The Brooklyn district attorney unveiled criminal justice reforms Monday aimed at reducing the number of people placed behind bars.
Eric Gonzalez wants assistant district attorneys to consider alternatives to jail at every stage of a case and make early release an option for more inmates in parole proceedings.
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"Before we take the extraordinary step of depriving a person of their freedom, we are going to make sure we have thought through, carefully the needs of that individual, the victim, and the community and whether other things would make more sense," Gonzalez said at a news conference.
Things like drug or mental health treatment. Gonzalez's approach is part of a wave of progressive reforms sweeping across the criminal justice system. Supporters say it's fairer to people of color and low-income defendants.
The state's former chief judge co-chaired the committee that advised Gonzalez on the plan. He said mass incarceration has not improved public safety.
"Rikers, the Brooklyn House — at which the DA and I have visited together more than once — and other models of mass incarceration are accelerators of human misery," Jonathan Lippman said at the news conference. "They turn normal human beings into hardened criminals."
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Critics warn such a shift could lead to more criminals on the streets. Professor Eugene O'Donnell of John Jay College called Gonzalez's plan "a political document, not a blueprint for protecting the public."
"Too much of all of this is being driven by think tanks who have a one-track mind that involves, for example, airbrushing victims out of the picture," O'Donnell said.
Gonzalez said those who commit crimes like murder and rape will be imprisoned. The reforms are aimed at lower-level offenders, and he said he has not forgotten about victims of crime.
"I've put a lot of people in jail and prison. I'm not afraid to do that when it's necessary. But I've also learned the lessons of time that many of the people I've put in jail didn't need to be there," Gonzalez said. "We spent a lot of resources and tax dollars, and when these people returned back home they were unable to get employment, education."
This is a plan just for Brooklyn, but it one the district attorney hopes is adopted by other jurisdictions. He hopes his office becomes a national model of a progressive prosecutor's office.