Mary Lou Leary: “We Simply Cannot Afford to Keep Incarcerating and Re-Incarcerating”


More than 30 of America's leading criminologists, policymakers and law enforcement authorities joined journalists for a hard-hitting examination of “smart justice” at the 8th annual John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America, at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

The two-day symposium, ‘Smart Justice: Changing How We Think About Crime and Punishment (And How We Report It),’ is sponsored by John Jay's Center on Media, Crime and Justice (CMCJ), which also publishes The Crime Report.

Mary Lou Leary, acting assistant Attorney General, will deliver the opening remarks for the symposium’s second day.

Check back throughout the day for updates this page throughout the day.

8:30 am: Mary Lou Leary, the United States Department of Justice’s Acting Assistant Attorney General is this morning’s keynote speaker. She’ll be addressing the symposium in a few minutes.

9:30 am: During her remarks at the symposium, Leary highlighted many of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) new “smart justice” initiatives. Leary said department’s Evidence Integration Initiative (E2I) has “become the touchstone of everything we do programmatically.” E2I is designed to bridge the Office of Justice Programs with local law-makers and practitioners.

“We hope through this effort not only to improve the quantity and the quality of the data we generate, but we want it to improve our own policies,” Leary said.

“I think there's nothing better for the Department of Justice but to build this data and to disseminate it to the field… police chiefs, mayors, victims service providers,” Leary said. She added that the goal of E2I’s data services is make material digestible to stakeholders who don’t have time to study long academic reports.

Leary also highlighted the DOJ’s Diagnostic Center, “a one-stop crime consultation service.” Leary said the Center is currently working as a consultation service for as many as 10 communities across the country that need systematic assistance.

In addition to services, Leary said the DOJ has emphasized academic research, including on hot spot policing. One study found that 50 percent of all juvenile crime incidents occurred at less than 1 percent of street segments.

“We're continuing to see the benefits of hot spot policing and we're supporting it,” Leary said, adding that many of the biggest criminal justice reforms have crossed the partisan divide. “Even the most conservative jurisdictions understand that we simply cannot afford to keep incarcerating and re-incarcerating.”

Leary noted that many conservative-learning states had adopted DOJ research into new criminal justice measures, including Kentucky and Kansas.

Panel 5: Grassroots Strategies for Crime Prevention and Control (Part 2): Doing More with Less

Panelists: Dimas Cortez, NYPD Community Affairs Officer, Mott Haven, (Bronx); Adjunct Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Robert Gonzalez, Adjunct Professor John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Lieutenant, NYPD Training Bureau; Cynthia Lum, Deputy Director of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, George Mason University; Patrick Timlin, CEO of MSA Security and former NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations

Moderator: Eugene O’Donnell Lecturer, John Jay College

Lum opened the panel with a defense of “evidence-based policing” strategies, in which police focus on so-called hot spots.

“Some criticisms of evidence-based policing argue, inaccurately, that it's translating experimental approaches to policing,” Lum said, adding that the media has not done a good job explaining key concepts. “Evidence based policing challenges journalists to convey something that is nuanced.”

Lum was followed by Cortez, who presented the findings of his research project, “SoBro: Fact or Fantasy? Local Perceptions of Crime in the South Bronx.”

Cortez studied drug crime and interventions in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, where he was lived as a child and was an officer for 14 years.

Mott Haven seems a lot safer today than in the high-crime 1980s, “however research suggests that the picture is more complicated than the prevailing narrative,” Cortez said.

“Neighborhood stakeholders felt that the residents of Mott Haven, particularly the children, were far more respectful during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when [drug gangs] ruled the streets,” he said. Residents reported feeling safer when neighborhood blocks were controlled by local drug dealers, who kept crime within their ranks.

Cortez concluded that in Mott Haven, the amount of crime may matter less to day-to-day neighborhood life than the type of crime being committed and the kind of criminals committing it.

Timlin, a self-described “COMPSTAT baby,” offered a different point of view on the importance of statistics that measure total crime.

“I believe in COMPSTAT,” Timlin said. “New York City police shootings are at an all time low now.”

Timlin calls his approach to statistics “multi-layered” and “data driven.” He described the job of a Deputy Commissioner of Operations as “the opportunity to do down and dirty audits of any corner of the bureau that I chose.”

He defended the controversial NYPD policy of “Stop, Question and Frisk,” but noted that it is often applied by officers who haven’t been trained properly. His sentiment was echoed by Gonzalez.

Gonzalez studied the NYPD’s “Operation Impact,” which floods crime hot spots with rookie cops and concluded that young officers are not getting as much on-the-job training as the program calls for.

