2017 NYS Legislative Agenda: Advance criminal justice reform and policies that will reduce mass incarceration

Advance criminal justice reform and policies that will reduce mass incarceration

Raise the Age of Criminal Responsibility.  The age of criminal responsibility in New York should be raised to 18 years old for all crimes because that change will protect the well-being of our youth, reduce recidivism and improve public safety.   Under current law, New York stands nearly alone in prosecuting all 16- and 17- year-olds in the adult criminal justice system, regardless of the severity of the alleged crime.  If young people are detained or incarcerated because of a criminal court order, they are confined in adult prisons and jails, saddling them with the lifetime consequences of a criminal conviction despite the fact that young adult brains do not have the same decision-making capacity as adult brains.  New York remains stubbornly behind the national consensus on this issue; it is one of only two states (the other being North Carolina) that prosecutes all youth as adults once they turn 16.  Youth are safer and fare better when held in age-appropriate facilities which implement a child welfare model and other best practices, such as trauma-informed care.  New York needs to change the way it handles youth in the criminal justice system. 

Enact Comprehensive Sentencing Reform.  We support efforts to review New York’s sentencing laws and reform them in a way that is fair and effective while also maintaining public safety: 

  • Repeal or reduce mandatory minimum sentencing provisions where possible and reduce the sentences recommended by sentencing guidelines and similar laws for non-violent offenses.
  • The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which would provide greater discretion to judges when sentencing defendants who are survivors of domestic violence. 
  • The One Day to Protect New Yorkers Act would reduce the maximum sentence for class A misdemeanor offenses from one year to 364 days, thereby mitigating the disproportionate consequences facing immigrant New Yorkers—including lawfully present permanent residents (green card holders), asylees, and victims of domestic violence – who may face deportation for a single minor conviction. 
  • The City Bar will be advancing a “Second Chance Act”, which would allow certain individuals to apply for reduced sentences with their sentencing judge. Petitioners would be allowed to present evidence about good behavior and achievements while incarcerated, as well as information about their age, personal circumstances, and medical condition. Permitting this mid-sentence reset opportunity would incentivize good behavior and participation in educational and vocational programs. 
  • Expand the sentencing alternatives to prison including drug programs, mental health programs and job training programs.

Decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.  The City Bar supports efforts to reform New York’s drug laws to address the problems inherent in the current marijuana enforcement regime, which often results in the over-prosecution and jailing of non-violent offenders.  

Eliminate or Reduce the Financial Conditions of Pretrial Release.  Incarceration at the pretrial stage, even for a few days, has terrible downstream repercussions for individuals, disrupting lives and leading to a higher likelihood of further incarceration, for longer periods and also higher rates of rearrest.  Posting bail, even a “low” amount of $500 or $1,000, may be challenging for some individuals.  On any given day in New York City, approximately 400 individuals are detained on bail of less than $2,500.  As long as New Yorkers who have not been convicted of any crime are jailed simply because they are too poor to pay bail, the need for reform is undeniable.  Judges should be encouraged to use all facets of the current bail system to reduce unnecessary incarceration and should set bail amounts only after taking into account an individual’s ability to pay.  The City Bar also opposes efforts that would require judges to consider public safety as a factor in setting bail.  

Support Programs and Policies that Allow Incarcerated Individuals to Successfully Reenter Society. 

  • Expand the availability of rehabilitative services, including counseling and educational opportunities, during and following incarceration so that individuals can successfully reenter society and avoid recidivism.
  • Seal or expunge criminal records in certain circumstances so that individuals do not face the kinds of collateral consequences that create virtually insurmountable barriers to successful reentry into their communities.
  • Advance legislation that would help those with criminal records find employment, such as a statewide “Fair Chance Act” and a uniform “Certificate of Rehabilitation” in lieu of the current Certificates of Relief from Disabilities and Good Conduct.
  • The Fair Access to Education Act, which would prevent discrimination in the college admission process for individuals previously convicted of one or more criminal offenses. 

Read “Mass Incarceration: Where Do We Go From Here?” to learn more at these criminal justice reform initiatives.