Bringing Humanity to Prison Sentencing Policy

Introduction

I am running for Manhattan District Attorney because our city’s criminal justice system is in dire need of transformation. Today’s criminal court still reflects an assembly-line, mass incarceration approach to safety and punishment. This obsessive pursuit of harsh punishment, including the most severe sentencing policies in the world, fails the public by making our communities less safe.

I have been watching this system fail all my life, first growing up as a person of color in 1990s Manhattan, then later as a civil rights attorney and criminal justice advocate working to reform the same system. My experience has taught me that the goal of the criminal justice system should be to hold people accountable for the harm they cause, while doing everything in our power to stop cycles of harm from perpetuating. That means that we must primarily look beyond jail and prison as a solution to society’s problems, especially in New York, where we are blessed with the resources to support people and turn their lives around, and especially if we are to live up to the values we claim as progressive Democrats.

As Manhattan District Attorney, I will dramatically reform the office’s approach to sentencing policy. In October, we released a roadmap for reducing Manhattan jail incarceration rates by 80%,¹ reforms that would affect people accused of crimes pre-trial and people sentenced for minor offenses. In that paper, we discussed our approach to pre-trial detention, including bail reform, our support for diversion programs to support people with substance use and mental health issues, and our general belief that being in jail pre-trial or for a parole violation is deeply harmful to individuals, without any public safety benefit to society.

The sentencing policy reforms we propose here will govern our approach to more serious cases, including violent offenses. They are guided by the principles, supported by ample evidence, that long prison sentences rarely improve public safety, and that a person taking accountability for their actions and working to end the cycle of harm that led them to prison will ultimately lead to greater community health and safety. By enacting the bold sentencing reforms outlined below, we can dramatically reduce the number of New Yorkers in prison and stop wasting millions of dollars on mass incarceration. We can put our trust in redemption, and draw the best out of people, which will lead to safer and healthier communities.

Statement of Values

The values of a District Attorney’s office must be in line with the values of the community in order for justice to be served. My values are rooted in freedom, compassion, equity, and opportunity.

There is perhaps no more universal human desire than freedom. Our nation’s history has been defined by enslaved people and immigrants, such as my parents, risking everything in pursuit of freedom.² Every time a person is locked in a cage, stripped of their freedom, we have collectively failed as a society. That is why in our office the deprivation of liberty will always be used as a last resort. And when seeking a prison sentence, a period of years during which a person will be removed from their family, community, and society, we must seek that form of justice not out of fear or retribution, but rather in a legitimate furtherance of public safety.

Our office will pursue compassion. Anyone who has felt the cold bars of a prison cell, watched a prison gate close behind them, or spoken to a loved one through plexiglass knows that sentencing a person to prison in New York puts them at risk of physical harm and psychological trauma, setting them deeper down a dark path rather than habilitating them. A District Attorney must hold people accountable for committing serious harm to others, but in a system that presently offers few rehabilitative options, we must recognize the cruelty of prison even in cases where that penalty is pursued. Likewise, we must have compassion for survivors of crime, and that means making sure they are heard, have a path to healing and closure, and are protected from future harm.

Our office must pursue equity. Racism and economic injustice permeates each facet of the criminal justice system, which is obvious to most people who set foot in a criminal courtroom. Our office will work towards a fairer, more equitable system, reducing existing inequities over who is charged, what they are charged with, whether people can defend themselves from home or from a jail cell, and the length of sentences they serve, including attention to the collateral consequences of criminal cases involving immigrants.

In re-imagining accountability, we must maximize the opportunity for both people who cause and survive harm to heal and thrive in the long run. These solutions can take a variety of forms that do not include incarceration, such as restorative justice, addiction and mental health treatment, and diversion programs. When we say that we would use prison as a last resort, we mean that we would only seek incarceration when our system lacks any other thoughtful approach to keeping the victim and other community members safe, and achieving accountability for the person who committed the harm.

Finally, the goal of justice and the desired outcome of public safety will be achieved when the cycles of harm stop, and nothing can break those cycles like investing in peoples’ health, housing, and economic opportunities. That also means supporting real rehabilitation opportunities for people in prison, so that they can rebuild their lives when they come home.

