The city would subsidize bail, and minor offenders such as turnstile jumpers would face tickets rather than handcuffs, under a proposal Wednesday by the New York City Council speaker.
Delivering a State of the City address from an East Harlem public housing complex, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said her plan would "put the 'justice' back in our criminal justice system."
"Too many of our young people, mostly low-income black and Latino males, are locked up," she told an audience of hundreds. "We cannot continue to lock up those accused of low level, nonviolent offenses without recognizing the dire, long-term consequences to them and to our city."
Key details of the decriminalization plan, such as a list of offenses beyond fare evasion that would be covered, haven't yet been worked out, her office said. The council would work with the NYPD and mayor's office "to come up with a list that makes sense," the office said. The overall aim is to change some criminal matters to civil offenses for which there would be no possibility of a rap sheet or jail time.
According to the NYPD, there were 25,867 arrests last year and 67,327 summonses for fare evasion.
The mayor announced a narrower initiative last year with similar arrest-reduction aims that instructs the police not to make arrests, and to issue a summonses instead, for possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana.
The city would allocate $1.4 million to the bail fund, which would be replenished when defendants fulfilled obligations to appear before judges and the bail was refunded by the courts. Mark-Viverito's office said in one pilot program started by a Bronx nonprofit, defendants showed up more than 90 percent of the time. Under state law, the fund would unavailable to defendants seeking bail on a felony charge or with bail set above $2,000.
Mayor Bill de Blasio's office is reviewing the proposal, said spokesman Phil Walzak.
Roy T. Richter, president of the NYPD Captains Endowment Association, who attended the speech, said he hopes to learn more specifics of Mark-Viverito's proposal.
"If they committed an infraction, and a summons is appropriate, I'm all for that," he said, referring to a person who commits a minor crime.
Asked about the bail-fund proposal, he said: "If bail's not appropriate, they wouldn't impose bail. But to the extent a judge does impose bail, and then the city pays it, I have to see how that would work in practicality."
Mark-Viverito's criminal-justice proposals came in a 52-minute speech, in which she also renewed a push to add 1,000 new police officers to the force, which has a budget for 34,483 cops now. De Blasio's preliminary budget did not include an increase in the head count but said there is "ongoing discussion" on the issue.
Mark-Viverito also said she wants to expand taxpayer-funded lawyers for the poor in other matters, such as evictions and debt collection.
"This will be the people's law firm," she said, and then translated into Spanish: "El Bufete del Pueblo."