Herb Sturz, driver of criminal justice reform in New York City and beyond

by | Jun 24, 2021 | Obituaries

Herb Sturz, whose extensive career included promoting bail reform and serving as a top deputy to New York City Mayor Ed Koch in the 1970s, has died.
Sturz, who was 90, worked with philanthropist Louis Schweitzer in 1961 to found the Vera Institute of Justice, an early effort to advance the idea that those accused of crimes should not remain in jail prior to their trials simply because they could not afford to post bail.

The two Jewish men spurred a movement, including dozens of criminal justice advocacy groups, that had sweeping impact last year when multiple states, including New York, eliminated cash bail. (The change has divided New York City Jews.)

As deputy mayor to Koch, Sturz advocated for closing Rikers Island, New York City’s infamous jail complex. In recent years, he sat on a city commission that led the City Council to vote in 2019 to do just that. Rikers is set to close by 2027.
Sturz died on Thursday, June 10.

Born in 1930 in Bayonne, New Jersey, Sturz was the child of Jewish immigrants from Europe who recalled his saloonkeeper father crying only once, upon learning that members of his family had been murdered by the Nazis.
According to a 2009 biography, A Kind of Genius: Herb Sturz and Society’s Toughest Problems, Sturz attended Hebrew school as a child but never considered himself religious, though he fasted on Yom Kippur.

“I’m a Jew when Jews are under attack,” Sturz told Sam Roberts, his biographer. (JTA)