Testimony Delivered Before the City Council’s Committee on the Justice System’s Preliminary Budget

Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice - March 20, 2018


Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice
New York City Council
Committee on the Justice System
March 20, 2018

Good afternoon, Chair Lancman and members of the Justice System Committee. 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. Deborah Grumet, Budget Director in my office, is 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. While jail and prison populations around the country have increased, New York City’s jail population has fallen by half since 1990. And in the last four years, the jail population dropped by 22% — giving us the lowest incarceration rate of any large city and the steepest four-year decline in the size of the jail population since 1998. This decline in jail use has happened alongside record-low crime. Major crime has fallen by 76% in the last thirty years and by 9% in the last four. 2017 was the safest year in CompStat history, with homicides down 13%, shootings down 21%, and burglaries down 7% from 2016. 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 help create the safest possible New York City with the smallest and fairest justice system. 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 partnering with New Yorkers to co-produce public safety. Historically, jurisdictions across the country have relied primarily on police to provide safety. But, there are many innovative strategies beyond traditional law enforcement that can promote safety, such as enhancing trust between government and New Yorkers, and building neighborhoods with expanded opportunities for work and play. Over the last four years, our office has served as the backbone of these innovative strategies.

One way in which we are partnering with New Yorkers to co-produce public safety is through the Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence, which was launched in partnership with the City Council in 2016. New York City continues to have the lowest incidence of gun violence of any major U.S. city, and 2017 had the fewest shootings in over 30 years. The Office to Prevent Gun Violence oversees 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 31% decline in shootings in the 17 highest violence precincts in New York City since the program launched in 2015.

We are studying the results of the Crisis Management System in the catchment areas where it is operating.

In two areas where studies have been finalized, we have seen extremely exciting results. In the East New York catchment areas there were 15% fewer shootings than in a comparable neighborhood without the program. In the South Bronx catchment area, there were 63% fewer shooting victimizations in the neighborhood.

As important as the violence reduction were also the measurable changes in attitudes in the neighborhood both in the use of violence and in confidence in the police. The study found that young men living in neighborhoods with Cure Violence programs reported sharper reductions in their willingness to use violence to settle disputes, compared with young men without such programs. Propensity to use violence in petty disputes declined significantly only in Cure Violence areas (down 20%). Confidence in law enforcement rose 22% in Cure Violence areas versus 14% in comparison areas.

The second major initiative our office oversees to promote safety in partnership with the public is the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety, or MAP. In the last year, MAP implemented NeighborhoodSTAT, which brings residents of 15 high-crime public housing developments together with City agencies and local community-based organizations 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 14% since MAP began, compared to crime NYCHA-wide, which declined by 4%.

The second major strategy my office oversees is creating a smaller, safer and fairer jail system in New York City. At its core, this is a matter of justice: no one should be detained who could safely remain in the community. But it is also a matter of pragmatism: the smaller our jail system, the easier it will be to close Rikers Island and create a justice system that reimagines the culture, purpose and location of jails.

In the last year, New York City made the official decision to close Rikers Island. This is now the everyday work of the government of New York City and the entities responsible for moving with urgency toward a smaller, safer and fairer justice system. In the last year, we have made concrete progress:

