POLICIES

Imagine an Albany County where the District Attorney is a champion for racial justice, ending mass incarceration and transferring power to the community. Imagine an Albany County where we all get fair justice, not just the wealthy and well-connected. Imagine an Albany County where safety and security are driven by the needs of the community and families. We can achieve this in Albany County.

 

The old approach to justice has failed by over-punishing and over-incarcerating the most vulnerable: people of color, queer and transgender people, people with disabilities, and immigrant and refugee communities. It’s created two systems of justice: one for the wealthy and well-connected, and one for everyone else.

 

But we’ll never build the strong, safe and inclusive community we all want to see as long as so many in our community – our friends, neighbors and family members – are over-policed, over-prosecuted and jailed at such a high rate. Criminalizing substance abuse and mental health issues does not solve, and instead exacerbates, the problem. 

 

As District Attorney, Matt Toporowski will end the failed “tough on crime” practices that have criminalized communities of color and working class people and resulted in a 50% higher incarceration rate than the state’s average in Albany. Matt will take a proactive approach by shifting the focus from punishment and counting convictions to addressing the root causes of crime. He will partner with community leaders, violence intervention organizations, formerly incarcerated people, judges, the public defender’s office, local police and criminal justice professionals to build a justice system that works for everyone. Matt’s partnership with the community will be supported by full office transparency so that he always remains accountable to the people. By prioritizing fairness, equity and treatment over incarceration, Matt will create the stable and healthy communities that Albany residents need and deserve.

1. SEEK SOLUTIONS, NOT JUST CONVICTIONS

Harm Reduction, Treatment, Alternatives to Incarceration, Ending Mass Incarceration.

Mass incarceration has not made our communities safer. The War on Drugs has not ended the harms associated with substance use. Locking people up with mental health issues in jails and prisons makes underlying illnesses worse. All evidence shows that treatment and harm reduction are the best ways to address substance use and mental health issues and improve public safety. As Albany County District Attorney, Matt Toporowski will seek to end mass incarceration, treat substance use and mental illness as public health issues and prioritize treatment over prosecution.

 

As Albany County’s District Attorney, Matt Toporowski will:

    • Individualize every case and operate knowing that every person is capable of change and deserves a second chance.
    • Ensure that no one is incarcerated because they can’t afford to pay bail, divert cases away from the justice system, charge crimes at a lower level, and seek shorter sentences in cases that do get prosecuted. 

  • Prioritize harm reduction, treatment and alternatives to prosecution over punishment and incarceration.

 

    • Prioritize diverting people with substance-use and mental-health treatment as well as providing opportunities for job and employment training.
    • Ensure diversion and alternative to sentencing programs are made available to people with prior convictions.
    • Support the expansion of syringe exchange and cleanup programs, widespread availability of drug test strips and Naloxone to prevent overdoses and Safe Consumption Sites (SCS) and refuse to prosecute individuals arrested on drug charges near or at SCSs.
  • Presumptively decline to prosecute charges that are used to criminalize race and poverty including:
    • Charges that criminalize poverty like license suspensions based on parking violations. 
    • Charges that criminalize substance abuse and mental health issues.
    • Marijuana charges, including use of marijuana in public. (Read Full Policy Here)
    • Technical probation violations and probation violations due to substance abuse issues.
    • Low-level charges including petty theft, disorderly conduct and civil disobedience.
    • School-based arrests.
    • Charges that criminalize public space including trespassing and loitering.
  • Expand and improve specialized courts and end the practice of forcing plea convictions in order for individuals to access drug, mental health and veterans courts.
  • Prosecutors will be evaluated by metrics like reduced incarceration and increased diversion, instead of number of convictions, trial wins, or sentence lengths. Progress will be measured and publicly reported. 

 

2. CREATE FAIRNESS, EQUITY & RACIAL JUSTICE

Decriminalize race and poverty, hold powerful actors accountable.

Generations of “tough-on-crime” policies have subjected vulnerable communities, disproportionately low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, to discrimination and cyclical harm. More than half of everyone in state prison from Albany County come from just three City Common Council wards, predominantly Black neighborhoods. Fairness and equity are essential to building a justice system that stands up to its name.

