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Queens DA vote shows need to reform justice system

Tiffany Cabán declares victory in the Queens district

Tiffany Cabán declares victory in the Queens district attorney Democratic primary election at her campaign watch party at La Boom nightclub in Woodside Tuesday night. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Scott Heins

Even without an official tally in the Democratic primary for Queens district attorney, something is clear:

Voters want the criminal justice system to be rebalanced.

That was clear from the left-most platform of public defender Tiffany Cabán, who closed election night with a narrow and most likely sustainable lead over Borough President Melinda Katz. The rebalancing was evident in Katz’s platform as well, and other trailing candidates followed suit on various criminal justice issues.

Many of the DA candidates suggested — and thousands of voters cast ballots in favor of — reducing the jail population at Rikers Island, reducing prosecutions of low-level crimes from marijuana possession to fare-beating, and conducting fair reviews of past convictions that have come into question.

This is part of a larger movement.

The State Legislature made changes this session, cutting many uses of cash bail and reforming laws on evidence-sharing in the courtroom.

An understanding is emerging about the racially uneven and overly severe enforcement of marijuana possession. And other NYC district attorneys, led by the late Ken Thompson of Brooklyn, have reduced prosecutions.

The movement for rebalancing goes far beyond New York. More progressive prosecutors hold office in Philadelphia and Boston. Some state legislatures have made similar and sometimes even more radical reforms than New York.

On the federal level, not famous for progress, bipartisan sentencing reform legislation made it through Congress and President Donald Trump signed it.

This is all a far cry from the aggressive policing philosophy developed in recent decades of high crime rates, much of it incubated in NYC.

If Cabán wins, she would have a steep task as she tries to transform a complex and rigid bureaucracy. Any increase in crime could undermine her goals. But the rebalancing of the criminal justice system that she and many others are prioritizing is necessary for Queens and beyond.

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