  • The number of people in jail continues to fall – by 22% in the last four years and 5% in the last year alone. For the first time in thirty years, the jail population fell below 9,000 in December 2017 and remains there today. 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. These include new behavioral health services for defendants assigned to supervised release (a pretrial community-based alternative to jail program that has diverted over 7,000 people from jail since launching in March 2016), a new program that replaces short jail sentences with community-based sanctions that address issues like housing and employment insecurity and 55 transitional housing beds for women to allow them to remain in the community while waiting for trial. Additionally, we have continued our partnership with all parts of the criminal justice system to reduce case processing delays. 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; 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.
  • Notably, the only population in jail that has seen an increase is the population of people in jail on state parole violations, up 32% since the beginning of 2014. This population is one illustration of the extent to which reducing the number of people in jail in NYC is a shared responsibility – one that requires the partnership of the State, the court system, the District Attorneys, defenders, and non-profit providers. While we have reason to be optimistic about the progress to date and the shared commitment to keep driving down the jail population, we should note that as the number of people in jail continues to go down we will be left with a smaller number of people detained on more violent charges. Reaching our goal of 5,000 people in jail will require the sustained partnership of all actors in the criminal justice system.
  • We launched the Justice Implementation Task Force to ensure that we will not just close Rikers Island, but replace it with a changed system that is smaller, safer and fairer. Zachary Carter, Corporation Counsel for the City of New York, and I chair this Task Force, which brings together all of the entities from inside and outside of government with decision-making authority, implementation oversight and expertise on the key topics related to creating a smaller, safer and fairer justice system in New York City – a system that would allow for, among other important gains, the eventual closing of Rikers Island. The Task Force includes leaders whose decisions affect the size of our jail population – including the police, prosecutors, defenders, state courts, corrections, probation and service providers – who are working with us to identify and implement strategies to reduce the size of the jail population safely. Task Force members also have responsibility for advising on the best ways to improve safety and opportunity for people inside the jails and design modern jail facilities. The over 75 leaders and experts who have joined the Task Force are meeting regularly, creating a coordinated mechanism to shape and implement system changes.
  • We announced plans to close the first jail on Rikers Island this summer and have reached an agreement to site new jails in the boroughs. In partnership with the City Council, the City has identified the proposed sites for four borough based detention facilities – including the three existing DOC facilities in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. In the Bronx, the site of the current NYPD Tow Pound at 320 Concord Avenue in the Bronx was selected for a number of reasons, including its proximity to public transportation, the courthouse, the fact that it is a City owned property so it will not delay our commitment to Close Rikers Island, and because it has sufficient square footage to support a facility to house approximately one quarter of the total projected population in jail. A consulting team led by Perkins Eastman has begun work on a master plan for the scope of these borough based facilities, and public community meetings will begin in early April in each borough to ensure that neighborhood and community input is integrated into the City’s plan, including the perspectives of neighborhood residents, correctional officers, people in detention and their loved ones, and others. All of these people are essential so that we design jails that both are civic assets and provide safety and dignity to people who are incarcerated and who work within them. While the City has an initial investment of $1 billion into new jail facilities, the completion of the master plan in December 2018 will allow for a determination of the full cost of the project. Our target is to also have ULURP certification by the end of this year, putting us on an aggressive schedule to advance this critical commitment.

The third major strategy my office is working on is promoting fairness. A successful public safety system is not measured only in terms of quantity (how much crime or how many people in jail), but also by the quality of justice. We advance several initiatives to promote this fairness:

• Lightening the touch of enforcement while still ensuring quality of life: In the last year, the City, in partnership with the City Council and justice system actors, has taken a number of steps to prevent minor offenses from snowballing into arrests and detention, which can imperil a person’s job or housing.

o The Criminal Justice Reform Act, effective June 13, 2017, substituted civil tickets for criminal summonses for low-level offenses like having an open container or littering in most instances, and has reduced criminal summonses for these offenses by more than 90%.

o In addition, the City cut the number of criminal summonses by 50% between 2013-2017 (excluding offenses now punished with civil tickets under the Criminal Justice Reform Act).

o The Mayor’s Office has also worked with four district attorneys to dismiss 644,000 outstanding warrants for minor offenses like drinking alcohol in public or entering a park after hours.

o In addition to proportionate enforcement, the City is working to make small, common sense fixes that will enhance compliance with the law. For example, the City worked with a behavioral economics firm to redesign the criminal summons form to make it more accessible to New Yorkers and began sending the text message reminders for court dates. Together, these interventions decreased rates of failure-to-appear in court by 36%.

• Enhancing equal access to safety: Last year, in partnership with the First Lady of New York City, the Police Commissioner and the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, our office launched the Domestic Violence Task Force.

o For years, the number of overall homicides in New York City has fallen while the number of homicides linked to domestic violence has remained stagnant.

o To ensure that all New Yorkers live in a city that is becoming safer, the Domestic Violence Task Force is implementing over $10 million in annual investments 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 the work is in its beginning phase, we are heartened that domestic violence crime is down 8% compared to this time last year.

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, DA’s, 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. OMB is currently working with the agencies on the full funding needs required for Raise the Age implementation, for discussion within the context of the Executive Budget.

I am grateful to the City Council and to all 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.