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New Law to Help Incarcerated Domestic Violence Survivors in New York State

New Law to Help Incarcerated Domestic Violence Survivors in New York State

March 14, 2019
By Michael Polenberg

Incarcerated domestic violence survivors have faced years of injustice in the criminal justice system. When a survivor defends themselves, our criminal justice system responds with harsh punishment instead of compassion and assistance. This is largely a result of New York State’s current sentencing structure, which does not allow judges enough discretion to consider the impact of domestic violence when determining sentences. For many survivors, this leads to long, unfair prison sentences.

Incarcerated Women Intimate Partner Violence

Safe Horizon joined the Coalition for Women Prisoners in support of the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act to help domestic violence survivors get fair treatment in court. This includes a broad coalition of over 130 organizations, women’s groups, thousands of individuals from across the state, and Governor Cuomo, who has included it in his 2019 Executive Budget.

On March 12, 2019, the New York State Senate voted to pass the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act. Here is how it will help survivors:

  • The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act Empowers Judges
    • The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act allows judges to sentence survivors to shorter prison terms. This applies to offenses that directly relate to the violence. In some cases, judges will be able to sentence survivors to community-based alternative-to-incarceration programs.
      • The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act contains protections to ensure the appropriate use of this discretion. A judge can only grant an alternative sentence if they find that: (1) the defendant was, at the time of the offense, a victim of domestic violence subjected to substantial physical, sexual or psychological abuse inflicted by a spouse, intimate partner or relative; (2) the abuse was a “significant contributing factor” to the defendant’s participation in the crime; and, (3) a sentence under current law would be “unduly harsh.”
    • The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act Gives Incarcerated Survivors Another Chance
      • The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act gives survivors who are currently in prison the opportunity to apply for resentencing.

The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act will help New York address years of injustice suffered by survivors given harsh penalties for acting to protect themselves and their families and will decrease the number of survivors who are victimized by the very system that should protect them.

 

  • Michael Polenberg

    Michael Polenberg is vice president of government affairs at Safe Horizon. He responsible for directing the agency's legislative and budget advocacy on both the state and local levels. Michael draws on his twenty years of advocacy work in New York to ensure that our laws explicitly help victims of crime find safety and begin to heal. He also fights for millions of dollars in public funding to sustain programs helping victims of child abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual assault.