manufacturers in Manhattan's Garment District.

    "People tend to sense what's OK by what is allowed to go on openly in public," said Brad Buckles, executive vice president of anti-piracy for the Recording Industry Association of America, which has led an effort to reduce music piracy. "Actions like Mayor Bloomberg took on Canal Street help make people realize that this is sleazy behavior and not legal."

    Many observers believe that, aside from New York City, government agencies do not take the problem of counterfeiting seriously enough. Distracted by terrorism and other more traditional crime, law enforcement has little time or energy left to address this issue. "One intellectual property lawyer told me that he was told by law enforcement that unless there was a dead body involved, 'don't even pick up the phone'" writes Phillips.

    In its Canal Street raid, the Office of Special Enforcement followed an innovative "landlord-based" approach that targeted the estate of Vincent Terranova, the owner of three buildings that housed the illegal vendors. The estate had been named in an earlier lawsuit filed in the Federal District Court in Manhattan by luxury good brands such as Burberry and Marc Jacobs, according to the New York Times. Before the raid, undercover police officers and city agents made over 40 purchases of counterfeit goods. The city obtained a temporary restraining order against Terranova Properties which keeps the building closed until proof is provided that there is no more illegal activity.

    "This is the largest operation we've done," said Office of Special Enforcement Director Shari Hyman.

    However, most experts agree that ending, or at least limiting, the sale of counterfeit goods requires more than a law enforcement approach. The key is to challenge the widely held notion among consumers that buying counterfeit goods is a victimless crime and a harmless exercise in bargain hunting. "Until we deal with the demand side of the equation, it's a lost cause" said Joiner.

    "We need consumers to help us instead of burying their heads in the sand," said Commissioner Ray Kelly in a press release. "No matter how 'victimless' a crime may appear, when you scratch the surface you are bound to find some unpleasant realities. That's true in the knock-off trade."

    Changing Minds

    Arguments about lost tax revenues and jobs might not dissuade most individuals from buying a knockoff Gucci bag for $40 when the real thing can go for close to $2,000.

    That's why advocates are trying to enlarge the discussion to a broader set of public health and safety issues. The goal is to "make the problem more real to consumers," said Joiner.

    For example, according to the Office of Special Enforcement, the buildings housing the wholesale vendors often lack basic fire safety protections such as sprinkler systems. "These buildings violate every code in the book," John Feinblatt, the city's criminal justice coordinator, told the New York Times. "The exit signs are obliterated, or the fire exits are locked or blocked by boxes of merchandise. They're fire traps." In addition, for security reasons, customers are often carefully escorted in and out of buildings and locked into rooms while they search for items, making it a "frightening experience" according to Hyman.

    Advocates also argue that knock-off goods, which are impossible to regulate, are also potentially life-threatening. Author Phillips called these "counterfeit killers," citing such examples as fake insulin used by diabetics and fake Lipitor, used by patients with high cholesterol levels. "Talking about medicine that can kill is a very different conversation than talking about the latest Britney Spears album," said Naim.

    Anti-counterfeiting observers charge that counterfeit goods are often produced in factories that pay little attention to labor standards. "Raids in Asia in counterfeit plants disclose deplorable conditions that would boggle your mind," Lorne Lipkus of the Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network, told CBC News. "We're talking [about] four year old kids mixing chemicals in factories."

    More broadly, advocates make a moral argument about counterfeiting, contending that what lies behind a seemingly innocent transaction with a street vendor could be a vast criminal enterprise. "The same groups which smuggle goods are also involved in prostitution, drug dealing and money laundering," Marc Ramondi, spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, told ABC News.

    Still, it's unclear how widespread the counterfeit-criminal link is: The evidence presented tends to be anecdotal, perhaps a reflection of the shadowy nature of the business itself. The presence of the so-called "ghost" shift in many Chinese factories also points to an increasingly blurry line between knock off and "legal" manufacturing. Many of the social harms attributed to counterfeit production are also present when the rules are being followed, as evidenced by such high-profile cases as tainted pet food and reports of child labor in factories making Nike shoes.

    Nonetheless, the Chamber of Commerce is actively wading into the public relations battle. They helped underwrite a documentary version of Naim's book Illicit, which will premier on public television on April 16. Naim hopes that the documentary will help spark a broader dialogue about the negative impacts of counterfeiting and illicit trade. "We need to change the conversation at dinner tables in America," he said. He sees the debate on global warming as analogous to what he wants to accomplish. "Five years ago, people talking about climate change were often laughed out of the room. Now it's skeptics who are getting the same treatment."

    New Approaches

    At the same time, business groups have responded by pursuing a number of new anti-counterfeiting strategies.

    One approach involves technology. Kodak, for example, markets a "traceless" system that embeds invisible markers into labels that can only be detected by specialized readers. The technology is already being used by drug companies and high-end wineries to reduce fraud. "In fighting counterfeiting, it's better to call your scientists and engineers than your lawyers and lobbyists," Naim said.

