Mass incarceration in New York State has a devastating impact on families and communities and the negative effects continue after time is served. The Legal Aid Society is supporting legislation to break the cycle of incarceration and perpetual punishment.
This legislation will ensure that New Yorkers with substance use challenges, mental health concerns, and other disabilities are provided an opportunity to obtain treatment and support in their communities through participation in expanded and modernized treatment courts. Jail and prison are known to increase recidivism, whereas treatment courts decrease the risk of re-arrest and end the cycle of incarceration, crisis, and re-arrest.
This off-ramp from the criminal legal system offered is a significant step toward ending the revolving door of incarceration by finally addressing one of the drivers of arrest and legal system involvement. We must stop relying on jails and prisons to address New York’s public health crisis and instead invest in community-based treatment and services.
New York’s racist and draconian sentencing laws funnel thousands of New Yorkers into prisons that fail to deliver safety, healing, or justice. This reform package would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences restoring individualized judicial discretion in sentencing, allow incarcerated New Yorkers to petition judges to review excessive sentences, and create more opportunities for incarcerated New Yorkers to earn time off from their sentences by mandating expanded programming opportunities throughout the state prison system.
In 2021, New York passed legislation to restore the right to vote to people with felony convictions automatically, upon their release from prison. However, despite the right to vote being restored upon release from incarceration, people with a felony conviction are forever barred from jury service. There is no logical reason for this difference.
This perpetual punishment strips an individual of their right to fully participate in our democracy and also strips jury pools of true community representation. It greatly dilutes the opportunity for a person accused of a crime to be tried in front of a jury of their peers. The Jury of Our Peers Act will end this archaic disenfranchisement.
Ensuring a more diverse and equitable jury pool in New York State is imperative for ending perpetual punishment, strengthening our democracy, and building stronger, safer, and more prosperous communities.
Last Updated: 25 September 2023
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