OUR ANTI-CRIMINALIZATION PLATFORM

CONTRIBUTORS, WRITERS, EDITORS

POLICY CONTRIBUTORS

  • Alana Cantillo, New York Immigration Coalition
  • Ashley Sawyer, Girls for Gender Equity
  • Dawn Yuster, Advocates for Children of New York
  • Kesi Foster, Make the Road New York, Urban Youth Collaborative
  • Sarah Landes, Make the Road New York
  • Jawanza Williams, Voices Of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL-NY)
  • Nick Encalada-Malinowski, Voices Of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL-NY)
  • Albert Fox Cahn, Surveillance Technology Oversight Project
  • Zara Nasir, Anti-Violence Project
  • Aneth Naranjo, Peer Defense Project
  • Andrea Bowen, Bowen Public Affairs Consulting
  • Chris Gottlieb, NYU School of Law
  • Corey Stoughton, The Legal Aid Society
  • Deborah Lolai, The Bronx Defenders
  • Emma Ketteringham, The Bronx Defenders
  • Erin Miles Cloud, Movement for Family Power
  • Han Lu, National, Employment Law Project
  • Jared Trujillo
  • Johanna Miller, New York Civil Liberties Union
  • Joyce McMillan, Advocate
  • Katie Schaffer, Center for Community Alternatives
  • Leo Ferguson, Jews For Racial & Economic Justice
  • Josie Steuer Ingall, Peer Defense Project
  • Lisa Sangoi, Movement for Family Power
  • Marty LaFalce
  • Melissa Moore, Drug Policy Alliance
  • Michael Higgins, Brooklyn Movement Center
  • Michelle Burrell, Neighborhood Defender Service
  • Miriam Mack, The Bronx Defenders
  • Roshell Amezcua, The Bronx Defenders
  • Sarah Medina Camiscoli, Integrate NYC
  • Scott Paltrowitz, #HALTsolitary Campaign
  • Tehra Coles, Center for Family Representation NY
  • Toni Smith-Thompson, New York Civil Liberties Union
  • Zachary Ahmad, New York Civil Liberties Union

WRITERS

  • Dalal M. Shalash
  • Hamza Taj
  • Marty LaFalce
  • Scott Paltrowitz
  • Jared Trujillo
  • Albert Cahn
  • Zarin Farook
  • Zachary Ahmad
  • Shubh Thakkar
  • Elijah Rockhold
  • Sarah Medina Camiscoli
  • Han Lu
  • Chana Sternberg
  • Angelina Atieh
  • Quinn Hood

EDITORS

  • Zara Nasir
  • Angelina Atieh
  • Alex Hunter
  • Ilana Novick
  • Elijah Rockhold
  • Alan Abraham
  • Josie Steuer Ingall
  • Lynn Yellen
  • Quinn Hood
  • Emily Zanoli
THE STORY OF THE LAST 7 YEARS

The City on Policing

After two decades of Republican and conservative city leadership, in 2013, New Yorkers elected an unprecedented number of progressives into office. For two decades, Black, Latinx, and other New Yorkers of color had expressed outrage at the immense policing and criminalization of their communities. The victory of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who ran on a campaign to end the era of stop-and-frisk and whose biracial family was especially visible and present during his campaign, was a clear message from New Yorkers rejecting the systematic terrorization of Black and Latinx New Yorkers under the guise of “law and order.” 

That same year, in July 2013, national Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests had already begun to gather steam, but a year later, in 2014, New York City itself became a hotspot of political activity and BLM protests after NYPD officers murdered Eric Garner, a Black father of six in Staten Island. This first year in office and outrage over Garner’s senseless murder at the hands of the NYPD immediately tested the dedication of newly elected Mayor de Blasio’s to his progressive rhetoric, especially deep into the fall, as Daniel Pantaleo’s murder of Garner was brought to a grand jury to deliberate. The Mayor had already appointed Bill Bratton, a Giuliani-era commissioner, to head of police in his new administration. But de Blasio’s full walk-back from his election-year rhetoric and promises did not occur until later in 2014.   

By December of that year, the grand jury decided not to indict Panteleo, who in addition to facing no criminal or civil consequences for his actions, stayed on the NYPD payroll for another five years. By that time, a powerful police force, used to the praise of Republican mayors and to some extent, Democratic politicians alike, tired of criticism and small attempts to reform police operations, meager as they were. In late December, hundreds of NYPD officers turned their back on the Mayor as he attended the funeral of two officers killed on the job, according to ABC News. Police union president, Patrick Lynch remarked, the officers’ “blood starts on the steps of City Hall…in the Office of the Mayor.” As City and State reports, “many believe [this moment] set New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio running scared from the cause of police reform.”

Although not likely the only contributing factor to de Blasio and other politicians’ cooling their criticism of police or attempts to even address policing in the city, the moment laid bare what some organizers and activists had long understood, and others began to learn, about the police and law enforcement power in New York City. Despite mayors having the institutional power to appoint commissioners and determine police budgets, the police and law enforcement unions are far more powerful politically and in actuality than any mayor of New York City.  

The next seven years of de Blasio and the City Council’s reign in New York City only resulted in modest to meager reforms to policing without ultimately any real results, while police budgets continued to increase year by year. In 2015, the Mayor and City Council increased NYPD headcount by 1300 under the banner of “neighborhood policing.” Despite the flashes of BLM protests in those years, the reforms that spurred from the national outcry beginning in 2014 did very little to reduce or limit police murder. This realization, along with another tipping point of national outrage, helped set the stage for a different kind of demand coming from Black organizers and activists across the country.

In the summer of 2020, in the wake of nationwide protests against the police murders of multiple Black people and terrorization of Black communities due to policing, Black activists and organizers, especially those in Minneapolis, launched a new kind of campaign aimed at eliminating the violent interactions of Black, Latinx, and other communities of color with the police. Out of Minneapolis, where George Floyd, a Black father of five, was murdered by local police, came the demand to “Defund the police” and reinvest funds to non-policing forms of communal safety and community support, such as social services, youth services, housing, education, and healthcare. Many New Yorkers also took to the street to protest police violence and send a clear message to the City’s elected officials that their previous promises and compromises were hollow; the only way to address police violence was to #DefundNYPD. The largely peaceful protestors were met with unprecedented violence from the NYPD, and Mayor de Blasio defended the brutal tactics. 

The protests did lead Speaker Corey Johnson and the Council’s Black Latino Asian Caucus (BLAC) to commit to cutting $1 billion from the NYPD budget after calls from advocates, but the Council and Mayor failed to actually do so, relying on budget tricks that failed to meaningfully cut any funding from the NYPD, according to Communities United for Police Reform. In 2021, the City passed yet another mostly nominal package of reforms demanded by New York State.

The City’s “progressive” leadership failed to deliver the promised 2013 mandate and instead, through haphazard compromises, barely reformed or, in some areas, expanded the budget and role of policing and the criminal legal system. The police budget has increased every year, despite progressive rhetoric or political power. The same public demands for accountability and fundamental change in 2013 continue into 2021, but this time the call is for the City to defund and divest from policing and carceral systems. 

The City on Jails and Incarceration

It’s also long past time to close Rikers Island, but the City lacks a unified path forward that balances the goals of decarceration and ending the city-level pre-trial detention, and jail conditions. After years of advocacy from organizers and advocates demanding to close Rikers, and after the death of Kalief Browder due to brutal conditions in the jail, in 2016, Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito committed to close Rikers and to begin a commission to draft a plan to close the jail complex, according to the Gotham Gazette. However, the Lippman Commission’s task and orientation to the plan always focused on the closure of the jail complex building, instead of the conditions that led New Yorkers to be incarcerated at Rikers in the first place. The Commission recommended that Rikers be closed, and that the City build smaller “more humane” borough based jails to house incarcerated New Yorkers, most of whom not yet convicted of a crime. 

In 2019, Mayor de Blasio and the Council moved forward with a plan to replace Rikers with four new borough based jails. Proponents argued that the plan would allow for incarcerated New Yorkers to live closer to home, and improve the conditions in which these New Yorkers were detained. Another set of organizers and activists argued against the plan, popularizing the demand of #NoNewJails. Despite sizable opposition to the plan during the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), the $8 billion plan was approved by the City Council in 2019, with the goal of closing Rikers Island and building the new jails by 2026, as reported by the New York Times

That plan, as Gothamist reported in 2020, already risks delays and potentially completion. At the current rate, the new jails won’t be constructed and Rikers won’t fully close until 2027, The City reported last year, and New York City’s economic hardships as a result of the pandemic make the borough-based jail plan’s actualization even more tentative. The political conditions further trouble the borough-based jail plan’s realization. Mayor de Blasio, a lame duck mayor with shaky commitments to the plan, ends his term this year, and a completely new Mayor and Council come into power in 2022. Either way, there will have to be a fight to revive Close Rikers as a campaign, and advocates, organizers, and allied elected officials will have the opportunity to fight for something bigger; the end to pre-trial detention and detention overall at the city-level, while immediately improving conditions for currently incarcerated New Yorkers.

