by Alexandra Traganos, MPA student
Bill S.2371 was signed into legislation in April of 2018. A year later not much has changed. Can the criminal justice system really be reformed? And how so?
Bill S. 2371 ensures that law enforcement agencies that are responsible for firearms licensing, and state agencies that license child care providers, have access to sealed criminal records . The legislation’s goal is to provide opportunities to break the cycle of incarceration, strengthen support for victims, and end the criminalization of poverty.
It does touch upon the opioid epidemic, but not enough. The state needs more money to reform the system and a lot more needs to be focused on mental health and drug use. These issues need to be tackled head on.
With more than 2,000 opioid overdoes a year  and 21,000 people incarcerated between jail and prison– what more can the courts do? Pre-trial diversion programs cost the system well over hundreds of thousands of dollars and not enough research has been done to see if there effective. Most defendants have little to no support system, which is why they re-offend. Something needs to be fixed.
Criminal justice reform is often aimed at cleaning up the states court system. But in my opinion, its agencies like the Department of Mental Health (DMH) and the Department of Public Health (DPH) that really need the cleaning up. There needs to be more available resources to reduce recidivism, which in return, affects the court system. This could include anything from free mental health evaluations for defendants to giving the homeless on “meth mile” Narcan. The state needs to start allocating more of its budget to these agencies. This would minimize cases in the court system, reducing re-offending. Bill S.2371 should have had more emphasis on the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Public Health rather than the Trial Court.
Much has been done to waive fees, bail reform, eliminate mandatory minimums, and increase the use of diversion  – but that isn’t enough. That is all court-based. In Suffolk County alone, eighty-five percent of people that are incarcerated have drug or alcohol offenses. More than forty-two percent have mental health issues . If the state was more pro-active than re-active, maybe these numbers would be lower. If more help was aimed at tackling mental health and drug issues, crime rates would be down, and social reform wouldn’t be as much of an issue. There would be less foot traffic in the courts and more in recovery programs.