Bronx Justice News: Exclusive: 24-Hour Cash Bail Window Set to Open in Bronx This Summer, City Says, But Critics Remain Skeptical

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By Kevin Deutsch
May 22, 2019

Five months after the de Blasio administration missed a deadline to open a 24-hour cash bail window in the Bronx courthouse, city corrections officials say they expect to have the payment center up and running this summer.

“We want people who are eligible for bail to be back home with their families, in their communities,” DOC spokesperson Peter Thorne told Bronx Justice News. “We are committed to bail reform and to complying with all local laws and will continue to work toward making paying bail as easy as possible. The bail payment window at the Bronx courthouse is expected to be completed this summer.”

A law passed in 2017 required an around-the-clock cash bail option be made available within a half-mile of courthouses in each borough, and corrections officials assured City Council members in December the Bronx window would be ready by New Years Day.

But the payment center has never opened, leading the Council’s Oversight and Investigations Unit to issue a report in March finding “that almost two years since the passage of the Bail-Easement Laws, DOC is still failing to provide individuals with a simple, timely way to pay bail and is substantially out of compliance with many provisions of the Bail-Easement Laws.”

Now, the corrections department tells Bronx Justice News it expects to begin accepting around-the-clock cash bail at the borough’s arraignment court, at 215 East 161st Street, this summer.

Installation of the window is nearly complete, according to the DOC, which provided a photograph (above) of what it said was the payment center location as of Monday. The site is on the lower level of the courthouse, to the right of the escalators.

Construction is being handled in-house by DOC staff, officials said.

As for why the window has not yet opened for transactions—in compliance with what critics say is a clearly written statute—DOC says it chose to focus first on opening a cash bail window in Queens, since the department had no facility with an around-the-clock, cash bail option in that borough.

DOC said it next began the process of identifying a location for the Bronx bail window, and moved as quickly as it could to construct the space.

Despite the missed January deadline, DOC argues it remains in compliance with the applicable bail law, which states: “The department shall accept or facilitate the acceptance of cash bail payments for inmates in the custody of the department: (i) at any courthouse of the New York City Criminal Court, (ii) at any location within one half mile of any such courthouse during all operating hours of such courthouse and at least two hours subsequent to such courthouse’s closing, or (iii) online.”

The city last year launched an online bail payment system, which accepts credit and debit cards, but not cash. The lack of an around-the-clock cash bail option in the Bronx—as well as Staten Island, which is also waiting on a 24-hour bail window—means the city is still violating city law, critics say.

DOC insists its 24-hour online bail payment option meets the letter—if not the spirit—of the law.

Currently, online bail may be paid while a defendant is still in the courthouse after arraignment, in transit, or housed at a DOC facility.

On court dates following an arraignment, bail must be paid directly at the courthouse’s cashier window.

The City Council’s March report said DOC’s online bail option was “underutilized” and “not widely available” to Bronxites. It also found that “blackout periods still exist” when no cash bail can be paid.

“At this point, to the extent that it’s complying with anything, it’s complying with its own self-imposed and self-granted extensions of the deadline that the law lays out,” Elizabeth Bender, staff attorney with the Decarceration Project at The Legal Aid Society, said of the DOC. “If past is prologue, we have no reason to believe they will comply with this drastically expanded deadline.”

But, Bender says, she hopes DOC has the window “up and running by the summer, for the sake of the people who continue to be arrested.”

About 18,000 people are bailed out every year after being booked into Rikers Island jails, with about 75 percent making bail within one week of being detained, according to DOC data.

Bail reform laws passed in Albany this year are expected to drastically reduce the number of court defendants for whom judge’s can set bail, with most expected to be released immediately after arraignment starting in 2020.

Elena Weissmann, Director of the Bronx Freedom Fund, said the borough’s cash bail window would be “the difference between someone going to jail and not,” since an around-the-clock cash option would allow people to pay cash bail before their loved one reaches Rikers.

The island is nine miles from the Bronx courthouse, and, crucially for those paying bail, not easily accessible by car or public transit.

