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NY Lawmakers Reach Deal on Pair of New Criminal Justice Measures
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Advocates rally for the Clean Slate bill on Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Credit: Darrell Camp

Lawmakers Reach Deal on Criminal Justice Measures

State lawmakers in New York are poised to approve two controversial criminal justice measures on Thursday after members of the Senate and the Assembly reached an agreement on the legislation overnight.

The two bills — called Clean Slate and Less is More — would, respectively, allow those who’ve served their full sentence to have records sealed in most cases, and reduce the likelihood that technical parole violations will land them back in prison.

Democrats who sponsor both pieces of legislation confirmed Tuesday that lawmakers had reached a deal on both measures.

"I am pleased to say there's an agreement between the Senate and the Assembly on the bill," said Sen. Brian Benjamin, D-Manhattan, who sponsors the Less is More bill.

Under the Less is More bill, most technical violations of someone’s parole would no longer land them back in prison. Technical violations are typically smaller actions, like being late to an appointment.

Those charged with a new crime or found to have intentionally avoided communicating with their supervision officer would have to appear for a hearing to determine whether they’ll be reincarcerated.

That’s different from the current system, where state law doesn’t prevent technical parole violations from leading to reincarceration.

“I am so excited to say that we’re going to finish this on Thursday,” said Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, who sponsors the measure in the Assembly.

Under the Clean Slate bill, those who’ve served their full sentence and waited a certain period of time would have their conviction sealed, meaning it wouldn’t be available to the public but would still be accessible to certain parties, like courts and gun sellers.

Those records wouldn’t be sealed immediately. For misdemeanors, individuals would have to wait three years after they’ve served their sentence before that conviction is sealed. For felonies, the waiting period would be seven years.

Those convicted of a sex offense wouldn’t be eligible to have their record sealed under the bill, according to the legislation.

A previous version of the bill had allowed records to be eligible for automatic expungement, which is when information related to someone’s conviction is erased. That was taken out in the final version.

“I think we have the bill in the best shape possible,” said Sen. Zellnor Myrie, D-Brooklyn, who sponsors the Clean Slate bill.

“My hope is that, after taking in all the input of all the stakeholders — we’ve had hearings, we’ve had meetings, we’ve incorporated a lot of that feedback, and I think we’re right there.”

Republicans have generally been opposed to those measures, saying they’re part of a larger trend by Democrats of shifting the criminal justice system more in favor of those who’ve been accused of a crime, rather than members of law enforcement.

“Maybe one or two of these in a vacuum would be okay, but looking at the totality of the situation, it just seems absolutely backwards,” said Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay.

“What we ought to be doing is looking at reforming bail reform, we ought to be looking at reforming Raise the Age, and those types of policies that are really causing this huge spike in violent crime.”

Both pieces of legislation would take effect over the course of the next year, with the Clean Slate bill expected to come online in about four months, and the Less is More bill coming in phases.

The Legislature is expected to approve both bills on Thursday.

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