Criminal Justice Reform
Now more than ever, we see the dangers of our carceral, police state. We have empowered and encouraged the police to default to violence. And people of color, the poor, and the working class are often the victims. As I stand with my brothers and sisters in the streets of New York City and protest police violence, I am reminded of the many policy decisions that led us to this place. As a State Senator, I will do everything I can to end policing and incarceration as we know it.
The way we make neighborhoods safer is by providing people with housing, stable jobs, health care, and schools with the resources they need. Prisons do not make neighborhoods safer. What they do is put a lot of people in brutal conditions and make it almost impossible for them to have stable housing, jobs, health care, or education once they’re released.
I am a firm believer that enforcing the laws of our state does not necessitate depriving individuals of their human rights. Being accused of a crime should not grant the police or any government agency license to do unnecessary harm to any individual. Currently many of New York’s criminal laws target nonviolent individuals for things such as marijuana and fare evasion, while allowing corporate criminals unearned privileges.
As a socialist, I believe that people should not have to endure the violence and coercion of a carceral system that props up the exploitation of the market by surveilling, caging, and killing those fighting to survive under capitalism.
AS A STATE SENATOR, I WILL FIGHT TO:
- Defund the Police. The NYPD has a long history of abusing and terrorizing working class communities of color. The department and its union have successfully shielded themselves from accountability and meaningful reform, even while its acts of violence and corruption have become increasingly horrific and routine. Efforts to hold the police accountable and address police violence have been met with riots by the police, now and in the past. It is clear that it is past time to massively overhaul our approach to public safety. As a necessary step in this direction, I will support efforts from the City to decrease funding to the NYPD and work to build non-violent, publicly accountable approaches to public safety statewide.
- Repeal 50-A. 50-A excludes police officers from New York’s Freedom of Information laws. Police departments and unions have successfully expanded the scope of the law through the court system, and it is now used routinely to maintain secrecy and prevent accountability The safety of our communities depends entirely upon our ability to extract violent, ill-suited officers from the ranks of the department. It is disappointing that is took mass protests to get our Democratically-controlled legislature to make this basic reform. We need leaders who are proactive on this issue, rather than reactive. Although repealer bills have been in Albany for the last 5 legislative sessions, our representatives have failed to make them a reality. Passing S3695, which repeals the exception, will save lives.
- Abolish NYPD’s Strategic Response Group. The Strategic Response Group (SRG) was created in 2015 as a response to Black Lives Matter protests and as a further continuation of the NYPD’s Islamophobic policies built up in the wake of 9/11. Since then, the SRG, which consists of over 800 officers, has policed every major action in New York City, from May Day to FTP to anti-Trump protests. While regularly employing excessive force against these social movements, including use of military-grade LRAD noise cannon, they have allowed far-right groups to act with impunity. The SRG is a unit specifically tasked with countering mass calls for social and economic justice and as such it should not exist.
- Prohibit tear gas, LRADs, and “less-lethal” munitions statewide. These devices can kill people or cause serious permanent damage. Police should not induce concussions, deafness, or blindness, and they should not kill the people they are sworn to protect. I will work to prohibit the use of these devices statewide and end the use of all military equipment by police departments in the state.
- Establish a special prosecutor for police misconduct. In 2015 executive order 147 established a special prosecutor in matters relating to the deaths of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement officers. This is a great step forward in pursuing police accountability, but as we’ve experienced nationally, executive orders are vulnerable to the whims of future administrations. We need to expand this order to cover all cases of police misconduct and codify it in state law
- Prohibit police departments from hiring officers with histories of misconduct. Under current laws officers with a history of misconduct are able to sidestep accountability by simply resigning or retiring and moving to another city. In 2015, in response to a wave of Black Lives Matter protests, Connecticut passed HB 7103 which banned hiring officers with histories of misconduct. New York can do more to prevent bad officers from transferring from one department to another and HB 7103 provides an excellent blueprint.
