Janos Marton for District Attorney Policy Platform

Our campaign released some of the boldest, most comprehensive policy plans of any District Attorney not only in the 2021 Manhattan DA race, but throughout the country. While it was disappointing to suspend our campaign at the end of 2020, we are heartened to see that so many of our earliest policies have now become benchmarks in the Manhattan District Attorney’s race, and moved by the feedback from so many that our policy ideas helped shape the debates and became the gold standard in this election.

Our campaign took policy incredibly seriously since the day we launched. We released more policies than any other candidate and the most comprehensive plans in the race. And when we say policy, we mean thought out, well researched plans that we worked on for months in collaboration with stakeholders, not a few paragraphs of boilerplate progressive buzzwords.

We also ensured that each of our policies centered the voices of the people most directly impacted, calling on their experiences and incorporating their feedback. We consulted with advocates, formerly incarcerated people, public defenders, mental health practitioners, community service providers, survivors of crime, and other activists on every policy paper. Lastly, we’re very proud that all of our policies provided a blueprint so that we were prepared to lead immediately upon taking office, without waiting for legislative action, making impactful changes directly from the purview of the District Attorney’s office.

Throughout this campaign, we released ten policies laying out bold ideas transforming our legal system and reimagining the District Attorney’s office. Our campaign was the only one in the race to have plans centered on ending the war on drugs, abolishing the Office of Special Narcotics Prosecutor, sentencing reform, solitary confinement, intimate partner violence, and an in-depth proposal for transforming how mental health is handled within our criminal legal system. And even as we close down our campaign, we felt it important to release our eleventh and final policy, one of our most innovative ideas — the only climate change policy released by a District Attorney candidate in the country.

Lastly, at the end of each policy we always included federal, state and local legislation that improves peoples’ lives, reduces their contact with the criminal legal system and improves conditions for people who are incarcerated. We encourage candidates running for other offices to review our proposals and the supported legislation to understand how they can create a greater vision for justice within their own platforms and if elected into office.

As Janos has said from the beginning, it’s easy to say the right thing when trying to get elected — the tough part is making the commitment to follow through on those promises once in office. We by far have held the most progressive vision in this race and we hope that these policies and ideas will encourage other candidates not only in the Manhattan DA race, but other DA elections throughout the country, to adopt and implement these policies. Anyone who does will have our strong support.

All of Janos’ past policies and any upcoming publications can be found here https://janosforda.medium.com

Statement of Values:

The values of a District Attorney’s office must be in line with the values of the community in order for justice to be served. The values of this campaign are rooted in freedom, compassion, equity, and opportunity.

There is perhaps no more universal human desire than freedom. Our nation’s history has been defined by enslaved people and immigrants, such as my parents, risking everything in its pursuit. Every time a person is locked in a cage, stripped of their freedom, we have collectively failed as a society. That is why the deprivation of liberty will always be used as a last resort in our office.

Our office will always pursue compassion. Anyone who has felt the cold bars of a prison cell, watched a prison gate close behind them, or spoken to a loved one through plexiglass knows that sentencing a person to prison only creates more harm.

Our office will always pursue equity. Racism and economic injustice permeate each facet of the criminal justice system, which is why 87% of New York City jail detainees are Black or Latino, and each policy must acknowledge and work to undo structural racism.

We believe in opportunity. Our office will support programs that provide treatment and invest in health, housing, educational, and economic guidance to create second chances for those caught up in the criminal justice system.

Policy #1: A Path to 80% Decarceration: How Our Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Will Stop Relying on Jail to Solve Society’s Problems (October 20, 2019)

I am pledging that as Manhattan District Attorney, I will move towards ending the use of jails and prisons as vehicles of punishment when accountability, safety, and healing can be achieved in smarter and more productive ways. More specifically, I am committing to cutting Manhattan’s jail population by 80% from where it is today by the end of my first term, with the hope that as a city we will keep innovating until jails and prisons are only used as an absolute last resort.

This is the boldest decarceration platform of any District Attorney candidate in the country, and has since become a gauge of all Manhattan DA candidates from nearly 20 organizations considering endorsements in this race. We came to this number at a time when there were approximately 7,400 detainees in New York City jails. Cutting that number by 80% would leave Manhattan with an average daily jail population of 500.

Proposal #1: Implement Pre-Trial Reforms and Eliminate Cash Bail

  • New York’s ironically-named “speedy trial” trial laws have long allowed people to languish for many months, even years, in jail before their day in court, aggravating unnecessary pre-trial detentions. Meanwhile, our lax “discovery” laws have encouraged the vast majority of defendants to plead out without ever having seen the evidence to be presented against them.
  • As our next Manhattan District Attorney I will faithfully implement these laws and push further where needed.
  • Additionally, I will go further than the current state law, and completely eliminate the use of cash bail. That means no one will ever be locked up in Manhattan simply because they are too poor to afford bail.
  • This proposal would reduce our Manhattan jail population by 40%.

Proposal #2: End of the Use of Jail for Petty Crimes

  • Studies have shown that spending time in jail makes someone more likely to recidivate, not less, leaving the victim and community no assurance that the harm will stop when the person comes home. We are, in effect, setting people up to fail.
  • Instead of relying on jail to handle low-level offenses, we should increase the District Attorney office’s collaboration with communities programs like Avenues for Justice, CASES, Fortune Society, The Osborne Association, Esperanza, along with other programs that offer alternatives to incarceration. Nor do these types of programs need to be conducted in the formal non-profit space; rather, community groups and churches can develop spaces for accountability and healing outside of jails.
  • Finally, there are certain low-level offenses that should not be prosecuted criminally at all. These include turnstile jumping, all drug possession cases, sex work, soliciation, unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct, crimes of poverty, resisting arrest, simple trespassing, low-level crimes that disproportionately target immigrants and put them in danger of deportation, unlicensed or suspended license driving, gambling charges, welfare fraud, and instances when the victim is a family member who is asking for the case to be dismissed.
  • This proposal would reduce our Manhattan jail population by 10%

Proposal #3: Support the Expansion of Mental Health Services Outside the Jail System

  • First, we must reform the way we police mental health issues. This campaign supports the recommendations from Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ Report on “Improving New York City’s Response to Individuals in Mental Health Crisis” which focuses on reforming the City’s response when interacting with individuals suffering from mental illness.
  • Second, our District Attorney’s office will partner with programs and universities to offer defendants clearly struggling with mental health issues an opportunity to participate in a pre-plea diversion program. Programs such as The Nathaniel Project have received national recognition for the work they do with individuals with a history of past felonies alongside mental illness.
  • This proposal would reduce our Manhattan jail population by 5%.

Proposal #4: Treat drug use as a public health crisis

  • That is a public health crisis, that should be a public safety priority. Solutions must include safe injection sites to reduce the spread of HIV (following the lead of cities like Philadelphia), more non-police outreach, and importantly, refusing to make a blind distinction between “dealers” and “users,” when we know from the opioid crisis how many desperate people are dealing drugs to feed their own addiction.
  • As Manhattan District Attorney, I will work with other political stakeholders and community groups to push New York, and the United States more broadly, towards ending the counterproductive War on Drugs. Instead, we must help people who are sick from addiction become healthy, and help those who survive economically off the drug trade find better jobs. On this, I am unequivocal.
  • This proposal would reduce our Manhattan jail population by 5%.

Proposal #5: Reform the plea-bargaining process

  • First, we will eliminate one time “take it or leave it” plea options. If a plea offer is worth making in the best interests of justice, there is no reason it should only be offered for a short window of time.
  • Second, we will end the requirement of appeal waivers for pleas. The right to appeal is fundamental. When so many cases are resolved by pleas, requiring that individuals waive this right is not just.
  • Third, and most importantly, we will end the perverse outcomes of plea bargains driven by the threat of extremely lengthy sentences. When there are less dramatic disparities between plea offers and the sentence a person will receive should they lose at trial, more people who believe in their innocence will consider fighting for it at trial. I have made clear from the beginning of this campaign that our office will completely change the District Attorney’s office’s approach to sentencing, bringing our practices in line with many comparable democratic societies around the world by seeking sentences no longer than 20 years in all but exceptional cases.
  • Finally, our District Attorney’s office will lead New York into a new era of prosecutorial transparency. In Connecticut, the ACLU Smart Justice campaign won passage of a comprehensive bill that will publish information on prosecutor charging, plea deals, diversionary programs and sentencing. Of these, plea bargains require the most sunlight, and with the collection and release of data, we’ll better understand if plea bargaining practices are resulting in discrimination or otherwise undermining our values, without improving public safety.
  • This proposal would reduce our Manhattan jail population by 12%.

