|January 4, 2017 – The Legal Action Center applauds Governor Andrew Cuomo for making health and justice for New Yorkers central priorities for 2018. “The proposals to address the opioid epidemic and the impacts of mass incarceration will keep New York State at the forefront of addressing these critically important problems,” said Paul Samuels, President/Director of LAC. He adds “The Governor is advancing innovative strategies to address the addiction epidemic and to reform the criminal justice system in the State. They will ensure that New York will provide a model nationally for changing the trajectory of the opioid crisis away from devastation and death towards recovery and hope, and shift the criminal justice system away from over-incarceration and towards equity and justice.”
Restoring Fairness in the Criminal Justice System
The sweeping criminal justice reform package outlined in Governor Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State will significantly overhaul New York’s criminal justice system and advance the State’s progressive leadership on this issue. The proposals will remove numerous systemic barriers that have perpetuated inequities and created harmful and often lifelong collateral consequences for people involved with the criminal justice system. The package of proposals includes key reforms at all stages of the criminal justice process, from pre-trial to reentry.
Governor Cuomo’s proposals address some of the major barriers to successful reintegration into the community for those convicted of crimes, including:
· Eliminating occupational licensing barriers: Despite New York’s longstanding policy of encouraging employment and licensure of people with criminal records, numerous licensing laws continue to limit access to certain fields based solely on criminal conviction. Governor Cuomo’s proposals will ensure that all licensing decisions are based on an individualized evaluation of the applicant, including their actions since conviction, rather than solely on the nature of the past crime. This critically important reform will reduce barriers to employment that currently prevent individuals with criminal records from working in fields that often provide better pay and benefits, thereby allowing them to contribute to their families and communities.
· Ending the automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for individuals convicted of drug crimes: Suspending drivers’ licenses prevents individuals from accessing employment and support services, especially in areas undeserved by public transportation. Eliminating this policy will bring New York into alignment with the 39 other states that have ended the automatic suspension or revocation of drivers’ licenses for those convicted of drug crimes unrelated to driving. It will provide the needed pathway for individuals with convictions to engage in work and access services that support successful reintegration.
· Increasing opportunities for early release and reducing technical parole violations: Governor Cuomo’s proposals build on the significant steps New York already has already taken to reduce unnecessary incarceration of those who do not pose a threat to society. These proposals recognize how costly and counterproductive unnecessary incarceration is, particularly for the increasing population of elderly incarcerated individuals. The proposals also build on proven strategies, recognizing the ways in which programming and opportunities for early release can contribute to successful reintegration. Since taking office, Governor Cuomo has closed 13 prisons, more than any governor in state history. These proposals will further reduce the prison population and continue the progressive legacy of decarceration in New York.
We also applaud and appreciate the important proposals to overhaul bail and discovery and to improve jail and prison conditions. These important reforms will restore fairness to our criminal justice system, support New Yorkers who are returning to their communities from incarceration and reduce historic and discriminatory inequities that have caused disproportionate harm to low-income New Yorkers. Reentry programs have been proven to reduce recidivism, are cost-effective investments that strengthen communities by helping individuals rebuild their lives and contribute to society.
The Legal Action Center looks forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to enact these necessary reforms, which will improve the health and well-being of New Yorkers and their communities.
Addressing the Opioid Crisis and other Substance Use Disorders
Governor Cuomo’s comprehensive package of proposals to combat the addiction epidemic outlined in the State of the State will build on New York’s already robust record of ground-breaking national leadership in response to the opioid crisis. LAC strongly supports the Governor’s proposals and looks forward to working with him and the Legislature to enact them. The imperative to do so is clear and urgent. New York State is in the midst of an unprecedented and destructive opioid epidemic. Last year, over 3000 New Yorkers died of an opioid overdose; countless others are struggling with the disease; and myriad families across the State have been devastated. As Governor Cuomo noted in yesterday’s address, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years of age.
LAC also strongly supports Governor Cuomo’s plans to build on New York’s groundbreaking 2014 and 2016 reforms by enacting legislation to reduce insurance barriers that limit access to outpatient care. These discriminatory barriers to care limit New Yorkers’ access to the addiction treatment that they need and to which they are entitled under state and federal Parity Laws.
We look forward to the Governor’s budget proposals. As we continue to see rising death rates from opioids across the State and nationally, it is critical that funding to combat this public health emergency be commensurate with the scale of the problem. Despite the declaration of a national public emergency, the federal government has provided no new funding. New York State should continue to lead the nation in reversing the trend of opioid addiction and death by providing adequate additional resources to ensure access to the full spectrum of life-saving prevention, treatment and recovery services, as well as education and assistance for people in need of care and their families and friends.
Established in 1973, the Legal Action Center is the only non-profit law and policy organization in the United States whose sole mission is to fight discrimination against people with histories of addiction, HIV/AIDS, or criminal records, and to advocate for sound public policies in these areas.