March 14, 2018
#FREEnewyork Statewide Campaign Brings Bold Demands to Albany, Calls on Governor Cuomo to Overhaul Pretrial Laws and End New York’s Jail Crisis
ELECTED OFFICIALS SPEAK OUT IN SOLIDARITY WITH IMPACTED COMMUNITIES
(March 14, 2018 – Albany, New York) The #FREEnewyork campaign partners held a press conference in Albany today to demand bold overhaul of New York State’s bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws. Campaign members were joined by Senators Bailey, Benjamin, and Gianaris and Assembly Members Aubry, Blake, Lentol, Quart, and Walker – all of whom are leading the advance of pretrial justice reform in New York State. Senators Gianaris (S3579A – Bail), Benjamin and Bailey (S7722 – Discovery) champion landmark legislative reform in the Senate. The #FREEnewyork campaign is led by JustLeadershipUSA in partnership with directly impacted people and more than 250 statewide organizations and faith leaders. Today’s press conference was a part of the #FREEnewyork Albany Day of Action which included rallies, creative direct actions, and legislative advocacy, concluding with an evening town hall.
Campaign members came together from across the state including from New York City, Long Island, Buffalo, Rochester, and Westchester. Partners present today included the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), Latino Justice PRLDF, VOCAL-New York, New York Communities for Change, Citizen Action of New York, Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP Campaign), and the Campaign For Alternatives To Isolated Confinement.
In its current state, New York’s pretrial system has caused devastating harm to individuals, families, and communities; disproportionately harming people experiencing poverty, Black people, and people of color, including immigrants. Advocates are calling on New York State’s elected leaders to completely overhaul the pretrial system as a step toward ending New York’s jail crisis and leading the country in pretrial justice.
New York spends $2.5B each year to fill county jails statewide. Of the 25,000 New Yorkers that languish in jails across the state on any given day, nearly 70% sit in jail as they wait for their trials – punished while legally innocent. Campaign partners assert that while Governor Cuomo has talked about enacting substantial, statewide criminal justice reform in the areas of bail, discovery, and speedy trial, his actual proposals, as currently written, fall extraordinarily short of achieving drastic reduction of pretrial incarceration and wealth and race-based detention. The package also creates a dangerousness bias, in turn denying fair trials outright to entire categories of people, rather than striving for fair trials for individuals. (Read #FREEnewyork concerns with the Governor’s package at: bit.ly/2Hpld0g)
The #FREEnewyork campaign will continue to call on elected officials to champion groundbreaking reform that will:
- ensure that legally innocent New Yorkers have every opportunity, starting from the outset of their case, to protect their liberty and freedom;
- end wealth-driven incarceration and reduce racial disparities in our jails so people are not be locked up because they’re poor;
- ensure thorough and timely access to case evidence so people are not be left in the dark about their own case; and
- protect speedy trial rights so people do not have their cases needlessly dragged out for months and years.
Elected officials and #FREEnewyork Campaign partners said the following today:
“Our criminal justice system has been responsible for too many injustices, particularly against the poor. Eliminating bail would represent a big step towards greater fairness and would move us closer to the principle of innocence until proven guilty, instead of the other way around.” – Senate Democratic Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris
“For far too long, New York’s criminal justice system has operated in an unjust manner. Under the current system, discriminatory policies drive mass incarceration and furthers communities of color distrust in our system. Every New Yorker should feel that it is possible for them to receive a fair and speedy trial in our great state. And no New Yorker should feel that their race and/or socioeconomic status are factors in their ability to receive equal and fair treatment in our criminal justice system. In this legislative session, we have not only a special opportunity but also a moral obligation to right our systems’ grave wrongs by passing legislation that helps to end discriminatory practices in our criminal justice system. To make our system more just, our reform efforts must be comprehensive and bold, which is why I am calling for an end to money bail and for true, full reform of our speedy trial and discovery systems. When one’s freedom is at stake, transparency and equality are not ‘nice to haves’ but ‘must haves.’ New Yorkers should trust that they and their fellow New Yorkers can get a fair trial and that justice will be served equally to all.” – Senator Brian A. Benjamin
“Hundreds of New Yorkers are awaiting trial in terrible conditions because of unreasonably high bail and criteria set by private bail bonds which is impossible to meet for most minority families. We all have heard stories of New Yorkers like Kalief Browder who ended up stuck in Rikers Island just waiting to see a judge. We all heard stories of our Criminal Justice system failing minorities when 75 percent of the jail population haven’t been convicted of a crime, but the time for change is upon us. New Yorkers from minority families are being treated as if they’re guilty until proven innocent and it is supposed to be the other way around.” – Assemblymember Latrice Walker
“We have a chance this year to pass bold, meaningful criminal justice reform that makes our system more fair. If we are serious about ending mass incarceration and expanding equal justice for all, we must work together on reforms that will guarantee change to our discovery, bail, and speedy trial practices. I am proud to sponsor a comprehensive bail reform bill eliminating cash bail on misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies and rejecting the use of a risk assessment tool. I look forward to working with stakeholders and my colleagues in government to make progress in improving our state’s justice system.” – Assemblymember Dan Quart