Based on the above values, I am pledging that as Manhattan District Attorney, I will move towards ending the use of jails and prisons as vehicles of punishment when accountability, safety, and healing can be achieved in smarter, less expensive and more productive ways. More specifically, I am committing to no longer seek prison sentences of longer than 20 years absent exceptional circumstances, as well as other specific proposals outlined below.

We Punish Too Harshly in New York & the United States

We cannot have a healthy conversation about sentencing policy without acknowledging that the United States incarcerates more of its own citizens, for longer, than any other country, especially other developed economies.³ Over 200,000 Americans are currently serving life sentences.⁴ Nor is New York, a supposedly progressive state, immune from this misguided approach to prison sentencing. More than 8,000 New Yorkers,⁵ approximately one in six people in prison, are serving sentences over 20 years or longer.⁶ Many have heard of the notorious “Rockefeller Drug Laws” of the 1970s, which dramatically increased penalties for crimes relating to drug possession and distribution.⁷ While some aspects of these drug laws were amended in 2009, what fewer know is that changes made during the 1970s significantly lengthened sentences generally in New York State, and we still live with the consequences of those changes today.⁸

Another approach is possible. In Canada,⁹ individuals can only be sentenced to life imprisonment for first or second degree murder, and are eligible for parole as soon as ten years later. Similarly, Germany¹⁰ allows a person sentenced to life imprisonment to apply for parole after 15 years. Those who have been sentenced to life in Denmark¹¹ are eligible for a parole hearing after serving 12 years, a person sentenced to life in Finland¹² serves an average of 13 years, 18 years in Sweden¹³ and England.¹⁴ Norway¹⁵ prohibits sentences of more than 21 years,¹⁶ and Portugal¹⁷ 25 years. These countries believe that people are redeemable, and that if the state is taking away a person’s liberty, it is obligated to play a part in a person’s rehabilitation. As Pope Francis has said, severely long prison terms are an immoral “hidden death sentence.”¹⁸ By investing in people, these countries have been able to maintain very low prison rates while maintaining public safety. Our broken policy is the outlier here. In fact, even within our country, we have seen sentencing policy morph from the short and mid-length prison sentences before the 1980s to a race to the bottom, always seeking greater punishment.¹⁹ What we propose here is a return to a standard based on fairness and justice.

Five decades into the era of “mass incarceration” in the United States, there is a substantial level of evidence that long sentences do not deter crime or result in greater safety to the community in the long run,²⁰ which are the only justifications that could serve such a barbaric practice. This is true even for serious crimes. In fact, research has shown that because long prison sentences actually increase the chances of a person returning to a life of crime, they serve to the detriment of long-term public safety. (One report calling prisons, “schools to commit more crimes.”)²¹ In light of what we now understand about sentencing policy, our Manhattan District Attorney’s office will pursue the following changes:

Proposal #1: Seek Sentences No Longer than 20 Years Absent Exceptional Circumstances

As Manhattan District Attorney, I will not seek prison sentences longer than 20 years absent exceptional circumstances. This will be the most progressive sentencing policy in the United States, and though we are the first District Attorney campaign to make this pledge,²² we are part of a national effort²³ to urge Americans to think differently about long-term imprisonment. The decision to cap sentences at 20 years is neither arbitrary, nor taken lightly. First, the proposal recognizes that most violent crime is committed by young men, and substantial research has shown that young men are not fully mature, overly impulsive, and likely to “age out of crime”.²⁴ Second, as noted above, there is significant precedent for other countries implementing this sentencing practice and experiencing lower levels of crime and recidivism. Third, and most importantly, a prison sentence of 20 years will still serve as just as strong a deterrent to serious crime without imposing the societal and personal costs of locking a person away for the rest of his life.²⁵

This policy can be enacted mostly by changing the office’s charging practices. (Changes to the state criminal law will be helpful.)²⁶ By capping sentences at 20 years for the most serious crimes in the New York penal code, we will be able to right-size the rest of our sentencing policy, by seeking more appropriate responses to less serious types of harm, including solutions that avoid prison entirely.²⁷ (Many such proposals are discussed in our previous policy paper.)²⁸ In taking this approach, we are actually returning to the prior American sentencing practices that were based on fairness and rehabilitation, rather than the “tough on crime” / “throw away the key” punishments that came out of the 1980s and 1990s.²⁹

