History and Impact


The Correctional Association of New York was founded in 1844 by concerned citizens who wanted to improve conditions in prisons.

In 1846, two years after the organization was created, the Correctional Association of New York was granted authority by the New York State Legislature to to monitor prisons and report our findings to the legislature and the broader public. The only private organization in New York with largely unrestricted access to prisons, CANY has remained steadfast in its commitment to inform the public debate on criminal justice for nearly 175 years.  

Since our founding, CANY has played a role in shaping and securing every major criminal justice reform in the state of New York, on topics ranging from repealing mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes to ending the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women during labor. Below is a history of this work.

  • CANY founded by John W. Edmonds, President of the Board of Inspectors at Sing Sing Prison. CANY brings together concerned civilians who wanted to improve conditions in prisons and jails.

  • New York state legislature passes a law giving CANY the ability to enter and inspect every prison in New York State and report its findings and recommendations to the government and the public.

  • CANY successfully advocates for an end to corporal punishment in New York

    CANY successfully lobbied for a federal policy to reduce sentence time for incarcerated people exhibiting good behavior, shaped after a similar New York State law.

  • CANY founds the National Prison Association (now the American Prison Association) in 1870, and internationally, founding the International Prison Congress (now managed by the United Nations) in 1872.

    CANY successfully advocates for separate facilities for youth in the criminal justice system

    CANY plays instrumental role in creating New York's first probation and parole systems

  • CANY plays a central role in advocating for access to formal educational opportunities in prison as well as the creation of prison libraries across the state.

    CANY writes a report condemning sanitation and health conditions in New York’s prisons, and advocates for demolishing old prisons in favor of more humane architecture. Advocacy efforts led to the formation of a commission to oversee structural and sanitation standards within prisons.

  • CANY presses the State to open nation's first psychiatric clinic in a prison at Sing Sing Correctional Facility

  • After many years of advocacy by CANY, New York state prisons are unified under a single state department of corrections

  • CANY aids in writing of the New York youthful offender laws, creating added protections and rehabilitation services for people who committed crimes as young people. These efforts inform and create the federal Youthful Offender Act, which passes in 1950.

  • CANY leads substance abuse advocacy, arguing that substance abuse and addiction should be treated as public health rather than penal issues, and should be responded to with rehabilitation and not punishment.

  • CANY supports a bill limiting the use of the death penalty in all but a few select cases, while continuing to advocate for abolishing its use entirely.

    CANY advocates for rescinding laws governing morality, including pornography, prostitution, homosexuality, sexual acts between consenting adults, and other victimless crimes.

    CANY's advocacy helps establish the Crime Victims Compensation Board.

    CANY pioneers the bail reform movement, reporting research findings that show harsher sentencing for individuals who cannot pay bail and advocating for eliminating bail for low-income individuals.

  • Following the Attica prison riot, CANY implements a pilot grievance system program at Bedford Hills women’s prison.

  • CANY is the first organization to address the crisis of HIV/AIDS in prisons. CANY's advocacy over the last thirty years has helped to reduce the number of people infected with HIV/AIDS in New York's prisons by 77.5%, from 8,000 in 1999 to an estimated 1,000 today, and dramatically increased access to information, testing, and treatment inside.

    CANY is an early critic of mandatory sentencing laws, publishing a report on how these laws doubled the number of people in New York’s prisons in one decade, from 12,500 individuals in 1971 to 28,500 in 1981.

  • CANY plays a leading role in repealing mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes through the “Drop the Rock” campaign. Mandatory minimum sentences fueled exponential growth in the number of people incarcerated in New York’s prisons, peaking at 72,649 in 1999 and falling in every year since.

    CANY founds the Women in Prison Project to focus on the unique experiences and difficulties facing the growing population of incarcerated women.

  • CANY plays a central role in passing the Medicaid Suspension Law in 2007, enabling incarcerated individuals to secure Medicaid coverage upon release from prison.

    CANY leads the effort to restrict solitary confinement for individuals with serious mental illness, culminating in the passage of the Special Housing Unit (SHU) Exclusion law in 2008.

    CANY urges the State to pass the Safe Harbor Act in 2008, protecting sexually exploited minors from incarceration for prostitution.

    CANY issues a report on barriers to effective healthcare in prisons, which informs the passage in 2009 of a state law requiring the Department of Health to monitor HIV and Hepatitis C care in New York State prisons and jails.

    CANY effectively advocates to end shackling of incarcerated pregnant women during and after labor.

  • CANY plays a central role in passing New York’s Raise the Age law, which largely ends the prosecution of 16- and 17-year-olds as adults and their confinement in adult prisons.

    CANY drafts the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which passes in the New York State Assembly in 2018.

    CCANY publishes an investigative report on New York State’s system-wide, race-based overuse of solitary confinement, informing the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act that passes in the New York State Assembly in 2018.