Manhattan’s first Black district attorney Alvin Bragg released a memo announcing changes to the borough’s historically tough criminal justice system, just days after being sworn in. Bragg’s policy reforms include not seeking jail time for certain misdemeanor offenses and investing in alternatives to incarceration and restorative justice.
Bragg’s campaign platform promised a fairer justice system, according to the New York Times, and this memo cited that some changes are drawn from his experience with the system while growing up in Harlem.
“Growing up in Harlem in the 1980s, I saw every side of the criminal justice system from a young age,” the memo read, according to the Times. “Before I was 21 years old, I had a gun pointed at me six times: three by police officers and three by people who were not police officers.”
He also mentions posting bail for family members, according to CNN, which will also be affected by his policy changes. He has now instructed prosecutors in his office to “reserve pretrial detention for very serious cases.” He also intends to limit the number of underage defendants tried in adult courts and create a policy that allows requests for partially or unsecured bond in the same amount as cash bail requests.
Among the crimes Bragg said his office would not prosecute: marijuana misdemeanors, including selling more than three ounces; not paying public transportation fare; trespassing except a fourth degree stalking charge, resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration in certain cases, and prostitution.
Misdemeanor offenses that are legally required to be given a “desk appearance ticket” will be offered diversion or community-based programs intended to help an offender, the memo said. The office may also decline to prosecute the offense.
Bragg wants to “reserve pretrial detention for very serious cases,” according to the memo, and he intends to limit underage defendants in adult courts. Bragg also outlined a policy to request partially or unsecured bond in the same amount as cash bail requests.
“Safety is paramount. New Yorkers deserve to be safe from crime and safe from the dangers posed by mass incarceration. We will be tough when we need to be, but we will not be seeking to destroy lives through unnecessary incarceration,” Bragg said on Twitter.
Bragg’s policies have drawn criticism from conservatives and law enforcement.
“Police officers don’t want to be sent out to enforce laws that the district attorneys won’t prosecute,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, according CNN. “And there are already too many people who believe that they can commit crimes, resist arrest, interfere with police officers and face zero consequences.”
However, the new DA has made it clear that he still intends to maintain some semblance of law and order while attempting to reduce the harm the criminal justice can have.
“I’ve prosecuted gun cases and if you use a gun to rob a store, or any armed robbery, you will be prosecuted. I’ve prosecuted cases involving assaulting law enforcement, and if you punch a police officer, you will be prosecuted.” Bragg tweeted Wednesday.
“But if you are houseless with an addiction problem and you steal toothpaste and some bread, you will be diverted for treatment to help break the cycle of recidivism.”