Rallies across New York call on governor to act on sentencing reforms

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Thursday, November 17, 2022
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Several organizations are calling for passage of Communities Not Cages, a package of sentencing reforms for the state of New York. Marcus Solis has the story.

WHITE PLAINS, New York (WABC) -- Lawmakers and organizations took to the streets across parts of New York on Wednesday in an effort to urge the governor to take action on sentencing reform.

A corner in White Plains was host to one of six simultaneous rallies from Long Island to Rochester, all with the same message: New York's incarceration guidelines need to be changed.

"People talk about how racist our systems are all the time, but what are we doing to repair any of that," reform advocate Jolene Russ said.

Russ was 17 years old when her then-boyfriend was sentenced to 41 years in prison for robbery. She's now married to Bryon Russ and raising their five children while fighting for his release.

"We are sentencing people to way too much time, we have no availability to a lookback of any sort and are not valuing the rehabilitation that people do obtain," Russ said.

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Several organizations are calling for passage of 'Communities Not Cages,' a package of reforms that would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, allow incarcerated persons to apply for sentence reductions, and establish an earned time act that would reduce prison sentences for some.

Soulangie Leeper believes such measures would have helped her nephew who served 14 years.

"We can see the impact that it's had on him and it wasn't a positive one," Leeper said.

The legislature has been under tremendous pressure to overhaul its controversial bail reform law, so would they have the stomach to take on these three bills? One lawmaker says its apples and oranges.

"In other countries this works," Chris Burdick said.

Burdick sits on the assembly's corrections committee and calls the bills common sense reforms.

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"People do in fact have the ability to change who they are as human beings and all we are asking for is to have us take a look at this," he said.

But the proposal stalled last year, and there's no indication it will be taken up during the next legislative session.

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