Testimony delivered before the City Council’s Committee on the Justice System and Committee on Public Safety

Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice - March 19, 2019

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Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice
New York City Council
Committee on the Justice System
Committee on Public Safety
March 19, 2019

Good afternoon, Chair Lancman, Chair Richards, and members of the Justice System Committee and Public Safety Committee. My name is Elizabeth Glazer, and I am Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ). Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. Deborah Grumet, MOCJ’s Deputy Chief Financial Officer, is here with me as well to answer questions.

The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice advises the Mayor on criminal justice policy and is the Mayor’s representative to the courts, district attorneys, defenders, and state criminal justice agencies, among others. MOCJ designs, deploys, and evaluates citywide strategies to increase safety, reduce unnecessary arrests and incarceration, improve fairness, and build the strong neighborhoods that ensure enduring public safety.

Today, more New Yorkers can learn, earn, and play more safely in their communities than they could five years ago, at the start of this administration. At the same time, ever fewer New Yorkers experience the touch of the criminal justice system or time in jail. New York City now has the lowest incarceration rate of all large cities in the United States. When Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration began on January 1, 2014, 11,289 people were in the city’s jails. By the end of 2018, that number had dropped 30% to below 8,000 — the fewest incarcerated since 1980. Alongside this decline in incarceration, New York City has also experienced a reduction in crime, with index crime falling 14%. We live in the safest big city in the United States.

Yet crime still happens, and racial disparities and deep problems of fundamental unfairness, primarily for people of color, persist. As we reduce crime and the jail population to unprecedented numbers, we face an inflection point that presents ongoing challenges, as well as rare opportunities we must seize.

Democratizing how we keep the peace will make our neighborhoods and our city even safer and fairer. We know that for decades crime has continued to concentrate in the same neighborhoods, along with poverty and unemployment. Confronting this legacy requires developing shared solutions from residents of all ages, community-based organizations, and city agencies as diverse as the Parks Department and Department for the Aging, as well as from our law enforcement partners. It also calls for acting on the decades of experience and research demonstrating that safety is the organic result of access to learning, work, and play, along with revitalized physical environments that bring people together and promote civic engagement.

To drive toward these goals, we are pursuing an array of initiatives, many of which can be grouped under three broad strategies we highlight today.

The first strategy is partnering with New Yorkers to produce a safer, more inclusive city. 

For the past five years, MOCJ has convened the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety, or MAP. MAP works with neighborhoods and stakeholders to holistically enhance safety using physical improvements and expanded opportunities for work and play, as well as strategic coordination of law enforcement and other city resources.

NeighborhoodSTAT, launched in 2016, brings residents of 15 public housing developments together with city agencies and local community-based organizations to identify key public safety issues, review relevant data, and work hand in hand to develop solutions based on their combined expertise and experience.

Although a few MAP sites have seen some rises in crime, the MAP model has contributed to a 9% overall reduction in total index crime, with violent crime falling 8% from 2014 to 2018, outpacing the 4% decline throughout the city’s public housing developments during the same period. Our program has made possible more than 240,000 visits to the Kids in Motion Summer playground program and more than 10,000 enrollments in the Summer Youth Employment program, with Universal Summer Youth Employment available at all sites. We also saw over 140,000 visits to late night summer hours for youth at 105 community centers.

We know that strategic physical neighborhood design can also create safer, more equitable, vibrant, and healthy spaces. MAP’s Neighborhood Activation undertaking engages the community to activate public space and develop and partner on design principles for public safety. For example, in June 2018 MOCJ kicked off the Claremont Illuminated public art series in partnership with Bronx Documentary Center and the Department of Cultural Affairs, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. This remarkable program offered a series of specially designed night-time artworks in the South Bronx, featuring community members and making an isolated area safer. A picture speaks louder than a thousand words of budget testimony, and so I have attached images of Claremont Illuminated to my testimony, to show what community design and activation can look like. As these images illustrate, public safety approaches can be joyful and affirming, rising out of the communities that have suffered most. We look forward to expanding these neighborhood design programs and resources in coming months.

