As a lawyer who has donated countless hours of pro-bono services to people and communities of need, and juveniles given life sentences in particular, I recognize criminal justice reform as one of the most pressing issues of our time. For too long, our lawmakers have enacted ineffective policies in a failing war on drugs, while countless families in our region have lost loved ones to addiction. In recent years, our district has been one of the regions hit hardest by the rising opioid epidemic, and its costs have been born by all of us, regardless of race, economic status, or political party.
We need to reform the system to account for this harsh reality. I will work with healthcare professionals and other experts to enact policies that treat rather than criminalize drug addiction. I will fight to increase funding for proven alternatives to incarceration, including treatment programs, drug courts, and mental health courts.
I’ve also seen firsthand how mass incarceration affects our communities. I believe we need to end mandatory minimum sentences, and ban private prisons—there is no room for a profit motive in incarceration. We need to have a system that focuses on rehabilitation, not just incarceration. We should also have clemency programs to give people second chances.
Additionally, the Department of Justice needs to have institutionalized racial bias training. 60% of people in NY State prisons have not be convicted of a crime, and we need bail reform to fix that shameful number. Prosecutors shouldn’t be instructed to seek the highest sentences.
It is time that we face this crisis head on, with empathy, not animus; with ideas, not impulse; and with courage, not politics.