Speaker and Minority Leader Back Cuomo Call for Criminal Justice Reform

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver today (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver today (Photo: Will Bredderman).

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Albany’s two top legislative Democrats, immediately backed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s inaugural call for changes to the state’s criminal justice system—which disproportionately imprisons minorities, but rarely indicts police officers accused of brutality, critics say.

Mr. Cuomo alluded in his speech at the new One World Trade Center to the outcry over grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the death of black men in Staten Island and Ferguson, Mo. The Democratic governor broadly called for reforms and Mr. Silver and Ms. Stewart-Cousins, both in the audience, applauded the governor’s proposal.

“I thought he was terrific, I thought he laid out very clearly the challenges going forward: sustaining economic development, but more importantly, the issue of an examination of our criminal justice system. He didn’t jump into any quick fix proposal,” Mr. Silver, a Manhattan lawmaker, said.

“He called for an examination to make sure our justice system is operating appropriately to guarantee justice for all, and I think that’s the appropriate thing to do: to examine, to deliberate and to tackle what’s a major problem in this state at this point,” the speaker added.

Ms. Stewart-Cousins similarly highlighted the governor’s call for investigation and analysis of the present system.

“Obviously we are facing a need to take an overall look at our criminal justice system,” she told the Observer.

However, like the governor, both were light on details as to what particular action they hoped to take in their respective bodies.

“I believe what’s important is to examine the system, to look at it, to see what it’s inefficiencies are and what its injustices and to deal with it accordingly,” said Mr. Silver. “What I think is important is rather than jump into conclusion, examination of the system is what’s appropriate.”

Any reform will likely encounter considerable resistance from the State Senate’s Republican Majority. GOP Leader Dean Skelos, who was not in attendance today, has publicly spoken against proposals to change the justice system, such as having special prosecutors handle cases of police misconduct.

Mr. Skelos and Republicans instead have emphasized keeping police safe in the wake of the murder of two NYPD officers last month.