Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled the 13th signature proposal of his 2016 agenda: launch a “Right Priorities” initiative to further New York’s status as a national leader in criminal justice and re-entry reforms. The Governor’s proposal will help turn failing or high needs schools into community schools, help at-risk youth find employment opportunities in their communities, while also providing citizens who enter the criminal justice system the opportunity to rehabilitate, return home, and contribute to their communities. The Governor made the announcement at Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem.
More information on the Governor’s announcement is available here
PHOTOS are available on the Governor’s Flickr page.A rush transcript of the Governor’s announcement is available below:
Thank you. I’ve received a number of introductions, but I don’t think I’ve ever been called the greatest governor on planet earth, but I like the ring of it, I’ll tell you the truth. Anyone who wants to copy it, you go right ahead. First, to Reverend Dr. Green, it is such a pleasure and honor to be back. I should mention when I came in with the Congressman, he said “Welcome home.” I feel like I’m home. I have been here a number of times. I’m sure you could tell I’m an unofficial member of the choir and let’s give them a round of applause because they are really fantastic.
To Reverend Doctor Green – who, I believe when you do the Lord’s work, and you do the Lord’s work today – one of the best adaptations of the Lord’s work is to be a vehicle of justice – social justice, racial justice, economic justice. And that’s just what Dr. Greene has done and it is an inspiration. Let’s give him a round of applause.
Now there are a lot of elected official here today, and whenever you have a lot of elected officials, you get into trouble every time because you mention one, you don’t mention another, and they remember. They remember. They remember who got mentioned and who didn’t get mentioned. So I’m going to get into trouble, but I’m going to mention just one – the legendary Congressman Charles Rangel who has been such an inspiration to all of us.
Now we’re going to do the State of the State in just a few days. The State of the State is just a mini version of what the President does, which is the State of the Union, where he lays out the plan for the country. The State of the State is when you lay out the plan for the state. You put it together with the budget. We say where we’re going to spend money, what’s important to us and what we’re going to get done. And in the State of the State, there are a lot of things that are in there that have to be in there. The state does a lot of work and there are a lot of items. It’s a long speech – many people find it a boring speech. I find it a boring speech. I give the speech and I find it a boring speech. But there are a few things in there that I get to put in –initiatives that I get to pursue because they are really important to me. And there are things that I want to get done that I believe should be done, and I wanted to talk to you about one of those initiatives today.
We call it the New York “Right Priorities” initiative. It’s the first time the state has ever undertaken something like this. And for me, it goes back a long time. When I started my career early on, I was an Assistant District Attorney here in Manhattan. At that time, the District Attorney was Bob Morgenthau, who was a legendary, bigger than life District Attorney who has since retired, but the Manhattan District Attorney’s office was a great office. And I went to the District Attorney’s office and I got a great legal education with great colleagues and it was a good experience.
But one thing I found very distressing in a short period of time was the cases that we were actually doing. And the facts of the cases that we were doing. Because in many ways it was the same case, over and over and over again. Young man, typically, grew up in a poor community, went to a bad public school, sometimes a broken home, in a poor neighborhood that didn’t have the network of services, started to get into trouble at a young age, running with a bad group of people, got arrested once and caught up with drugs, went to juvenile hall, got arrested again and went to a state prison. And once you go to a state prison, now you’re really in trouble. 60 percent recidivism after a stay in state prison. And the thought that our prison system is actually going to make it better is far from reality. And all of this at a tremendous cost to society and a tremendous human cost.
And we have been talking about this for years and years. My father, god rest his soul, used to talk about it, Jesse Jackson used to talk about it, nobody talks about it better than Congressman Rangel, but we’ve been doing the same thing. And at one point, some state has to stand up and say, “you know what I’m going to try it a different way,” because we have to stop the cycle. This country puts more people in prison than any industrialized nation on the globe. 2.2 million people in jail. Well, maybe it’s getting better. No, it’s getting worse. Over the past 30 years it’s increased 500 percent. Well, maybe it affects everybody. No, it doesn’t. It disproportionately affects minorities: one out of every three African American males is expected to go to prison – one out of every three. Just think about that. And it has been going on and on and on. How do you stop the cycle? You actually have the right priorities. And you actually really invest in the prevention rather than paying for the problem once it manifests itself because it’s too late.
And we have a seven-point plan that is going to do just that. Number one, it starts with the schools. Why? Because if you were to map who goes to prison and who gets into trouble, you will see they tend to come back to the same neighborhoods – the same poor neighborhoods, and they tend to go to the same schools. And the public schools tend to be what we call failing schools. What are failing public schools? They’re schools that academically don’t meet the minimum standards. They’re failing schools. By the way, some of those failing schools have been failing for over 10 years. Can you imagine that? And every year we kept sending more students to the failing public school. And people are saying we’ve got to stop this. Why would you take a young person and send them to a school that you know can’t educate them? Why would you take a young person at that age and basically condemn their future by sending them to the same school that’s been failing year, after year, after year. They say well it’s hard. It’s hard to change a school, because now you’ve got to go get involved with the bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy is strong. And you try to make change and boy you get that whole bureaucracy pushing back, and people don’t want trouble, so they say leave it alone.
We want to take those failing schools and say look: the problem isn’t just education. The way you define the problem is the solution you seek. If you say the problem in that failing school is, it’s the teachers, and the education system, you’re missing the point. Because the kids who go to that school need a lot more than a teacher and a normal education. They need a lot more than a kid who’s coming out of a rich school and in a rich community. And it’s not just a school. If you think of it as just a school and all you’re providing is education, you’re going to fail. You needed nutrition, you needed mentoring, you needed after school, you needed counseling – you needed to put those services, in that school in the beginning, understanding that you’re in poor community with real challenges. So don’t call it a school. We call it a community school – its recreating community and the kind of supports that you would have in community, and that’s the first step. Get that child started right.
