News & Politics

Helping NYers Released From Jail Is Good. Not Putting Them There In The First Place Is Better

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Last week, City Hall announced that during Bill de Blasio’s time in office, the city’s jail population has decreased 18 percent, continuing a 25-year downward trend that begun during the Giuliani administration, when the city’s jails brimmed with an average of 21,500 people incarcerated every day at its peak in 1992. Now down to consistently below 10,000, New York City has among the lowest incarceration rates of major American cities, but owes that success more to its density than any reluctance to incarcerate. The breakdown of race in the city’s jails paints a better picture of what’s actually happening: almost 90 percent of inmates in the city’s jails are Black or Latino, even though those two demographics make up just 54 percent of the city’s population.

It’s abundantly clear that New York City’s policing focuses overwhelmingly on communities of color, and the quickest way to lower the city’s jail population would be to draw back on the type of policing that targets those communities. The de Blasio administration, however, has other ideas.

Pouncing on the decrease in the jail population, the de Blasio administration yesterday put forward a plan to further drive down those numbers by focusing on recidivism among people leaving city jails. This comes after the Bloomberg plan to bring down recidivism, a market-driven “social impact bond,” championed by de Blasio deputy mayor Alicia Glen (who, at the time, worked for Goldman Sachs), failed miserably.

“Everyone deserves a second chance. We’re working to break the cycle of returning to jail for those in City custody by making sure they have opportunities to learn and grow while in jail, and connecting them with the re-entry services to support a pathway to stability when they leave,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said when announcing the plan.

The plan would extend education services at Rikers Island, as well as provide those who have served sentences with temporary jobs. Everyone who enters a city jail would be given a “re-entry counselor,” but the temporary jobs would only go to people who have “served sentences”; 85 percent of people on Rikers Island are pre-trial, meaning that the promise of jobs could possibly be used to incentivize taking a plea deal.

City Hall dismissed the idea the program would ever be wielded in such a way, admitting that at its early phase, the jobs program was “narrow” and focused on a population that they could more easily monitor than those who eventually win their cases. Plus, the jobs are only for either two-week or eight-week periods, hardly employment enough for someone to give up their claim to innocence.

Still, de Blasio’s plan leaves out a huge amount of the incarcerated people who shouldn’t even be there in the first place. From July to December of 2016, almost 2,300 people in city jails were being charged with either a misdemeanor or violation as their top charges, reflecting the de Blasio administration’s reliance on the continued policing of low-level crimes known as “Broken Windows.” While the administration continues to tout drops in the number of arrests from the scorched-earth policies of his predecessor, the NYPD is still arresting 226,549 people a year on misdemeanor charges, clogging up the city’s courts and jails from seeing even further drops. By focusing on the wrong end of the criminal justice system, the mayor has turned a blind eye to the role that Broken Windows plays in putting people in jail in the first place, all the while spending more and more money on the NYPD.

During a press conference in front of City Hall today, where the NYPD is currently testifying on behalf of its bloated budget, opponents of “Broken Windows” policing decried the mayor’s interest reducing recidivism while propping up low-level policing.

“The NYPD is waging a war against the poor and the people of color in New York City,” said Daniel Carillo, of the New York Worker Center Federation. “We want the city to begin to finally listen to the communities. It’s time to start investing in actual people, and not more money to prisons.”