Hamilton proposes that 'turnstile jumping' will no longer be classified as a misdemeanor; instead, the offense will be a civil penalty of $100 or community service.
Seeking to combat racial injustice in the justice system, Senator Jesse Hamilton introduced a new proposal today to decriminalize fare evasion on subways and buses. The proposal comes after Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance announced that his office will stop the prosecution of "turnstile jumping" and after recent comments from Governor Andrew Cuomo calling for "sensible reforms" that protect New Yorkers from "needless prosecution."
With his bill, Hamilton proposes that fare evasion will no longer be classified as a misdemeanor. Instead, the offense will be a civil penalty of $100 administered by the MTA's Transit Adjudication Bureau. Minors or offenders with an approximately $30,000 household income or below will have the option of performing mandated community service instead of paying a $100 fine that they cannot afford.
"We must lift that daunting burden placed on our fellow New Yorkers over $2.75. These are our friends and neighbors, these are people who may just be trying to get to school, or to work or to a doctor's appointment," said Senator Hamilton. "Shifting from criminal to civil action means nearly 30,000 fewer New Yorkers will face the nightmare of an arrest, potential for a criminal record, loss of housing or even deportation."
Hamilton pushes for the decriminalization of fare evasion after DA Vance decided against prosecuting most fare beaters, and while Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O'Neill criticized the policy during a press conference on Tuesday.
"Obviously, we want to be constantly finding ways to improve interaction between police and community, reduce arrest when we can," said de Blasio. "But people have to pay to get on the subways. And fare evasion is not acceptable. And we cannot create a situation where people think it is acceptable."
Yet, Hamilton's proposed legislation finds strong support from the National Action Network which has partnered with him on the issue of fare evasion. The bill is part of a broader initiative to end broken windows policing and the resulting harms caused to communities of color and to police-community relations.
In 2017, Hamilton issued a report titled, "Turning Lives Around: The Need to Decriminalize Turnstile Jumping," detailing the breakdown of arrests, misdemeanor convictions, and jail sentences resulting from turnstile jumping over the past four years. The report found that people of color represent 92 percent of turnstile jumping arrests.
A 2017 Community Service Society report supports these findings, suggesting that Brooklyn has severe disproportionate rates of arrests for black and brown people charged with fare evasion. The report found that 90 percent of arrests were people of color, 60 percent of arrests were black people of which 50 percent were males ages 16-36.
"We need to radically rethink our approach to policing and crimes of poverty," said Hamilton. "This measure on fare evasion takes a step in that direction and brings us closer to dismantling Broken Windows policing."