WINS OF OUR MOVEMENT

  • Monumental Shifts in Narrative and Public Consciousness. Through the organizing and activism of Black people across the country in 2020, more and more people in New York City have awakened to the fact that all attempts to reform the criminal legal system have largely failed to deliver, and the only way to reduce interaction with the police for Black people and people of color is to defund and divest from policing and carceral systems. Advocates who work on child and family welfare policy applied this same logic to the City’s Administration of Children Services (ACS), pointing to similarities between the federal government’s family separation policy and the practices of ACS in New York City. Activists and organizers led campaigns around jail conditions and release campaigns, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Overall trend of decreases in arrests and jail admissions. Since 2013, there has been a significant decrease in jail admissions, following a trend that started in the 1990s, according to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice also shows a decrease in arrests, albeit modest for felony arrests, since 2013. According to the City of New York, April 2020 had the lowest jail population since 1946. 
  • Undermining the logic of police as safety, and mobilizing public support around real safety for communities. A growing number of New Yorkers are beginning to understand that policing cannot address issues of poverty and mental health. To that end, advocates have pushed the City to reassess law enforcement responses to emotional distress, mental health crises, homelessness, and school safety. Organizers also have won support for community-based programs especially around intracommunity gun violence and hate violence, although these programs are often in threat of being cut.
  • Modest reforms around police stops and qualified immunity. Though watered down by a then-Council Member Torres, organizers associated with the Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) coalition won a modest victory in the Right to Know Act in 2017. The act aims to deter NYPD abuse, help prevent unnecessary police encounters and searches, and requires that the NYPD identify themselves in certain stops when interacting with the public. A larger victory for CPR came in June 2020 with the repeal of the 50-a section of the New York Civil Rights Law, which hid discipline records of police officers and prison officers from the public for decades. Additionally, in March of 2021, the Council passed reform for qualified immunity, which in some cases might make it easier for civilians to sue the NYPD for unlawful searches and related behaviors. 
  • Marijuana decriminalization and legalization. Years of advocacy by organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance and the Start SMART NY coalition led to the State legalizing recreational marijuana in 2021, with measures to reinvest millions of dollars in funds into communities previously criminalized and harmed by marijuana prohibition, as reported by the New York Times
  • A shift in District Attorney races. The race of Tiffany Caban for the Queens District Attorney race in 2019 reshaped the political landscape of district attorney races and challenged the status quo, as reported by Vox. In the past, the litmus test for candidates for district attorney was to prove their commitment to racist “law and order” and “tough on crime” policy instead of talking about a commitment to decarceration. The prosecutorial accountability organizing many have done for years, and the effect of this electoral race on subsequent New York City district attorney races can be felt even in the 2021 races, and this work continues through the likes of the People’s Coalition for Manhattan DA Accountability and other such prosecutorial accountability groups.
WHERE WE LOST
  • Surface-Level Reforms. Despite tremendous organizing efforts for legislative change to address policing and criminal legal systems, reforms failed to deliver any substantive or lasting positive outcome. Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) and others have highlighted that the City’s police headcount and budget remains bloated. Jail conditions continue to be deplorable and isolative torture in the form of solitary continues to be used, according to the New York Times and The City. Additionally, city jail populations are rising despite public health concerns raised during the pandemic about nonexistent social distancing in jails, as reported by the New York Times.
  • “Progressive” electeds failed to deliver. City Council efforts to overhaul the criminal legal system stalled overtime and eventually ended up behind closed doors with city agencies. Council members shifted away from campaign promises and began to teeter back-and-forth on important criminal legal legislation, backing out of past promises.
  • No real meaningful caps on police power, budgets, or accountability. Officers continued unabated and without accountability and appropriate discipline. As the City was finally forced through state legislation to release police discipline data, it was clear that officers continued to function above the law and without any answerability to the public. The NYPD dragged its feet on releasing disciplinary information and eventually released only partial information, according to Gothamist.
  • Rollbacks on bail reform and climbing jail populations, even during the pandemic. New York State reformed its bail system in 2019, eliminating cash bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges. However, as the date of implementation neared, law enforcement, district attorneys, and police chiefs led an opposition campaign, spurring lawmakers to rollback reforms in 2020, as reported by Spectrum News. Though a state-level action, these rollbacks have far reaching effects on New York City’s jail population, which is currently growing, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and calls for release due to health concerns for incarcerated New Yorkers.
A VISION FORWARD

The last decade of reforms to policing and the criminal legal system have resulted in meager outcomes, and changed very little in the City’s approach and interaction with Black, Latinx, and other New Yorkers of color. The City must stop relying on the criminal justice system to address social and economic issues and criminalize the life experiences and circumstances of the most vulnerable New Yorkers. The City should respond to New Yorkers’ needs, including homelessness, drug and substance use and possession, school safety, and mental health, and response to emotional distress, crisis, or interpersonal violence, among many other issues, with care and resources, instead of the criminal legal system. 

For every criminalized New Yorker, there is a social safety net or resource that has failed them. We must divest from systems that create undue harm to Black people, people of color, migrants, women, queer and trans people, low-income, and most impacted by the City’s policies, and not recreate these systems in other forms. A better future for New Yorkers requires a tremendous investment in building systems of support and resources outside of policing and criminal legal systems, to truly create the healthy, thriving communities that all New Yorkers deserve.

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

1) DEFUND AND DIVEST FROM POLICING AND INVEST IN COMMUNITY RESPONSES

The police, who are trained in use-of-force tactics and escalation, have not been an effective entity to prevent or address violence, and intervene in crisis situations, and in fact, have perpetrated violence against many communities. Police violence disproportionately targets people experiencing homelessness, people who have mental illness, trans women of color, sex workers, people who use drugs, and low-income New Yorkers of color. Furthermore, police can never provide New Yorkers true safety and security. The police can coerce unhoused people out of the subway with the threat of arrest, but they can’t provide affordable and supportive housing; they can warehouse mentally-ill New Yorkers on Rikers Island, but they can’t fix our inadequate mental health treatment system. And by any accounting, decades of “reform” and endless tinkering with training and top-down directives have failed to produce an institution whose culture and impact reflect the values of New Yorkers. 

1A. Divest from NYPD and policing across all city agencies

Problem: The NYPD’s current budget is approximately $6 billion a year, $11 billion when considering full personnel costs, more than this city spends on healthcare, unhoused New Yorkers, and youth development combined. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare brutal inequities and massive unmet need for all to see, New York’s elected leaders continue to prioritize the NYPD’s bloated budget over the communities that most need their support. By definition, the only thing the NYPD can ever be is a staggering opportunity cost that drains the resources we need to contend with the profound damage done to communities by segregation, displacement, hyper-gentrification, and widening inequity. 

Recommendation: Continuing to invest in the current criminal legal apparatus means funding a racist and broken system that perpetuates cycles of violence and poverty; and absorbs vast resources and energy that could be spent developing new institutions that provide effective public safety and actually meet the needs of New Yorkers. Many existing grassroots groups are already campaigning using an invest/divest framework. For FY21, the more than 200 organizations belonging to the Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) coalition proposed to cut the NYPD budget by at least $1 billion and reinvest those monies in unequivocally needed healthcare, youth development, and services for people experiencing homelessness. Other groups also lobbied for alternative cuts and investments, some pushing the City to cut as much as $3 billion from the NYPD, and including many with the goal of the abolition of the NYPD. In alignment with all of these efforts to build communal safety outside of policing, the City must: 

  1. Dramatically and immediately reduce the size, scope, and role of the NYPD in New Yorker’s everyday lives, including dramatic reduction in headcount within the first term of office, following the lead of social and racial justice organizers and activists. 
  2. Review the ways in which policing has encroached on functions that could be carried out by other agencies or by other mechanisms, and take systematic steps to move city funds and functions away from the NYPD. Examples include moving homeless outreach out of policing to community outreach workers, mental health response to trained mental health professionals and peer support workers, and moving traffic enforcement out of NYPD and using street design to ensure safety and rule following.
  3. At a minimum, never grow the NYPD’s overall budget (including overtime pay, fringe benefits and misconduct settlements paid from the general fund) and uniform headcount year-over-year again, and stop any changes or reforms to police practices to result in or be used as a pretext for future increases in NYPD funding.
  4. Create time-bound transparent divestment plans that are itemized, concrete, and include uniform headcount reductions within an articulated timeframe and regular updates to the public.
  5. Create time-bound specific and transparent investment plans that are pegged one-to-one (at a minimum) to the needs of the communities most directly impacted by racism, criminalization, and policing, and wherever possible, administered by trusted community-based organizations and community groups.
  6. Robustly resource community-based organizations in the communities most directly impacted by racism, criminalization, and policing so that these communities can play a central role in developing new, democratic institutions of communal safety on behalf of all New Yorkers.
  7. Refrain from simply moving policing personnel from the NYPD to other city agencies, which does not end policing as a function, but simply obscures its role and oversight.
  8. Deliberate and cut policing as a function across city agencies. 

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, Legislation

1B. Create alternative system for crisis response with a single crisis response number

Problem: The City does not currently have a separate crisis system or single crisis response number to aid individuals and youth who are experiencing emotional distress, mental health crisis, intervention in interpersonal or intimate partner conflict, hate violence, or general distress. This is despite a large number of people whom due to traumatic experiences with law enforcement, fear of criminalization due to immigration or work status, or other concerns, are not willing or able to call the police. According to 2018 Bureau of Justice Statistics data, less than half of domestic or intimate partner violence survivors and only a quarter of sexual assault victims report to the police, and many who do have poor experiences and do not feel supported. Separately, some of those who have had the police respond to them during an episode of emotional or mental distress have unfortunately not survived these encounters with the police; the Ruderman Family Foundation has found that between one-third to one-half of all people killed by law enforcement officers have a disability, while the Treatment Advocacy Center reports that people with severe mental illness are 16 times more likely than their nondisabled counterparts to die at the hands of police. In New York City, the recent murders of Deborah Danner, Kawaski Trawick, and Saheed Vassell by the NYPD exemplify the need for alternative crisis response systems. 

Recommendation: The City should provide a single extremely well-resourced alternative crisis line to support interventions by peer support workers, community violence interrupters, and other trained staff, without police involvement. The City must ensure that the crisis line and system is provided more than adequate resources to allow for quick response times for urgent and dire crisis situations. Neighborhood crisis workers and centers must be ubiquitous across the city. New York City can build on existing infrastructure such as its expanded intensive mobile treatment through a number of crisis teams, such as the CCIT Coalition, NYC Well, FACT Teams, and other programs, as detailed by New York City Health + Hospitals Corporation. Crisis teams should be staffed with nurses, social workers, mental health professionals, and peer support workers, with a focus on peer support and non-carceral responses. Crisis teams should be based in each neighborhood, staffed by people familiar to local residents, and equipped to de-escalate and intervene in crisis situations. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

1C. Invest in restorative alternatives focused on violence interruption and response

Problem: The police have not been an effective entity to prevent or address violence, and in fact, have perpetrated violence against many communities. Data shows that most survivors of violence, especially those with marginalized identities, do not contact the police. The Bureau of Justice reports that less than half of intimate partner violence survivors and only a quarter of survivors of sexual assault report to the police. When they do, the consequences can be dire. According to the New York City Anti-Violence Project, nationally, one fourth of survivors of intimate partner violence are arrested during an incident or report, and in New York City, 66% of survivors who were arrested alongside or instead of their abusive partner were Black or Latinx. 

Recommendation: The City must invest in restorative alternatives focused on violence interruption and response, including restorative justice pilot programs around hate, intimate partner, and sexual violence, and supports for survivors of violence. The City must direct funding away from the police department, and invest in racial justice-oriented community responses and restorative alternatives focused on violence interruption and response. This includes transformative pilot programs around hate, intimate partner violence, and sextual violence that prioritize and provide for the needs of survivors through material resources like financial assistance, housing placement, and healing-oriented services, and allow survivors to seek violence interruption without the involvement of law enforcement.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

1D. Enact a moratorium on police response to homelessness and fund alternatives

Problem: There are certainly strong arguments to take police out of responses like transportation, public housing, youth outreach, to name a few. But one area of especially egregious police violence is around police response to street homelessness. Past incidents show that the safety of homeless New Yorkers on the street is at stake when the police are involved, as evidenced by an incident of police violence against a homeless New Yorker in February 2021 covered by the Gothamist. Instead of the City offering a safety net for the most marginalized New Yorkers, the City responds to people’s needs with criminalization and crackdowns. 

