Organizations that represent public defenders in New York City on Monday released their 2022 legislative agenda with measures that are meant to reduce jail and prison populations in the state.
The groups, which include the Legal Aid Society, the Bronx Defenders and Brooklyn Defenders, are making the push as criminal justice reform measures could become a predominant issue for Albany in the coming weeks.
Lawmakers are expected to return to the Capitol on Jan. 5 for the first day of the legislative session. Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to outline her agenda that day to lawmakers as well.
"We urge your offices to do everything in your power to reduce the number of people being held inside these jails and to reduce the number of people being sent to jail across the state," the groups wrote in a letter to Hochul and top lawmakers. "Albany must lead by enacting legislation that invests in communities, not cages, overhauls our racist parole system, seals records and empowers New Yorkers, reduces law enforcement budgets, curbs discriminatory hyper-surveillance, protects New York’s immigrant communities, recognizes the harm of family separation caused by removal of children from their parents and placing them in the foster system, and protects young people who deserve compassion, not incarceration."
The priorities include measures to make it easier for older people in prison and those with longer sentences to gain parole. Another bill would seal thousands of criminal records in New York, a measure that faltered earlier this year.
And the public defenders' organizations are backing bills to reduce court fees they believe fall disproportionantly on people of color as well as expand treatment options for people who are in the legal system, but also face mental health or substance abuse issues.
The groups backing the measures called them "a reinvestment" in the system that would expand jials and prisons, but aid "communities disproportionately targeted by our criminal legal system."