Each year, the Governor’s proposed budget sets the tone for several months of negotiations in Albany. Governor Kathy Hochul’s Executive Budget Proposal for Fiscal Year 2025 contained both bright spots and disappointments for those devoted to criminal legal system reform, meeting the needs of survivors of violence, and social and racial equity, Common Justice included.
Common Justice applauds the Governor’s inclusion of $120 million to support victim service providers given Federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) shortfalls. This funding will undoubtedly help ensure that victims and survivors of violence receive the services and support they need to heal. We also commend her proposals for continued funding for gun violence prevention efforts in the amount of $347 million dollars, the closure of up to five state prison facilities, and the expansion of college programming to all state prisons. In addition, Common Justice celebrates the Governor’s proposed investment of $1 billion in mental health care and $2.4 billion in emergency funds to aid newly arrived New Yorkers. We are hopeful that the legislature will support these initiatives.
Unfortunately, Governor Hochul once again utilized her Executive Budget Proposal to perpetuate false narratives about public safety and to call for investments in criminalization. In recent years, debates on the merits of bail rollbacks and discovery reforms dominated budget discussions. This fearmongering distracted lawmakers and the public from recognizing compelling data and ultimately delayed the passage of the Fiscal Year 2024 budget.
While, refreshingly, this year’s Executive Budget Proposal did not touch upon these particular subjects, Governor Hochul touted combatting retail theft as a measure that would foster public safety. Specifically, she has proposed investing $40.2 million dollars in state and local police officers as well as District Attorneys’ Offices to focus on the issue.
Governor Hochul’s laser focus on retail theft is both misguided and deeply harmful. In testimony provided for last week’s Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on Public Protection and Human Services, the Center for Community Alternatives cited research demonstrating that “fears about an epidemic of shoplifting have been manufactured and overblown.” Even more concerning is the disproportionate impact we know this investment will have on Black and brown New Yorkers, who are already oversurveilled, overpoliced, and overincarcerated and will likely bear the brunt of these erroneous efforts.
At Common Justice, we know that, to create true safety, communities need resources, not criminalization. The four core drivers of violence – shame, isolation, exposure to violence, and an inability to meet one’s economic needs – are fostered in prisons and jails. Conversely, investments in communities themselves the services geared towards them have paid off.
But Governor Hochul’s proposal indicates that she is shortchanging the very programs and services that make communities, particularly Black and brown communities, safer and healthier. In this, the Governor has made it glaringly clear that when she speaks about keeping New Yorkers safe, she means white, wealthy New Yorkers.
For example, she has allocated a mere $2 million to transitional housing services for people reentering communities after incarceration. We echo the call of CCA’s transitional housing coalition for an investment of $5-7 million. Formerly incarcerated people are nearly 10 times likelier to be homeless than those without histories in prison and jail, with women and people of color at particularly high risk. Research also demonstrates that those with stable housing are less likely to commit crimes of survival. Transitional housing services are essential to ensuring that those returning home can break the cycle of incarceration and, ultimately, to a safer New York.
Governor Hochul also proposed an insufficient amount of funding to support immigrant New Yorkers. As noted by organizations such as the Vera Institute for Justice and the New York Immigration Coalition at last week’s aforementioned hearing, the Governor has also only allocated $44.2 million for immigration legal and social services -- a roughly $20 million dollar decrease from Fiscal Year 2024 funding. Without the full support required to navigate complex systems, New York’s immigrant communities will be at further risk of harm, feeding cycles of violence.
Finally, Governor Hochul fell back on a shallow replacement of 421-A, a costly policy that lined the pockets of wealthy real estate developers and did little to ameliorate New York’s housing crisis. With her “placeholder”, the Governor has passed the buck to “officials, unions, and developers” in New York City and ignored the expressed needs and advocacy of tenants themselves. Given the relationship between instability, poverty, and violence, New York will not become safer if Governor Hochul continues to shirk her responsibilities to ensure the availability and accessibility of affordable housing.
While we appreciate her efforts to prioritize survivors, combat gun violence, reduce our state’s reliance on prisons, and more, Governor Hochul must recognize and address upstream causes of things like retail theft, and violence in general, such as poverty and social and racial inequity. This means putting more funding towards housing, education, legal services, decarceration, living wages, and violence interruption.
Rather than criminalizing Black and brown New Yorkers in the name of public safety, Common Justice implores Governor Hochul and the State Legislature to invest what truly keeps communities safe. New Yorkers deserve better. New Yorkers deserve more.