Tag Archives: criminal justice reform

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Warren Plan to Reduce Mass Incarceration, Reform Criminal Justice System

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 2020 Democratic candidate for president, proposes a plan to reduce mass incarceration and reform the criminal justice system without infringing on public safety (c) Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Senator Elizabeth Warren released her plan to reduce mass incarceration and reform the criminal justice system without infringing on public safety. This is from the Warren2020 campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Today, Elizabeth Warren released her plan to reduce mass incarceration and reform our criminal justice system. Elizabeth believes we need to reimagine how we talk and think about public safety, spending our budgets not on putting people in prison but on community services that lift people up. It is a false choice to suggest a trade off between safety and mass incarceration – we can decarcerate and make our communities safer. 

Her plan details how she will reform all aspects of our system: what we choose to criminalize, how law enforcement and prosecutors engage with communities and the accused, how long we keep people behind bars and how we treat them when they’re there, and how we reintegrate them when they return.

“We will reduce incarceration and improve justice in our country by changing what we choose to criminalize, reforming police behavior and improving police-community relations, and reining in a system that preferences prosecution over justice. When people are incarcerated, we will provide opportunities for treatment, education and rehabilitation, and we’ll continue those supports for returning citizens as they reenter our communities. Most importantly, we’ll rethink the way we approach public safety — emphasizing preventative approaches over law enforcement and incarceration. That’s the way we’ll create real law and order and real justice in our country.”

Read more about Warren’s plan here: 

The United States makes up 5% of the world’s population, but nearly 20% of the world’s prison population. We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with over 2 million people in prison and jail.

Our system is the result of the dozens of choices we’ve made — choices that together stack the deck against the poor and the disadvantaged. Simply put, we have criminalized too many things. We send too many people to jail. We keep them there for too long. We do little to rehabilitate them. We spend billions, propping up an entire industry that profits from mass incarceration. And we do all of this despite little evidence that our harshly punitive system makes our communities safer — and knowing that a majority of people currently in prison will eventually return to our communities and our neighborhoods.

To make matters worse, the evidence is clear that there are structural race problems in this system. Latinx adults are three times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. For the exact same crimes, Black Americans are more likely than whites to be arrested, charged, wrongfully convicted, and given harsher sentences. One in ten Black children has an incarcerated parent.

Four words are etched above the Supreme Court: Equal Justice Under Law. That’s supposed to be the promise of our justice system. But today in America, there’s one system for the rich and powerful, and another one for everybody else. It’s not equal justice when a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s long past time for us to reform our system.

Real reform requires examining every step of this system: From what we choose to criminalize, to how law enforcement and prosecutors engage with communities and the accused, to how long we keep people behind bars, how we treat them when they’re there, and how we reintegrate them when they return.

We cannot achieve this by nibbling around the edges — we need to tackle the problem at its roots. That means implementing a set of bold, structural changes at all levels of government.

And it starts by reimagining how we talk and think about public safety. For example:

Public safety should mean providing every opportunity for all our kids to get a good education and stay in school.

It should mean safe, affordable housing that keeps families together and off the streets.

It should mean violence intervention programs that divert young people from criminal activity, before the police become involved.

It should mean policies that recognize the humanity of trans people and other LGBTQ+ Americans and keep them safe from violence.

It should mean accessible mental health services and treatment for addiction.

It is a false choice to suggest a tradeoff between safety and mass incarceration. By spending our budgets not on imprisonment but on community services that lift people up, we’ll decarcerate and make our communities safer. Here’s my plan.

Rethink Our Approach to Public Safety

It’s not enough merely to reform our sentencing guidelines or improve police-community relations. We need to rethink our approach to public safety, transitioning away from a punitive system and investing in evidence-based approaches that address the underlying drivers of violence and crime — tackling it at its roots, before it ever has a chance to grow.

Break the school-to-prison pipelineSchools increasingly rely on police officers to carry out discipline while neglecting services that are critical to the well being of students. At least fourteen million students attend schools with a police officer but without a single counselor, social worker, psychologist, or nurse. It’s no surprise that tens of thousands of students are arrested annually, many for minor infractions. Zero tolerance policies start early — on average 250 preschoolers are suspended or expelled every day — and, even in the youngest years, students of color bear the brunt. In later grades, Black and Brown students are disproportionately arrested in schools, while students with disabilities face an increased risk of disciplinary action.

Every child should have the opportunity to receive the support they need to thrive inside and outside of the classroom. Adverse childhood experiences such as poverty, violence at home, homelessness, family separation, or an incarcerated caretaker are proven to negatively impact child development. I will equip schools with resources to meet their students’ needs by providing access to health care to support the physical, mental, and social development of children, improve their overall school readiness and providing early intervention services. We should decriminalize truancy and instead increase the number of school mental health personnel and provide schools with resources to train teachers and administrators in positive behavioral interventions, trauma-informed alternative discipline practices, and implicit bias to limit suspensions, expulsions, and minor-infraction arrests. We should require that any police department receiving federal funds provide mandatory training in the scientific and psychological roots of discrimination, youth development, and de-escalation tactics to officers assigned to school campuses. I’ll rescind Trump’s executive order that allows school districts to participate in the 1033 program, giving them access to military-grade weapons. And I’ll fully fund the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education so that it can investigate school districts with dramatic disparities in school disciplinary actions.

Reduce homelessness and housing insecurityChildren that experience homelessness are more likely to drop out of school and more likely to become involved with the criminal system. But as housing and rental costs skyrocket and federal housing assistance doesn’t keep pace, housing insecurity is growing, particularly for families of color. A Warren administration will commit federal funding to the goal of ending homelessness in our country. My housing plan will help, by investing $500 billion over 10 years to build, preserve, and rehab affordable housing, creating 3.2 million new housing units and bringing down rental costs by 10%. It would also help families, especially families of color, buy homes and start to build wealth. Substantially improving housing affordability isn’t just good for the economy and for working families — it will also reduce homelessness and crime.

Invest in evidence-based interruption programsTo improve safety in our communities, we also need to invest in programs that prevent violence and divert criminal behavior. Models in cities like BostonOakland and Chicago demonstrate that we can successfully reduce homicide and gun violence rates through creating cross-community partnerships and focused deterrence on the small percentage of people most likely to commit violence. These programs are cost-effective and have multiplier effects: transforming community climate, improving health outcomes, and boosting local economies. My administration will invest in piloting similar programs at scale.

Decriminalize Mental Health CrisesThe solution for someone experiencing a mental health crisis should not be a badge and a gun, but police officers have become America’s de facto first mental health providers. Historically, 7–10% of police encounters involve a person affected by mental illness, and people with untreated severe mental illness are sixteen times more likely to be killed during a police encounter. People with mental illnesses are not incarcerated at higher rates because they are prone to violence. To the contrary, most are arrested for non-violent offenses, many because they lack access to necessary services. But incarcerating people with mental illness is more expensive as providing appropriate community-based treatment — instead of shuttling people into a system not built to meet their needs, we should invest in preventing people from reaching those crisis points in the first place. Medicare for All will provide continuous access to critical mental health care services, decreasing the likelihood that the police will be called as a matter of last resort. I’ll also increase funding for “co-responder” initiatives that connect law enforcement to mental health care providers and experts. And my administration will pilot evidence-based crisis response efforts to provide needed services to individuals struggling with mental illness.

Invest in diversion programs for substance abuse disorderPeople who struggle with addiction should not be incarcerated because of their disease. Mass incarceration has not reduced addiction rates or overdose deaths, because substance abuse disorder is a public health problem — and it’s long past time to treat it that way. We know that diversion programs are both more humane and a better investment than incarceration — for every dollar we invest in treatment programs, we can save $12 in future crime and health care costs. I’ll support evidence-based safe injection sites and needle exchanges, and expand the availability of buprenorphine to prevent overdoses. And my CARE Act would invest $100 billion over ten years to increase access to high quality treatment and support services. It would provide the regions most affected by the opioid crisis with the resources they need, and would allow state, local and tribal governments to use CARE Act funds to provide incarcerated individuals, and individuals in pre-trial detention, with substance use disorder treatment.

Change What We Choose to Criminalize

We face a crisis of overcriminalization. It has filled our prisons and devastated entire neighborhoods. Addressing the crisis starts by rethinking what we choose to criminalize. It is easy for legislators, fearful of being labeled soft on crime, to rubber stamp every new criminal and sentencing proposal, no matter how punitive. It’s equally easy for them to look the other way when the wealthy and well-connected abuse the rest of us. But from the Senate on down, elected lawmakers have an obligation to do better than that. Here’s where we can start.

Repeal the 1994 crime bill. The 1994 crime bill exacerbated incarceration rates in this country, punishing people more severely for even minor infractions, and limiting discretion in charging and sentencing in our judicial system. That punitive “tough on crime” approach was wrong, it was a mistake, and it needs to be repealed. There are some sections of law, like those relating to domestic violence, that should be retained — but the bulk of the law must go.

Address the legacy of the War on DrugsFor four decades, we’ve subscribed to a “War on Drugs” theory of crime, which has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families — and largely failed to curb drug use. This failure has been particularly harmful for communities of color, and we need a new approach. It starts with decriminalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions, and then eliminating the remaining disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing. And rather than incarcerating individuals with substance abuse disorders, we should expand options that divert them into programs that provide real treatment.

Stop criminalizing homelessnessHousing provides safety and stability, but too many experience homelessness. To make matters worse, many cities have criminalized homelessness by banning behavior associated with it, like sleeping in public or living in vehicles. These laws draw people into the justice system instead of giving them access to the services they need. They disproportionately impact communities of colorLGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities, all of whom experience higher rates of homelessness. Rather than treating the homeless like criminals, we should get them with the resources they need to get back on their feet.

Stop criminalizing povertyA simple misdemeanor like a speeding ticket shouldn’t be enough to send someone to spiraling into poverty or worse — but often the fines and fees levied by our legal system bury low-income people who are unable to pay under court-related debt, with no way out. We abolished debtors prisons nearly two hundred years ago, but we’re still criminalizing poverty in this country — low-income individuals are more likely to find themselves entangled in the system and less likely to find their way out. There is no justification for imposing unreasonably high punitive burdens on those who are least able to bear them. As president, I will fight to:

End cash bail. Around 60% of the nearly 750,000 people in jail have not been convicted of a crime — and too often, those jails are overcrowded and inhumane. Our justice system forces its citizens to choose either to submit to the charges brought against them or be penalized for wanting to fight those charges. We should allow people to return to their jobs and families while they wait for trial, reserving preventive detention only for those cases that pose a true flight or safety risk.

Restrict fines and fees levied before adjudication. In many jurisdictions individuals are charged cost-prohibitive pre-trial fees, sending them into debt even if they are ultimately acquitted of a crime. In cases of pre-trial civil forfeiture, an individual often cannot recover property seized prior to conviction. I’ll reverse the Trump administration’s policy expanding pre-trial civil forfeiture at the federal level, and restrict the use of civil forfeiture overall.

Cap the assessment of fines and fees. Jailing someone who can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars in fines on an hourly minimum wage salary is not only cruel — it’s ineffective. Criminal debt collection should be capped at a percentage of income for low-income individuals. States should also eliminate the profit incentive that drives excessive fees and fines by capping the percentage of municipal revenues derived from the justice system, and diverting seized assets into a general fund.

Eliminate fees for necessary services. Private companies and contractors can charge incarcerated people for essential services, like phone calls, bank transfers, and health care. Private companies also profit from charging individuals for their own incarceration and supervision, including through fees for re-entry, supervision, and probation. As I detailed in my plan to end private prisons, I will end this practice and ensure that private companies don’t get rich from exploiting vulnerable people.