The goal of all our policies at the Manhattan DA’s office will be to seek the most effective form of accountability and best stop the cycle of harm. In our research on homicides, for example, we found that a large number of cases involved conflict between family members, impulsive disputes that escalated, or erratic behavior driven by drugs and alcohol. The resulting outcomes are tragic. But if we are serious about accountability, we must acknowledge that some victims and their families will not want the person who harmed them to receive the maximum punishment. For example, think of the Bronx father who accidentally killed his infant children by accidentally leaving them in a hot car, a situation in which the father was incredibly remorseful and the mother did not want him imprisoned.³⁰ Even in less clear examples, if we are serious about stopping these cycles of harm, there are better solutions than lifelong imprisonment for perpetrators.³¹ (For example, restorative justice programs are currently operating in dozens of prisons across the country.)

There will also be exceptions to this policy. To use an example from Norway for guidance, a racist mass murderer there was given the maximum 21 years, but will not be released at that time if the court deems he is still “a danger to society.”³² Our office would work with the courts, corrections, and parole system in such uniquely heinous cases to make sure we do not release someone who is actively committed to harming others. Finally, it is true that judges will often have the discretion at sentencing to impose sentences longer than those sought by the District Attorney’s office, but it is our hope that judges’ honor the justice we are seeking. If certain judges surpass the District Attorney’s office as obstacles to reform, that will require its own focus from the criminal justice movement.

Even if capping sentences at 20 years is sound policy, there will be those who find it an affront to their own sense of retributive justice. They will accuse the office of coddling murderers, or worse. In these conversations, I often think of a 16 year-old boy I met on Rikers Island when I was running a volunteer program years ago. He was there for murder. A man partnering with his mother had moved into their apartment, and had abused both this boy and his mother over a prolonged period. Eventually, this boy found a gun in the house and shot the man. The story is heartbreaking on many levels, including how we collectively failed this boy.³³ I did not think of someone who would murder anyone else, but at the same time, his trauma had manifested in taking another person’s life. Based on what we now know about handling deep trauma and adolescent brain development, it is very much within the capacity of our legal and social system to find a path towards healing and accountability that would have turned this man’s life around, rather than sending him to prison for decades.³⁴

In fact, over the past few years I have worked alongside men who engaged in violent, destructive behavior as young men, but matured into strong, compassionate leaders over decades, largely through their own self-work in prison. Many spent their entire incarceration waiting to lead a different kind of life when they came home and made a positive impact on the community they had harmed, but were given no tools, resources, or opportunities to do so until they found their own way.

I share these stories not because they yield a clean policy directive, but because it shows how challenging it can be to serve justice, even for “murderers” or other people accused of serious offenses. That is the thoughtfulness we will bring to the Manhattan DA’s office.

Proposal #2: End Coercive Plea Bargaining

When 95% of New York State cases are resolved by plea deal, plea deals aren’t just part of the criminal justice system — they are the system.³⁵ There is no question³⁶ that there are New Yorkers sitting in prison today who are innocent of the crime they were charged with, but accepted a plea rather than roll the dice on decades in prison at trial.³⁷ That is an injustice we should not tolerate as a society. And even in the majority of plea bargain situations, in which accountability is called for, we should strive to seek non-carceral solutions that will stop the cycle of harm.

Reforming plea bargains is not exclusively the purview of the District Attorney’s office — a recent New York County Lawyers Association report persuasively argues for a variety of reforms other system actors should implement — but this is an area where our office can make significant changes on Day 1:

  • First, we will eliminate the “trial penalty”, in which people are essentially penalized by the threat of much longer sentences if they pursue their case rather than taking an early plea. The right to trial is an essential constitutional right, and nearly half of people who take their cases to trial are acquitted.³⁸
  • Second, we will design plea deals that focus on community accountability and ending the cycle of harm. Whenever prison time can be avoided in lieu of a serious regiment to improve a person’s addiction issues or mental health, while putting them on a path to economic security, that outcome will better serve all in the community than a long prison sentence.
  • Third, we will institute an internal process to memorialize why certain plea bargains are being offered. This will allow us to hold ourselves accountable and reduce inequitable or discriminatory outcomes. Once our process is working successfully, we will make this information public.
  • Fourth, we will create public transparency in the plea bargaining process. By releasing data on plea bargains, we can educate the broader public on a particularly opaque part of the criminal justice system. Relating to the previous point on plea bargain processes, we will make that system public once we are satisfied with its implementation.
  • Fifth, we will protect the rights of immigrants by ensuring that all parties involved are aware of the collateral immigration consequences involved in any criminal plea bargains made with our office. We will also investigate the rights of immigrants who are already serving prison time.³⁹

Proposal #3: Treat Substance Use and Mental Illness as Public Health Issues

For too long we have responded to both the use of illegal substances and the struggles of individuals with mental health issues by criminalizing behavior, rather than recognize two challenging, often related public health issues.

