October 17, 2019
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Everybody, today we made history. The era of mass incarceration is over. It's over. This action today means the New York City is set on a new path. And Stanley talked about humanity – I want everyone to understand what this is about, it’s about valuing our people, no longer condemning people and sending them on a pathway that only made their lives worse and worse, but believing that our people do not ever need to end up behind bars to begin with – never. And if, God forbid – and I always invoke this phrase there, but for the grace of God though go I – if God forbid someone makes one of those mistakes and ends up in our justice system, we want it to be a onetime occurrence because we believe in the justice system that focuses on the positive in each person, the humanity in each person, the possibilities in each person. We believe in redemption and today's vote is a vote for redemption.
Many, many people said that this could not be done. And everyone here is the reason it was achieved. And I want to thank everyone because Stanley said it right, a movement built and it showed all of us what was possible. And created a whole new sense of where our city could go. And what you did today, and I'm looking at everyone here because everybody here deserves a share in this victory. What you did today is being watched all over the United States of America, all over the world because the greatest city in the world said no to mass incarceration. Yes, to redemption. That's what you did.
Yes, it was a hard fought vote, but it was not a close vote, because everyone worked so hard. And because of the council members here that showed such strength, that cared about the most important things, that cared about acting on a moment of reform – literally you’re right Stanley, once in a generation, once in a generation. And I can tell you, having met many people who are elected officials, you will not meet that many elected officials willing to show the bravery and the courage and the foresight of the group gathered here. And I know Speaker Johnson had to go to another engagement, but I have to say to him, and then I want to talk about Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito as well. I can tell you how extraordinary their actions were. And Corey Johnson, he and I have been for the last two years working nonstop on this in a very close, constant partnership, not only his leadership, not only the members of the Council, particularly the four in whose districts those facilities will go. Also the entire Council staff, everyone banded together to take this huge complex, challenging issue and find a positive way forward. And there are many, many people in public life who would never have had the strength and fortitude to do that. But Corey did. These members did, the team did. So first, just a huge thank you for everyone at the City Council.
Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, you led the way in so many ways. I remember when we first stood in the rotunda together and started us on this journey and I remember that you believed, and I will always be honest, sometimes in the beginning I couldn't find a way. I struggled to see the path. All of us worked together to reduce crime. All of us worked together to reduce arrests, to reduce incarceration and the doors started to open. But I want to give you tremendous credit for the strength of your leadership and your vision. History shows that some people are there to get things started and other people are there at the finish line and everyone makes it happen together. Let’s thank Melissa for all she has done.
And I want to thank the members of the City Council. We spent a lot of time talking about this, all of us and I had the pleasure of going to some of the districts and hearing the concerns, but also seeing the leadership because we all know again, that some elected officials, if they hear criticisms or concerns, they don't necessarily say, wait a minute, we have to think of the greater good. But I saw Steve Levin talk to his district about the greater good. Diana Ayala talk to her district about the greater good. I saw it with Karen Koslowitz, I saw with it Margaret Chin. And it's something to behold. Having been a city council member, I know what it's like to have people come up to you at the subway stop or the supermarket. And as I have to say about New Yorkers, we are 8.6 million highly opinionated people. So rarely does someone come up and not issue a strong opinion.
But it's one thing to hear people's concerns and honestly their fears. We heard plenty of fears. They were honest fears. It's another thing to help people understand what it's going to take to take us to a different place and these members did it. And I want to thank all of them. I want to thank Council Member Mark Treyger, Council Member of Farah Louis, Council Member, Keith Powers, Council Member Danny Dromm. And tell me if I'm missing anyone – Council Member, Ydanis Rodriguez, have I missed any Council Members? And all the other of the 35 who voted in favor of this plan –
And you're going to hear from a couple of the most profound leaders of this coalition in a moment. I want to give a special thank you to Stanley and everyone at the Fortune Society. I had the joy of being with you a few years ago. It was one of those moments in my life that made me understand, we as a society have been taught to misunderstand those who spend time in jail, to misunderstand what folks who happened to have been incarcerated mean to our broader society.