The 24-hour cash bail window would “radically change” the dynamic for Bronxites who need to secure the release of loved ones, said Weissmann, whose nonprofit posts bail for low-income New Yorkers.

“This is a regulation that shouldn’t have to exist at all,” she said of the law mandating a local cash bail option. “We’re talking about people who are presumed innocent and are incarcerated for their poverty.”

Brooklyn Eagle: Frequently sued East Flatbush cop in the hot seat again

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Noah Goldberg
May 22, 2019

An NYPD sergeant who was sued at least six times in 2018 is being sued again, this time by a group of four who claim the officer unconstitutionally arrested them during J’Ouvert last year, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 1, 2018, Michael Demas, who leads a steel drum band called Hearts of Steel, was arrested along with Catherine Nunes, Gwynn Glasgow and Jennifer Frederick at a pan yard in East Flatbush.

Pan yards are meetings in NYPD-approved spaces where steel drum bands can practice their music. Hearts of Steel was practicing for a steel band competition during J’Ouvert called Panorama. A crowd had gathered, listening to the music and eating food provided by Frederick and Nunes.

“I don’t know what happened. They [the cops] came to the yard, the pan yard. That’s where we was handcuffed,” said Michael Demas, who is unsure if he will attend J’Ouvert or if his band will play at Panorama this year, due to his apprehension of the police.

The arrests were orchestrated by Alan Chau, a sergeant in East Flatbush’s 67th Precinct, according to the lawsuit. Chau was named in at least six other lawsuits in 2018 alone, according to data from The Legal Aid Society.

The NYPD did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Demas was arrested for obstruction of governmental administration, according to the lawsuit. The three women were arrested for operating an unlicensed bottle club. They all deny providing, consuming, or selling alcohol at the event. Demas denies impairing governmental administration in any way.

While there may have been alcohol at the pan yard where Hearts of Steel was practicing, Demas and the women say that all the food they were serving was free and that the event was not for profit. The law against operating an unlicensed bottle club requires that it be for profit.

Three of the lawsuits against Chau accused him of arresting people unconstitutionally for operating an unlicensed bottle club.

The four plaintiffs were taken to the 67th Precinct and were in custody for about 24 hours before being released on the morning of Sept. 2, 2018, according to the lawsuit. They all had their cases dismissed within six months.

The 67th Precinct was the third most-sued precinct in New York City between January 2015 and June 2018, according to CAPstat data. It also had the slowest response time to 911 calls in all of Brooklyn last year.

Demas – who is from Trinidad and has lived in New York for more than 30 years – believes that West Indian people, especially during J’Ouvert, are unfairly policed. “We don’t really get certain privileges or we always get the bottom of it. It’s very, very tough,” he said. “The police are on a crusade to do away with [J’Ouvert]. All we tried to do is just live our culture in a different place.”

“We hope that this lawsuit will put an end to the pattern and practice of reckless and unconstitutional policing by Sergeant Chau and other officers of the 67th precinct,” said Abraham Rubert-Schewel, the attorney representing the plaintiffs.

“J’Ouvert is an incredibly important cultural event for the Carribean community, and the vast majority of participants are non-criminal and non-violent,” Rubert-Schewel added. “The arrests in this case of a 40-year-old, 58-year-old, 65- and 71-year-old, while watching a steel band perform, are perfect examples of the overpolicing that can accompany J’Ouvert.”

The Sergeants Benevolent Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Patch: NYPD Won't Alter Pot Arrest Policy Despite Race Disparity Concern

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The NYPD has no plan to change exceptions to a go-easy policy for public marijuana smoking despite concerns that they fuel racial disparities.

NYPD cops in September started giving out criminal summonses to New Yorkers caught smoking pot in public instead of arresting them. But the grace doesn't apply to several groups of people who have had past entanglements with the criminal system, such as those on parole or probation or with active arrest warrants.

While the shift has corresponded with a sharp drop in arrests, advocates worry the exemptions have contributed to a racial disparity in who gets cuffed for using a drug that's legal in several states. But police officials have stood by them — an NYPD spokeswoman said Wednesday that there are currently no plans to revise the policy.

