Changes to New York's criminal justice laws and police procedures are designed to lead to more accountability, and fewer people languishing in jails, but local-level prosecutors are increasingly concerned the changes are not being fully funded by state officials to be effective.
The organization that represents district attorneys urged lawmakers on Tuesday to provide more funding in the state budget so local prosecutors can better process the changes enacted in recent years meant to provide access to evidence on an expedited basis.
“In 2019, New York State enacted significant and transformative changes to its criminal justice laws,” said Tony Jordan, the Washington County district attorney and the president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York. “What is still lacking in this budget is funding to ensure that the stated goals of those changes are accomplished. This budget grossly underfunds pretrial services, contributing to the continued resource gap across the state."
The hope for prosecutors is with the state flush with cash, lawmakers will send more money to help enact the changes.
Take body-worn cameras by police officers. The devices have led to district attorneys' offices needing at least one additional staff member for every 100 cameras on the street to help process and review the video files generated.
All told, that could translate into a 25% increase in staff — investigators, assistant district attorneys and IT staff include, Jordan told lawmakers.
Lawmakers in 2020 agreed to a budget that included a $40 million fund to enact discovery law changes, transferred from deferred prosecution agreements. But the money still hasn't been enough, Jordan said.
“Although that funding was welcomed by cash-strapped counties,” Jordan said, “it was not an investment by the state to ensure the fulfillment of the goals of the changes to discovery and it falls far short of the funding required for adequate and efficient statewide discovery mechanisms.”