President Obama spoke to the nation Wednesday, July 15, about a problem facing all citizens — the continued lack of confidence in our criminal-justice system. The issue is, Obama said, “a source of inequity that has ripple effects on families and on communities and ultimately on our nation.”
New Yorkers understand these challenges all too well, and haven’t been immune to the tragedies that occur when the justice system breaks down. At its core, that breakdown fosters a lack of trust in the same individuals the system is designed to protect.
That’s why last week, New York took a historic step to address a very specific, yet profoundly impactful, outgrowth of this lack of trust. I issued an executive order appointing the state attorney general to investigate and prosecute cases involving police officers who in their official capacities allegedly cause the death of an unarmed person.
My order ensures that there will be a full, fair and thorough review of each case, and it will remove any question of bias in the prosecution of those cases.
President Obama also raised a second concern in his remarks — our country’s rapidly growing prison population, and in particular, the increase in incarceration of nonviolent offenders. New York has once again become a leader in addressing this issue.
Since taking office in 2011, my administration has closed 13 prisons in the state, and New York has been a national leader in working on alternatives to incarceration that have included providing millions of dollars in grant funding for services that helped reduce crime and avoid further victimization. The result: 6,000 fewer inmates in our prison system, $162 million in tax savings for our citizens and more people getting the services they need to become productive New Yorkers.
But there is more work to be done.
As governor, I have the obligation to ensure that the laws of the state are faithfully executed. This responsibility compels me to do all that I can to make certain that all New Yorkers are treated equally under the law. Which is why I remain committed to putting in place additional reforms to the criminal-justice system that will have a real impact in NY.
One such reform I remain committed to seeing through is ensuring that 16- and 17-year-olds are treated as the juveniles that they are. Evidence shows that early interventions and focused, alternative programming for young offenders reduce recidivism rates, which is why New York must raise the age of criminal responsibility, and I will work with the Legislature to make this happen.
Further, the executive order I signed last week appointing a special prosecutor is a step in the right direction.
However, as I’ve said before, I remain committed to a permanent, statutory fix to what ails our criminal-justice system.
Specifically, implementing an independent review process for the grand-jury system in cases involving police officers and civilian deaths will ensure that these matters where bias, or a perception of such bias, exists will forever receive a fair and independent review.
Finally, New York must work collaboratively with our brave and heroic police officers who risk their lives every day to ensure the safety of our communities.
It’s important that New Yorkers are protected by diverse police forces reflecting the make-up of the communities they serve. This is why my administration will continue to work with counties, cities and towns to increase the minority representation on our local police departments throughout the state.
We can’t allow the inequities in the justice system to become even more of a crisis than it already is. That’s why it’s absolutely imperative that the Legislature come back next session ready to work with me to put in place a criminal-justice reform package that will provide assurances to the public that we haven’t turned our back on the people of NY.
We must instill renewed confidence in our government and in law enforcement by making sure that all New Yorkers know they’ll be treated equally under the law.
(First published in the New York Post)