"The NYPD believes the current marijuana policy allows officers to do their jobs effectively and safely, and in a way that always promotes public safety and quality of life for all New Yorkers," the spokeswoman, Sgt. Jessica McRorie, said in a statement.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD announced the more lenient approach to public pot smoking last year amid concerns about a longstanding racial disparity in marijuana arrests.

But the disparity has persisted — Black and Hispanic people accounted for 92 percent of the 606 low-level marijuana arrests in the first three months of this year, NYPD statistics show. That rate is up from 89 percent in 2018 and 86 percent in 2017.

City Councilman Rory Lancman quoted those figures to Police Commissioner James O'Neill at a hearing last week, arguing that the exceptions to the NYPD's policy inherently expose more people of color to arrest.

"If you're excluding from benefits of the new policy people who have criminal justice system involvement, well, in this city, because of decades of our criminal justice system and policing strategies, overwhelmingly the people who have criminal justice system involvement are people of color," the Queens Democrat said.

But O'Neill pointed to the nearly 89 percent drop in low-level marijuana arrests this year — there were just 436 in the first three months of 2019, down from 3,947 in the same period last year, he said.

And a total of 9,794 black and Hispanic people were arrested for pot-related offenses last year, a roughly 50 percent decrease from more than 19,700 in 2017, according to statistics McRorie provided.

O'Neill expressed concern about the racial disparities and said the NYPD wants to work with the council to reduce them. But when Lancman asked if he would consider changing the exceptions, he said, "At this time, no."

"I think the exceptions that I outlined are an important component of our overall enforcement effort and overall crime strategy effort," O'Neill said at last week's hearing.

Legal Aid Society attorney Anthony Posada said the exemptions in the current policy are "another pathway to continue criminalizing" communities of color. But he said a deeper solution would be to legalize marijuana altogether, a step that officials are considering at the state level.

"Nobody ever said that legalization is going to cure racism in policing," said Posada, who is the supervising attorney of Legal Aid's Community Justice Unit. "… What it does is that it takes away at least one of those tools to continue making arrests and funneling people through the criminal justice system."

Dawne Mitchell Appointed to New York State Permanent Judicial Commission On Justice for Children

Dawne Mitchell, Attorney-in-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice

Dawne Mitchell, Attorney-in-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice

The Honorable Janet DeFiore, Chief Judge of the State of New York, has appointed Dawne Mitchell, Attorney-in-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice, to serve as a member of the New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children.

“The Commission’s members . . . are dedicated to promoting the well being of our young people through policy reforms and educational efforts aimed at improving the delivery of justice to children and families,” Chief Judge DiFiore wrote.  “Based on your extensive experience and demonstrated commitment to our family justice system, I have every confidence that you will make an important contribution to the Commission’s work and mission.”

NYLJ: City Children's Services Unlawfully Sent Juveniles Back to Detention, State Judge Finds

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By Colby Hamilton
May 21, 2019

A Manhattan state Supreme Court judge found the city’s Administration of Children’s Services unlawfully sent children back to detention for years, thanks in large part to the vacuum created by state officials who have failed to create critical rules following legislation passed in 2012.

Supreme Court Justice Carol Edmead recently issued an order detailing the situation that has led public defenders to argue hundreds of children were wrongfully reincarcerated by ACS.

The dynamics flow from the failure of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services to put together rules for how ACS would handle the revocation for so-called aftercare, the juvenile justice equivalent of parole.

The petitioner in the case, identified by the initials J.D., brought an Article 78 proceeding against ACS, seeking an annulment of his caseworker’s decision to revoke his aftercare in October 2018.

ACS was empowered by the “Close to Home” initiative, first proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the 2012-13 executive budget. The law allows ACS to place children found to be delinquent in residential services and aftercare programs. The point of the legislation was to keep youths close and in contact with their families, as a way of increasing the likelihood of successful reintegration after being released. The issue, as Edmead noted, was that, while the law sought to empower ACS to return children in its custody to facilities should aftercare be revoked, the state agency failed for years to actually put together the rules framework for parole release, supervision, and revocation.

