Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez explains his Justice 2020 initiative
During his installation ceremony on Sunday, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez made reference to his Justice 2020 Initiative, but on Tuesday it was officially announced including details and a list of 63 Brooklyn community members who will serve on its committee.
“We have a historic opportunity in Brooklyn to create a national model of what a truly progressive prosecutor’s office can be,” Gonzalez said. “I plan to achieve that goal by consulting a committee of experts and creating a set of guidelines that will focus on those who do the most harm, while reducing incarceration and finding new ways to hold accountable those who can safely be diverted or deflected entirely from the criminal justice system.”
Gonzalez was voted in unopposed during the general election in November, but ran a primary campaign against five opponents where debates often evolved into which candidate could be the most progressive. Gonzalez often talked about making the criminal justice system more equitable for minorities and immigrants.
“We will use data to support and guide innovation and to reduce racial disparities in our system, work in collaboration with stakeholders and community partners to foster safe and healthy communities, and enhance our transparency and accountability,” Gonzalez said in a statement on Tuesday. “This vision will govern the direction of my office and I will task my staff with making measurable progress towards achieving the committee’s recommendations by 2020.”
Justice 2020 will rely on a Launce Committee which will “consist of criminal justice reform experts, defense groups, service providers, law enforcement, formerly incarcerated individuals, clergy and other community leaders,” according to a press release put out by the DA’s Office.
The committee will be co-chaired by Medgar Evers College President Rudy Crew and former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who is currently of Counsel at Latham & Watkins LLP. Justice Lippman was also the chair on the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform that recommended closing Rikers Island.
The committee will meet in subcommittees and will present recommendations to the DA in the spring, according to the DA’s Office. Any recommendations made will be shared with the public as a set of goals for achieving reform by the year 2020.
Gonzalez made a name for himself as former DA Ken Thompson’s No. 2 and the person who was put in charge of the Wrongful Convictions Unit, which has become a national model. As acting DA, he hired immigration attorneys to help prosecutors avoid unintended collateral consequences for immigrants and has implemented bail reform designed to decrease reliance on cash bail. In August, he dismissed more than 140,000 summonses that were at least 10 years old.
Gonzalez explained that he can take his progressive agenda even further because of Brooklyn’s historically low crime statistics. In 2017, the number of homicides and shootings in Brooklyn were the lowest in recorded history, according to NYPD Compstat reports.
The Launch Committee will be broken up into sub-committees to examine various aspects of the criminal justice system that could be reformed including alternatives to prosecution, violence prevention and gun strategies, civil rights and policing and conviction integrity.
The director of the launch committee is Jill Harris, special advisor to the DA, who formerly served as the deputy director of the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, and was a trial attorney at the Legal Aid Society. The entire list of committee members is available on the Brooklyn DA’s website.
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