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THE INDEPENDENT COMMISSION'S REPORT HAS BEEN RELEASED

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THE INDEPENDENT COMMISSION'S REPORT HAS BEEN RELEASED

The Independent Commission Studying Rikers Island, Joined by Speaker Mark-Viverito, Elected Officials, Law Enforcement Leaders, Advocates, and Formerly Incarcerated New Yorkers and their Families, Outlines Plan to Close Jail Facilities on Rikers Island

NEW YORK, NY - The Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, joined by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito – who convened the Commission in early 2016 – Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, advocates, and formerly incarcerated individuals and family members, outlined a detailed, achievable plan to permanently close Rikers Island and establish of five state-of-the-art borough-based jail facilities. The Commission’s recommendation to close Rikers were detailed in its final report released on Friday, following more than a year of in-depth research and extensive community outreach.

The 146-page report details how to safely reduce the jail population by instituting reforms at multiple stages of the criminal justice process, how to replace the mass incarceration model at Rikers Island with smaller, safer, and more humane facilities located closer to court systems in the civic centers of each borough, and how closing the jail facilities on Rikers could free up the space needed to house city infrastructure crucial to New York City’s future. 

 

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said, "For too long, Rikers Island has been a symbol of dysfunction and violence and a stain on our criminal justice system. That's why, a little over a year ago, I tasked an Independent Commission, led by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, with exploring how to make necessary improvements to bring more justice to all New Yorkers. The release of today's report is a landmark day for our City, for New Yorkers, and for anyone who has ever been ensnared by the criminal justice system. With the dedicated efforts of this Commission, along with support from Mayor de Blasio, today, we can say that the dream of closing Rikers Island will finally become a reality. I thank former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and the Independent Commission on Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform for their critical work on this important issue and look forward to continuing to work with all of my colleagues as we continue to reimagine the future of jails and support a more humane, effective community-based justice system."

 Judge and Chairman of the Independent Commission Jonathan Lippman said, “With the facts as our guide and input from a wide range of elected officials, community leaders, and everyday New Yorkers, we have determined, in no uncertain terms, the time has come for us to close Rikers. Closing Rikers Island is an essential step toward a more effective and more humane criminal justice system and our Commission’s charge was to develop a blueprint for how we can achieve just that. Our report builds from a solid foundation of progress in which New York City has successfully driven down crime and incarceration rates, illustrating that more jail in no way leads to greater public safety.

“We know that transforming these recommendations into real actions will take time, resources, and, most of all, political will to enact. However, with the courageous support from our city and state leaders, chiefly Speaker Mark-Viverito who has led the way on criminal justice reform and convened this Commission, from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who supports closing Rikers and will be integral to making this plan a reality, and from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has proactively advocated for the closure of Rikers, we are optimistic that we will be able to, indeed, build a more just New York City. I am deeply appreciative to the members of our Commission, staff members, organizations who offered their expertise and pro-bono services, the philanthropic support we received, and to each and every person who shared their experiences and perspectives with us over the past year.”

Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark said, "I believe in approaching criminal justice in the 21st Century with bold, new ideas, and this includes reforming jails from 19th century models to places of actual rehabilitation, bail reform and alternatives to incarceration. Judge Lippman and the Commission have suggested thoughtful initiatives, and I commend their hard work.

We are the greatest city in the greatest nation in the world, and our jails must not be brutal, corrupt, inhumane or filled with despair, either for those who have to be there because they await trial, are serving a sentence, or work there. The recommendation to create jails in each of the boroughs will take years to become a reality. In the meantime, I vow to continue my Office's attack upon the violence and corruption that have victimized inmates, officers and staff on Rikers Island. All New Yorkers look forward to the day when the current conditions at Rikers Island exist only in our collective memory.”

 Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. said, “For too long, Rikers' Island has been plagued by substandard conditions and a culture of violence. Profoundly isolated from the rest of the city, it has far outlived its utility. Recognizing the need for better and safer alternatives to jail, as well as a path to success for those returning to their communities, my Office has invested $25 million in diversion – including $14 million for supervised release for defendants citywide, and $30 million in reentry programming. I want to thank the Speaker for convening this important Commission, and the members for making many thoughtful and achievable recommendations. Closing Rikers is our moral and civic obligation."

 Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said, “This report should give new life to our ongoing conversations about how to make the criminal justice system not only more just and humane, but also safer for everyone, including corrections officers. I agree that public safety can be achieved without relying on incarceration alone. In Brooklyn, we have long embraced innovative strategies that provide fair and effective alternatives to imprisonment. These include our Mental Health Court, our Young Adult Court, and soon, our plan to offer certain drug offenders the option of engaging in treatment without ever going to court. I commend the Commission members and Judge Lippman for their thoughtful and visionary work, and I look forward to doing my part."

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said, “When too many feel the scales of justice are unbalanced, it is clear that our City's criminal justice system is in need of desperate reform. The recommendations from the Lippman Commission are an opportunity for true, top-to-bottom reconstruction of our system: from emphasizing crime prevention programs to utilizing more alternatives to incarceration to reducing reliance on cash bail to ultimately closing Rikers Island. We must do everything in our power to ensure that our criminal justice system is fair, transparent, and accountable and these recommendations are a critical step towards that goal.”

New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said, “For a generation, America tried to be ‘tough on crime’ instead of smart on crime. The result of our backward, mass incarceration approach meant that communities of color – often poor – were trapped in an unrelenting cycle of crime and poverty. It’s affected so many Americans and so many New Yorkers. We cannot jail people just because they’re poor, and we cannot put them in facilities – like Rikers Island – that don’t help them succeed. Rikers is a symbol of antiquated policies, and closing it is the right thing to do. We have to be a city that gives people inside our jails the tools to thrive outside those prison walls, and we have to give people second chances. That’s why the work of this Commission is so important, and I would like to thank Judge Lippman and all its members for their extraordinary contributions.”

Nicholas Turner, President of the Vera Institute of Justice and Chair of the Independent Commission’s Rethinking Incarceration subcommittee said, “Achieving a criminal justice system that is fair, safe, humane, and effective for all New Yorkers requires a different approach than our status quo. Such a system is better for our entire city – and wholly within our reach. This report serves as an evidence-based roadmap for what must be done to close the door on Rikers Island and replace it with jails across New York City that are safer, closer to courts and communities, and that align with our common values. I am proud to have played a role in this effort, and am grateful for the dedication of my fellow commission members and staff in our year-long effort to reimagine the future of our jails and our justice system.”

 Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the City University of New York Institute for State & Local Governance, Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and Chair of the Independent Commission’s Future of Jails subcommittee said, “Riker's Island has, since its inception as a jail complex that houses pre-trial detainees and those serving very short sentences, been an exceptionally poor place to locate a jail. The infrastructure has been in a state of constant disrepair for decades and its isolation makes it an alienating environment for both inmates and staff. This isolation also impacts family visiting, a crucial part of successful community integration. Put simply, keeping Riker's Island as the City's main detention complex is not sustainable. Over thepast year, the Commission has worked diligently to create not just recommendations for transitioning off of Rikers Island, but a real blueprint for how we can make it a reality. Establishing borough-based facilities that promote the safety and well-being of both corrections officers and the individuals they supervise will ultimately help us create a smaller, more efficient and just system, allow for better communications amongst staff, incarcerated persons, and local communities, and ultimately provide significant cost savings to New Yorkers. I appreciate the comprehensive, thoughtful work of the Commission and am honored to have taken part.”

MaryAnne Gilmartin, President and Chief Executive Officer of Forest City Ratner Companies and Chair of the Independent Commission’s Reimagining the Island subcommittee said, “Rikers Island is an international symbol of despair and damage, leaving a permanent mark on everyone it touches and creating an out of sight, out of mind mentality for New Yorkers. Over the past year, the Commission crafted a comprehensive plan for transitioning jail facilities off Rikers Island, something that represents not only a moral imperative, but also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to situate transportation and energy infrastructure projects crucial to the future of our great City. This reimagined Rikers Island would also include a memorial to acknowledge the injustices that have occurred there and ultimately seek to bring new, vital purpose to this space. It has been a privilege to work with my fellow Commissioners and I am grateful to the Commission members, staff, and stakeholders who have allowed us to create a roadmap towards a more just New York City.”

