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.