NYAPRS Note: With a Democratic majority in the NYS Senate, this should be the year for real criminal justice reform in New York, especially given strong support by Assembly Leader Carl Heastie and Governor Cuomo. NYAPRS will be working very closely with our friends at the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement to win passage of the HALT bill, which will ban the use of solitary confinement with vulnerable groups.
Public Defender Groups Calling for Major Criminal Justice Reforms by State
By KENNETH LOVETT New York Daily News November 14, 2018
ALBANY — With the Democrats set to completely control state government beginning in January, five New York City public defender groups are calling on state leaders to push through long-stalled criminal justice reforms — including requiring the NYPD to release officer disciplinary records.
"With the landscape changing in Albany next year, the time for meaningful reform has finally come," the groups wrote in a letter to Gov. Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Yonkers Democrat set to become the chamber's majority leader in January.
"Impacted communities and the greater public — your constituents — recognize the profound injustices that Albany has permitted to exist for decades, while other states have taken action to help fix the problems."
Signing the letter were the heads of the Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, the Bronx Defenders, the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem and New York County Defender Services.
In addition to revising the decades old 50-a Civil Service law that prohibits the release of NYPD officer disciplinary records, the public defender groups also are pushing bail, speedy trial and discovery reforms.
They also are calling for passage of legislation that cleared the Assembly to end solitary confinement beyond 15 days. They want bills to ensure inmates have a "fair and meaningful opportunity for parole release" for those at least 55 years old who have served at least 15 years of their sentences and to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation for misdemeanors.
They also are calling on the Legislature to act to require judicial warrants for any courthouse arrests done by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, expand visiting opportunities in state prisons, restore free bus service for those visiting inmates, and legalize marijuana and vacate the records of those who have been busted previously for pot.
Many of the initiatives were routinely blocked in the Republican-controlled state Senate, which the Democrats grabbed control of for the first time in a decade in last week's elections. Cuomo is a Democrat and the party also controls the Assembly.
Cuomo and the legislative Democrats have said criminal justice reforms will be a priority in 2019.
Criminal Justice Activists Press New York State Lawmakers To Enact Bold Reforms
By Reuven Blau NY Daily News November 14, 2018
Criminal justice activists rallied Wednesday to press Democrats now in control of the State Senate to make bold changes liked ending bail and solitary confinement for prisoners.
“We want real change,” said Kassandra Frederique, director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “We want to disrupt the status quo.”
She spoke in front of about 30 activists pressing for sweeping reforms during a rally at Foley Square.
The group also called on state lawmakers to pass a bill to release prisoners 55 years and older who have served 15 years of their sentence.
“We need to tear this whole system down,” Frederique said. “That happens with courage. That happens with fortitude. It happens with us.”
The criminal justice activists also called for legislation to allow convicted felons to be granted voting rights.
The majority of their proposed changes have been nixed by the GOP state Senate for years.
Gov. Cuomo last year vowed to enact a series of criminal justice reforms, including the end of cash bail for nonviolent felonies.
The measure stalled in the state Senate.
Criminal justice reformers say Cuomo should have done more to press for change over the last eight years in office.
The Gov. has vowed to make criminal justice reform a top priority this legislative session.
He’s likely to face some opposition.
Law enforcement groups have traditionally lobbied against ending cash bail reform and the use of solitary confinement for more than 15 days.
That should not get in the way during this upcoming legislation, criminal justice reformers said.
“Our families are suffering and we can’t wait,” the activists chanted. “We’ve got to end mass incarceration in New York State.”