The “New York Promise” agenda announced today by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is a bold, evidence-based set of policies that will make New York State a place that is safer and fairer for all—regardless of age, income level, race, or immigration status. We applaud the Governor’s efforts to reform all aspects of the criminal process, from awaiting trial through to case resolution, as well as moving young people out of reach of the adult criminal system.
For too long, money—in the form of bail—has been the single most important determinant of whether a person awaiting trial returns home or remains in jail during his or her case. Indeed, this issue of injustice was the first that Vera worked to improve more than 50 years ago. Those we keep in jail pretrial should be there because they pose a real risk—not because of their income, as is too often the case. Reforming the use of bail will narrow the front door of who goes to jail in the first place. For New Yorkers awaiting trial—in or out of jail—the long delays in resolving their cases impose a significant toll on employment, income, and housing, among other consequences. Repeatedly adjourning cases without any good reason for delay also leads to a loss of confidence in the system itself. Speeding up case processing times and reducing the backlog of old cases will go far in restoring the delivery of justice swiftly and fairly. Similarly, collecting evidence consistent with best practices to ensure its reliability—reflected in the Governor’s proposal to record interrogations and use double-blind identification procedures—will further instill confidence in the criminal justice process. Finally, keeping 16- and 17-year-old children where they belong—in the juvenile justice system and not the adult criminal justice system—will bring New York in line with the 48 other states that recognize these young people are youth, not adults, and should be treated as such when charged with a crime.
The Vera Institute has long been committed to driving change in our justice system so that it ensures fairness, promotes safety, and strengthens communities. The work we do in our own state takes on special meaning, from our support of the Governor’s Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice in its efforts to raise the age, to our current work on the Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, informally known as the Rikers Commission. We are proud to support Governor Cuomo in his efforts to improve justice for all New Yorkers and we welcome these reforms. – Nicholas Turner, President, Vera Institute of Justice