 

Key Recommendations in the Commission’s Report Include: 

  • Reducing the Inmate Population: In order to help create a more fair and more effective justice system, reforms must be instituted at multiple stages of the criminal justice process, from arrest through sentencing. These include:
    • Creating off-ramps at arrest with diversion of low-level misdemeanor cases and those in need of mental health services;
    • Reducing pretrial detention by moving toward a more just bail system that relies decreasingly on money bail and more on supervision and risk assessment tools;
    • Reducing case processing delays by enforcing reasonable timeframes to resolve all cases through adherence to court standards and through legislative action; and 
    • Expanding sentencing alternatives to bring judicial discretion, community justice, and evidence-based alternatives to incarceration to the table.
  • Replacing the mass incarceration model at Rikers Island with five, smaller state-of-the-art facilities located closer to where the courts are operated in civic centers in each borough: Rikers severs connections with families and communities, with harmful consequences for anyone who spends even a few days on the Island.  In addition to the human costs, facilities construction on the island costs 10 -15 percent more than in the boroughs and carries massive operational costs of transporting inmates to and from Rikers each day for court appearances. New jail facilities should:
    • Reflect the latest in rehabilitative best practices that strengthen communications between staff and inmates, provide room for programming, and take into account special needs for women;
    • Incorporate proven practices such as the direct supervision design and management model and exterior design that can be incorporated into the city streetscape and help integrate these borough-based facilities into local neighborhoods from the inside out; and
    • Have capacity for 5,500 beds to accommodate the reduced jail population.

The Commission’s analysis of the cost of transitioning to a community jail model ultimately means billions in cost savings to the City:

  • Transitioning to community jails, funding a new staff training facility, and enhancing inmate programming is projected to cost $11.4 - $13.9 billion, or $742 - $800 million over a twenty year term;
  • With the safety enhancements from the new jails and reduced population, the staff-to-inmate ratio can be reduced, resulting in projected annual savings of $1.4 billion;
  • Taken together, the City would ultimately be saving millions during construction of these facilities and ultimately save $1.4 billion annually, assuming current staffing levels in perpetuity.
  • Investing in the improvement of jail culture: In addition to improving the physical state of our jails, the Commission wants to invest in corrections training. This would include:
    • Investing in a state-of-the-art training academy; and
    • Doubling the length of the current training of Corrections staff so that jail staff gets the preparation and support needed to effectively and safely perform their job.
  • Providing a unique opportunity to house infrastructure projects crucial to the future of New York City: Rikers Island is uniquely positioned to accommodate an expanded LaGuardia Airport, reducing delays and serving millions more passengers annually.  This is desperately needed as delays at New York metropolitan airports are projected to continue to grow without additional runway capacity.  The island could also serve vital infrastructure needs such as hosting sustainable energy production, reducing landfill waste, and diverting untreated water from our rivers.
  • Freeing up much-needed space in local neighborhoods for community redevelopment: By relocating existing public facilities to the island, neighborhoods historically burdened with unwanted infrastructure facilities, would be available for community redevelopment, generating more public benefits in the form of new jobs, affordable housing, open space, and other public uses.
  • Acknowledging the past injustices at Rikers is vital to any redevelopment at Rikers: Given Rikers Island’s symbol as a place of violence and injustice, redevelopment should include plans for a memorial to explain to future generations the history of the island.  Additionally, the Commission also recommends include special job training and employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated New Yorkers, along with contracting opportunities for minority business owners, in the redevelopment of Rikers. As the island is reimagined, the Commission believes it is appropriate to rename it as well.

 

To read the full report, click here.

 

About the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform:

 The Independent Commission is comprised of more than two dozen leaders from a variety of backgrounds, including law enforcement, academia, advocacy groups, business, and those who have spent time behind bars. It had started its work with no specific conclusion in mind and explored all possible actions to addressing the challenges. The Commission has remained a fully independent body, relying on philanthropic support and pro bono services, taking no money from governmental or political entities.

The Commission was formed at the request of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who called for its creation during her 2016 State of the City Address and appointed former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to lead it. The Commission’s work began in April 2016 and included in-depth research and robust public engagement. The Commission evaluated model programs and practices from across the country and around the world and conducted independent analysis of the available data. Commission members met with a broad array of stakeholders, including prosecutors, clergy, public defenders, correction officers, civil rights leaders, victim advocates, elected officials, business leaders, community leaders, the formerly incarcerated, and their families. The Commission also held public roundtables in each of the five boroughs, held meetings with the faith community, hosted design workshops, and gathered input from New York residents through its website.

