March 26, 2019
Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building Albany, NY 12224
Honorable Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Majority Leader
New York State Senate
188 State Street Room 907
Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Honorable Carl E. Heastie, Speaker
New York State Assembly
Albany, NY 12248
Dear Governor Cuomo, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Heastie:
We write to express our support for the immediate passage of strong criminal justice reforms in New York. Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice is a national network of tens of thousands of diverse crime survivors and we have members in New York and other states across the country. We provide support to survivors healing from crime and engage in policy advocacy and public education to bring survivors’ voices into debates about public safety and criminal justice policy. As survivors of gun violence and child sexual abuse, incest and adolescent rape, respectively, we know firsthand the importance of crime survivors elevating our voices and experiences to advocate for smarter justice policies.
For too long, broken justice system policies have failed to adequately meet the needs of crime survivors or stop the cycle of crime. Despite rhetoric that the nation’s increased expenditures on criminal justice have sought to advance public safety and protect victims of crime, the experiences and voices of the majority of crime survivors have been ignored. The result has been billions of dollars wasted on ineffective policies that fail to make us safer. Diverse survivors of crime, those that are most harmed by crime and violence and the least helped, want policies that will more effectively stop the cycle of crime. This means smarter justice strategies to reduce waste and costs and increased support for prevention, rehabilitation, and trauma recovery.
New York state has several important opportunities in this legislative session to lead on public safety and justice reform. Specifically, we urge you to enact the Discovery for Justice Reform Act (S.1716-Bailey/A.1431-Lentol) and Kalief’s Law (S.1738-Bailey, or policies that accurately reflect them. At the same time, it is also imperative that New York demonstrates national leadership by enacting strong bail reforms that include the elimination of wealth-based detention and the reduction of discriminatory, harmful and wasteful pre-trial detention.
New York’s pre-trial detention system and the policies that make it dysfunctional undermine public safety. Under the current money bail system, wealthy defendants are allowed to buy their release while everyone else is detained. People for whom bail has been set and are a lower-risk to public safety remain detained simply because of an inability to pay. This discriminatory pre-trial detention costs millions and many people’s circumstances worsen during lengthy pretrial detention, including the maintenance of employment or family stability. Research shows that people detained pretrial have higher recidivism rates. As a result, communities are being destabilized and public resources are being wasted instead of directed towards investments for communities that effectively advance safety.
To advance public safety, we must end wealth-based detention and limit wasteful pre-trial detention. We also must protect against broadly-defined provisions that maintain overly expansive pre-trial detention. There are ways to protect the safety of victims without misusing the blunt instrument of bail. It is a false choice to believe that pre- trial detention of someone accused of an offense where a conviction rarely results in incarceration is an investment in safety — it is the opposite. In such cases, when we hold people in jails, where they are less likely to receive effective interventions, we have not advanced rehabilitation or safety. Instead, we have wasted the public dollars and time that could have been spent on effective rehabilitation programs that could help change behavior, stop the cycle of harm, and reduce crime.
Discovery and speedy trial reforms are necessary, together with bail reform, to address the existing state of dysfunction. The current state law that allows evidence to be withheld until the eve of trial harms public safety. By perpetuating unjust pre-trial detention and coerced decisions that lack a foundation in truth and justice, we only perpetuate cycles of crime and harm. New York must no longer be one of only four states where evidence can be concealed, even prior to plea discussions. People who are presumed innocent should no longer be held in jails for months and years awaiting trial.
As part of our efforts to bring forth the voices and experiences of crime survivors to influence the direction of safety policy, we regularly conduct research and surveys to understand experiences and issues affecting victims. Our research has consistently found that the majority of crime victims do not report crime to the criminal justice system, in part because of a low level of trust in the justice system’s ability to respond or deliver justice. For those that do interact with the system, many are never provided with the services available to help recover or even made aware of them.
For survivors of crime, the status quo is simply unacceptable. Crime survivors deserve a justice system that works – one that prioritizes healing, prevention, accountability and recovery from harm. A more just and transparent system can lead to increased trust in the justice system by survivors of crime and improved public safety. When we redirect our attention and resources from being wasted on broken criminal justice policies to instead be invested in shared safety solutions in communities, we can truly make everyone safer. That is something we should all be working toward.
We support you taking immediate action on strong criminal justice reforms, and look forward to standing with you to advance safety. If we can answer any questions or provide any support, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for your consideration.
Aswad Thomas, Managing Director
Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice
Luz Marquez-Benbow, New York State Chapter Coordinator
Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice
Cc: Senator Jamaal T. Bailey, Chair of Senate Committee on Codes
Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, Chair of Assembly Committee on Codes
New York State Senators
New York State Assembly Members
Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice is a national network of diverse crime survivors joining together to create healing communities and shape public policy. With over 25,000 members and growing across the country, it is building a movement to promote policies that help the people and communities most harmed by crime and violence. Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice advocates for policies that prevent crime, better support survivors, families and communities, and reduce wasteful incarceration. It is a flagship program of Alliance for Safety and Justice, a national organization that works with state leaders to win new safety priorities in states across the country.