The War on Drugs has been a five-decade assault on low-income communities of color, and an issue on which I have been active since I was a teenager. As a country, we are finally moving in the right direction, beginning with the legalization of marijuana in so many states, and taking baby steps here in New York. But ending the War on Drugs means ending the broader mass surveillance of communities of color that has historically used the drug trade as its pretense, and treating those who struggle with substance use as needed the support of our public health systems.

  • In our previous policy paper, we noted that we would decline to criminally prosecute low-level drug possession cases. To be clear, that is for the possession of any drug, not only marijuana.
  • Support safe injection sites, which have been proven to lower the risk of disease and overdose deaths.
  • We will also explore employment-based diversion programs for certain low-level dealers.
  • We will also approach drugs with a health-based lens, recognizing that someone with a serious addiction is at risk of harming themselves and their community until they receive help, and that addiction takes great patience and persistence to overcome. In these types of cases, simply locking someone up will not end the cycle of harm.

This campaign will soon publish a separate policy paper outlining the many steps our office will take to end the War on Drugs in New York, which will inure to the health, economic, and public safety benefit of its residents.

We have also previously made clear⁴⁰ our opposition to locking up people with mental health issues who would be better served by treatment in the community. It is shameful that Rikers Island is the city’s largest mental health provider. We support a significant influx of state and local funding into institutions that provide mental health support, such as The Nathaniel Project, who have received national recognition for the work they do with individuals with a history of past felonies and mental illness. Finally, we acknowledge that delivering mental health in the community setting is challenging, and must rely on patience and trust-building between healthcare providers and people struggling with mental health issues. There is no easy fix to these challenges, but we know the answer does not lie in treating people through cage bars.

Proposal #4: Establish a Sentencing Review Unit and Improve Conviction Integrity Review Unit

While our other proposals will reform Manhattan DA sentencing policy moving forward, there are already multiple generations of New Yorkers serving prison time under the Draconian policies of the past. In the past few years, a number of District Attorney offices, including Manhattan, have established “Conviction Integrity Review Units”, to review questionable prosecutions which may have resulted in innocent people serving time. We would expand and improve Manhattan’s unit. But there are plenty of people who have served many years in prison after legitimate trials or plea bargains whose sentences do not comport with our values in 2019.

Barry Schenk, Co-Founder of The Innocence Project, emphasizes the importance of “human factor considerations” in order to re-evaluate cases brought before a Conviction Integrity Unit. He cites the Brooklyn DA’s office, led by the late Ken Thompson, and the Dallas DA’s office, led by Special Fields Bureau Chief Mike Ware, as the two best examples of successful Conviction Integrity Units. Both jurisdictions had staff comprised of a combination of both prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys, allowing for a non-adversarial approach to the review of cases.⁴¹

The Sentencing Review Unit would be comprised of attorneys from the Manhattan DA’s office, along with a diverse cross-section of community members, including survivors of crime and formerly incarcerated individuals. The Unit would review applications from individuals serving sentences longer than 10 years, and ask three questions:

  • Would they be sentenced less punitively today under existing laws and practices?
  • Have they engaged in rehabilitative work while incarcerated?
  • Do they have support from their community, including from the victim/victim’s family?

Should the Unit find a person’s active sentence incongruous, it would recommend that the office seek a commutation from the governor. Unfortunately, under existing state law, even a District Attorney’s office cannot motion for re-sentencing based on an immorally long sentence. However, we join Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez in pushing for legislation that would allow such motions, as well as other relevant legislation, which we describe below.