And I was listening to you that day and I said – you know what? We all need to rethink this because there's so much potential in all of us. Again, the goal is that through this plan, through these investments, a lot of young people will never ever see the inside of a jail cell. Let’s remember that, going to the root of all this, hundreds of millions of dollars to make sure that everyone, in particular young people are supported. But even though we acknowledge that some people at some point in their life might be incarcerated, we need to remember the value of them as human beings. And you're one of the people that taught me that. So Stanley, thank you for doing that for so many.
Everyone, a quick thank you – the group of folks in my team that worked – this was a labor of love for all of them. They worked extraordinarily hard on this. And I want to thank Emma Wolfe and Lydon Sleeper and Lincoln Restler and Liz Glazer and Dana Kaplan and Tahirah Moore, Jeff Lynch, many, many others who were part of this – all the folks in the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, all the folks at Department of Corrections, Commissioner Cynthia Brann and so many others who really put their heart and soul – they believed this was a historic moment. They believed it was once in a lifetime and they acted that way and they achieved the goal.
I know you feel that way Tahirah.
And a special thank you to one of the real true statesman and voices of conscience in this city, and I know he's one of the people who have been behind many great causes and ahead of the time many, many times. Herb Sturz, the Open Society Foundation. Thank you.
As Herb will attest, they said it couldn't be done until it was done. They said it was impossible until it was possible and all the advocates and the formerly incarcerated individuals who've been part of the close Rikers campaign. I'm going to call out all these organizations. Let's clap for all of them. Just Leadership, thank you.
Katal Center, thank you.
Beyond Rosie's, thank you.
Osborne Association, thank you.
Fortune Society, thank you.
The Lippman Commission, thank you.
The Women's Prison Association, thank you.
Exodus Transitional Services, thank you.
Bronx Connect, thank you.
Everyone in the Crisis Management System, Cure Violence Movement, thank you.
And the Vera Institute of Justice, thank you.
Now if there's any other elected officials who come in here. Let me know. I know Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte might be joining us. Who's been another – I'm sorry. Why are you not here? Why are you not here? Okay, now we've got to clap. Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, thank you.
So everyone, this is one of those moments where a cycle gets broken. There's been a cycle of incarceration. Let's be blunt about it. Never ending cycle. A lot of good people got caught up into it. A lot of lives ruined. It did not have to be this way. It ends now. That cycle ends now. Something very different will happen now. I had some people ask me earlier, oh do you think this is not going to happen just cause there's a vote? I'm like, I don't know what planet you're on. This vote is binding. Today's vote is definitional and binding. Rikers is closing. There will be community jails, period. Period.
We are the safest big city in America. We will continue to get safer. This will help us get safer. We have to be the fairest big city in America. This will help us get fairer. Safety and fairness walk hand in hand. And so today we can say that we have already achieved the lowest rate of crime since the 1950’s but there's something else we've achieved and it hasn't gotten attention, but today's vote will finally shine a light on it. We have the lowest rate of incarceration of any big city in America.
And it's going to get lower and lower.
Finally I want to say, and this is tremendous credit to the City Council, the focus and so much of discussion was on the root causes. And so we've made a generational investment here. Investment in neighborhood organizations, the investment in youth programs, the investment in Cure Violence initiatives, in job training, in education, in treatment, in counseling, all of the pieces of this package, hundreds of millions of dollars to get at the root causes, to change lives on the front end. I was over at Exodus earlier in the week talking to some good people who had turned their lives around and now were helping others. And it was so obvious in those conversations, the intelligence of these young men, the commitment, the fortitude, the resiliency, few things could have been different earlier in their lives. They never would've seen the inside of a jail cell. They never should have seen the inside of a jail cell. It was not a statement on their human quality. It was a statement on a lot of other things that we need to address. This plan goes at those root causes and it's only a beginning. It's only a beginning.
So this is a plan that is about fairness and compassion. It's about safety, it's about valuing every human life. That's what all of you achieved. And everyone here, I credit all of you. Every single person brought us to this day.
Few words in Spanish, and then I'll have the honor of bringing up Judge Lippman.