“It is undisputed that OCFS has not promulgated any regulations governing the revocation of aftercare,” the Supreme Court noted. Rather, ACS has been relying on an internal policy for how to deal with revocations, even receiving OCFS approval by March 2019.

However, Edmead noted that even with the approval, internal policies “promulgated without an express grant of legislative authority, have no force of law.”

In a statement, Legal Aid Society juvenile rights practice attorney-in-charge Dawne Mitchell called Edmead’s ruling a “major victory,” but not a complete one, as “the damage has already been done for the hundreds of youth whose aftercare was revoked in an unlawful and capricious fashion.”

According to the Legal Aid Society, OCFS is in the process of promulgating rules in response to the litigation. A spokeswoman pointed to emergency regulations recently published by OCFS. These emergency rules have been put forward for public comment, which ends July 8. Finalized rules are likely expected at some point after the public comment period ends.

An ACS spokeswoman directed questions about the litigation to the city’s Law Department. A spokesman for the Law Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Chalkbeat: Carranza says changes to NYC’s school discipline manual are coming soon. Here are 4 questions we’re asking.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza chats with school safety agents on Staten Island.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza chats with school safety agents on Staten Island.

By Alex Zimmerman

May 21, 2019

Chancellor Richard Carranza is poised to unveil the results of his overhaul of school discipline policies — and the changes could be significant.

Carranza said recently he is “very close” to announcing his recommended changes to the code, which governs acceptable behavior and punishments for students across the city. The chancellor — who has has been much more forceful in calling out racial disparities in student punishments than his predecessor — has said there will be “no sacred cows” as he rethinks the manual.

After two rounds of changes to school discipline policies since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014, suspensions have fallen by 32 percent, though big disparities have persisted.

The chancellor has signaled that reducing suspensions and racial disparities will be at the center of the education department’s revisions.

“We’ve driven down suspensions and suspension lengths while crime has also fallen, but there’s a lot more work to do to advance equity now,” education department spokesperson Miranda Barbot wrote in a statement.

But what, exactly, is under consideration and how would any edits to the discipline code affect students and educators? The education department declined to say what is under consideration, but here are four questions we’re asking.

Will the city cut down on lengthy suspensions?

Suspensions have generally fallen, but lengthier out-of-school suspensions have remained relatively steady under de Blasio. Discipline reform advocates are hoping the city will aggressively cut down on these so-called “superintendent” suspensions, which were handed out more than 10,000 times last school year and which can last from six days up to an entire school year.

“I didn’t even know what I was missing, but as soon as Chalkbeat’s info started rolling in, it was like a part of my brain just started lighting up. You need what they have to offer.” — Tim L.

These suspensions often result in students being removed from their school and sent to a suspension center, often disrupting their studies and landing them in an environment that some have described as feeling like jail. Almost 90% of out-of-school suspensions were issued to black or Hispanic students last school year, a group that comprises 67% of the city’s students

City officials have strongly hinted that changes could be coming. A spokesperson previously said the mayor is “concerned with the length of our suspensions.” And the education department has quietly started sending students back to class faster after they are suspended.

“I would expect suspension caps in terms of length,” said Dawn Yuster, the school justice project director at Advocates for Children. A bill making its way through the state legislature would cap suspensions at 20 days and eliminate suspensions for students in grades K-3, but it is not clear whether it will pass before the session ends in June or whether the city will consider those changes on its own.

Racial disparities have persisted despite fewer suspensions. Can the city tackle that? Disparities in who gets suspended have remained stubborn despite two waves of discipline reforms under de Blasio. Black students receive about 46% of the city’s suspensions, despite being 26% of the student body, according to the most recent suspension data. Black students are also more likely to receive harsher punishments for the same offenses as students from other racial backgrounds, an Independent Budget Office report found.

One approach to reduce those disparities, advocates say, would be to limit the discretion educators have in punishing students and eliminating minor and more subjective infractions such as “insubordination.” (The education department now requires extra approval to suspend a student for insubordination, though other large districts have scrapped similar violations entirely.)