Proposal #5: Support Parole Applicants

People who have served their prison sentences should come home. Unfortunately, today many people are denied parole, sometimes repeatedly for years. The Manhattan DA’s office has a policy of opposing parole, and we will change that on Day 1. The Parole Board looks to the recommendation of the sentencing prosecutor’s office in their decision-making, and our office policy will be to generally support parole for people ready to come home. We will particularly fight for people who have worked hard in prison to move on from their past and prepared to serve their communities.

Proposal #6: End Misdemeanor “Bump-ups”

A prosecutor has more leverage over a defendant when that person is being charged with a felony rather than a misdemeanor, which has led to an unfortunate practice of “bumping up” certain types of cases. The Manhattan DA’s office in particular has been accused of bumping up⁴² petit larceny cases to felony burglary charges, aggressively prosecuting low-level thefts with long-term punishments for the economically desperate people who are caught.⁴³ This policy has been found to frequently ensnare people experiencing homelessness, who are caught stealing basic survival supplies. Rather than directing these people to help, it sends them into our jails, and that policy must end. I have spent significant time speaking with people experiencing homelessness and service providers, and their stories are heartbreaking. It is morally wrong and fiscally wasteful to spend thousands of dollars locking people up over stolen socks. I am sympathetic to small business owners experiencing petty theft, but we must discern between crimes of economic desperation, where non-carceral interventions will work (for example, addiction treatment for someone stealing to pay for their habit), and sophisticated burglary operations that target high-end stores. Finally, there is a concern that following the implementation of bail reform in January 2020, prosecutors will generally charge more cases as felonies. In our DA office, our prosecutors will be measured by their work in ending cycles of harm, not whether they can secure convictions and prison sentences.

Proposal #7: End the oppressive use of state conspiracy charges

Law enforcement has criminalized an entire generation of Black and brown young people by labeling them as gang members and connections as flimsy as shared Facebook photos, and used state conspiracy laws to prosecute them as criminal associates. Most notoriously, DA Vance and his federal counterparts raided the Manhattanville and Grant Houses in Harlem, arresting more than 100 people. Many of those prosecuted had their charges dropped, but only after their lives had been debilitated by the collateral consequences brought by criminal charges and incarceration.

The very notion of “gangs” being responsible for gun violence and other forms of crime in New York City is unsupported by evidence, and used by certain media outlets, right-wing law enforcement unions, and their political allies to perpetuate over-policing of young people of color. State conspiracy charges have been the prosecutorial tool to further this misconception. If we have a criminal charge to bring against a person harming other people, we will bring that charge. But state conspiracy charges have been abused for too long, and I will not use them against our communities.

Proposal #8: Support Sentencing Reform in the NYS Legislature

Decisions made by the District Attorney’s office alone cannot undo a half-century of mass incarceration policies, and each of our policy papers lists relevant reforms that we support in the New York State legislature.

  • Support Parole Reform: I strongly support reforms to the parole process being urged by the Release Aging People in Prison campaign, including the Fair and Timely Parole Act,⁴⁴ which would bring more fairness to parole determinations, and the Elder Parole Act,⁴⁵ which would provide parole eligibility to seniors serving very long sentences — a growing number of people in our prison system.
  • Reform “Mandatory Minimum” Laws: “Mandatory minimums” are an overly punitive statutory tool that removes discretion and mitigating factors from the criminal justice system. They became very popular with politicians during the rise of mass incarceration, and real sentencing reform will require rolling them back. Our office will avoid bringing charges that result in mandatory minimums in any case where another lesser charge describes the conduct, but given their pervasiveness in the penal code, state legislation will also be required. Likewise, we will support any legislation that lowers or eliminates mandatory minimums, especially legislation in line with our Proposal to cap sentences at 20 years.
  • Reform “Predicate Sentencing” Laws: One reason for long sentences in New York is our predicate sentencing laws, which set aggressive determinate sentencing ranges for people convicted of felonies for a second (or subsequent) time. I participated in legislative reform efforts in other states to reform these laws, which exacerbate punishments far beyond what is necessary to hold people accountable and take discretion away from the DA’s office and judges. I would particularly support rolling back the mandatory “persistent felony offender” law.
  • Make Reforms Retroactive: Any time we engage in sentencing reform, we must ensure that reforms are retroactive, and automatically applied to people already incarcerated. That way, no one is continuing to serve time in prison longer than they would have under the reformed laws. In addition, retroactivity, would likely allow our office to file motions to reduce immoral, lengthy sentences identified by our Sentencing Review Unit.
  • Voting Rights for People in Prison: I strongly believe that the right to vote is fundamental, and should not be lost, even when people are incarcerated. Maintaining the right to vote will also help those serving sentences remain connected to the communities they will eventually come home to. For this reason I strongly support legislation,⁴⁶ or, if required, a constitutional amendment expanding the right to vote to those in prison.
  • Reform Sentencing for Young People: People should not face life-long punishments for mistakes made in their youth. As we have written above, young peoples’ brains are not fully developed until their early 20s, an idea that is supported by an ever-growing body of evidence. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has said as much in a string of decisions over the past two decades.⁴⁷ I would support legislation to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility further, to become a national leader in our thoughtful approach to justice.