His study’s recommendations include instituting field training for young officers in high crime areas.

Gonzalez added that police and community relations would be improved if the NYPD’s administration included more “in-house” hiring.

“This police department was not reflective of the community it served for the last 12 years,” Gonzalez said.

Panel 6: Healing the Wounds: Restorative Justice and the Victims of Crime

Panelists: Mary Lou Leary, Acting Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, Thérèse Bartholomew, Documentary Film-maker Mai Fernandez, Executive Director, National Center for Victims of Crime

Moderator: Julia Dahl, Associate Producer, “Crimesider”

The panel began with a screening of a portion of Bartholomew’s film “The Final Gift” (embedded below), a documentary about her path towards meeting her brother’s murderer. After the film, Bartholomew noted that many of her other family members were not interested in forgiving.

“One of the things the film shows is that victims are different. Victims have different needs,” Bartholomew said. “We don't try to get people to forgive, we just try to let people come to that place on their own path.”

Bartholomew emphasized that restorative justice — an approach hat focuses on the needs of the victims and offenders — does not force a certain way of handling victims.

“We don't try to get people to forgive, we just try to let people come to that place on their own path,” Bartholomew said, adding that America’s criminal justice systems are not set up to support victims effectively.

Leary said the Department of Justice is hoping to make victims more of a focus in the justice system. She noted that “restorative justice” is the 11th most searched terms on the National Institute of Justice website.

“People want to know, what is it? Does it work? What does it mean for the future of the criminal justice system?” Leary said.

She added that high-profile stories of victims meeting offenders have fed confusion about the concept.

“Restorative justice is not necessarily about forgiveness, and I think there's a lot of confusion about that,” Leary said.

Fernandez said restorative justice is one of many services that should be available to victims.

“If there is a menu of options that is put out there — one of which is restorative justice — then people are more likely to embrace it,” Fernandez said. The National Center for Victims of Crime conducted a roundtable discussion between juvenile justice reformers and crime victims and found that many victims were open to restorative justice for juveniles, but only when coupled with community safeguards to prevent future crimes.

Panel 7: Jailed Without Conviction: Rethinking Pretrial Detention During the 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainright

Panelists: Karen Houppert, Author, Contributing Writer, The Nation, Washington Post; Tim Murray, Executive Director, Pretrial Justice Institute; Norman Reimer, Executive Director, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; Justine Olderman, The Bronx Defenders

Moderator: Maurice Possley, Center on Media Crime and Justice

Murray began by arguing that America’s bail system cannot do what it is designed to do. Murray said indigent defendants unable to afford bail, which means defendants are held — at times for months on end — before they are brought to trial.

“Ladies and gentleman, no amount of money is going to make the most dangerous defendant less dangerous,” Murray said. “No amount of jail is ever going to make a low-risk defendant anything but more dangerous.”

Murray said many judges are given little leeway by local jurisdictions to set bail terms based on individual circumstances.

“In most courts in our country, there's a laminated card with the type of crime and the money amount,” Murray said.

That inflexibility goes against the spirit of the Gideon decision, argued Reimer.

“Financial conditions in our view should only be used as a last resort, and should always take into account individual circumstances” said Reimer. Bail is supposed to be used to assure court appearances, but Reimer said in most of America “there isn’t even a pretense that bail is” set for that reason.

Karen Houppert recently wrote an article that focuses on bail in New Orleans, where there is “something profoundly wrong with almost every part of the system.”

Her piece covers the story of a man who was accused of burglary in New Orleans. His initial bail was set at $10,000, before being boosted to $20,000 a few days later.

“A year passed with Terrence in jail, he spent it in Orleans parish tents,” Houppert said. He had not once been contacted by a lawyer. While Houppert discussed the perils of long lockups, Olderman focused on how quickly a short stay in jail can be detrimental to a defendant.

“24 hours in New York City held on bail is enough for ICE to drop a detainer on somebody, and for our clients to be deported, sometimes to a country they haven't seen since they were children,” Olderman said.

She told the story of a teenage defendant who was accused of robbing four people and stabbing a fifth who would not give up his or her money. Olderman said that as she got to know the boy, she discovered that he lived alone with his younger brother, and was stealing to help pay rent.

She noted that judges don’t often consider the consequences of setting bail, so defense lawyers should explain their defendants’ situations and the repercussions of being held on bail. The Bronx Defenders offers what’s called “holistic defending,” in which they promise judges to help defendants get other services outside the court.

“I explained what brought him to the criminal justice system's doorsteps,” Olderman said, adding that she promised to connect him with a social worker. “I also explained what the consequences would be if she set bail for Trevor.”

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