Proposal #6: Forcefully advocate for parole reform

  • If a person is in the process of turning their life around, even the accusation of a new crime, especially a minor one, should not result in a person being sent back upstate for years as a violation of their parole. This is a matter of justice, but also public safety — when people are cycling in and out of prison, it becomes increasingly challenging for them to socially and economically integrate when they come home.
  • Lastly, as District Attorney, I would change the office’s reflexive posture against parole in general. A prison sentence should speak for itself, and unless there is a specific reason for a prosecutor to oppose a parole application, he or she should remain neutral.
  • This proposal would reduce our Manhattan jail population by 8%.

“But where will these people go?” The reality is that most people who are currently incarcerated in New York City jails pre-trial will simply go home and stay there until their case is resolved. But people caught up in the criminal system represent a broad spectrum, from people experiencing their first and only encounter with the system to those who will need various interventions for the rest of their lives. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has a limited formal role in addressing the lack of affordable housing, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing in New York City. But one of our objectives in taking this 80% decarceration plan to the community is to better learn how we can advocate for community groups and service providers like Coalition for the Homeless and Urban Pathways, who are seeking stronger financial commitments to housing from government. In addition, more funding needs to be delivered at the state and city level to provide re-entry services for people coming home from jail and prison to get them back on their feet and safety re-integrated into our communities.

Policy #2: Bringing Humanity to Prison Sentencing (December 13, 2019)

Today’s criminal court still reflects an assembly-line, mass incarceration approach to safety and punishment. This obsessive pursuit of harsh punishment, including the most severe sentencing policies in the world, fails the public by making our communities less safe.

The sentencing policy reforms we propose here will govern our approach to more serious cases, including violent offenses. They are guided by the principles, supported by ample evidence, that long prison sentences rarely improve public safety, and that a person taking accountability for their actions and working to end the cycle of harm that led them to prison will ultimately lead to greater community health and safety. By enacting the bold sentencing reforms outlined below, we can dramatically reduce the number of New Yorkers in prison and stop wasting millions of dollars on mass incarceration. We can put our trust in redemption, and draw the best out of people, which will lead to safer and healthier communities.

Proposal #1: Seek Sentences No Longer than 20 Years Absent Exceptional Circumstances

  • This policy can be enacted mostly by changing the office’s charging practices. By capping sentences at 20 years for the most serious crimes in the New York penal code, we will be able to right-size the rest of our sentencing policy, by seeking more appropriate responses to less serious types of harm, including solutions that avoid prison entirely.
  • The goal of all our policies at the Manhattan DA’s office will be to seek the most effective form of accountability and best stop the cycle of harm. And if we are serious about accountability, we must acknowledge that some victims and their families will not want the person who harmed them to receive the maximum punishment.
  • There will also be exceptions to this policy. And it is true that judges will often have the discretion at sentencing to impose sentences longer than those sought by the District Attorney’s office, but it is our hope that judges’ honor the justice we are seeking. If certain judges surpass the District Attorney’s office as obstacles to reform, that will require its own focus from the criminal justice movement.

Proposal #2: End Coercive Plea Bargaining

  • Second, we will design plea deals that focus on community accountability and ending the cycle of harm. Whenever prison time can be avoided in lieu of a serious regiment to improve a person’s addiction issues or mental health, while putting them on a path to economic security, that outcome will better serve all in the community than a long prison sentence.
  • Third, we will institute an internal process to memorialize why certain plea bargains are being offered. This will allow us to hold ourselves accountable and reduce inequitable or discriminatory outcomes. Once our process is working successfully, we will make this information public.
  • Fourth, we will create public transparency in the plea bargaining process. By releasing data on plea bargains, we can educate the broader public on a particularly opaque part of the criminal justice system. Relating to the previous point on plea bargain processes, we will make that system public once we are satisfied with its implementation.
  • Fifth, we will protect the rights of immigrants by ensuring that all parties involved are aware of the collateral immigration consequences involved in any criminal plea bargains made with our office. We will also investigate the rights of immigrants who are already serving prison time.

Proposal #3: Treat Substance Use and Mental Illness as Public Health Issues

  • Support safe injection sites, which have been proven to lower the risk of disease and overdose deaths.
  • We will explore employment-based diversion programs for certain low-level dealers.
  • We will also approach drugs with a health-based lens, recognizing that someone with a serious addiction is at risk of harming themselves and their community until they receive help, and that addiction takes great patience and persistence to overcome.
  • We have also previously made clear our opposition to locking up people with mental health issues who would be better served by treatment in the community. It is shameful that Rikers Island is the city’s largest mental health provider.
  • There is no easy fix to these challenges, but we know the answer does not lie in treating people through cage bars.

Proposal #4: Establish a Sentencing Review Unit and Improve Conviction Integrity Review Unit

  • We will expand and improve Manhattan’s unit. But there are plenty of people who have served many years in prison after legitimate trials or plea bargains whose sentences do not comport with our values in 2019.
  • The Sentencing Review Unit would be composed of attorneys from the Manhattan DA’s office, along with a diverse cross-section of community members, including survivors of crime and formerly incarcerated individuals. The Unit would review applications from individuals serving sentences longer than 10 years, and ask three questions:

1. Would they be sentenced less punitively today under existing laws and practices?

2. Have they engaged in rehabilitative work while incarcerated?

3. Do they have support from their community, including from the victim/victim’s family?

Proposal #5: Support Parole Applicants

  • The Parole Board looks to the recommendation of the sentencing prosecutor’s office in their decision-making, and our office policy will be to generally support parole for people ready to come home.

Proposal #6: End Misdemeanor “Bump-ups”

  • This policy has been found to frequently ensnare people experiencing homelessness, who are caught stealing basic survival supplies. Rather than directing these people to help, it sends them into our jails, and that policy must end.
  • Finally, there is a concern that following the implementation of bail reform in January 2020, prosecutors will generally charge more cases as felonies. In our DA office, our prosecutors will be measured by their work in ending cycles of harm, not whether they can secure convictions and prison sentences.

Proposal #7: End the Oppressive Use of State Conspiracy Charges

  • The very notion of “gangs” being responsible for gun violence and other forms of crime in New York City is unsupported by evidence, and used by certain media outlets, right-wing law enforcement unions, and their political allies to perpetuate over-policing of young people of color.
  • State conspiracy charges have been the prosecutorial tool to further this misconception. If we have a criminal charge to bring against a person harming other people, we will bring that charge.
  • But state conspiracy charges have been abused for too long, and I will not use them against our communities.

Proposal #8: Support Sentencing Reform in the NYS Legislature

  • Reform “Mandatory Minimum” Laws: “Mandatory minimums” are an overly punitive statutory tool that removes discretion and mitigating factors from the criminal justice system. They became very popular with politicians during the rise of mass incarceration, and real sentencing reform will require rolling them back. Our office will avoid bringing charges that result in mandatory minimums in any case where another lesser charge describes the conduct, but given their pervasiveness in the penal code, state legislation will also be required. Likewise, we will support any legislation that lowers or eliminates mandatory minimums, especially legislation in line with our Proposal to cap sentences at 20 years.
  • Reform “Predicate Sentencing” Laws: One reason for long sentences in New York is our predicate sentencing laws, which set aggressive determinate sentencing ranges for people convicted of felonies for a second (or subsequent) time. I participated in legislative reform efforts in other states to reform these laws, which exacerbate punishments far beyond what is necessary to hold people accountable and take discretion away from the DA’s office and judges. I would particularly support rolling back the mandatory “persistent felony offender” law.
  • Make Reforms Retroactive: Any time we engage in sentencing reform, we must ensure that reforms are retroactive, and automatically applied to people already incarcerated. That way, no one is continuing to serve time in prison longer than they would have under the reformed laws. In addition, retroactivity would likely allow our office to file motions to reduce immoral, lengthy sentences identified by our Sentencing Review Unit.
  • Voting Rights for People in Prison: I strongly believe that the right to vote is fundamental, and should not be lost, even when people are incarcerated. Maintaining the right to vote will also help those serving sentences remain connected to the communities they will eventually come home to. For this reason I strongly support legislation, or, if required, a constitutional amendment expanding the right to vote to those in prison.
  • Reform Sentencing for Young People: People should not face life-long punishments for mistakes made in their youth. As we have written above, young peoples’ brains are not fully developed until their early 20s, an idea that is supported by an ever-growing body of evidence. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has said as much in a string of decisions over the past two decades. I would support legislation to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility further, to become a national leader in our thoughtful approach to justice.

