Executive Budget Hearing Testimony delivered before the City Council’s Committee on the Justice System and Finance Committee

Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice - May 14, 2018

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Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice
New York City Council
Committee on the Justice System and Finance Committee
May 14, 2018

Good afternoon, Chairs Lancman and Dromm and members of the Justice System Committee and Committee on Finance. My name is Elizabeth Glazer and I am the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (“MOCJ”). Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. Osvaldo Cruz, Chief Financial Officer, Dana Kaplan, Deputy Director, and Eric Cumberbatch, Executive Director of the Office to Prevent Gun Violence, in my office are here with me to answer questions.

The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice advises the Mayor on public safety strategy and, together with partners inside and outside of government, develops and implements policies that promote safety and fairness and reduce unnecessary incarceration.

In the last four years in New York City, we have seen an acceleration of the trends that have defined the public safety landscape in this city over the last three decades. New York City’s jail population has fallen by half since 1990 and by 22 % in the last four years, giving us the lowest incarceration rate of any large city In the United States and the steepest four-year decline in the size of the jail population since 1998.  This weekend, the jail population stood at under 8,500, the lowest it has been in 37 years.  This follows four years of declines in almost every category of person held at Rikers, with the stark exception of State parole violators.

Although the fluctuation in arrests is not the sole driver of the jail population (very few people who are arrested are admitted to jail), it is an important piece of the future of New York’s safety picture:  at the same time that the size of the jail population has shrunk, crime and arrests have also fallen.  There has been a gentling of New York City, reflected in the shrinking number of New Yorkers who commit crimes, the lightening of the enforcement touch by our police and an emerging and significant role that our neighborhoods are playing in driving this virtuous cycle of reducing crime, arrests and incarceration.  Here the work of the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety as well as the Office to Prevent Gun Violence and the scores of neighborhood groups that make up our Crisis Management System (an idea born out of a Council task force) have been important forces in democratizing the responsibility for the safety of our city. New York City’s experience is continued and unique proof that we can have both more safety and less incarceration.

My office’s goal is to invest public resources to help create the safest possible New York City with the smallest and fairest justice system.  As I testified on March 20th, we are pursuing an array of efforts to drive toward this goal and to reshape the way we deliver safety and fairness in this city.  These strategies can be grouped as: (1) partnering with New Yorkers to co-produce public safety – it is here that we are centering the ideas and action of democratizing safety; (2) creating a smaller, safer, fairer justice system in New York City – an enormous piece of work which is nothing less than justice reform, a joint effort embracing multiple entities, including every New Yorker; and (3) promoting fairness, a value that we aim to realize concretely and that animates our goals of promoting safety and justice.

Last year, the Mayor announced that the City would close Rikers Island and replace it with a smaller network of borough-based jails.  This is now the everyday work of the government of New York City and the decision-makers responsible for moving with urgency toward a smaller, safer and fairer justice system. In the last year, we have made concrete progress, which I covered at our last budget hearing in March.  The demonstrable progress is best illustrated by the successful efforts to further reduce our jail population, work that continues everyday as we understand better why people enter and how long they stay.  Today our population is 8.7% below where it was last year and, while this number will go up and down day to day, the trajectory is trending downwards.

This did not happen by accident; it is the result of the intentional efforts by many to focus enforcement resources on public safety risks, operate alternatives to jail that earn the trust of judges and prosecutors and work with New Yorkers to keep crime low. In the last year, we have partnered with working groups of judges, prosecutors, defenders and non-profit program providers to launch several new programs to accelerate safe reductions in the jail population. In addition to the initiatives I covered at our preliminary budget hearing, these initiatives include new behavioral health services for defendants assigned to supervised release (a pretrial community-based alternative to jail program that has diverted over 8,000 people from jail since launching citywide in March 2016).  To drive closer to a system that provides judges with more alternatives to setting bail, the Executive Plan also includes an additional investment of $620,000 to expand supervised release in Manhattan and allocates an additional $1 million to expand supervised release in the Bronx. We are grateful for the ongoing partnership with the courts, prosecutors and defenders that has contributed to the successful implementation of these diversion expansions.

