FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, March 11, 2019
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez Unveils Sweeping Reforms
His Office is Implementing as Part of the Justice 2020 Initiative,
Establishing a National Model of a Progressive Prosecutor’s Office
Treating Incarceration as Last Resort and Partnering with Communities, Justice 2020
Signals Unprecedented Effort to Drastically Reshape Prosecutorial Agency
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced his plan for a groundbreaking initiative to transform Brooklyn’s justice system into a progressive model designed to keep Brooklyn safe and strengthen community trust by ensuring fairness and equal justice for all. The full Justice 2020 Report is available here.
The new approaches were developed following months of intensive consultations with dedicated committees made up of reform experts, defense attorneys, service providers, law enforcement, formerly incarcerated individuals, clergy and others. Justice 2020 is the first program in the nation to take a truly comprehensive and holistic approach to implementing a new model of a progressive and modern prosecutor’s office in the 21st century.
Among Justice 2020’s key reforms to reduce incarceration and ensure equal justice for all are:
- Considering non-jail resolutions at every juncture of a case and shifting toward community-based responses to crime.
- Establishing early release as the default position – not the exception – in most parole proceedings.
- Prioritizing collaboration with neighborhood leaders and community-based organizations to provide more diversion opportunities and engage stakeholders as partners.
- Implementing updated data and analytics systems to drive reform and ensure accountability and transparency.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said, “Justice 2020 will reshape the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office into a model of progressive prosecution that keeps the public safe and strengthens community trust by ensuring fairness and equal justice for all. We will move away from over-reliance on incarceration, engage all stakeholders as partners in justice, focus resources on those who do the most harm and make my Office more strategic and mission-driven.
“I am deeply grateful to all of the people, many of whom have personal experience within the system – who helped develop this comprehensive blueprint, which we have already begun implementing. As we continue to reap the benefits of historic decreases in crime here in Brooklyn and across the country, now is the time to focus on reforming injustices in the system that have led to over-reliance on incarceration and a lack of trust in the criminal justice system. In many cases, incarceration does not keep us safer, and I am committed to shifting to ways of holding people accountable and increasing public safety that don’t rely on incarceration as the default option.”
Justice 2020 envisions a level of community engagement with the DA’s office much deeper than currently exists, a true partnership in developing responses to crime.
The panel of experts that led the process to study, create and select these reforms was led by Medgar Evers College President Dr. Rudy Crew and former Chief Judge of the State of New York Jonathan Lippman. DA Gonzalez plans to make measurable progress towards enacting all 17 recommendations of the Committee by the end of 2020.
Medgar Evers College President Rudy Crew, Launch Committee Co-Chair said, “Justice 2020 has the potential to transform the relationship between communities and the criminal justice system. At a time when communities lack faith in law enforcement to keep them safe and treat them fairly, Justice 2020 envisions a partnership that gives communities a real voice in what safety and justice should look like. I know of no other DA’s office in the country that builds bridges in this way, and I commend Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez for his leadership.”
Former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, Launch Committee Co-Chair and current Counsel at Latham & Watkins LLP said, “Justice 2020 isn’t just an agenda – it’s a comprehensive roadmap to improve public safety while diverting those who do not pose a threat to public safety out of the criminal justice system and into community-based services. I am honored to be part of DA Gonzalez’s Justice 2020 Initiative and hope to see prosecutors’ offices across the country use it as a model for truly progressive criminal justice reform.”
The full list of all 17 action points is below:
- Change the office culture so that ADAs consider non-jail resolutions at every juncture of a case.
- Offer pre-plea alternatives for all drug possession charges and reduce barriers to participation.
- Seal or expunge past marijuana convictions.
- Consider recommending parole when the minimum sentence is complete and participate more robustly in parole proceedings.
- Empower community residents and leaders through neighborhood justice partnerships.
- Partner with community-based organizations and service providers to expand community justice options.
- Reduce prosecution of school-based offenses and divert youth from the criminal justice system.
- Develop new protocols for investigations and prosecutions of police misconduct to improve accountability and transparency.
- Identify high-risk individuals early and explore early interventions to deter violent behavior.
- Interrupt gun violence and gang affiliation by intervening after a major enforcement action.
- Enhance prosecution of cases of gender-based violence, including acquaintance rape and sexual assault cases.
- Create a single point of contact for hate crime charges.
- Establish a transformation office and data/analytics team to drive metrics, best practices, and reform.
- Train all staff in cultural competency.
- Realign staffing so that each case is the responsibility of a single ADA (vertical prosecution).
- Promote accountability by establishing an office of professional responsibility and ethics.
- Streamline case handling and enhance fairness and transparency with e-discovery.
Evidence shows that relying on incarceration as the automatic response frequently undermines public safety by breaking apart families and communities and preventing people from pursuing the very educational and employment opportunities that reduce crime and strengthen communities. The District Attorney’s Office has already begun implementing Justice 2020, evidenced in their recent work to:
- Erase past marijuana convictions.
- Develop new protocols for investigating and prosecuting police misconduct and create a Law Enforcement Accountability Bureau.
- Establish a Hate Crimes Bureau as a single point of contact for these offenses.
- Begin revamping the Office’s data management system.
These efforts will serve to create fairness within Brooklyn’s criminal justice system and maintain the highest levels of public safety, both priorities for DA Gonzalez.
Brooklyn is uniquely positioned to take on this endeavor thanks to a true partnership with community organizations and leaders. The borough is safer than it’s ever been as 2018 ended with the lowest number of homicides since record-keeping began. The Brooklyn DA’s office has put in place notable reform-minded programs, such as a bail policy that decreased reliance on cash bail, an immigration policy aimed at minimizing collateral consequences of criminal convictions, a Conviction Review Unit that is a national model and an initiative to vacate hundreds of thousands of outstanding summons warrants that were generated due to failures to pay fines for minor infractions.