In Memoriam: Herb Sturz, one of the founders of the Prize
Herb Sturz, was a self-taught expert in criminal justice and urban planning who profoundly -but inconspicuously- influenced public policy across a remarkably broad range of issues in New York and beyond. His agenda and reach, in government and out, extended from criminal justice to urban planning.
Over decades, in his various private and government incarnations, Herb’s agenda was wide and deep. He lobbied to release low-risk defendants who were being jailed for months before trial because they could not afford bail. He galvanized opposition to the Bloomberg administration’s aggressive policing strategy, called stop-and-frisk. He secured a commitment from Mayor Bill de Blasio to eventually close the city’s notorious short-term detention complex on Rikers Island. And as chairman of the New York City Planning Commission in the early 1980s, he set the stage for the transformation of Times Square into a thriving tourist destination.
Herb was the founding director of the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonpartisan think tank; New York City’s deputy mayor for criminal justice; and a member of The New York Times editorial board. His other endeavors included The Manhattan Bowery Project, to treat rather than arrest alcoholics; Project Renewal, to provide jobs for the homeless; the Wildcat Service Corporation, to employ former addicts and offenders; the Midtown Community Court, to offer social services and impose alternative sentences for minor offenses; the City Volunteer Corps, which became a national model; and Easyride, to transport the elderly to medical appointments and other errands.
Herb was instrumental in establishing the After-School Corporation, to provide constructive activities for young people when regular classes end; Single Stop, to prepare prisoners for their release; ReServe, to place retired people in paid jobs in which their experience could be utilized; and the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, to mitigate the impact on homeowners of subprime mortgage foreclosures.
As a Deputy Mayor for the Koch Administration, Herb established a government agency that evaluated whether defendants who could not afford cash bail could be counted on to return to court, enabling them to keep their jobs and family ties instead of languishing in jail for months awaiting trial.
Herb’s municipal government legacy included the establishment of an Office of Immigrant Affairs, to help meet the needs of the roughly four in 10 New Yorkers who are foreign born, and a groundbreaking Victim Service Agency. He worked with Open Society to help create the National Urban Reconstruction and Housing Agency (NURCHA), in partnership with the Mandela government in South Africa. Then, during his tenure at the Open Society Foundations, he worked in coalition to form the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, also known as the Lippman Commission after former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who chaired it.
Herb earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin, and a master’s in education from Teachers College at Columbia.