Conclusion

Finding an appropriate path to justice when one person has seriously harmed another is the most challenging and solemn responsibility of the District Attorney’s office. The policies advanced here are not meant to cash in politically en vogue terms like “criminal justice reform” and “decarceration”, but rather to seriously address painful and complicated issues.

In seeking accountability and ending cycles of harm, the best long-term solutions will be found in investments we make outside of the criminal justice system — investments in education, health, housing, and economic opportunity. Yet when serious incidents of harm are brought to our office, we must act with the limited tools that we have. The sentencing reform proposals are meant to advance a new and better way of addressing harm in New York, relying on prison as a limited, last resort. For those of us who believe in a more progressive New York, this is our charge, to use the vast wealth and resources of our city and state to lead the country in innovative solutions to our criminal justice system’s challenges. For those of us who believe in redemption, this is an approach that will best provide people the opportunity to turn their lives around and positively impact the community.

As with all of our policy proposals, we welcome and incorporate feedback, especially from those who have been impacted by the system or worked within it, and will maintain this as a living document. Together, we can all build a safer and more just New York.

Endnotes

[1] Janos Marton, “A Path to 80% Decarceration,” October 20, 2019, https://medium.com/@janosforda/a-path-to-80-decarceration-c397e5f348de (accessed November 17, 2019).

[2] In speaking of our nation’s history, and Manhattan’s, we must recognize we are on Indigenous Peoples’ land, which Manhattan was the home of the Lenape.

[3] “Criminal Justice Facts,” The Sentencing Project, n.d., https://www.sentencingproject.org/criminal-justice-facts/ (accessed November 26, 2019).

[4] “The Facts of Life Sentences,” The Sentencing Project, December 2018, https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Facts-of-Life.pdf (accessed November 26, 2019)

[5] As of the DOCCS’ latest report, 16.8% (8,434 individuals) in custody are serving sentences of 240+ months (20 years or more) and 0.6% (291 individuals) are serving life sentences without eligibility for parole. See footnote below.

[6] New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Under Custody Report: Profile of Under Custody Population As of January 1, 2018. New York, October 2018. http://www.doccs.ny.gov/Research/Reports/2018/Under%20Custody%20Report%202018.pdf (accessed November 25, 2019).

[7] Brian Mann, “The Drug Laws That Change How We Punish,” NPR, https://www.npr.org/2013/02/14/171822608/the-drug-laws-that-changed-how-we-punish, February 14, 2013 (accessed November 19, 2019).

[8] Jim Parsons, Qing Wei, Christian Henrichson,Joshua Rinaldi, Christian Henrichson, and Talia Sandwick, “A Natural Experiment in Reform: Analyzing Drug Policy Change in New York City,” Vera Institute of Justice, January 2015, https://www.vera.org/downloads/publications/drug-law-reform-new-york-city-technical-report_03.pdf (accessed November 20, 2019).

[9] Canada Department of Justice, How Sentences Are Imposed, https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/victims-victimes/sentencing-peine/imposed-imposees.html (accessed November 18, 2019).

[10] Vincent Schiraldi, “In Germany, It’s Hard to Find a Young Adult in Prison,” The Crime Report, April 10, 2018, https://thecrimereport.org/2018/04/10/in-germany-its-hard-to-find-a-young-adult-in-prison/ (accessed November 18, 2019).

[11] Kampmann, Erik. “Prisons and Punishments in Denmark.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 25, no. 1, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f619/f8ed271067048192f3798b1b2f395d603611.pdf (accessed November 18, 2019).

