Westchester County Legislator Lyndon D. Williams hosted a vital panel to discuss criminal justice reform, immigration, foreclosure and eviction prevention among other concerns. The panel of lawyers and advocates included the Legal Aid Society of Westchester, The Westchester Black Bar Association, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley and others.
The panel discussion began with the tragic story of Kalief Browder, a teenager arrested and held on Rikers island for 3 years without being charged or having received a trial. Browder’s family was unable to afford the 3,000 dollar bail and while he unjustly languished, at times in solitary confinement, he suffered a mental breakdown. Once released, he took his own life due to the state of his mental health after his unjustifiable imprisonment.
The case would shine light on some of the many issues with our criminal justice system. Bail reform is one of the issues at the forefront due in part to Kalief’s tragic demise. According to the study and work of The Vera Institute it is obvious that imprisoning the loved ones of poverty stricken families simply because they cannot afford bail causes further injury. In Kalief’s case he was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. However the fact that he was imprisoned without a trial for as long as 3 years is incredulous. Legislator Williams posed the question, “How is the scale of justice balanced when money decides your freedom? How do you reconcile the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world, people with money who can walk while someone languishes in jail over a $500 bail they can’t afford”.
There were many other topics discussed on this subject of criminal justice reform. New York State Senator Jamaal Bailey also joined the panel and reminded the audience that bail should not be used as punishment. “Bail is in place as a guarantee that you will return to court”. Mount Vernon’s Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard also spoke about the many criminal justice organizations she has worked with throughout her career.
The mayor stated she is interested in creating an Office of Returning Citizens which would assist Mount Vernon’s formerly incarcerated residents to make a smoother transition back into society. The office she hopes to get funding for would offer supervision, probation and parole services, employment assistance, and many other support services.
The panel also discussed immigration issues and the requirements and process for individuals to receive their papers. Lastly, Legal Services for Hudson Valley discussed eviction and foreclosure issues and the laws currently in place to protect tenants.