Accountability for the wealthy and the well-connectedEqual justice also means an end to the impunity enjoyed by those with money and power. Instead of criminalizing poverty and expanding mass incarceration, I’ve proposed a new criminal negligence standard for executives of corporations with more than $1 billion in annual revenue when their company is found guilty of a crime or their negligence causes severe harm to American families. Instead of locking up people for nonviolent marijuana crimes, I’ve proposed putting pharmaceutical executives on the hook to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that damage the lives of millions. And I’ve proposed new certification requirements for executives at giant financial institutions so that we can hold them criminally accountable if the banks they oversee commit fraud.

Reform How the Law Is Enforced

While reform begins with deciding what constitutes a crime, the authority to enforce the law includes tremendous discretion. Law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges make countless decisions every day that shape the reality of how our criminal justice system functions for the millions of Americans it comes into contact with. We must critically examine each aspect of the enforcement process to ensure that it is both just and consistent with public safety.

Law Enforcement ReformThe vast majority of police officers sign up so they can protect their communities. They are part of a profession that works tirelessly and takes risks every day to keep us safe. But we also know that many people of color, including Native Americans, disproportionately experience trauma at the hands of law enforcement, sometimes with life-altering consequences. On average, three people are shot and killed by the police every day, a disproportionate number of them young and Black. Others are arrested and entered into a system that unduly penalizes even minor infractions.

Everyone is less safe when trust erodes between the police and the communities they serve. Yet we’ve continued to allow policing practices that are both ineffective and discriminatory. It’s time to fundamentally change how police work is done in America: funding what works; replacing failed policies with effective, evidence-based practices that do not violate individual rights; and reframing our approach to public safety to prioritize prevention over punishment. Here’s how we do it.

Improve access to treatment and early intervention. For the third straight year, the number of suicides among law enforcement in 2018 outnumbered the line-of-duty deaths. Law enforcement officers experience higher rates of addiction, post-traumatic stress, and other trauma related disorders. I’ll invest in mental and emotional health support to help our officers do their job, including by expanding promising pilots like peer intervention and early warning programs.

Improve data collection and reporting. For nearly a century, we have measured crime in this country. It’s time we measure justice — and act when we don’t measure up. Today there is no comprehensive government database on fatal police shootings, ethics issues, misconduct complaints, or use of force incidents. My Justice Department will establish a rigorous and systematic process to collect this data, provide relevant data collection training to local law enforcement, and make data publicly available wherever possible. We’ll use that data to prioritize federal oversight and to hold police accountable for the portion of the bad policing outcomes for which they are responsible. And we’ll work with interested departments to use their own data to improve their legitimacy in the communities they serve and inform more just and effective policing.

Increase federal oversight capacity. The Obama Justice Department used its authority to investigate police departments with a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing — but resource constraints limited the number of interventions carried out. Meanwhile, the Trump administration hasn’t initiated any investigations at all. I’ll reverse the Sessions guidance limiting the use of consent decree investigations, and triple funding for the Office of Civil Rights to allow for increased investigations of departments with the highest rates of police violence and whenever there is a death in custody. In this way, we can further incentivize police departments with persistent issues to adopt best practices.

Empower State Attorneys General. Even an expanded DOJ will not be able to provide oversight for many thousands of law enforcement agencies in this country. And accountability for unconstitutional policing shouldn’t simply shut down under a hostile President like Trump. To build a more durable system, I’ll incentivize states to empower their attorneys general to conduct their own oversight of police behavior nationwide.

Demand increased civilian oversight. Community engagement can fill the gap and provide oversight where the federal government, even with increased capacity, cannot. Approximately 150 communities have civilian oversight boards, but that covers only a small percentage of law enforcement agencies in America. To expand local oversight and democratic engagement in policing, I will implement a competitive grant program that provides funding to communities that establish an independent civilian oversight mechanism for their police departments, such as a civilian oversight board or Office of Civilian Complaints. These boards should have a role in officer discipline and provide input on hiring police executives as well as hiring and promoting within the departments they oversee.

Establish a federal standard for the use of force. When cities employ more restrictive policies for police use of force, they improve both community trust and officer safety. I will direct my administration to develop and apply evidence-based standards for the use of force for federal law enforcement, incorporating proven approaches and strategies like de-escalation, verbal warning requirements, and the use of non-lethal alternatives. At the federal level, I’ll prohibit permissive pursuit policies that often result in collateral damage, like high-speed chases and shooting at moving vehicles. And I’ll work with local law enforcement agencies to ensure that training and technology deployed at the federal level can be implemented at all levels of government, helping to limit the use of force while maintaining safety for officers and the communities they are sworn to protect.

Increase federal funding for law enforcement training. Improved training can reduce the number of police-involved shootings and improve perceptions of police legitimacy. But if If we want police practices to change, then the way we train our officers must change — both when they are hired and throughout their careers. My administration will provide incentives for cities and states that hire a diverse police force and provide tools and resources to ensure that best practices on law enforcement training are available across America, providing local police with what they need to meet federal training requirements, including training on implicit bias and the scientific and psychological roots of discrimination, cultural competency, and engaging individuals with cognitive or other disabilities. And we should support evidence-based continuing education for officers throughout their careers.

Restrict qualified immunity to hold police officers accountable. When an officer abuses the law, that’s bad for law enforcement, bad for victims, and bad for communities. Without access to justice and accountability for those abuses, we cannot make constitutional due process protections real. But today, police officers who violate someone’s constitutional rights are typically shielded from civil rights lawsuits by qualified immunity — a legal rule invented by the courts that blocks lawsuits against government officials for misconduct unless a court has previously decided that the same conduct in the same context was unconstitutional. Qualified immunity has shielded egregious police misconduct from accountability and drawn criticism from across the political spectrum. Last month, for example, a federal appeals court in Atlanta granted qualified immunity to a police officer who, while aiming at a family’s dog, shot a 10-year-old boy while the child was lying on the ground 18 inches away from the officer. Just two weeks ago, another federal court used qualified immunity to dismiss a lawsuit against a school police officer who handcuffed a sobbing seven-year-old boy for refusing to go to the principal’s office. This makes no sense. I support limiting qualified immunity for law enforcement officials who are found to have violated the Constitution, and allowing victims to sue police departments directly for negligently hiring officers despite prior misconduct.

End racially discriminatory policing. Policies like stop-and-frisk and “broken windows” policing have trampled the constitutional rights of countless Americans — particularly those from Black and Brown communities — without any measurable impact on violent crime. I’ll end stop-and-frisk by directing the Justice Department to withhold federal funding from law enforcement agencies that continue to employ it and other similar practices, and I’ll work with Congress to pass legislation to prohibit profiling at all levels of law enforcement.

Separate law enforcement from immigration enforcement. The data are clear. When local law enforcement is mixed with immigration enforcement, immigrants are less likely to report crimes, and public safety suffers. It’s time to stop directing law enforcement officers to do things that undermine their ability to keep communities safe. My immigration plan will address this by ending the 287(g) and “Secure Communities” programs, putting in guidelines to protect sensitive locations like hospitals and schools, and expanding protections for immigrant survivors of violent crimes that come forward and work with law enforcement.

Demilitarize local law enforcement. Officer safety is critically important. But we don’t build trust between police and communities when we arm local law enforcement as if they are going to war. Militarizing our police contributes to mutual fear and distrust, and there is evidence to suggest it can actually make officers themselves less safe. As President, I will eliminate the transfer of military-grade weapons and lethal equipment to local police via the 1033 program, prohibit local law enforcement from buying military equipment with federal funding, and create a buy-back program for equipment already in use in our communities.

Expand the responsible use of body cameras and protect citizen privacy. Body cameras don’t solve every problem, but used consistently and appropriately they can decrease the use of force and misconduct complaints. The federal government should expand funding for body cameras — especially for smaller jurisdictions that struggle to afford them — in exchange for departments implementing accountability policies that ensure consistent and responsible camera use. I’ll also establish a task force on digital privacy in public safety to establish guardrails and appropriate privacy protections for this and other surveillance technology, including the use of facial recognition technology and algorithms that exacerbate underlying bias. And I’ll make it clear that individuals have every right to record an interaction with the police.

Reduce gun violence. We’ve learned the hard way in Massachusetts that the job of our police is made exponentially harder by the weapons flooding our streets. Common sense gun reform and meaningful safeguards will improve safety for law enforcement and the communities they serve. In 2017, almost 40,000 people died from guns in the United States. I have a plan with the goal of reducing that number by 80%, including by expanding background checks, establishing a federal licensing system, and holding the gun industry accountable for the violence promoted by their products.

Prosecutorial and Judicial ReformOur current criminal system is complex and places enormous power in the hands of the state. The government controls what leads to pursue, what charges are levied, whether a plea is offered, and how long someone spends behind bars. It has massive resources at its disposal, and enjoys few obligations to share information and limited oversight of its actions. All of this makes it challenging to ensure that the accused can go to trial, can get a fair trial, and can receive a just and reasonable sentence if convicted. To make matters worse, race permeates every aspect of the system — people of color are twice as likely to be charged with crimes that carry a mandatory minimum sentence. Reform requires a transparent system that emphasizes justice, that gives people a fighting chance — and truly treats everyone equally, regardless of color. Here’s how we can start.

Strengthen public defenders and expand access to counsel. The Sixth Amendment provides every American accused of a crime with the right to an attorney — but too many defendants cannot afford one, and too often, public defenders are under-resourced, overworked, and overwhelmed. If we expect fair adversarial trials, we need to balance resources on both sides of each case in every jurisdiction. I’ll fund federal public defenders and expand targeted grant funding for public defenders at the state level, to ensure that they have the tools to effectively defend their clients. I’ll also reopen and expand DOJ’s Office for Access to Justice, which worked with state and local governments to expand access to counsel. We should ensure that our public defenders are paid a fair salary for their work, and that their caseloads allow for the comprehensive defense of their clients. Finally, I’ll provide funding for language and cultural competency training, including on gender identity and treatment of individuals with disabilities, so that public defenders are best able to serve their clients.

Rein in prosecutorial abuses. Prosecutors are enormously powerful and often not subject to scrutiny or accountability. I will support a set of reforms that would rein in the most egregious prosecutorial abuses and make the system fairer, including reducing the use of coercive plea bargaining by DOJ prosecutors at the federal level, establishing open-file discovery, and putting in place responsible standards for evidence gathering. I’ll establish a Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct to make additional recommendations for best practices and monitor adoption of those recommendations. And I’ll create an independent prosecutorial integrity unit to hold accountable prosecutors who abuse their power.

Expand access to justice for people wrongfully imprisoned. Defendants who are wrongfully imprisoned have the right to challenge their detention in court through a procedure known as habeas corpus. The Framers believed this right was so important to achieving justice that they guaranteed it specifically in the Constitution. It’s particularly important for minority defendants — Black Americans, for example, make up only 13% of the population but a plurality of wrongful convictions. In 1996, at the height of harsh federal policies that drove mass incarceration, Congress made it absurdly difficult for wrongfully imprisoned individuals to bring these cases in federal court. Since then, conservative Supreme Court Justices have built on those restrictions — making it nearly impossible for defendants to receive habeas relief even when they have actual proof of innocence. We should repeal these overly restrictive habeas rules, make it harder for courts to dismiss these claims on procedural technicalities, and make it easier to apply new rules that emerge from these cases to people who were wrongfully imprisoned before those rules came into effect.

Protect the rights of survivors. Crime victims have the right to safety and justice, the right to be consulted and informed about the status of their case, and the right to be treated with dignity and respect. We should provide support for those who have experienced trauma, including medical care and safe housing. This is particularly true for those who have experienced sexual assault or violence at the hands of an intimate partner. I’ll also fight to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and provide full funding to eliminate the rape kit backlog across the country.

Appointing a diverse judicial bench. The justice system should reflect the country it serves. Judicial appointments are primarily white and male, and large numbers tend to have a prosecutorial background. Diversity of experience matters. That’s why I have pushed for increasing the professional diversity of our federal judiciary to insulate the courts from corporate capture, and why I support gender and racial diversity for judicial nominees. I’ll appoint a diverse slate of judges, including those who have a background defending civil liberties or as public defenders.