Policy #3: Public Health First: Ending the War on Drugs in New York (January 16, 2020)

In 2018, over 1.6 million Americans were arrested on drug-related charges, 86% merely for possession, at racially disproportionate rates. In spite of the consistent prosecution of drug users, the War on Drugs has proven ineffective at achieving the most important goal of any sound governmental policy: minimizing harm. Treating drug use as a criminal issue instead of a public health issue has resulted in a surging number of opioid overdose deaths in New York and over 450,000 people in prison nationally for drug-related offenses, many of whom struggle with substance use disorder.

Today we understand that the best way to treat substance use disorder is to build trust with people who use substances, focus on harm reduction and evidence based treatment, and provide people stability and opportunities to move forward with their lives. It is time to bring that perspective to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.

My experiences have taught me that the goal of drug policy should be to reduce harm experienced by users, while listening to community concerns over drug sales in their neighborhoods. We should recognize that people enter the drug trade for a variety of reasons, including economic survival, and that drug users include people who use substances responsibly. But for those who use drugs in ways that are harmful to themselves and others, we must be prepared to invest in a long road to recovery. That means that we must look beyond jail and prison as a solution to drug use, especially in New York, where we are blessed with the resources to support people to help them turn their lives around, especially if we are to live up to the values we claim as progressive Democrats.

Proposal #1: Decriminalize Drug Possession

  • If our goal is to reduce the harm and risk associated with hard drugs, we must first admit that the half-century of prohibitionist policies of the War on Drugs has not worked.
  • But building a relationship with drug users that cares first and foremost for their health will lead to safer communities, because healthier people are less likely to engage in problematic behavior, including criminal activities such as larceny.

Proposal #2: Eliminate the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor

  • If two District Attorneys agree with me, we can remove the Special Narcotics Prosecutor.
  • But even on our own, we will withdraw support from the Office of Special Narcotics Prosecutor, including any material support and staff seconded to that office. Because the office itself exists through state law, I would also support legislation to disband the office and re-allocate the office’s resources to treatment and other community-strengthening programs.

Proposal #3: Promote Public Health Strategies to Fight Substance Use Disorders

  • While the placement of safe injection sites will surely be controversial, as are all facility placements in New York, we must strike a balance between responding to where the crisis is most dire and soliciting community input.
  • Expanding access to methadone and buprenorphine, the gold standard of care, and education — in hard to reach communities has been demonstrated to be the most effective tool in treating opioid use disorder (OUD) and reducing opioid overdose deaths.
  • Other harm reduction strategies include a litany of programs such as telehealth, drug testing strips, mobile clinics, community clinics, recovery centers, managed alcohol programs, youth clubhouses, peer services, drug user health hubs and 24/7 open access centers.
  • While these services would not be offered directly by the Manhattan DA’s office, having a District Attorney fighting for access to these services and partnering with service providers, while destigmatizing health-based approaches, would result in people having better access to care.
  • Finally, we must practice patience in supporting peoples’ struggles with substance use disorder. Supporting people in the long road to recovery is far more effective than repeated trips to jail.

Proposal #4: Provide a Path Out of the Drug Trade for People Who Sell

  • A smart response must recognize the economic incentives of people who sell small amounts as part of the drug trade.
  • The right response to those individuals, who work in dangerous conditions for paltry wages, is to direct them on a path to gainful employment rather than branding them with a criminal record that will make it increasingly harder for them to turn their lives around.
  • Thus, our office will explore employment-based diversion programs. For these to work we will rigorously scrutinize our partner programs to ensure that they are actually equipping these individuals, mostly young men of color, with job opportunities that are sustainable and ultimately preferable to their previous economic choices.
  • That means investing in entrepreneurial opportunities and promising industries, as opposed to menial, minimum wage work.
  • While designing such programs should involve considerable community input, based on successful existing programs, employment areas might include the food industry, construction, security, coding, green energy jobs, and opportunities to start local businesses.
  • Identifying people who sell drugs for primarily economic reasons is critical, because it is well understood that not everyone in the drug trade is dealing with substance use disorder. Mandating that such individuals attend treatment as part of criminal justice diversion programs takes up valuable space, beds and resources from people actually suffering from substance use disorder.
  • Ultimately, we believe that strong economic opportunities, coupled with the health interventions we discuss throughout these proposals, will make New York safer and healthier.

Proposal #5: Support Local, State and National Efforts to End the War on Drugs

  • Support Safer Injection Sites. Leadership on implementing these sites must come from the mayor’s office, but as District Attorney, I will be a strong supporter, and push back against the inevitable scare tactics that will threaten these much needed interventions.
  • Continue State Efforts to Address Overdose Deaths. Thanks to advocacy efforts from VOCAL-NY, DPA, and others, our state government has supported funding for health clinics. However, we are concerned about proposals in Governor Cuomo’s State of the State appear to use criminalization for fentanyl analogs as a primary strategy for reducing use. Furthermore, S5935/A7246B, which would increase access to lifesaving treatment (methadone and buprenorphine) for substance abuse disorder by removing prior authorization for people enrolled in Medicaid, passed the Senate and Assembly with bipartisan support but was vetoed by Governor Cuomo in December 2019. We hope this bill is passed in the budget next year.
  • Change NYPD Responses to Drug Interventions: While our office will not criminally prosecute drug possession, our preference would be for the initial police intervention to be directed through a public health lens. Likewise, we are concerned about the NYPD investigating all overdoses as crime scenes, a practice that complicates peoples’ decision to call 911 for medical help. As with so many issues of policing, we strongly encourage New Yorkers to press 2021 mayoral and City Council candidates to adopt smart, progressive positions on these issues.
  • End the Federal War on Drugs. While we must endure this national nightmare for at least one more year, we are encouraged by positions taken by leading Democratic candidates regarding the War on Drugs, driven in part by organizations like the ACLU. When we have a Democrat in the White House, we hope that person will serve as an effective partner for the groundbreaking work we will bring to Manhattan.

Policy #4: Abolish the Office of Special Narcotics Prosecutor (January 16, 2020)

Read Slate and Filter’s coverage

Unfortunately, here in New York, the little-known and unelected Special Narcotics Prosecutor stands in the way of reforming drug policy. It’s time to abolish the position.

The Special Narcotics Prosecutor was created in 1971 by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, as a precursor to the infamous drug laws that bear his name. The statute requires New York City’s district attorneys to jointly appoint one of their assistant district attorneys as the city’s “Special Narcotics Prosecutor,” the only office of its kind in the nation. This position has been continuously held by Bridget G. Brennan for the past twenty-two years. Throughout that period, Brennan has fought for “tough on crime” policies that discriminate against communities of color, even vehemently opposing the modest 2009 reforms to the Rockefeller drug laws.

Brennan uses her office as a blunt instrument to prosecute over a thousand defendants a year, securing 961 felony convictions in 2018. Just 40 defendants (4% of the total) were diverted to treatment programs, the lowest since the office began reporting numbers in 2005. In her annual report, she proudly touts the hundreds of felony convictions and wiretaps she secures every year, positioning her office as the answer to the opioid, heroin, and fentanyl crisis, as if we can arrest our way out of the overdose crisis.

The Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor is an antiquated remnant from half a century ago, which only seeks to continue the lost War on Drugs and fight any attempt at meaningful criminal justice reform. But even though none of the five district attorneys who appointed her in 1998 are still in office today, Brennan’s office received a $22 million budget in 2018 and employed over 200 staff members.