To address the systemic issues at Rikers, the Commission divided the challenges into into three subcommittees: Rethinking Incarceration, The Future of Jails, and Reimagining the Island.

Commission members include:

  • Judge Jonathan Lippman (chair) — former Chief Judge of the State of New York and Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, and Of Counsel at Latham & Watkins LLP.
  • Richard M. Aborn — President of the Citizen’s Crime Commission of New York City.
  • Juan Cartagena — President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF.
  • Hon. Matthew J. D’Emic — Presiding Judge of the Brooklyn Mental Health Court.
  • Mylan L. Denerstein — Partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.
  • Robert B. Fiske, Jr. — Senior Counsel at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
  • MaryAnne Gilmartin — President and Chief Executive Officer of Forest City Ratner Companies.
  • Colvin W. Grannum — President and Chief Executive Officer of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corp.
  • Dr. Michael P. Jacobson — Executive Director of the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance and Chairman of the Board of the New York City Criminal Justice Agency.
  • Seymour W. James, Jr. — Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society of New York.
  • Hon. Judy Harris Kluger — Executive Director of Sanctuary For Families.
  • Peter Madonia — Chief Operating Officer of the Rockefeller Foundation
  • Glenn E. Martin — President of JustLeadershipUSA.
  • Julio Medina — Executive Director and Chief Execuive Officer of Exodus Transitional Community, Inc.
  • Ana L. Oliveira — President and Chief Executive Officer of The New York Women’s Foundation.
  • Rocco A. Pozzi — Probation Commissioner, Westchester County Department of Probation and former Commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Correction.
  • Laurie Robinson — Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University and former Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.
  • Stanley Richards — Board Member of the New York City Board of Correction and Senior Vice President at The Fortune Society, Inc.
  • Hon. Jeanette Ruiz — Administrate Judge of the New York Family Court.
  • Peter G. Samuels — Partner at Proskauer Rose LLP.
  • Dr. Alethea Simon — President and Executive Director of Greenhope Services for Women, Inc.
  • Herb Sturz — Board Chair of the Center for New York City Neighborhoods.
  • Jeremy Travis — President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the former Director of the National Institute of Justice.
  • Nicholas Turner — President and Director of the Vera Institute for Justice.
  • Darren Walker — President of the Ford Foundation.
  • Kathryn Wylde — President and Chief Executive Officer of the Partnership for New York City.
  • Kenneth H. Zimmerman — Director of U.S. Programs of the Open Society Foundations.

Past Events


PAST EVENTS

Past Events


PAST EVENTS

 

Community Roundtable: Staten Island

On March 15, 2017, the Commission held its sixth and final community roundtable at the College of Staten Island. Over 40 people sat in the Recital Hall to listen to a discussion moderated by Amanda Farinacci, a reporter with New York 1.

The discussion featured leaders from a diverse set of community and advocacy organizations, including: Occupy the Block, the Petey Greene Program at the Center for Social Innovation, and the Center for Court Innovation. 

A wide range of topics were discussed, including:

  • The role of bail in the criminal justice system and how it might be strengthened or reformed;
  • The experience of being detained on Rikers Island and how the conditions there affect incarcerated individuals;
  • How community leaders can strengthen educational and employment opportunities for at risk youth and formerly incarcerated individuals;
  • The importance of breaking the street-to-jail pipeline and replacing it with an opportunity pipeline;
  • Whether placing jails closer to communities was beneficial to communities;
  • Whether closing Rikers Island makes sense and what to do with the Island should the jails close;
  • The need for frank discussions about the economic incentives that exist within the criminal justice system; and
  • The importance of alternative-to-incarceration programs and finding ways to fund more local community groups.

Through audience discussion with the panel, several recommendations and solutions were offered for how to strengthen the criminal justice system, including:

  • Reforming the bail system away from income-based criteria towards risk criteria, or eliminating bail entirely;
  • Requiring elected officials to visit Rikers Island and other jail facilities to see the conditions;
  • Providing more funding to alternative-to-incarceration programs;
  • Closing Rikers Island;
  • Providing incarcerated individuals with rehabilitative services, such as education and employment opportunities; and
  • Transforming Rikers Island into an educational and job training hub.