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
The era of mass incarceration ends here. Everybody, so many people contributed so much. But if we have a guru, if we have a priest, if we have a rabbi, I'm covering all of it Jonathan. Judge Jonathan Lippman believed something very different could happen. And let's face it, there are a few voices in this city and this state that command absolute moral respect and he's one of them. And when he said it, everyone started to think again, a commission did extraordinary work. That report was absolutely foundational and instrumental to today's success. And I think the thing about Judge Lippman that I have watched so closely and admired so much is it's all heart. Yes, you have a great mind, Judge. I'm not taking away from the mind, but it's heart. You saw things that others didn't see and you brought together a coalition of people to make it happen. And your history, your life, everything you've done put you in the perfect place to do something for the ages, and you've done it. Judge Jonathan Lippman.
Mayor: In a second, I'm going to introduce DeAnna Hoskins, who played such a crucial role in this.
And her team played an outstanding role organizing this campaign. But DeAnna, bear with me a second because they're trying to pull me out of here shortly. So, what I want to do is just take a few questions on this from the media, and then turn it back to you. And the media, I’m sure will have questions for all of you, but let me just give them a chance – if there are any media questions now on this.
Question: Mr. Mayor, what happens if by 2026 the crime rate isn't as low as you predict?
Mayor: First of all, I'm absolutely certain based on what we've seen that not only is crime continuing to go down, we're doing it with fewer and fewer arrests, and the NYPD has proven this – remember, 150,000 fewer arrests in 2018 than 2013, and crime went down. So, that means fewer people going into the jail system to begin with. We have a lot more in the way of alternatives, including a lot in this package that will now become available on a constant basis. You have the changes in Albany, which are huge already and there's more to come that I believe Albany will pass in the coming years. So, I really believe that what we have here is the right amount of beds for the future under any scenario. And we are adamant that this plan is not only moving, it's moving on schedule.
Question: So, I want to ask you about the investment package you all announced today. So, it's $390 million over about the next three fiscal years, and $71 million of that is for alternatives to incarceration and alternatives to detention. The Lippman Commission report back in 2017, called for $260 million a year for ATI’s and ATD’s. So, I wonder why not reach that number in terms of the annual investment for those crucial programs?
Mayor: We have been working for years now – and I really want to say, this has been a six-year continuum, because remember the host of criminal justice reforms that were achieved in my first term and, often working with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Council, the continued reforms in the last couple of years, the reforms in Albany that we've been funding more and more alternatives to incarceration. We've been funding more and more initiatives to stop violence at its root, like the crisis management system and Cure Violence movement. This is has all been building over years. So, that report, which was a crucial document, referred to a number of ideas, but I'm putting it into perspective of everything that was being done previously, everything that's being done in this package, and I think they'll move more in the future as well. So, the reason we're all standing here is we all were on the same page ultimately, but the Council has been adamant about a series of investments, they're in here, and then we're going to keep going as certainly as we have resources to keep building on it. And look at the Cure Violence movement as just one piece of this equation. Every year, working with the Council, we have added more and more investment. We know this approach works. We're going to keep investing.
Question: How is this all going to happen? What is the – so one jail on Rikers already closed and converted to a rec center. When’s the next jail going to close?
Mayor: So, Liz Glazer can help me. There you are, Liz. The ongoing effort obviously to close as we are able, facilities on Rikers – but remember, it interplays with the construction effort. So, to do the construction of the new borough-based jails, we're going to have to at some point close Manhattan, we have to some point close Brooklyn. We're going to keep mixing and matching, if you will, to make sure we have the right facilities at each time. But you're going to see steady movement and certainly on Rikers you're going to see facilities close –
Mayor: Well, of course, our Correction Commissioner, but it's worked on by a whole team at City Hall as well, and we're working closely with the Council.
Let’s see if there's anything else on this from the media – yes?
Question: I can understand you're about confident that the prison population is going to drop down below the number of beds needed, but is there a contingency plan in place in case is doesn’t [inaudible] and you’re out of office a year from now?