Take into account the views of those most impacted by the system.As President, I will establish an advisory board comprised of survivors of violence, along with formerly incarcerated individuals. I’ll consult with this advisory board and listen to the needs of those who have first-hand experience with the system as we find fair and just solutions to the challenges we face.

Reforming Incarceration

The federal prison population has grown 650% since 1980, and costs have ballooned by 685%. This explosion has been driven in large part by rules requiring mandatory minimum sentences and other excessively long sentencing practices. These harsh sentencing practices are not only immoral, there’s little evidence that they are effective. As president I will fight change them.

Reduce mandatory minimumsThe 1994 crime bill’s mandatory minimums and “truth-in-sentencing” provisions that require offenders to serve the vast majority of their sentences have not proven effective. Congress should reduce or eliminate these provisions, giving judges more flexibility in sentencing decisions, with the goal of reducing incarceration to mid-1990s levels. My administration will also reverse the Sessions memo that requires federal prosecutors to seek the most severe possible penalties, and allow federal prosecutors discretion to raise the charge standards for misdemeanors and seek shorter sentences for felony convictions.

Raise the age for criminal liability. We know that cognition and decision-making skills continue to develop beyond the teenage years. For that reason, many states have raised the age of adult criminal liability to at least 17, or granted additional discretion to prosecutors when charging offenders between the ages of 16 and 18. The federal government should do the same — raising the age of adult criminal liability to 18, eliminating life-without-parole sentences for minors, and diverting young adult offenders into rehabilitative programs wherever possible.

End the death penaltyStudies show that capital punishment is often applied in a manner biased against people of color and those with a mental illness. I oppose the death penalty. A Warren administration would reverse Attorney General Barr’s decision to move forward with federal executions, and Congress should abolish the death penalty.

Use the pardon and clemency powers broadly to right systemic injusticesThe president has significant powers to grant clemency and pardons, and historically presidents have used that power broadly. But today’s hierarchical process at DOJ results in relatively few and conservative clemency recommendations. I’ll remove the clemency process from DOJ, instead empowering a clemency board to make recommendations directly to the White House. I’ll direct the board to identify broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, including those who would have benefited from retroactivity under the First Step Act, individuals who are jailed under outdated or discriminatory drug laws, or those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished.

Improving conditions in prisonToday prisons are often understaffed and overcrowded, making them dangerous for both inmates and corrections officers. Even as we fight to reduce incarceration levels, we should support improved staffing levels and better training for corrections officers, and humane conditions for those behind bars. As president, I will:

Ensure that incarceration meets basic human rights standards. From inadequate health care to dangerous overcrowding, today our prison system is not meeting the government’s basic responsibility to keep the people in its care safe. I’ll embrace a set of standards for the Bureau of Prisons to fix this. That includes accommodating religious practices, providing reasonable accommodations for prisoners with disabilities, and limiting restrictive housing in accordance with evidence-based best practices. We should ensure that trans people are assigned to facilities that align with their gender identity and provide the unique medical and psychiatric care they need, including access to hormone treatments and help with adjusting to their care. And we should eliminate solitary confinement, which provides little carcerative benefit and has been demonstrated to harm prisoners’ mental and physical health, in favor of safe alternatives.

Protect special populations. Vulnerable individuals like pregnant women, victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ individuals often require special protections while behind bars. I’ll implement a rigorous auditing program to ensure that prisons are adhering to legal requirements to protect LGBTQ+ individuals and others from sexual violence and assault while incarcerated, and prosecute prison staff who engage in misconduct. I’ll ensure that juveniles are not housed in adult facilities. I’ll also eliminate the use of solitary confinement for protective purposes. Instead, I’ll direct the Bureau of Prisons to establish a set of standards and reforms to protect the most vulnerable in our prison system in a way that does not involve confining a person for more than 20 hours a day.

Invest in programs that facilitate rehabilitation. The evidence is clear: providing education and opportunity behind bars reduces recidivism when people leave prison. But when prison populations went up and budgets went down, rehabilitation services were often the first cuts. In a world where the vast majority of prisoners will eventually leave prison, this makes no sense. I’ll double grant funding for these services in our prisons, expanding programs focused on things like vocational training, anger management, and parenting skills.

Expand mental health and addiction treatment. 14% of prisoners meet the threshold for serious psychological distress, and many more struggle with addiction — but too often, they receive prison time rather than treatment. And instead of increasing access to treatment in prison, the Bureau of Prisons has reduced it. Providing mental health treatment during incarceration reduces recidivism. We must take a comprehensive approach to incarcerated people who face mental health and addiction challenges, including requiring an adequate number of counselors and addiction specialists, individualized treatment, and increased access to medication-assisted treatment.

Eliminate private prisons. I have called to eliminate private prisonsthat make millions off the backs of incarcerated people. We should also end all-foreign or “criminal alien requirement” facilities, which are reported to have higher negative outcomes.

Support Reentry

The period after release from prison can be challenging for returning citizens. During this critical period, they are more likely to be unemployed, more likely to be rearrested, more likely to overdose, and more likely to die. Recidivism rates remain high, in part because our prisons have not fulfilled their rehabilitative function, and in part because lack of opportunity after release drives individuals to re-offend. On top of all of this, more than 60,000 inmates in our prisons are there because of technical violations of their parole — for offenses as minor as a speeding ticket. We need evidence-based programs and interventions to break the cycle of incarceration and set formerly incarcerated individuals up for success when they return to their families and their communities. This is particularly true for youth and minors, who are especially vulnerable when returning to an unstable environment. Here are some of the steps I will take.

Pressure states to eliminate collateral sanctionsMillions of Americans are currently on parole or probation. We know that reducing the barriers to full reintegration in society reduces recidivism, but the system is rife with collateral consequences that hamper reentry for formerly incarcerated people who have served their time — from restrictions on occupational licensing to housing to the disenfranchisement of over 3 million returning citizens. We should remove those barriers and allow those who have served their time to find work and fully rejoin their communities.

Reduce needlessly restrictive parole requirementsTechnical parole and probation violations make up a large number of all state prison admissions, sometimes for infractions as minor as a paperwork error. While many rules are made at the state level, the federal government should seek to remove those barriers wherever possible, reduce parole requirements for low-level offenders, and remove the threat of jail time for minor parole violations.

Reduce discrimination during reentryI’ll reverse the guidance that exempts privately run re-entry programs that contract with the Bureau of Prisons from anti-discrimination laws, restoring protections for individuals with disabilities and those that encounter discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Establish a federal expungement optionMany states provide a certificate of recovery for nonviolent offenders who have served their time and maintained a clean record for a certain number of years. This should be replicated at the federal level.

Ensuring Reform at the State and Local Level

The federal government oversees just 12% of the incarcerated population and only a small percentage of law enforcement and the overall criminal legal system. To achieve real criminal justice reform on a national scale, we must move the decisions of states and local governments as well.

My administration will work with state and local governments and incentivize adoption of new federal standards through the grantmaking process. Federal grants make up nearly one third of state budgets, and states and local authorities spend about 6% of their budget on law enforcement functions. My administration would reprioritize state and local grant making toward a restorative approach to justice, and expand grant funding through categorical grants that require funds to be used for criminal justice reform and project grants that require funding to be allocated to specific programs. When necessary, my plan would also use federal enforcement authority. My administration would expand on the Obama-era practice of using Department of Justice consent decrees and other judicial settlements to enforce federal standards and remedy constitutional violations at the state and local level. My plan would also leverage the federal government’s Spending Clause authority and ability to impose civil rights mandates using cross-cutting requirements to ensure that state and local governments comply with federal criminal justice reform standards.

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Bernie Sanders Releases ‘Justice and Safety for All’ Plan to Reform Criminal Justice

Senator Bernie Sanders, at Second Democratic Debate, has released his plan to reform the criminal justice system.

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Senator Bernie Sanders released his plan to reform the entire criminal justice system. This is from the Sanders campaign:

Blueprint aims to reform every aspect of America’s dysfunctional criminal justice system, ridding it of institutional racism and corporate profiteering

COLUMBIA, SC – Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running to be the Democratic candidate for president, released a comprehensive plan to reform the entire American criminal justice system in a speech he delivered August 18 in the Greenview neighborhood of Columbia, South Carolina. The plan is designed to root out the institutional racism and corporate profiteering that is plaguing the existing system.

“If we stand together, we can eliminate private prisons and detention centers.  No more profiteering from locking people up. If we stand together we can end the disastrous “war on drugs.” If we stand together we can end cash bail.  No more keeping people in jail because they’re too poor. If we stand together we can enact real police department reform and prosecute police brutality. If we stand together, there is nothing, nothing, nothing that we cannot accomplish.”

Sanders has fought mass incarceration during his decades in Congress, and he campaigned for president in 2016 on a pledge to end for-profit prisons — a pledge that other Democrats have subsequently decided to support 4 years later. Sanders’ new plan reiterates his original call to ban for-profit prisons, and builds on his leadership on criminal justice with new proposals for a top-to-bottom reform of America’s law enforcement, judicial and incarceration systems. They include:

End for-profit greed in our criminal justice system, top to bottom

  • Ending for-profit greed in our criminal justice system, top to bottom, including banning cash bail and banning civil asset forfeiture, which allows police departments to seize property from people who have not been accused or convicted of a crime.
     
  • Ensure the criminal justice system is not the “best justice money can buy” by vastly increasing funding for public defenders and creating a federal formula to ensure populations have a minimum number of public defenders to meet their needs, and working with states to set a minimum starting salary for public defenders.

End Mass Incarceration and Excessive Sentencing and Inhumane Incarceration and Transform the Way We Police Communities

  • Reversing mass incarceration and setting a goal of cutting the incarcerated population in half.
     
  • Transforming the way we police our communities, creating an unarmed civilian corp of first responders to handle mental health emergencies, homelessness, and other low-level issues that should not require contact with the police and criminal justice system.
     
  • Creating national standards for use of police force that emphasize de-escalation rather than violence, and holding police misconduct to strict federal standards, including limiting qualified immunity for police officers, creating a federal deadly use of force database, and a registry of disreputable officers.
     
  • Ending the War on Drugs, including legalizing marijuana and expunging past convictions for marijuana-related offenses and finally ending the sentencing disparities for crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses.
     
  • Abolishing the death penalty and solitary confinement.
     
  • Enacting a Prisoner Bill of Rights for incarcerated individuals, including living wages, access to families, access to educational and vocational training, and the right to vote.
  • Reverse the Criminalization of Communities, End Cycles of Violence and Provide Support to Survivors of Crime

Reversing the criminalization of disability, addiction, and homelessness.  

  • Treat children in the criminal justice system as children. This means raising the age to charge children in adult court to 18, ending long mandatory minimum sentences and life without parole sentences for youth, decriminalizing truancy, and investing in youth diversion programs and alternatives to the court and prison system.
     
  • End cycles of violence and interrupt them before they begin. This means focusing law enforcement resources on solving homicides and other serious crimes, funding Cure Violence programs and similar proven violence interruption models, and ending the national rape kit backlog. 
     
  • Support the victims and survivors of crimes by providing sustained resources to survivors and their families, including mental health care, trauma recovery services, relocation services, and assistance with basic needs.


Read the full plan HERE.

NYS Governor Cuomo Uses State of State Message to Define Justice Agenda

New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo used his 2019 State of the State Address to delineate a Justice Agenda that works toward the ideal of full, true justice for all. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

This is what a progressive state looks like.

New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo used his 2019 State of the State Address to delineate a Justice Agenda that works toward the ideal of full, true justice for all. 

In stark contrast to the federal government’s dysfunction and the self-destructive tactic of using the shutdown to extort a political prop, the Governor is laying out a blueprint to move forward, while shielding New Yorkers from Washington’s devastating federal attacks. It is aimed at strengthening the middle class, safeguards the environment, improves the health of communities and invests in building an infrastructure for the 21st century. For the ninth consecutive year, the Budget is balanced and holds spending growth below two percent.

