For every hundred American adults, there is one person behind bars. For every four out of ten released, it’s only a matter of three years until they are back in the prison system. This vicious cycle has become normalized because we have kept prison an institution of punishment for every offender, regardless of crime. Someone caught with a few ounces of marijuana should not be held to the same punishment as someone who has committed murder.
In recent years, the City of New York’s prison population has gone down and they’ve done away with private prisons. Under this new law, the state is: raising the age of criminal responsibility, restoring access to a fair and speedy trial, allowing judges the opportunity to use risk assessments when determining bail, and allowing low-risk offenders the right to walk without trial. These are exciting times! New York is restoring freedom to individuals and allowing them their constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial. The punishment is meant to fit the crime, by judges allowed to do their duty of determining sentences necessary for each perpetrator.
Seeing my home state of New York enact new laws to reform its current system is long overdue. Justice reform, which has passed in conservative states like Texas, is one progressives love to claim they’re leading the way on. In recent years, conservatives have gained momentum and are offering real solutions to the over-incarceration problem with Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Carolina all following quickly after Texas.
These new laws are just the beginning of New York’s commitment to criminal justice reform. There is legislation in both houses (Bill #A04158) seeking to provide post-secondary education to inmates to increase their likelihood of rehabilitating into society. Texas enacted something similar a decade ago and has seen such a reduction in recidivism that they were able to close three prisons. New York’s new bill is great at the surface level but it should seek to address the current criminal justice system that encourages the state to fill public prisons that are half full. Also, it should touch on the fact that in New York alone, 56 percent of inmates are serving determinate sentences.
Determinate sentences are mandatory minimums, which are set by legislatures, with no chance of parole until then. Post-secondary education is wonderful and should absolutely be encouraged for those who can be released from their sentence, but if the underlying issue of over-imprisonment isn’t addressed, this program will be as effective as it could be.