Cara Chambers, the director of the Legal Aid Society’s education advocacy project, pointed to infraction B24, which covers everything from spitting to throwing chalk. Students who are cited for B24 can receive punishments ranging from a meeting with school officials to an out-of-school suspension for two weeks. “There’s a lot of discretion there that leaves room for bias or racial discrimination to sneak in,” she said.

How will educators respond? Some educators and union officials have pushed back against efforts to curtail suspensions, arguing the efforts have created less orderly classrooms.

Chanan Kessler, who has recently taught at two Bronx high schools, said he’s not in favor of another round of discipline reforms and worries about what the effects might be. After multiple overhauls of the discipline code, he said, educators felt pressure not to suspend students for fear of attracting scrutiny from supervisors or education department officials.

As a result, “students felt like they could be roaming the halls, cutting class, engaging in other behaviors that sort of lends to [a] chaotic atmosphere,” Kessler said. He said he has not received explicit training on restorative justice, an approach favored by the city that relies on mediation, discussions to ferret out the root causes of conflict, and other interventions in lieu of suspensions.

“I think schools have to have some tools,” he said, referring to suspensions. Any changes to the discipline code will require the city to hold public hearings before they’re adopted.

Will the city boost training for alternatives to suspensions? One thing supporters and critics of discipline reform agree on: The education department has not paired its mandate to reduce suspensions with enough training to effectively transition to more restorative approaches.

An education department spokesperson wrote in an email that the city spends $47 million each year on a series of initiatives, including mental health restorative justice, and an additional $23 million on anti-bias training. Officials could not say how many schools or educators citywide had received restorative justice training.

Nelson Mar, an attorney at Bronx Legal Services who supports discipline reforms, stressed that additional trainings are essential. Without helping educators across the city adapt to restorative approaches, “it’s likely you’re going to experience significant pushback, you won’t get that buy in,” he said, “and you’ll see these efforts significantly frustrated.”

Queens Eagle: Manhattan judge determines city unlawfully jailed juvenile parolees

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By David Brand
May 21, 2019

A Manhattan State Supreme Court judge determined last week that the Administration for Children’s Services unlawfully sent paroled kids back to jail despite a reform initiative meant to keep them out of detention and near their communities.

Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Carol Edmead ruled May 13 that ACS violated the state’s 2012 “Close to Home” measure, which was designed to keep children on parole in ACS “aftercare” custody near their homes.

The Office of Children and Family Services was supposed to develop regulations to give ACS authority over parole and supervision, but never did. In the absence of the OCFS regulations, ACS developed its own standards for revoking parole and re-incarcerating children, in violation of state law.

The Legal Aid Society filed the lawsuit against ACS on behalf of a juvenile client in October 2018. But the result came too late for many children unlawfully incarcerated, said Dawne Mitchell, attorney-in-charge of Legal Aid’s Juvenile Rights Practice.

“This ruling finds that ACS unlawfully deprived our clients and others of their liberty and re-incarcerated as they saw fit without working off of any valid regulations,” Mitchell said. “This is a major victory, but the damage has already been done for the hundreds of youth whose aftercare was revoked in an unlawful and capricious fashion. We thank the Court for righting this injustice.”

Bklyner: LookBack Law Could Change Rental Game

By Kadia Goba
May 21, 20190

Three years ago, Barbara Boon rented a room in Crown Heights for $975 a month on exrny.com – an online portal for apartment-seeking New Yorkers. With two dogs in tow, she moved into her spacious 3-bedroom share. Three years later she discovered she and her three apartment mates were living in an illegally converted two-bedroom that in 2009 leased as a rent-stabilized apartment for $702.

Combined, Boon and her roommates pay $4,465, nearly six times what their apartment listed a decade ago. Rent-regulated apartments are subjected to a 2.5% annual increase, but this unit appears to have lost its exemption, albeit under a veil of obscurity.

In 2010, the landlord failed to register the rent-stabilized apartment with the state’s Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) agency — an arm of the state’s housing agency responsible for supervising and protecting affordable housing. Then in 2011, the landlord self-reported major changes, therefore, exempting the unit from rent-stabilization.

