Reducing Crime and Incarceration: Elizabeth Glazer at the Center for Court Innovation


Reducing Crime and Incarceration: Elizabeth Glazer at the Center for Court Innovation

Reducing Crime and Incarceration: Elizabeth Glazer at the Center for Court Innovation

Elizabeth Glazer, director of the New York City Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, spoke about strategies for safely reducing the population of Rikers Island during a visit to the Center for Court Innovation in May 2016.


The following is a transcript of the video.

ELIZABETH GLAZER: When you think about reducing crime, reducing crime is really just about managing risk, and controlling behavior, and if you think about it in that way, it is not the province only of police or prosecutors, and it isn't just about kind of the hot center of what happens in a criminal justice engagement, from arrest to re-entry. It's about whether algebra in ninth grade actually promotes educational achievement and ensures that people don't go into a life of crime. It's about how neighborhoods are physically arranged to encourage behavior that is law-abiding instead of not. A neighborhood in which there are Klieg lights and broken glass on the streets and chain link fences is a different kind of environment than one in which there are leafy streets and people out on the street playing and engaging in social behavior. One of the things that we've tried to do is to think in a very sharp way about what reducing crime means.

I actually think that in New York City, if you think about reducing crime, there are really only two places to go to kind of break the floor. One is domestic violence, because it's 40% of our assaults, it's 20% of our homicides, and it's the last big thing for us to sort of figure out how to crack. And the other part, for me at least, is how do we turn legitimacy, which no one understands, or procedural justice, which no one understands what that means, how do we turn that notion into sharp crime-fighting tools that are as sharp as doing DNA in a laboratory on a gun? How do you make the notion that people will obey the law if they feel that they are fairly treated, if their voice is heard, even if their voice doesn't carry the day?

How do you turn that into something real in neighborhoods, and how does that then get translated into a way that we, the whole system, hold ourselves accountable so that the shooting clearance rate rises from 50%, because witnesses actually come forward, because people are willing to serve as jurors and grand jurors, and won't nullify verdicts.

In thinking about this notion of how you reduce crime, we've been trying to kind of put it into operation in a little bit of a stealth way, but it's kind of cool, and so about two years ago, almost exactly two years, there was a big spike in shootings in public housing. In public housing is, houses 5% of the city's population, it accounts for a very disproportionate amount of the city's violent crime. It is a big concentration of domestic violence, more so than other places, so the notion was, how could we reduce   crime there?

What we launched was an effort to kind of focus on the fifteen developments that drive 20% of the city's violent crime, and to do it in not just sort of vertical patrols and deployment and that, although we did that in a sort of softer way, but to also focus on how physical space actually affects behavior, so the day after this was announced, we essentially turned lighting on the ... in the developments. We're now doing a random controlled trial on those lighting, reduce crime, and a couple of other things. And began to work on many more aspects of sort of architecture space and crime, so does the lobby of NYCHA development, that looks like a fortress, invite crime more than a lobby that's blown out where seniors are playing cards and there's sort of natural surveillance? Big efforts around that, and I'd be happy to stay for several hours to talk about all the other things we're doing in the architecture and space area.

Big effort on programming, but for me, what I think is, in that overused word, kind of the transformational piece of it is, how do we make people's relationship with their government, not just police, but with their government, something that is more than shouting in rage and despair once a year at a council hearing about the mold in your apartment, and how do you make it a regular interaction? Sort of some of the key principles of   legitimacy, that is, your voice is heard. You may not carry the day, but you are part of both identifying the problems and solving them, so we've developed and have now launched a neighborhood-based CompStat which engages about fifteen agencies, including the police department and NYCHA, but also the Department of of the Aging and Parks and Sanitation, and residents.

Since the '90s, the jail population in New York City has dropped by half. We used to be north of 20,000, we're now south of 10,000, and when you look across the nation, we have, for jail population, and actually for prison population too, the lowest incarceration rate of any big city, and maybe of any small city, I just haven't gotten that far, but we're about half of what Chicago is.

The size of the Rikers population really depends on just two things: Who goes in, and how long they stay. When we think about the Rikers population and we ... I mean, sort of my office with all our comrades in this criminal justice system, are very much under the sink with a wrench trying to figure out how you move each of those system parts and then within those system parts, which parts of the population.

When you think first about who goes in, the first kind of surprise to many people may be that we're actually pretty good about who goes in. Essentially, what this chart shows, is, these are low-level guys, low-risk guys, so not that many low-risk people go in. Not that many, these are medium-risk people go in, not that many medium-risk people go in. Lots of high-risk people go in.

How long they stay depends a lot on what the composition of the population was, so twenty years ago, Mike Jacobson rightly points out, people went through a lot more quickly, but part of the good, the bitter with the sweet, was that, "Yeah, but twenty years ago, there were a lot of low-level drug cases there aren't anymore," and when you look at the composition of Rikers, and we'll go back and deconstruct it a little bit, and you look at who's there for more than a year, they are largely the violent felony guys, so when you think about sort of who goes in and how long they stay, if that's who's staying, then your option there is really your biggest chance of shrinking the population, is really more around making the cases go more quickly, delivering justice, [to go 00:15:17] more quickly, than it is about kind of narrowing the front door, although that's an important thing too, and not everything, by the way, is just about counting the beds. We should not be careless about liberty.

So we think that there are probably three different buckets of places where there are opportunities to shrink. One is just getting sharper about bail on the low end. Right? I think one of the biggest places ...