Recommendation: Moving officers who are on ‘homeless outreach duty’ to the Department of Homeless Services, a reform that the City has tried to enact in the past, would be counterproductive and actually just as harmful. Homeless outreach must be shifted away from the NYPD, and be done entirely by the City’s social services agencies, who have no policing functions as part of their job description, to end the criminalization of homelessness. To go further, outreach workers need to be provided with critical tools to assist in the placement of homeless New Yorkers to obtain permanent housing, ensure health care, and sanitary food conditions, as recommended by The People’s Plan and Human.nyc

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

1E. Establish reparation funds for communities harmed by policing

Problem: Police violence and murder against New Yorkers leaves communities and families not only with the collective pain and grief from the violence itself, but further harms these communities as offending police officers rarely get fired and the City rarely recompenses survivors or the families of victims. Constance Malcolm has been fighting with CPR since 2012 to see the firing of officers who fatally shot her son, Ramarley Graham, in his own home. CPR and the family of Antonio Williams also continue to call for the firing of the NYPD officers who shot him to death. In addition to seeing the officers involved in these incidents fired, communities and families affected by police violence should be supported monetarily. 

Recommendation: The implications police violence and brutality has had on so many communities for so long, that the pain and suffering caused by it can never be truly rectified. However, survivors and families of victims of police violence need support and aid in the aftermath of experiencing violence. According to the Gothamist, the Mott Haven Collective, a newly formed group of community members in the Bronx, is demanding a municipal reparations fund to give financial support to victims and survivors of police violence. Along with direct financial assistance, funds could also go to services like mental healthcare, healthcare and education, to help the community rehabilitate.The City should implement this more widely and give community members harmed by police violence access to funds to address the trauma, pain, injuries, and grief caused by police. Of course, the City should immediately fire any officer engaged in violence or brutality against New Yorkers. The closest precedent to such a reparation fund can be found in Chicago, where the city paid out $5.5 million to 57 people in 2016 to people who were tortured by the police from the 1970s through the early 1990s, according to NPR. This money should be taken from or deducted from the NYPD budget.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

1F. Fund and scale CURE Violence programs to prevent gun violence citywide

Problem: During the pandemic, instances of violence and gun violence have been rising. This is because interpersonal violence is highly determined by socioeconomic conditions like economic and housing insecurity, according to research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Additionally, several organizations, including the Society of Behavioral Medicine, have declared that exposure to gun violence is a public health issue, and spreads just like contagious disease.  Though the City has historically given more funding and discretion to the police to deal with gun violence, according to Governing, targeting gun violence through “tough on crime” methods does little to address gun violence. The NYPD most often shows up to the scene after an incidence of gun violence, and advocates argue policing as an inherently reactive strategy does not prevent gun violence, as reported by the Gotham Gazette. As the New York Times reports, analysis of gun violence often shows a complicated picture in terms of root causes. It must also be noted that per Everytown for Gun Safety, at least 1.4% percentage of gun violence incidents are shootings by police.

Recommendation: The City must focus on preventative measures against the spread of gun violence as opposed to after the fact. Programs like CURE Violence promote safer community response considering the needs of communities geographically affected by gun violence with the added benefit of employing local residents. By employing those formerly involved in street violence, CURE Violence and similar organizations including Man Up! Inc. effectively interrupt the geographic spread of violence. A citywide CURE Violence completely devoid of police involvement must be scaled and funded to fit the needs and reach every neighborhood. Police gun violence must be addressed through significant and meaningful divestment from the police through reduction of headcount, into these kinds of preventative programs. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

2) IMPROVE JAIL CONDITIONS, END PRETRIAL DETENTION, & CLOSE RIKERS

According to the Prison Policy Project, over half a million Americans are currently being detained while awaiting trial. Many are still detained because they can’t afford money bail, parole, or the ICE office has placed a “hold” on their release. Of these half a million Americans, on July 2, 2020, almost three thousand of them were in New York City, according to the Queens Daily Eagle. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, jail population in New York City has been rising, in part because of the regressive rollback of 2019 bail reform measure. In October 2020, the pre-trial detention population superseded 3,364, an approximately 16 percent increase in a mere three months. As of April 28, 2021, Vera Institute reports the jail population in New York City has climbed to 5,711. The City has been focused on buildings when it comes to closing Rikers, but this fight was always about decarceration; the City must recenter that goal moving forward. 

2A. Close Rikers while improving immediate conditions for incarcerated New Yorkers

Problem: It’s long past time to close Rikers Island, but the City lacks a unified path forward that balances the goals of decarceration and ending the city-level pre-trial detention, and jail conditions. In 2017, in response to organizers’ efforts, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to close Rikers Island within 10 years. According to the report released by the Lippman Commission, the City’s plan was to spend $8 billion to $11 billion dollars to build four new jails by 2027. In 2019, the City Council approved the plan to build new jails to replace Rikers Island. The plan did not commit to any improvements in immediate conditions for people currently incarcerated other than building entirely new facilities, did not divest money away from jails and incarceration or shift that funding into communities. The sole focus on jail buildings robbed both the public and the City of the opportunity to prioritize bold policies that aim to move the City towards ending pre-trial detention. Despite this vote, conditions at Rikers Island and the City’s other jails remain deplorable and abuse by guards remains rampant, according to The New York Times, and the plan to build four new jails remains uncertain. 

Recommendation: Advocates, organizers, and allied elected officials will have the opportunity to fight for something bigger; the end to pre-trial detention and detention overall at the city-level, while immediately improving conditions for currently incarcerated New Yorkers. The City must improve conditions for people who are currently incarcerated on Rikers Island, Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center, also known as “The Boat,” and Manhattan Detention Complex, also known as “The Tombs.” The horrific conditions must be addressed by redirecting the $2.3 billion that the City spends yearly on the Department of Correction, which employs roughly 1.4 corrections officers for each incarcerated New Yorker. However, ultimately the City must commit to a new goal of closing all jails in New York City. Additionally, the City must move towards ending pretrial detention, find more ways to release people without bail, and eliminate city-year sentences. The City should demolish jails on Rikers Island as they are emptied and take beds offline permanently. The City must invest in crucial services that prevent people from going to jail in the first place. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

2B. Create and enact a city-specific proposal for eliminating pre-trial detention

Problem: The number of people in jail has very little to do with crime, and much more to do with politics, the jail population fluctuates due to politics and policing. The City committed to closing Rikers in 2017, but only under the guise of maintaining pre-trial detention and creating four new jails costing the City $11 billion over the course of their construction. Many advocates supported these jails to keep incarcerated people closer to their legal representation and families. However, replacing one building with four does not necessarily move the City to ending the very practice of detaining people pre-trial and without convictions. The north star the City must work towards is ending pre-trial detention.

Recommendation: The City must do everything in its power to end pretrial detention, a goal that must involve state legislators and partners since all of criminal legal codes are at the state-level. The role of policing in inflating New York City jail populations must also be taken into account; limiting interactions with law enforcement will also address jail population and criminalization for thousands of marginalized New Yorkers of color. The Lippman commission that advised the City to close Rikers did so with the assumption that pre-trial detention would and should continue to exist. The City should this time engage with directly affected Black and Latinx New Yorkers, organizers, advocates, and activists to set new goals around decarceration and shutting down local jail complexes with the goal to end all pre-trial detention at the city-level.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

2C. Build transparency and accountability in mayoral appointments for judges

Problem: A judge’s decision to set bail or sentence a person to incarceration has devastating effects on Black and Latinx people and their families. When judges act punitively, they drive mass incarceration, separate families, force job loss, remove people from educational opportunities and quality health care. The mayor has the power to appoint some family court and criminal court judges, though this power is not carefully scrutinized by the public or the press. Similarly, for those judges who are elected, and not appointed by the Mayor, political party leadership has outsized control over who gets nominated to run for judge and there is little to no public input. By the time they are considered for re-appointment or re-nomination, their track record is clear. However, since those with reappointment or renomination powers hardly consider this, regressive judges remain on the bench, despite their bad practices. 

Recommendation: Judges’ decisions regarding bail, sentencing, release rates, and racial disparities should be scrutinized, and the Mayor and political party leadership should utilize data on judges and consider the goals of ending pretrial detention and decarceration when weighing reappointment and renomination. The Office of Court Administration and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice should share this data regarding imposition of bail, sentencing, release rates, and racial disparity and share data with the public. The Mayor and political party leadership should promote transparency in the judicial reappointment and renomination process, by not appointing those judges who set bail at high rates, impose severe sentences, and have large racial disparities in their judicial practices.   

Office: Mayor

Mechanism: Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

2D. Push District Attorneys to vacate and decline to prosecute offenses

Problem: The Manhattan District Attorney has sent and continues to send more people to jail pretrial than any other District Attorney in the City. According to People’s Coalition for Manhattan DA Accountability, one in three people held in jail pre-trial is facing charges brought by the Manhattan District Attorney, even though Manhattan accounts for less than one-fifth of New York City’s population. 

Recommendation: The solution to this issue, simply put, is to reduce the number of people subjected to pretrial incarceration. District Attorneys should honor the presumption of release in every case and the number of people out through pretrial incarceration through the Manhattan District Attorney and all District Attorneys should be reduced by at least 80 percent in the first term. District Attorneys should also recommend release and no cash bail to judges. District Attorneys should do so with the goal of eliminating pre-trial detention. The Mayor and Council are imperative in pushing District Attorneys to make these changes, as the majority of District Attorney funding comes from city coffers.

Office: Mayor, City Council, District Attorney 

Mechanism: Advocacy, Budget, Agency Policy

2E. Mass release incarcerated New Yorkers from city jails for public health

Problem: Covid-19 has created an unprecedented public health crisis in New York City’s jails where ventilation is extremely poor, medical care is abysmal and social distancing is impossible. Despite warning after warning, the New York City Department of Correction (DOC) has maintained perilously high density levels in housing areas, in flagrant violation of public health standards. DOC has completely failed to implement adequate testing protocols, only testing incarcerated people after they show signs of illness, when it is far too late to prevent transmission. Most troubling, attorneys, social workers, paralegals and incarcerated people report an ongoing, widespread failure by DOC staff to wear masks properly, if at all, and practice social distancing. DOC’s failures have been devastating for Black and Latinx New Yorkers who have been infected with Covid-19 at staggering rates.

Recommendation: District attorneys and judges must aggressively decarcerate city jails by releasing every vulnerable person. The City Council and Mayor’s Office must shift DOC resources to reduce population density well-below its current dangerous levels, provide proper PPE, ensure robust testing of staff and people who remain incarcerated, and prioritize vaccine distribution. Finally, the Mayor’s Office must demand that DOC enforce strict mask compliance and social distancing among its personnel and discipline any staff who fail to comply. This policy recommendation is dependent on prosecutorial and judicial discretion, reprioritized funding of DOC by the City Council and Mayor’s Office. The Mayor and the Council do not have control over the state’s penal code, but can push judges to release clients and district attorneys to shift to pushing for decarceration.

