Support for Decarceral Outcomes and Sentencing 

 

  • The DA’s office has virtually unfettered discretion in its charging decisions.  Serious consequences stem from the DA’s decisions and often determine, among other consequences, whether someone can be deported, lose their right to public housing, be subject to a mandatory term of incarceration, or be violated on parole. While judges have some role in sentencing, the District Attorney’s initial charging decision limits what sentence a judge can offer or impose. 
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  • In the race to replace Vance, many candidates cite diversion and alternatives to incarceration (ATI) programs as their solution to the traditional prosecution model. While these programs are an improvement, they should be viewed with caution and skepticism and have been soundly critiqued as a gateway to incarceration that fails to center the health needs of the people accused. These programs often require that a person plead guilty at the start of their enrollment, surrendering their rights to challenge the evidence against them and trapping them with an open criminal case, often with a significant prison sentence attached. Instead of simply dismissing the cases that the DA’s office identifies as stemming from a person’s struggle with mental illness, poverty, or substance use disorder, these programs ensure that a person remains trapped within the criminal justice system, sometimes for years.
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  • Vance’s office uses inflated charges and the threat of lengthy prison sentences, mandatory minimum sentences, and consecutive sentences to coerce pleas. Any DA candidate must take immediate steps to end these practices. They must refuse to use New York’s “three strikes” law (mandatory and discretionary persistent sentencing), decline to indict cases in ways that expand (rather than limiting) plea bargaining, end sentencing enhancement (such as the predicate felony enhancement, which imposes high mandatory minimums for people who have been convicted of felonies in the preceding 10 years), and only pursue incarceration as a last resort and to the minimum extent allowed under the law. Candidates must refuse to indict “bump up” charges (where misdemeanor conduct is charged as a felony because of a person’s prior criminal record), refuse to charge misdemeanor conduct as a felony simply because the law permits it (such as charging theft of a package from a building lobby as a burglary), and decline to prosecute the “broken windows” crimes that drive mass incarceration and criminalization and do nothing to address real harms in communities. Candidates must not only consider all collateral consequences of a conviction and sentence, such as immigration, parole, housing and custody, but also meaningfully engage in plea bargaining, charging, and sentencing decisions with the understanding that these consequences may be just as harmful as incarceration.