Testimony delivered at the New York City Council Committee on Public Safety Hearing

Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice - March 30, 2017


Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice New York City Council Committee on Public Safety March 30, 2017

Good afternoon, Chair Gibson and members of the Committee on Public Safety. 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. Jean Claude LeBec, Chief Operating Officer, and Alex Crohn, General Counsel from 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 reduce crime, reduce unnecessary incarceration, and promote fairness.

In the last three 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. While jail and prison populations around the country increased, New York City’s jail population has fallen by half since 1990. And in the last three years, the jail population dropped by 18% — the largest three year decline in the last twenty years. This declining use of jail has happened alongside record crime lows. Major crime has fallen by 76% in the last thirty years and by 9% in the last three. 2016 was the safest year in CompStat history, with homicides down 5%, shootings down 12%, and burglaries down 15% from 2015. New York City’s experience is continued and unique proof that we can have both more safety and smaller jails.

My office’s goal is to invest public resources to further reduce both crime and the size of our city’s jail population while promoting fairness. To drive toward this goal, we are pursuing an array of initiatives that can be grouped under three strategies. I would like to give an update on each today.

The first strategy is moving toward a risk-driven system. If risk were the guiding principle in our criminal justice system, jail beds would be used by individuals who pose a risk to public safety; those who are not dangerous would wait for trial at liberty; and law enforcement resources would be concentrated on the few individuals driving violent crime. The goal is to improve the criminal justice system’s accuracy by ensuring we can separate the few individuals who should be detained from the many who should not. Over the last year, the City has taken many steps to move closer to a risk-driven system. We track a few indicators related to risk:

The first indictor is the size of the jail population. For the last three decades, the size of New York City’s jail population has been steadily declining — a trend that accelerated over the last three years with a 18% drop, largely driven by intentional efforts to reduce the number of people who enter jail and how long people stay in jail if admitted. Reducing the number of people who enter jail is generally associated with reducing the use of jail for individuals for low- and mid-risk individuals. On this score, in 2016:

  • Misdemeanor and non-violent felony jail admissions have fallen by
    7.7%. Defendants facing misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges are now eligible for a new alternative to jail program — Supervised Release — that rolled out in March 2016. Supervised Release gives judges the option of allowing eligible, low-risk defendants to remain home with their families and continue working while waiting for trial and has diverted over 3,000 people from jail since it was launched one year ago.
  • The jail population detained on bail under $2,000 has dropped by 36%
    since 2014. During this same time period, the City has rolled out several programs to make it easier to post bail more quickly, including installing ATMs in every courthouse to ensure people have easy access to cash to post bail. We are currently rolling out an online bail payment system that will be operational citywide later this spring.
  • The City reduced the number of people with behavioral health needs in City jails by 7%. After increasing steadily for five years, the number of people with behavioral health needs in City jails has fallen by 7% in the three years following the implementation of the Mayor’s Action Plan on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System — a plan to includes strategies that begin before arrest and extend to reentry after jail to help people with behavioral health needs get access to services that can help them stabilize.

And for those who do enter jail, the City has continued to reduce the length of stay by reducing case delay. Detainees awaiting trial at Rikers for long periods of time are the single biggest driver of the City’s jail population. In April 2015, in partnership with the State Courts, each of the five District Attorney’s offices, and defense providers, the City launched Justice Reboot, an intentional effort to remove systemic causes of case delay. Since this effort began, the length of Supreme Court cases has been reduced by an average of 18 days — the first reduction in decades — and the number of severely delayed cases older than three years has been reduced by half. Additional efforts to further reduce the jail population will rollout over the coming months.

The second indicator is the composition of the jail population. As the overall size of the jail population has fallen, and fewer people who pose a low risk are detained, jail has been increasingly reserved in New York City for those who pose a risk, either of flight or to public safety. The proportion of the jail population detained on violent offenses has increased from 29% to 45% over the past 20 years, while the number of people held on felony drug charges declined by 78% and the number of people held on misdemeanor drug charges declined by 62%. These trends have accelerated in the last three years: the number of jail admissions for misdemeanor detainees has dropped by 25% since 2014, suggesting we are getting closer to the goal of reserving jail for those who pose a risk.

