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Let’s keep moving forward on criminal justice reform

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo considers the hundreds of bills approved by the Legislature this session, he has the opportunity to make life-saving changes for some of the state’s most underserved and vulnerable individuals by signing into law a handful of criminal justice reform measures.

These reform measures address cruel inequities that have, for too long, damaged the lives of too many people of color from the poorest communities in New York and created roadblocks that make successful reentry after incarceration virtually impossible.

One of the crucial bills that awaits the governor’s signature is the Less is More Act, sponsored by Sen. Brian Benjamin, D-Manhattan, and Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, D-Brooklyn. This groundbreaking parole reform legislation eliminates incarceration as a form of punishment for most “technical” violations of parole, like missing a meeting with a parole officer or getting home after curfew. Significantly, by allowing these individuals to remain in the community and continuing their successful reentry, the law would also save the state well over $680 million every year in incarceration costs.

Similarly, the governor can end the collateral damage of a conviction by signing the certificate of relief bill sponsored by Assemblymember Diana Richardson, D-Brooklyn, and Sen. James Sanders Jr., D-Queens. The law recognizes that punishment must end after a sentence is completed. It lifts legal restrictions that prevent a justice-involved person from applying for employment and certain licenses.

Earlier this year, Cuomo restored the voices of thousands of people on parole by codifying their right to vote. Sen. Leroy Comrie, D-Queens, and Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, D-Manhattan, led the charge on this bill, which now gives these individuals that opportunity to play a constructive role in the future direction of our city, state and country.

While these bills move the needle forward on progressive criminal justice reform, they address only the tip of the iceberg. More work needs to be done, including providing timely reentry services, parole reform and removing burdensome and predatory fees that accompany criminal court cases.

As we consider the future of our justice system, we must resist the false narrative that links criminal justice reform with increases in crime. We are slowly emerging from the depths of the pandemic and are confronted by troubling social crises of trauma, homelessness, hunger, unemployment, job insecurity, a dearth of affordable housing, and insufficient resources for social service providers — all of which contribute, in some measure, to the uptick in street crime. We must resist the urge to undo all of the legislative progress we’ve seen in the past few years. Reverting to “get tough on crime” laws, an overreliance on law enforcement, and mass incarceration will not prevent crime.

For more than half a century, The Fortune Society has provide justice-involved people with the tools, resources and support they need to live as successful, taxpaying and contributing members of their communities. We know what works. The Legislature and the governor are on the right path. Let’s not lose the momentum and revert back to failed policies of the past.

Read more at Times Union Back

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