Hochul gets criminal justice reform half right
By CHERYL ROBERTS
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS |
MAR 24, 2022 AT 6:00 PM
Gov. Hochul is right to push for a budget amendment to increase funding for mental health treatment, pretrial and employment programs, and alternatives to incarceration and diversion services as part of her 10-point public safety plan.
The governor’s leadership and commitment to increased funding for these services and emergency and supportive housing is long overdue and desperately needed. It seems we may finally have a governor willing to play hardball on behalf of the most forgotten, the ones we barely notice and even step over or try to ignore, at least until they push someone off a subway platform or rub feces in a woman’s face.
This governor not only acknowledges the problem but is willing to put her money where her mouth is, by prioritizing the needs of those living with untreated serious mental illness. In so doing, she is making us all safer.
Many legislators on both sides of the aisle, representing upstate and downstate, seem ready to partner on these issues, which is why those portions of her plan must and should go forward on April 1. The rest of her package should wait.
Rolling back bail reform, reversing Raise the Age, changing discovery rules or giving judges more discretion are unlikely to fix the problems most troubling the average New Yorker, and may make the problems worse.
Three concerns seem at the root of public fear about crime and safety. First, cases involving injury or death to subway riders by people in mental health crisis have been highly publicized and are on the rise. Second, homelessness and encounters with people suffering from exposure, neglect and mental illness have increased, making residents in some neighborhoods feel unsafe. Third, gun violence is up, and people are dying.
Without question, more must be done to address these concerns and help people who are homeless or unsheltered, living with untreated mental illness or dying from gun violence, but bail reform is neither the cause of these ills, nor the solution. Yet it has become a potent cudgel for Hochul’s gubernatorial challengers or would-be challengers and their funders, in their efforts to outflank New York’s first female governor. Understanding that fear can motivate voters, her detractors have tried to portray Hochul as weak. She is not.
This governor has said time and again that she governs based on data, not politics. Bravo. Her commitment to substance over one-liners is exactly why the rest of her proposal should wait, because while there is no question that certain crimes have increased, such as crimes involving guns, the data simply does not support what some are peddling, that bail reform is at the heart of rising crime.
According to a Brennan Center report published this week, there is “no evidence that bail reform has driven the increase in crime. That makes the case for further revisions to the bail statute significantly weaker and indicates that policy¬makers should instead look for other ways to address crime. Indeed, other policy interventions that support communities, rather than relying on incarceration, have the potential to build enduring public safety in the city and state.”
If included in this year’s budget, more programs like the kinds referenced by the Brennan Center could be funded through the governor’s spending package and help address the public’s desire to move people with mental illness out of the transit system and into treatment and supportive housing. These programs would also help relieve the public’s concerns over homelessness by amplifying the benefits of millions of dollars already directed by the governor to housing, including construction or preservation of 100,000 affordable housing units and a $17.3 million investment in emergency and permanent supportive housing.
As for rising homicide numbers and gun violence, the fact is, this is a problem in cities across the nation, including many where bail reform is not at play. Further, New York City still has a lower homicide rate than many other cities, including six of the next most populous ones. There is also evidence that shootings may be slowing down as the city slowly comes to life after two years of major social disruptions due to the pandemic. Of course, even one life lost to gun violence is one too many. This is why we need to focus on the strategies and programs that are most likely to reduce violence.
Perhaps more telling, the same study found that 54% of all gun-related deaths were suicides (24,292), while 43% were murders (19,384), which means underneath rising gun deaths is a failed mental health system.
Instead of pushing for all or nothing, the governor should stay the course and make policy decisions based on data, instead of politics, which means moving forward quickly with what we know works and taking a little more time to study what might not.
Roberts is executive director of the Greenburger Center.