Legal Aid, Activists to Queens & Bronx District Attorneys: Stop Cruel Prosecution of New Yorkers Arrested for Fare Evasion
MONDAY, JULY 17, 2017

The Legal Aid Society, The Bronx Defenders, Queens Law Associates, the Community Service Society of New York, VOCAL-NY and Riders Alliance today called on Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark to cease prosecuting New Yorkers arrested for fare evasion.

This call comes after a recent announcement from the Manhattan and Brooklyn District Attorneys that their offices will soon stop prosecuting the majority of fare evasion arrests.

Fare evasion, a theft of services under New York’s Penal Code, is a deportable offense under federal immigration law. With the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s new mandate to systemize deportation - targeting immigrants because of any criminal conviction – arresting and prosecuting individuals for fare evasion can hold dire consequences for those who do not have U.S. citizenship.

Moreover, in situations when bail is set, prosecuting fare evasion arrests results in pre-trial detention at Rikers Island or another NYC Department of Correction facility.

Conviction for theft of services or a related charge, and even the act of prosecution itself, can create a slew of collateral consequences jeopardizing an individual’s access to employment, public housing and overall participation in the community.

There is a racial impact to current practices: the overwhelming majority of individuals prosecuted for fare evasion in Queens and the Bronx are individuals from communities of color.

“Fare evasion is the ultimate crime of poverty in New York City, yet the Queens and Bronx District Attorneys continue to prosecute our clients and others for it,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “This is an opportunity for DAs Brown and Clark to show some compassion and common sense by enacting the same prosecutorial changes announced recently by the Manhattan and Brooklyn District Attorneys. We need uniformity citywide on this issue from all local DAs, especially in the era of Trump where a theft of services conviction could lead to removal proceedings.”

"When you have entire households in the South Bronx surviving on less than $10,000 a year, the real crime is to continue punishing people who can't afford a MetroCard," said Alice Fontier, director of the criminal defense practice at The Bronx Defenders. "Policies like this only compound poverty and structural inequalities in NYC. We call on the Bronx District Attorney's Office to be part of the solution and reconsider its handling of fare-evasion cases."

“In a city where more than 1.8 million live at or below the federal poverty level, it’s no wonder that people can’t afford to pay $2.75 each time they need to get somewhere,” said David R. Jones, President and CEO of the Community Service Society and MTA Board Member. “And it’s no wonder that more than one hundred people are stopped every month for evading the fare. Rather than criminalizing poverty, we should work to make public transit more affordable by providing half-priced MetroCards to the working poor. We call on the other District Attorneys to follow DA Vance and Gonzalez in declining to criminally prosecute most cases of turnstile jumping.”

Alyssa Aguilera, Co-Executive Director of VOCAL-NY, a member of Communities United for Police Reform: "It's ridiculous that anyone is being arrested and cycled through the criminal justice system because they cannot afford a $2.75 MetroCard. The NYPD should stop its use of ineffective broken windows policing tactics, and all of the city's district attorneys should make it their policy to stop prosecuting these nonsensical arrests that worsen inequality and fail to make us safer."

John Raskin, Executive Director of the Riders Alliance, said, "Public transportation is a necessity, not a luxury. To a New Yorker, riding the subway or bus means having access to jobs, education and economic opportunity. When New Yorkers are too poor to use public transit, we shouldn't be prosecuting them for living in poverty; we should guarantee that everyone can afford the fare. The City should invest resources in providing Fair Fares to low-income New Yorkers, not arresting and prosecuting people who can't afford the fare."