By Elisa Nolasco
The United States Constitution guarantees the presumption of innocence, yet 67% of New York’s incarcerated population is legally innocent. Thousands of New Yorkers are sitting behind bars across the state awaiting trial due to countless hurdles—particularly targeting working class communities—in our broken criminal justice system. It costs the state close to $2.5 billion per year to incarcerate New Yorkers in jails across the state, in addition to the $3.7 billion spent annually on state prisons. With midterm elections right around the corner, New Yorkers have the opportunity to elect representatives who will finally prioritize criminal justice reform rather than continue to allow mass incarceration to permeate throughout our state.
Advocates across the state have highlighted key policy reform initiatives that would begin to dismantle our broken criminal justice system. Bail reform has been a predominant area of advocacy, given that the current system places a price tag on the freedom of New Yorkers not yet convicted of a crime. The practice of money bail deprives New Yorkers living in poverty of the ability to maintain employment and custody of their children. To address this, our elected officials must put an end to money bail and ensure that pretrial detention be reserved exclusively for cases with significantly convincing evidence that the person presents a high risk of not appearing in court.
The unjust bail system coupled with a lack of speedy trials for accused individuals and an immense backlog of criminal cases results in people being incarcerated for years while awaiting the opportunity to present their case. A speedy trial should not be a vague term without a deadline. To make matters worse, these incarcerated New Yorkers are also legally denied access to vital evidence concerning their case until right before trial, ensuring that proper defense cannot be constructed and that the person in question remains in the dark about the case made against them. New Yorkers should have mandatory and early access to any and all evidence presented against them in order to have an equal opportunity to present their case.
Almost every elected official is up for reelection. Among these positions are all of New York’s seats in the House of Representatives and every seat in the state senate. Criminal justice reform has too often and too easily been ignored and November 6th can be when New Yorkers begin to change that. On election day, demand more from your elected officials. Demand that our constitutional right to the presumption of innocence be defended. Demand better and just use of our tax dollars. Demand the defense of civil liberties for all New Yorkers, not exclusively those with the ability to buy out of the system.
Although not all are pushing for the comprehensive reform that New Yorkers deserve, here are some of the representatives running in the midterm elections who have made criminal justice reform part of their platform.
- Julia Salazar (State Senate District 18)
- Catalina Cruz (Assembly District 39)
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Congressional District 14)
- Dana Balter (Congressional District 24)
- Antonio Delgado (Congressional District 19)
- Jose Serrano (Congressional District 15)