Release - Major Criminal Justice Reforms Passed in New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Monday, April 1, 2019

Contact: Yan Snead, ysnead@katalcenter.org | 518-360-1534

Major Criminal Justice Reforms Passed in New York

 

 Historic Pretrial Reforms will Reduce Jail Populations,
Advance Justice, Promote Public Safety

 
Statement by Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice

 

NEW YORK: Katal members and staff are thrilled to announce today that the New York State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo have finally passed comprehensive pretrial reform legislation that enact dramatically reform discovery, speedy trial, and  bail practices. This is a major victory for the movement to end mass incarceration in New York.

From our founding and launch, Katal’s first policy target in New York was to close the Rikers Island jail complex. We knew closing Rikers would require passing a comprehensive and complicated policy agenda in Albany calling for a complete overhaul of the pretrial system—discovery, speedy trial, and bail. And now, movements throughout the state have helped make that happen, bringing the closure of Rikers Island one step closer to reality.

Akeem Browder, brother of Kalief Browder and president of the Kalief Browder Foundation, said: “To honor the loss of my brother, Kalief Browder, I have been fighting for reforms to our criminal justice system that secure equality for all and due process as a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life and liberty. New York can never take give back what it's taken from families like mine, but today the reforms to discovery, speedy trial, and bail, won by advocates and my colleagues working together in this critical fight to bring significant change. The pretrial reform package in the final budget will significantly reduce the number of people held in jail pretrial in our state. New York has a begun the push toward a more just system and still has work to accomplish—and while this comes a month before Kalief's 26th birthday and four years after his passing, this victory does give me, my family, and those that follow his story, significant belief that change will continue to come. Thank you, Speaker Heastie, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Governor Cuomo, Assembly Members Aubry, Lentol, and Walker, and Senator Bailey. The Kalief Browder Foundation will continue to do local work in the communities to fight against structural disenfranchisement of neighborhoods like ours in the Bronx. And we will continue to fight for implementation of these new reforms and more changes that align with our goals of fairness, justice, and equality for all.”

Betsey Lindor, Katal leader from the Bronx, said: “I've traveled from the Bronx to Albany over and over again to win speedy trial and bail reform. It's been a long fight. I’m glad to see the government of New York finally used facts and not emotions to make decisions. This will lower the number of people on Rikers who are held there pretrial.”

 While supporting our allies in the fight on discovery, in 2016 Katal launched efforts to advance reforms to the speedy trial law. Working with our partners, we pushed for passage of Kalief’s Law—the leading speedy trial reform bill—which the Assembly passed in 2016, 2017, and 2018, all with strong bipartisan support.

Earlie L., Katal member in the Albany Region, said: “I'm greatly appreciative and happy that legislation was able to be passed that's going to affect my generation and also myself in a positive manner. I feel as though this has been long overdue. We needed the right to speedy trial and I know a lot of people who are directly affected by this. It's gonna have such a positive effect on our community, and hopefully we'll be able to become more progressive and productive so we can have a better future for the next generation that's coming up. I feel so positive that many people fought for this and that the Assembly and Senate were brave enough to pass these reforms.” 

Although the speedy trial bill isn't the Kalief's Law the Assembly previously passed, when combined with the new best-in-the-nation discovery-reform measure, this will go a long way to fix many of the problems contributing to the court congestion and delays that had grave consequences to Kalief Browder, his family, and the thousands of families unjustly shuffled through the system every single day. 

In 2017, Katal started a statewide bail reform network and working group. Given the extraordinarily complicated dynamics around bail reform in New York, our aim was to build a reform table around a set of nine core principles for bail reform, rather than a specific bill. Together, the network and working group coordinated actions, advocacy, and organizing in Albany that led to the passage of the robust bail reform proposal, sponsored by Asssemblywoman Latrice Walker, in the Assembly. 

Assemblywoman Walker's 2018 bill was the basis for the final bail reform bill that the legislature and the governor supported. The bill, passed as part of the 2020 budget, is a major overhaul of bail practices in New York that will ensure freedom for thousands, protect the presumption of innocence, and enhance public safety.

Ron A., Katal member in Albany, said: “With the passing of these criminal justice bills, I feel as a Black man I can believe in the justice system in New York State more than I ever have. I am a product of the adverse effects of an unjust, outdated, and unfair system that has been in place here, and I know how it can have a snowball effect on not only myself, but many of the people that I come into contact with on an everyday basis. I want to thank all who have been a part of bringing this meaningful reform forward. Let's keep the momentum going now and fix the problem of re-incarceration for parole violations by passing the Less Is More Act.”

The Walker bill represents a particular framework of reform that many advocates prefer: while retaining cash bail, it protects the presumption of innocence. Other advocates prefer the framework to end cash bail proposed by Governor Cuomo and Senator Michael Gianaris. To understand the dynamics of this complex issue, Katal published a March 28th op-ed, “Making Sense of Bail Reform in New York.”

Overall, the reforms passed this weekend are a major development and will make New York a national leader on criminal justice reform.

Donna Hylton, director of Katal’s Women and Girl’s Project, said: “This package of pretrial justice reforms is huge—and long overdue. For years, the pretrial system in New York has been terribly broken. People have been stuck in jail, stuck in the system, stuck in an endless cycle of injustice. I know this personally, from my own experience and from the countless stories of formerly incarcerated people I hear every day, especially from the women I work with and serve. Bail reform has long been important to me, not just personally but also professionally as a board member of a community bail fund and in my leadership role at Katal. Just last week, I visited women on Rikers Island, and even one trip there makes the urgent need for reform crystal clear. Now that we've won, we must focus on proper implementation while continuing to move reforms forward in Albany. We must pass the Less Is More Act, close Rikers Island, and chart a new path to justice and freedom for all New Yorkers.”

Lorenzo Jones and gabriel sayegh, co–executive directors of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, said: “The pretrial reform package included in the final budget is a significant overhaul that will advance justice, establish greater fairness, reduce jail populations, speed up the closure of Rikers Island, and secure public safety. Policy reform is— by design—mostly incremental, so for impacted communities organizing on the ground across New York to win a major overhaul like this is particularly powerful and noteworthy. And to win these reforms on the 10-year anniversary of the rollback of the Rockefeller Drug Laws is especially significant, especially for our members and staff who have been harmed by mass incarceration and the war on drugs. We thank Speaker Heastie, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and Governor Cuomo as these reforms get us closer to real justice. We also want to recognize and thank the Assembly and Senate pretrial reform bill sponsors, Assembly Members Aubry, Lentol, and Walker, and Senators Bailey and Gianaris, and the committed staff who work for the legislature and governor. To varying degrees, the final reforms meet our nine principles for bail reform in New York, and we must immediately turn toward effective implementation, while continuing the fight to finally end mass incarceration and structural racism in New York.” 

 

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