Community Roundtable: Queens

 

On March 6, 2017, the Commission held its fifth community roundtable at LaGuardia Community College.  Over 110 people packed the Poolside Café to listen to a discussion moderated by Julio Medina, member of the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform.

This was the second roundtable where a Commission member moderated the panel discussion and Q&A.

The discussion featured leaders from a diverse set of community and advocacy organizations, including: the LaGuardia Community College Multicultural Exchange Program and the National Action Network (Queens Chapter). 

A wide range of topics were discussed, including:

  • Whether placing jails closer to communities was beneficial to communities;
  • The importance of educational and employment opportunities for breaking the street-to-prison and school-to-prison pipeline;
  • The need to critically engage and question society’s norms around incarceration so that those who return to their communities are not stigmatized out of jobs or an education;
  • Providing more funding to public schools and doing outreach to communities that are most affected by the criminal justice system to ensure that youth have access to opportunities;
  • The need to have frank discussions about the intersection of race, class, and poverty in order to identify the root causes of mass incarceration and why they affect certain communities more than others; and
  • The importance of creating a community reinvestment norm in City government policy-making that takes savings from reforms and feeds them back into the communities.

Through audience discussion with the panel, several recommendations and solutions were offered for how to strengthen the criminal justice system, including:

  • Requiring elected officials to visit Rikers Island and other jail facilities to see the conditions;
  • Providing employment and educational opportunities to youth who exit the criminal justice system;
  • Eliminating bail;
  • Closing Rikers Island;
  • Starting a city-wide conversation around the balance between punishment and rehabilitation;
  • Increasing funding to public schools at all levels, from pre-K to university;
  • Creating jail facilities that do not recreate the conditions that cause a culture of violence;
  • Providing mental health services to correction officers without it causing them to lose their jobs; and,
  • Providing greater funding to train individuals on how to identify and treat individuals with mental health issues, in particular those suffering from addiction or issues related to incarceration.

Community Roundtable: The Bronx

On March 1, 2017, the Commission held its fourth community roundtable at the Andrew Freedman Home.  Over 110 people packed the Ballroom to listen to a discussion moderated by Stanley Richards, member of the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform. Over half of the attendees were youth, between the ages of 15 and 23.

This was the first roundtable where a Commission member moderated the panel discussion and Q&A.

The discussion featured leaders from a diverse set of community and advocacy organizations, including: BronxConnect, Community Connections for Youth, and the Fortune Society.

A wide range of topics were discussed, including:

  • Whether placing jails closer to communities was beneficial to communities;
  • The importance of creating a community reinvestment norm in City government policymaking that takes savings from reforms and feeds them back into the communities;
  • The importance of educational and employment opportunities for breaking the street-to-prison and school-to-prison pipeline;
  • The importance of involving community and faith-based leaders in implementing reforms; and
  • Strategies for preventing recidivism and ensuring that opportunities exist within jails for legal and social services.

Through audience discussion with the panel, several recommendations and solutions were offered for how to strengthen the criminal justice system, including:

  • Allocating any savings from reforms to a community reinvestment fund;
  • Providing employment and educational opportunities to youth who exit the criminal justice system;
  • Eliminating bail;
  • Increasing funding for smaller organizations that hire from within communities;
  • Accelerating the transfer of youth off Rikers Island;
  • Closing Rikers Island;
  • Designing more humane jails to ensure that the environment of incarceration does not breed and perpetuate a culture of violence; and,
  • Starting a city-wide conversation around the balance between punishment and rehabilitation.

Community Roundtable: East Harlem

On January 25, 2017, the Commission held its third community roundtable at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College.  Over 120 people packed the Lobby to listen to a discussion moderated by Shaila Dewan, reporter and editor at The New York Times.

The discussion featured leaders from a diverse set of community and advocacy organizations, including: Youth Represent, The Fortune Society, Getting Out and Staying Out (GOSO), and the Center for Court Innovation. A wide range of topics were discussed including: the trauma of solitary confinement; strategies for preventing recidivism and ensuring that opportunities exist within jails for legal and social services; the importance of Alternative-to-Incarceration programs for providing formerly incarcerated individuals and their families access to rehabilitative resources; and how New York City's current bail system can be leveraged more effectively.