    The recording industry provides an interesting example of an attempt to target counterfeit consumers directly, though their experience defies any simplistic analysis. Industry groups have pursued an aggressive enforcement strategy, sending out thousands of so-called "pre-litigation" letters to college students illegally downloading music. The letters are first forwarded to universities, which are asked to pass along the information to students. The main impact of these letters has been the wave of publicity they have generated, particularly in campus newspapers. According to industry documents, the strategy has had an effect: The number of young people downloading music without paying has declined from 53 percent in 2004 to 30 percent in 2007, while the percentage of young people who say that downloading music for free is illegal has increased from 37 percent to 73 percent. According to surveys, fear of lawsuits is the reason most often cited by young people as the main reason they no longer download music or videos illegally - even though the likelihood of any individual being sued is very low.

    It is still, though, relatively easy to download free music from the Internet illegally. Though the music industry succeeded in shutting down Napster, the most popular early distributor of pirated music, hundreds of smaller and harder to detect sites have grown up in its wake.

    Fighting counterfeiting is an uphill battle, particularly when its victims lack the deep pockets of such groups as the recording industry. "The numbers are moving in the wrong direction," said Joiner. Ultimately, convincing bargain-loving New Yorkers that counterfeiting poses hidden costs may be a tough sell.


    Delving the Murky World of Police Informants

    It all started with a careless conversation between two police officers.

    Last September, Brooklyn South narcotics officer Sean Johnstone told a fellow officer that he had paid his confidential informants with cocaine illegally seized from a crime scene. What Johnstone didn't realize, or had forgotten, was that his conversation was being recorded.

    The ensuing internal police investigation has resulted in an embarrassing spectacle for the New York City Police Department and the Brooklyn South narcotics division, which includes Park Slope, Midwood and Coney Island and made 7,400 arrests in 2007. Four officers, including Johnstone, were arrested for illegally providing drugs or money to their confidential informants, while another dozen were suspended or transferred to other duties. The disclosures forced the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office to dismiss charges or vacate convictions in 183 cases, and a new commanding officer was appointed to run the department's narcotics unit.

    The revelations focused attention, if only briefly, on the murky world of police and their informants. While giving informants drugs is clearly illegal, a far more contentious debate involves the use of confidential informants even when proper police procedures are being followed. Civil libertarians and legal scholars argue that the practice leads to false convictions, shoddy police work and an erosion of trust in high-crime, low-income communities. On the other hand, experienced prosecutors and police officers contend that, however distasteful the practice, informants are an invaluable investigative tool and that suggestions for reform would limit the effectiveness of the police while having the unintended effect of driving the officer-informant relationship further underground.

    The scandal has given renewed life to legislation introduced last year by Brooklyn State Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, which would require law enforcement agencies to publicly disclose information about the use and effectiveness of confidential informants. The legislation would also limit the ability of prosecutors to drop or reduce certain types of charges in exchange for informant information.

    The Brooklyn Scandal

    Over the last 30 years, police departments have introduced safeguards in an attempt to protect the integrity of the narcotics enforcement process. With some notable exceptions, the kind of brazen corruption depicted in films such as "American Gangster" and "Serpico" appears to be a thing of the past.

    Typically, undercover officers who seize drugs or money are not allowed to register the contraband on their own. Instead, a backup team of officers, with a supervisor, is supposed to lead the vouchering process.

    Police departments also have procedures in place for the payment of confidential informants. To High Point, North Carolina Police Chief Jim Fealy, a nationally recognized innovator in narcotics enforcement, the "industry standards" include a careful accounting of the amount expended, along with a requirement that payment is made by no less than two officers. Often a supervisor will randomly accompany the officers to make sure the procedures are being followed and to confirm the informant's identify. At regular intervals, internal affairs officers will audit the books to confirm that all the information adds up.

    These procedures appear not to have been followed in Brooklyn. According to reports, two of the four officers arrested on corruption charges in Brooklyn registered 17 bags of cocaine during a drug raid, instead of the 28 bags they had actually recovered, while the other two held back two bags of cocaine and $40. In both instances, the extra drugs and money were used to pay off informants - making it what a law enforcement official called "noble cause corruption."

    Many observers expressed their bewilderment at the officers' actions. "Anybody who would do something like that is nuts - completely nuts," one former narcotics undercover officer told the New York Times. "Why would you give the [informant] crack and drugs if you can give them money?"

    The most likely explanation is a combination of laziness and lax management. Two of the four arrested police officers worked the night shift, when there tends to be a more relaxed attitude toward procedures. Given the wholesale leadership changes in Brooklyn - four high-level police commissioners, including the head of the department's narcotics division, were transferred - appears that the New York City Police Department is laying a good portion of the blame at the feet of inattentive management.

    "What it looks like to me is that these guys took a shortcut and shortcuts will get you in trouble and shortcuts will get you in jail," Raymond Abruzzi, a former high-ranking police officer, told the New York Times.

    Fealy praises the department for dealing with the problem internally. "Even in a very good police department, occasionally bad things will happen" he said. "What citizens should look for is a police department that acknowledges [the problem] and deals with it."

    A Widespread Practice

    Whatever the public thinks of the going-on in Brooklyn, many legal scholars and advocates believe that public outrage should be directed at the mundane, day in and day out grind of recruiting and employing informants, particularly in low-income, high-crime communities hit hardest by the drug trade.