As Manhattan District Attorney, I will:

  • By law, the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s assistant district attorneys (ADAs) are on loan from the city’s five elected District Attorneys. In 2018, 60 of the office’s 73 ADAs were assigned by the Manhattan DA. On Day One, I would order the those ADAs to return to the Manhattan DA’s office, and cease all other forms of support to Special Narcotics, significantly weakening its capacity.
  • Support legislation to abolish the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor and reinvest its budget in harm reduction programs.
  • The Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s office can only be eliminated through state law. I will support legislation to abolish the office and direct its $22 million budget towards harm reduction programs to reduce drug use and protect public health.
  • In the interim, remove Brennan as Special Narcotics Prosecutor.
  • Twenty-two years is enough. Bridget Brennan has proven that her approach is stuck in the past, and is determined to thwart even the slightest reforms to our criminal justice system. On Day One, I will renounce my office’s support for Brennan and encourage the City’s other District Attorneys to join me. (With the support of three DAs, Brennan can be removed.) Until this office is eliminated, it should be led by someone taking a public health centered approach.

Policy #5: Ending Solitary Confinement in Manhattan (March 11, 2020)

The practice of solitary confinement, locking our fellow New Yorkers in small metal boxes for days at a time, directly contravenes our City’s professed progressive values. As Manhattan’s top local law enforcement official, I will be charged with enforcing the law, but the law lacks legitimacy if it means prosecuting a person who is detained in solitary confinement.

If we call ourselves a progressive city, how can we tolerate this? One offered justification is to protect correction officers. Research has shown, however, that facilities that eliminate or reduce the use of solitary actually become safer. Another argument is the need to separate people who fight, or to isolate people (often with mental health issues) for safety reasons. But if people need to be removed from the general population for a few hours, or receive mental health care, that does not require the torturous cells we use now. You can call it “administrative segregation,” “punitive segregation,” “enhanced supervision,” “transitional repair,” and “restrictive housing,” but solitary confinement is torture.

As District Attorney, I would not allow any Manhattan defendant to be tortured by solitary confinement in our city jails.

This is simpler than it sounds:

  • Our expectation is that in the interest of justice and public safety, the next mayor would agree that continuing the case without creating additional harm is more important than any perceived interest served by solitary confinement.
  • At the state level, legislators can pass the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, which already has significant political and community support.
  • In New York City, Mayor de Blasio, the Board of Correction, or the City Council could eliminate solitary at existing jails. At bare minimum, we should not be constructing new solitary cells, as original designs suggest for the proposed borough-based jails.

Policy #6: A Call for Justice in Policing (June 26, 2020)

I am running for Manhattan District Attorney because it is time to move past policing and prisons to solve society’s problems. Recent protests have highlighted what has long been known in New York’s communities of color, that our whole criminal legal system is racist, with the abusive and unaccountable behavior of police compounding distrust in the people they are meant to serve and protect. Whether challenges at the NYPD involve individual officers or broader systemic issues, right now the department lacks accountability or transparency — and the Manhattan DA’s office has been a part of the problem. The Manhattan DA’s office must do a better job holding individual officers accountable for misconduct, achieve greater independence between the NYPD and DA’s offices, and look beyond traditional policing to help keep communities safe.

Proposal 1: Achieve Greater Independence from the NYPD

The close relationship between the NYPD and the District Attorney’s office has hurt its ability to hold the department and its officers accountable.

  • We will reject campaign donations from law enforcement unions. Right-wing law enforcement unions have long sought to influence New York elected officials — demonstrated recently by the research of our campaign field coordinator, Aaron Fernando. As I have said since announcing my candidacy, I will not accept campaign donations from law enforcement unions, including police, corrections, and court officer unions. Our campaign has also organized over 40 candidates running in 2021 races throughout New York City to join a pledge rejecting campaign contributions from law enforcement unions.

Proposal 2: Hold the NYPD Broadly & Individually Accountable for Misconduct

Misconduct from NYPD officers occurs both due to the poor judgment and misbehavior of officers, as well as due to broader systemic issues that govern police officer decision-making.

  • Our office will stay vigilant to ensure that the widespread crisis of misleading testimony on the stand comes to an end. If it does not, we will investigate how far up the chain of command such practices are being encouraged. (And we will not put officers with a history of false testimony on the stand.) The same goes for any local patterns of excessive force, tampering with evidence, or other abuses of power.
  • Common cases that ADAs and investigators will scrutinize include allegations of lying on the stand, excessive force, and domestic violence.
  • Finally, the unit will also pursue illegal behavior by officers when they are out of uniform, again to avoid the possibility of conflict.

Proposal 3: Reduce the Role of Policing and Prosecution

We must ultimately move towards a society in which the police, criminal prosecution, and prisons are no longer used to resolve society’s problems. These changes will not occur overnight, but we can begin that journey.

  • Empower local Community Advisory Boards to shape DA office priorities. Since the beginning of this campaign, we have discussed the need for a Community Advisory Board, wholly independent from other government institutions, that can provide regular and uncensored feedback on how our office is doing. This stems from our belief that people closest to the problem are closest to the solution. Our Community Advisory Board will include formerly incarcerated people, survivors of crime, local tenant & community leaders, and other professionals who spend time on the streets of our communities. We will use the Community Advisory Board to vet new policy ideas and track implementation of our many initiatives.

Proposal 4: Support Legislation and Budget-making to Reduce Police Power

The Manhattan DA’s office is part of a broader political system. We will always use the bully pulpit in our office to advance legislative, executive and administrative policies in line with our vision of a more just society.

  • We will support reinvestment into programs that improve safety. When policing budgets are cut, those funds should be re-allocated into strategic efforts to keep New York City safe. As always, we will follow the community’s lead in terms of budget priorities outside our own department. Based on our experience, investments into anti-violence organizations, local groups that foster non-carceral accountability, and wrap-around services for vulnerable populations are far more effective than funds spent on policing and prison. We also support even larger funding interventions for areas like affordable housing and education, even if that requires greater tax revenues from high income people and corporations.
  • We will support city and state legislation to hold the police accountable. This includes ideas such as granting the CCRB final determination powers over police misconduct (rather than the police commissioner), requiring police officers to live in the five boroughs, and any legislation that increases transparency in law enforcement (including transparency from the District Attorney’s office).

Policy #7: Reimagining Our Response to Intimate Partner Violence (July 7, 2020)

Few societal harms are served more poorly under our current system than intimate partner violence, one of the most pervasive issues any District Attorney’s office must face. Intimate partner violence is widespread, underreported, and in some communities a source of distrust in law enforcement, including within families of officers.

The goal for resolving intimate partner violence cases must always be the safety and wellbeing of the victim. Just as our office will seek to treat each defendant as an individual, so too should victim support be individualized. Justice in intimate partner violence cases will differ among victims, and will include those who do not support carceral solutions. Our office will thoroughly discuss all options available to survivors and fully explain the process to ensure they feel comfortable with any decisions they make.

Proposal #1: Center Survivors in the Justice Process and Reduce Victim Trauma

  • Repeated trips to court and lengthy delays have a damaging impact on survivors. As part of a broader effort to improve efficiencies in the calendering process, these types of cases should be scheduled with the recognition that a victim may be carrying the stress of testifying against their abuser until the case is resolved.
  • Additionally, my office will assign an Assistant District Attorney from the onset to individually handle each specific case. Should a perpetrator re-offend, the survivor will not have to relive the pain and trauma of telling their story to another individual in their fight to seek justice, and the ADA will be familiar with the prior behaviors of the perpetrator. This relationship will help both survivor and ADA work together in determining the best course of justice. From that first conversation, we will also assign a social worker or similarly trained counselor to help the victim in the difficult step of sharing their story with law enforcement for the first time.
  • When victims do not support incarceration, and instead wish to work with us and the person who harmed them to determine more lasting forms of accountability, our office will not seek incarceration in such cases.
  • Those who are sentenced to time in prison should receive treatment services while incarcerated, especially programming related to trauma in order to have a positive influence on recidivism and see behavioral changes.
  • Finally, one of the most obvious solutions to reducing victims’ burden is to no longer require their physical presence at family court hearings for orders of protection. Bringing individuals into the same physical space as their abuser creates no benefit, but instead can cause further incidents of intimidation.

