The upheaval surrounding the pandemic is playing out amid another crisis for the criminal justice system. But now the coronavirus pandemic could accelerate those changes.
Advocates like Katie Schaffer believe the coronavirus pandemic is also leading to a greater awareness in the public's mind about a key issue her group pushes for: Reducing the number of people in prison.
"It has really highlighted what communities across the state and what advocates have said for years and that's mass incarceration is a public health crisis," said Schaffer, the director of organizing and advocacy at the Center for Community Alternatives.
And as the state faces a looming budget crisis next year, lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are increasingly likely to turn to legalizing adult-use marijuana to raise revenue. Schaffer hopes, however, communities affected by drug laws won't be forgotten in the debate.
"We don't want this to be seen a grab bag for the state facing a fiscal health crisis, but there be a real re-investment for communities who have been devastated by the war on drugs," she said.
Local prosecutors are also seeing challenges. In Monroe County, District Attorney Sandra Doorley says the court system is adapting to the pandemic as new jury trials are halted amid rising COVID-19 cases.
"We've really got to be living in this virtual world and accept it and learn to thrive in it," Doorley said.
But she has budgetary concerns, too. DAs are seeking more money next year to build up their offices to respond to new criminal justice law changes made in recent years.
"We need to be able to have the staff to do our job and do it in a way that the community expects us to be doing it," Doorley said.
But due to the budget crisis, that money may be difficult to come by.