By Carlyle Harry

The New York State Senate recently passed legislation that was sponsored by Senator Roxanne J. Persaud .

The Legislation reduces prison sentences for survivors of domestic violence and allows judges to order them to community-based programs instead of incarceration.

Additionally, eligible victims who are currently imprisoned would be given the opportunity to apply for resentencing.

The Domestic Violence Survivor’s Justice Act–DVSJA allows Judges in New York State to sentence male and female victims of domestic violence who are convicted of a crime to lesser prison time — determinate or indeterminate — if the defendant was largely influenced by their abuse(s) at the time of the offense. It also adds the option of community-based alternatives-to incarceration programs, and gives eligible survivors currently in prison the opportunity to apply for resentencing.

Currently, the state’s criminal justice system does not allow Judges’ discretion in taking into account the impact of domestic violence when determining the length of sentences.

In 1995, this issue was addressed with the Sentencing Reform Act, commonly known as “Jenna’s Law,” but New York barely saw it reflected in sentences.  In 2007, the New York State Sentencing Commission suggested Jenna’s Law be replaced with a provision that properly imposes condensed sentences in cases that involved domestic violence.

The first version of the DVSJA was introduced in 2011; its current version in 2015…. Senator Persaud took over sponsorship of the Bill in 2017.

Senator Persaud opined “It is due time that the criminal justice system stops harshly punishing survivors of domestic violence for defending themselves or their children. These victims do not deserve further mistreatment with years of prison time, alternative community-based sentences prove far more effective in positive recovery and keeping families together. The Domestic Violence Survivor’s Justice Act corrects the contradictory injustice that victims in New York State, face and gives second chances to those already wronged by the very system designed to help protect them.”

Beyond relieving countless persons who have been wrongfully incarcerated. m Nine out of ten persons who have  been physically or sexual abused and who usually have no prior criminal records or history of violence and extremely low recidivism rates have been sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment.

New York State would also save taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars every year under this legislation. It costs about $43,000 per year to incarcerate a person in State prison, while the alternative — community-based programs — amount to approximately $11,000. Additionally, these programs have proven to be far more effective in comparison to prison by allowing survivors to participate in their communities, heal and remain close with their families, especially if they have children.

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