Mayor: Again, I'm confident because of a combination of very consistent facts. So, first of all, six years, crime has gone down for us and arrest has gone down. But remember, you have to go back to 1994 to see the origins with CompStat and Bill Bratton of the declining crime. It's been really, really consistent. I believe that is the way of the future. And further, this is now being complimented by an extraordinary variety of strategies to stop violence at the root, to provide alternatives. And obviously the big structural changes in Albany, which we haven't even begun to feel the effect of, but we're talking about much speedier trials, we’re talking about a whole lot of people who are not incarcerated because they couldn't afford bail. By the way, one of the things that's been underestimated here, because these facilities are all going to be closer to the courthouses – like much, much closer – you’re talking about the impact that that's going to have on speeding up the trials and avoiding breakdown in trials, which was legendary. Trials that had to stop because someone who was in jail couldn't be there on time or had to leave. This is going to change that whole reality. So, I'm very confident. Look, there's always – if, God forbid, there was a situation, there's always some way to come up with an alternative, but I really don't see that. We’ve been studying this very carefully. And remember, we weren't ready to move until we were convinced – and Judge and I had this conversation – we had to be 100 percent convinced that these numbers added up for the long term, and I am 100 percent convinced.
Question: I just want to go back quickly to ATI and ATD funding. Is the argument that you're making that additional funding – you know, say the $260 million figure just for sake of argument, that that level of funding isn't necessary at this point because of the broader suite of services, I guess –
Mayor: No, it's an argument that's not about one year. I'm talking about what has been a six-year series of changes, including a whole lot of funding. And one thing that we should do, which I think will be helpful to all of you, is show you the total money that's been spent in the previous years – very consistent with the ideas of the Lippman report. So, you're asking a very fair question. You know, here we're at this crossing-the-Rubicon moment. Does it fit with a specific dollar figure at this exact moment? I’m suggesting something different, which is there's been six years of spending that's been growing, growing, growing, very consistent with the same values –then a whole lot of more spending in this plan to take us further and an open door to go farther beyond that as much as our resources will allow, because we're all convinced of the same thing. I mean, that's part of what needs to be recognized here is the extraordinary unity that started with Melissa Mark-Viverito, continued with Corey Johnson, and all the Council members – we all want to get to the same place and that's why you see this vast expenditure and that's why you see all the previous expenditures and we're going to keep doing what it takes.
Question: Mr. Mayor, I want to give you a chance to address folks tonight who are [inaudible] want the city spending money to build new cages, as they say. These are your constituents, they believe that the city is taking a step in the wrong direction, and I just wanted to get you a chance to respond to that.
Mayor: I appreciate folks who say they would like us to live in a society that had no jails at all. I think every one of us would like to live in that society, and maybe someday we can get there. We're certainly, you know, a lot better off than we were a few years ago, but I can't tell you in truth that we're there yet. And I that I have constituents who have a different viewpoint, but I think – one of the things I have found about New Yorkers is they like the blunt truth. In today's New York City, we still will need some jail capacity, but it's a hell of a lot less. Remember, a few decades ago, our Correction population was over 20,000. We're now talking about going down to around 3,000, out of a city of 8.6 million – that’s extraordinary – and we’re going to keep trying to go farther. But I also want to say, to the way it's being characterized, I think that's a disservice. I think everyone here is talking about what's wrong with Rikers, they’re speaking from the heart and speaking from history. And for some people want to stay on Rikers, let me tell you – Rikers was a broken concept. If you want to stay there, you were going to spend billions and billions of dollars to create new facilities in a place where they shouldn't be. Anyone who thinks you could've stayed on Rikers and not spend a huge amount of money is deluding themselves. The only way to actually have humane jails that focused on redemption, that focused on helping people forward, that we're fair to our Correction officers too and safe for everyone was to create brand new facilities. And that meant you were going to be investing a lot of money in today's day and age. But to have them in communities where family members could visit, where the court houses where nearby and trials could happen on a more speedy basis – this is the humane thing to do. So, look, we should strive for a day where we don't need any jails. We've never known that day in human history. That doesn't mean we shouldn't strive for it. But based on everything we've all known and lived, this is an extraordinary step in the right direction.
Question: Do you plan for fewer guards?
Mayor: Right now, it will all depend year-by-year of course on the number of facilities as we go through this transition, the number of folks in jail at any given point. But I can safely say this, we have the number of officers we need and any officer we have now is going to be working for the City of New York for the rest of their career.
Two more –
Question: The size of the jails was reduced pretty dramatically in negotiations leading up to today’s vote. I'm wondering, you know, the size of the facilities was also one of the main sticking points for Council members [inaudible]. What did you lose by getting rid of that space? And did you feel like it was sort of a necessary evil to get a political win to take a loss on the size of facilities you want?