Office: Mayor, City Council, District Attorney 

Mechanism: Advocacy, Budget, Agency Policy

2F. End solitary confinement in New York City immediately

Problem: Solitary confinement is torture. It causes immense suffering and devastating mental, physical, and emotional harm. Black and Latinx people are disproportionately locked in solitary, as are transgender and gender non-conforming people. The City’s use of solitary confinement is responsible for the deaths of Layleen Polanco, Kalief Browder, Bradley Ballard, Jason Echeverria, and Carina Montes. Despite some reforms, the proportion of people in the city jails sent to solitary confinement has increased in recent years, according to the New York Times, and there are a variety of forms of “restrictive housing” in the city jails that amount to solitary by another name. While the current Mayor has claimed he will fully end solitary confinement, the current plan put forward by the Board of Correction jails oversight body simply creates a new form of solitary by another name, where people will be locked alone in a cage 24 hours a day.

Recommendation: New York City must finally, fully, and permanently end solitary confinement in all its forms. As reported by the New York Times, the State recently passed the HALT Solitary Act, but New York City must go further. As recommended by the NYC Jails Action Coalition and the #HALTsolitary Campaign, all people incarcerated in New York City jails should have access to a minimum of 14 hours out of cell per day, during which people should have access to meaningful human engagement and effective congregate programing with at least several other people in the same physical space that is conducive to regular and meaningful human engagement and programming. If any person is ever separated from the general jail population, they should continue to have 14 hours out of cell per day, with comparable human engagement and congregate programming opportunities as in the general jail population, again with at least several other people in the same physical space that is conducive to regular and meaningful human engagement and programming.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

New York City law enforcement disproportionately targets low income communities of color for surveillance, data collection, and other forms of harassment. The City must end the data collection and sale, surveillance activities, and discriminatory policies that disproportionately harm low income communities of color. This includes reforming current practices, and creating legislation that actively ends DNA indexing and gang databases of people not convicted of a crime, as well as the use of Geofence Warrants, facial recognition technologies, automated license plate readers, and predictive policing software. 

3A. Abolish the rogue Office of the Chief Medical Examiner DNA database

Problem: New York City has found a way to exploit loopholes in state law around DNA indexing to create an unregulated, municipal DNA index, run by the City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), containing mostly Black and Latinx New Yorkers, many who have not been convicted of a crime, witnesses, and even some survivors of violence. This DNA is often collected surreptitiously, in situations where police give people water bottles or cigarettes as a ruse to steal their DNA. The City’s DNA index now contains DNA from more than 32,000 people and children as young as 12 years old. Finding out who is in and getting them out of this unregulated index is virtually impossible.

Recommendation: New York State law makes clear that only people who have been convicted of crimes are subject to permanent DNA indexing, or the perpetual comparison of their genetic profile to evidence from unsolved crimes. This indexing happens in a tightly regulated State database, and lawmakers made clear it should never include people who haven’t been convicted of crimes, including juveniles who have been adjudicated in Family Court. The New York City Council should pass legislation barring the surreptitious collection of DNA from minors. It should further enact legislation barring any City agency from creating a DNA index that contains DNA profiles of people who have not been convicted of a crime. 

Office: City Council 

Mechanism: Legislation

3B. Ban Geofence Warrants & Government’s Purchase of Data

Problem: A growing number of tech firms hold geolocation data tied to every aspect of our life: our address, religion and physical or mental health. The NYPD and other police departments have obtained unprecedented volumes of information using two loopholes. First, they’ve sought so-called “geofence warrants” from courts, requiring the production of user data for every device in a certain area at a certain time, covering a single house, a block, an entire neighborhood, or even whole cities. Thousands of users can be tracked through a single, blanket order. Second, police can avoid court altogether, simply paying companies for this data.

Recommendation: As recommended by S.T.O.P., City officials must push the State to pass A10246 \ S8183 to address both prongs of this civil rights threat. The bill would ban the issuance of geofence warrants and create an exclusionary rule for any evidence obtained through such a search. The bill would also outlaw the purchase of such data and exclude any evidence obtained in violation of the act. The bill would also create a private right of action for damages.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Advocacy for State Reform

3C. Ban Governmental Facial Recognition

Problem: According to the MIT Technology Review, the NYPD has widely been using the controversial Clearview AI facial recognition system and misrepresenting its use of it, as well as using it to work closely with immigration enforcement officials in ICE. The use of this technology has led to individuals getting arrested because of incorrect matches. Law enforcement officers who are directed specifically to only use this type of software to generate leads then “launder” the evidence by manually “confirming” matches, as the NYPD did in People v. Reyes. The NYPD has already proved itself an unreliable user, submitting images altered before they are submitted to the software, or images of celebrity “lookalikes” submitted instead of individuals.

Recommendation: Facial recognition technology poses a significant danger to everyone, but in particular to people of color. The City must end the use of facial recognition technology to protect Black, Latinx, and all New Yorkers of color from the web of criminalization and violence this software allows. Facial recognition must be banned for use by law enforcement and other city agencies, as it already has been in cities like San Francisco as reported in the NY Times,  and for use by private entities. 

Office: City Council

Mechanism: City Legislation

3D. Ban the NYPD Gang Database

Problem: The gang database is one of the NYPD’s systems of subjecting New Yorkers to racial profiling, adding 11 New Yorkers to its sprawling tracking system every single day. As a direct continuation of stop-and-frisk, the database has achieved the same outcomes, criminalizing individuals and communities based on criteria as broad as the people they associate with or the colors they wear. As many as 30% of those in the database were under 18 when added to the database, so increasingly those affected live with the consequences of having been identified as a potential gang member for their entire adult lives with no chance at proving otherwise. 

Recommendation: The City must ban the gang database. This database defies due process by failing to alert those identified as potential gang members of their admission to the list and completely neglects the young age of many of those being added, offering no clear opportunity for young people to get off the list, or adults to get a second chance. Banning the gang database will protect children and give young people and adults on the list alike in avoiding webs of criminalization and collateral consequences. The City can ban police purchases or use of this database technology through legislation or Mayoral order.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

3E. Ban Automated license plate readers (ALPRs)

Problem: Tracking cars results in the same invasive surveillance and criminalization as facial recognition and the gang database. Cars are surveilled with images taken of their comings and goings, and their license plates “read” by these Automated License Plate Readers, on streets, in tunnels and on bridges, and while parked. This surveillance is prone to errors; the databases it pulls from can fail to update appropriately, leaving cars marked as stolen after being resolved months before, leading to confrontations and encounters with police that can threaten people’s lives.. The data can also be collected and sold by private vendors, putting information like New Yorkers’ addresses and children’s school information on the auction block.

Recommendation: The City must ban Automated License Plate Readers because the aggregate data they consume creates a perfect record of where many individuals have been all day. This limits free speech by effectively ending public anonymity for these drivers, and puts people in danger of mistakes by this imperfect technology, increasing police interaction with marginalized New Yorkers. The City can ban NYPD purchase and use of the technology, and it can ban DOT from installing more of them. However, the City is unable to ban the readers on bridges and tunnels, since that is a state-level program, but City officials should advocate for the end of this technology in that context also.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

3F. Ban on NYPD purchasing information from commercial data brokers

Problem: Currently the police can purchase invasive data about nearly any New Yorker at nearly any time, and with absolutely no due process. These purchases of personal information from commercial data brokers are typically completely exempt from the typical warrant process due to the limitations of existing constitutional protections under both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the New York State Constitution. In high-profile cases, this has meant that law enforcement has been able to purchase geolocation data on tens of millions of people without a warrant or any other safeguards. This can identify if people are at a protest, a mosque, a healthcare facility, or any number of other sensitive sites.

Recommendation: The City must ban mass geolocation data collection and other purchases of data from data brokers. This data collection and purchase is so invasive and ripe for abuse that the City needs to implement a categorical ban. The City needs to impose a clear limit that police may never purchase information about New Yorkers. This won’t end the ways that police can abuse the warrant process to force firms to provide data, but it can go a long way towards blocking data-fueled dragnets. This rule can be accomplished both by legislation and by Mayoral order. At a minimum, the City Council could bar the expenditure of funds in furtherance of purchasing data by the NYPD. Additionally, the Mayor and police commissioner could order an end to the practice.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

3G.Ban acquisition and use of surveillance technology and predictive policing software

Problem: Predictive policing is software that is sold to the public as a way for police to “predict crime.” In practice, this software automates racial profiling, harvesting data from sources like the gang databases, which is 99 percent Black and Latinx and people of color, according to The Appeal, baking in the bias from past abuses like stop-and-frisk. In Oakland, predictive policing led to the predictable outcome, focusing drug enforcement in poor, minority communities. These predictive policing tools are also completely opaque and ineffective in actually combating the socioeconomic and social factors that contribute to violence and harm against New Yorkers, some of which is perpetrated by police.

Recommendation: The City must ban the acquisition and use of surveillance technologies and predictive policing software, especially for the enforcement of suspected drug offenses. New York City and State must ban predictive policing software including the NYPD’s use of Patternizr. This software condemns those with past criminal legal systems involvement to be viewed as perpetual suspects, which continues cycles of criminalization against Black and Latinx New Yorkers and youth who are more likely to be racially profiled by these systems in the first place. In 2020, Santa Cruz became the first city in the United States to ban predictive policing, according to the LA Times. New York City must follow Santa Cruz’s lead to ban predictive policing to protect New Yorkers from abusive and violent surveillance practices.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

4) PROTECT IMMIGRANT NYERS FROM ICE

Immigrant New Yorkers are routinely subject to surveillance, harassment, and arrest by City, State and Federal law enforcement. Even as elected officials promised the City withholds data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), there are still relationships and some collaboration between ICE and the NYPD that make immigration activists fearful, as reported by WNYC. The City should stop aiding in the harassment and surveillance of undocumented New Yorkers, provide free, legal representation for all immigrants facing deportation and detention, stop sharing information with ICE, and ban all law enforcement agencies such as the Administration for Children Services from asking about immigration status.  

4A. Stop police harassment of immigrants in informal and formal economies

Problem: Many undocumented New Yorkers work in economic activities and enterprises that are not regulated, sanctioned, or protected by the City or the State, also known as the informal economy. Because of this, immigrants are often subject to harassment at the hands of police and criminalized for their work. Immigrants who work as street vendors are commonly harassed as a result of caps on vendors. Immigrants who work in massage parlors are also unfairly penalized under the criminalization of sex work and thrown into greater precarity by police interaction due to their undocumented status. Police harassment prevents many immigrants from doing their jobs and earning a livelihood.

Recommendation: New York City’s history of police harassment must be rectified. The City should not rely on police interaction with undocumented New Yorkers, whose brushes with the criminal justice system may be injurious to their residency or citizenship status. The City must push to end the criminalization of activities concentrated in the informal economies where immigrants work at a disproportionate rate and review all City and State laws, policies, and practices that contribute to this problem, and push to repeal or change them. The City should also end police harassment of all workers who work in informal economies, including delivery work, street vending, sex work, massage work, and domestic labor, which are disproportionately made up of people of color, women of color, and LGBTQ people of color. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

4B. Fully fund universal representation for immigrants with no carve outs

Problem: People in immigration proceedings do not currently have a guaranteed right to free, government-appointed counsel, depriving those without financial resources of the right to a fair hearing and due process.  Immigrants with prior criminal convictions are also disproportionately left vulnerable to deportation, as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may inaccurately characterize a conviction in justifying a deportation, or appeal to the conviction in a way that does not warrant deportation at all. Lack of access to free counsel can harm the ability of immigrants to counter such unjust allegations or to otherwise challenge or overturn a conviction. While the city has provided access to counsel for immigrants in detention through the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, the mayor’s office has also in recent years excluded, or “carved out,” many people from city-funded representation based on their past contact with the criminal legal system. Excluding those with criminal histories from universal representation undermines due process and leaves many of the most vulnerable people without the tools to make their case.

