Nothing in New York politics is easy, and Gov. Cuomo’s proposals to reform the criminal justice system — which attempt to respond to the controversy over what many think is the impunity given to the police officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown — are no exception.
Although it goes a long way to improve increasingly deteriorating police-community relations, as well as to make the treatment of young people fairer by raising the age to stop prosecuting them as adults, the governor’s plan is sure to face stiff opposition in Albany, where Republicans control the Senate and Democrats the Assembly.
His proposals also face criticism from some activists.
Communities United for Police Reform, one of the main advocates for changing the NYPD, came out in support of the governor’s commitment to increase the transparency of statewide racial and ethnic data on police actions, and to stop prosecuting 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds as adults — but is asking the governor to go further.
“We are disappointed that he did not discuss the need for a special prosecutor to investigate cases where New Yorkers are killed in police encounters,” said Priscilla González, the group’s organizing director. “Real police accountability is still so painfully lacking, and Cuomo must do more to help our communities achieve it.”
In order to tackle the existing mistrust, Cuomo is also proposing to create a statewide commission on police and community relations, which would bring together minority leaders and law enforcement, as well as hiring more minority officers.
As important as providing the public with uncensored information is the governor’s commitment to not incarcerate youngsters found guilty of a crime in state prisons.
According to a report by the governor’s appointed Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice, black and Hispanic youth make up 33% of 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds statewide, 72% of all arrests and 77% of all felony arrests across the state. Young men of color constitute 82% of youth sentenced to adult confinement.
In 2015, 800 inmates in local jails and state prisons were under 18 years old. They are twice as likely to be physically harmed by other inmates and staff, five times more likely to be sexually assaulted, and eight times more likely to commit suicide.
“State prisons are no place for a 16-year-old,” Cuomo rightly said, to enthusiastic applause, in his State of the State speech.
“We trust the governor will use all of his powers to secure appropriate legislation and to make these reforms a reality,” said Juan Cartagena, LatinoJustice president and general counsel, who was a member of the commission.