“In December, in the face of the nation’s biggest social crisis, and with the federal government seeking to undo generations of progress, Governor Cuomo laid out his legislative agenda to enable the Legislature to commence action on these top priorities immediately upon convening.” In this State of the State Address, the Governor called on the Legislature to swiftly and immediately act on these priorities in the first 100 days of session.
 
“In the face of unprecedented challenges on a national level and a federal government at a complete standstill, New York will deliver on the most productive agenda in our history and build on our record of accomplishments,” Governor Cuomo said. “This is a true Justice Agenda that ensures our neediest schools receive an equitable share of funds, advances historic criminal justice reform, safeguards our health care, protects the rights of women in our state from the federal government, and leads the nation in fight against climate change and contaminants in our environment and our water. While extreme conservatives in Washington govern by division and fuel dysfunction, New York State will raise the beacon of progress and take action to make a real difference in people’s lives.”

Here is a summary of the initiatives (it is long, but New Yorkers should see the detail of the agenda):

  • The FY 2020 Executive Budget is $175.2 billion on an All Funds basis.
  • State Operating Funds is $102.0 billion, growth of 1.9%
  • Health and Education spending grows at 3.6%, Executive Agencies at 0.8%.

ECONOMIC JUSTICE
  
Continue the Phase-In of Middle Class Tax Cuts: The Budget supports the phase-in of the middle class tax cuts. Under these reforms, rates will continue to drop to 5.5 percent and 6 percent when the cuts are fully phased in – an up to 20 percent cut in income tax rates for the middle class – and produce a projected $4.2 billion in annual savings for six million filers by 2025. As the new rates phase in, they will be the State’s lowest middle-class tax rates in more than 70 years.
 
Extend the Millionaire’s Tax: To protect the progress that has been made in enhancing progressivity and ensuring tax fairness for New York’s middle-class, Governor Cuomo is proposing a five-year extension of the current tax rate on millionaires. This will preserve an estimated $4.4 billion annually otherwise unavailable to make vital investments in education and infrastructure to secure New York’s future economic prosperity.
 
Make Permanent the Property Tax Cap: Governor Cuomo made a first-ever property tax cap a hallmark of his first campaign for Governor and a priority of his administration’s first year. Since the implementation of the tax cap in 2012, growth has averaged approximately 2 percent and the tax cap has produced approximately $25 billion in taxpayers’ savings. The Governor proposes that New York preserve and make permanent the property tax cap, as he has advocated in the past.
 
Close the Carried Interest Loophole: Because of an egregious loophole in federal law, some of the wealthiest people in the country, including hedge fund managers and private equity investors, are paying lower tax rates on their income than many middle class families. This “carried interest” loophole results in a substantial cost to middle-class New Yorkers, with the State losing about $100 million every year. To ensure that the wealthiest Americans are paying their fair share, Governor Cuomo will take a landmark step to close the carried interest loophole under New York State law and effectively eliminate the benefits of this loophole under the federal tax code.
 
Fight for the Full Deductibility of State and Local Taxes: Governor Cuomo fought the federal tax bill every step of the way while it was under consideration in Congress. After its passage, New York joined together with three other states to sue the federal government over this illegal and targeted assault. The Governor will continue to fight against this law and the threat that it poses to New York State, and he urges the new Democratic House of Representations stand together and demand that the SALT deduction is fully restored.
 
Continue Lawsuit Against Federal Government Challenging Unconstitutional Tax Law That Targets New York: Governor Cuomo and Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood filed a lawsuit to protect New York and its taxpayers from Washington’s drastic curtailment of the SALT deduction. The lawsuit argues that the new SALT cap was enacted to target New York and similarly situated states, that it interferes with states’ rights to make their own fiscal decisions, and that it will disproportionately harm taxpayers in these states. The Governor and Attorney General Letitia James will continue in their fight to overturn the law’s unprecedented and unconstitutional limitations on SALT deductibility.
 
Building 21st Century Infrastructure
 
Invest an Additional $150 Billion in the Nation’s Largest Infrastructure Program: Governor Cuomo has made an unprecedented commitment to invest $150 billion in infrastructure projects over the next five years. Beginning in FY 2020, these capital projects will rebuild transportation and mass transit systems, drive economic and community development, create new environmental and park facilities, and support our sustainable energy future.
 
Reduce Traffic Congestion in NYC and Fund the MTA: This year, the Governor will implement congestion pricing to establish a reliable funding stream to transform the transit system and reduce congestion in Manhattan. By charging fees for vehicles to move within the most congested area of New York City and then reinvesting those funds into transit improvements, this plan will combat gridlock and deliver to New York City’s residents and visitors the world-class transit system they deserve. 
 
Establish Accountability for the MTA: The MTA is a bureaucracy that lacks any accountability. The board of 17 members gives no single person a clear majority of nominees and there are 32 unions representing MTA employees that exert significant political power over the elected officials who appoint the board members. To overhaul this bureaucracy and fix the system, the Governor will work with the Legislature to establish clear authority over the MTA, while continuing to solve the need for dedicated funding and splitting capital funding shortfalls between New York City and New York State. Only with clearly designated authority and adequate funding can the MTA can be overhauled into the efficient and effective transit system that New Yorkers deserve.
   
Expand Design-Build and Enact Other Efficiencies to Expedite Construction Projects: Governor Cuomo’s $100 billion infrastructure program is arguably the nation’s largest and boldest. Key to the program’s success is the Governor’s decision to deploy the design-build method on complex projects, saving taxpayers time and money by making a single contractor responsible for both a project’s design and its actual construction. To ensure efficiency across State projects, the Executive Budget includes legislation authorizing the use of state-of-the-art methods such as construction manager at-risk and construction manager-build, while expanding design-build to additional agencies.
 
Continuing New York’s Bottom-Up Economic Development Strategy
  
Invest $750 million for Round Nine of the Regional Economic Development Councils: In 2011, Governor Cuomo established 10 Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs) to develop long-term regional strategic economic development plans. Since then, the REDCs have awarded $6.1 billion to more than 7,300 projects. This strategy has resulted in 230,000 new or retained jobs in New York. The Executive Budget includes core capital and tax-credit funding that will be combined with a wide range of existing agency programs for a ninth round of REDC awards totaling $750 million.
 
Invest in Communities Across the State Through the Fourth Downtown Revitalization Initiative: The Downtown Revitalization Initiative is transforming downtown neighborhoods into vibrant communities where the next generation of New Yorkers will want to live, work and raise families. Participating communities are nominated by the State’s ten REDCs based on the downtown’s potential for transformation. Through three rounds of awards, each winning community was awarded $10 million to develop a downtown strategic investment plan and implement key catalytic projects that advance the community’s vision for revitalization. The Executive Budget provides $100 million for the Downtown Revitalization Program Round IV.
 
Ensuring A Quality Education for All
 
Require Districts to Distribute State Aid in a More Equitable Manner to Their Neediest Schools: Although the state distributes 70 percent of its funding to the neediest districts, the districts do not always distribute funding to their schools in an equitable manner. In fact, some school districts have schools with significantly higher needs receiving less than the average school in the district. Governor Cuomo proposes to require that these school districts devote a portion of their 2019-20 school aid to increase the per-pupil allocation in those high-need schools. This increase in allocation will help ensure that funding intended to help improve educational outcomes for the neediest students reaches those students.
 
$1 Billion Education Aid Increase: State support for school districts will have increased by $8.1 billion (42 percent) since FY 2012. Over 70 percent of this year’s increase goes to high-need school districts. Foundation Aid is increased by $338 million.
 
Expand Universal Pre-Kindergarten: The Budget includes an additional $15 million investment in pre-kindergarten to expand high-quality half-day and full-day prekindergarten instruction for three- and four-year-old children in high-need school districts.
 
Recruit 250 New Teachers in Shortage Areas through the We Teach NY Program: With the goals of diversifying and strengthening the teacher workforce pipeline, Governor Cuomo proposes to invest $3 million in the We Teach NY program, which will strategically recruit 250 new teachers to fill identified needed positions in New York classrooms in 2024.
 
Expand Master Teacher to High Poverty Schools to Increase Access to Advanced Courses: In 2013, Governor Cuomo launched the New York State Master Teacher Program to strengthen our nation’s STEM education, giving selected educators an annual $15,000 stipend for four years, professional development opportunities and a platform to foster a supportive environment for the next generation of STEM teachers. In order to recruit and retain outstanding educators in the highest poverty schools, the Executive Budget will provide $1.5 million to support 100 new Master Teachers who teach in high-poverty schools with high rates of teacher turnover or high rates of relatively inexperienced teachers.
  
Protect Student Loan Borrowers: There are approximately 2.8 million student loan borrowers in New York that have tens of billions of dollars in outstanding student loan debt, which is serviced by about 30 student loan servicers. The Governor will advance sweeping protections for student loan borrowers by requiring that companies servicing student loans held by New Yorkers obtain a state license and meet standards consistent with the laws and regulations governing other significant lending products such as mortgages; banning upfront fees; requiring fair contracts and clear and conspicuous disclosures to borrowers; and providing penalties for failing to comply with the law.
 
Creating Economic Opportunity for Every New Yorker
 

Launch the $175 Million Workforce Initiative: Governor Cuomo will launch a new Consolidated Funding Application for workforce investments that will support strategic regional efforts that meet businesses’ short-term workforce needs, improve regional talent pipelines, expand apprenticeships, and address the long-term needs of growing industries — with a particular focus on emerging fields with growing demand for jobs like clean energy, health technology, and computer science. These funds will also support efforts to improve the economic security of women, youth, and other populations that face significant barriers to career advancement.  

Expand Employer-Driven Training Opportunities by Enhancing the Employee Training Incentive Program: Governor Cuomo proposes to expand the Employee Training Incentive Program to provide more training options to more industries by enabling employers with dedicated training shops to draw on in-house expertise in delivering approved training, and by extending ETIP tax credits to internship opportunities in additional high-tech industries.
 
Protect Workers from Union-Busting Activity by Codifying EO 183 into Law and Expanding its Protections to Local Governments: New York State has a long and distinguished history of standing by union workers. This year, Governor Cuomo will continue to advance his support for unions by introducing legislation that not only codifies EO 183 into law, but expands its protections to local governments to ensure that more union workers are protected.
 
Increase Criminal Penalties for Wage Theft: Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to increase criminal penalties for employers who knowingly or intentionally commit wage theft violations to more closely align with other forms of theft.
   
Ensuring Access to Affordable Housing
 
Enact Historic Legislation to Strengthen Rent Regulation: This year, the Governor proposes aggressive rent regulation reforms, including ending vacancy decontrol, repealing preferential rent, and limiting building and apartment improvement charges. These changes will preserve the rent regulated housing stock, strengthen tenants’ rights to affordable housing, and ensure New Yorkers safe, quality affordable housing.
 
Limit Security Deposits to Reduce Housing Barriers: Governor Cuomo will propose legislation to limit security deposits to a maximum of one month’s rent across New York State, making New York’s security deposit limits among the strongest in the nation This law will serve to ensure that burdensome security deposits will no longer serve as a barrier to entry for anyone trying to find a new place to live.  

Help Families Build Credit and Holistically Evaluate Credit Scores: In New York State, most landlords conduct background credit checks on potential tenants, which often leads to rejecting applicants with low credit scores or an insufficient credit history. To ensure all New Yorkers have a fair shot of accessing affordable, quality housing, Governor Cuomo will issue regulations prohibiting state-funded housing operators from automatically turning away applicants with poor credit or histories of bankruptcy. Instead, the State will require that all potential tenants and homeowners be holistically evaluated to determine the circumstances behind their credit history and their ability to pay rent on a forward-looking basis.  

Enact Source of Income Protections to Support Fair Housing for All: In certain parts of New York State, landlords can reject applicants based on their lawful source of income, disproportionately impacting households that rely on non-wage income or income assistance and those who use vouchers to obtain housing for their families. The Governor will work with the legislature to amend the New York State Human Rights Law to prohibit discrimination based on lawful source of income statewide to ensure that such lawful income is not a blanket barrier to housing, reducing financial instability for New York’s most economically vulnerable individuals.
 
