More than 51,000 people are behind bars in New York State’s prisons. The population is 95% male, with an average age of 38. About 46% of inmates are from upstate communities; 40% do not have a high school education; 60% have children; 66% have never been married.
The average minimum sentence is six years — the average maximum sentence is 10 years, four months and two weeks. Two-thirds of inmates have been convicted of a violent felony; nearly 56% are first-time felony offenders; 4% have been convicted of a felony three or more times.
Incarceration costs taxpayers more than $33,000, more than any other State.
Despite that, conditions in state prisons and county holding centers are often abysmal, doing little to rehabilitate prisoners and leaving them with few post-incarceration skills.
Rather than investing endless sums of money on prisons – my administration will begin reforming this enormously costly system – and we will refocus this system on producing better outcomes.
Rehabilitative service offerings
In order to produce better outcomes our prison system must be transformed (for nearly all inmates) from a cage to a treatment center. At the root of most criminality is an issue of mental hygiene or economic coercion. We will provide inmates access to rehabilitative mental health services, non-accredited job skills courses, and post-prison job placement services – which will reduce costs by virtue of reducing recidivism.
Repeal mandatory minimum sentencing laws
Judges have little choice when it comes to a mandatory minimum sentence. For example, in New York assault in the first degree is a class B violent felony. If you are an adult convicted of assault in the first degree in New York, even if you have no criminal history, you are facing a mandatory minimum sentence of five years with a maximum of twenty-five years. In this case the judge would be legally required to give you a sentence of at least five years, regardless of your lack of criminal history or circumstances surrounding the assault.
Despite decades of evidence showing that mandatory minimum sentences do little to either reduce crime or rehabilitate offenders, Congress and the State Legislature have continued to allow mandatory minimum sentencing laws to persist. Judges should have discretion when it comes to sentencing – and the convicted deserves to be assured that the Judge has fully considered the circumstances of the case in determining a sentence.
Appoint and Staff a Public Advocate’s office
Wrongful convictions have become far too common an occurrence of our justice system. It’s an especially tragic circumstance when someone is wrongfully convicted and then sentenced to a life sentences. Creating a statewide Public Advocate’s office to find, verify, and represent wrongfully convicted inmates will perform a conviction integrity function.
End civil asset forfeiture
With a very low burden of proof, law enforcement agencies are able to seize property from citizens and businesses without first having to convict someone of a crime. The assets can then be repurposed, often providing funding for the very agencies that seized it. Forfeiture began as a way to put criminal gains to a useful purpose, but it’s use has become commonplace and now endangers the integrity of our prosecutions.