Proposal 2: Recognize that Perpetrators are Often Victims Themselves

  • This does not excuse illegal behavior, but the better we can understand these patterns of harm, the more we can do to disrupt generational trauma and end cycles of harm.
  • Thus, the best way to prevent future violence is to properly address underlying trauma. Research has shown that judicial monitoring of IPV perpetrators works best when combined with therapeutic approaches.
  • One common alternative to incarceration, batterers’ intervention programs (BIPs), have shown more mixed results. When used, BIPs need to be supplemented with additional forms of treatment and self help, including community-based programs, individualized therapy, and continuous monitoring of behavioral changes, both positive and negative.
  • Partners of veterans experience intimate partner violence at three times the rate of the rest of the population, a tragic reminder of how little we support the mental wellbeing of our troops when they come home. The Strength At Home Program gives participants tools to make behavioral changes from these therapy sessions. Our office will work with community partners and other city agencies to expand this program model.
  • In general, victims tend to be more pleased with the outcomes of Restorative Justice than those experienced within the formal criminal justice system, and appreciate the survivor-centered approach. Studies on restorative justice for IPV show that arrest rates halved in a two year period for those who participated.
  • Our office will partner with community-based organizations already offering restorative justice programs to create safe spaces for survivors to voice their concerns, address their needs, and provide resources for individuals who may wish to mend or stay in relationships that see improvement over time.
  • We also recognize the basic tenet of restorative justice that no victim should ever feel pressured to participate in such a program and will be used in cases only when victims believe the perpetrator will take accountability for the harm they have caused, which means it will certainly not work in every IPV case.

Proposal #3: Investigating NYPD-Generated Domestic Violence

  • Survivors are also rightfully hesitant to report abuse because of the probability that the call will be handled by someone their abuser works with or knows, which can skew an investigation to benefit the perpetrator.
  • Not only are these officers unlikely to face criminal charges, they rarely see any employment-related repercussions. These officers will be investigated and potentially prosecuted through an independent unit for prosecuting police misconduct, the details of which were laid out in our previous policy paper on police accountability.
  • Our office will work closely with victims of officer-involved domestic violence, knowing that prosecuting officers poses particularly acute risks to victims who are partners of police officers. This will allow us to hold police officers to the same standard of accountability as the rest of the public when it comes to domestic violence.

Proposal 4: Dedicated Team Within Financial Frauds Bureau to Handle Financial & Identity Theft Intimate Partner Abuse

  • Our office will build a victim-centered team within the Financial Frauds Bureau to handle delicate cases at the intersection of financial crimes and intimate partnerships.

Proposal 5: Fully Implement the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act

  • Victims who are already incarcerated may also apply for re-sentencing if they meet eligibility criteria.
  • The passage of DVSJA is especially important given how infrequently Governor Cuomo uses his powers to grant clemencies or commutations.
  • All cases brought before my office that involve a victim of domestic violence committing a crime will be applied through the lens of the DVSJA.
  • Additionally, my office will review every application received from individuals already incarcerated to ensure they will be re-sentenced should their case meet the eligibility criteria of DVSJA.

Proposal 6: Support State Legislation that Provides Protection for Survivors

  • Establish Domestic Violence as a Misdemeanor to Prevent Firearms Access. We support Senate Bill S.7125, sponsored by Senator Alessandria Biaggi, to classify domestic violence as a Class A misdemeanor as a means for perpetrators to be entered into the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check. The staggering number of law enforcement domestic violence incidents shows us that access to firearms creates a greater vulnerability to victims. While we do not believe carceral approaches are always the answer, restricting access to firearms will increase public safety without reducing liberty.
  • Require Agency Transparency in Domestic Violence Investigations. Our office will be rooted in transparency and we believe all public officials should behave in the same way. For this reason, we support the City Council legislation brought forth by Council Member Ben Kallos, and co-sponsored by Council Members Diana Ayala and Keith Powers, mandating both the NYPD and all five District Attorneys publicly report on all domestic violence incidents and investigations.

Policy #8: Bringing Restorative Justice to Manhattan (July 21, 2020)

Restorative justice will be a part of my office’s plan to evolve from a ‘tough-on-crime’ philosophy that devastates neighborhoods to an approach that addresses the root causes of harm, without relying on jails and prisons. Our adversarial criminal justice system does little to prevent violence and can actually exacerbate it. Furthermore, it often fails to consider the needs or voices of survivors.

Proposal 1: Implement Restorative Justice Pre-Charge — Without Exceptions Based on Offense

  • There is no offense that will be categorically barred from a restorative justice process if parties prefer to go this route.
  • Our office understands that the power of restorative justice lies in its ability to break-down conflict and facilitate open and honest dialogue to understand how people were hurt so that there are clear steps of what is needed to heal. Therefore, people who commit violent offenses must be allowed in this process if we are to experience the full transformative potential of restorative justice.

Proposal 2: Refer Cases to Community-Based Practitioners for RJ Processes

  • Our campaign believes that restorative justice programs are most effective when conducted by community-based groups rather than solely through the DA office.
  • Participants, especially respondents, may feel they cannot be as open in conversation or claim their agency in the inclusive decision-making of mutual agreements if they are in the presence of law enforcement.
  • Our office will handle the legal and administrative side of the processes in constant communication with our partners, while the actual conferences and overseeing of agreements will be handled by the experts of their own communities.
  • Restorative justice based non-profits often cite the lack of consistent funding as the main source of anxiety in not knowing if they will be able to continue functions each year. In the short-term I will allocate funding from the DA’s office to support the collaborative efforts between our office and willing community-based restorative justice partners to conduct RJ processes, while supporting those organizations in their efforts to attain sustainable fundraising sources from outside the criminal court system.
  • Our office will also implement a screening process that decides which cases may be a good fit for restorative justice while educating all respondents, harmed parties, and defense attorneys that they have the freedom and power to choose restorative justice for their cases.
  • Once a case is screened and accepted to go through the restorative justice process, we will refer it to one of our local partner organizations; and when the respondent completes the terms of their agreement, the case will be declined with no record of formal charges.

Proposal 3: Meet the Needs of all Participants

  • Inevitably, some restorative justice processes will not succeed due to issues arising within the dialogues, failure to complete the terms of the agreement, or other reasons.
  • When our partners and office decide that we can no longer move forward with an RJ process, we will work together to meet the needs of participants and determine what interventions are needed to get the process back on track.
  • In the event that a restorative justice process must be cut short and returned to our office, we will prohibit the introduction of any information shared during the process as evidence in subsequent criminal proceedings.

Policy #9: Wage Theft: Protecting Workers and Holding Corporations Accountable (September 8, 2020)

Our criminal courts still reflect an assembly-line, mass incarceration approach to safety and punishment, especially for low-income communities of color. In contrast, those same courts allow the rich, powerful, and connected to perpetuate great harm without facing accountability. That must change.

Just as imprisonment restricts individual liberty, so too does economic confinement resulting from illegal business practices. And yet, the legal onus of seeking justice for wage theft lies on the worker. That must change. As Manhattan District Attorney, I will dramatically transform the office with a proactive and robust approach to workers rights.

To prosecute the individual who steals from Walmart but not Walmart’s theft from its own workers is a false model of justice.

Proposal #1: Build a Strong Wage Theft Unit at the Manhattan DA’s Office:

  • Our office believes in proactively and passionately identifying the D.A. as an ally to fight for workers.
  • In order to build this Wage Theft Unit, we pledge to add lawyers, investigators, and community liaisons to proactively combat wage theft. The issue will no longer be lumped into the Construction Fraud Task Force.
  • We will have dedicated investigation heads monitoring various industries, and direct canvassers to build relationships with workers, unions and advocacy groups in addition to keeping a watchful eye on problematic companies.