- Ban police from receiving military weapons from the federal government. Policing has become unnecessarily and dangerously militarized in the United States. This is in large part due to federal programs that have armed state and local law enforcement agencies with the weapons and tactics of war. As of 2014, police departments in the Tri-State area have received up to tens of millions of dollars in surplus military hardware through these programs. The use of these weapons and tactics escalates the risk of needless violence and undermines individual liberties. There is no reason why the NYPD or any New York state or local police department should be armed with military grade weapons such as armored vehicles, tanks, drones, or grenade launchers.
- Legalize Marijuana. Marijuana prohibition has thrust thousands of New Yorkers into the criminal legal system for non-violent offenses. Once released, the formerly accused can be legally denied housing, student loans, employment opportunities, voting, and other vital services. Marijuana use poses no threat to our community, but the system of policing it draws individuals into our carceral and criminal-legal systems and draws resources away from necessary services. New York must pass a Marijuana Legalization act that legalizes the use of marijuana, creates a regulated and taxed cannabis industry, and provides for various social and economic justice initiatives.
- Decriminalizing simple drug possession. Since the War on Drugs began, the federal government and New York State have treated drug use and addiction as crimes rather than public health issues. Decades later, our prisons and jails are swollen with poor people and people of color while drugs are as readily available as ever. It’s clear this approach has failed. I pledge to draft legislation that redirects resources away from the failed efforts of policing and punishment of simple drug possession and into education, prevention, and care.
- Re-enfranchise incarcerated New Yorkers and all those with prior felony convictions. In 2018 executive order 181 restored the right to vote to anyone upon their release from prison. This is a huge step forward, but right now our representatives in Albany are sitting on the bills that would codify and expand this measure. As a state senator I will staunchly defend the right of all New Yorkers to exercise their fundamental American right to vote and will fight to pass senate bill S6821, which would extend the ability to register and vote in elections to inmates currently being held in correctional facilities.
- Completely eliminate Cash Bail. The 2019 bail reform bill was a step in the right direction, but we all knew at the time that we could do better. Eliminating cash bail for some cases still allows for the injustice to continue in the rest. Whether a person is accused of pickpocketing or murder, the amount of money in his bank account shouldn’t determine whether he walks free or spends weeks, months, or years in jail awaiting trial. I support S2101A, which will ensure that all defendants who have not yet been convicted of a crime be given the presumption of release.
- Decriminalize Fare Evasions. Under the direction of Gov Cuomo the MTA will hire 500 new police officers to patrol the subway system. This increase would nearly double the number of MTA officers already assigned to the subway and will add to the 2,500 NYPD officers who currently police the subway. The additional officers will cost the agency $249 million over the next 4 years, while only saving $200 million over the same period, thus forcing cuts elsewhere in the already underfunded service. This increased police presence will almost certainly disproportionately impact high poverty Black and Latinx neighborhoods. I believe the MTA should be a public good and free at the point of service. I have witnessed how expensive and ineffective pursuing and criminalizing fare evasions is. We should instead be spending that money on improving service.
- Decriminalize Sex Work. New York state law has more than two dozen anti-prostitution penal codes, about half of which pertain only to sex work between consenting adults. I will fight to decriminalize and decarcerate the sex trades, for record relief for survivors of human trafficking, and to repeal New York’s “Walking While Trans” bill.
- Establish Safe Injection Sites. Over the past decade, opioid abuse has reached epidemic levels in the United States and New York has been no exception. Over 1,400 New Yorkers have died of overdose every year since 2015. Safe injection sites would provide sterile injection supplies, collect used hypodermic needles and syringes, and teach patients about safe consumption practices. Patients will also be able to access referrals to addiction treatment, job training, and other social services.
- Restrictions on Facial Recognition Software. The use of facial recognition software has put our civil liberties and privacy rights at serious risk. 117 million Americans, or half of the current population, are in a law enforcement face recognition database. Although it has been used in different states for 20 years, facial recognition software has not demonstrated an ability to produce accurate data. This is especially true for different racial groups. Government tests released in December of last year showed the technology produced more false positive results when evaluating images of black women. In addition, police and prosecutors are not mandated to disclose the use of facial recognition software to the defense. This is not even to mention the use of the technology to crush political dissidents by authoritarian regimes. I will fight to make New York the first state in the nation to place restrictions and establish oversight over the use of facial recognition.