“Kalief Browder spent three years jailed at Rikers Island, on a charge for which he was never tried or convicted. He was released in March 2013, having spent more than 700 days in solitary confinement. On June 6, 2015, Kalief committed suicide, a final and permanent indictment of New York’s “speedy trial” statute. The right to a speedy trial in criminal proceedings isn’t optional, it isn’t conditional: it’s constitutional. Every moment we sit in silence, every moment we surrender to complacency thousands of Kalief Browders are being churned through this broken system – thousands of inmates continue to sit in jail without Due Process – thousands of inmates fall victim to the inadequacies of the criminal justice system – many pay with their lives; this is unacceptable. The tragedy of Kalief Browder must never happen again, and I am proud to introduce Kalief’s Law which would ensure that defendants receive a speedy trial. Integrity in the judicial and legal process must be restored and this is how we must do it.” – Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubrey
“New York’s criminal justice system criminalizes people experiencing poverty! It is used as a weapon of oppression predominantly against Black people and communities of color. These unjust pretrial mechanisms put a price on people’s freedom and then lock them in a cage when they can’t afford bail. People are left in the dark about the evidence against them and left to languish in a cell while prosecutors intentionally drag their feet. This system, as it stands today, does not deliver fair trials or outcomes. New Yorkers deserve better. We are not asking permission. We demand real Gold Standard reform to our bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws. The urgency of this crisis means that the Governor and legislators must act now!” – Shanequa Charles, #FREEnewyork Campaign Leader
“From my personal experience of sitting on Rikers Island for 18 months waiting for evidence until my case was dismissed, I totally agree that we need reform to our bail, speedy trial and discovery laws. Without it, prosecutors will continue to abuse the laws and that leads to wrongful convictions, malicious prosecutions and more people in Rikers Island and other jails around the state.” – Darryl Herring, VOCAL-NY leader
“For far too long, Latinx communities have unjustly suffered under an excessively punitive and biased criminal justice system. Our current bail system creates two tiers of justice- one for those who can buy their freedom and another that penalizes low-income New Yorkers for being too poor to pay bail, forcing them to languish in jail awaiting trial while already suffering the collateral consequences of a broken criminal justice system. Today we are calling upon New York to take a crucial step in addressing this injustice and leading on criminal justice reform.” – Jerónimo Saldaña, Co-Director of LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s Criminal Justice Collaborative
“The law says you are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but that’s just not the reality in New York state. Our state criminal justice system, which disproportionately punishes people of color and the poor, is inadequate, unfair, and deeply broken. Each year tens of thousands of New Yorkers who have not been convicted of a crime sit behind bars, pulled away from their work and their families, because they can’t afford to pay their way out. A slow and backlogged court system drags out their injustice, and unfair evidence sharing rules prevent them and their lawyers from effectively preparing to argue their case in court. As the Governor and lawmakers negotiate the state budget, they must ensure that the final legislation truly fulfils the promise of fairness and justice in New York.” – Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director
“It is outrageous and immoral that most of the people detained in New York county jails are legally innocent. Governor Cuomo has a tremendous opportunity to do right for these individuals by supporting reforms to New York’s broken bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws. These outrageous laws have done nothing but ruin countless lives and torn apart communities. We call upon Governor Cuomo to champion profound changes to the criminal justice system and bring justice to the state.” – Mary Crosson, Chair, Long Island Chapter New York Communities for Change
“All aspects of New York’s incarceration system need fundamental transformation. Just as parole injustice leaves thousands of elders to despair and die in prison, racist and predatory bail, speedy trial, and discovery laws coerce, lock and warehouse people in New York’s horrendous jails. It’s time for Governor Cuomo to stand with New Yorkers and #FREEnewyork.”– Laura Whitehorn, Formerly Incarcerated Organizer with the Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) Campaign.
“Mass incarceration breaks apart families and disrupts communities, especially Black and Brown communities. It’s not just a downstate problem; it’s a problem up and down the state. We need to reform our broken justice system and invest in the communities devastated by racist mass incarceration policies.” – Rosemary Rivera, Director of Organizing for Citizen Action of New York.
“Today, hundreds of legally innocent people in local jails across New York State are held in solitary confinement–all at the whim of jail staff. They are disproportionately Black and Latinx people, young people, and people with mental illness. The daily injustices of our courts are only amplified in jail disciplinary systems, where people are denied representation and all proceedings are hidden from public scrutiny. CAIC calls on Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to enact real reforms to our pre-trial justice system, in addition to the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, so we can finally end this torture and begin to heal the wounds it has caused.” – Cynthia Williams, NYCAIC, campaign to #HALTsolitary
The #FREEnewyork campaign is led by JustLeadershipUSA in partnership with directly impacted people and more than 250 statewide organizations and faith leaders. #FREEnewyork is organizing to ensure that Governor Cuomo completely overhauls New York State’s pretrial justice system to reflect New Yorkers’ values and stop the harm caused to individuals, families, and communities, by the criminal justice system.