Mass Incarceration Legislation

Reimagining Justice: The Case for Ending Mandatory Minimums in New York

By Tahirih Anthony on April, 18 2024

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In the realm of criminal justice reform, New York State stands at a crossroads with the introduction of Senate Bill S6471 and Assembly Bill A2036, collectively known as the Eliminate Mandatory Minimums Act. Spearheaded by Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assemblymember Demond Meeks, these bills represent a monumental opportunity to reshape the state's sentencing laws and address the systemic inequities entrenched within the justice system. This bill is part of Communities Not Cages, a grassroots campaign led by impacted people and families across New York State. Together, we are fighting to end mass incarceration and overhaul New York’s racist and unjust sentencing laws.  

Understanding the Urgency 

At the heart of the Eliminate Mandatory Minimums Act lies a fundamental question: How can we foster a justice system prioritizing healing, accountability, and racial equity? To answer this question, it's crucial to examine the legacy of mandatory minimum sentencing laws, particularly in the context of New York's fraught history with the Rockefeller Drug Laws of the 1970s. 

The current sentencing framework, characterized by harsh mandatory minimums, has contributed to the staggering levels of mass incarceration plaguing our state. New York’s prisons currently incarcerate over 30,000 individuals with a disproportionate number of them being Black or brown. Moreover, the punitive nature of mandatory minimums has perpetuated cycles of intergenerational trauma, with more than 105,000 children having a parent behind bars. 

Black and brown communities bear the brunt of these draconian laws, accounting for a disproportionate percentage of arrests and convictions subject to mandatory minimums. In a study conducted in 2019, it was discovered that individuals belonging to racial minorities in New York accounted for 91% of arrests related to offenses with mandatory minimum sentences, while Caucasians comprised only 7% of such arrests. 

The system prioritizes punishment over rehabilitation, tearing apart families, destabilizing communities and funneling billions of taxpayer dollars down the drain.  

Central to the perpetuation of mandatory minimums is the prevalence of coerced plea deals, whereby individuals feel pressured to forfeit their constitutional right to trial. Prosecutors wield disproportionate power, leveraging the threat of lengthy sentences to extract guilty pleas and sidestep due process. This imbalance in the plea negotiation process undermines the principles of justice and fairness, leaving many individuals without a chance to mount a meaningful defense. 

A Vision for Change 

This groundbreaking legislation seeks to dismantle the foundation of mandatory minimums, empowering judges to consider individual circumstances and mitigating factors in sentencing. By eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and creating a presumption against incarceration, the Act heralds a shift towards a more equitable and rehabilitative approach to criminal justice as the next “battleground.” 

By eliminating mandatory minimums and prioritizing transformative justice initiatives, we can move towards a future where accountability, healing, and community empowerment are the guiding principles of our justice system. At Common Justice, we believe community is what keeps us safe, not prisons, and that's why we proudly support Communities Not Cages. We call on the New York State Legislature to pass Eliminating Mandatory Minimums and for Governor Hochul to sign it into law this session. 

For more information on Communities Not Cages or Eliminating Mandatory Minimums please visit: 

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