Recommendation: Attorneys provide necessary expertise to immigrants who may be unequipped to navigate the legal settings concomitant with the immigration system. For example, 44 percent of immigrants with counsel were released from detention versus 11 percent without. Universal immigration representation assures that anyone facing imminent threat of deportation receives the legal aid they require. The City should commit to providing truly universal immigration representation, continuous from the onset of a case, functioning along a merits-blind basis, and have limited eligibility requirements akin to public defense in criminal cases. Legal representation must never be denied to someone based on their involvement with the criminal legal system. Both the Council and the Mayor must ensure that legal representation for immigrants is available free of carve-outs. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

4C. Strengthen and enforce existing restrictions on ICE collaboration and local laws 

Problem: New York City has enacted multiple laws and policies that restrict when and how city employees can assist with immigration enforcement and cooperate with ICE. Together, these laws restrict the NYPD and Department of Correction from holding on to people to be picked up by ICE or sharing information about their release dates, and from using city resources for immigration enforcement. Yet these laws contain shameful and unnecessary exceptions that allow the City to continue its entanglement with immigration authorities, such as carve-outs that allow the Department of Correction to turn people over to ICE if they have certain criminal convictions in their past or appear on problematic and nontransparent government watchlists. Oversight of these laws is also inadequate. While city agencies have minimal reporting requirements under these laws, the reports are often not publicly available, and it’s unclear whether city employees are tracking their interactions with ICE as required. Moreover, despite the city’s recent admissions that its local laws have been violated, as reported by the New York Times there are also few tools to hold those who violate local laws on immigration cooperation accountable or provide remedies to those who have been harmed.

Recommendation: The City Council must act to remove exceptions to local laws that permit law enforcement to work hand-in-hand with ICE. The council must also pass laws that provide true transparency and oversight of the city’s cooperation with ICE, and create new mechanisms that allow for wronged individuals to obtain relief. Moreover, through a mixture of agency orders and guidance,the city must commit to aggressively monitoring how its employees are responding to requests for assistance from ICE to comply with existing law. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

4D. Ban ACS from asking about immigration status

Problem: Although the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) only asks for immigration status in the event of determining whether applicants are eligible for certain programs and benefits, undocumented immigrant New Yorkers are still sometimes fearful of ACS due to possible deportation or punitive action on the grounds of their immigration status. ACS is still a law enforcement agency, and can involve the police at their own discretion, which can again expose undocumented people to detention or deportation.

Recommendation: The City should prohibit ACS from asking questions related to immigration status when determining benefits and programs for which applicants are eligible. ACS is a law enforcement agency, and New Yorkers and their civil liberties must be protected in the same way as they should be when dealing with the police. Since ACS has the ability to involve police or criminal legal systems in families’ lives, particular care should be taken to ensure that undocumented New Yorkers are protected from questions that might expose them to interaction with police or even ICE and place them at risk of deportation or detention. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

5) DIVEST FROM ACS AND SUPPORT FAMILIES OF COLOR

The New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) is tasked with “child welfare, juvenile justice, and early care and education services,” and its functions are written into the City charter and state law. However, advocacy and testimony from Black parents about their interactions with ACS and organizations such as the Movement for Family Power have exposed ACS as a law enforcement agency that scrutinizes and polices Black parenthood and other low-income parents of color. Black children represented 31 percent of the indicated cases in New York City in 2017, despite comprising only 15 percent of children citywide, according to the Imprint. Rather than the City providing the social safety net that families need, ACS polices families in their parenting, even through its services, where a refusal or inability to participate in ACS-mandated services can result in escalated consequences for parents and children, including family separation or other harmful interactions with law enforcement. Instead of coercion and punishment, the City should instead invest in preventive services outside of and not connected to ACS for families, addressing the economic hardship, mental health, and other barriers that poor and working class families of color need.     

5A. Divert money from foster care to funding that goes directly to supporting families

Problem: The New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) often becomes involved in families’ lives after multiple social safety nets that could serve low-income parents of color have failed or do not exist. Interventions by ACS are offered after reporting by a neighbor, member of school staff, or a health care worker, or any of the other mandated reporters that must report perceived neglect or abuse to ACS, but according to the Imprint, these reportings can be heavily racialized, and also do not take into account the dire direct and collateral consequences for parents and families when it comes to ACS involvement. Parents can lose temporary or permanent custody, be separated from their children, be fired or barred from their employment, or become entangled in discriminatory databases for decades. However, frustratingly, the City seems to only offer and administer important services and funds for families after entanglement with ACS, or directs services and funds to families fostering children after separating families instead of offering them directly to families in need before ACS interaction or family separation.

Recommendation: The City must provide funding and support for families outside of and much before ACS involvement, with the goal of limiting and reducing ACS interactions with families and the number of children in the foster care system all together. By diverting funding away from foster care and directly towards families in need as a preventative and safe social net context, in many cases, the consequent policing of families in poverty can be avoided altogether. However, a social and racial justice analysis must still be applied to ACS involvement and measures must be taken to address racial bias in mandatory reporting, which the City cannot eliminate entirely as it is a state and federal level policy, but the City must find ways to discourage and limit the pressure on mandatory reporters to report Black families and low-income families of color who are struggling to ACS. The City should empower families to utilize resources in a manner best suited for their needs. As opposed to turning a child to a foster parent as a prerequisite for receiving necessary services, this policy will keep families together and substantively help parents and children alike.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

5B.  Divert funds and decouple services from ACS for preventive non-coercive services

Problem: The coercive services model embraced by the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) further compounds the involvement of parents and children with the ACS, leading to the surveillance and policing of families, particularly Black, Latinx, and low-income families of color, who are forced to complete these services, despite these services not necessarily meeting family needs or being at times or locations that are difficult to access. Failure to complete service may lead to escalations in ACS cases or court proceedings. Black women especially are disproportionately subject to legal consequences as a result of their children or themselves engaging with the ACS out of no choice of their own. Meanwhile, thousands of families are not able to access much needed services, resources, and funding outside of ACS involvement.

Recommendation: The City must offer more non-coercive diverse services and funding before and outside of ACS involvement to maximally benefit families who are facing difficult circumstances. The City should not house services, resources, and funds for families in agencies that play a law enforcement role in the lives of low-income families.
City services and funding for families in need should be available to all, without criteria for eligibility, and without forcing parents to participate or else be threatened with legal consequences. The City should build this safety net that prevents parents and children from getting entangled with ACS, proactively alleviating the difficult conditions families face, rather than requiring them to undergo processes that neglect to address core concerns. For parents with drug involvement, ACS funds would be better allocated if contributing to harm reduction and activism driven by people who use drugs to design and support the resources they need. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

5C. Moratorium on termination of parental rights and allow visitation during pandemic

Problem: The foster system and city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated problems in an already flawed system. New York’s Child Support Enforcement (CSE) suspended all visitations at the start of the pandemic, and continued to use the pandemic to block parents and families from being united. These policies show the priority of keeping families separated, not ensuring their safety and comfort. The courts’ plans to reunify families are now in jeopardy, with less opportunities to appear before a court, or visit children, a reality that will disproportionately impact Black families and low-income families of color. Furthermore, with more families in greater economic insecurity, there should be compassion exercised for families who are struggling to provide for themselves and their children.

Recommendation: The City should push for a moratorium on the termination of parental rights at least until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Courts should prioritize ensuring safe, regular, and easily accessible visitation access to parents for children, and work with families to ensure parents do not have to lose money by taking off work. Foster homes must provide safe and accessible environments and schedules to allow parents and children to visit each other, with appropriate pandemic considerations. The City must do what it can in the long term to address the extreme burden and trauma associated with a lack of parental visitation and unification rights, by implementing other policies and shifts as recommended by this section. 

Office: Mayor, City Council, District Attorney 

Mechanism: Advocacy

5D. Pass Miranda rights legislation to protect parents and families entangled with ACS

Problem: Too many Black parents and low-income and/or immigrant parents of color across New York City know what it’s like to receive a knock on the door from an Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) caseworker, investigating a report of child neglect. The experience of being investigated by ACS – often for dubious allegations related to the cleanliness of their homes or their child’s performance in school – is terrifying for parents, who understandably fear that their children will be removed from their care. Parents are often unfamiliar with the investigation process, their rights to remain silent and seek advice from a lawyer, and how their statements might be used against them in court. As a result, many are coaxed into making statements against their own interest, having been told that cooperating will make the situation go away.

Recommendation: Just as police officers making an arrest must inform people of their Miranda rights, ACS case workers must be required to tell parents of their right to remain silent, obtain counsel, refuse to sign releases for information, and deny access to their homes and their children unless presented with a judicial warrant. Parents must be informed of the allegations being investigated and that statements they make can be used against them in a court proceeding. State Senator Jabari Brisport introduced a bill to create a version of the Miranda rights for parents interacting with the child welfare system, but the City Council can and should take action to protect parents in the five boroughs. The Council must pass legislation requiring ACS to disclose this information to parents the first time they make contact with a family.

Office: City Council 

Mechanism: Legislation

5E. Pass universal early defense and right to legal access for parents involved with ACS

Problem: Parents involved in the family regulation system are not assigned attorneys until the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) files an abuse or neglect case against them in Family Court. Critical decisions are made prior to coming to court, including at conferences convened by ACS. These decisions disproportionately impact Black and Latinx families, and have significant consequences for how the case will proceed, including identifying treatment programs, services and/or benefits available to the family that may ameliorate risk to the children; whether the case will be filed in Court; and, most significantly, whether children will be separated from their parents. Most parents participate in this investigation alone, without the advice of counsel or others to guide them through the process, resulting in many avoidable family separations.

Recommendation: The City should pass legislation giving parents the universal right to counsel when they are being investigated by the ACS. New Yorkers are offered legal support in other circumstances when dealing with law enforcement agencies. Likewise, parents need protection and support from ACS which is essentially a law enforcement agency. Funding should be provided to the City’s institutional providers so that social worker support outside of ACS and legal counsel can be provided to parents as well as other community supports necessary to keep children and families safe and together as much as possible.

Office: City Council 

Mechanism: Legislation

5F. End drug testing for parents and children including newborns

Problem: After years of advocacy from parents and families of color, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (H+H) committed to ending the drug testing of pregnant patients in September 2020. However, the drug testing of newborns and children still occurs, and disproportionately puts families of color at risk of open cases and family separation by the Administration for Children Services (ACS), not due to actual harm or violence perpetrated against children, but solely due to the criminalization and stigmatization of drug use. 