Mayor: No. I think – as folks who are immediately saying, no. We all – the original proposals were based on the numbers and before the votes in Albany that started to change the situation profoundly. Remember, another thing it has to be recognized here is, each year we've been learning what's possible and really seeing a whole set of policies play out in a way that we believed would work, but we had to do them to know they would work, and they have. So, it was the combination of the extraordinary changes we were seeing already in the amount of incarcerated folks. Remember, in 2018, about half as many people went through the doors of our Correction system as five years earlier. In terms of just the pure number of people who had any involvement in our corrections system is literally about half of five years earlier. And that's before the changes we saw in Albany this spring that made such a difference. So that – and I mentioned the reduction arrests. I mean, this has been a systematic reality. There was a day that was to me, like some of the conversations I had with Judge Lippman, I had a conversation with Bill Bratton the first year I was here, and reflecting on all the changes, reflecting on getting away from stop and frisk. And he said one of the simplest things, one of the most powerful things I heard about criminal justice – he said arrest is not an end unto itself. Arrest is a tool. And there are many situations where arrest was used in the past where it's not the only tool or the best tool. And as the NYPD worked to reduce the number of arrests – and obviously it was something the Council cared about deeply as well, so we all worked on this together. We saw that we could drive down crime with a lot fewer arrests. So, when you think about 150,000 fewer arrests in 2018 than 2013 that's seismic in terms of impact on the number of people in jail. So, it's really – as we saw the door opening to a much smaller number, that’s what allowed us to bring down the height.
Question: [Inaudible] your remarks to Melissa Mark-Viverito that you weren’t sold on this immediately, you had some doubts. Can you talk about how you changed your mind? Is there like a particular incident at Rikers, you know, something that kind of got you to the place?
Mayor: I didn’t need to be convinced that there was a problem with Rikers. I needed to be convinced that we had a way forward. And, originally – it’s very good question. I’ve got to kind of take people back. I think it's hard to imagine it from the perspective of 2019. But in the beginning of 2014, even back then we thought it wasn't going to be too long until there was another recession. We were very worried about the City's finances. We had all been through it before. A lot of us who people this place had been through the Great Recession, not so much earlier, been through, you know, some folks remembered very well the fiscal crisis. The sheer magnitude of the effort, and then the question of whether we could ever get to a population that would allow for the possibility – in the beginning, it just, we couldn't find a mathematical way to do it, and it was a year-by-year thing. That conversation I mentioned with Bratton was absolutely crucial to me understanding, you know, the possibilities of much less reliance on arrest and then literally – you know, if you did a timeline, when did we decide to stop doing a rest for low-level marijuana possession, and then some of the initiatives the Council focusing more on summons and, you know, and of course the impact on stop and frisk – getting rid of that broken policy, and you start to add up how each piece started to move the needle. We had to see crime go down in consistency with those policies to believe that they all fit, right? You might say, this is a great, fair policy, but if it didn't reduce crime simultaneously, it was not going to achieve what you wanted to achieve. So, we saw all that moving, and then the drum beat for the bigger criminal justice reforms in Albany, which became more and more real, the efforts on alternatives to incarceration, which became more and more effective. I mean, all of these pieces were building and building and building. And then I think, you know, the extraordinary work of the Lippman Commission, the resolve of the Council, which, as I said, would not have been a given in most political dynamics we've all seen. And crucially, the election of the new State Senate in Albany, which was sort of the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of – in a good way – in terms of the criminal justice reforms that had been waiting for years and years, finally happening. And then all those things started to kind of in a really good way, build on each other and cascade in a really good way so that now we were dealing with a whole different set of numbers and realities. But, Sally, I had to learn it step by step and I had to believe – to the previous question – I had to believe that we were in a structural place, that we were going to reduce crime, reduce incarceration, stay that way, and be able to afford the solutions – and all those stars aligned. And thank God for this movement of people who stuck with it, because sometimes you can't do something at one moment in history, but if you stick with it long enough, those stars align – and they really did align.
And with that, to DeAnna Hoskins and everyone that she led – a tremendous congratulations and thanks. Let me have DeAnna come up and speak.