Open Letter to D.A. Michael McMahon: Staten Island is Falling Behind

11/09/2017 11:19 am ET Updated Nov 10, 2017
Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press via AP

Honorable Richmond County District Attorney Michael McMahon,

Over the past few years, New York City has been a fertile ground for innovative reform in the criminal justice system. 

Most recently, four of New York City’s five District Attorneys announced they would vacate approximately 750,000 arrest warrants that have been decades old and even implemented immigration programs designed to assist immigrant communities navigate the criminal justice system. 

Brooklyn has led the way in establishing a novel community court that has reduced costs to the taxpayer, decreased the number of defendants sent to jail and also drove a drop in crime. 

Staten Island, however, has been falling behind despite facing serious public threats. With an opioid epidemic and immigrant communities on edge, Staten Island must catch up to ensure we are keeping our neighborhoods safe. 

Dismissing Old Warrants 

The dismissal of old warrants poses no risk to public safety as those individuals whose warrants are being dismissed have not been detained in the past 10 years. 

Additionally, these warrants stem from summonses issued for minor infractions such as riding a bicycle on the sidewalk or being in a park after dark — which statistics show were largely issued to low-income blacks and Latinos. Many affected don’t even know they have a warrant!

Warrants, when left unresolved, can subject a person with automatic arrest when questioned by police on the street or during a traffic stop. Old warrants may also carry a number of negative consequences, including impeding one’s ability to secure employment or apply for citizenship. 

If a person has stayed out of trouble for ten years or more and is working hard to provide for their family, is it doing justice for the prosecutorial machine to derail all that over a decade old warrant? 

Ruining someone’s life over an outdated warrant sends the wrong message: our government will spend limited resources targeting good people instead of focusing all our energy to target criminals who threaten us violent harm or criminal enterprises that inundate our streets with drugs. 

Immigration Unit

Many of our neighbors in the immigrant community become victims of economic exploitation and violence. Creating an immigration unit would help improve public safety for all Staten Islanders as it would encourage both documented and undocumented immigrant victims and witnesses to report crimes.

Very often crimes go unresolved as many immigrants fear cooperating with law enforcement because of their undocumented status. 

Some DA offices have brought on board immigration lawyers to help them build bridges with immigrant communities and to assist Assistant District Attorneys navigate complex legal issues that can adversely affect a person’s constitutional right to due process.

The District Attorney’s job is to protect and work with all its residents, regardless of their immigration status.   

Problem Solving Courts on Staten Island

Launched in June 2000, the Red Hook community court is the nation's first multi-jurisdictional community court that hears neighborhood cases from surrounding police precincts (approximately 200,000 people) that under ordinary circumstances would go to three different courts—Civil, Family, and Criminal.

The community court is staffed by a judge along with on-site clinic professionals who use trauma and evidence informed approaches to assess and connect individuals to appropriate services, including art and peer education programs. Instead of a cookie cutter of approach to criminal justice, the community court has successfully worked with the community to improve public trust in government. 

Further, a federal study has found that only 1% of people sentenced by the court were sent to jail, compared with 15% in Brooklyn Criminal Court that deals with similar offenses. Recidivism dropped by some 10% for adults and 20% for juveniles for those who went before the community court. Roughly 78% of the guilty defendants in the court receive ongoing supervision, like mental or drug treatment.

And it is cheaper than jails: the court saves taxpayers about $15 million a year.

Staten Island Must Lead 

City government is supposed to make life easier for it’s residents, not add unnecessary layers of red tape over their lives. Not one, not two, but all four District Attorneys acknowledge an innovative approach is required to increase trust between law enforcement and residents. 

We applaud your efforts with the“HOPE” and “Fresh Start” programs. Good government, however, is supposed to be pro-active. Staten Islanders have families, jobs and, for many, long commutes. Going to court or the District Attorney’s office to resolve an outstanding warrant — one which they may not even know exists — ignores these realities. 

Our goal is to complement the New York Police Department’s effort to promote public safety and the District Attorney’s effort to enhance fairness in the criminal justice system. This is about good policy, not politics. We look forward to working with you to vacate old warrants, create an immigration unit, and create problem solving community courts on Staten Island. It’s time for Staten Island to lead.

We the undersigned urge you to continue promoting fairness and justice for all Staten Islanders.

Sustainable Staten Island

Move Forward Staten Island

Make the Road New York

El Centro Del Inmigrante

La Colmena Staten Island Job Center

Staten Island Women Who March (SIWWM)

Staten Island Legal Services

Peace Action of Staten Island

Ghanaian Association of Staten Island

Island Voice, Inc

Communications Workers of America Local 1102

New York State Nurses Association — Pat Kane. Treasurer

Above Ground Railroad — Staten Island and Brooklyn

Staten Island 4 Change

Staten Island Against Racism and Police Brutality

Eileen Cameron, Vocational Counselor and Counseling Staff at Camelot of Staten Island

Dream Action Coalition (DRM)

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