On March 11, 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Elizabeth Glazer as the Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, an office formed to advise the Mayor on criminal justice issues, public safety, bail reform, policing, and incarceration rates. Glazer took on the City role after serving as Governor Andrew Cuomo’s chief advisor on criminal justice. She came to the de Blasio administration with a wealth of experience in criminal justice and public safety, but did not originally intend that criminal justice work would be her career.
Elizabeth Glazer was born and raised in the Upper West Side and is the daughter of Nathan Glazer, the prominent Harvard sociology professor, and Ruth Gay, a writer of books about Jewish life. Glazer spent her high school years in New Haven and England until moving back to New York City in her senior year. Glazer graduated from Harvard University with a major in medieval intellectual history.
After college, Glazer worked for the American Council for Nationalities Services, a non-profit organization that, under contract to the State Department, represented refugees applying for admission to the United States. This was during the height of the Vietnam War refugee crisis. Glazer worked in refugee camps in Indonesia and Singapore for two years, helping people who were fleeing from war in Vietnam and Cambodia.
The experience at the camps motivated Glazer to attend law school. At Columbia Law School, Glazer focused her studies on asylum and refugee rights work with the intention of continuing her work on refugee rights with the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees. After graduation, Glazer received an offer to work with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Refugee Rights Project. However, she first wanted litigation experience because the experience would give her the skills she needed to effectively advocate for refugees. Glazer was fortunate to be appointed as an Assistant United States Attorney by US Attorney Mary Jo White of the Southern District of New York. Glazer’s work as an Assistant United States Attorney shifted her interest to criminal justice.
Glazer served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the early 1990s when crime in New York was at an all-time high. She described her time there as “gripping and heartbreaking,” and led to her interest in the neighborhoods where crime was high. She focused not only how to prosecute criminal cases, but on how to build up community strength, especially in neighborhoods where crime was high. Her criminal justice work put her on a path that led her to working on criminal justice issues first with Governor Andrew Cuomo and then Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Heading the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice has given Glazer the opportunity to be a positive force at a pivotal time in the City’s criminal justice history. In her six years at the agency, major changes have occurred in criminal justice. From 2013 to 2018, the official index and violent crime rates in the City decreased by 17 percent, arrests decreased by 37 percent, and the size of the jail population in the City decreased by 30 percent. Judges and prosecutors diverted more people to the supervised release program rather than holding them in jail under onerous bail terms. Police officers, under new authority passed by the Council, are now issuing criminal summons for marijuana related charges instead of arrests. And the City, most notably, has decided to close Rikers Island.
Glazer said that the recent changes in criminal justice have opened the possibility that the City can combat crime by addressing issues before a person becomes involved in the criminal justice system. She said that despite the City’s successful innovations, there is still an inequality on who is safe and where it is safe, and that safety from crime remains unevenly distributed among the City’s neighborhoods.
Neighborhood safety, Glazer believes, is the next frontier of public safety and criminal justice reform. Initiatives include increasing youth employment, improving the physical environment of a neighborhood, and working with community members to identify and solve issues. Going forward, Glazer also emphasize fairness in the criminal justice system by focusing on racial bias.
When she is not working on criminal justice policy, Glazer spends her free time cooking, reading, and spending time with her children. Glazer, a lifelong New Yorker, finds it hard to pick one favorite spot in the City, but, she said the Upper West Side is where her heart belongs.
By: May Vutrapongvatana (May is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2019.)