April 11, 2017: The Legal Action Center applauds Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature on the passage of the final budget bills this weekend. The $153.1 billion spending package includes several policies and investments that ensure greater access to opportunities for all New Yorkers. We are particularly pleased that this final spending bill included legislation that will enable the sealing of certain criminal convictions after 10 years, legislation to “Raise the Age” of criminal responsibility from 16 years to 18 years; and support for essential alternatives to incarceration and reentry programs, which have been proven to reduce recidivism and improve public safety. These three items are essential to the broader goal of simultaneously reducing incarceration and crime in New York State; and to reducing the significant collateral consequences associated with arrest, conviction and incarceration – consequences that regularly lock individuals out of essential services and opportunities. In addition, the final spending package included significant investments to expand addiction treatment services across the state, which is critically important to stemming the tide of the opioid epidemic and giving people opportunities to achieve recovery.
Sealing of Criminal Convictions
This legislation opens critical opportunities for those whose convictions occurred long ago to have their records sealed, thereby increasing opportunities for them to obtain employment, housing and other needed services that they have previously had difficulty accessing due to mistakes made long ago. President and Director of the Legal Action Center, Paul Samuels says “LAC, along with our colleagues, has advocated for over four decades to remove the many harmful barriers that people with criminal records face, and this sealing legislation is a major victory for people who have completed their sentences and deserve the chance to rebuild their lives with dignity. We are thrilled that this critical reform has finally been passed into law.”
Raise the Age
Legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years old, means that children will no longer be automatically prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system in New York State. North Carolina is now the only state in the country that still automatically prosecutes 16 year olds as adults, despite clear scientific evidence that the adolescent brain is significantly underdeveloped in key areas related to decision-making. Sebastian Solomon, Director of New York State Policy at LAC says “In addition to fundamentally changing the way that New York treats young people within the criminal justice system, we applaud lawmakers for ensuring that the Raise the Age legislation includes critical support for services to help young people break the cycle of incarceration.”
Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) and Reentry Services
The final spending package restores $500,000 of the of the funding for essential ATI and Reentry Services that had been cut from the Governor’s proposed budget. We are pleased and grateful to the Assembly and Senate that this funding was partially restored. Unfortunately, this year’s budget reduces funding by $1.5 million for these highly effective programs, which have been shown to reduce recidivism and increase public safety. We will continue to fight alongside our colleagues for the full restoration of ATI and Reentry funding in next year’s budget.
Expanding Addiction Treatment Services
The final spending package includes much-needed investments to expand substance use disorder services in New York, including $30 million in new funding. The funding will support the creation of 10 “24/7” crisis centers around the state to help link people in crisis to addiction services, which is particularly important to ensure that people can be connected to care immediately. These crisis centers also serve as a place for police to bring individuals who are in crisis and in need of treatment. In addition, the new funding will support 80 new residential treatment slots, 10 new positions for ‘family navigators’ to support families whose loved ones are struggling with addiction; 10 new peer recovery programs; 5 new community outreach centers; new “recovery clubhouses” and additional opioid treatment slots.
In addition to these major advances and investments, the final budget also includes numerous items that advance criminal justice reforms and provide essential housing support for low-income and indigent New Yorkers:
- Legislation to ensure access to quality public defense in all counties in New York State from the moment a person is charged with a crime;
- Legislation to prevent false convictions by requiring video-recording of interrogations for certain crimes as soon in the process as possible and the use of scientifically-validated “double-blind” photo array methods;
- Reversal of the Governor’s proposal to cut visiting days at maximum security prisons from 7 to 3 days per week;
- $10 million for immigration legal services, which could help people with conviction histories to avoid deportation; and
- $2.5 billion over 5 years for affordable and supportive housing.
The Legal Action Center applauds all the lawmakers and advocates who worked to pass a budget that includes these critical investments in our communities.