[12] “Prisoners Jailed for Life in Finland Serve an Average of 13 Years.” YLE, April 6, 2012, https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/prisoners_jailed_for_life_in_finland_serve_an_average_of_13_years/5593043 (accessed November 18, 2019).

[13] Swedish Prison and Probation Services, Sanctions, https://www.kriminalvarden.se/swedish-prison-and-probation-service/sanctions/ (accessed November 18, 2019).

[14] Finlo Rohrer, “The History of Life,” BBC News Magazine, June 16, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/5086978.stm (accessed November 18, 2019).

[15] “Why Norway’s Maximum Sentence is Just 21 Years,” The Local, August 24, 2012, https://www.thelocal.no/20120824/why-norways-maximum-sentence-is-just-21-years (accessed November 18, 2019).

[16] Marc Mauer, “Minimizing the Maximum: Why Prison Sentences Should Be Capped at 20 Years,” The Mark News, April 16, 2015, http://www.themarknews.com/2015/04/16/minimizing-the-maximum-why-prison-sentences-should-be-capped-at-20-years/ (accessed November 26, 2019).

[17] Carlos Pinto de Abreu and Diana Silva Pereira, “Portugal: The State of Prisons in 2018,” Prison Insider, December 2018, https://www.prison-insider.com/files/2e5c708f/fp_en_portugal_04.pdf (accessed November 18, 2019).

[18] David Gibson and Josephine Mckenna, “Pope Francis Blasts Supermax Prisons as Torture,” The Washington Post, October 23, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/pope-francis-blasts-supermax-prisons-as-torture/2014/10/23/55c20d12-5af6-11e4-9d6c-756a229d8b18_story.html (accessed November 24, 2019).

[19] Jeremy Travis and Bruce Western. The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2014.

[20] Bryan Lufkin, “The Myth Behind Long Prison Sentences,” BBC, May 15, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20180514-do-long-prison-sentences-deter-crime (accessed December 1, 2019).

[21] National Institute of Justice, “Five Things About Deterrence,” June 5, 2016, https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/five-things-about-deterrence (accessed November 25, 2019).

[22] San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin has pledged to not seek sentences longer than 20 years for people under the age of 26: https://www.facebook.com/MeetYourDA/videos/496086671242935/. Janos Marton support Boudin during his campaign in 2019, and looks forward to this policy and other bold measures Boudin will implement.

[23] The Sentencing Project, Campaign to End Life Imprisonment, https://endlifeimprisonment.org/ (accessed November 22, 2019).

[24] Rolf Loeber and David P. Farrington. “Age-Crime Curve.” Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice (2014): 12–18.

[25] German Lopez, “A Mass Review of the Evidence Shows Letting People Out of Prison Doesn’t Increase Crime,” Vox.com, September 25, 2017, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/9/25/16340782/study-mass-incarceration (accessed December 8, 2019).

[26] Currently under New York State law, the only crime that requires a sentence of longer than 20 years without additional sentencing enhancements is “Domestic Terrorism”, which rarely comes up for the District Attorney’s office. However, New York does call for long determinate sentences for repeat offenders, which will require legislative reform. As we have previously noted and will discuss in Proposal #2, however, most cases end in plea bargains, not trials. Thus, even absent reforms to state criminal law, fairly negotiated pleas should result in sentences that use prison as a last resort and shorten existing average sentence lengths.

[27] Judges will be able to sentence people to the maximum permitted number of years by law, but our hope is that in most instances, the court will respect our position.

[28] Janos Marton, “A Path to 80% Decarceration,” October 20, 2019, https://medium.com/@janosforda/a-path-to-80-decarceration-c397e5f348de (accessed November 17, 2019).

[29] Jeremy Travis and Bruce Western. The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2014.

[30] Nate Schweber and Andrea Salcedo, “Father Charged in Deaths of 1-Year-Old Twins Left in Car,” The New York Times, July 27, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/27/nyregion/twins-found-dead-bronx.html (accessed November 22, 2019).

[31] I would be open to using Manhattan’s financial forfeiture funds to pay for such programs, or support such funding in the state budget.

[32] Mark Lewis and Sarah Lyall, “Norway Mass Killer Gets the Maximum: 21 Years,” The New York Times, August 24, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/25/world/europe/anders-behring-breivik-murder-trial.html (accessed November 30, 2019).

