Heastie: NYS Assembly Will Focus on Criminal Justice Reforms That Are Among Top NYAPRS Priorities This Session

NYAPRS Note: Earlier this week, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie made criminal justice reform a most welcome centerpiece of his remarks in opening the 2017 session. Such reforms have been among NYAPRS’ top priorities over the past 3 years, and our efforts have helped achieve a combined $3.4 million allocation from both houses to fund training and technical assistance to over 20 Crisis Intervention Teams across the state and passage of landmark legislation restoring Medicaid for ‘high needs’ individuals 30 days before release from prisons and jails (this measure is still awaiting approval from the federal Medicaid agency, CMS).
Criminal justice will again be a top priority for us this year, along with housing, funding for community recovery services, workforce compensation and agency infrastructure, balancing the sharing of protected health information with patient confidentiality rights and choices.

We will be working to get more funding to launch and/or train more Crisis Intervention Teams, to support HALT legislation to halt the torture of solitary confinement in our jails and prisons and to raise the age of criminal liability to 18.

We look forward to working with Speaker Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and IDC leader Donald Klein and Governor Cuomo to advance these long overdue reforms.

NYAPRS members and friends can start preparing now to join us for our 20th Annual Legislative Day in Albany on February 28th! Let’s work together to raise funds to bring upwards of 700 passionate advocates to help push for these priorities this year! Contact Deputy Director Tanya Stevens at tanyas@nyaprs.org to offer or ask about buses to Albany.

“We must do everything we can to reform the criminal justice system.

This year, we will take the necessary steps to bring our criminal justice laws into the 21st Century.

It is unforgivable that the poor and underprivileged bear the brunt of a criminal justice system that does more to break them down than it does to make our communities safer.

This is a priority for me personally as Speaker and I feel my speakership would be in vain if we didn’t fight with all we have to make the system better.

Our system is failing.

It failed Kalief Browder who was wrongfully accused of stealing a backpack at just 16 years old. When his family was unable to raise $10,000 for bail, he was detained at Rikers Island for three years awaiting a trial that never came.

When his case was finally dismissed, he had endured three years in jail, 400 days of solitary confinement and abuses he couldn’t overcome. He took his own life at just 22.

The Assembly Majority has championed the issue to Raise the Age for many years. It is a cornerstone of our Families First agenda. Today 16 and 17 year olds are still being sentenced to adult correctional facilities where we know they do not belong.

It is time that our partners in government join us in passing and enacting a measure to move these cases to Family Court where they belong. Let us give these young people the intervention and guidance they need so they can be productive members of society.

The Assembly Majority, including Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Aubry, Chair of Codes Joe Lentol, Chair of Correction Danny O’Donnell, Chair of Judiciary Helene Weinstein and the Assembly’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus have all been outspoken advocates for top down criminal justice reform, including:

  • Grand jury reform;
  • Wrongful conviction reforms;
  • Eliminating barriers to employment including banning the box and sealing certain records;
  • The basic right to a speedy trial;
  • Independent oversight of inmate complaints; and
  • Prison system reforms including reduced use of solitary confinement.

We have passed measures that would prohibit racial profiling by law enforcement.

We have also backed efforts to ensure accountability in the investigation of fatal encounters between civilians and law enforcement.

We will renew our push for bail reforms that will not unfairly punish those from low-income families.

We must continue to invest in alternative to incarceration programs and support a robust re-entry initiative that will reduce recidivism.

By eliminating barriers to housing, higher education and employment we can improve the prospects of past offenders so they are not set up for failure upon release.

We must do more to make sure poor and indigent defendants have access to legal counsel. We fund every aspect of our judicial system, and it is a bedrock value of our society that all defendants have a right to competent legal counsel.

Last year, we passed a bill championed by Assembly member Pat Fahy with broad bi-partisan support to have the state mitigate the high costs of indigent legal services while improving the quality of representation. The costs for these vital services have been an enormous burden on local governments which in turn drives up property taxes.

But this is a problem that will not go away. We will continue our efforts to find a solution. We must get it done this year.”