Through audience discussion with the panel, several recommendations and solutions were offered for how to strengthen the criminal justice system, including: accelerating the transfer of youth off Rikers Island; ensuring that health and legal services are provided equally to Corrections officers and detainees; reforming the bail system away from socioeconomic tests; provide courts with greater distinctions between violent and non-violent offenses; design more humane jails to ensure that the environment of incarceration does not breed and perpetuate a culture of violence; find ways to increase funding to educational and community programs so that opportunities are more prevalent.

This event was the third in a series of community roundtables that the Commission will hold over the next two months which will allow them to engage directly with community leaders, while offering the public a front row seat to the discussion and an opportunity to comment.

Judge and Chairman of the Independent Commission Jonathan Lippman says, “In the year since Speaker Mark-Viverito first called for the creation of the Commission, we have formed a Commission that brings together a diverse group of policymakers, and advocates with a wealth of diverse experience and viewpoints. We’ve studied and assessed the latest research and data on our justice system and spoken to leaders across the criminal justice spectrum. Finally – and in many ways most importantly – we are meeting with New Yorkers in every borough to hear directly from those who live through our imperfect system every day. Our outreach will have a foundational role in the creation of our final blueprint to creating a more just criminal justice system. Thank you Speaker Mark-Viverito for joining us last night and for being a leading champion for change in our criminal justice system.”

Stanley Richards, Senior Vice President of the Fortune Society and member of the Independent Commission said, “While there are so many different factors that impact our criminal justice system, there is nothing quite so compelling like hearing what our system is like for those who are incarcerated. The personal accounts of being incarcerated bring into sharp focus the failures of our criminal justice system and make clear just how urgent the need for change is. Thank you to Speaker Mark-Viverito, the panelists, moderator Shaila Dewan, and the audience participants for the rich discussion and unique perspectives on how we can make a more just City.”

Seymour W. James, Jr., Attorney-in-Chief of the NYC Legal Aid Society and member of the Independent Commission said, "Throughout my decades of experience ensuring that underserved New Yorkers receive high quality legal representation, I’ve seen firsthand how the experience of incarceration can destroy dreams and shatter families. Regardless of where you stand on the criminal justice spectrum, it is abundantly clear that bold changes that address injustices which occur from arrest through sentencing are urgently needed. Last night, we heard from leaders in crime prevention, supervised release, and inmate re-entry who work directly with inmate populations and their families to improve outcomes for those in the criminal justice system. We also heard from numerous community members who described theirand their families' experiences at Rikers and in the courts. I am grateful to the panelists and audience members for the frank discussion of many of the major issues in our criminal justice system.  These perspectives will be incorporated into our Commission’s final recommendations.”

Peter Samuels, Partner and head of criminal justice pro bono initiatives at Proskauer and member of the Independent Commission, said, “The failures in our criminal justice system are interconnected and have historically been difficult to address without looking holistically at reforms across the system. That’s why the Commission – both in its composition and through its outreach - has brought together a wide range of individuals from different areas of the criminal justice system to help develop meaningful reforms that are aimed at making each phase of the justice system, from pre-arrest through post-jail release, more just. Last night we had the opportunity to hear from a diverse range of voices from those on the front lines of prevention and rehabilitation within our system and I appreciated hearing from the panelists and audience members alike on how New York can lead the way towards a fairer system for all.”

Glenn E. Martin, President of JustLeadershipUSA and member of the Independent Commission said, “With a profound culture of violence and isolation from our neighborhoods and communities, Rikers is a symbol of the failures in our criminal justice system. As someone formerly incarcerated for six years, I have felt deeply compelled to transform the unjust criminal justice system that I experienced firsthand. While I believe those closest to the problem, are closest to the solution, it is more important than ever that we join forces with people in communities across New York and work together to create a more just New York.” 

 Dr. Alethea Simon, Executive Director, Greenhope Services for Women and member of the Independent Commission said, “Recidivism arrests the progress of far too many lives in our society, preventing our communities from realizing their full potential. More must be done to rehabilitate, treat, and empower these members of our community. The unique perspectives shared by both experts and audience members at these public events will play an important role in our future recommendations, and I am thankful for all those who participated.”