Bklyner reporting is supported by our subscribers and: Right Sidebar Fast forward eight years later those details cannot be included in any claims put forth by the tenant because of a 1990s regulation that limits the HCR from looking past four years of rent history, called the 4-year-rule.

There are hundreds of stories just like this one. Tenants who prove their apartments were rent-stabilized can file a complaint with HCR to recover overcharge penalties. But the strict four-year window often leaves tenants without any recourse.

Now, as Albany lawmakers attempt to pass nine key rent regulation laws before the June deadline, State Sen. Myrie is targeting the restrictive statue in what he’s dubbed the Lookback Bill.

Bill S4169 would eliminate the statute so that the New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) considers a tenant’s entire rent history. In addition, the proposed legislation would allow tenants to recover penalties dating as far back as six years, a policy more in line with the state’s contract law.

“When a landlord is coming to you to pay rent every month, they do so under the guise that this is a contract,” said Myrie. “In all other areas of contract law, the statue of limitation is six years, not four. This is a gift to the real estate industry to curtail people’s ability to look,” said Myrie of the difference between contract law and the state’s four-year restrictions.

The four-story walk-up where Boon lives belongs to Zalman Biederman who, among other tenant-related disputes, is in court fighting a claim to repay thousands of dollars for illegally converting rent-regulated apartments to market rate apartments.

Biederman isn’t the only one.

Judith Goldiner of The Legal Aid Society says it’s common to hear about landlords shielding themselves behind the four-year rule after they’ve unlawfully increased a tenant’s rent. Many of which use scatter sites and preferential rent scenarios to deregulate rent-stabilized apartments, according to Goldinger.

“This bill is really about eliminating landlord fraud as much as we can,” said Goldiner who is currently in court with embattled landlord Barry Hers of 250 Clarkson Avenue over complaints in connection with the 4-year-rule. “We see it all the time, these huge rent increases that have no basis.”

State Sens. Andrew Gounardes and Julia Salazar are co-sponsors of the bill, the latter of which introduced her own rent regulation bills ahead of the June 15 deadline. Currently, the Lookback bill is in the Senate’s Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee. If the bill passes, it would apply immediately to all claims pending or filed on and after.

“As you know, particularly here in Brooklyn, tenancies turnover pretty quickly and people shouldn’t be penalized because they didn’t know they were being overcharged.”

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SI Advance: Time for change: Current criminal justice system favors the government

By Christopher Pisciotta
May 21, 2019

District Attorney Michael McMahon

District Attorney Michael McMahon writes an impassioned plea to maintain status quo, if not turn back time. We have a flawed criminal justice system that incarcerates poor people who cannot afford to buy their freedom and that allows prosecutors to withhold evidence from people to encourage submission to the prosecution. The old scales of justice tilt in the favor of the government. A tilted scale of justice is injustice. Albany is upending the scales to bring them back in fair balance.

Our old, flawed criminal justice system can drive innocent New Yorkers to plead guilty to offenses they did not commit just to secure freedom from incarceration, to return to their families, their work and schools, and their communities. DA McMahon would continue the use of the current cash bail system, holding people who lack community resources and social services in jail until the resolution of charges, whether a person is accused of stealing a sandwich or possessing drugs as a non-violent felony. People then need money to secure liberty, leaving many sitting in jail, awaiting their day in Court. Many will then be given the draconian choice -- plead guilty to be free, or wait in jail for a trial. Albany enacted the will of New Yorkers who believe that our criminal legal system is unjust and want to put an end to mass incarceration. The vast majority of New Yorkers support these changes.

Our criminal justice system couples cash bail with “blindfold” laws, withholding critical information from the accused. Our current discovery statutes, the laws that set forth the minimal documents and items a prosecutor must provide, allow prosecutors without penalty to withhold key evidence from the accused and counsel until the very day of trial. Prosecutors can withhold and refuse to provide timely police reports, witness statements, grand jury testimony and other forms of evidence that the police and prosecution gathered. New York’s discovery laws are one of the most restrictive in the nation and have been referred as the “blindfold” laws as they force the accused to make vital decisions, to go to trial or to plead guilty, without knowing critical information and evidence. The two critical failures of our system, taking liberty away and withholding evidence, create the perfect environment that led to prosecutor abuse and the innocent going to jail.

