Brooklyn targets incarceration practices with sweeping 'Justice 2020' initiative

BROOKLYN, New York City (WABC) -- Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez on Monday announced his plan for a groundbreaking initiative to transform Brooklyn's justice system into a progressive model designed to keep the borough safe and strengthen community trust by ensuring fairness and equal justice for all.

The new approaches were developed following months of intensive consultations with dedicated committees made up of reform experts, defense attorneys, service providers, law enforcement, formerly incarcerated individuals, clergy and others.

Gonzalez described "Justice 2020" as the first program in the nation to take comprehensive and holistic approach to implementing a new model of a progressive and modern prosecutor's office in the 21st century.

Key reforms to reduce incarceration and ensure equal justice include:
--Considering non-jail resolutions at every juncture of a case and shifting toward community-based responses to crime
--Establishing early release as the default position, not the exception, in most parole proceedings
--Prioritizing collaboration with neighborhood leaders and community-based organizations to provide more diversion opportunities and engage stakeholders as partners
--Implementing updated data and analytics systems to drive reform and ensure accountability and transparency

"Justice 2020 will reshape the Brooklyn District Attorney's office into a model of progressive prosecution that keeps the public safe and strengthens community trust by ensuring fairness and equal justice for all," Gonzalez said. "We will move away from over-reliance on incarceration, engage all stakeholders as partners in justice, focus resources on those who do the most harm and make my Office more strategic and mission-driven."

According to Gonzalez, Justice 2020 envisions a level of community engagement with the DA's office much deeper than currently exists, a true partnership in developing responses to crime.

The panel of experts that led the process to study, create and select these reforms was led by Medgar Evers College President Dr. Rudy Crew and former Chief Judge of the State of New York Jonathan Lippman. Gonzalez plans to make measurable progress towards enacting all 17 recommendations of the Committee by the end of 2020.

The full list of all 17 action points is below:
1. Change the office culture so that ADAs consider non-jail resolutions at every juncture of a case.
2. Offer pre-plea alternatives for all drug possession charges and reduce barriers to participation.

3. Seal or expunge past marijuana convictions.
4. Consider recommending parole when the minimum sentence is complete and participate more robustly in parole proceedings.
5. Empower community residents and leaders through neighborhood justice partnerships.
6. Partner with community-based organizations and service providers to expand community justice options.
7. Reduce prosecution of school-based offenses and divert youth from the criminal justice system.
8. Develop new protocols for investigations and prosecutions of police misconduct to improve accountability and transparency.
9. Identify high-risk individuals early and explore early interventions to deter violent behavior.
10. Interrupt gun violence and gang affiliation by intervening after a major enforcement action.
11. Enhance prosecution of cases of gender-based violence, including acquaintance rape and sexual assault cases.
12. Create a single point of contact for hate crime charges.
13. Establish a transformation office and data/analytics team to drive metrics, best practices, and reform.

14. Train all staff in cultural competency.
15. Realign staffing so that each case is the responsibility of a single ADA (vertical prosecution).
16. Promote accountability by establishing an office of professional responsibility and ethics.
17. Streamline case handling and enhance fairness and transparency with e-discovery.

Gonzalez says that evidence shows relying on incarceration as the automatic response frequently undermines public safety by breaking apart families and communities and preventing people from pursuing the very educational and employment opportunities that reduce crime and strengthen communities. He says the DA's Office has already begun implementing Justice 2020, evidenced in their recent work to:
-- Erase past marijuana convictions
--Develop new protocols for investigating and prosecuting police misconduct and create a Law Enforcement Accountability Bureau
--Establish a Hate Crimes Bureau as a single point of contact for these offenses
--Begin revamping the Office's data management system.

He says these efforts will serve to create fairness within Brooklyn's criminal justice system and maintain the highest levels of public safety. CLICK HERE to read the full report.

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