Recommendation: The City must pass legislation that codifies H+H’s drug testing policy into law, ending drug testing for parents, children, and newborns immediately. The City must also remove guidelines that stipulate certain drugs (including marijuana) that have historically meant an immediate opening of an ACS case or child removal. The City should divert money from ACS drug testing and neglect cases to fund harm reduction and activism, driven by people who use drugs and can refer to the support needed. A Miranda-style rights bill for ACS and those involved in cases will ensure these tests do not continue to separate and harm families.

Office: City Council 

Mechanism: Legislation

6) END THE CRIMINALIZATION OF YOUTH

New York City criminalizes youth of color instead of offering them the same opportunities, chances, and resources as their affluent white counterparts. Schools employ more school safety agents than school counselors and social workers, according to the ACLU. City & State reports that Black, Latinx, Indigenous and immigrant students and those with disabilities are more likely to have negative interactions with school police, including school arrests. Meanwhile, according to the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, the current New York City juvenile justice system prioritizes correctional control over the educational, social, and emotional rehabilitation for youth, inflicting unnecessary trauma onto children and compromising public safety. Juvenile detention, medical misuse, in-school police force and foster care are weaponized against children and they have virtually no voice in their autonomy and “rehabilitation.” The City should remove police and school safety officers from schools, and empower youth in city decision budgetary and policy making by establishing publicly funded youth review boards. 

6A. Remove Police and School Safety Officers from Schools

Problem: Per the ACLU of New York, NYC employs a school police force of 5,200 officers, making it larger than entire police departments in all but six U.S. cities. The City estimates in-school police costs New York City $427 million annually and results in thousands of students being arrested, cited, subject to extensive force within classrooms. According to the Urban Youth Collaborative, the total cost to the City for FY21 for school policing was closer to $451 million. Black and Latinx students are at much higher risk of police involvement, even for minor school misbehavior. NYCLU reports in 2019, Black and Latinx students made up 66 percent of the student body, yet 90 percent of arrests. In 2021, the NYPD plans to hire 475 more school safety agents despite a citywide hiring freeze, and promises of transfer to the DOE by the Mayor and Council in 2020, according to Politico.

Recommendation: Police officers should play no role in school discipline, and should not be permanently stationed in schools. Schools that rely heavily on NYPD presence to maintain order often lack basic educational and emotional support for students, including guidance counselors, nurses, mental health resources and well-appointed facilities such as computer labs and libraries, according to the ACLU. The City should reallocate the school safety division’s $427 million budget from school police to services such as guidance counselors and educational facilities to improve attendance, academic achievement, and graduation rates among NYC students.  

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

6B. Create a NYC Youth Investigative Committee on Custody, Confinement, and Consent 

Problem: When faced with questions of custody, parents, school administrators, social workers and courts make decisions regarding the rehabilitation of youth, without offering them a choice in their treatment. Reforms such as New York State Office of Children and Family Services’ “Close to Home” do not ensure all New York City youth remain connected to necessary community support. Moreover, despite the independent oversight of the Civilian Review Board on youth criminal justice, not a single minor sits on this board to inform decisions. The lack of youth-centered review of medical system misuse, juvenile incarceration, foster care and classroom misbehavior combined with insufficient access to community-based resources inhibits comprehensive youth rehabilitation.   

Recommendation: Systems-impacted youth must be given the autonomy to review and determine whether current detention and residential facilities adequately support their rehabilitation and community integration. The City should publicly fund a youth-led investigative committee on New York City carceral systems (including juvenile criminal and civic detention facilities, long-term suspension centers, foster care and involuntary hospitalization) to inform policy and budget decisions intended to protect and rehabilitate youth. The Committee should also include allied experts in child development and youth leadership who can offer resources and insight on current correctional systems.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

6C. Create a NYC Youth Provision and Protection Participatory Budgeting Initiative

Problem: According to the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, thousands of youth involuntarily land in suspension centers, child welfare facilities, psychiatric hospitals and juvenile detention annually. Systems-involved youth are significantly less likely to graduate and more likely to face abuse and incarceration before they reach adulthood. Further, the Center for Children’s Law and Policy reports New York spends $200,000 annually to incarcerate a minor. A NYU study also shows the NYPD unnecessarily transports students with mental health issues to hospitals, costing $8.4 million a year. The current system prioritizes correctional control of youth, while severely underinvesting in rehabilitative educational programs.

Recommendation: The City should redistribute funds from detention and criminalization facilities to public education and in-school support services for youth. Systems-impacted youth should also participate in comprehensive budget analysis and review of institutions with custodial power over them, including the Administration for Children’s Services, Department of Hygiene and Mental Health, and Department of Education. A Youth Participatory Budgetmaking Office should conduct an initial audit of protective and rehabilitative services for young people in collaboration with a newly formed NYC Youth Investigative Commission on Custody, Confinement, and Consent. The Office should ultimately determine the disbursement of 29.5 percent of city funds, a number that signifies that percentage of New Yorkers who are youth. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

7) DECRIMINALIZE DRUGS AND FUND HARM REDUCTION SERVICES

The widespread criminalization of drugs since the federal war on drugs in the 1970s has ensnared millions of Black and Latinx people and immigrants of color in the web of criminalization and collateral consequences including incarceration, family separation, housing and employment discrimination, and immigration detention and deportation. Specifically, aggressive policing tactics, such as entrapment by narcotics units, have endangered and many times ended the lives of Black and Latinx New Yorkers and other low-income New Yorkers of color, according to the New York Daily News. The City should immediately stop drug policing, push district attorneys to decline to prosecute all drug-related charges, dismantle and divest from the NYPD narcotics unit and the Special Narcotics prosecutor, end the execution of no-knock raids, and instead, reallocate funding to overdose prevention centers and other support and resources for New Yorkers who use drugs. 

7A. Decriminalize all drugs by ending arrests and violation-level enforcement for drugs

Problem: Racist and anti-immigrant enforcement, prosecution, and sentencing of outdated prohibition laws have made New York City communities of color especially vulnerable to police violence, court-ordered supervision, financial debt and incarceration. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, in New York, drug-related records fuel racialized exclusion in public housing, employment, immigration eligibility and educational opportunities. John Jay College also reports in 2019 alone, approximately 15,000 summonses for marijuana possession were issued, with Black New Yorkers being disproportionately targeted, despite similar marijuana-use rates across racial demographics. Criminalization of drug-use and addiction fails to prevent drug epidemics and instead, perpetuates community instability. 

Recommendation: New York City must end arrests and violation-level enforcement for drugs, drug paraphernalia, and related “petty offenses” often used to criminalize drug use by enacting “non-enforcement” policies to effectively decriminalize drugs, as outlined by the Drug Policy Alliance. New York City must enact city-wide non-enforcement policies that effectively (1) decriminalize all drugs so that possession of these substances and related paraphernalia no longer carries the threat of imprisonment; (2) end the issuing of court summonses for marijuana possession; and (3) redirect funding from police enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration to provide voluntary, trauma-informed, evidence-based harm reduction treatment services to those who seek it.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

7B. Decline to prosecute all drug charges and limit power of drug courts

Problem: The NYPD disproportionately arrests and charges low-income people of color for drug-use and possession of a small amount of drugs. The Innocence Project reports 93 percent of 2018 marijuana-related arrests were New Yorkers of color, leading to disproportionate sentencing, according to Human Rights Watch. Despite low-level marijuana possession not being a crime in New York, the Drug Policy Alliance estimates the City spends over $75 million annually on marijuana arrests and claims drug courts “do not reduce imprisonment, do not save money or improve public safety, and fail to help those struggling with drug problems.” Additionally, drug convictions are rarely expunged, inhibiting access to employment and social services, often for the rest of people’s lives. 

Recommendation: The City Council and Mayor must use purse strings to pressure District Attorneys to stop prosecuting drug charges immediately. District Attorneys can decline to prosecute drug charges. The City should reallocate funding from drug prosecution to rehabilitative and social services outside of the criminal legal system and District Attorney offices, making employment, housing and social services more accessible to people historically criminalized for drug use and possession. Funds could also be used to resource overdose prevention centers and voluntary health and mental health care services.

Office: Mayor, City Council, District Attorney 

Mechanism: Advocacy, Budget, Agency Policy

7C. Establish Overdose Prevention Centers and allow drug checking services

Problem: The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) reports 20.5 people out of 100,000 die from drug overdose annually. Yet, those who use drugs are unable to seek assistance during overdose because of the criminalization of and stigma surrounding drug use. Drug paraphernalia laws and scant syringe exchange programs prevent access to rehabilitative services for those who use drugs. Thus, people who use drugs lack necessary social support and physical spaces to safely engage in drug use, leading to needle sharing and increased rates of HIV/AIDS transmission, as well as overdose, according to a DOHMH study

Recommendation: The City should establish overdose prevention centers, also known as safe supervised consumption sites, and expand distribution of sterile injection and testing supplies, including naloxone (emergency medication to treat overdose) across boroughs. Supervised consumption services also make drug use safer by monitoring for overdose and providing medical advice, drug treatment referrals and support programs. Per the Drug Policy Alliance, supervised centers reduce risky behaviors, increase entry into substance-use disorder treatment programs, promote public safety and moderate medical costs without increasing “drug-related crime.” Testing drugs prevents consumption of drugs laced with fentanyl and other dangerous contaminants, decreasing the likelihood of overdose. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

7D. Dismiss cases where “odor of marijuana” was used as a justification for a stop and search

Problem: Per a 2019 New York appellate court decision People v. McGee, “odor of marijuana” can serve as legitimate justification for a stop-and-search. For years, the NYPD subjected New Yorkers to traffic stops and searches that resulted in subsequent arrests using this excuse. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), signed into law April 1, 2021, does not allow odor to be used as the justification for law enforcement interaction with community members any more.

Recommendation: District attorneys should review cases in which odor of marijuana was used as probable cause and dismiss those cases, as well as any scope of offense now legalized through the MRTA. The Mayor and Council should use their advocacy and power over the DA budget to push district attorneys to dismiss these cases.  

Office: Mayor, Council, District Attorney

Mechanism: Advocacy, Budget, Agency Policy

7E. Eliminate the narcotics unit of NYPD and reinvest funding in harm reduction services

Problem: Police often use narcotics units to aggressively make arrests, especially for low-level drug possession by entrapping individuals in hopes of detecting evidence of contraband. Such measures not only sweep people into the criminal legal system, but make it harder for individuals who use drugs to access harm reduction services if they need them. Practices surrounding confidential informants also incentivize false testimony and elevate the risk that warrants and arrests will be unduly affected, endangering informants and those targeted. Aggressive policing tactics, particularly by the NYPD narcotics unit, do not actually reduce drug activity and instead criminalize Black and Latinx New Yorkers especially.

