NYC Council Eyes Easing Penalties for Low-Level Crime

NEW YORK (AP) -

The City Council is poised to pass a series of criminal justice reforms that would sharply curtail the punishments for low-level offenses such as littering and possessing an open container of alcohol in public, an overhaul intended to help unclog the courts and jails of the nation’s largest city.

Though the offenses would remain illegal, the Criminal Justice Reform Act would steer them to civil court rather than criminal court. Most offenses in public parks would be downgraded from misdemeanors to violations, and the available jail penalties would be reduced to just one day. Currently, jail time could stretch up to 90 days for such offenses.

The package of bills was unveiled by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito on Monday and will be voted upon by the entire City Council on Wednesday, when it’s expected to pass.

“For too long, New York’s criminal justice system has been broken — it’s time we fix it,” Mark-Viverito, a Democrat, said in a statement. “The Criminal Justice Reform Act is going to continue to keep New Yorkers safe while also creating a more fair and just system that will ensure the penalties fit the crime.”

The plan has the support of the New York Police Department and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is expected to sign it into law in the coming weeks.

Council staffers estimate that the plan would divert more than 100,000 cases from the criminal court system every year, avoid the issuance of 50,000 warrants annually, and prevent nearly 10,000 people annually from having permanent criminal records. There are currently 1.5 million open warrants in the city, which has about 8.5 million residents.