January 23, 2022

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Cuomo Concedes on Two Significant Wins for Felony Justice Reform

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Political Report

The embattled New York governor, who advocates describe as a longtime impediment to reform, signed charges to legalize cannabis and substantially limit solitary confinement in the condition.

This piece was posted in partnership with Solitary Watch.

Andrew Cuomo is at the weakest position of his practically 4-ten years political occupation. By way of a thirty day period of simultaneous scandals—including an alleged address-up of COVID-19 nursing house deaths and many allegations of sexual harassment and assault of more youthful female aides—the New York governor has fallen from pandemic darling and 2024 presidential hopeful to an outcast inside his own get together. 

But this 7 days, Cuomo, whom advocates and progressive lawmakers have often described as a roadblock to reforming the prison lawful technique, 2 times sided with Democratic lawmakers in Albany to significantly progress reform initiatives in the state. He signed a prolonged-awaited invoice Wednesday to legalize leisure marijuana producing New York the 15th state to do so. Then late that same night time, Cuomo signed into legislation the Humane Alternatives to Extended-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, which will considerably restrict the practice in the state by restricting the time incarcerated persons can be housed in isolation and prohibiting it completely for vulnerable populations. The regulation will choose full effect in a person year. 

Advocates say the victories arrive at a instant when they see a actual path ahead for their eyesight of a rehabilitative criminal justice procedure. 

“We’ve seen increased consideration to the vulnerability of people in jail all through the pandemic [and] renewed strength close to racial justice and the movement for Black life,” Jennifer Scaife, govt director of the Correctional Association of New York, a jail reform group, said in an job interview. “These cultural movements and awakenings, or reawakenings, that have been going on around the earlier yr … everywhere you go individuals are on the lookout at modify with a new sense of urgency.”

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Even though each residences of the state legislature have experienced the votes to move the HALT Solitary Act for virtually two yrs, it only handed late previous thirty day period, in what the #HALTsolitary Marketing campaign known as “a huge acquire for all New Yorkers.” Given that 2019, legislative leaders have frequently neglected to bring the invoice to a ground vote just after placing what activists called a “backroom deal” with the governor’s office. Cuomo, who initially opposed the invoice since of what he claimed had been the superior expenses of implementation, alternatively presented his have administrative “overhaul” different in 2019, which advocates criticized as “ineffective” and “a lie.”

The governor’s approval was not needed to make the bill regulation, as it passed by a veto-evidence supermajority in both homes. He signed, although, at the 11th hour and indicated he preferred some improvements produced, according to the New York Periods. His business office did not reply to requests for comment on the HALT Solitary Act’s passage, his previous opposition to the legislation, or his decision to sign it.

Time and yet again, Cuomo has let down legal justice reform advocates on their most basic issues. After throwing his bodyweight at the rear of speedy-demo laws and abolition of the hard cash bail method in 2019, he doubled back, increasing the forms of fees beneath which judges are permitted to established cash bail in April 2020 and suspending speedy-demo requirements in March 2020 as a aspect of his coronavirus reaction. (This suspension is still in place for some individuals facing felony prices, although it is set to expire on Friday).

On marijuana reform, Cuomo publicly opposed legalization as lately as 2017, calling leisure hashish a “gateway drug.” Following experiencing substantial tension on the difficulty from his left for the duration of the 2018 primaries, the governor softened on legalization, ultimately asserting his entire help. Advocates also say Cuomo was less than excellent stress from legislators who feared possible revenue reduction to New Jersey, which has currently legalized the drug. The laws he signed this 7 days will appreciably develop lawful leisure cannabis cultivation and use, as properly as expunge the data of those earlier convicted for now-decriminalized action.

“It has seemed, as with other difficulties, that [the governor] moves when he has run out of other choices or when he feels it is politically safe and sound to do so,” Scaife reported. She extra Thursday that signing the HALT act has, however, “certainly burnished” his progressive chops. 

In a push launch, the governor’s business office claimed these days that he has “aggressively pushed good and truthful criminal justice guidelines to guarantee New York Condition stays a countrywide leader in progressive reform,” noting that he has shut jails and prisons and, under his observe, the jail population has declined by 45 {c55fb3347cdbbf2f003a44260bab0fa0c8a21b3fae25fc8c3e1fa8016c73733e}. 
“I believe that I am the most progressive, or just one of the most progressive leaders in the condition,” Cuomo said in a 2019 radio interview. The governor then went on to accuse some of his fellow social gathering associates as lacking practicality, advocating for “aspirational goals with no realistic approach or information or analysis.” When pressed on whether he intended this as a shot at the left, Cuomo was terse. “I am the remaining.”

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Despite earlier disappointments, the HALT Solitary Act’s passing has energized progressives, who see its accomplishment as an opening of a door. “When a single of us wins, we all win. We set the participate in and platform in motion for other coalitions and campaigns to press ahead with their reforms,” explained Victor Pate, a #HALTsolitary campaign organizer.

The regulation bans the use of solitary confinement for much more than 15 times, or what the United Nations defines as torture. The New York Civil Liberties Union explained in a press release nowadays that the state is the to start with to codify the UN definition into law. In 2017, the government director of the Colorado Department of Corrections executed the very same 15-working day restrict, and in July 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a law proscribing the use of solitary confinement to 20 consecutive times.

TeAna Taylor, policy and communications affiliate with the Launch Getting old People in Jail (RAPP) marketing campaign, lauded the passing of the HALT Solitary Act as “a excellent 1st step” in advancing further more decarceration. “Solitary confinement is torture. What hopes do we have as progressives if we cannot end torture?” she asked.

Taylor pointed to the HALT Solitary Act’s veto-evidence supermajority aid as a blueprint for legislation like the proposed elder parole invoice and the Truthful and Timely Parole Act, which would  considerably reduce the factors an specific may well be denied parole. “Our concentrate has been and will carry on to be acquiring co-sponsorships in each properties,” Taylor said. “That way, the governor doesn’t matter.” 

Are the turning tides in the combat for criminal justice reform just one more indication that New York has outgrown Cuomo? “I feel that numerous [progressives] are extremely enthusiastic across the board about the prospective for a new governor,” Scaife stated. “People have viewed Governor Cuomo as studiously counterproductive to the most progressive criminal justice reform opportunities. That in a way is not special to Governor Cuomo, genuinely,” she added, noting that moderates have traditionally been shy to endorse the form of reforms advocates say are needed.

“People are quite thrilled for a new working day for prison justice.”

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