Combating Poverty
  
Support ESPRI Communities and Establish ESPRI Representation on REDC Workforce Development Committees:  In 2016, Governor Cuomo created the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) to combat poverty and reduce inequality. ESPRI is an important component of the Governor’s anti-poverty agenda, and this year Governor Cuomo proposes to build on the success of these State and local partnerships to address poverty, supporting more community-based efforts through continued funding of ESPRI. Governor Cuomo will also continue to support efforts by the REDCs and the economic development community to broaden and deepen their commitments to local anti-poverty efforts and he will ensure an ESPRI representative is included on each region’s Workforce Development Committee and involved in the review process for the Governor’s new Workforce Development Initiative.
  
Reduce Hunger and Food Insecurity: Building on historic investments to combat food insecurity, Governor Cuomo will establish a goal to reduce household food insecurity in New York State by 10 percent by 2024. In order to achieve this goal, Governor Cuomo is directing the following actions: create a food and anti-hunger policy coordinator; simplify access to SNAP for older and disabled adults; enhanced resources and referrals in clinical settings; participate in SNAP online purchasing pilot; and expand food access in Central Brooklyn.
 
Supporting the Rural and Agricultural Economy
  
Continue the Revitalization of the Great New York State Fairgrounds: The State Fair drives $100 million a year in economic activity in Central New York and thousands of jobs. Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York State has invested more than $120 million dollars in two phases over the last three years to remake the New York State Fairgrounds. To continue the transformation of the State Fairgrounds, the State will make additional renovations and upgrades to enhance user experience. The Governor’s commitment continues to make the fairgrounds a year-round destination.
 
Fund Key Programs to Support New York’s Farmers: The agricultural industry is full of variability and uncertainty. As a reflection of the Governor’s resolve to support New York’s farmers, this year’s Executive Budget will continue funding the specialized technical assistance, industry promotion, and research investments statewide to reduce farms’ exposure to economic and climate inconsistency.
 
SOCIAL JUSTICE
 
Advancing Criminal Justice for All
 
Bail and Pretrial Detention Reform: Governor Cuomo is advancing legislation that will end cash bail once and for all, significantly reduce the number of people held in jail pretrial, and ensure due process for anyone awaiting trial behind bars. This series of reforms will include a mandate that police issue appearance tickets instead of making arrests in low-level cases, eliminate money as a means of determining freedom, and institute a new procedure whereby a district attorney can move for a hearing to determine whether eligible defendants may be held in jail pretrial, for which the judge must find reasonable cause to believe the individual is a danger to themselves or others.
 
Improve Transparency in the Discovery Process: As only one of ten states where prosecutors can withhold basic evidence until the day a trial begins, Governor Cuomo’s plan will bring New York’s discovery process into the 21st century by requiring both prosecutors and defendants to share all information in their possession well in advance of trial.  Defendants will also be allowed the opportunity to review whatever evidence is in the prosecution’s possession prior to pleading guilty to a crime.
 
Ensure the Right to a Speedy Trial: Governor Cuomo will introduce legislation that ensures criminal cases no longer drag on without accountability. With this proposal, Governor Cuomo will guarantee that all necessary discovery procedures are completed quickly, and that no New Yorker is unduly held in custody as they await their day in court.
 
Abolish the Death Penalty: Although the New York Court of Appeals ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 2004, capital punishment was never fully repealed in statute.  To address this disparity, Governor Cuomo will introduce legislation to permanently strike capital punishment from the law to guarantee that this draconian punishment is never again practiced in the State of New York.
 
Transform the Use of Solitary Confinement in State Prisons:  New York has dramatically reformed and reduced the use of solitary confinement for people who engage in misconduct within state prisons. The Governor is directing DOCCS to accelerate the momentum of solitary confinement reform by limiting the length of time spent in separation, building dedicated housing units for rehabilitation and integration following a disciplinary sanction, and expanding therapeutic programming to reinforce positive and social behavior.
 
Establish Compassionate Release: The Governor will establish a process of compassionate release for incarcerated individuals over the age of 55 who have incapacitating medical conditions exacerbated by their age.
 
Enact a Comprehensive Re-entry Package to Improve Outcomes for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals: Governor Cuomo will enact a four-point plan to ease the burdens placed on individuals who have paid their debt to society and provide them with the opportunities they need to succeed.
 
Legalizing Adult Use Cannabis
 
In January 2018, Governor Cuomo directed the Department of Health to launch a multi-agency study to review the potential impact of regulated cannabis in New York. The study, issued last July, concluded that the positive impact of a regulated cannabis program in New York State outweighs the potential negative aspects. Building on extensive outreach and research, Governor Cuomo is proposing the establishment of a regulated cannabis program for adults 21 and over in the FY 2020 budget that protects public health, provides consumer protection, ensures public safety, addresses social justice concerns, and invests tax revenue.  Specifically, the program will: 

  • Reduce impacts of criminalization affecting communities of color.
  • Automatically seal certain cannabis-related criminal records.
  • Implement quality control and consumer protections to safeguard public health.
  • Counties and large cities can opt out.
  • Restrict access to anyone under 21.
  • Generate approximately $300 million in tax revenue and create jobs.

Advancing Reproductive Justice and Women’s Equality
  
Pass the Reproductive Health Act and Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act and Enshrine Roe v. Wade into the New York State Constitution: Governor Cuomo will work with the legislature to pass the Reproductive Health Act within the first 30 days of the 2019 Legislative Session, codifying the principles of Roe v. Wade into State law. This law will ensure the right of people to make personal health care decisions to protect their health, in addition to their life, and ensure that health care professionals can provide these crucial services without fear of criminal penalty. Upon passage of the RHA, the Governor will advance a concurrent resolution to enshrine the principles of Roe v Wade into the New York State Constitution. Additionally, Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to codify affordable access to contraception, including emergency contraception, into New York State law, by passing the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act.
 
Improve Access to In-Vitro Fertilization and Fertility Preservation Coverage: This year, Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to expand access to coverage for IVF, as well as medically-necessary fertility preservation services. This legislation will specifically mandate that large group insurance providers cover IVF and will also require large, small, and individual group insurance providers to cover egg-freezing services for women with certain health conditions, including those undergoing cancer treatment.
 
Reduce Maternal Mortality and Morbidity and Racial Disparities: Based on recommendations from the Maternal Mortality Taskforce established by Governor Cuomo in 2018, the Governor will advance a series of policies to reduce maternal mortality and racial disparities in New York State, including creating an education and training program to reduce implicit racial bias in health care institutions statewide, expand Community Health Worker programs, enacting legislation to create a statewide Maternal Mortality Review Board, creating a data warehouse to provide near real-time information on maternal mortality and morbidity and to inform targeted quality initiatives, and convening an Expert Workgroup on Postpartum Care to develop recommendations targeting the critical time immediately after birth.
 
Pass the Equal Rights Amendment: Governor Cuomo will push to pass the Equal Rights Amendment to add sex as a protected class to Section 11 of Article 1 of the New York State Constitution. With this change, Section 11 of Article 1 of the New York State Constitution will read: No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws of this State or any subdivision thereof. No person shall, because of race, color, sex, creed or religion, be subjected to any discrimination in his or her civil rights by any other person or by any firm, corporation or institution, or by the State or any agency or subdivision of the state.
 
Pass the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act: Governor Cuomo will advance the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which will build on Jenna’s Law to include more meaningful sentence reductions and encompass crimes committed not only against, but also at the behest of, abusers. The Act will also permit a small population of currently incarcerated survivors to apply for re-sentencing and earlier release due to their prior victimization.
 
Eliminate the Statute of Limitations for Rape: While New York removed the statute of limitations for Rape in the First Degree, a five-year statute of limitations remains for Rape in the Second Degree and Rape in the Third Degree. Therefore, in 2019 Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to remove the statute of limitations for Rape in the Second Degree and Third Degree.
 
Increase Protections Against Harassment in the Workplace: Building on the nation’s most comprehensive sexual harassment package signed into law by Governor Cuomo in 2018, Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to lower the high bar set for employees to hold employers accountable under the New York Human Rights Law for sexual harassment, protect employees’ rights to pursue complaints, and ensure workers know their rights, by requiring all employers to conspicuously post a sexual harassment educational poster in their workplace.
 
Modernize New York’s Pay Equity Law: Since taking office, Governor Cuomo has fought aggressively to close the gender pay gap in New York. This year, Governor Cuomo will build upon that effort by championing the passage of a salary history ban. In addition, the Governor will advance legislation to expand the definition of “equal pay for equal work” to require equal pay on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, and other protected characteristics, and expand the requirement that equal pay be provided for all substantially similar work, adding flexibility in recognition of the complexity of the issue.
 
If You Can See It, You Can Be It 2019—Girls in Government: Governor Cuomo will create an opportunity for girls to learn about the impact they can have through politics through the new Girls in Government initiative, a non-partisan program to encourage girls in grades 8 through 12 to get involved in government and public policy. The program will introduce girls to the machinery of advocacy and public policy and teach young girls about public affairs and issues that matter to them personally and in their community. They will witness first-hand the inner workings of state government and meet with elected officials and senior staff.
 
Creating a Safer New York
 
Establish Extreme Risk Protection Orders to Save Lives: Governor Cuomo will continue to champion the Red Flag Bill, also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order Bill, which would prevent individuals determined by a court to have the potential to cause themselves or others serious harm from purchasing, possessing, or attempting to purchase or possess any type of firearm, including handguns, rifles, or shotguns. This legislation builds on New York’s strongest-in-the-nation gun laws, and, if passed, would make New York the first state to empower its teachers and school administrators to prevent school shootings by pursuing court intervention.
 
Extend the Background Check Waiting Period: Governor Cuomo continues to support legislation to establish a 10-day waiting period for individuals who are not immediately approved to purchase a firearm through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
 
Ban Bump Stocks: Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to close existing statutory loopholes to prohibit ownership or sale of a bump stock. As evidenced by the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, bump stocks can be equipped to semi-automatic weapons to simulate machine gun fire with deadly consequences. Bump stocks serve no legitimate purposes for hunters or sportsmen and only cause unpredictable and accelerated gun fire, and there is no reason to allow for their continued sale in New York State.  

Pass the Child Victims Act: Having advanced the Child Victims Act, Governor Cuomo is fighting to enact the bill and provide survivors with a long-overdue path to justice. This legislation will increase the length of time during which a child sex abuser may be held criminally accountable, allow abuse victims to commence a civil lawsuit at any time until they reach age 50, and ensure that each and every survivor has an opportunity to seek justice by creating a one-year window for victims whose claims have previously been time-barred to bring suit.  

Enact Comprehensive Safety Reforms for Large Passenger Vehicles: The horrific tragedies involving modified stretched limousines in Schoharie County in 2018 and Suffolk County in 2015 filled every New Yorker with a deep sense of empathy and sorrow for the victims and their loved ones. Governor Cuomo proposes a number of statutory reforms to both protect passengers and hold those accountable who seek to flout the law, including an outright ban on the registration of remanufactured limousines, prohibiting their operation in New York State.
 
Authorize Speed Cameras: In order to reinstate the bill signed into law by Governor Cuomo in 2013 authorizing the City of New York to develop a system to advance school zone highway safety utilizing camera technology to record and enforce speeding violations, the Governor will put forward a proposal to reinstate and expand the speed camera program in New York City.
 
Enacting the Democracy Agenda
 
Allow Universal Absentee Voting: Governor Cuomo will push to amend the constitution to make absentee ballots available to any eligible voter, no matter their reason for wanting one. 
 
Enact Statewide Early Voting: This proposal would combine early voting with electronic poll books, making make it easier for poll workers to keep track of voting records and verify voter identity and registration status. 
 
Permit Same-Day Registration: Governor Cuomo is proposing amending the constitution to eliminate this outdated but formidable barrier to the ballot box. 
 
