Governor Kathy Hochul with a state trooper after an explosion in Niagara Falls on November 22, 2023. Mike Groll / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
This year, the governor’s budget contains an agenda to combat retail theft. It looks a lot like last year’s plan to curb gun violence.
By Chris Gelardi

When it comes to crime, Governor Kathy Hochul has a playbook.

“Thieves brazenly tear items off shelves and menace employees. Owners go broke replacing broken windows and stolen goods,” Hochul said in her State of the State address last week. It’s “chaos” that has led to “a breakdown in the social order,” and she wants to dedicate $40 million of additional state funds to stop it.

Those millions represent a copy-and-paste approach to the crime surge du jour. During her first two state budget processes — when the governor’s policy-making power is at its max — Hochul pushed through a tough-on-crime crackdown on gun violence: more street policing, more police surveillance, more prosecutors, and tougher penalties. Now, she’s using the same playbook against retail theft.

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Governor Kathy Hochul extends her executive order declaring a state of emergency over migration on August 24, 2023. Mike Groll / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
With chapter amendments, governors can make major changes to pending laws. Kathy Hochul uses them more than any executive before her.
By Chris Bragg and Sam Mellins

At the state Capitol, major bills are now negotiated in secret not once, but twice.

As the legislative session ends in June, the legislature hammers out hundreds of bills behind closed doors before rapidly voting on them. But at the end of the year, a second secretive, low-profile process takes place: chapter amendment negotiations, during which the governor extracts major policy concessions in exchange for their signature.

For years, the amendments’ primary use was to clean up minor technical flaws in bills that might carry unintended consequences. Then former Governor Andrew Cuomo ramped up the process, turning chapter amendments into a powerful executive tool.

Governor Kathy Hochul has taken it even further. New York Focus found that she has amended roughly one out of every seven bills sent to her — twice as many as her predecessor.

We asked our subscribers to send us their budget-related questions. We’ll answer a question each week. 

Melanie M. Bishop asked: I heard a lot in the governor’s State of the State about her tough-on-crime stances and funding for district attorneys’ offices, and also increasing access to mental health services. I am wondering if her budget will include funds to our prisons and jails so that there is actual mental health treatment in those facilities. And programming, including access to programming as soon as one enters the facilities so that when they re-enter, they are no longer a threat to society, but can re-integrate in a positive way.

The governor has indeed proposed ramping up funding for police and prosecutors — as she has during every budget cycle since she entered office — particularly to combat gun violence. This year, she wants to keep gun policing spending levels up, while also beefing up enforcement of retail theft and domestic violence. As we reported this week, her retail theft plan mirrors her gun plans: more street policing, more surveillance, more prosecutors, tougher penalties.

Both in this year’s budget proposal and her last two, Hochul has focused a lot on re-entry, or helping people move from incarceration back into broader society. Much of that relies on surveillance: Half of the $6 million she wants to add to the state’s efforts to “support re-entry and reduce recidivism” this year would go toward gathering intelligence and data on parolees. But she also wants to add $2 million to transitional housing programs for recently released people and expand the prison system’s college programming.

And yes, Hochul has proposed a kitchen sink initiative to combat what she calls “the mental health crisis,” including expanding services to people charged with crimes. But there doesn’t appear to be anything in it that addresses the lack of adequate mental health treatment in prisons. The state prison system often touts its vast array of specialized mental health facilities, but by all accounts, the care is abysmal: One of the most common complaints I hear from incarcerated people and their loved ones is that people suffering from mental health crises are subjected to brutality and neglect.

Take the recent case of Alex Mirzaoff. He was sent to prison specifically to get mental health treatment, but his condition only worsened there — to the point where he couldn’t gather himself enough to play a card game with his parents when they visited.

Even though Hochul hasn’t promised better services in prisons and jails, we’re interested in what else she has in store for mental health. Keep an eye on our budget coverage as we unpack her sweeping, multi-pronged plan.

—Chris Gelardi, New York Focus criminal justice reporter


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Staying Focused is compiled and written by Alex Arriaga
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