NYC to ease penalties for littering, public urination

New York City will reduce the penalties for minor offenses like littering and public urination under a package of bills approved by the City Council.

Council members approved the Criminal Justice Reform Act on Wednesday, and Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign the eight bills into law. The bills are meant to unclog the city's courts and reduce the number of people jailed for low-level offenses.

Under the reforms, possessing an open alcoholic drink in public would result in a ticket, and public urination and loitering in public parks would be downgraded from misdemeanors to violations.

Critics believe that the small offenses affect the quality of life for New Yorkers. "They are not major felonies, but just because they are not serious crimes does not mean they should not be taken seriously," said Councilman Steven Matteo (R-50th District).

Currently, some of the misdemeanors could result in jail time of 90 days. Under the reforms, that would change to one day and about 10,000 people a year would avoid having a criminal record.

"The only thing this changes is the outsized, lifelong impact that these low-level offenses were causing," said Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-45th District).

The offenses will still be illegal but will, in most cases, be steered to civil courts rather than criminal courts. Analysts believe that more than 100,000 cases will be diverted to civil courts.

Supporters of the bills say harsh penalties for offenses disproportionately affect young black and Latino New Yorkers.

"For too long, New York's criminal justice system has been broken, and it's time we fixed it," said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Associated Press reports contributed to this story.

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