Many “progressive” States -- North Carolina, Texas, Ohio, and New Jersey -- rewrote the laws to provide full and early discovery. This allows an accused to make an informed decision and to do it earlier in the process. Full and early discovery reduces the risk of coercive pleas, deters prosecutor abuse and lead to a just and fair result. Despite the fear mongering by prosecutors, the safety and interests of victims of crime are still protected under the law. DA McMahon failed to mention the provisions that allow the court to control discovery to protect victim interests where appropriate. And, crime has not run rampant with greater discovery to the accused. Just cross the Verrazano Bridge and ask District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, where open file discovery has been provided to the accused for decades.

It is concerning when our elected district attorney turns to ’80s images of “wild gangs” and “violent thugs” to scare our community, our state, not to move forward and fix our criminal justice system. These reforms have been long needed. We cannot continue to use bail to force people to give up their day in court. We cannot force people to make such critical constitutionally-protected decisions as to trial without being informed of the nature of the evidence. State after state have shown there is a better way, a fairer balance of the needs of the accused as to the safety interests of the community. I hope DA McMahon will reconsider and join us.

Legal Aid Lauds Ruling Which Finds That ACS Unlawfully Re-incarcerated Hundreds of Local Children Since 2012

The Legal Aid Society lauded a recent ruling in New York State Supreme Court which found that the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) had been unlawfully re-incarcerating hundreds of children since 2012, after the implementation of “Close to Home” – a juvenile justice reform initiative designed to keep youth close to their families and community.

Up until the implementation of “Close to Home,” youth adjudicated as juvenile delinquents were placed in the custody of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS). State regulations governed how OCFS could release a youth on parole (aftercare); supervise that release; and revoke that release. After “Close to Home” became law, Legal Aid clients and other youth were placed in the custody of ACS in the boroughs.

The legislation also contemplated a framework for parole release, supervision, and revocation - to be overseen by ACS - but the law required OCFS to promulgate regulations to grant ACS that authority. OCFS never promulgated such regulations – which OCFS acknowledged in an April 2019 memo justifying the promulgation of emergency regulations for the first time – and for years, ACS and individual hearing officers unlawfully manufactured an entire scheme for parole and parole revocation, which led to the unlawful re-incarceration of hundreds of New York City youth.

Without lawful regulations in effect, hearing officers arbitrarily determined whether to apply an internal ACS policy – which the Court ruled lacked any authority – or outdated OCFS regulations, that were inapplicable to ACS. As a result, Legal Aid attorneys were unable to predict the framework under which parole would be revoked. These ad hoc policies resulted in inconsistent outcomes and arbitrary determinations.

Additionally, ACS forbade the hearing officers from considering mitigating evidence, in violation of settled constitutional law. Accordingly, if ACS established a technical and minor violation, the hearing officers were mandated to re-incarcerate the child. Under well-established law, hearing officers should be required to consider all less drastic alternatives, including modifying the release conditions and ordering additional supportive services.

In its emergency justification statement, OCFS acknowledged that “presently, the Office does not have regulations governing the release and revocation of such youth.”

“This ruling finds that ACS unlawfully deprived our clients and others of their liberty and re-incarcerated as they saw fit without working off of any valid regulations,” said Dawne Mitchell, Attorney-In-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “This is a major victory, but the damage has already been done for the hundreds of youth whose aftercare was revoked in an unlawful and capricious fashion. We thank the Court for righting this injustice.”

The Legal Aid Society brought this lawsuit on behalf of a client whose parole was revoked, and who was returned to detention, not for a new crime but for alleged reporting and curfew violations, and for allegedly not remaining in his mother’s home, when our client testified that his mother would not allow him into the home. The decision transcends this individual case and bolsters the Legal Aid Society’s efforts to gain relief for all youth clients who were unlawfully re-incarcerated.

This past April, OCFS published emergency regulations for ACS in response to Legal Aid’s litigation and those rules are in the process of being promulgated. OCFS also agreed with Legal Aid and the Court on this issue.