Criminal law

The criminal justice debate turns to changes in sentencing law

Advocates who have called for changes to New York’s criminal justice system have launched a new effort to reform how people are sentenced to prison.

They are seeking approval of three bills that broadly aim to eliminate many mandatory minimum sentences, allow for re-sentencing in some cases, and allow time earned in prison to lead to early release.

Taken together, the whole set of three bills completely changes the way judgments have been enforced in New York for the past half century, said Jared Trujillo, senior policy advisor at the ACLU of New York.

The sentencing law changes will be the latest package of changes to be pushed through the state capitol after approval of efforts to reform the juvenile justice system, as well as restrictions on the use of solitary confinement and evidence discovery.

“For individuals, this would fundamentally change their lives,” Trujillo said. “For individuals, this is a radical change and it will change their lives. How radical is this? It’s not radical at all.”

Supporters are also pushing in Albany, which, on paper, is basically no different after Election Day. Democrats retain a large majority in the state’s Senate and Assembly; All statewide Democrats were re-elected.

But the proposals are also being introduced after a campaign season in which Republicans have criticized Democrats over changes to the criminal justice law such as ending cash bail for many criminal charges as well as a raft of provisions approved in recent years that were intended to create a fairer criminal justice system. . .

The change in sentencing laws will come more than a decade after New York’s Rockefeller-era drug laws, hailed at the time as a tool to combat the drug scourge but since then deemed ineffective, were repealed.

“New York already leads the national charts in long sentences and sentences longer than 10 years, and it’s this kind of excessive sentencing that these bills seek to address,” said Katie Shaffer of the Center for Community Alternatives.

Schaefer is also confident that the Democrats who control Albany will still be willing to listen.

“It’s time to update these laws. It’s time to make New York’s penal code fairer and more just,” Schafer said.

Democratic Representative Phil Stick says the message from Republicans is that laws like ending cash bail for many criminal charges are stuck in voters’ minds.

“There was a perception among the public that so-called cashless bail applies to violent crimes,” he said. “This is nonsense.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who was criticized by her Republican rival Lee Zeldin during the campaign on bail laws, approved changes earlier in the year that expanded when bail should be required. Stick is also willing to make changes to New York’s bail laws, expanding them to include illegal gun possession and more domestic violence cases.

“Because of the huge potential for lethal violence there, it would have to be on bail,” he added.

Hochul’s pre-election campaign sought to promote its crime-reduction efforts. Next year, it is expected to expand the ranks of the state police and continue the crackdown on illegal weapons.

“I will not allow the political theater to influence what we have done,” she said in October. “This is not a new issue for me and I think it is well established.”

Pressure to oppose the changes from New York City Mayor Eric Adams and locally elected attorneys general from both parties is also expected to continue. Albany County Attorney David Soares urged lawmakers to meet and make changes to laws.

On Thursday, the organization representing New York attorneys general called for funding to address discovery law changes, as well as gun violence.

“There is a perception of fear of crime among New Yorkers, businesses and visitors,” said Tony Jordan, the Washington District Attorney. “Just a few short years ago, public safety was not a major concern for most New Yorkers. Unfortunately, rising crime rates in recent years have created massive public safety concerns. Efforts to prevent crime, build public confidence, and create a modern criminal justice system Effective and successful will require investment by the state, as well as constant scrutiny of our existing laws.

Stick, who represents a largely suburban area around the D.C. area, believes elected officials in his party need to do a better job of explaining what the bail law and other criminal justice changes have done, and why the changes were made.

“I think the Democrats really failed to explain the real purpose of bail reform,” he said.

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