Another of our key strategies is operated out of our Office to Prevent Gun Violence. New York City continues to have the lowest incidence of gun violence of any major U.S. city. Our Office to Prevent Gun Violence oversees the Crisis Management System, which grew out of recommendations from a City Council Task Force and has continued to expand. CMS includes teams of credible messengers who mediate conflicts on the street and connect high-risk individuals to services that can reduce violence. This work expanded in 2018 to 3 additional high conflict precincts beyond the 18 already in place. According to an evaluation completed by the John Jay Research and Evaluation Center, the Cure Violence approach contributed since the program’s 2014 launch to a 31% decline in shootings in the 17 highest violence precincts. Our programs also produced measurable changes in attitudes, increasing community confidence in law enforcement while reducing the willingness of young men to use violence to settle disputes.

The second major strategy my office oversees is creating a smaller, safer, and fairer jail system in New York City. 

Today, our jail population is 7,881. We are on track to close the eight remaining jails on Rikers Island and move to a smaller borough-based justice system that reimagines the culture, purpose, and location of jails. Since 2013, the number of people in City jails has fallen across almost every category, with:

  • Jail admissions down 46%,
  • Those detained on misdemeanor charges down 34%,
  • Those detained on bail of $2000 and less down 65%,
  • Those serving city sentences down 41%, and
  • The number of 18 to 21 year olds in jail reduced 53%.

Notably, the only population in jail to increase are those in on state parole violations, up 32% since the beginning of 2014 and 18% from last year to this year. This rise illustrates that reducing the number of people in jail in New York City is a shared responsibility – one that requires the partnership of the state, the courts, and others.

Next week we certify our Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application for community-based jails and take another step towards realizing a smaller, safer, and fairer jail system. While much of the conversation in this next phase of planning will focus on the buildings, the plan also involves efforts across many other areas, including population reduction, culture change, and design. The Justice Implementation Task Force, with over 75 leaders and experts inside and outside of government, meets to ensure that we replace Rikers with a smaller system and a safer and fairer culture.

We also coordinated with many city agencies, the courts, and other partners to successfully implement on schedule the state’s Raise the Age legislation, moving 16 and 17 year olds off Rikers and into juvenile facilities by October 1, 2018 — a major undertaking for the city on a challengingly short time-table.

The third major strategy to which my office is committed is promoting fairness. 

A successful public safety system is measured not only by its size but also by the quality of the justice it provides. We spearhead efforts on a number of fronts to advance this priority.

  • The New York Criminal Justice Agency (CJA), the city’s non-profit pretrial service agency, with MOCJ support, is updating its pretrial release recommendation system. We anticipate it will allow CJA to recommend far more defendants for release. This update process has involved the work of the nation’s leading experts in criminal justice and data science, as well as deep engagement with the courts, district attorneys, public defenders, and others. The new tool is being piloted now, for broader use soon. We are encouraged that New York State and Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore endorsed the updated release recommendation system in the 2019 State of the Judiciary, saying that “[o]ne of the key purposes of this tool is to address disparate impacts on racial groups at this critical pre-trial stage.” She also noted that “it will enable our judges to make fair, accurate and responsible determinations to avoid unnecessary pre-trial detention.”
  • In 2018, Supervised Release, a diversion program that serves as an alternative to bail and jail, prevented over 4,500 jail admissions. Since its inception, Supervised Release has served over 11,000 individuals with pending criminal cases.  Recently, we expanded an intensive Youth Engagement Track to all five boroughs and look forward to additional expansion of Supervised Release.
  • The City is further lightening the touch of the criminal justice system, particularly on people of color, through changes to its policies around NYPD enforcement of low-level marijuana and fare evasion offenses. NYPD has significantly reduced arrests for these offenses, with arrests for public consumption of marijuana down 93% and for fare evasion down 75% since NYPD’s policy changes over the summer.
  • This past summer, the Mayor appointed a Task Force on Cannabis Legalization, headed by MOCJ, which issued a major report in December recommending measures in the event of legalization to address racial disparities, drive economic opportunities to communities most impacted by criminalization, and protect public health and safety.

These and other strategies MOCJ coordinates demonstrate the multitude of efforts, large and small, undertaken by New Yorkers within and without the government, and in communities across the City, that have made this the safest big city in the nation and a fairer place for all New Yorkers.  We know that much more needs to be done, and we will continue to build on the successes and lessons of the past as we press forward. I am grateful to the City Council and our other partners who work with us to seize this rare and real opportunity to construct a smaller, safer, and fairer justice system that will endure in New York City.

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

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Claremont Illuminated Photos by Ed Alvarez