Reggie Randolph, a client of The Legal Aid Society who spent over 850 days on Rikers Island and is now in state prison after a conviction for stealing cold medicine, is the subject of a new profile by the PIX11 News.
Mr. Randloph’s case is a shameful example of New York’s criminalization of mental illness, substance use disorders, and poverty, and highlights the disturbing reality that the criminal legal system has become cruelly indifferent to peoples’ over harsh treatment. Reggie, who was homeless at the time of his arrest for stealing cough medicine, suffers from a range of mental health and substance use challenges, and serious medical conditions including almost full blindness and pulmonary disease. However, rather than receive immediate treatment, support, and housing in this case, Mr. Randolph was cruelly caged and re-traumatized for 14 months before being expected to comply with the terms of release into restrictive programming, ultimately leading to his being sentenced to 2-4 years state prison, over 850 days of which he has already served.
Now rather than being compassionately released into supportive housing and community programming individualized to his vulnerabilities and needs, Mr. Randolph continues to experience punitive long-term incarceration and will face a return to chronic homelessness, instability, and feelings of worthlessness because of a criminal legal system that has turned a blind eye to him being a human being.
“This system has become totally desensitized to people’s pain and suffering,” said Jeffrey Berman, a mental health attorney with The Legal Aid Society who represents Mr. Randolph. “And Reggie Randolph was arrested for stealing NyQuil. I would say the same thing for many or most of my clients. Our clients, as public defenders — there are health reasons that bring our clients into the criminal legal system.”
The Legal Aid Society filed an emergency clemency application in September 2021 on behalf of Mr. Randloph and has secured him placement in a supportive housing program with robust wrap around substance use, mental health, and medical services, as opposed to a homeless shelter or a psychiatric hospital, which will likely result if he is required to serve out his sentence and be released onto parole for this non-violent charge. The Manhattan District Attorney is on record as not opposing the commutation of his sentence. Yet, Governor Hochul has not yet acted upon the Legal Aid Society’s petition. Yesterday, Mr. Randolph was transferred to an upstate prison to serve out the remainder of his two to four-year sentence.
Reggie’s case illustrates that systemic reform is needed. Advocates are pushing the Governor to sign the transformative Treatment Not Jail Act, which recognizes that most people who become entrenched in the criminal legal system do so because of a diagnosable condition such as a mental illness, substance dependence, or an intellectual disability. Treatment Not Jail will amend the current codification of Judicial Diversion and ensure that justice-involved New Yorkers with these challenges have an off-ramp from the criminal legal system to obtain robust treatment and support in their communities rather than jail which will only serve to destabilize them further.
Watch the full segments below.
Last Updated: 24 November 2021
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