    Observers distinguish well-intentioned citizens who provide tips to the police from individuals who co-operate for less noble reasons. In their view, the police get in murky territory when they deal with individuals seeking to settle a score against a former boyfriend or business rival, bargain their way out of an arrest or make a little money. That said, it's almost impossible to prosecute certain types of cases, particularly narcotics cases, without turning to informants who are looking for a break or a buck. "It's not the only way, but it's the easiest way to gain access" to drug markets, said Fealy.

    Little is known about the number of informants employed by law enforcement agencies. At the national level, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that it employs 15,000 secret informants and the Drug Enforcement Administration about 4,000 at any given time. State and local law enforcement agencies do not report similar information publicly, though most departments, including New York's, keep internal databases that track contacts with informants.

    This lack of information has led to widely varying estimates of the total informant population. Loyola Law School Professor Alexandra Natapoff figures that one in 12 black men in poor black communities are active informants at any given time, although she acknowledges that can vary widely from one city to another.

    "In some cities, if you believe what the police and prosecutors say, it's not in the culture to use snitches," she said, "while in other places, it's absolutely par for the course."

    Experienced law enforcement officials dispute that finding, at least at the local level. For example, Lt. Rudy Tai of the San Diego Police Department, who worked as a supervisor in a narcotics unit, estimates that the average narcotics officer works with between one and three informants.

    Generally, federal law enforcement agencies seem much more likely to rely on informants than do local agencies. Under federal sentencing guidelines, cooperating with authorities is the only recognized basis for sentencing leniency, and according to Natapoff, approximately 20 percent of federal offenders -- 30 percent of drug defendants -- received credit for cooperation. And these percentages understate the total volume, because many informants do not receive credit for their information and others have their charges dropped before they reach court.

    Local law enforcement agencies are much more cautious about the use of informant information, and many do not allow informants to testify in court. Instead, they are more likely to ask informants to help make a case, such as by introducing an undercover officer to a drug dealer. Experienced officers say that the key is getting independent verification of the information provided.

    The Pitfalls of Informants

    Critics argue that an excessive reliance on informants leads to lazy police work and has poisoned relationships with residents of low-income, high crime neighborhoods. In the online journal Slate, Alexandra Natapoff wrote that in one view, "criminal snitching is a Frankenstein's monster that has turned on and begun to consume its law enforcement creator."

    Natapoff cited one case dropped by prosecutors after the Brooklyn South scandal erupted. An undercover officer had purchased large amounts of cocaine from a dealer, who was later arrested. However, the undercover team working on the case failed to get the drug sale on videotape. When the prosecutor realized that one of the officers involved in the corruption scandal was on the team, she was forced to drop the case.

    "The ease of using informants has undermined other traditional law enforcement techniques like undercover work and surveillance," said Natapoff.

    Law enforcement officials bristle at that characterization. "I don't see [using informants] as lazy policing," said Fealy. "What are we supposed to do, ignore the information they give us?"

    Establishing the bona fides of a confidential informant can be painstaking, requiring a background check and a "test run" purchase of drugs or guns. "A lot of detectives would rather not be involved with informants because it takes a lot of hard work," said Tai. "It's a challenge to recruit good ones."

    Many police officers and prosecutors, however, express qualms about aspects of the relationship with confidential informants. They realize that even the small amounts of cash they give informants are often used to buy drugs. Another troubling dynamic is that the police may overlook crimes committed by informants. "Informants may well produce more criminal activity on any given day than they prevent," wrote Natapoff.

    The swirl of charges and counter-charges about the use of confidential informants may obscure a counter-intuitive reality about policing in urban communities. Despite skyrocketing incarceration rates, particularly of young African-American men, the problem confronted by most citizens in high-crime areas is police under-enforcement of the law, not over-enforcement. That dynamic was particularly evident in sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh's recent book Gang Leader for a Day: Despite spending nearly a decade hanging out with a drug gang in a Chicago housing project, Venkatesh rarely encountered the police.

    To Natapoff, police use of confidential informants contributes to the under-enforcement problem, because the police regularly tolerate the criminal behavior of informants. One could, of course, also reach the opposite conclusion: Abandoning or curtailing the use of confidential informants could make the police even less effective in communities that need them the most.

    Bringing the Practice to Light

    Deciding which view is correct is difficult because so much about informants is, of necessity, hidden from public view. "It's all hidden," said Ellen Yaroshefsky of the Benjamin Cardozo Law School. "Confidential informants are like the black hole of the criminal justice system."

    Lentol's proposed legislation would require law enforcement agencies to publicly disclose information about confidential informants, including the number employed, whether the tips provided led to a conviction or arrest and instances in which prosecutors offered to reduce or drop charges in exchange for cooperation. Individual informants would not be named. In theory, the "sunshine" provisions would give the public the chance to test the claims made by supporters and critics of the practice.

    Still, it can be an uphill battle to convince the police of the value of openness and accountability. "I've had well-meaning police officers tell me, 'you're never going to get the police to report their snitches'" Natapoff said. "It's a reasonable concern. We have to give them room to do their job."


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