While supervised release is an important driver of reducing the jail population – giving judges an option between release with no conditions and bail or remand – these ameliorate but do not eliminate the ills imposed by a cash bail system created by statute.  The only way to fundamentally reform the system is to eliminate cash bail, something that the Mayor has called for and the Governor has tried to persuade the legislature to do.

For those instances where a judge still decides to set money bail, New York City is working to make that payment process easier, including the recent launch of an online bail system.  This, together with a slew of other efforts – the citywide bail fund, the borough-based bail funds, Legal Aid’s Decarceration Project, expanded numbers of bail expediters – is focused on making the system we have easier to navigate.  These efforts are happening against a background of reductions in key areas, driven by the dynamics I have already described. A few examples of the results:

• The number of people detained on misdemeanor charges is down 34% since 2013;

• The number of people detained on bail of $2000 and less is down by 60% since 2013;

• The number of people in jail who are bailable is down by 33% from last year; and

• The number of people in custody with cases pending for longer than three years is down by 53% since April 2015, when the City, courts, DAs and defenders launched a joint initiative to reduce case processing delays.

Finally, I would like to provide a brief update to the Council on the City’s efforts to implement Raise the Age, the state legislation to treat 16 and 17 year olds as juveniles within the criminal justice system, a change long sought and advocated for by the City. My office is leading a planning process with the participation of the relevant city agencies, the courts, DAs, defenders and non-profit providers. We are all planning for the significant increase of these young people into the family court system, the development of adolescent offender parts, a full continuum of diversion opportunities and community-based programs, and the identification and preparation of juvenile justice facilities to house this expanded population. As we have shared in the past, there is currently $300 million in capital funding allocated to improve these sites, and work is well underway at Crossroads and Horizon, the City’s two existing juvenile detention facilities. We continue to advocate aggressively to the State for the use of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services facility Ella McQueen, to have sufficient capacity to house safely all of the adolescents that are both in the current juvenile justice system and that are required to be off of Rikers Island by October 2018. Our jail population reduction efforts are also directed at the group of adolescents that need to be moved off Rikers. The number of 16 and 17 year olds on Rikers today is at 101. That number is down by 30 people from when I last testified in March and represents a 45% decline since 2016, when 183 16 and 17 year olds were in our jail.

As my office testified last April, at this juncture, we believe the City can still meet the ambitious deadline for moving juveniles off of Rikers Island, but meeting that deadline and the law’s objectives will require that the commingling restrictions within housing, education, recreation and programming be determined by the City’s classification system, rather than the adolescents’ court status alone. Overly restrictive commingling restrictions, failing to provide the City the use of the virtually empty state facility Ella McQueen, and the delay in issuing regulations have all hindered the City’s ability to implement Raise the Age in a manner that is safe and appropriate for juveniles. The funding reflected in this Executive Plan will enable the agencies to take on the elements of Raise the Age that will go into effect on October 1, 2018 only. Specifically, by October 1st of this year, newly arrested 16 year olds will be treated as juveniles and will no longer be prosecuted as adults as many, if not most, will go to family court and a relatively few will go to a newly created youth part in criminal court. Additionally, New York City must house all 16 and 17 year olds in a specialized juvenile detention facility that cannot be located on Rikers Island. We plan to learn from the first year of Raise the Age to assess an appropriate resource level for agencies, which will then better inform the additional resource needs to take on newly arrested 17 year olds being treated as juveniles and no longer being prosecuted as adults a year later (by October 1st 2019). The additional funding needs will be addressed in future financial plans.

I am grateful to the City Council and to all of our other partners who work with us in implementing this work, knowing that it is complicated and time-consuming. But with this shared responsibility and shared effort, we have a rare and real opportunity to construct a smaller, safer and fairer justice system in New York City that will endure.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today. I would be happy to answer any questions.