 

As Albany County’s District Attorney, Matt Toporowski will:

  • Create and implement a comprehensive, community-informed plan for addressing structural racism and systemic bias (Read Full Policy here)
  • Conduct mandatory training for DA’s office staff on issues like implicit bias, cultural competency, and how to recognize biased or abusive law enforcement practices.
  • Consider the collateral consequences for all jail or prison sentences and negotiated pleas, including immigration, housing, parole or probation consequences. Adopt policies, practices, and standards to limit the impact of local and federal policies designed to target and tear apart immigrant communities. Ensure language access at all stages of the criminal-legal process in which the DA’s office is involved.
  • End Debtor’s Prison. Thousands of people are jailed for fines they cannot afford to pay for low level, traffic, and quality of life charges. DA Toporowski will not incarcerate people because they cannot afford to pay a fine or fee.
  • End Civil Asset Forfeiture. In New York State, law enforcement can seize money, personal belongings, and property from people without even obtaining a conviction. 
  • Hold powerful actors accountable for unlawful conduct. DA Toporowski will investigate and pursue police misconduct and corporate crimes, including labor law violations and wage theft, environmental crimes, construction & development crimes, and antitrust crimes in order to create safe and healthy communities for all.
  • Reinvest proceeds into community based programs. Property or money that the District Attorney’s office obtains from judgements or grants will be invested in community based programs, housing, education and employment services that are proven to improve community safety and stability.

3. COMPASSIONATE PROSECUTION AND SECOND CHANCES

Prioritize survivors, Restorative justice, Repair the harm of mass incarceration

The central focus of the justice system should be addressing survivor/victim needs, repairing harm caused, and addressing the underlying causes of harm. Years of focusing on prosecution and incarceration has left the needs of many survivors/victims unmet and resulted in numerous wrongful convictions and decades long sentences. The response to violence should be centered on the needs of survivors/victims, developed in consultation with experts and focused on accountability, not simply punishment. Restorative justice and holistic interventions have been shown to improve survivor/victim satisfaction, increase defendant compliance with accountability mandates, and decrease incarceration and rearrest.

 

As Albany County’s District Attorney, Matt Toporowski will:

  • Create a culture of compassion by requiring that all staff visit prisons and jails where the people they prosecute are held and set up programs for prosecutors to meet with survivors/victims of crime, formerly incarcerated individuals and their families, and people who have been exonerated.
  • Work with survivors/victims and their families to find the support they need to heal and recover, regardless of their participation in any ongoing investigation or prosecution. 
  • Prioritize restorative justice. Research shows that restorative justice is cost-effective, leads to decreased recidivism, and satisfies the needs of both survivors/victims and defendants. When survivors/victims are interested and defendants are willing to admit their role in a conflict, a restorative justice model will be considered over prosecution. (Read Full Policy Here)
  • Establish an independently-led conviction integrity unit that will operate with three key goals: Proactively review cases for actual innocence or gross violations of constitutional rights; Set and supervise guidelines for the district attorney’s office regarding prosecutorial conduct focused on identifying and disclosing favorable evidence to defendants; and establish and maintain a database of police misconduct. (Read Full Policy Here)
  • Move for the release of people currently incarcerated for offenses that are no longer being prosecuted and use New York’s record sealing statutes to the fullest extent.

4. CREATE A TRANSPARENT AND COMMUNITY DRIVEN OFFICE

Ensure honest, responsive and community informed practices.

For too long, Albany County’s District Attorney’s office has operated without transparency or accountability, and failed to engage the community members it’s responsible for protecting.  Albany deserves a District Attorney who transfers power out of the hands of prosecutors and into the hands of communities. The practices of prosecutors should be informed by a broad array of experts, including people directly impacted by mass incarceration and local community leaders. By restoring trust in the office, improving cooperation, and ensuring transparent, responsive, and community informed practices we can truly achieve public health and safety.

 

As Albany County’s District Attorney, Matt Toporowski will:

  • Make all policies of the District Attorney’s office public to community members and hold quarterly town halls with the public.
  • Collect and publicly report demographic data on the office’s activity: what arrests are made, what charges are filed, case outcomes, as well as the overall progress of efforts to eliminate racial disparities in the system. This data will be published on a quarterly basis.
  • Create an advisory council that includes survivors, formerly incarcerated people and their family members, community leaders, service providers, policy experts and members of the defense bar to identify and implement policies that improve public health and safety.
  • Use a constituent informed process to expand and improve access to community based services and programs.
  • Hire staff from diverse backgrounds, including social workers, directly impacted professionals, and public health experts to develop and implement processes for transforming the office. Utilize an interdisciplinary team-work approach for addressing cases. 
  • Create and make public an internal process for handling any misconduct by prosecutors.

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