Recommendation: The City must eliminate the narcotics unit of NYPD and reinvest that funding in harm reduction services. The City must also stop the NYPD’s use of confidential informants for narcotics by prohibiting the use of known drug users as buyers and informants for pursuing drug evidence. The City should completely dismantle the NYPD narcotics unit and SWAT teams, and instead, reinvest that funding in harm reduction services. Along with providing fentanyl testing strips, syringe access, and naloxone, the City should invest in supervised consumption services and supervised injection facilities (SIFs), as recommended by the Drug Policy Alliance.  

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

7F. Eliminate the Special Narcotics Prosecutor office

Problem: Aggressive narcotics divisions coupled with highly racialized police and prosecutor practices victimize low-level drug sellers and buyers. Drug users are often coerced into acting as “confidential informants,” encouraging false testimonies and excessive use of warrants and arrests, endangering both informants and targeted sellers. Such interventions are an abuse of police power and contribute to community destabilization. Incarceration for minor drug offenses unnecessarily sweeps individuals into the criminal legal system, endangering primarily New Yorkers of color and those with substance abuse disorders, who find it increasingly difficult to access treatment and harm reduction services. 

Recommendation: The Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor is the antiquated remnant of the 20th century faulty criminal justice system, and should be wholly abolished. Per the NYC FDB, the City collectively supports 97 percent of the Narcotics Prosecutor’s budget. The $22 million budget allocated for its resources and maintenance, as reported by the NYC Finance Division Briefing, should be redirected to harm reduction services for the individuals targeted by the narcotics unit’s intrusive methods. 

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget

7G. Eliminate no-knock and quick-knock raids

Problem: According to City and State NY, no-knock raids, most notably visible during the killing of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police, allow officers to enter an individual’s property without first announcing their presence to prevent destruction of evidence and escape of suspects. No-knock warrants, especially when targeting drug evidence, endanger Black and brown communities, resulting in death of innocent persons and psychological violence, as indicated by a traumatology report. Despite being employed in 60 percent of SWAT team drug searches, no-knock warrants resulted in the discovery of little to no drugs, as indicated by the ACLU

Recommendation: Presently, New York State bill S.11, introduced by Senator James Sanders Jr., aims to “restrict the issuance and execution of all ‘no-knock’ warrants and raids by limiting them only to instances when human life is in jeopardy.”  However, rather than waiting for this bill’s passage by the State, the Mayor should immediately direct the NYPD to completely forgo no-knock warrants as an acceptable practice and at a minimum, to not execute them in drug searches. The City Council should explore legislation to ban such raids on city property, including NYC Housing Authority. 

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

According to the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project, people who engage in sex work do so out of choice, circumstance, or coercion. LGBQ+ people and youth, trans people, immigrants, and marginalized Black and Latinx are disproportionately represented in the sex trades. Yet New York State law criminalizes sex workers, their clients and affiliates, regardless of circumstance or consent. According to the Human Rights Watch, when sex work is criminalized, workers and clients alike are deprived of their personal autonomy, and sex workers face outsize risk of exploitation and physical or sexual violence. This criminalization does nothing to prevent human trafficking or child abuse; instead, it entangles sex workers in a web of police harassment, arrests, court appearances, mandatory services, and incarceration. Full decriminalization would create a safe environment for sex workers to operate consensually, improve outcomes in health and justice, and reduce interaction with law enforcement.

8A: Defund and eliminate the NYPD Vice division that polices sex work and sex workers

Problem: According to ProPublica, NYPD’s Vice Enforcement Division consists of at least 96 officers with an annual budget of $18 million. NYPD Vice officers have a long history of engaging in entrapment and weaponizing their positions of power, coercing sex from sex workers before arresting them. Vice disproportionately targets Black or brown sex workers, clients, and communities. According to ProPublica, approximately 90 percent of sex workers and clients arrested are people of color, even as a majority of sex workers report a mainly white male clientele. NYPD Vice officers face very little oversight, especially undercover officers.

Recommendation: NYPD Vice should be disbanded, and funding should be reallocated to supportive services for sex workers and trafficking survivors. Current NYPD Vice officers should be investigated, and officers who have abused their positions should be ejected from the force, not transferred to other units. Although reassignment should be avoided all together as the goal should be to overall reduce headcount of the NYPD, current union contracts may obligate the City to transfer these officers to other units when there’s a vacancy to fill in for attrition gaps. However, City officials should ensure that officers with any misconduct in their backgrounds are especially not transferred to other units.

Office: Mayor, Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

8B: Decline to prosecute offenses related to sex work and unlicensed massage

Problem: There are a number of statutes that penalize consensual sex work between adults, so that paid sex trade between consenting adults is still a criminal offense in New York. This ensnares predominately Black and brown sex workers, their clients, and even roommates, into the criminal legal system. The illegality of their work makes sex workers doubly vulnerable, as they face harassment and sexual abuse from the officers ostensibly meant to protect them. Each sex work-related offense has dire collateral consequences for immigration, housing, employment, and parental rights, even in cases that are ultimately dismissed. Over 250 scientists and countless organizations have noted that decriminalizing sex workers and thier clients is one of the most important interventions governments can take to reduce HIV transmission, and reduce violence in the trade. 

Recommendation: Until sex work is decriminalized at the state level, the Mayor and City Council must push District Attorneys to decline to prosecute, not merely dismiss, all cases related to consensual sex work between adults. The Manhattan District Attorney has taken a step in the right direction, but this action must be extended by all five district attorneys with jurisdiction over New York City. Further, while the Manhattan and Brooklyn District Attorneys have committed to declining one prostitution related offense, they have not committed to declining to prosecute other statutes where sex workers who work together, roommates, and collaborators are prosecuted. Moreover, district attorneys must not prosecute cases where a prostitution statute was the pretext for arrest. District attorneys must publicly advocate that services for sex workers and survivors be kept separate from the Human Trafficking Intervention Courts and the carceral system.

Office: Mayor, City Council, District Attorney 

Mechanism: Advocacy, Budget, Agency Policy

8C. Limit Human Trafficking Intervention Courts and eliminate mandatory services

Problem: Because of the criminalization of sex work, people involved in sex trades often end up at the Human Trafficking Intervention Court (HTIC). But, as VICE reports, “[trafficking courts] call defendants victims but still treat them like criminals.” Far from aiding trafficking victims and sex workers, criminalization heightens the threat of arrest, deportation, or violence. HTICs offer counseling and services to defendants involved in the sex trades as an alternative to incarceration, according to the New York Times; but missing counseling sessions risks further criminalization for extremely marginalized New Yorkers, most of whom are people of color. In 2014, a report released by Red Umbrella Project found that 69 percent of defendants facing prostitution charges in Brooklyn were black, and in Queens, 58 percent were East Asian. 

Recommendation: Though abolishing HTICs is not within the City’s power, their jurisdiction must be limited to prevent sex workers’ further endangerment through prosecution, criminalization, and incarceration. HTICs should only process Criminal Procedure Law 440 motions, which allow survivors to request to have past judgments vacated or reopened. HTICs must also avoid mandating onerous services for sex workers and their clients.  Services should not be compulsory, and they should not be funded through the HTICs/carceral system.

Office: Mayor, City Council, District Attorney 

Mechanism: Advocacy, Budget, Agency Policy

8D. Fully fund a citywide sex worker resource center

Problem: Historically, the City’s approach to sex work is marred by harassment, criminalization, and the violation of sex workers’ bodily autonomy and ability to earn a livelihood. NYPD Vice does little to protect the rights of sex workers. The NYPD also targets minority communities when it comes to arresting patrons of sex workers, according to ProPublica. Meanwhile, many sex workers are in dire need of housing, healthcare, legal services, and other resources; yet the City has no organized or well-resourced approach to address these needs.

Recommendation: According to the Urban Justice Center, the City allocates over $18.2 million to the Vice Enforcement Division, and this money could be actually providing vital services that could be serving sex workers and their communities. The City must fund a comprehensive resource center that supports sex workers. Funding can be reallocated from units like Vice. The center could provide resources such as housing referals, harm reduction services, educational tools and opportunities, legal services, health care services, and community building with other sex workers. The City must ensure that the center is not a target for policing and has no interaction or affiliation with law enforcement.   

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

9) DEFUND DISTRICT ATTORNEYS

According to the Five Boro Defenders, district attorneys have fueled mass incarceration by “measuring success through conviction rates and harsh sentences, destroying communities historically targeted by over-policing and rampant prosecutions.” Historically, prosecutors have tried to out “law and order” each other in order to win elections, promising to throw people in jail and be “tough on crime.” Despite this, district attorneys have largely avoided substantial scrutiny until quite recently. More and more, social and racial justice advocates, activists, and organizers are extending calls to defund police to district attorneys who are also law enforcement entities that can and do destroy the lives of millions of low-income New Yorkers of color. The People’s Coalition for Manhattan DA Accountability states that its encompassing organizations are “oriented toward defunding and defanging the Manhattan District Attorney.” Accordingly, the City must reduce the scope and resources of all district attorney offices in New York City, and reallocate excess funds to support community needs. 

9A. Cut DA budgets and address OMB agreements keeping DA revenue in DA control

Problem: According to the Queens Eagle, hiring at district attorney offices has increased by 31 percent over the past decade, with the number of city-funded full-time prosecutors increasing by nearly 1000, an increase of more than 25 percent since 2010 and triple the number of staffers from 40 years ago. The City has five district attorneys and one special narcotics prosecutor, and city funds cover over 95 percent of their total budget, according to the New York City Council. Notably, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office budget has increased by approximately $15 million over the last ten years to a total of $169 million, according to the Council.

Recommendation: For too long district attorney offices have extracted wealth from the targets of policing and incarceration, including working class, marginalized communities of color. The City must reduce funding for district attorney offices by 50 percent of its budget. Widespread personnel changes, including the dismissal of any discriminatory or unethical Assistant District Attorneys, could account for substantial cuts. 

Office: Mayor, City Council, District Attorney 

Mechanism: Budget

10) END CONTINUED CRIMINALIZATION AND COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES

People entangled in the criminal legal system are disproportionately Black and Latinx, and these entanglements continue to entrap people long after the initial point of criminalization. According to the Sentencing Project, nearly one-third of American adults have a criminal record. Incarcerated people experience several barriers to societal reintegration, according to Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES). Resources like housing, employment, education and mental health support, are often denied to people who have priors or are entangled with the criminal legal system. 

10A. Fund comprehensive re-entry services for formerly incarcerated people

Problem: According to The Crime Report, the annual financial cost to the City to incarcerate one person is $337,524, but the social and human cost of the harm caused by incarceration is immeasurable. According to the Gotham Gazette, the rearrest or reincarceration rate is 20 percent citywide, but 43 percent among those with mental illness, indicating a need for better re-entry and support programs for formerly criminalized or incarcerated New Yorkers. Disqualifications in housing, employment, and other resources on the basis of past criminal records present further barriers. These social and financial circumstances create hostile environments, resulting in higher rates of homelessness and re-incarceration.  

