“Communities Not Cages”

Buffalo Joins Statewide Movement   To Launch New Campaign To Overhaul New York’s Racist Sentencing Laws

Legislators Announced Three New Bills to Reform Sentencing in New York: Eliminate Mandatory Minimums Act, Second Look Act & Earned Time Act.

 New York – Buffalo joined rallies across the state to announce the launch of a new campaign—Communities Not Cages—and the introduction of three news bills: Eliminate Mandatory Minimums Act, the Second Look Act, and the Earned Time Act.

 New York State incarcerates over 30,000 people in its prisons every day. Almost 75% of people behind bars are Black or brown, with 98% of convictions from guilty pleas. This is not an accident. Over the past half-century, New York’s sentencing laws spiked mass incarceration, building a sentencing regime that funneled hundreds of thousands into cages. New York’s sentencing laws are fundamentally racist and unjust. We need investments in communities over long prison sentences to prevent intergenerational harm and dismantle a system of coerced plea deals that replace the constitutional right to trial.

 Communities Not Cages is a new statewide campaign building the power of people and families impacted by mass incarceration to overhaul New York’s racist and draconian sentencing laws.

The campaign supports three new bills:

•Eliminate Mandatory Minimums Act:  This bill will eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, including New York’s two- and three-strike laws, allowing judges to consider the individual factors. In doing so, this  will fully and finally undo the harm of the Rockefeller Drug Law era. 

•Second Look Act: The Second Look Act will allow judges to review and reconsider excessive sentences,  and allow incarcerated people to apply for a resentencing hearing after they have served 10 years or half of their sentence.

*Earned Time Act: Following the federal 1994 Crime Bill, New York State slashed programs for incarcerated people and dramatically limited the time people could earn time off their sentences. The Earned Time Act will strengthen and expand “good time” and “merit time” laws to encourage personal transformation in prison and reunite families.

 

“In the year 2022, I would have hoped that we advanced to a society that valued communities over cages because that would mean we value people over profit,” said Reverend Denise Walden, Lead Organizer for VOICE Buffalo. “We must challenge our elected officials to invest in the much-needed community resources and programs, not prisons and jails. We cannot afford to let the government weaponize our tax dollars, using them to destroy lives, families, and communities.”

“The Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo and the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NYSACDL) are committed to the success of the ‘Communities Not Cages’ campaign. Only by ending the ‘trial penalty’ and giving incarcerated individuals pathways to rehabilitation away from the failed system of mass incarceration in New York can we move forward with further reformation of the criminal legal system,” said Kevin Stadelmaier, Chief Attorney of the Criminal Defense Unit for the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo and NYSACDL Board Member and Legislative Committee Chair.

Also speaking in support of the initiative was Masten District Buffalo Common Councilmember Ulysees O. Wingo, Sr.; Tanvier Peart, Director of Policy Advancement for the Partnership for the Public Good and Communities Not Cages Steering Committee Member; John Smith, Lead Street Certified Organizer for VOICE Buffalo;  Breyana Clark, WNY Campaigns Manager for VOCAL-NY; Donna Robinson, WNY Organizer for Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP); and University District Buffalo Common Councilmember Rasheed N.C. Wyatt.

“The simple fact is we spend more money to incarcerate a human being at $70,000 per year as opposed to current census data that states New York State spends only $25,000 per year to educate a child,” said Councilmember Wyatt. “The inequality shows a stark and clear contrast that we prefer to incarcerate and cage an individual instead of educating them, supporting their economic viability, which can transform poor neighborhoods, decrease the area of concentrated poverty, and provide hope for marginalized communities. We must do much more if we care about changing the plight of Black and Brown people.”