[33] The story also brings up another deeply disturbing feature of our society, that most acts of sexual violence are perpetrated by people who know the victim.

[34] Eraka Bath, Kayla Pope, Roya Ijadi-Maghsoodi, and Christopher Thomas. “Juvenile Life Without Parole: Updates on Legislative and Judicial Trends and on Facilitating Fair Sentencing.” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 54, no. 5 (2015): 343–47. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2015.02.011.

[35] Beth Schwartzapfel, “New York State Overhauls Discovery Process in Criminal Cases,” The Marshall Project, April 1, 2019, https://www.themarshallproject.org/2019/04/01/blindfold-off-new-york-overhauls-pretrial-evidence-rules (accessed October 3, 2019).

[36] NYCLA Justice Center Task Force: Solving the Problem of Innocent People Pleading Guilty, New York County Lawyers Association, 2019, https://www.nycla.org/pdf/NYCLA%20Board%20Report%20-%20Solving%20the%20Problem%20of%20Innocent%20People%20Pleading%20Guilty.pdf (accessed November 30, 2019).

[37] NYCLA Justice Center Task Force: Solving the Problem of Innocent People Pleading Guilty, New York County Lawyers Association, 2019, https://www.nycla.org/pdf/NYCLA%20Board%20Report%20-%20Solving%20the%20Problem%20of%20Innocent%20People%20Pleading%20Guilty.pdf (accessed November 30, 2019).

[38] New York State Unified Court System, 2018 Annual Report, https://www.nycourts.gov/legacypdfs/18_UCS-Annual_Report.pdf (accessed October 6, 2019).

[39] From our understanding, there are approximately 1,000 people in the New York State prison system under final orders of removal. Under current law, they are required to serve their time, often long sentences, before being deported. In some of these cases, people would prefer to be deported sooner, to be closer to their families, a result that would also reduce the number of people in our prison system.

[40] Anisha Lewis, “Incarceration and Mental Health,” The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, n.d., https://www.prisonerhealth.org/educational-resources/factsheets-2/incarceration-and-mental-health/ (accessed October 7, 2019).

[41] Barry Schenk, “”Conviction Integrity Units Revisited.” Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law. 14 (2016): 705.

[42] Willem Van Der Mei, Andrea Nieves, Thalia Karny, Christopher Boyle, Sergio De La Pava, “Four Years In Prison for Four Pairs of Socks: Shoplifting Bump-Ups in New York County,” Four Years In Prison for Four Pairs of Socks: Shoplifting Bump-Ups in New York County (New York County Defender Services, 2019), https://nycds.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/4-Years-in-Prison-for-4-Pairs-of-Socks-NYCDS-report-2019.pdf (accessed November 20, 2019).

[43] Willem Van Der Mei, Andrea Nieves, Thalia Karny, Christopher Boyle, Sergio De La Pava, “Four Years In Prison for Four Pairs of Socks: Shoplifting Bump-Ups in New York County,” Four Years In Prison for Four Pairs of Socks: Shoplifting Bump-Ups in New York County (New York County Defender Services, 2019), https://nycds.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/4-Years-in-Prison-for-4-Pairs-of-Socks-NYCDS-report-2019.pdf (accessed November 20, 2019).

[44] Releasing Aging People in Prison, One Year After Mujahid Farid’s Death, We Call for Fair & Timely Parole Act, November 20, 2019, http://rappcampaign.com/one-year-after-mujahid-farids-death-we-call-for-fair-timely-parole-act/ (accessed November 30, 2019).

[45] Releasing Aging People in prison, Community Says: Pass Elder Parole-No Exclusions, October 24, 2019, http://rappcampaign.com/community-demands-nys-pass-elder-parole-no-exclusions/ (accessed November 30, 2019).

[46] S.B. SC6821, 2019–2020 Legislative Session (New York, 2019). https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/s6821 (accessed December 2, 2019).

[47] Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005); Graham v. Florida, 560 U. S. 48 (2010); Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012); Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016). In the majority decision for Miller, Justice Elena Kagan stated, “[These punishments] for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequence.”

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Criminal justice advocate. Democratic Candidate For Manhattan District Attorney.

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Janos Marton

Criminal justice advocate. Democratic Candidate For Manhattan District Attorney.