NY1: Is The Tough-on-Crime Era Over?

By Juan Manuel Benitez
April 17, 2019

The tough-on-crime era seems to be over, it's more about what crimes not to prosecute when it comes to the Democratic race for Queens District Attorney.

"There's gotta be a recalibration on how the criminal justice system treats everyone in the city," says José Luis Morín, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "So this should be a very positive moment."

After decades of heavy policing and crime prosecution in New York, Queens is following the lead from Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, boroughs that have elected younger, left-leaning DA's in the last decade.

"The question starts to become how we can build communities that are safe and responding to the needs of our community members," says Anne Oredeko, Supervising Attorney in the Racial Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society.

Queens DA Richard Brown is retiring after almost thirty years in the job, and the seven democrats to replace him are promising big reforms ahead of a primary in June.

The most conservative, like Melinda Katz, are pledging not to prosecute marijuana possession cases.

The most progressive, like Rory Lancman, Tiffany Cabán and Mina Malik, also want to stop prosecuting crimes like prostitution and fare evasion.

For Maki Haberfeld, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, these candidates are taking it too far.

"This is a message to everybody who has a propensity to violate the laws, ok, I can do it, there are no consequences," Haberfeld says.

"The question is, where is the middle ground? Do you include draconian penalties for minor violations. No. Can you include alternatives to incarceration? Yes, but it doesn't mean people shouldn't be prosecuted."

Morín disagrees.

He said the system has unevenly punished black and Latinos and that realization is forcing change.

"New York City is in a very important point in its history around criminal justice issues. And a lot of that has to do also with the demographics," Morín said.

All candidates are also on board with closing the jail complex on Rikers Island. And some want to drastically reduce the number of incarcerated people.

The democratic primary for Queens DA is on June 25th.