On April 1st, 2019, New York State passed historic pretrial legislation, overhauling our deeply unjust bail, discovery, and speedy trial systems. Westchester residents and New Yorkers across the state demanded and celebrated this legislation to end mass pretrial incarceration and the criminalization of Black and brown communities. In Westchester County in 2018, over 1,000 people languished in jail each night. Over 65% were pretrial – they had not been convicted but were behind bars because they could not afford bail. This system violated the presumption of innocence, criminalized low-income people, and led to the coercion of plea deals. It also wreaked havoc on the lives of tens of thousands of people each year. Imagine not being able to afford bail. It doesn’t take very long – a day, maybe a week – to lose your job or your home, not much longer to lose your healthcare, access to education or custody of your children.
In addition to this money bail system, New York had one of the worst discovery laws in the country. Prosecutors did not have to turn over evidence until a person went to trial. This means that people were often asked to take plea deals without even the basic facts of the case. Thanks to the leadership of Westchester residents and our County Legislature who passed a resolution in support of these reforms, this horrifying system will no longer be in place come January 1st.
In 2020, because of these legislative changes, many fewer people will be incarcerated pretrial. Prosecutors will now be required to turn over all evidence at the very beginning and before any plea deal. These are powerful, necessary changes. But real justice requires community investment in the neighborhoods that have been most devastated by mass incarceration. Our communities need affordable housing. Our communities need education. Our communities need job training. Our communities need mental health services. Our communities need quality, affordable healthcare.
DAs should reallocate existing resources to implement this important new legislation. This will require them to rethink how they prosecute, to bring fewer needless cases and to reprioritize and reallocate their resources.
Discovery reform is an opportunity for prosecutors to be more thoughtful about charging, to apply scrutiny on the front end so that they are not pursuing wrongful or needless cases. It is an opportunity to exercise true prosecutorial discretion.
For bail reform, there will be necessary funding allocations. The new legislation requires that courts provide court reminders. This is important to help make sure people remember they have court and make their court dates! The Department of Motor Vehicles does this to remind drivers when their inspection or registration is due. Additional funding to support transportation to court would also be welcome. We do not want to see pretrial services become a punitive system that makes it hard for people to keep their jobs or disrupt their ability to care for their families.
Fundamentally, what keeps us safe are community-based resources, housing, jobs, and other opportunities to meet our needs. As we enter into this crucial County budget season, we urge the County Executive to shrink the footprint of the criminal legal system and reinvest in our communities.
We urge you as residents to remind our elected officials to support this effort.
This rally is being organized by a coalition of local social justice organizations, including the Westchester Children’s Association, VOCAL NY, Lower Hudson Valley Chapter of NYCLU, the Legal Aid Society of Westchester County, Westchester for Change, Irvington Activists, WESPAC, Westchester Coalition for Police Reform among others and now referred to as the Westchester Pre-Trial Implementation Coalition.
Date: Tuesday, November 26th
Time: 5:30pm arrival; 5:45pm start time
Location: Cortlandt Town Hall, 1 Heady Street, Cortlandt, NY 10567
This rally takes place ahead of the 7pm Westchester County Budget Hearing that will take place this same evening at the Cortlandt Town Hall