Recommendation: While Mayor de Blasio’s Office of Criminal Justice instituted the Jails to Jobs program, more resources must be dedicated to education, mental health, and other re-entry services to improve public safety and restitute communities historically affected by racial and social injustice. To best help formerly incarcerated people, the City should expand community-based reentry programs specifically pertaining to employment assistance, education, housing and mental health resources. The Mayor should appoint community leaders from racially and socioeconomically underserved neighborhoods as policy advisors to inform the kinds of reentry services needed. Most importantly, as much as possible services and resources should be preventative and not just offered to marginalized New Yorkers after or through involvement in the criminal legal system

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

10B. End jail penalties and collateral consequences in the City’s administrative code

Problem: The NYPD’s discriminatory enforcement of the administrative code exposes Black and Latinx New Yorkers to increased risk of violence.  As policing of administrative code violations disproportionately affects marginalized New Yorkers of color, decriminalization of the administrative code could reduce violent contact with the police and the threats that come with that contact, including physical risk or injury, arrest, death, immigration detention or deportation, surveillance through database placement, and further contact with the criminal legal system.

Recommendation: The City should decriminalize the administrative code and end jail penalties associated with code violations with the goal to limit police interaction with New Yorkers, especially marginalized New Yorkers of color. The City Council should comb through the administrative code to identify violations that could cause police contact, and remove. Agencies can address issues that have to do with health or safety through nonpunitive measures, and the City should address emotional distress or other unsafe behavior through alternative crisis intervention.

Office: Council

Mechanism: City Legislation

10C. Ban criminal background checks on potential tenants

Problem: Formerly incarcerated New Yorkers and/or New Yorkers entangled in the criminal legal system are disproportionately Black and Latinx, and are frequently denied housing opportunities because of criminal records. According to the Where We Live Plan, the City has overhauled the admissions process to City-supported affordable housing since 2016 to address discrimination, but much of the private market has failed to adopt the procedures required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Extensive discrimination contributes to repeated experiences with homelessness and housing insecurity for formerly incarcerated New Yorkers and/or those involved in the criminal legal system. 

Recommendation: As suggested in the Where We Live NYC Plan, the City should enact local legislation to address discrimination in the private housing market based on residents’ past involvement with the criminal justice system. Such protections should be designed to eliminate, if not minimize, the impact of criminal record discrimination on Black, Latinx, and other people of color. This anti-discrimination legislation should build on currently existing Council legislation, Int 2047-2020, which has not yet passed, which prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of arrest or criminal record. 

Office: City Council

Mechanism: City Legislation

10D. Ban criminal background checks for employment

Problem: Employers who require criminal background checks perpetuate a biased and discriminatory hiring process that severely constricts the economic prospects of those with prior convictions. According to the Sentencing Project, 60 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals lack employment a year following their release. As communities who are police and criminalized more than their white counterparts, Black and Latinx communities of color disproportionately bear the burden of this practice and its consequent economic disenfranchisement. Criminal background checks keep people in these communities in subsequent cycles of criminalization, as several studies have linked rearrest and reincarceration with an inability to find employment.

Recommendation: Banning applicant criminal background checks produces a more equitable hiring process. Along with convictions, including those which are sealed, dismissed, expunged, or statutorily eradicated, factors such as arrests without convictions and participation in pretrial or post-trial diversion programs should not weigh into a hiring decision. People with criminal histories deserve a fair chance to secure gainful employment and a living wage, along with social reintegration following incarceration. The City Council should build on Int 1314-2018 which has passed, which prohibits employment discrimination based on one’s arrest record, pending criminal accusations or criminal convictions, and create know your rights materials, proper oversight measures, and testing measures to ensure that employers are following the law, within the Commission on Human Rights and other appropriate city agencies. 

Office: City Council

Mechanism: City Legislation

10E. Guarantee prompt hearings to protect against arbitrary NYPD property seizure

Problem: NYPD often seizes property during interactions with low-income Black and Latinx New Yorkers, using the premise that this property was used as an instrument to commit crime, or the proceeds of criminal activity, according to The Appeal. For example, when a person is arrested for “driving while intoxicated or impared” (DWI), police will seize the person’s car, claiming that it was an instrument to commit the crime of driving while intoxicated. Additionally, NYPD will seize cell phones from nearly every person they arrest, blanketly claiming the cell phone may have been used in commission of the crime. Finally, the NYPD will frequently seize all money possessed by an arrested person, even when there is no indication that all of the money was the proceeds of an alleged crime. There is no timely way in which to challenge this seizure, and the financial consequences for low-income New Yorkers can be dire. 

Recommendation: The City Council must pass legislation to guarantee prompt hearings for people whose property is seized by the NYPD, regardless of whether that property is a car, money or some other item. At the hearing, the City must require the NYPD to demonstrate that the arrest was valid and the property was in fact directly used to commit the charged crime, or the clear proceeds of criminal activity. The legislation should mandate that counsel be appointed at the hearing to guide the person who faces loss of their personal property. Since NYPD often uses far reaching definitions and discretions to seize property, protections for low-income New Yorkers around property seizure must be explored and expanded on the city-level if possible. 

Office: City Council

Mechanism: City Legislation

11) SUPPORT SURVIVORS AND DECOUPLE SERVICES FROM CRIMINAL LEGAL SYSTEMS

Criminalization is not a preventative measure against the occurrence of forms of violence, but rather a response to violence after the fact, and is thus not a sufficient measure of protection or sufficient resource for survivors. However, many vital services for both survivors of violence and people who cause harm require police reports and/or are directly tied to involvement in the criminal legal system. This actually leaves out many survivors, many of whom do not or cannot call on the police for support for fear of criminalization, trauma, or harmful past experiences. For example, Interrupting Criminalization reports that less than half of survivors of intimate partner violence call police in the first place, and the number falls to a quarter for survivors of sexual assault. When they do call, the majority of survivors report harmful, retraumatizing, or negative experiences with the police. This means thousands of survivors are not getting the support they need, because police officers are often survivors’ first point of contact with the system. Support services should be decoupled from the City’s criminal legal system to the greatest extent possible to support marginalized survivors who cannot or do not want to engage with the criminal legal system or law enforcement. 

11A. Expand services for survivors of violence that do not require a police report 

Problem: Currently, to get access to many services and resources, survivors must have “evidence” of their abuse through a police report or order of protection, which excludes many survivors of violence in need of support. The resources dependant on this “evidence” include housing, economic resources, u-visas (for undocumented New Yorkers), counseling, and other important services. For example, in order to get a safety transfer in some city-subsidized housing (NYCHA, Fheps, HASA), a survivor must have a police report and/or order of protection. Resources are often limited to those whose experiences meet narrowly defined definitions of abuse (often just physical) that police and judges respond to. Because many resources for survivors are coupled with policing or criminal legal systems, many survivors may feel coerced to call the police to get help, or opt not seek help at all, despite deep need(s). 

Recommendation:  Resources must be offered beyond those who have “evidence” of abuse through a police report or order of protection, and could entail just accepting a letter of support by service-based or anti-violence organizations. According to the New York City Anti-Violence Project, services for survivors that should be expanded and decoupled from police response include funding immediate relocation services and addressing long-term housing insecurity; funding community based prevention programming and crisis supports; and the implementation of housing and workplace protections against evictions or firing alongside financial subsidies. 

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: Budget, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy

11B. Stop prosecuting survivors of domestic, sexual, or gender-based violence

Problem: Black and Latinx New Yorkers, LGBTQ+ folks, immigrants, and survivors with other marginalized identities are disproportionately criminalized because of their status as survivors. According to the New York City Anti-Violence Project, a national study showed that a fourth of survivors are arrested or threatened with arrest during an intimate partner violence incident or report, and that in New York City, 66 percent of intimate partner violence survivors who were arrested alongside or instead of their abusive partner were Black or Latinx. Separately, survivors of domestic, sexual, or gender-based violence may be prosecuted simply for taking measures to assure their survival. Those who retaliate against such violence in order to protect themselves or others may be improperly labeled the primary aggressor, and are arrested or prosecuted as a result. Further consequences sometimes include the removal of children from a survivor’s homes or complications around immigration cases, including deportation or detention. 

Recommendation: Survivors should not face prosecution for defending themselves or for their status as survivors, but our current policing and criminal legal system criminalizes marginalized survivors. District attorney offices should decline to prosecute both survivors who are simply trying to survive domestic, sexual, or gender-based violence, and survivors who may be criminalized due to an incident unrelated to their survivorship at the surface-level, but who have suffered abuse and violence. For example, as reported by Rolling Stone, Layleen Polanco who died due to solitary confinement in Rikers was a survivor of sexual abuse, and her criminalization and subsequent death illustrates the way in which the City fails survivors of violence.  Instead of policing and prosecution, the City must divert this funding for more resources for survivors. In particular, providing survivors with confidential and affordable housing is critical in ensuring their pathway to safety and personal empowerment and agency.

Office: Mayor, City Council, District Attorney 

Mechanism: Advocacy, Budget, Agency Policy 

11C. End practice of pretrial orders of protection without the consent of the complaint

Problem: District Attorneys frequently ask for temporary orders of protection at arraignment, often based solely on the representation of police officers who do not have complete information. As a result, temporary orders of protections are often issued against survivors who were defending themselves, the more masculine presenting party in LGBTQ relationships, young people in disputes with parents, and trans and gender non-conforming people. Officers often do not know or care who the initial aggressor was, and will sometimes issue temporary orders of protections against both parties. These criminal orders can exclude people from their homes or place of employment, different from restraining orders sought in family courts.

Recommendation: District Attorneys should refrain from asking for temporary orders of protections to be issued without consent from the complainant. District Attorneys’ consent should be required to determine whether temporary orders of protection are necessary, whether it can limit access to home and work spaces, and whether it is proper to have temporary orders of protection issued against both parties.  Most importantly, the City should better invest in non-court family counseling services, especially for youth-parent relationships, to avoid entanglements in the criminal legal system. 

Office: Mayor, City Council, District Attorney 

Mechanism: Advocacy, Budget, Agency Policy

11D. Eliminate nuisance ordinances

Problem: Nuisance ordinances deem locations subject to multiple 911 complaints as “nuisances,” with the primary victims of these complaints being those experiencing homelessness and intimate partner violence. Nuisance ordinances allow landlords to evict tenants to maintain “orderly conduct” on their property. Per the ACLU, these ordinances force survivors to risk eviction if police are called in partner violence situations. The Gothamist also reports that under the Mayor’s discretion, police have undergone several sweeps of homeless encampments that are deemed “chronic nuisances.” Instead of providing safety resources, the City has criminalized poverty with its stringent maintenance of nuisance ordinances and violent police response.  

Recommendation: To ameliorate the disparities and undue harm to people experiencing homelesssness and intimate partner violence, the City should repeal nuisance ordinances, according to the ACLU. As recommended earlier, the City should prioritize non-police intervention through instatement of community responder models to address crisis situations, including intimate partner violence.

Office: Mayor, City Council

Mechanism: City Legislation, Mayoral and/or Agency Policy