119 Domestic Violence, Women’s Rights, and Criminal Justice Groups Join Forces for DV Survivors Justice Act

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From CA press release:

CONTACT:
Tamar Kraft-Stolar
Women in Prison Project Director
Correctional Association
212-254-5700, ext. 306
tkstolar{at}correctionalassociation.org  

Caitlin Kundrat
Associate Director of Communications
Correctional Association
212-254-5700, ext. 332
ckundrat{at}correctionalassociation.org

OVER 100 ADVOCATES TO LOBBY IN ALBANY ON JUNE 5

Press conference Wednesday 6/5/13, LCA Room in the Legislative Office Building at 10:30am

 

New York, May 30, 2013 – Advocates from the Correctional Association of New York, the Coalition for Women Prisoners and dozens of other groups across the state will join in Albany on June 5 to urge legislators to enact the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (A.4314-B and S.3337-B).  The Act establishes more compassionate sentencing for survivors convicted of crimes directly related to the abuse they suffered.

119 organizations from across the state representing thousands of people support this bill, including the NYS Coalition Against DV, Erie County Coalition Against Family Violence, Nassau and Suffolk County Coalitions Against DV, Junior League NYS Public Affairs Committee, American Association of University Women NYS Chapter, STEPS to End Family Violence, Community Service Society, Correctional Association of New York and the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims.

A sign of the promising prospects for the bill’s success this year, the Act has picked up support from leaders of the Independent Democratic Caucus Senator Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) and Senator Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), and from Senator Greg Ball (R-Putnam) who joins Senate sponsor Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Mount Vernon) as a co-prime sponsor of the Act.  In the Assembly, the Act is sponsored by Speaker pro tempore Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry (D-Queens).

Currently, judges do not have discretion to fully consider the impact of domestic violence when sentencing survivors who act to protect themselves and their children.  This leads to long, unjust prison sentences for many survivors.

The DV Survivors Justice Act would address this problem by allowing judges to sentence survivors to shorter prison terms and, in some cases, to community-based alternative to incarceration programs, and allowing survivors currently in prison to apply to the courts for resentencing, granting much-deserved relief for incarcerated individuals who pose no threat to public safety.

Under the Act, a judge can only grant an alternative sentence if she finds that: (1) the defendant was, at the time of the offense, a victim of substantial domestic violence, (2) the abuse was a “significant contributing factor” to the crime, and (3) a sentence under current law would be “unduly harsh.”

Community-based alternative programs are far less costly and far more effective than prison in allowing survivors to heal from abuse, rebuild relationships with children, and become productive community members.  Such programs are particularly appropriate for women survivors, as they most often have no history of violence and extremely low recidivism rates.  For example, of the 38 women convicted of murder and released between 1985 and 2003 in New York, not a single woman returned to prison for a new crime within a 36-month period of release – a 0% recidivism rate.

“Establishing alternative sentencing for domestic violence survivors will make it less likely that survivors will be victimized by the very system that should help protect them,” said bill sponsor Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Mount Vernon), Ranking Minority Member of the Judiciary and Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committees, and Senate Minority Conference Vice Chairwoman.  “It is time to pass this bill and start providing survivor-defendants with support and assistance instead of harsh punishment.”

“I became a sponsor of this bill because I believe that domestic violence survivors who protect themselves from an abuser’s violence deserve support and compassion,” said Senator Greg Ball (R-Putnam), Chair of the Veterans, Homeland Security, and Military Affairs Committee.   “I’m proud to sponsor this legislation alongside the many bills I’ve sponsored to strengthen laws that aid victims and their families.  Addressing the devastating consequences of domestic violence should not be a partisan issue and I urge all of my colleagues in the Senate to join me in supporting this critical legislation.”

“As someone who is deeply invested in this issue, I have long said that we should recognize the special circumstances facing victims of domestic violence,” said Senator Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx), Senate Co-Leader and President Pro Tempore and Independent Democratic Conference Leader.  “Passing this bill will be a critical step towards treating all survivors with the compassion and dignity they deserve.”

“This bill would untie judges’ hands and allow them to exercise meaningful discretion in cases involving survivor-defendants,” said the bill’s sponsor in the Assembly, Speaker pro tempore Jeffrion Aubry (D-Queens).  “In addition to fulfilling our moral obligation to protect and support survivors of domestic violence, this bill has the potential to save the state funds without any risk to public safety.”

“Sending survivors who act to protect themselves to prison for long sentences is incompatible with modern notions of fairness and humanity,” said Tamar Kraft-Stolar, Director of the Women in Prison Project at the Correctional Association of New York.  “Public opinion is on our side and we urge legislators to listen to the thousands of people from across the state calling for the passage of this bill.”

“I spent years being abused by my boyfriend and then, when I protected myself, I was sent to prison for 8 1/3 to 25 years,” said Kim Dadou, a member of the Coalition for Women Prisoners, survivor and advocate.  “I was denied parole five times and spent 17 years in prison.  The court system is supposed to protect you and instead it was turned against me.”

“I was arrested for protecting myself after years of abuse,” said Lady Kathryn Williams-Julien, a member of the Coalition for Women Prisoners, survivor, and domestic violence and HIV advocate.  “I was allowed to serve my time at an alternative to incarceration program, STEPS to End Family Violence, but only because the DA in my case let me plead guilty to a lower offense which rarely happens.  STEPS helped me recover and rebuild my self-esteem.”

Senators Hassell-Thompson, Ball, and Klein and Assemblymember Aubry will join advocates and survivors for a press conference on June 5 at 10:30am in the LCA room of the Legislative Office Building.

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

  • Additional quotes in support from the Correctional Association, STEPS to End Family Violence, New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, American Association of University Women – New York State, and NYS Public Affairs Committee of the Junior League.
  • From Protection to Punishment: Post-Conviction Barriers to Justice for Domestic Violence Survivor Defendants in New York Statea report from the Correctional Association and the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School
  • Facts about incarcerated DV survivors

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