Additionally, the City has repeatedly affirmed and remains steadfast in our support of raising the age of criminal responsibility. Moreover, the City is committed to moving the 16-and-17 year olds off Rikers Island as a moral imperative that cannot wait for Raise the Age legislation to pass. To make best efforts to move the adolescents, the City has so far committed investments of $300 million in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget for both off island options for adolescents currently held on Rikers and the needed renovation of ACS facilities. The City is also in the very final stages of a feasibility study to explore possible sites for a dedicated, modern facility that could house the adolescent population off- Island. Specifically, we are reviewing the feasibility of renovating the Crossroads facility in Brooklyn – in need of significant repair regardless – to consolidate the entire detained ACS population, and utilizing Horizon in the Bronx as a dedicated facility for 16- and 17- year olds in DOC custody.

And the third indicator is whether enforcement resources are targeting the drivers of violent crime. While the overall number of arrests continued to decline in the last year, arrests for murders were up 16% and gun arrests were up 10.5%. The enhanced enforcement is due in part to Project Fast Track, an initiative the Mayor’s Office announced last year in partnership with the State Courts, the NYPD, and the City’s five District Attorneys to institutionalize a system-wide focus on the limited number of individuals driving gun violence. This initiative balances safety and fairness focusing on the few high-risk individuals driving gun crime and concentrating on building the strongest cases against these individuals. An initial assessment of this initiative’s effectiveness will be published later this spring.

Additionally, in the last year, our office — in partnership with the police department, the First Lady’s office, the Mayor’s Office of Domestic Violence, and experts inside and outside of government — launched a Domestic Violence Task Force to reduce domestic violence by intervening as early as possible, enhancing pathways to safety for survivors and ensuring swift, effective and lasting enforcement to hold abusers accountable. While overall violent crime has fallen precipitously in New York City — the homicide rate dropped 82 percent in last 25 years — domestic violence homicides have remained stagnant. The Task Force is charged with developing durable solutions to a problem that persists nationwide. Their comprehensive, citywide roadmap, which will include ways to ensure that law enforcement resources are effectively reducing domestic violence, will be released later this spring.

In addition to moving toward a more risk-driven system, the second overarching strategy our office pursues is investigating approaches to crime reduction that extend beyond traditional law enforcement.

In the last year, in partnership with the City Council, we launched the Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence. New York City already has the lowest incidence of gun violence of any major U.S. city, and 2016 had the fewest shootings in over 30 years; the new office will be the backbone for innovative strategies that include traditional law enforcement and extend beyond to engage residents and neighborhoods as partners in fighting crime. Chief among these strategies will be overseeing an expanded Crisis Management System, which includes teams of credible messengers who use the Cure Violence model to mediate conflicts on the street and connect high-risk individuals to services that can reduce the long-term risk of violence. This approach contributed to a 15 percent decline in shootings in the 17 highest violence precincts in New York City since Mayor de Blasio took office.

The second major initiative our office oversees to reduce crime through innovative approaches that extend beyond traditional law enforcement is the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety, or MAP. In the last year, MAP launched NeighborhoodSTAT, which brings residents of 15 high-crime public housing developments together with City agencies to identify together key public safety issues, review relevant data, and work hand in hand in developing solutions based on their combined expertise. NeighborhoodSTAT is now operating alongside the other components of the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety – targeted law enforcement, physical improvements, and expanded opportunities for work and play – to create a model that has led to a reduction in index crime of 4% since MAP began, compared to the NYCHA- wide crime, which declined by 0.5%.

The final overarching strategy I would like to discuss today is ensuring not only that the system is fair but that New Yorkers see it as fair and legitimate. This trust is the foundation of a fair criminal justice system: it means people will call 911, appear as witnesses, serve as jurors and grand jurors. Public engagement is a foundational public safety strategy.

A key example of this work is reforming the summons process so individuals can more easily understand when and where they need to appear in court and expand options for doing so. In the last year, we partnered with the NYPD and the state courts to rollout citywide a series of changes that we believe will reduce the number of warrants issued for summonses. These changes include a redesigned summons form, a text message reminder system before court dates, later court hours to accommodate work schedules, flexible court appearance dates, and a website that allows individuals to access complete information about and translations of their summons. These changes are targeted toward reducing the high failure to appear rate in summons court, which can lead to the court issuing warrants that can lead to unnecessary arrests.

As we continue to drive down both crime and the use of jail in New York City, my office’s priorities will continue to be focused on solving these difficult system challenges, allowing New York City both to continue to be the safest big city in the country and to reduce unnecessary incarceration even further.

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