CUNY Institute report valuates implementation of New York’s 2019 Criminal Justice Reform Act

October 12, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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The Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York (CUNY ISLG) released a significant new report on Thursday, supported by Arnold Ventures, scrutinizing the real-world impact and implementation of the New York State 2019 Criminal Justice Reform Act. 

The report comes after extensive interviews with 228 participants from 30 agencies in 13 of New York’s 62 counties and aims to guide lawmakers and officials involved in criminal legal reform.

“New York has invested nearly four years into creating a fairer and more equitable criminal legal system,” said Jennifer Ferone, deputy research director at the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance.

“With this report, CUNY ISLG is elevating the voices of practitioners who are on the ground, taking stock of the successes and challenges posed by this transformative law, identifying remaining gaps, and providing recommendations to support policy implementation moving forward,” Ferone continued. “We hope that this report offers an honest assessment of the progress and the opportunities to make New York State — and other jurisdictions enacting similar reforms — more just for all.”

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The 2019 Criminal Justice Reform Act was a sweeping legislative measure that focused on reducing over-incarceration in the state. While bail reform took the spotlight in media coverage, the act also included various lesser-known but significant changes such as issuing appearance tickets for low-level offenses, enhanced pretrial services, and revisions to discovery law and procedure.

CUNY ISLG found that agencies encountered disparate challenges based on existing policies and infrastructure. The lack of uniformity has led to unique problems but also spurred innovative solutions to enforce the new law.

A recurring theme was a need for better communication and coordination between state and local agencies, particularly since the law had a truncated nine-month window for implementation without providing additional funding. These issues were consistent across multiple facets of the law, including less-publicized elements like changes in discovery law that require prosecutors to share more evidence earlier with the defense.

“The 2019 Criminal Justice Reform Act has led to important changes to our criminal legal system that reduces our reliance on unnecessary incarceration and lays the foundation for New York State to be a leader in more equitable outcomes,” Michael Jacobson, executive director at the CUNY ISLG, said. 

“Through this report, we provide an opportunity to reflect on the implementation and impact thus far, and capture hard won insights from the people who have carried out this law firsthand,” Jacobson continued.

The report also scrutinized media coverage of the act’s implementation, pointing out that a limited time frame and lack of resources might have contributed to generally critical reporting. This, the study suggests, did not offer adequate time to prepare the public about the benefits of the law, such as reducing pretrial detention and advancing a more equitable criminal justice system.

The report draws on extensive stakeholder feedback to outline key themes and lessons learned in implementing criminal legal reform, serving as a comprehensive guide for future policy making efforts in the criminal justice realm, organizers explained.


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