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State legislature will prioritize sentencing reforms this session

In an election year, the New York State Legislature is shifting its focus from bail reform to addressing sentencing reforms under the state’s criminal justice agenda. This move comes after the enactment of the Clean Slate Act, as lawmakers aim to tackle issues related to lengthy prison sentences, the aging prison population, and mass incarceration. Next week, advocates from over 150 organizations will converge in Albany to promote reforms that include abolishing mandatory minimum sentencing and introducing the Earned Time Act, allowing incarcerated individuals to reduce sentences through good behavior and rehabilitation.

Charisse Peace, a vocal advocate with Centers for Community Alternatives, highlights the importance of judicial discretion over mandatory minimum sentences. Her advocacy is personal; her brother Sean Peace is serving a 110-year sentence. The proposed Second Look Act, championed by Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, offers a chance for sentence reconsideration after serving a significant portion of the term, emphasizing the potential for rehabilitation.

However, the push for these reforms faces opposition, especially from Republican lawmakers who prioritize public safety and victims’ rights. Assemblyman Michael Tannousis, with a background in prosecution, argues against reforms that might incentivize criminal activity. This debate unfolds as states like Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Oregon, and the District of Columbia have enacted similar laws, with proposals also emerging at the federal level.