Proposal #2: Launch Targeted Investigations into Industries with Wage Theft Histories

  • The New York Exploited Worker Task Force identified 14 industries with the most egregious violations of wage theft, including nail salons, farming, childcare, cleaning, home health care, laundry, restaurants, retail, construction, landscaping, car washes, supermarkets, janitorial services, truck and waste disposal which is where we will start.
  • In New York City, construction workers and those who work in the service industry, particularly restaurants and salons, are among those most impacted because they are often paid in cash and in tips, making them an easy target.
  • At present, the risk of being caught for wage theft is low enough that there is a significant economic incentive for employers to engage in it. However, by proactively and thoroughly investigating industries across the city, our office can deter employers who might otherwise practice wage theft.
  • Our Wage Theft Unit will focus on several industries at a time, developing expertise in the business area and relationships with workers. By systematically addressing abuse in a particular industry, we will deter those businesses from engaging in abusive practices. And by reforming individual industries, we will send a message to other industries that they might be the next to warrant our scrutiny.

Proposal #3: Enforce Wage Theft Collection

  • In egregious cases, our office will borrow from the federal monitor approach, placing a highly experienced third party, backed by resources from our office, in a position to hold the employer accountable and issue reports over a period of months or years. This will ensure that not only is compensation for the original wage theft delivered, but that the company’s practices changes.
  • Likewise, our office would be positioned to take further legal action, if necessary, to collect judgments owed or redress further noncompliance. Unfortunately, some employers go so far as to declare bankruptcy and flee or re-open under a different LLC, leaving them legally off the hook. In proposal #5, we discuss legislation we support to close this loophole.

Proposal #4: Build Community Partnerships

  • By building partnerships with community groups, unions, worker centers, legal clinics, prison reentry groups, and other labor-based organizations, the Manhattan DA can help workers to feel more comfortable coming forward.
  • Advocacy groups such as Make the Road have done incredible work in New York, and we hope that by building strong relationships with such groups, we can work together to promote justice. Increased trust between impacted communities and the District Attorney has impacts beyond wage theft; this confidence can foster a larger cooperation towards solving crime and having faith in government.
  • We applaud the efforts of advocates who successfully pushed for the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which allows freelancers to recover thousands of dollars in owed wages every year. While enforcement of the act is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Consumer Affairs, our office will maintain communications with groups representing freelancers, including the Freelancers Union, about unique challenges they face in seeking economic justice.
  • We will also work to address the instances in which unscrupulous companies seek loopholes to avoid paying outstanding contracts- sometimes going as far as claiming bankruptcy and changing LLC’s overnight.
  • Another critical way to build trust in impacted communities comes from our campaign’s promise to never refer defendants to ICE. DA Vance is the only District Attorney in New York City who has referred defendants to ICE. It is exactly this kind of behavior that makes undocumented workers fearful of coming forward with their complaints, and enables employers to exploit that fear. By making it clear and publicly known from the outset that our office will never coordinate with ICE, we hope to earn community trust.
  • Finally, our campaign believes the office of the DA must not only be transparent, but also recognize that those closest to the problem are often the closest to the solution. We will establish a Community Advisory Board, composed of formerly incarcerated individuals, survivors of crime, law enforcement and other impacted people (included those working for economic justice) so that we may collaboratively and effectively respond to concerns from community members, while also providing the public with desired information about our office’s practices.

Proposal #5: Enforce Existing Worker Protections including New York’s Minimum Wage

  • For far too long New York State has allowed employees who rely on tips to be paid far below the state’s minimum wage. This leaves many tipped workers at risk for wage theft, finding themselves working well below the minimum wage requirements while having their earned tips withheld.
  • The DOL is set to implement new policies in 2020 that will address this issue for many workers. We applaud these efforts and hope they are expanded to include all workers who currently earn a subminimum wage. We must also ensure that employers who do not follow the new order are held accountable and employees receive the wages they are rightfully entitled to.

Proposal #6: Publish “Worst Wage Thieves” List

  • In the process of prosecuting wage theft violations, we will follow the watchlist model used by the New York City Public Advocate and his predecessors who reveal an annual list of the ten worst landlords.
  • Our office would follow this model in publishing a yearly list of the worst employers found liable for wage theft.

Proposal #7: Support State Legislation that Protects Workers

  • Hold Individual Industries Accountable. We support Assembly Bill A10042, sponsored by Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, which imposes additional rules and requirements on the licensing of nail salons in New York State.
  • Support #FundExcludedWorkers: We support Senate Bill S8277B, which would tax billionaires and use the resulting revenue to create a worker bailout fund for workers traditionally excluded from wage protections, including undocumented workers.
  • Provide Greater Protection to Workers Who Voice Complaints. We support the Empowering People in Rights Enforcement (EmPIRE) Workers Protection Act (EmPIRE Workers Act), S.1848 / A.2265 which allows employees, whistleblowers or organizations to initiate public enforcement actions in a proven way to strengthen the enforcement of labor laws without fearing retaliation. California enacted a similar law in 2004 (the Private Attorneys General Act) which has since brought $34.6 billion in revenue from recovered penalties and wages.
  • Ensure Workers Are Correctly Classified and Properly Compensated. Gig workers and other “open shop” workers, including construction workers and adult dancers, are often misclassified as independent contractors which, as previously discussed, is a significant cause of wage theft. Ensuring that these workers are properly classified is the first step to preventing wage theft. We support any legislation that is similar to the ABC Test in California that extends employee classification to any gig workers and other contractors. Additionally, we support Senate/Assembly Bill A.1261/S.1947, sponsored by Assemblymember Harry Bronson and Senator Jessica Ramos, which pushes for the expansion of New York State’s prevailing wage law by expanding the definition and create a statutory definition of “public work,” a significant designation that triggers the prevailing wage requirement.
  • Emulate Successful Legislation from Other Jurisdictions:
  • We are inspired by San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s recent decision to sue DoorDash for worker misclassification. Though we believe New York law would not allow us to successfully take similar action yet, we support the passage of Senate Bill S6699A, which would codify the ABC rule that California uses to classify workers as employees. The passage of this bill could allow our office to immediately take legal action against companies which fail to correctly classify workers under the ABC test.
  • New Jersey recently enacted one of the country’s strongest wage theft laws. The New Jersey Wage Theft Act can result in employers having their business licenses suspended or completely revoked, and a fine with the possibility of jail time that increases for repeat offenders. The law also gives further protection to employees against retaliatory actions, as well as requiring employers found in violation to pay any owed wages in addition to liquidated damages equal to 200% of the original amount owed. We support this legislation and will back any similar bill brought forward in New York State.

Policy #10: Compassion First: A New Approach to Mental Healthcare in Manhattan (November 24, 2020)

Read City Limits’ coverage

Today our criminal legal system punishes and criminalizes people with mental health struggles rather than providing them the resources to live healthy and dignified lives. We must break the cycle of incarceration, homelessness, substance use, and unemployment that afflicts so many New Yorkers struggling with mental health.

As Manhattan District Attorney, I will end the criminalization of people with mental health needs when safety and healing can be achieved through better responses. Our current approaches to mental health challenges simply don’t work, and they don’t keep us safe. It’s time for a new approach.

Proposal #1: Use Virtually All Financial Forfeitures to Fund Community-Based Mental Health Programs

  • The program disbursing funds will be staffed by practitioners, directly impacted people, and other people with mental health expertise, and funding decisions will be informed by community input. The DA’s office itself will not make funding decisions.
  • We estimate our proposal will lead to an increase of at least $50 million a year in spending on community-based mental health spending from our office and will create services for thousands of Manhattan residents.
  • When imagining the change this funding could bring, we have several impressive examples from New York and across the country to draw from including:
  • In Hell’s Kitchen where I live, Fountain House is a clubhouse community mental health service model where residents are not referred to as patients, but considered members. By combining housing, mental health support, employment opportunities, education, and a social environment, Fountain House has had tremendous success in not only reducing re-hospitalizations and improving overall wellbeing and social integration, but even more impressive is that recidivism among its residents is less than 5%.
  • Housing First in Vermont has been credited as being the most influential intervention for contending with the state’s chronic homelessness through their innovative approach in providing long term community-based support programs and locating permanent housing with no questions asked in terms of drug or alcohol use.
  • We can similarly invest in peer support programs, which are premised on shared lived experiences, with guidance coming from people who have experienced mental health struggles of their own. Current research shows that peer support is greatly beneficial in increasing overall mental wellbeing, participation in services, and reduction in incarceration rates.
  • Peer support programs could also operate in the courtroom, or through reentry providers like the Fortune Society and Doe Fund.
  • Possible grant recipients could include social work programs, such as CUNY’s Masters of Social Work (MSW) and psychology programs. A partnership between the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene and CUNY Hunter’s Silberman School of Social Work, one of the top social work graduate programs in the nation, would benefit thousands of New Yorkers.
  • Research shows that art therapy can greatly impact one’s mental well-being. Our funding program would consider grants to institutions that provide creative outlets for people with mental health issues.