Community Roundtable: Manhattan

On December 5, 2016, the Commission held its second community roundtable at Borough of Manhattan Community College.  Over 160 people packed the Richard Harris Terrace to listen to a discussion moderated by Dr. Christina Greer, Associate Professor of Political Science at Fordham University.

The discussion featured leaders from a diverse set of community and advocacy organizations, including the Bowery Residents' Committee, Greenhope Services for Women, The West Side Commons, and the Harlem Community Justice Center. A wide range of topics were discussed including: strategies for preventing recidivism and ensuring that formerly incarcerated individuals have access to job and housing opportunities; the larger impacts of incarceration on families and communities; reforming the bail system away from socioeconomic tests; questioning what counts as an arrestable offense; documenting the ways in which the justice system closes off housing opportunities for individuals who live in public housing or are homeless; and the legal services that are available and how they relate to speedy trials.

Through audience discussion with the panel, several recommendations and solutions were offered for how to strengthen the criminal justice system, including: raising the age, assigning attorneys to youth automatically, making bail more consistent with the offense, providing treatment-on-demand in jail facilities, providing stable housing to the homeless, and creating educational programming inside jails that mirror those outside.

This event was the second in a series of community roundtables that the Commission will hold over the next several months which will allow them to engage directly with community leaders, while offering the public a front row seat to the discussion and an opportunity to comment.

(A video of the event can be found here)

Judge and Chairman of the Independent Commission Jonathan Lippman says, “In order to create a more just criminal justice system, it is critical to understand how our system impacts everyday New Yorkers. That’s why the Commission is assessing the problems at Riker’s and throughout the NYC jail system from many angles and perspectives. From the incarcerated and their families to the communities they leave behind, we are going into every borough to hear directly from those who live through our imperfect system every day. This outreach will help form the foundation of our blueprint to creating a more just system for all. Thank you to every person who participated in last night’s event.”

Dr. Alethea Simon, Executive Director, Greenhope Services for Women and member of the Independent Commission said, “Recidivism arrests the progress of far too many lives in our society, preventing our communities from realizing their full potential. More must be done to rehabilitate, treat, and empower these members of our community. The unique perspectives shared by both experts and audience members at our event will play an important role in our future recommendations, and I am thankful for all those who participated.”

Peter Samuels, Partner and head of criminal justice pro bono initiatives at Proskauer and member of the Independent Commission, said, “The failures in our criminal justice system are interconnected and have historically been difficult to address without looking holistically at reforms across the system. That’s why the Commission – both in its composition and through its outreach - has brought together a wide range of individuals from different areas of the criminal justice system to help develop meaningful reforms that are aimed at making each phase of the justice system, from pre-arrest through post-jail release, more just. Last night we had the opportunity to hear from a diverse range of voices from those on the front lines of prevention and rehabilitation within our system and I appreciated hearing from the panelists and audience members alike on how New York can lead the way towards a fairer system for all.”

Herb Sturz, Senior Advisor to the Open Society Foundations and member of the Independent Commission said, “The impact of mass incarceration by no means starts and ends with inmates. Children, families, and communities are deeply affected by having a loved one imprisoned. As incarceration rates have grown in our country, more and more individuals are coping with the challenges within our criminal justice system. Last night, we had the opportunity to hear the perspectives of both leaders of local re-entry programs and grassroots activists who are on the ground every day working with the formerly incarcerated and their loved ones to stop the cycle of incarceration. This far-reaching public discussion of the problems – and solutions – in our criminal justice system will play a critical role in informing the Commission’s final recommendations.”

Glenn E. Martin, President of JustLeadershipUSA and member of the Independent Commission said, “With a profound culture of violence and isolation from our neighborhoods and communities, Rikers is a symbol of the failures in our criminal justice system. As someone formerly incarcerated for six years, I have felt deeply compelled to transform the unjust criminal justice system that I experienced firsthand. While I believe those closest to the problem, are closest to the solution, it is more important than ever that we join forces with people in communities across New York and work together to create a more just New York.” 

