Criminal Justice Reform Advocates Join Law Enforcement, Faith Leaders, Public Defenders and Families of Kalief Browder and Pedro Hernandez to Address Biased Policies Targeting Low-Income New Yorkers and People of Color
New York, NY – Yesterday, criminal justice reform advocates joined the families of Kalief Browder and Pedro Hernandez, law enforcement and faith leaders from across New York for the launch of a high six-figure statewide advocacy, public education and media campaign, led by Bail Reform NY, to build legislative support for comprehensive bail reform. Bail reform along with speedy trial and discovery reform, are currently being debated as part of the state budget process and represent important opportunities to improve our criminal justice system for all New Yorkers, regardless of wealth or race. In fact, the Governor and Assembly have made it clear that this is a priority and the Senate has signaled receptiveness, showing these changes have strong bipartisan voter support.
Against the backdrop of the New York State Supreme Court, Bail Reform NY led a press conference in Foley Square, just down the block from the Tombs. Speakers, all of who have deep, first hand experiences of the failings of New York’s criminal justice system, included Akeem Browder, Founder & President of the Kalief Browder Foundation; Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights; Jessica Perez, mother of Pedro Hernandez; and community leaders, faith leaders and legal experts. Groups in attendance included Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Incarcerated Nation, Make the Road New York, Legal Aid Society, Bronx Defender, Brooklyn Defender Services, Bronx Freedom Fund, Central Synagogue, and more.
Despite key strides in criminal justice reform – only last year, the New York State passed Raise The Age – the reality is that New York State jails remain overcrowded. With more than 70% of the individuals behind bars not yet convicted, many individuals are being held in jail simply because their families cannot afford bail. Wealth-based detention can damage families for generations through employment loss and mental health impacts, and costs taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year. The Bail Reform NY campaign advocates for much-needed common sense, compassionate changes to our current system that begin with fixing our bail system. New York State lawmakers have an opportunity to enact change by including meaningful reform legislation in the budget due at the end of this month.
Bail reform, an issue that impacts urban and rural communities alike, from the South Bronx to Central and Western New York, has rare strong bipartisan voter support, signaling an opportunity for the state to improve its criminal justice system for all New Yorkers, regardless of wealth or race.
Statements from community leaders, advocates, faith leaders, and law enforcement:
“Too many families have, like mine, been impacted by the broken pretrial justice system. Too many get stuck in jail simply because they can’t afford bail,” said Akeem Browder, Founder and President, the Kalief Browder Foundation. “We need bail reform, we need discovery and speedy trial reform. Over the next several weeks, we will be having a public conversation in every region of the state and making sure New Yorkers who are affected by the issue have a seat at the table to demand reform.”
“When a Human being experiences trauma, it is not uncommon for their life to unravel. As a mother of three boys of color, I have experienced many injustices that have change my life forever and that motivates me make a change for well-being of all our children and their future. From my family’s experience, we know the bail system in New York is broken, and needs to be fixed immediately to bring fairness to our justice system,” said Jessica Perez, a small business owner, social justice activist, and mother of five. Jessica’s son Pedro Hernandez was unjustly incarcerated for over a year on Rikers Island for a crime he did not commit — held on $250,000 bail.
“I was detained on Rikers for over six weeks while my mom was trying to gather the funds from family members to pay my $2,500 bail,” said Michael Muir, a member of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice. “My mom paid the bondsman, but even though the judge exonerated the bail, none of the bondsman fees have been returned to us. It’s more than just the money. People are getting hurt on a daily basis in these jails. There are seven other forms of bailunder New York law that can actually help, but those aren’t being used by judges, and that’s not right. We need the legislature and the Governor to act now to reform the bail practices in New York State!”
“We have too many people in our jails who are detained simply because they’re too poor to pay bail. Through comprehensive bail reform, we can protect public safety and ensure justice and fairness for all,” said Brendan Cox, Police Chief (Ret.), Albany Policy Department.
“Every day in New York our broken criminal legal system is caging innocent people – predominantly the poor and people of color – in our local jails, simply because they can’t afford money bail. This injustice has gone on for far too long, and it’s about time New Yorkers demand more than words from our lawmakers in Albany,” said Kerry Kennedy, President, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Everyone across the political spectrum recognizes the problem. It’s time for action. It’s time for New York to live up to its potential as a beacon for human rights and justice, and to reform the unsafe and unjust money bail system in our state once and for all.”
“In New York, we have two justice systems: one for the rich and well-to-do, and another for everyone else. Thousands of people are in local jails in our state right now because the bail system is broken. No one should be in jail simply because they can’t pay bail,” said gabriel sayegh, Co-Executive Director, Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice. “The time for real reform is now.”
“Each and every day, we see how our broken bail system wreaks havoc on the lives of our clients, their families, and their communities,” said Scott Levy, Special Counsel to the Criminal Defense Practice at The Bronx Defenders. “We know that even one day spent on Rikers Island, away from family and support networks, can result in a lost job, housing instability, missed school and medical appointments, and childcare emergencies. And we see how the harms of our broken bail system fall most heavily on low-income communities and communities of color. Right now, there are thousands of people in jails across New York simply because they can’t afford the price of their freedom. We can no longer accept a bail system that creates and reinforces wealth- and race-based disparities and feeds mass incarceration.”
“Pretrial incarceration destroys lives and has innocent people pleading guilty,” said Joshua Norkin, Project Coordinator of the Decarceration Project at The Legal Aid Society. “This is the reality that plays out with our attorneys and their clients every day at courts throughout the five boroughs. The criminalization of poverty must end now, and we need Albany to prioritize final legislation that eliminates cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. New Yorkers deserve nothing less.”
“It’s time to stop the mass incarceration of New Yorkers, and lawmakers have an opportunity to rectify this issue with comprehensive pretrial justice reform,” said Clare Degnan, Executive Director, Legal Aid Society of Westchester. “I stand with other criminal justice reform advocates in calling on the governor and state legislators to fix our bail system, as well as our speedy trial and discovery laws, as part of this year’s budget.”
“Riker Island is an extremely toxic and brutal environment for our clients, many of whom are innocent or committed minor infractions. They suffer unspeakable horrors and indignities every day—often including sexual assault and staff violence—simply because they cannot afford to pay the form and amount of bail set by the court. This must end. New Yorkers need true reform and we need it now before any more lives are lost or destroyed,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services.
“In New York City and across the state, New Yorkers are demanding that our elected representatives address the devastation wrought by money bail,” said Peter Goldberg, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. “What we require is a system that truly protects the presumption of innocence for all New Yorkers, in all cases; that provides support, not unnecessary and harmful supervision; and that addresses the pervasive racial disparities that exist at every stage of the criminal legal process.”