Proposal 2: Treat Mental Health as a Public Health Issue, Not a Criminal Issue

  • There is no need for someone charged with a minor issue to needlessly waste their time and our justice system’s resources. My office will either dismiss such a case or work out a non-carceral arrangement that does not involve the court.
  • In addition, New York City must stop relying on police to handle situations that involve individuals going through mental health crises. Rather than police, response teams should be composed of a paramedic, social worker, a psychiatric expert, and peer support who work in the triple shift model, ensuring someone is always able to respond. In order for this program to be truly effective, these units need to respond and be on scene as quickly as other emergency responders such as EMTs or fire departments, and perhaps could be housed in government spaces like the East Harlem Neighborhood Health Action Center.
  • Additionally, emergency calls should be routed through a separate three-digit number so as to not trigger an unnecessary police response, as proposed by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams last year.
  • When an individual experiencing a mental health crisis is arrested our office will work with organizations such as The Bridge, Exodus Transitional Community, The Osborne Association, Harlem United, and CASES to connect them to necessary resources. In addition, we will partner with any community, peer-based group that can form trusting relationships with people in crisis, whether or not they are established nonprofits. By following this practice, our office will send a clear message to the NYPD that arresting individuals experiencing a mental health crisis is not only a false solution, but is also an ineffective use of their time and resources.

Proposal 3: Expand Eligibility for Mental Health Court and Alternative to Incarceration Programs

  • As District Attorney, I will end this revolving door by expanding eligibility for mental health courts and encourage people who want access to these courts to use them.
  • Currently, eligibility for the courts is only extended to individuals who are charged with non-violent felonies, while individuals charged with violent felonies may be considered on a case-by-case basis. All defendants must plead guilty before they are able to participate and be referred to the court by a prosecutor, defense attorney, and/or at the defendant’s request, with all petitions requiring approval by the Special Litigation Bureau of the District Attorney’s Office and finalized by the presiding judge.
  • I will instruct all ADAs and the Special Litigation Bureau to review applicants regardless of their charges, and eventually make broader changes to our office to simplify the process for people accessing specialty courts and diversion programs.
  • Dual diagnoses of a mental illness and a substance use disorder are also very common. We acknowledge the important feedback our campaign received from directly impacted individuals and public defenders that very often a defendant is recommended for one specialty court while having issues that should be addressed by the other. My office will work with judges from mental health, drug, and Veterans courts to ensure that if someone is found to be a better fit for another program they will not have to resubmit their application and start the process over, but rather allow an ADA to make a request for the designated specialty court to be changed.
  • We will work with the court system to the end the requirement that defendants plead guilty to the crime they have been charged with in order to be eligible to participate in mental health court. Until such an agreement is reached, I will drop, not reduce, all criminal charges upon successful completion of the programming prescribed by the mental health court.
  • We will also divert cases to alternative to incarceration (ATI) programs whenever appropriate. Certain ATI programs have proven to be extremely effective at reducing recidivism and improving overall wellbeing and outcomes for participants, offering people the ability to remain in the community instead of being jailed. As a bonus, ATI programs save significant taxpayer money.
  • Finally, no one should be kept out of mental health programs due to their costs. I will waive fees for all diversion programs and partner with local government to expand diversion eligibility and expedite processes.

Proposal 4: Protect the Rights of Detained and Incarcerated Individuals with Mental Health Needs

  • After sentencing, our office will recommend to Corrections that any person with mental health needs who is being sentenced to serve prison time is placed in a facility that is as close to home as possible as long as there are sufficient mental health resources.
  • Many people with mental illnesses convicted of a crime are currently sent to prisons far upstate such as the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora or Attica Correctional Facility. These facilities are hundreds of miles from Manhattan. This adds unnecessary burdens and expenses just to visit a loved one. However, there are prisons that are just outside of Manhattan that offer the same level of mental health care.
  • If we learn that a facility closer to Manhattan lacks adequate resources, we will work with the governor’s office and Department of Correction to address that deficiency.

This is a policy driven by the lived experience of formerly incarcerated people advising our campaign.

Proposal 5: Support Legislation That Protects and Supports Individuals with Mental Health Needs

  • Enact Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ emergency mental health response recommendations. It has been a year since the Public Advocate released his report “Improving New York City’s Response to Individuals in Mental Health Crisis” which focuses on reforming the City and NYPD’s responses when interacting with individuals suffering from mental illness. As we transition to a solution that fully removes the NYPD from responding to mental health crises, we must continue training and de-escalation for police officers.
  • Provide Medicaid services to incarcerated people leaving prison. It is imperative to provide continuous healthcare for people coming home, which means remaining on Medicaid during and after incarceration. This would also allow for continued therapy and other health services that benefit re-entering individuals. We support Governor Cuomo’s directive for the Department of Health to apply for a waiver amendment which would allow certain individuals who are currently incarcerated to be provided Medicaid and Medicare services 30 days prior to their release so as to not avoid a lapse in health services. However, as this request has been denied by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, we urge the New York Congressional Delegation to get behind H.R. 1329, the Medicaid Reentry Act, sponsored by Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Turner (R-OH) and push Congress to move this through committee to a full House vote.
  • Stop the criminalization and policing of mental health. This includes supporting legislation involving pretrial mental health and substance abuse evaluations, changing the definition of serious mental illness in corrections law to match that of the mental hygiene law in relation to inmates, and prohibiting health professionals from engaging in torture or other harmful treatment of incarcerated individuals.
  • Medicare For All. The New York Health Act, sponsored by Senator Gustavo Rivera, covers all essential healthcare, including mental health treatment and support. These services have always been imperative for all New Yorkers to have free and easy access to but have become increasingly important over the last several months.
  • Enact a Homes Guarantee. We believe in a #NYHomesGuarantee and the reforms that activists such as VOCAL’s Home for Everyone New Yorker coalition and the Housing Justice For All campaign led by the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance are fighting for. When people with mental health issues are detained, they frequently lose their housing while incarcerated. Additionally, housing instability is one of the largest obstacles for folks who struggle with mental health needs and there is absolutely no reason that New York State cannot find a resolution to solve this issue.

Policy #11: Justice For Our Climate (January 8, 2021)

We have turned a blind eye to harmful impacts of corporate environmental crime for too long, especially as we confront the crisis of climate change. As Manhattan DA, I will fight for our climate as part of our duty to keep New Yorkers safe.

Learning about the failures of the early climate change movement to enact transformative change drew parallels to our current criminal justice movement, which for all of its energy, money, and publicity has failed to significantly reduce America’s enormous jail and prison population. Given the vast discretionary power of the District Attorney’s offices, and the Manhattan DA’s office in particular, there is no better way to accelerate the desperately needed reforms to the criminal legal system than electing DAs who believe in dismantling mass incarceration.

In ending cycles of harm, the best long-term solutions will be found in investments we make outside of the criminal justice system — investments in our environment, infrastructure, education, housing, and economic opportunity. It’s clear that there is tremendous opportunity for the District Attorney to make a great impact in combating climate change throughout our city. We must no longer favor political comfort over science and facts.

New York City’s Worst Environmental Offenders:

Because the public is rarely educated on the nature of environmental crime, it is worth highlighting the misconduct of the two worst local offenders: Con Edison and National Grid, which provide electricity, gas, and steam to millions of New Yorkers. Con Ed has accrued more than 300 pollution violations from New York State in the past few decades. National Grid received 1,616 safety violations involving a single project in Queens in 2019 alone.