Dr. Christina Greer, Fordham Political Science Professor, said “While Rikers Island remains a powerful symbol of the failures of our criminal justice system, the excessive brutality experienced by inmates at Rikers, along with the racial and economic inequities inherent in our criminal justice system have brought the need for sweeping changes to the forefront. No longer can we ignore the realities of mass incarceration and this new awareness has helped pave the way for important conversations like the Independent Commission’s roundtable discussion last night. To make our system more just for people of every color, creed, race, and socioeconomic background, we must not only identify the failures of our system, but articulate specific pathways towards reform.”

Community Roundtable: Brooklyn

On October 5, 2016, the Commission held its first community roundtable at Medgar Evers College. Over 100 people packed the Edison O. Jackson Auditorium to listen to a discussion moderated by Ellis Cose, inaugural writer-in-residence at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The discussion featured leaders from a diverse set of community and advocacy organizations, including Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, the Brownsville Community Justice Center, Save Our Streets, Make the Road New York, VOCAL-NY, The Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, and CASES. A wide range of topics were discussed including: the experience of incarcerated persons, including women, children, mothers, the mentally ill, and those suffering from substance abuse issues; strategies for preventing recidivism among young people who are incarcerated; larger impacts of incarceration on families and communities; the role of gun violence prevention in criminal justice reform; alternative strategies for coping with drug addiction outside of incarceration; and challenges faced by non-English speakers in the criminal justice system.

Through audience discussion with the panel, several recommendations and solutions were offered for how to strengthen the criminal justice system, including:raising the age; providing treatment-on-demand in jail facilities; investing more in Alternative-to-Incarceration programs that are directed at youth education and employment; requiring elected officials to visit Rikers Island and other jail facilities to see the conditions; placing courts and court-related activities on Rikers Island; ensuring that women, children, and others who visit Rikers Island and other jail facilities are treated more respectfully; and providing greater funding to train individuals on how to identify and treat individuals with mental health issues, in particular those suffering from addiction or issues related to incarceration.

This event was the first in a series of community roundtables that the Commission will hold over the next several months which will allow them to engage directly with community leaders, while offering the public a front row seat to the discussion and an opportunity to comment.

(Click here to see photos from the event.)

Judge and Chairman of the Independent Commission Jonathan Lippman says, “Central to creating a more just criminal justice system is understanding how it impacts everyday New Yorkers. That’s why the Commission is assessing the problems at Riker’s and throughout the NYC jail system from many angles and perspectives, including the impact of incarceration on defendants, their families, and our communities. We are meeting with people in every borough andworking hand-in-hand with local community leaders, elected officials, small business owners, residents, social service providers, clergy leaders, organizations, formerly incarcerated and their families, and many more to develop actionable steps towards a more just system for all. Thank you to each and every person who participated in last night’s event.”

Dr. Alethea Simon, Executive Director, Greenhope Services for Women said, “To stop the cycle of incarceration in our communities, it is critical that we identify viable alternatives to detention and expand vocational, educational and career pathways for individuals who are formerly incarcerated. Without opportunities for rehabilitation, treatment, and education, we are depriving incarcerated people of the foundation needed to become active members of our community. The thoughtful insights and experiences shared during this event will play an essential role in informing our ultimate recommendations and I am grateful to all who participated in this important discussion.”

Seymour James, Attorney-in-Chief at The Legal Aid Society, said, “Developing meaningful reforms to our criminal justice system requires both the insights of experts in the field and the experiences of those who are impacted by our system every day. That’s why the Commission has made public engagement – also known as listening - a cornerstone of our work. There may not be a silver bullet to rectifying the injustices within our system, but by working together to make each phase of the justice system, from pre-arrest through post-jail release more just, New York can lead the way towards a fairer system for all.”

Jose Lopez, Director of Organizing, Make the Road NY, said “People who have suffered through our criminal justice system are not strangers. On the contrary, they are our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. For every individual who is incarcerated, there are many more people who are profoundly impacted by the injustices of our current system. That’s why though we may all have our own experiences, it is critical that we take the time to come together, develop solutions, and work together to make these changes into a reality.”

Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director, VOCAL-NY, said “Mass incarceration critically impacts communities across New York, especially low-income people who are oftentimes penalized simply for being too poor to afford bail or subsequent fines. Through these public engagement events, the Independent Commission is providing opportunities for experts across the criminal justice system to join with grassroots activists and every day New Yorkers in creating the reforms needed to make our system more just for people of every color, creed, race, and socioeconomic background.