Automatic Registration: Today New Yorkers are given the opportunity to register to vote when interacting with State agencies and they must affirmatively ask to be registered. The budget will include a proposal to reverse that process and register eligible New Yorkers to vote unless they affirmatively ask not to be registered. Automatic voter registration will not only boost voter registration and turnout in this state, it will also strengthen our democratic process. 
 
Make It Easier to Register to Vote: In order to ensure voter registration is as simple as possible, the Governor is proposing that all automatic voter registration opportunities be available online, and that New Yorkers are able to apply to register to vote on the State Board of Elections website if they choose to do so. 
 
Make Election Day a Holiday: An inability to take off of work should never be a barrier to voting. For this reason, Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to ensure that every worker in New York State receives, as of right, paid time off to vote on Election Day.
 
Eliminate Restrictions on Voting Before Noon in Upstate Primaries: Governor Cuomo will fix unequal ballot access across the state by ensuring that voting hours are extended for primary elections upstate to match those voting hours across the rest of the state. 
 
Fight to Ensure that All New Yorkers Are Counted in the 2020 Census: In 2019, Governor Cuomo will launch a comprehensive campaign to protect the integrity of the 2020 Census and to ensure that every New Yorker is counted.
 
Enacting Ethics Reform
 
Adopt Campaign Finance Reform: Governor Cuomo will advance a comprehensive package of campaign finance reform legislation to combat the unprecedented influence of big money in politics and empower the voices of all New Yorkers.

  • Public Financing of Elections: There is no incentive in today’s campaign finance system for candidates to focus on ordinary donors. Large donors provide large donations which drown out the voices of ordinary people. Public campaign financing is the remedy to this problem. By enacting a 6:1 public financing matching ratio for small donations, candidates will be incentivized to focus on small donors.
  • Lowering Campaign Contribution Limits: Governor Cuomo is proposing lowering contribution limits for all candidates. By implementing these reforms, and creating a strong public financing system, New York will dramatically reduce the influence of money in politics and return to a government by the people and for the people.
  • Ban Corporate Contributions and Fully Close the LLC Loophole: Ever since the Citizens United decision in 2010, corporate money has overtaken our elections system. It is time for New York State to finally say enough is enough. Governor Cuomo will fix this problem once and for all by banning all corporate and LLC contributions. It is time to restore the power to the people, and take it out of the hands of dark money and special interest donors.
  • Strengthen Disclosure Laws that Expose Dark Money in Politics : In June 2016, Governor Cuomo advanced ethics reform legislation to address the impact of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010). The Governor cautioned about the increase of dark money in politics and promised to “strengthen disclosure requirements and mandate that groups report the identity of anyone exerting control over them.” In August 2016, the Governor signed into law New York Executive Law § 172, which requires disclosures of political relationships and behaviors widely recognized to be influential but which operate in the shadows. Now, with the lessons of the 2018 election in hand, the Governor proposes strengthening this law in a variety of ways to assure all New Yorkers have critical information about who is actually speaking to them. Further, the Governor is seeking to streamline the reporting process for 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations, including by providing a mechanism for organizations to apply for a statutory exemption before the start of a reporting period.

Require Financial Disclosures by Local Elected Officials: This proposal will require these local elected officials to submit basic financial disclosure information to JCOPE, just like their state counterparts, so that the people of New York State can have the information they need about the people they choose to represent them at all levels of government.
 
Build a Dynamic, User-Friendly Database of Economic Development Projects: In an effort to increase transparency and modernize the information available on State economic development efforts, the Governor is directing Empire State Development (ESD) to build and host a searchable online database that will give the public more current and relevant information on projects that receive ESD assistance. When deployed, the new database will provide the public with more recent information on projects and combine the data from many static, program-specific reports into one dynamic, user-friendly website.
 
Ensuring Immigrant Rights
 
Pass the Jose Peralta DREAM Act: Governor Cuomo will pass the Senator Jose R. Peralta DREAM Act to finally open the doors of higher education to thousands of New Yorkers. The Senator Jose R. Peralta DREAM Act will give undocumented New York students, who are deserving of the same advantages given to their citizen peers, access to the Tuition Assistance Program, as well as state administered scholarships. 
 
Codify Executive Order Prohibiting State Agencies from Inquiring About Immigration Status: In 2017, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 170, prohibiting State agencies and officers from inquiring about or disclosing an individual’s immigration status unless required by law or necessary to determine eligibility for a benefit or service. Building upon further amendments to the Executive Order, Governor Cuomo proposes codifying the protection of the amended EO 170 into law.
 
Protecting LGBTQ Rights
  
Pass the Gender Identity and Expression Non-Discrimination Act:Governor Cuomo supports the passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), solidifying protections against discrimination, harassment, and hate crimes against people on the basis of gender identity.
 
Banning Conversion Therapy: Governor Cuomo supports legislation to expand the definition of professional misconduct for professions licensed under the education law to include engaging in, advertising for, or allowing someone under one’s direction or oversight to engage in conversion therapy with a patient under the age of eighteen years. 
 
Ban the “Gay Panic” Defense: Governor Cuomo will again push to close the loophole in New York State by passing legislation to ban gay and trans panic defenses.
 
Make Surrogacy Legal in New York State: New York State law presently bans the practice of gestational surrogacy, and creates destabilizing uncertainty about who the legal parents are when a child is conceived via other reproductive technology like artificial insemination or egg donation. The Governor is proposing legislation to lift the ban on surrogacy contracts to permit gestational carrier agreements.
 
Serving Our Veterans
 
Support for Transgender Troops: New York will stand with all veterans regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This year, all New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs staff will receive LGBTQ cultural competency training to help understand how to best serve LGBTQ veterans. DVA will also work with LGBTQ-focused organizations to make sure that each and every LGBTQ veteran receives individualized assistance in a safe and supportive environment, including by helping LGBTQ veterans upgrade their service discharges so that these brave veterans will be able to access healthcare, education, financial compensation, and other benefits they have earned.
 
JUSTICE FOR ALL NEW YORKERS
  
Protecting Quality, Affordable Health Care
 
Codify Health Care Protections and Coverage Guarantees for New Yorkers: In light of the continued federal attacks on the ACA, Governor Cuomo believes it is essential that New York codify key ACA provisions, including the state’s health insurance marketplace, as well as enhanced State regulatory protections into State law. This is critical to stabilizing the health insurance market and inoculating New York from any further federal attacks on the health care system.
 
Take Action to Achieve Universal Access to Health Care: Governor Cuomo is establishing a Commission on universal health care to be supported by Department of Health and Department of Financial Services, and comprised of health policy and insurance experts to develop options for achieving universal access to high-quality, affordable health care in New York. This review process will consider all options for expanding access to care, including strengthening New York’s commercial insurance market, expanding programs to include populations that are currently ineligible or cannot afford coverage, as well as innovative reimbursement models to improve efficiency and generate savings to support expanded coverage.
 
Fighting to End the Opioid Epidemic
 
Protect New Yorkers from Predatory Practices: Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to 1) require that out-of-state facilities be licensed in their home state and accredited by a nationally recognized organization, and 2) prevent predatory out-of-state providers from targeting justice involved individuals by working with courts to immediately connect individuals to in-state treatment programs and by advancing legislation to protect in-state court ordered treatment. He will also direct OASAS to implement regulations that require out-of-state marketers comply with OASAS requirements when marketing in New York State. With these actions, New York will implement the strongest practices in the nation to protect its residents, forcing predatory treatment programs to look elsewhere to fill their facility quotas.
 
Expand Access to Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine is an important advance in Medication Assisted Treatment, which, like methadone and injectable naltrexone, is used in combination with counseling as appropriate to help people reach and sustain recovery from Opioid Use Disorder. To expand use of buprenorphine, Governor Cuomo will direct the Department of Health to require all hospitals statewide to develop protocols for their Emergency Departments to address Opioid Use Disorder based on the standard of care for treatment or referral for treatment.
 
Expand Access to Medication Assisted Treatment in Criminal Justice Settings: To expand access to treatment in prisons and jails, Governor Cuomo has directed OASAS to distribute over $4 million to support addiction treatment services in over 50 facilities. Additionally, Governor Cuomo will expand access to Medication Assisted Treatment by providing $1.2 million to support the establishment of up to three new MAT programs in State prisons.
 
Increase Access to Naloxone: Governor Cuomo will direct DOH to advance legislation that expands Good Samaritan laws to apply to workers in restaurants, bars, and other retail establishments. In addition, Governor Cuomo will increase access to naloxone at SUNY and CUNY by ensuring that naloxone is provided as part of every dorm first aid kit, or available for the Resident Assistant on duty every night in every SUNY and CUNY dorm.
 
Launch a Comprehensive Substance Use Prevention Blueprint for Schools: At Governor Cuomo’s direction, New York State will launch a statewide collaborative to streamline all prevention resources and develop best practices, standards, and metrics for substance use prevention into a focused “Prevention Blueprint” that will assist schools to follow a comprehensive, evidence-based and data-driven approach to prevention. OASAS shall work in collaboration with the State Education Department, Department of Health and the Office of Mental Health to develop the Prevention Blueprint for use in the 2020-21 school year.
 
Creating Healthy Communities
  
Protect New Yorkers from Unknown Exposure to Toxic Chemicals: Governor Cuomo will introduce new legislation authorizing the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Health and the Department of State to develop regulations establishing an on-package labeling requirement for designated products, indicating the presence of potentially hazardous chemicals, developing a list of the more than 1,000 carcinogens and other chemicals that will trigger labeling, and identifying the types of consumer products that will be subject to the new regime. DEC and DOH will be further empowered to require manufacturers to disclose the chemical contents of consumer products in sold or distributed in New York State and explore possible additional measures to protect consumers.
 
Control Health Threats from Tobacco: Governor Cuomo is proposing comprehensive legislation to combat the rising use of tobacco products. This legislation includes:

  • Raising the Minimum Sales Age for Tobacco and Electronic Cigarette Products from 18 to 21: Most underage youth obtain tobacco and vapor products from friends who are over 18 and can legally purchase products. Raising the minimum age will remove sources of tobacco from high schools.
  • Ending the Sale of Tobacco and Electronic Cigarette Products in Pharmacies: Health care related entities should not be in the business of selling tobacco, the leading cause of preventable death in New York State. Ending the sale of tobacco and electronic cigarette products in pharmacies will reduce the availability, visibility, and social acceptability of tobacco use, especially to youth.
  • Clarify the Department of Health’s Authority to Ban the Sale of Certain Flavored E-Cigarette Liquids: Flavored combustible cigarettes, except menthol, were banned by the FDA in 2009 to reduce youth smoking as they were frequently used as a starter product.  Most e-cigarette users said their first e-cigarette was flavored. Flavors, such as sweet tart, toffee, and bubble gum, make e-cigarettes more attractive and make e-cigarettes more attractive to youth. Legislation is being introduced to provide the Department of Health the authority to ban the sale of flavored liquids that target youth use of e-cigarettes.
  • Restricting Available Discounts Provided by Tobacco and Electronic Cigarette Manufacturers and Retailers: New York has the highest cigarette tax in the nation, but manufacturers and retailers have developed tactics to reduce prices, such as “buy one, get one free” discounts. These tactics directly target price-sensitive consumers, including youth. Restricting discounts on tobacco and vapor products will strengthen the impact of New York’s tax on tobacco and disincentivize tobacco use.
  • Introduce a Tax on E-Cigarettes: Tobacco use is reduced or prevented when the price of tobacco products is high. Youth are particularly sensitive to price increases on tobacco products. New York State has one of the highest taxes on combustible cigarettes and one of the lowest youth smoking rates in the country. The same rationale is expected to apply to taxation and youth use of electronic cigarettes and e-liquids.
  • Require E-Cigarettes to Be Sold Only Through Licensed Retailers: Currently the sale of e-cigarettes is almost entirely unregulated. Restricting the sale to licensed retailers will allow the current enforcement infrastructure to ensure that minors do not purchase tobacco products.

