Bronx, NY – New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has stationed workers on Rikers Island to dole out gifts to all departing inmates.
Carrying all of the taxpayer-purchased rewards, including $25 debit cards, Mets tickets, free transit passes, movie tickets, and various gift cards, has become such a burden that the city is working to purchase drawstring bags so criminals can pack their prizes out more easily, the New York Post reported.
There are even plans in the works to kick in some prepaid cell phones as part of New York’s soft-on-crime criminal justice reform law changes.
Over $500,000 has been used to purchase additional items, such as winter coats, the New York Post reported. The Steve Madden shoe company has also donated footwear to the cause.
Although de Blasio originally touted the gifts as an incentive to get people to show up to court, they’re now being bestowed upon all exiting criminals – including those who have wrapped up their sentences and have no further court hearings in connection with their latest round of offenses, the New York Post reported.
The city is using taxpayer dollars not only to shower criminals with gifts, but also to pay the workers from nonprofit groups that are doling everything out to them.
The program will expand beyond the boundaries of Rikers to all city courthouses during the week of Jan. 6.
“It’s a sad state of affairs when the city bends over backward to reward criminals instead of protecting the victims of their crimes,” one law enforcement source told the paper. “What’s next? Free limo service back home?”
As many as 15,000 inmates are expected to rake in the prizes supplied by the incentive program, according to the New York Post.
“2020 is going to be the year of the perp,” one law enforcement source told the paper.
Critics argued that doling out movie tickets, subway passes, and various store gift cards will reward criminal behavior, but New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the incentive program will be a success, according to WCBS.
“In a world where we want speedier trials and we want the justice system to work, if small incentives are part of what actually makes it work, then that’s a smart policy,” de Blasio told WCBS on Wednesday. “It’s not something we developed. It’s something that has been worked on by experts over time and proven to work and proven to be a good investment.”
As confident as the mayor may be in the plan, many of those who have actually worked with offenders disagreed.
Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon said the program is part of a “deranged mandate,” the New York Post reported.
“We are reaching the point of the absurd when those who are accused of serious offenses are free to roam the streets or even rewarded with gifts while the rights of victims continue to be ignored,” McMahon railed.
“They are tying our hands, they’re tying our feet and they’re gagging victims from coming forward to stand up for their rights,” McMahon added, according to the New York Post. “Many people accused with violent crimes, serious felonies, are going to be back on the street.”
Beginning on Thursday, prosecutors will have just 15 days from the time of arraignment to hand over all evidence pertaining to a case – including victim and witness information, WSTM reported.
Cases can be dismissed if prosecutors fail to meat the deadline, Albany County District Attorney David Soares told the news outlet.
“’By the way, I have to provide your cell phone number to his lawyer in a few weeks,’” Soares used as an example of what he will be forced to tell crime victims. “I don’t know how I’m going to have these conversations with a victim.”
Under the law change, the court can also require crime scenes to remain unchanged so that defendants can be allowed to visit them, the New York Daily News reported.
McMahon has been speaking out about the myriad of problems the sweeping changes will have throughout the state since they were passed back in April, the Staten Island Advance reported.
“We will undoubtedly see a chilling effect on cooperation by those impacted by crime, choosing instead to protect their own privacy and avoid being re-victimized,” McMahon warned. “While there certainly was room to improve New York’s criminal justice system, the ‘reforms’ to our bail and discovery statutes supported by our state Legislature and Governor Cuomo blew past any semblance of fairness or justice.”
Soares noted that some aspects of the law changes are essentially impossible to comply with, such as being mandated to turn over DNA or toxicology results that won’t even be back from the lab within the 15-day period.
“When we pointed it out to the governor’s office that they need to increase staffing at the labs, they just shrugged their shoulders,” he told WSTM.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s spokesperson, Jason Conwall, argued that prosecutors can simply file a request for a 30-day extension if there is a valid reason why evidence can’t be obtained within the 15-day window.
“We carefully considered the views of law enforcement to ensure we enacted balanced reforms that were long overdue and will bring greater fairness to New York’s criminal justice system,” Conwall declared.
Soares said his office has been scrambling to digitize all of its evidentiary files, including some that date back for decades, in order to meet the Jan. 1 deadline.
But the ramifications of the criminal justice reform laws are even more wide-reaching.
Offenders found in possession of a wide array of weapons – including guns, switchblades, swords, machetes, and stun guns – will now be issued a “desk appearance ticket” and “set free,” the New York City Police Benevolent Association (PBA) pointed out in a Facebook post on Dec. 3.
Lawmakers also eliminated cash bail for hundreds of other criminal charges.