Mass Incarceration and the Need for Sentencing Reform

How can New York continue on a common sense, data-driven path away from the mass incarceration era?

Even as the State’s daily prison population has declined since its peak in the late 1990s, over 30,000 disproportionately Black and Brown New Yorkers are imprisoned today. On Thursday, May 2, 2024, Center for Community Alternatives and Data Collaborative for Justice brought together formerly incarcerated people and families with incarcerated loved ones, alongside policymakers, researchers, and experts, to reflect on legislative opportunities to advance justice and safety and address decades of draconian sentencing laws. Speakers considered strategies including the repeal of mandatory minimums, “second look” policies allowing judges to reconsider excessive sentences, and earned time programs that prioritize in-prison transformation rather than incarcerating people for as long as possible. Panelists placed New York in a national context, both historically and in the present day.

Ultimately, speakers provoked a conversation informed by lived experience, decades of research, and an appreciation of the fundamental and equal humanity of all people, including those languishing in State prisons today.

Speakers & Bios

Panel 1. Setting the Stage: Legislative Options & Implications for Impacted People

Ben Max | Executive Director and Program Director | Center for New York City Law, New York Law School (Moderator)

Hon. Julia Salazar | New York State Senator

Hon. Rowan Wilson | Chief Judge | New York State Unified Court System

Charisse Peace | Member Leader | Center for Community Alternatives

Patrick Stephens | Youth Services Leadership Fellow | Center for Community Alternatives 

Steven Zeidman | Professor and Director of Criminal Defense Clinic | CUNY School of Law

Panel 2. From Yesterday to Tomorrow: Harnessing Prior Data & Lessons Learned

Christopher Watler | Executive Vice President | Center for Employment Opportunities (Moderator)

Leigh Bates | Deputy Commissioner | New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services

Marta Nelson | Director of Sentencing Reform | Vera Institute of Justice

Andre Ward | Executive Director | Institute for Justice and Opportunity at John Jay College

Key Resources (More to be Added)