Invest in Community-Based Supports for Aging New Yorkers: Governor Cuomo proposes investing $15 million in community-based supports for aging New Yorkers. This needed targeted investment in NYSOFA’s programs and services will help serve more older adults and will help them maintain their autonomy, support family and friends in their caregiving roles, and delay future Medicaid costs. Working with the Department of Health, NYSOFA will develop specific metrics to evaluate the success of this investment.
 
Create the Family First Transition Fund: The state will leverage the investment of private foundation funding to create a Family First Transition fund that will provide resources to local departments of social services and foster care agencies to have the resources needed to prepare for the implementation of the Family First federal legislation. This investment will allow New York State to adequately prepare for the implementation of Family First and will position New York to continue to prioritize the needs of its most vulnerable children and families and ensure the local departments of social services are fully equipped to meet those needs while maintaining compliance with important federal benchmarks.
 
Continuing New York’s Environmental Leadership
 
Launching the Green New Deal:  Amidst the Trump Administration’s assault on the environment and in order to continue New York’s progress in the fight against climate change, Governor Cuomo is announcing New York’s Green New Deal, a nation-leading clean energy and jobs agenda that will put the state on a path to carbon neutrality across all sectors of New York’s economy. At the Governor’s direction, New York will move boldly to achieve this goal with specific near-term actions and long-term strategies to spur unparalleled innovation and transform the state’s electric, transportation, and building infrastructure while prioritizing the needs of low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. This landmark initiative will further drive the growth of New York’s clean energy economy, create tens of thousands of high-quality 21st century jobs, provide all New Yorkers with cleaner air and water by reducing harmful emissions, and set an example of climate leadership for the rest of the nation and world to follow.  
 
Establish $10 Billion Green Future Fund: This year, Governor Cuomo will advance a $10 billion Green Future Fund to support clean water infrastructure, renewable energy and clean transportation, and open space and resiliency. This fund includes $5 billion in total for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure—building upon the $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act and effectively doubling the state’s investment in clean water over the next five years.
 
Continue Historic $300 Million Environmental Protection Fund: Governor Cuomo proposes maintaining the State’s historic $300 million EPF. This investment will prioritize programs to protect New York’s water bodies, promote stewardship projects in parks and on other state lands, revitalize municipal waterfronts, and build community resilience to climate change—all while creating jobs and stimulating local economies.
 
Expanding the Bottle Bill to Include Most Nonalcoholic Drinks: In order to reduce litter and provide relief to overburdened municipal recycling entities who are struggling amidst changes to the global recycling markets, Governor Cuomo will expand the Bottle Bill to make most non-alcoholic beverage containers eligible for 5 cent redemption, including those for sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit and vegetable beverages and ready-to-drink teas and coffee. 
 
Prohibiting the Use of Plastic Bags: To address the environmental impacts of single-use plastic bags, Governor Cuomo proposes a statewide plastic bag prohibition with certain exceptions.

2019 State of the State Book Available Here

In US of Trump, Don’t Expect Justice ‘Without Fear or Favor’

“Equal Justice Under Law” is inscribed above the entrance to the United States Supreme Court. Under Trump, though, justice is being politicized. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By KarenRubin, News & PhotoFeatures

“Equal Justice Under Law,” is what is inscribed above the entrance to the Supreme Court.

No One is Above the Law. Justice Without Fear or Favor.

Alas, these clichés can be thrown onto the ash heap of myths that are really only fantasy, along with American Dream, American Exceptionalism and the biggest lie of all: one person, one vote.

What we see all around is the ability for the wealthy, the powerful and the connected to evade justice.  One way is by simply affording a battery of top lawyers which poor people, dependent upon funds-strapped public defenders, cannot, so are pressured to accept plea deals even if they are innocent and then branded for the rest of their lives, while wealthy people can have their arrest record expunged, or excuse their crime as the result of “Affluenza,” as Texas teenager Ethan Couch, did despite driving drunk without a license and killing four and injuring nine people. On the other hand, when 16-year old Cyntoia Brown, killed the pimp who kept her as a sex slave and had been beating her, she was tried as an adult and sentenced to life without parole.

If Paul Manafort, accused of 11 counts including money laundering millions of dollars, were a poor black teenager, he would be in jail for weeks, even months, instead of comfortably ensconced in one of his multi-million dollar homes (and that’s only because of the strong argument that he has the money, means and foreign ties to make him a flight risk – otherwise he would be out and about).

How different from Kalief Browder, a Bronx teenager held at Rikers Island for three years without ever being convicted including 400 days in solitary confinement, was so damaged the 22-year old committed suicide when he was finally released. Or the thousands of people held in jail because they can’t afford bail, losing their job, home, family.

Ivanka Trump and Don Jr. get waved aside for defrauding buyers in their Soho coop after their lawyer makes a hefty contribution to DA Cy Vance’s election campaign, but Eric Garner gets put in a choke hold, thrown to the ground, and suffocated to death for selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island street. That’s called a “quality of life” crime and it apparently is a capital offense. So is an innocuous traffic violation: Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, was arrested during a traffic stop and found hanging in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, three days later.

Imagine a defendant claiming “I didn’t remember, but after reading the newspaper accounts, it jogged my memory,” as an excuse for lying to federal officials and Congress. And this is the Attorney General, who has taken such a strong stand for Law & Order, along with his boss, Donald Trump, who has no problem at all breaking laws, dismissing laws, ignoring or overturning Constitutional protections. Actually Jeff Sessions, as a prosecutor and Senator, didn’t harbor any sympathy for anyone who “can’t recall” – prosecuting a rookie police officer whose memory failed, and, of course, Hillary Clinton, but he’s used that phrase dozens and dozens of times in his own hearings, and even outright lies (I never met with any Russians during the course of the campaign; didn’t know of anyone in the campaign who did) – perjury, lying to Congress – will likely go without consequences.

Instead, the nation’s highest law enforcement officer has stopped prosecuting hate crimes, police brutality, systemic discrimination in sentencing and prosecution, and voter suppression, and authorizes Gestapo-like tactics to round up undocumented immigrants without due process and the relaunch the “war on drugs” as a pretext for heavy-handed policing. Meanwhile, Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy Devoes is no longer taking steps against sexual assault on college campuses.

Nowadays, the wealth in the justice system is also related to threatening lawsuits to anyone who dares bring a complaint, such as sexual assault (Trump, Roy Moore), or literally buying up the Fourth Estate so that the press is no longer free and no longer the watchdog against abuses of power (Sheldon Adelson, Rupert Murdoch, TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts buys chain of local papers to shut them down). Latest: Koch Brothers’ investment arm providing $650 million toward $2.8 billion acquisition of Time Inc. Won’t have effect on editorial? Well, the big donors to PBS used its weight to prevent the documentary, “Citizen Koch” from being televised.

The Rule of Law is now routinely trampled by Trump: attacking a judge’s impartiality because of his Hispanic heritage; challenging the ruling of the 9th Circuit against his unconstitutional Travel Ban, pardoning Sheriff Arpaio (sending a message to other conspirators) and supporting Roy Moore for the US Senate, who not only has had credible accusations of committing felony pedophilia and sexual assault, but twice was removed for defying Supreme Court rulings, otherwise known as the “Rule of Law.”

Here are just some of the many ways the justice system and Rule of Law is being overturned:

Obstruction of justice: Trump has not only dismissed the federal prosecutors like Preet Bharara who were investigating Trump’s dubious financial dealings including money laundering for Russian oligarchs, but is now personally interviewing candidates in the regions where Trump has business investments. This follows his dismissal of James Comey as FBI director for failing to give his oath of loyalty and ending the investigation into Michael Flynn and Russian meddling into the 2016 election.

Politicizing justice: The pressure from Trump to get Sessions’ DoJ to launch a special counsel investigation into Hillary Clinton and the Uranium One deal and (yet again) her emails (ironic considering Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Steve Bannon were all found to use private emails once they got into the White House), is a Banana-Republic move against a political opponent.

As Sally Yates (who exposed Michael Flynn and was fired as Acting Attorney General by Trump for refusing to enforce his unconstitutional Travel Ban), the Justice Department isn’t there to “go after his enemies and protect his friends”

For the first time since Nixon era, the Department of Justice has sought to block a merger of a telecom company (then it was ITT, today it is ATT), for personal reasons. AT&T is seeking to acquire Time Warner – which on face of it, especially for a consolidation-happy, bigness is bestest administration that has no problem with monopolies and oligopolies, even to the point of overturning regulations to allow Sinclair to massively control local TV stations. But Trump has made clear he hates CNN, and has made it a condition of allowing the sale for Time Warner to divest of CNN. The DoJ is doing Trump’s bidding.

Stacking courts with political hacks: Trump has a flurry of judicial nominees who are political and ideological hacks, enabled by the way Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has abused his power in the first instance to withhold the confirmation process for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and now, by overturning the long-standing tradition of a Senator using a “blue slip” to blackball a judicial nominee – something that Republicans used incessantly to block Obama’s ability to make appointments, leaving a staggering number of vacancies. Yet four of Trump’s nominees – an unprecedented number – have been designated as “Unqualified” by the American Bar Association. Among them Brett Talley, with just three years practicing law, has never tried a case, and who was rated unanimously “not qualified” for a federal judgeship by the American Bar Association — their lowest rating; who withheld from his Senate questionnaire that his wife is the chief of staff for the White House counsel, who has pledged support for the NRA, mocked gun control, retweeted Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory that Sandy Hook was a hoax, and called for Hillary “Rotten” Clinton to be locked up.

Controlling the press/de-fanging the Fourth Estate: the role of a free press is to serve as a watchdog on those in power, especially the government. Trump has waged an actual de-legitimizing campaign, calling every story and every media organization which raises questions about his governance and his administration as “fake news”, actually threatening to take away a broadcast license, and now, sending his DoJ to challenge a merger between AT&T and Time Warner not because it is monopolistic, but to force Time Warner to shed CNN. And yet, the Trump Administration’s FCC, under Ajit Pai, a former Verizon executive,  has no problem with the merger of ultra-conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group with Tribune Media which would violate existing regulations intended to block a monopoly of political viewpoints in a media market; the merger would mean that “Trump TV” would reach 72% of American homes. This follows Pai’s determination to overturn net neutrality, which is designed to give a level playing field across the now ubiquitous and essential cyberspace,

Just this week, James O’Keefe, whose scams have brought down Acorn and Planned Parenthood, through his Project Veritas, tried to scam the Washington Post in order to bolster Roy Moore.  O’Keefe should be prosecuted for industrial sabotage and fraud. They are intent on damaging the Washington Post’s reputation, which costs them money, and force the real press to spend more time and money in their investigative reporting which obstructs publication. What they did is no different than poisoning a Tylenol bottle. But a politicized DoJ, under Sessions, won’t prosecute.

On the other hand, a West Virginia reporter was arrested simply for shouting out a question about health care at (then) HHS Secretary Tom Price and a Code Pink activist was arrested, prosecuted and tried for giggling during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing.

Unequal Justice: Take for example how George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s murderer, was acquitted based on Stand Your Ground laws, but Marissa Alexander, who fired a warning shot to scare off her enraged estranged and violent husband who was about to beat or kill her, was found guilty after just 12 minutes of jury deliberation and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Personhood laws that states are trying to install set up more imprisonments of mothers who lose their children to miscarriage, who are shown to drink or do drugs during pregnancy, or who seek to abort a pregnancy. (A hidden provision of the Republican tax plan would create personhood for a fetus, and pave the way for abortion to be illegal and mothers prosecuted for miscarrying or bad behavior during pregnancy, stripping the woman of civil and human rights.)

The way that women who have been victims of sexual assault, become victimized by the predators with the assistance of the judicial system is the reason that so few have come forward before to charge Trump, Roy Moore and others.

