Nation-leading Reforms Will Ensure Equal Access to Justice and Transform the State’s Antiquated System
New Measures Will Improve the Re-Entry Process to Help Individuals Transition from Incarceration to their Communities
Announcement Made During Caucus Weekend as Governor Cuomo and Administration Continue Push for Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced civil rights and criminal justice leaders across New York have endorsed his 2018 criminal justice agenda to ensure access to equal justice and transform the state’s antiquated system. The Reverend Al Sharpton, Hazel Dukes, the Anti-Defamation League and other leading civil rights and criminal justice advocates today issued an open letter outlining their support for the Governor’s sweeping agenda. The nation-leading reform measures will transform our criminal justice system by removing critical barriers and reaffirming our beliefs in fairness, opportunity and dignity for all. This announcement came during Caucus Weekend as Governor Cuomo and his administration urged the passage of comprehensive criminal justice reform. Learn more .
“New York is the beacon of progress and equal opportunity for the nation, and we must continue to lead the way forward by ensuring a safer, fairer criminal justice system,” Governor Cuomo said. “The truth is that our Lady Justice is still not color blind and her scales are still not balanced. But together, we can break down the economic and racial inequities that have perpetuated for far too long — and continue our historic march towards a more equal society for all.”
The new legislation will:
- Eliminate monetary bail for people facing misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges;
- Expand the discovery process to include disclosure of information in a timely manner;
- Reduce unnecessary delays and adjournments in court proceedings;
- Ban all asset seizures, unless an arrest is made and enhance reporting requirements for local law enforcement and District Attorneys; and
- Improve the re-entry process for individuals transitioning from incarceration to their communities.
The text of the open letter is below:
New York has a long and proud history of leading the charge to make our society more equal. While we have made great gains advancing social and economic justice, we must continue to unite and fight for the rights of all New Yorkers and defend the core values of equality and fairness that are integral to our social fabric.
It is no secret that the scales of our criminal justice system do not tilt equally for people of color and the poor, but this does not mean we can be complicit and allow unjust justice to persist.
Governor Cuomo has put forth a comprehensive package of reforms to make our criminal justice system smarter and fairer, the centerpiece of which is a sweeping reform of our outdated bail laws. These laws do not keep presumed-innocent people out of jail, instead, far too many New Yorkers are imprisoned today simply for the crime of being too poor to make bail. To solve this, Governor Cuomo has pledged to eliminate cash bail once and for all for anyone facing misdemeanor or nonviolent felony charges. Instead, people will be released under the least restrictive, non-monetary conditions that will reasonably ensure that they come back to court. While the bill has safeguards to protect against actual, proven threats that a few defendants may pose before trial, it ensures that the great majority of people going through the criminal justice system will be free before trial, because detention before trial must be the exception, not the rule.
New York’s discovery and speedy trial laws are also outdated and in need of reform. Currently, defendants do not have access to crucial discovery until trial, and our speedy trial law needs tighter standards in assessing the parties’ readiness for trial. The Governor has proposed reforms to these laws, and stands ready to work with the legislature to craft a final proposal that makes these processes more just and fair.
Finally, the Governor’s package recognizes that many New Yorkers who have paid their debt to society still encounter barriers to their re-entry into our communities. The Governor has made significant progress in reducing such barriers administratively, but it is time for new laws in several areas. The Governor’s proposal removes outdated bans on occupational licensing, safely widens release opportunities for people who have shown rehabilitation, creates a means for geriatric parole for incarcerated individuals with debilitating age-related conditions, and reduces financial burdens after release to speed returning citizens’ reintegration to society, including eliminating parole supervision fees.
At every stage of the criminal justice process — from arrest, to detainment, to trial, to release and re-entry — we can and we must do more to right the wrongs of our criminal justice system. We, the undersigned, wholeheartedly endorse this smart, compassionate approach to criminal justice reform and urge the legislature to act on it swiftly.
Rev. Al Sharpton, President & Founder, National Action Network
Marc Morial, National Urban League
Hazel Dukes, NAACP State Conference
Michael Garner, 100 Black Men
Iesha Sekou, Street Corner Resources
Erica Ford, Life Camp Inc.
Susan Taylor, Founder & CEO, National CARES Mentor Movement, Editor in Chief Emerita, Essence Magazine
NYC Mission Society
Paula Edgar, Metropolitan Black Bar Association
Lloyd Williams, President, The Greater Harlem, Chamber of Commerce
David C. Banks, President & CEO, Eagle Academy
Carla Brown, Black Agency Executives
NAACP White Plains
Phil Craig, National Action Network Queens Chapter
Westchester Black Women’s Political Caucus Inc.
George McDonald, The Doe Fund
Max Kenner, Bard Prison Initiative
Raul Russi, Acacia Network
Eugenio Russi, Hispanics United of Buffalo
Joanne Page, The Fortune Society
Anthony Thompson, Professor of Clinical Law, New York University School of Law
Sam Schaeffer, Center for Employment Opportunities
Timothy Donaher, Monroe County Public Defender
Julio Medina, Exodus Transitional Community