Give them the pride, the respect, the dignity of earning their own bread, give that to them. Forty percent unemployment young minority men. Forty percent unemployment. Standing on the street corner looking for trouble, they have nowhere to go. 40 percent unemployment. George McDonald is here ready willing and able, runs a beautiful program for formerly homeless men, men coming out of prisons, he starts with a job. Give them that since of dignity first. Now, you have young minority males who say ok that’s great, now find a job. They say ok, I can’t find a job. The schools I went to were failing, as I just discussed. I didn’t get through high school, I didn’t get through college, this is a high tech economy, unless you can figure out how to work a computer you can’t get a job what am I supposed to do?
We started a program first time ever, where we said to our private sector employers, Ill tell you what, we will subsidize the private wages that you pay that person, and we will pay for an apprenticeship program. To train that worker how to do that job, it has been working, it has been working – 30,000 young people now have a job, and a subsidy and an apprentice program through that program. I’m going to go to my friends in the Legislature this year and say, “I want another $50 million to do it for another 10,000 young people because once they have the job, that’s all the difference.”
Third, we need alternatives to incarceration, the answer can’t always be lock ‘em up, lock ‘em up, lock ‘em up. Get them the drug treatment they need, get them parole, give them a second chance, but once you send them to prison, you make it much, much harder for themselves and for society. I am going to go down in the history books as the governor who closed the most prisons in the history of the state of New York. And I am proud of it. And I want to close more prisons, with more alternatives to incarceration.
Fourth point: If you send an individual to prison, then let’s rethink what prison is. Commissioner Annucci is here who runs the state prison system. Prisons were not supposed to be a warehouse. It was not supposed to be, “we’re going to take you and put you in a warehouse for 10 years and lock you up and then take you out in 10 years and return you to society and think maybe you’re going to be the better for it.” That’s not what a prison was supposed to be about. It was supposed to be about rehabilitation. It was supposed to be an opportunity to help people. We lost that somewhere along the way. I say, when they’re in prison, teach them a skill, give them an education. We have colleagues in Albany who are not ready to do that and do not want to pay for those programs. So, you can tell me “No.” I’m accustomed to it. I just find another way to get there, that’s all.
We want to thank District Attorney Cy Vance, who from his own legal settlement has $7.5 million and he’s going to fund colleges in prisons through SUNY and through CUNY to give people an education so they come out stronger than they went in.
Sixth point. If you have to go to prison, we should protect younger people from a state prison. I want to raise the age on criminal liability, and we have separated 16 and 17-year-olds from a state prison because they are too young for state prison. They’ll get too hard, too fast, and we want to keep them out. Sixth, we want to invest in re-entry programs. That re-entry does not just happen. We have this fantastical belief that someone is going to walk out of prison and they’re going to walk down and look at the want ads and get a job and get an apartment and say hello to the family. It doesn’t work that way. It only works if you help make it work. Invest in that.
We have Rossana Rosado who is here today who has done a magnificent job. I want to invest more in those re-entry services to get that, stop the revolving door that has become the prison system once and for all and that’s an investment that’s worth it.
We also have, the last point is something I am very excited about. When you go to get a job and they say, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” and you say “Yes,” many of those interviews are over right there. Now, you have many young people who made a stupid mistake. They made a stupid mistake. They’re young people. It almost goes with being a young person that you make stupid mistakes. We have a policy. 16-year-olds or 17-year-olds that get incarcerated for a non-violent felony, and have been clean for 10 years, we want to conditionally parole all of them so they don’t have to say that they actually were convicted of a crime.
We’re also going to go further and we’re going to have the records come from the Office of the courts or from the state. We’re going to remove that information from the official documents from the Office of Court Supervision and from the State of New York.
Now, we have to get this done. That’s always tricky part – getting it done. I believe these seven steps will change the way we do it. I’ll tell you what they’re going to say when we argue this in Albany. “There he goes again – more money, more money, more money. Community schools cost more money than a normal schools” – they’re right. “He wants more money for re-entry programs than we now spend.” They’re right. “Well, it costs more money to put services in prison and education in prison. That costs more than just a jail cell.” They’re right. But at the end of the day, success is cheaper than failure. Success is cheaper than failure.
We are talking about relatively small investments early on to keep us from spending large amounts once the problem is manifest. You know what it costs to keep a prison in a prison cell in the State of New York? $50,000. You could have sent them to Harvard University and paid the tuition for what you’re paying for a prison cell. A person does ten years – it costs half a million dollars to keep them in prison. And then they come out of prison, they’re out for a year or two years and then they’re back in prison. We have people who we have spent millions and millions and millions of dollars keeping them in state prisons. That’s the economic cost. It is less expensive to do it right in the first place – and that is not to mention the human cost that we are taking young lives out of the community and we are locking them up and we are losing that skill and that ability and that creativity. You think the state is doing great now, you think this country is doing great – imagine if we had those two million people out from behind bars helping us work, helping us come up with new solutions. If we had their energy, if we weren’t spending all of that money, all of that waste – because we didn’t do it right in the first place.
It’s New York – the “right priorities” initiative. Let’s do this in this state. We will change hundreds of thousands of lives. And let’s say to this nation, “There is a better way, and it is possible. You want to see it work? Look at the great state of New York and we’ll tell you what social justice and economic justice and racial justice is all about, and we’ll tell you how to treat young people and educate them and give them opportunity and we’ll show you how high they rise and how they bring all of us with them in the family of New York.” Thank you and God bless you.