The legislative session won’t begin until January, but activists are beginning to push for three bills aimed at eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and creating more opportunities for those incarcerated to be released.
The lawyers will gather in New York next week on the 28th anniversary of the signing of the 1994 crime bill signed by then-President Bill Clinton. The measure encouraged the expansion of jails and prisons and imposed harsher criminal sentences – fueling a legacy of mass incarceration in the state and the nation.
“It is extremely important to create a system of corrections that is really about corrections,” said Assemblywoman Anna Kelles, Democrat of Ithaca.
Kelles sponsors the Earned Time Act, allowing incarcerated people to reduce their sentences with good behavior, programming, or other rehabilitation.
“We have systems in place that support rehabilitation that will support transformation and help a person reintegrate into society, community and family in a healthy way and set them up for success,” she added. “That’s the point of corrections.”
David Delancy, from the Bronx, spent two decades behind bars in maximum and medium security facilities in Connecticut and New York and says the current prison system leaves a person in prison hopeless and discourages rehabilitation.
“If I have to wait 10 years if I do the right thing, if I make the changes and it might actually take seven years instead of 10, that gives a person something to push,” Delancy said. , coordinator of the New York County Re-Entry Task Force Service. “And that doesn’t take anything away from our criminal justice system – it makes it better.”
Activists will also march on Tuesday to urge lawmakers to pass the Second Look Act that allows incarcerated people to seek reduced sentences and a proposal that eliminates mandatory minimum criminal sentences.
Delancy says the bills would encourage those incarcerated to do the work and change to reduce their sentences.
“It didn’t take me 20 years to decide that I wanted to change my life… that I didn’t want this type of life to be mine,” he said.
The measures died in committee this session. Kelles says the deep politicization of the state’s bail reform laws has prevented other criminal justice reforms from taking hold.
“If we really, really want to reduce crime, we’re having the wrong conversation,” she said.
She hopes conversations to build support for sentencing reform will take place next year after the November election, adding that the proposed laws will give those incarcerated greater accessibility to programs that promote transformation.
Delancy says the measures would have helped him get released from prison and return to his community sooner if they had been in place while he was incarcerated.
“It would have allowed me to return to my community without being away for so long and without missing so much,” he said. “It would have allowed me to come back to my community and be more efficient and do the right things sooner.
“…God says ‘Forgive – I forgive you for yourself, come back to me,'” Delancy added. “We’re the only ones saying, ‘You know what? You screwed up in our society, and we don’t want anything to do with you, and in fact, we’re going to hold you accountable for the rest of your life.’ If we’re a true rehabilitation system…we have the ability to change, if we’re willing to say we really want to stand up for what we stand for.”
Neither the Assembly nor Senate Democrats returned requests for comment Friday on their conferences’ support for any of the proposals.