Criminal Justice Reform

Criminal Justice Reform

For immediate release: October 24, 2018

Hawkins Calls for Criminal Justice Reforms to Stop Discrimination Against the Poor and People of Color

Binghamton – Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor, called today for an overhaul of the state’s criminal justice system to ensure that all people are treated fairly regardless of race, age or economic status.

Hawkins stated his support to abolish cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies; enforcement of the right for a speedy trial; full funding for a statewide public defenders’ office; banning solitary confinement; ban the box; and passage of the Child Victims Act.

Hawkins has long called for an end to the war on drugs starting with the legalization of marijuana. He also repeated his call for the establishment of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to address the impact of mass incarceration on people of color.

"The goal of the Commission is to create a venue to explore the ways the state’s drug policies and justice system generally have led to high incarceration rates and, in effect, legal discrimination against those with criminal records — especially within the black and Latino communities," said Hawkins.

"There are tens of thousands of collateral consequences of incarceration – from lack of access to public housing, to ineligibility for college loans, to getting a job – that have effectively dropped record numbers of black and brown people into second class citizenship. We have to end the war on drugs, treat drug abuse as a health problem instead of a criminal problem, and repair the lives and communities the drug war has destroyed," he added.

Hawkins called for passage of "Kalief's Law" to eliminate unjustified trial delays. It will allow judges to set the "trial clock" deadlines by which prosecutors have to bring cases to trial. The law is named after Kalief Browder, who as a 16-year-old was arrested in New York City for allegedly stealing a backpack and sent to Rikers Island, where he was held for three years — two of them in solitary confinement — without a trial before the charges were dropped for lack of evidence.

Traumatized by his experience, Kalief committed suicide a few years after release at age 22. His brother Akeem Browder ran as the Green Party candidate for Mayor last year to draw attention to the issue.

Hawkins also supports passing an Open File Discovery to make prosecutors' files open to defendants, with exceptions only when a judge rules turning over certain evidence might endanger a witness.

Hawkins also believes that state needs to do more to assist those who have been convicted of a crime integrate back into society as productive members.  He would expand Alternatives to Incarceration such as the use of probation and work release for paying fines; victim restitution; and community service. He would pass the Safe Parole Act to shift the focus from punishment to incentives that help parolees reintegrate into society by establishing a transparent and accountable parole system that enables inmates to earn parole by successfully completing rehabilitative and educational programs.

Hawkins supports providing educational opportunities for all incarcerated individuals, from basic literacy and numeracy to GED to college and vocational courses. He would re-establish Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) eligibility for prisoners and include prisoners in free tuition at SUNY, CUNY, and community colleges.

Hawkins supports the state adopting statewide Ban the Box legislation. Ban the Box would end the practice of employers and public colleges such as SUNY using criminal history on initial applications, which automatically disqualifies applicants who are fully qualified. Criminal history would be assessed after an initial offer of employment or school enrollment has been offered.

Hawkins also wants to a law requiring county sheriffs to not hold immigrants in county jails at the request of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), only by a court order. He also opposes housing detained immigrants on behalf of federal authorities in county jails.

New York should be a sanctuary state that protects our immigrants from illegitimate federal harassment that scares them away from any cooperation with law enforcement at any level. It’s a public safety issue for all of us as well as a human rights issue for immigrants. We have to bring our county sheriff’s departments into line with policies that limit state employees cooperation with federal immigration enforcement if New York is truly to be a sanctuary state,” Hawkins said.

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