The Puerto Rican Victor Herrera, 55-year-old resident of Queens, has been very aware in the last days of the legislative sessions of the State Assembly that they end next June 10. When he was just seven years old, he had the first problem with justice and until today he charges the great weight of having a criminal record, which still makes it difficult for him to completely rebuild his life.
Like Victor, 2.3 million New Yorkers who have had an incident with the justice system and thousands of others who pay a sentence in a jail, hope advances in four laws that for years have been “frozen” waiting to be approved by state legislators, to carry out projects of great importance for a comprehensive judicial reform.
This Thursday several coalitions in different cities of New York, joined simultaneously to pressure legislators in Albany so come “immediately” a whole package of changes in the administration of criminal justice, including draft laws that would make the parole benefit, it would also open the possibility of seal background previous convictions, and state and local law enforcement would be barred from collaborate with the actions of ‘La Migra’.
“I spent 12 years serving a sentence when I was very young. Even today it is impossible for me to have access to decent housing or a job. The system is designed to bury you forever in poverty. Today I am fighting for the young people of our poorest neighborhoods, so that they do not live this same nightmare ”, exclaimed Víctor while participating in a demonstration in front of the Lower Manhattan Supreme Court demanded without delay the approval of the Law ‘Clean Slate NY’.
At the same time, similar demonstrations were taking place in Buffalo, Albany, Long Island and Rochester, under the slogan “Don’t punish us forever!”
Victor Herrera: “We must erase perpetual punishment from the map of New York.” (Photo: F. Martínez)
One mistake, one life
That legislation would end the perpetual punishment for millions of New Yorkers who have a conviction record. The draft would establish a unique two-step process: automatically seal and then erase criminal records once a person has completed his sentence.
The goal is to eliminate barrier that records they represent for people when they try to access essential life services such as employment and housing.
“I started with problems with the police when I was a child who played with rocks and accidentally one hit a fire department unit. From that moment, due to a childish mischief, my life sank. We demand that the ‘Clean Slate’ initiative be approved and thus end a totally racist scheme“Adds the now island activist from the Center for Community Alternatives.
The coalitions argue that if this bill becomes law this week, it would be a giant step for tear down the model of racial injustice and surveillance and excessive prosecution of the poorest communities.
“Almost 80% of people with criminal records are black or latin and they live in just seven neighborhoods in the Big Apple. When someone who has paid their penalty returns home they find that they have nothing to do but return to the streets, because all the doors are closed. Even if you want to do things well, “he said. Lorenzo Sequera, a 50-year-old Afro-Latino who was arrested 20 years ago for possession of a portion of cocaine.
In five New York cities there were acts of pressure for new laws that change the criminal justice system. (Photo: F. Martínez)
pros and cons
Zaki Smith, leader of the Next100 organization, shared that the trend in other states is that this type of legislation, which eliminates criminal records, reduces participation in the criminal legal system and allows people to access stable jobs, which generates greater economic growth.
A Michigan investigation found that 99% of people who received expungement were not convicted of a felony at any time in the next 5 years. And 96% were not convicted of any crime, which puts this group at a lower risk of committing crimes than the general population.
According to Albany sources, this bill has gained considerable traction in the state legislature and has been identified by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins as a priority issue. He has also won the support from a growing coalition of labor and business leaders.
But, this initiative pushed by the Democrats also finds a great wall.
Senate Republican Minority Leader Robert Ortt, who represents upstate New York counties, said many lawmakers from his party oppose sharply to this legislative initiative.
“This rule would represent a serious threat to public safety. This bill would make it impossible to know the background of even violent criminals“, He stressed to local media.
Head-on until the last minute
The hope of organizations such as the New York Immigrant Coalition (NYCI) is that before the end of the legislative session in Albany the ‘Judicial Reform’ package that would generally reunite families, end perpetual punishment, and address the criminalization of black, Hispanic, and immigrant communities.
Likewise, Murad Awawdeh, NYCI Executive Director stated that “The New York for All Act provides protections that help all New Yorkers lead lives without fear during everyday activities, such as buying food or taking their children to school, by prohibiting state agencies from and local law enforcement agencies collaborate with ICE or participating in their cruelty ”.
The activist points out that this legislation will address deep inequalities in the criminal legal system when combined with ‘Clean Slate NY’ and the rules that are discussed about Fair and Timely Probation.
6 days left in the 2021 legislative session for Parole Justice to prevail over the racist policies to continue mass incarceration of Black & Latinx families. Join the movement to end mass incarceration. Join us on June 5, at 12 PM, at 633 Third Ave. NY #ParoleJusticeNY pic.twitter.com/dpMgjT1Oao
– Jose Saldana (@ hamzasaldana614) June 3, 2021
Free old people!
Some promoters of these laws in the state legislature, such as Senator Julia Salazar, have aligned themselves with the ideas of the promoters of these initiatives. Even more in times of pandemic.
“This fear of interacting with law enforcement agencies is especially damaging during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it takes communities away from the necessary care they need to protect themselves. This is exactly why we must pass laws that would prevent ICE from relying on law enforcement and local government agencies to search, arrest and deport people”, He said.
The legislator representing the Brooklyn District 18 It adds that these rigid norms must be promoted so that local governments “cannot be complicit in the separation of families “ they are an important part of New York.
Meanwhile, organizations like Release Older Persons from Prison (RAPP) and Member NY, As the legislative session dies, through various rallies they have urged New York State legislators to pass the draft bills Elder Probation Y Fair and Timely Probation.
“Without meaningful opportunities for freedom, families and communities remain deprived of their elders and loved ones. Community Safety Starts with Families Together not with perpetual punishment. They must pass these laws this year”, He insisted Jose Saldana, Bronx resident and RAPP leader.
For the next days Another sequence of street activities is organized to pressure these reforms.
The four laws
The ‘Clean Slate’ legislation (S1553A / A6399) to automatically seal and erase records of previous convictions was in the State Assembly Finance Committee as of this Thursday, without date to be discussed in the Houses of the Assembly and the Senate. The preliminary draft of New York Law for All (S03076) proposes to prohibit police officers, law enforcement officers, school agents, probation agencies, state entities, state employees, and municipal corporations from questioning individuals about their citizenship or immigration status, and also regulates the disclosure of related information. with immigration status. This text was introduced on January 14, 2021 and to date The newspaper could not confirm its advance to the plenary for approval in the next few days. The Fair and Timely Probation proposal (A-4346) applicable to all persons in prison who do not represent a clear risk of breaking the law and a danger to the communities, it would also promote the review of sentences that are equivalent to death by imprisonment, which do not consider changes in behavior that a person may have over time. This draft has been introduced since February 2019 and until this week it did not show progress in both legislative chambers according to the updates of the Senate website. The review of convictions for persons over 55 years of age: (S-2144) which proposes to address the “inhuman” sentences By allowing people in New York State who are this age and have served 15 continuous years in prison or more to be considered for parole, regardless of their crime or sentence, it also did not show any advancement within seven days of closure sessions.