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Make real justice reforms in New York

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced a plan to

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced a plan to reform the criminal justice system. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

In his State of the State address last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised New Yorkers the most progressive set of criminal justice reforms in the nation.

And he is right to focus on overhauling the three-legged stool of pre-trial reforms to discovery, speedy trial and bail. The Cuomo administration has pointed out that more than 75 percent of those who are held in local jails throughout the state are detained, simply waiting for their day in court, rather than serving a sentence.

And yet, a close read of the actual proposals Cuomo has put forward exposes them as falling far short of placing New York in the progressive vanguard. With respect to speedy trial and discovery, especially, they are not even the most progressive proposals in his own building.

While Cuomo often talks about big problems requiring big solutions, the task here is actually relatively simple. He should dispatch his aides on a cross-country scan of the relevant and most effective procedures, find the most progressive versions, and then go a little bit further.

For example, North Carolina has moved to a fully open-file system: All evidence collected by a prosecutor or police must be turned over to defense attorneys early in the case. Failure to do so can be considered a felony. On speedy trial, the American Bar Association recommends that all misdemeanor trials begin 90 days after first appearance, 180 days for a felony. Both of these would represent improvements.

Early, open and automatic evidence sharing; true speedy-trial protections with set time limits on pre-trial jailing and case processing from the time of arrest; and the immediate abolition of practices that hold people in jail on cash bail amounts they cannot afford represent the obvious floor from which Cuomo should build.

The United States is the mass-incarceration capital of the world and — in New York, at least — the time for half-measures and mediocrity should be behind us.

Here’s hoping Cuomo chooses to walk the walk and revises his platform to reflect his rhetorical goal of putting New Yorkers in front.

Nick Encalada- Malinowski heads criminal justice and civil rights campaigns at Voices of Community Activists & Leaders NY, an advocacy group in Brooklyn.


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