Discrimination in sentencing: African-American men serve prison sentences that average almost 20 percent longer than those served by white men for similar crimes, according to a study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. There has a consequence for voting rights as well, with as many as 6 million blacks (one in 13) disenfranchised because of a prison record.

School to prison pipeline67,000 preschool kids, 3 and 4 years old, are being suspended or expelled a year for ‘infractions’ that might be considered normal development, but African American kids are twice as likely to be punished in this way, setting the stage for failure in school and ultimately a path to prison.

Privatizing Prisons:  Meanwhile, AG Sessions has abandoned efforts to reform sentencing guidelines which profit private prison companies and have made the US the most incarcerated country on earth. His renewed War on Drugs policy – overturning Obama’s effort to empty prisons of unfairly sentenced individuals – assures they will be full, and profitable.

Raise your hand if you believe Jared Kushner will ever go to jail for lying to Congress and federal agent, conspiracy, treason, dealing with sanctioned Russian banks and oligarchs, and obstruction of justice? Can you imagine what would happen if instead of Don Jr., it was Chelsea Clinton who met with the Russians? But as long as you can imagine a different result depending upon who is president, judge, prosecutor  or defendant, or which party is in control of Congress, there is no “Rule of Law” or equal justice.

________________________

© 2017 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

 

White House Announces New Commitments to Fair Chance Business Pledge and Actions to Improve Criminal Justice System

Protesting for justice in front of Federal Courthouse in downtown Manhattan, NY  © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Protesting for justice in front of Federal Courthouse in downtown Manhattan, NY © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In the waning days of his administration, and in face of what is shaping up to be the most regressive administration intent on reversing the gains hard-fought over a century toward social, political, environmental justice, President Barack Obama is working feverishly to continue to make advances in criminal justice system. Donald Trump has pledged to repeal each and every one of Obama’s executive actions.

The White House issued this Fact Sheet on November 30, 2016: 

FACT SHEET: White House Announces New Commitments to the Fair Chance Business Pledge and Actions to Improve the Criminal Justice System

Since the President took office, this Administration has been committed to reforming America’s criminal justice system and highlighting the importance of reducing barriers facing justice-involved individuals trying to put their lives back on track.Over 2.2 million men and women are incarcerated in American prisons, and over 11 million spend time in our jails, and the vast majority of them will return to their communities. Improving education and job opportunities for these individuals has a recognized effect of reducing crime, and will make our communities safer.

Today, the White House is hosting a convening on criminal justice reform to discuss the progress and advancements that have been made over the past eight years and the opportunities that remain to tackle persistent problems. This event is part of the Administration’s continued efforts to bring together Americans who are working to improve the criminal justice system, from activists engaging in communities around the nation to law enforcement and elected officials working to lower the crime and incarceration rates, to formerly incarcerated people who are earning their second chance.

In conjunction with this event, the White House is announcing a round of new signatories to the Fair Chance Business Pledge and a series of Administration actions to enhance the fairness and effectiveness of the criminal justice system including:

  • Final Office of Personnel Management “Ban the Box” Rule
  • Federal Bureau of Prison Reforms
  • White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Report

These announcements build on the Administration’s longstanding commitment to reforming the criminal justice system, improving reentry outcomes, and removing unnecessary obstacles facing formerly incarcerated individuals.

Fair Chance Business Pledge

In April, the White House launched the Fair Chance Business Pledge encouraging companies to take action to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to succeed, including individuals who have had contact with the criminal justice system. The pledge represents a call-to-action for all members of the private sector to improve their communities and expand their talent pools by eliminating unnecessary hiring barriers facing those with a criminal record.

Today’s signatories to the Fair Chance Business Pledge bring the total number of pledged employers to over 300. The companies and organizations that have signed the pledge collectively employ over 5 million Americans. The new commitments come from a diverse range of employers including: Ben & Jerry’s, Clif Bar, CVS Health, Gap, Intel, Kroger, LinkedIn, Monsanto, Perdue Farms, Shinola, Target, Tyson Foods, Union Square Hospitality Group, and WeWork.

Additionally, Glassdoor created a Fair Chance Pledge badge that companies can add to their profile on the website to proudly demonstrate their commitment to maintaining hiring and training programs for individuals with criminal records.

The Department of Justice recently funded the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSGJC) to assist Second Chance grantees and the field at-large through the National Reentry Resource Center. The award includes funding to provide employer-focused outreach and education to promote fair chance hiring practices. A coalition of Fair Chance Business Pledge Signatories has committed to working together with CSGJC and other external partners to share their successes in adopting fair chance hiring practices and encourage other businesses to follow suit.

Today’s announcement is further evidence of the private sector’s support for a more fair justice system, and the Pledge is one of many initiatives where the White House has successfully partnered with the private sector to increase opportunity for all Americans. 

By signing the Fair Chance Business Pledge, these companies are:

  • Voicing strong support for economic opportunity for all, including the approximately 70 million Americans who have some form of a criminal record.
  • Demonstrating an ongoing commitment to take action to reduce barriers to a fair shot at a second chance, including practices like “banning the box” by delaying criminal history questions until later in the hiring process; ensuring that information regarding an applicant’s criminal record is considered in proper context; and engaging in hiring practices that do not unnecessarily place jobs out of reach for those with criminal records.

THE FAIR CHANCE BUSINESS PLEDGE

We applaud the growing number of public and private sector organizations nationwide who are taking action to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to succeed, including individuals who have had contact with the criminal justice system. When around 70 million Americans – nearly one in three adults – have a criminal record, it is important to remove unnecessary barriers that may prevent these individuals from gaining access to employment, training, education and other basic tools required for success in life. We are committed to providing individuals with criminal records, including formerly incarcerated individuals, a fair chance to participate in the American economy.

Companies and organizations interested in joining the Fair Chance Business Pledge can do so by signing up HERE. 

Today’s signatories include:

  • Al Abbas Cookies
  • Alley Taco
  • American Eagle Sealcoating and Asphalt LLC
  • Amity Foundation
  • Andrews Funeral Home
  • Avalon Breads
  • Berry Much Yogurt
  • Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
  • Brooks Lumber
  • Butterball Farms, Inc.
  • Byblos
  • C.W. Morris – J.W. Henry Funeral Home
  • Capital Area ReEntry Coalition
  • Capitol City Contracting, Inc.
  • Carpenter’s Shelter
  • Cava Grill
  • Center for Living and Learning
  • Clif Bar
  • Colorado Mountain College
  • Court Programs, Inc.
  • CPG Partnership Strategies LLC
  • CSI Saddlepads LLC
  • CVS Health
  • D.C. Central Kitchen
  • Dillard & Associates
  • DRP Systems
  • Ecolibrium3
  • Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute
  • Executives’ Alliance for Boys and Men of Color
  • Fair Chance Workforce Interface LLC
  • FoodCorps, Inc.
  • Friends Outside
  • Gap
  • GeoFi
  • Get Ready Driving Academy
  • Glassdoor
  • Golden State Foods Corp.
  • Grandy’s Coney Island
  • Green Dot Stables
  • HopCat Detroit
  • InService Enterprise, LLC
  • Intel Corporation
  • Isidore Electronics Recycling
  • IT Total Care, Inc.
  • JAX Chamber
  • Jeff’s 40 Minute Cleaners
  • JSJ Staffing, LLC
  • Kansas City Community Source, Inc.
  • Konsultera
  • The Kroger Company
  • Lawson Screen & Digital Products, Inc.
  • Life Restoration CEDA
  • Linden Resources
  • LinkedIn
  • Los Angeles Black Worker Center
  • Los Angeles Conservation Corps
  • Lou’s Deli
  • Makin’ Movez LLC
  • Maria’s Italian Kitchen
  • Mark O’s Bar & Grill
  • MI United
  • MOD Pizza
  • Moe Appliance
  • Monsanto
  • National Dry Goods Company
  • Newton Brown Urban Design
  • Nexus Services, Inc.
  • NXIS Enterprises, LLC
  • Olive Branch Village Project
  • O’Neill Construction Group
  • Oscar’s Coney Island
  • Pass Job Connection
  • Perdue Farms, Inc.
  • Pet Supplies Plus
  • Phyllis Wheatley Community Center
  • Portland Bottling Company
  • Q Stride Inc.
  • RECAP, Inc.
  • Restoration Law Center
  • Roman Labor Services Corp.
  • Root & Rebound
  • Saucy By Nature
  • Shinola Detroit, LLC
  • Skill Source Group
  • St. Louis Wing Company LLC
  • Stratford University
  • SunHarvest Solar
  • Super Tek Group
  • TakeAction Minnesota
  • Taqueria El Nacimiento
  • Target
  • TBS Facility Services Group
  • The CPAI Group, Inc.
  • The Grey Door Boutique
  • The Lancaster Food Company
  • The Last Mile
  • The National Incarceration Association
  • The Pate House
  • The Phax Group, LLC
  • The Water Station
  • Transmedia Capital
  • TransNation Holdings, LLC
  • Trinosophes
  • Tyson Foods
  • Union Square Hospitality Group
  • Vaughan’s Public House
  • Virginia Employment Commission
  • WeWork
  • Work in Progress
  • Year Up
  • Yuca’s
  • Zaraxo

 Federal “Ban the Box” Rule

Today the Office of Personnel Management is finalizing a rule to ensure that applicants with a criminal history have a fair shot to compete for Federal jobs. The rule effectively “bans the box” for a significant number of positions in the Federal Government by delaying the point in the hiring process when agencies can inquire about an applicant’s criminal history until a conditional offer is made. This change prevents candidates from being eliminated before they have a chance to demonstrate their qualifications.

As the nation’s largest employer, the Federal Government should lead the way and serve as a model for all employers – both public and private. Banning the box for Federal hiring is an important step. It sends a clear signal to applicants, agencies, and employers across the country that the Federal Government is committed to making it easier for those who have paid their debts to society to successfully return to their communities, while staying true to the merit system principles that govern our civil service by promoting fair competition between applicants from all segments of society.

Federal Bureau of Prison Reforms

As part of the Justice Department’s deep commitment to a fair, effective criminal justice system, the Department announced today a series of reforms at the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) designed to reduce recidivism and increase the likelihood of inmates’ safe and successful return to the community.  Today the department released a memo from Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates on reforms to residential reentry centers including covering the cost of obtaining state-issued IDs for inmates prior to their release from custody. Additionally, BOP is creating a semi-autonomous school district within the federal prison system and providing additional services for female inmates when the BOP facility in Danbury, Connecticut, resumes housing female inmates later this month. The Danbury facility will also house BOP’s first-ever integrated treatment facility for female inmates.

Last year, with the Department’s support, BOP retained outside consultants to review the agency’s operations and recommend changes designed to reduce the likelihood of inmates re-offending after their release from prison. As part of today’s announcement, BOP is launching a new website, justice.gov/prison-reform, that compiles current and ongoing reforms at BOP, and includes the final reports from the outside consultants.

White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Report

Today the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (WH-LAIR) is issuing its first annual report to President Obama, “Expanding Access to Justice, Strengthening Federal Programs.” This report documents the significant steps that the 22 federal agency members of WH-LAIR have taken to integrate civil legal aid into programs designed to serve low-income and vulnerable people where doing so can both improve their effectiveness and increase access to justice.

Co-chaired by Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz, and staffed by the DOJ Office for Access to Justice, WH-LAIR was established to help provide legal assistance to Americans in need to further our shared goals of breaking the cycle of domestic violence and elder abuse epidemic, ending homelessness among veterans, and helping to remove obstacles to employment for jobseekers. Recognizing the power of legal aid to both increase the availability of meaningful access to justice and improve outcomes in many federal programs, WH-LAIR agencies have been working together since 2012 to integrate legal aid into their programs, policies and initiatives.

The report addresses key federal priorities where civil legal aid improves program outcomes, and also describes agencies’ efforts to partner with legal aid organizations to meet the needs of special populations, including veterans and servicemembers, tribes and tribal members, people with disabilities, people with criminal records, crime victims and disaster survivors.