- End to solitary confinement. Solitary confinement has long been demonstrated to cause devastating physical, psychological, and emotional harm. Studies have shown that increased exposure to solitary confinement is directly linked to negative outcomes such as increased risks of suicide, self harm, and recidivism. The continued use of solitary is counterproductive to the safety justifications sometimes given for its existence and ultimately makes prisons, jails, and the outside communities less safe. It’s important to note that solitary confinement is disproportionately inflicted on Black and Latinx people, young people, queer, transgender and gender non-conforming people and people with mental health needs. Replacing solitary with more effective alternatives will ultimately save human lives and human potential. As a state senator I will support S1623 the Human Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act.
- Prohibit police from using dishonest means to extract confessions. Confessions obtained via coercion and lies are unreliable and can lead to wrongful imprisonment of innocent civilians. Current laws allow law enforcement to use deceptive practices and unrecorded interactions as a means of extracting confessions. As a state senator I will fight to pass S6806, which designates any confession obtained via false pretenses, whether by knowingly false promises or information, as involuntary.
- Establish a sentencing reform commission. In 1950, New York State had an incarceration rate of 103 people per 100,000. By 2018, that number had gone up to 254 people – an increase of over 200%. This rate is higher than almost every other industrialized democracy in the world. Meanwhile, the racial disparity is severe. The incarceration rate of black New Yorkers is currently more than three times higher than for whites. As a state senator I will fight to establish a commission with a legal mandate to return New York to its 1950 incarceration rate within 10 years. As part of that process it would be empowered to consider every option for reform, and further be empowered to reallocate the resources freed up by reducing the size of the prison system towards rehabilitation and support services for re-entry.
- Repeal all mandatory minimum sentences. Mandatory minimum sentencing prescribes predetermined prison terms for certain crimes. Even in cases where it’s clear to everyone in the courtroom that a defendant doesn’t deserve the hefty sentence a prosecutor is seeking, mandatory minimums require the judge to impose that unjust sentence. The fear of mandatory minimums often pressures innocent victims of our police system into taking plea deals that don’t carry these hefty sentences. Furthermore, mandatory minimums have shown to be ineffective in deterring crime. I believe in our independent branches of government and I will fight to stop the state legislature from designating one size fits all minimum sentences.
- Repeal “bump-up” statutes. New York’s bump-up statutes allow misdemeanor offenses to carry felony charges. This allows for increased sentences for small crimes simply because the defendant has a past conviction. Prosecutors can thus use these old convictions to bump-up certain misdemeanor charges to felonies at will, which leads to radically different outcomes for people convicted of the same conduct. There is simply no reason for these statutes, which is why I will fight to pass legislation that repeals them.
- Enact Elder Parole. The number of older inmates in our prison system is rising every year even as the total inmate population is falling. Since 2000, the population of state prisoners over the age of 50 has increased by 81 percent. Older inmates who have served long sentences present the lowest risk of recidivism of any other class of inmates. Despite the fact that many would pose no threat to society at least 675 older people have died in state custody since January 2011. To combat this unprecedented and unnecessary trend I will fight to permit the Board of Parole to evaluate the cases of all inmates over 55 who have served terms over 15 years.
- End Technical Parole Violations: New York sends more individuals back to prison for non-criminal, technical parole violations than any state except Illinois. Such violations include violating curfew, failure to do programming, and sleeping in a location other than your designated home. Minimal process is all that is currently required to return a paroled individual to prison.
- Expand New York’s Sealing Statute and Put in Place Measures to Encourage People to Apply: New York’s sealing statute permits individuals with either (1) two New York misdemeanor convictions or (2) one New York non-violent felony and one misdemeanor conviction to have these convictions sealed if they not been convicted of a crime for at least 10 years. Very few New Yorkers have taken advantage of this statute, which has not been well-publicized and has a byzantine application process. The application process should be simplified, the 10 year waiting period shortened to five years, and there should be discretionary consideration for violent felonies. (In Vermont, for example, only five years of no convictions is required before sealing.) This change would greatly improve the lives of working class New Yorkers, who suffer job and housing discrimination because of longtime past criminal offenses.
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