Both ConEd and National Grid have profitably operated while committing numerous safety violations and preventable explosions and blackouts due to neglect, while rarely receiving more than a slap on the wrist or a menial fine. ConEd’s yearly revenue is approximately $12 billion while National Grid’s US revenue was $2.3 billion.

Slap on the wrist fines to these corporate behemoths do not appear to deter bad behavior. My office will zealously investigate environmental crimes and treat them like any other offense. We will hold executives at the top directing these actions individually accountable and enact steeper fines that create a significant economic impact on businesses. By doing so, we can make the chance of being prosecuted for committing these crimes too high for companies to risk the consequences and no longer a part of their business model. If these worst violators are continuously let off the hook, we send the message to others that this office does not take environmental law seriously.

Proposal #1: Build a Strong Environmental and Climate Crimes Unit at the Manhattan DA’s Office

  • I will increase penalties for dumping illegal and/or toxic waste to actually deter these acts and prosecute individuals from any corporation found to be directing or complicit in such behaviors. These investigations will focus on preventable explosions, knowingly ignoring faulty infrastructure, and excavation violations.
  • By establishing teams to investigate Manhattan’s worst environmental offenders, which will also focus on egregious acts of safety, labor, and billing violations, our office will finally put an end to the harmful tactics that have become just another part of doing business. Robust investigations will begin immediately into industries and corporations with the most rampant history of these types of transgressions.
  • We also pledge to add investigators and community liaisons to proactively combat these hazards. Our community liaisons will build relationships with community groups, unions, activists, and advocacy groups to gain additional insight into bad actors and continuous offenders.
  • My office will be entirely transparent to the public about all investigations and subsequent prosecutions. Our new unit will release an annual report on environmental cases each year, which is not the current practice of the office, and in doing so, bring transparency and accountability to our new unit’s work.
  • Labor abuse will be investigated in conjunction with our Wage Theft Unit, including knowingly using unsafe and noncompliant actions during construction, not providing workers proper PPE both before and especially during COVID-19, refusing to pay outside contractors a prevailing wage, and forbidding the formation of unions.
  • Other activities our Environmental Crimes Unit will look into will include predatory marketing tactics used by energy service companies (ESCOs), billing issues (such as raising rates in May during the height of COVID), bribery, tax fraud, and other corruption by high ranking executives in these industries.

Proposal #2: Break the Cycle of Harm by Enforcing Industry Standards

  • Over the last 15 years, law enforcement agencies at the state and federal level have been incredibly reluctant to truly hold corporations accountable for fraud and other crimes. There are a host of reasons for this — politics, the complexity of proving certain types of financial crime, limited resources — but we can clearly do better.
  • First, I will increase the resources for our Major Economic Crimes Bureau, which will be made possible by reducing the number of attorneys working on low-level criminal offenses.
  • Second, I will seek more consequential outcomes for corporate institutions that break the law, including prosecution of leadership in those companies and loss of equity; for example, fining a company by giving a share of their stock equity to victims. This is much better than regular fines, which companies consider the cost of doing business.
  • Third, I will create a greater monetary incentive for whistleblowers, which certain federal agencies use to great success.
  • Fourth, I will make sure deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) are not just a get out of jail free card for corporations. Right now, if a company gets in trouble, law enforcement lacks the resources to do a proper investigation, so they agree to a DPA — allowing for an internal investigation (by a corporate law firm) in lieu of prosecution. These investigations usually lead to recommendations on improving corporate governance, and occasionally consequences for low-mid level employees. Too often this is a sham resolution, and one solution is to develop a set list of law firms (such as plaintiff firms) that can do more rigorous corporate investigations in partnership with our office. Taken together, these reforms will keep the pressure on environmental institutions.
  • Large corporations such as ConEd and National Grid must be held to the highest standards and receive appropriate consequences. We will hold all types of businesses accountable, but recognize that District Attorney’s offices taking on corporate crime are often tempted to take on easier cases against small businesses than go up against powerful forces. We can only challenge corporate power and win by working in collaboration with others.
  • That’s why our office will work to build partnerships with community organizations, activists, advocacy groups, and those most directly impacted from climate injustice, including Indigenous people. Building this trust will help to remedy harm, and promote peacebuilding and restorative justice practices as successful outcomes of justice. We hope this will also work to repair harm at the community level, which is the central message of our campaign.
  • When we encounter offenders engaging in smaller environmental crimes such as a restaurant violating styrofoam laws, a restorative approach would be better than criminalization. The purpose of restorative justice (“RJ”) is to hold the person who has committed harm accountable, heal the person who has been harmed, and use the community’s support to ensure that the harm does not re-occur. Our campaign has previously released a comprehensive restorative justice plan that will extend to environmental crimes.
  • The goal here, as with all RJ processes, would be to address the underlying cause of harm, so that person would not continue the harmful behavior in the future. These procedures could also be combined with required courses about the climate crisis and why these behaviors have such a detrimental effect on advancing climate change. RJ processes would only be disfavored in cases of systemic corporate crime, where accountability is hard to trace to all of the relevant parties.

Proposal #3: Establish an Animal Cruelty Prosecutions Unit

  • This unit will investigate all forms of animal cruelty and the industrial meaptacking industry which still exists today in Manhattan, including protecting wildlife, investigating any illegal poultry operators, and following leads on illegal dogfighting and other animal fighting rings. In addition, a task force will be created to investigate the antiquated horse-drawn carriage industry in its entirety.
  • I also pledge to release an annual Animal Abuse registry, as proposed by Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal. This list will include every individual brought before our office who has abused, neglected, or otherwise harmed an animal so animal rescue organizations will be able to protect animals when placing them for adoption.

Proposal #4: Ensure the Manhattan DA Is a Green Office

  • I will ban plastic water bottles, plastic straws and other single use items, reduce food waste, and encourage all employees to use public transit or bicycles when commuting to the District Attorney’s office. I also pledge to use public transit whenever possible while I am in office.
  • The District Attorney’s office, and the greater New York court system, are incredibly outdated. I will prioritize digitizing the office as quickly as possible upon taking office.
  • In the year 2021, there is no reason that criminal court still looks unchanged from the 1980s, with ADA’s walking around with huge volumes of paper files. This step will be part of a broader plan to modernize the District Attorney’s office and will hopefully move the greater Manhattan court system towards doing the same.

Proposal #5: Support Legislation That Protects Against the Impacts of Climate Change

  • Lead Poisoning Enforcement: Despite the overwhelming evidence of the harm caused by lead paint, and its abundance in NYCHA buildings, there is no statewide system of preventions. We support the bill Senator Brian Kavanagh is set to introduce in January 2021 which is expected to develop a system of standards for enforcing inspections of lead in homes along with a publicly available database on such violations.
  • Public Power NYC: I believe our energy should be supplied by the public sector, and support DSA’s Public Power campaign. The goal must be to transition to a publicly owned utility and replace corporations such as ConEd and National Grid who are consistently committing violations of environmental crimes.
  • Protecting Animals’ Rights: Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal has introduced several important bills under her 2019 “Paw-Print”, all of which this campaign supports. As District Attorney, I pledge to support legislation that helps clarify the rights of nonhuman animals, and I will make the same commitment here that I’ve consistently made in this campaign — to listen closely to communities most directly impacted and most expert in the particular issue, including activists who are pioneering on this issue.
  • Prevent Diesel Truck Emissions: New York State has lagged behind its counterparts in putting a stop to diesel truck emissions. As proposed by advocate Charles Komanoff, Attorney General Letitia James could take a proactive approach to this problem by following the example of California and shutting down the supply chain of those who manufacture, distribute, and sell emission tampering devices.
  • More DA Enforcement of State Level Legislation: Currently, too much environmental regulatory power is vested in the governor’s office. For example most provisions of the New York State Green New Deal are enforced by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which is essentially relying on Governor Cuomo to determine what accountability will look like. (This year, Cuomo also declined to pass a foam ban bill passed unanimously by the legislature.) More local level enforcement from the state’s 62 District Attorneys will create greater accountability, and thus a healthier environment, for all New Yorkers.

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Criminal justice advocate. Democratic Candidate For Manhattan District Attorney.

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Janos Marton

Criminal justice advocate. Democratic Candidate For Manhattan District Attorney.