2017-12-27 / Features

Debate On Ending Pre-Trial Detention; Cash Bail System


The wining debate team, which argued in favor of eliminating cash bail are (l. to r.): City Council Member Daniel Dromm and Fortune debater Felix Guzman, joined by Khalil Cumberbatch, Associate Vice President of Policy, David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy at The Fortune Society. Council Member Dromm has been a tireless advocate for real social justice reform and a strong voice in reforming NYPD Stop and Frisk policies and implementing real policing solutions. The wining debate team, which argued in favor of eliminating cash bail are (l. to r.): City Council Member Daniel Dromm and Fortune debater Felix Guzman, joined by Khalil Cumberbatch, Associate Vice President of Policy, David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy at The Fortune Society. Council Member Dromm has been a tireless advocate for real social justice reform and a strong voice in reforming NYPD Stop and Frisk policies and implementing real policing solutions. City and state legislators served as debaters and judges at a debate sponsored by The Fortune Society and the Rikers Debate Project.

On Tuesday, December 19, The Fortune Society’s Reentry Debate Team, joined by members of the New York State Legislature, the Mayor’s Office, the City Council and the Ford Foundation, participated in a parliamentary debate on the critical issues of whether or not to end pretrial detention and the cash bail system in New York State.


(L. to r.): Fortune staff member Michael Perez and Fortune debaters Shawnakay, Jessica, Salena, Robert, Karla, Felix, Deyja, Nikita, Camilla, and Patrick. (L. to r.): Fortune staff member Michael Perez and Fortune debaters Shawnakay, Jessica, Salena, Robert, Karla, Felix, Deyja, Nikita, Camilla, and Patrick. Members of the Fortune debate teams included formerly incarcerated men and women who were trained in the art of debate by the non-profit organization the Rikers Debate Project. The debate, which took place at the Ford Foundation, was the culmination of months of work and study on argumentation and logical reasoning with discussions of contemporary civic and political issues.

Participating as speakers, debaters and judges were respected leaders from government and the private sector, including:

David Rothenberg, founder, The Fortune Society

NYS Senator Michael Gianaris (12th Senate District)

NYS Senator Jesse Hamilton (20th Senate District)

NYS Assembly Member David Weprin (Assembly District 24)


NYS Senator Michael Gianaris, a longtime social justice champion who has consistently called for an end to cash bail, was also on hand for the debate. Gianaris is also an outspoken critic of systemic discrimination in the justice system. NYS Senator Michael Gianaris, a longtime social justice champion who has consistently called for an end to cash bail, was also on hand for the debate. Gianaris is also an outspoken critic of systemic discrimination in the justice system. NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm (District 25)

Tasha Lloyd, Associate Counsel, Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice

Priya Nair, Community Liaison, New York City Council Speaker’s Office

Nick Gulatta, Queens Borough Director, Office of the Mayor Community Affairs Unit

Jule Hall, Program Associate, Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice, Ford Foundation

Tomas Ramos, Program Director, Children’s Arts & Science Workshops

Thomas Duane former NYS Senator

Stanley Richards, Executive Vice President, The Fortune Society

Khalil Cumberbatch, Associate Vice President of Policy at The Fortune Society David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy


As Chair of the Assembly Committee on Correction, Assembly Member David Weprin is a longtime supporter of meaningful criminal justice reform, championing issues including reform of the bail and pre-trail detention system and raising the age of criminal responsibility. He served as a judge at The Fortune Society Debate. As Chair of the Assembly Committee on Correction, Assembly Member David Weprin is a longtime supporter of meaningful criminal justice reform, championing issues including reform of the bail and pre-trail detention system and raising the age of criminal responsibility. He served as a judge at The Fortune Society Debate. The prevailing team, which won in a split decision, was led by Fortune debater Felix Guzman and Council Member Dromm, who argued that the cash bail system is unfair to the poor and is racially biased, primarily affecting people of color. They also pointed to New Jersey, where eliminating the cash bail system resulted in reduced pre-trial incarceration – saving significant incarceration costs – while crime did not increase.

In a powerful presentation, Richards told the audience, “Let’s focus our efforts on reforms to close Rikers so no one needs bail at all. It’s imperative that we change the way we think about the human cost of incarceration and the value of due process and being able to fight your case with community support and adequate resources.”

Cumberbatch said, “Fortune’s partnership with the Rikers Debate Project has allowed our clients to exercise their voices while learning important research, writing and analytical abilities. This exciting experience has also helped them build self-confidence and key communication skills that will give them a competitive edge in both their personal and professional lives. Fortune extends our deepest appreciation to everyone who made this project possible, including our friends in the State Legislature, city government, the Ford Foundation, the Tow Foundation, and the Rikers Debate Project.”

The Fortune debaters ranged in age from 16 to 53. They earned a stipend for participating and were selected for participation by their Fortune counselors.

Marking the 50th anniversary of its founding in 2017, The Fortune Society has advocated on criminal justice issues for five decades and is nationally recognized for developing model programs that help people with criminal justice histories to be assets to their communities. Fortune offers a holistic and integrated “one-stop-shopping” model of service provision. Among the services offered are discharge planning, licensed outpatient substance abuse and mental health treatment, alternatives to incarceration, HIV/AIDS services, career development and job retention, education, family services, drop in services and supportive housing as well as lifetime access to aftercare. For more information, visit www.fortunesociety.org.

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