Criminal Justice Reform in New York Lags Behind Other States

You might expect New York, which some view as the bastion of liberalism in the United States, to be at the forefront of criminal justice reform. After all, in several states, marijuana has been decriminalized, and many states have taken steps to reduce their prison populations, have made possession of hard drugs a misdemeanor, and have restricted police tactics such as the use of cellphone tracking technology.

The fact is, however, that justice reform in New York has apparently stalled. There has been almost no legislation aimed at criminal justice reform in the state since Governor Cuomo took office in 2011, or in New York City since Bill de Blasio took office, along with a number of new City Council members, in 2014. We’ll give you some examples of what we mean:

  • New York is one of only two states in the country (North Carolina is the other) that routinely prosecute 16-year-olds as adults. While the governor has openly supported upping the age to 18, legislation on the issue has not moved forward.
  • New York has broad laws which support police secrecy, including a 1976 statute which prevents disclosure of a police officer’s history, including any history of misconduct.
  • The NYPD has continuously blocked efforts to decriminalize minor offenses.

Implementation of court-ordered body cams for officers has been delayed again and again.

On the other hand, New York has no death penalty, and repeal of some of the Rockefeller drug laws has reduced the prison population by about 20,000 inmates since 1999. But insiders say that the NYPD policies are being set not by the Mayor, but by Commissioner Bill Bratton, who appears to be reluctant to change anything significant in that area. And while some reforms, such as the rule against chokeholds by police, are on the books, the NYPD has a history of not holding officers accountable for violations.

To say that politics has a bit to do with what we see as the problem is something of an understatement. What we have found is that despite drastic reduction in crime over the past 20 years, the public perception is that it is on the increase. And it is that misperception that is being catered to by the politicians.

George Vomvolakis Law Offices
275 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
(212) 682-0700