Mass Incarceration

Hakeem Jeffries’ criminal justice reform push

New York’s eighth congressional district carves a ‘U’ via Brooklyn, with Coney Island at one finish and Mattress-Stuy on the different.

It’s dwelling to tony brownstone neighborhoods and sprawling public housing developments.

It’s these Brooklyn streets that helped form Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, his politics, and the legislative causes he champions

What You Want To Know

  • Jeffries says that his upbringing in Brooklyn and his work at an NYU juvenile clinic helped inform his want to “do one thing in regards to the damaged felony justice system.”
  • In Albany as a state Assemblyman, Jeffries helped lead the trouble to finish jail gerrymandering and reform NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program
  • On Capitol Hill, Jeffries labored with a Georgia Republican to spearhead a sweeping jail reform invoice known as the First Step Act

Jeffries is a lifelong member of the Cornerstone Baptist Church. He was raised in close by Crown Heights as crack cocaine use surged. And whereas in regulation college at New York College, he labored at a authorized clinic serving to younger individuals from Brooklyn in bother with the regulation.

“We have been dealing with circumstances within the very neighborhood that he grew up in and neighboring communities,” remembers NYU Regulation Professor Randy Hertz.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries' Brooklyn district. (NY1 graphic)

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ Brooklyn district. (NY1 graphic)

“[Jeffries] confirmed innate empathy for the individuals in the neighborhood, and the sorts of issues that precipitated individuals to get entangled within the felony authorized system, and made it so exhausting for them to succeed,” Hertz continued.

These experiences, Jeffries says, helped lead him to concentrate on felony justice reform laws within the state Meeting and later in Congress.

“I feel over time it did inform that if I had the chance to enter the observe of regulation, or ultimately public service, that I wished to do one thing in regards to the damaged felony justice system that clearly existed, the mass incarceration, and the jail industrial advanced,” Jeffries mentioned in an interview with NY1 — his first in his new management workplace simply steps from the Home flooring.


Legislative work in Albany

In Albany as a state Assemblyman, Jeffries helped lead efforts to finish so-called jail gerrymandering — the observe of counting inmates as residents of the cities the place they’re incarcerated as a substitute of the place they got here from, depriving their communities of origin political clout within the course of.

“The prior system was unfair, unjust and undemocratic,” Jeffries told Spectrum News’s Capital Tonight program in 2011.

He additionally sponsored laws taking goal on the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk program, banning the preservation of a database of private info from these stopped however not charged with a criminal offense.

“He labored on the difficulty of cease and frisk earlier than it was well-liked to take action,” mentioned Queens Rep. Grace Meng, who beforehand served alongside Jeffries within the state Meeting.


Legislative work on Capitol Hill


In Congress, Jeffries teamed up with Georgia Republican Doug Collins in 2018 to cross sweeping reforms of the federal jail system.

The so-called First Step Act eased necessary minimal federal sentences, expanded early releases, and ended some draconian practices, such because the shackling of girls inmates giving start.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican. (Photo courtesy of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries' Instagram)

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican. (Picture courtesy of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ Instagram)

“He was even in a position to get one of many few payments via in the course of the Darkish Ages of the previous president of the USA. And so I believed that was great,” mentioned Queens Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Jeffries ally, referring to the president of Donald Trump.

There have been some legislative letdowns, too. Jeffries has been unable to cross into regulation a invoice ending the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine — a disparity that disproportionately harms Black People.

Jeffries additionally has struggled to corral sufficient assist to ban police chokeholds — legislation he introduced in mild of Eric Garner’s dying whereas being arrested by the NYPD.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries has struggled to garner support to ban police chokeholds in Congress, legislation he introduced after Eric Garner died during an NYPD arrest on Staten Island in 2014. (NY1 Photo)

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries has struggled to garner assist to ban police chokeholds in Congress, laws he launched after Eric Garner died throughout an NYPD arrest on Staten Island in 2014. (NY1 Picture)


Working with the GOP

Jeffries’ capacity to get issues completed will possible get more durable now that Republicans are the bulk celebration within the Home.

Reflecting again, Jeffries mentioned he was pleasantly stunned when Republicans joined in on the First Step Act and want to see if they may now do extra.

“It’s my hope that we are able to proceed to lean into bipartisan negotiations because it pertains to right-sizing our felony justice system, and ensuring that we are able to elevate public security,” he mentioned.

Jeffries mentioned he’ll work with Republicans when attainable, however push again on what he labels extremism.

Former Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican, remembers working with Jeffries to modernize music copyright laws for the streaming age. Goodlatte says crafting the invoice required balancing enter from a number of competing events.

“Probably the greatest abilities a legislator can have is to be prepared to speak with anyone in a constructive method, about tips on how to get issues completed. And that’s precisely the strategy that he’s taken,” the Virginian mentioned, describing Jeffries as somebody “open to compromise.”

Some Republicans now in Congress are skeptical of their capacity to work with the brand new Democratic chief.

“The Democrats picked somebody that’s consistent with their ideology up right here, he’s very far left,” mentioned Rep. James Comer of Kentucky.

Others, at the least up to now, should not totally writing him off.

“I’ve served with Hakeem Jeffries within the state meeting. I’ve at all times discovered him to be a straight up particular person who’s prepared to pay attention and have a dialog, mentioned Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island and components of Brooklyn. “I hope he retains that.”

Rep. Greg Murphy, of North Carolina, mentioned “possibly we might lastly have an affordable chief of the Democratic celebration, who isn’t so partisan. Possibly he’s anyone we are able to work with.”

“That continues to be to be seen,” he continued.

This story is the third a part of a four-part collection, monitoring Jeffries’ path to energy. The primary story on Jeffries’ Brooklyn roots might be discovered here. The second half, on Jeffries’ path from electoral losses to changing into the highest Home Democrat might be discovered here.

The remaining phase will premiere later this week.

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