Part of it is the risk piece, right? Bail will move the needle to some degree in making those judgments finer, about the low-risk people who are in, but as you saw, there aren't that many, so we think we'll get some bed-day reductions from that. We'll have a new failure to appear tool that's the tool that's used to determine who goes in and who goes out that will be rolling out in the next year. That will make it finer. More people will be out, but this is the thing that I think is really interesting, which is, what do we do about meaningless jail? If you see who makes bail, people who actually are in Rikers who make bail, three-quarters of them make bail within the first week, so what does that mean? Truly, this is meaningless jail. That means you are arrested at four, and the bus left at six.

You couldn't get it together, within the time that you had to do it, or you had a warrant or a hold that ends up getting cleared up, but it's totally Dickensian once you get onto Rikers how you actually can get the money and post the bail and ... I think one piece is, how do we make sure that those one-weekers never show up in Rikers? By the way, that first week is the most expensive week in Rikers, because you're being assessed and all that kind of stuff. The second place where I think that we have an opportunity to kind of narrow the front door is the other half of meaningless jail, which is, you get arrested for some truly low-level stuff, and you're given ten days, and that is going to help how? That does not advance the cause in any way. I'm sure you guys have read about and know about the churners, the kind of high-frequency guys who hit the criminal justice system, mental health system, homeless system, so every thirty days, they're serving another ten. What do we do about those guys?

If we can come up with, and this is something that the Center is really quite expert on, the kinds of alternatives for that group that judges and prosecutors will have confidence in, we think that's another five hundred beds, so that's quite significant for the meaningless jail guys, the under thirty days. Then there's the just what can we do now. Expanding supervised lease has been going like a house on fire. We had it in two boroughs, in Manhattan and Queens, it's now city-wide. There are about thirty-three hundred slots. It's been going for about five weeks, where over five hundred slots have been filled without being on sort of full cylinders yet, so a lot of take-up by the system, and that, by itself, we think, annualized, will be another three hundred beds, so that's sort of how those are just some of the examples of how we narrow the front door.

Then on the how long we stay, the trick is to shorten the amount of time a case takes to get through the system, so about 5% of the Rikers population account for 45% of the beds, so these guys are driving the Rikers population in a big way, and in order to ... We have a big sort of effort around case delay right now that we're working with Carol and a whole bunch of people at the Center on, and with the prosecutors and defense bar, and corrections, and case delay is about more than there are too many adjournments and too much time between adjournments. It's everything, from the way the courthouse is laid out so, inmates don't get to the courthouse on time and now the case is put over, to "There aren't enough interview rooms," and so the defendant didn't have a chance to meet with his lawyer, and the case is put over, so lots of different factors.

We think the biggest single factor that will drive the reduction in Rikers is going to be case delay. Everything after that is a shave, a few hundred beds here, a few hundred beds there, ten, twenty, thirty, so that, we think, is sort of ... Thirteen hundred beds, if you had asked me this eight months ago, that number would have been way bigger, but I've been a sobered a bit by our experience.

GREG BERMAN: You talked about being "sobered by experience," and I'm wondering whether you could just talk a little bit about what you find difficult about your job. If anything, or maybe it's a slam dunk, home run ...

ELIZABETH GLAZER: Walk on the beach.


ELIZABETH GLAZER: Yeah. I don't think it's, would be a surprise to anybody in the room, but so I think there are a couple of things. One is, as I'm sure you have all learned in your careers, a lot of things are personal, and that for better or for worse, people have long associations, and that makes things work, and they can work well together. They have long associations, and they have hardened into a particular view of the way in which their comrades and colleagues in the field operate, so that's always a challenge that will ever be with us. We are all human. I think the other thing is that, so in my previous jobs, I sort of had more a kind of generalissimo positions where you were under the illusion that you were in a chain of command organization, you were at the top of the chain, and if you said, "Go forth," it would be done kind of more or less. You still had to, you know, beg, and, but more or less, people sort of understood that was supposed to happen.

In this role, and frankly, it could be the Mayor's Office, it could be CCI, it could be a DA who steps into the role to say, "Oh, please, could we all just work together?" In that role, it's complicated, right? Because the first reaction of everybody is, "You're not the boss of me." Absolutely right. The second thing is, is although we've come a long way towards kind of seeing things in a similar way from left and right, you know we're in an era where the Center for American Progress walks hand-in-hand with the Koch Brothers, we're not quite there, and it is very, very local, so there's a lot of cajoling and explaining to be done, and it's like a Rube Goldberg cartoon, where you never are directly influencing something, so here's one example.

We have this really big effort that you guys are our comrades on, in reducing case delay. Everybody's bought in, everybody, for different reasons, wants to move the ball, but to do that, you have to kind of get so in the weeds, so it's, "Did corrections get the inmate to court on time?" "Did the DA, instead of taking six weeks between the grand jury vote and the filing, do it in forty-eight hours?" "Between the filing and the first appearance, instead of taking two months, could it take two weeks?" Those are all very simple things to do. Great judges. Tally-ho, yes, we're all for it, but what you get is, "Yeah, we'll try." It's like, "Ok." "Really?" Memo, maybe? Protocol? Measure? Could we count? That's more of a ... That's a challenge. That's what I would say.

GREG BERMAN: I didn't say that on a challenging note, but you got a little bit of a taste of why I like and admire Liz Glazer so much, so thank you so much, Liz.

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