Kristen Anderson Presented Testimony at Hearing on Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) and Pre-Trial Services

The New York State Assembly

Standing Committee on Codes and Standing Committee on Corrections

Hearing on Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) and Pre-Trial Services

November 14, 2019

Testimony of Kristen Anderson, Senior Criminal Defense Social Worker


I first want to thank the members of the Assembly Standing Committee on Codes and the members of the Assembly Standing Committee on Corrections for taking the time to listen to this testimony today. I also want to thank you and the rest of the State Assembly for dedicating time and energy to think creatively about how to best serve New Yorkers after contact with the criminal legal system through alternatives to incarceration and pretrial services.  The passing of bail reform was a monumental step forward in reducing our jail population and curbing the tide of mass incarceration. It was a bold recognition that many New Yorkers are being warehoused in our jails simply because they are too poor to afford their freedom. We are now at a critical juncture that requires us to assess available pretrial services and alternatives to incarceration with the goal of making significant improvements and expansions to meet the increased demand that bail reform will inevitably create.  We must balance this new need with a firm commitment to the presumption of innocence and not to widening the net of people under state supervision.

With this increased demand for services comes a great opportunity to rethink the how and why the criminal legal system utilizes these services. Through our work representing clients as they navigate the interaction between the legal system and service providers, we have learned  the ways in which this interaction functions smoothly and those areas where the communication often breaks down. We have identified ways in which the structure of mandated treatment often fails our clients and recommend structural changes including:

  • ATIs and pre-trial services will yield better outcomes if determined by client needs as opposed to the nature and severity of their charge
  • The looming threat of jail does not motivate people, and instead impedes their progress
  • A strengths-based view of participants is critical to success

Additionally, populations that are often denied the same opportunities that other groups have to access treatment simply because of gaps in available services.  New York City offers our clients a wide variety of options, especially in comparison with other, less resourced areas of the state, and yet many of our clients fall through the existing gaps. The most glaring obstacles to ATIs include:

  • Individuals with the highest levels of need are often barred based on the severity of the charges against them;
  • Individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse needs often fall through the cracks; and
  • Language access limitations and insurance ineligibility leave immigrant New Yorkers at a constant disadvantage

Lastly, in addition to mending broken structures and bridging gaps in existing services, we believe New York has an opportunity to step back and look at the larger goals behind bail reform legislation and the resulting expansion of programming, to listen to directly impacted communities, and to put that individual or client-centered mentality to practice in the development of community-based, holistic services tailored to each individual’s needs and interests. This means supporting programs and services committed to:

  • Client-centered services recognizing that impacted communities and individuals know what they need;
  • Program requirements that are manageable and goals are achievable
  • Creative programming options for everyone, as it currently only exists for special populations; and
  • Empowering and funding smaller, grassroots and community-based programs to repair and uplift their community members.

With these momentous changes to our legal system comes an opportunity to rethink the purpose of the system as a whole and, more specifically, of pre-trial and ATI services. With so many more people remaining at liberty, we must ask ourselves about the best use of resources to support impacted communities in making transformative change, and truly shift our thinking away from the dated mentality of crime and punishment.  Addressing the root causes of contact with the criminal legal system is the only way to effectively reduce recidivism. 

Watch the full testimony starting at 2:22:00 here

Read the full testimony here