Queens DA Candidates May Look to Brooklyn for Reform Model

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced the details of his Justice 2020 Initiative during a press conference on March 11.  Eagle  file photo by Rob Abruzzese.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced the details of his Justice 2020 Initiative during a press conference on March 11. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese.

By Rob Abruzzese

A day before candidates for Queens District Attorney gather at a forum to discuss criminal justice reform, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced the details of a long-awaited plan that could feature in the conversation moderated by former gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout.

Gonzalez announced his Justice 2020 initiative for criminal justice reform on March 11, more than a year after he first began championing its contents. Gonzalez referred to the reform package as a "new model of a progressive and modern prosecutor's office in the 21st Century."

The initiative’s main goal is to reduce incarceration while ensuring justice. To this end, Gonzalez proposes considering non-jail solutions for crimes, promoting early release in most parole proceedings, prioritizing collaboration with neighborhood organizations and implementing a data and analytics system to ensure accountability.

“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.”

At the press conference on March 11, Gonzalez released a list of 17 "action points" or strategies to make incarceration the alternative, rather than the assumed method of holding accountable people who break the law.

The first action point on the list is "change the office culture so that [assistant district attorneys] consider non-jail resolutions at every juncture of a case."

Others include working more with community groups, developing new protocols for investigations and prosecutions of police misconduct, training all staff in cultural competency, using vertical prosecution of cases (each case will be the responsibility of a single ADA), and streamlining cases with e-discovery.

Gonzalez noted that relying primarily on incarceration can undermine public safety by breaking apart families and preventing people from getting jobs, housing or education. He added that some of the Justice 2020 measures previously employed have proven this.

This platform was the work of a panel of 70 experts that Gonzalez put together. The panel included people from all different backgrounds including police officers, community organizers, defense attorneys, prosecutors, former judges, college presidents, criminal justice reform advocates and others who made recommendations on how to drive down crime while providing true justice to Brooklynites.

“Justice 2020 has the potential to transform the relationship between communities and the criminal justice system," said Medgar Evers College President Rudy Crew, Launch Committee Co-Chairperson. "At a time when communities lack faith in law enforcement to keep them safe and treat them fairly, Justice 2020 envisions a partnership that gives communities a real voice in what safety and justice should look like.”

Former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who is leading the charge to close Rikers Island, has also been involved in creating the Justice 2020 Initiative.

"Justice 2020 isn't just an agenda — it's a comprehensive roadmap to improve public safety while diverting those who do not pose a threat to public safety out of the criminal justice system and into community-based services.”

Gonzalez ran for district attorney in 2016 on the back of a reform-minded platform and has continued to implement reforms throughout his time in office. Gonzalez credited some of his previous policies, like his bail reform and immigration policy, with helping to limit the number of murders in Brooklyn to under 100.