Criminal Justice Reform

The United States has the most prisoners and highest incarceration rates in the world by far. The many costs of these disparities hit communities of color and the working class particularly hard. From the "war on drugs" to "broken windows" theory to "stop and frisk" to arrest quotas for police officers, policing practices in New York State have targeted poor communities of color for grossly disproportionate arrests, convictions, and incarceration. It is time for state government to redress this failure to guarantee equal justice under law.

INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION AND PROSECUTION OF POLICE BRUTALITY

It is unrealistic to expect district attorneys to be able to prosecute the police departments they work with on a daily basis.

TRUTH, JUSTICE, AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION

The Governor should appoint a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission charged with examining and addressing the impact of the War on Drugs and Mass Incarceration, including the devastating and lingering impact on people and communities of color. The Commission would assess the impact, hear from the people affected, and recommend policies to end mass incarceration and repair its damages.

MARIJUANA REFORM

Relegalize, regulate, and tax marijuana. 

END THE “WAR ON DRUGS”

Decriminalize drugs. Treat drug abuse as a health problem, not a criminal problem. Drug treatment on demand, not mass incarceration. Save lives from the epidemic of heroin overdose deaths by allowing opioid and heroin addicts to seek medical treatment instead potentially deadly fixes in the unregulated underground drug economy. 

FREE PRISONERS OF THE WAR ON DRUGS

Freedom and amnesty for all drug war prisoners currently serving time in prison or on parole for non-violent drug offenses. Re-invest the savings from reduced incarceration into re-entry support for former prisoners and reparations for the communities most damaged by mass incarceration.

RAISE THE AGE

New York State should raise the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18. New York and North Carolina are the last two states that automatically send children who turn 16 into the adult criminal justice system. More than 30,000 youth were treated as adults in New York's criminal justice system in 2013. More than 600 children from 13 to 15 years old were also sent into the adult criminal justice system for certain offenses last year. Children's brains, characters, and personalities are still developing. They should be sent into the juvenile justice system for offenses. Children incarcerated in adult facilities are more likely to suffer physical and emotional abuse. Children prosecuted as adults return to prison at higher rates than those prosecuted in juvenile courts. Treating children as adults in the criminal justice system undermines the goal of rehabilitating youth and protecting public safety. 

EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR ALL PRISONERS

Education opportunities for all incarcerated individuals, from basic literacy and numeracy to GED to college courses. Re-establish Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) eligibility for prisoners. Include prisoners in tuition-free CUNY and SUNY.

BAN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture declared in 2012 that solitary confinement can amount to torture as defined in Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture. Enact the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement bill. The HALT bill would establish residential rehabilitation units (RRUs) as an alternative to isolated confinement. RRUs would provide additional programs, therapy, and support to address underlying needs and causes of behavior, with 6 hours per day of out-of-cell programming plus one hour of out-of-cell recreation. The bill would also enhance due process protections before placement in RRUs, create a clear process for release from RRUs, and mandate greater training for correctional officers working in RRUs or adjudicating disciplinary hearings.

BAN THE BOX

End the practice of employers and public colleges such as SUNY using criminal history to screen applicants. No evidence suggests that past criminal histories of students are relevant risk factors that affect the rate of crime on campuses. A Ban the Box law will stop the practice of automatically disqualifying applicants who are fully qualified. Employers would be prohibited from asking a potential hire to check a box on the initial job application indicating if he or she has a criminal history. Employers would have the right to know an applicant’s criminal history, but the inquiry would be deferred until a conditional offer of employment. With over one-fourth of American adults having an arrest or conviction, a Ban the Box law will open up job opportunities to many in our communities who are now excluded. 

VOTING RIGHTS FOR FELONS

End the loss of voting rights for felons and parolees. Denying voting rights is not much of a punishment. Encouraging felons to participate in civic affairs can be part of rehabilitation and reintegration into society after serving time.

SAFE PAROLE ACT

Establish a transparent and accountable parole system that enables inmates to earn parole by successfully completing rehabilitative and educational programs.

STATEWIDE PUBLIC DEFENDERS OFFICE

Full funding for a statewide public defenders office, administered by an independent public defense commission, to guarantee the right to quality counsel.

RIGHT TO A TRIAL BY A JURY OF PEERS

Change state law so that defendants in cities have the same right as defendants in towns to a jury of their peers from the same municipal jurisdiction.

BAN WARRANTLESS SURVEILLANCE BY DRONES

Prohibit warrantless drone surveillance in New York airspace that violates our Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.

ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION

Probation or work release for paying fines, victim restitution, and community service. Work release and education release for prisoners preparing for re-entry into society.

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