Are too many domestic violence victims going to prison?

CWP AD 16 BMAs the legislature winds to a close in Albany, a coalition of prison reform and domestic violence activists are hoping to convince the Republican-controlled Senate to bring one more bill to the floor for a vote.

Supporters say the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act would allow judges to factor physical and mental abuse into sentencing decisions in felony criminal cases.

District Attorneys are opposing the bill, arguing that it would allow too many people to claim that domestic violence was a factor in their crimes.

Kim Dadou steps to the podium in a conference room in Albany. She smiles nervously at the cameras and the reporters, running a hand over the scars on her neck.

“I served seventeen years in prison for the death of my abuser,” Dadou says. “I was a victim before I was a defendant.”

After being convicted of first degree manslaughter, Dadou was sentenced under New York’s mandatory minimum laws – laws that don’t allow judges to consider domestic violence as a factor.

To read more of this article in North Country Public Radio, click here.

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Proposal seeks leeway for abused defendants

Kim Dadou was a victim of her boyfriend’s beatings before she became a criminal defendant in his homicide.

She spent 17 years in prison for killing her partner, a man who put her in the hospital multiple times.

She recounted her experience at the state Capitol Wednesday, alongside advocates and lawmakers who gathered to push for more compassionate sentencing for those who act criminally to protect themselves and their children through a proposed bill called the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act.

New York law now requires mandatory prison terms for almost all violent offenses, and judges can exercise discretion only by granting a minimum and maximum-length term to abuse survivors, which in theory, is meant to encourage less punitive sentencing, since parole can be granted after the minimum time period is complete.

Still, long and unjust sentences have persisted, advocates say. The current exception for abused defendants is so underused that in 2009, the New York State Sentencing Commission found there were no people incarcerated under this particular alternative.

The proposal would allow judges to sentence domestic abuse victims to shorter prison terms and, in some cases, to community-based alternative-to-incarceration programs.

Even those already incarcerated would be able to apply to the courts for resentencing, as long as they met the criteria, which stipulates that the person was a victim of domestic violence, the abuse contributed to the crime, and a sentence under current law would be “unduly harsh.”

The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act has wide support in the Assembly, and proponents have been working hard to broaden Senate support beyond the 28 senators now sponsoring the bill. These efforts have been spearheaded by the Correctional Association’s Women in Prison Project, an initiative led by the project’s director, Tamar Kraft-Stolar. To reach a floor vote requires approval by the Senate codes committee, chaired by Sen. Michael F. Nozzolio, R-Fayette.

Read more of this from the Times Union  here.

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Abused, then accused

Laikeesha Nesmith’s arrest stunned her.

Just hours before police showed up at her door, she had fought with her ex-boyfriend, who had arrived to pick up Sa’yon, their 17-month-old daughter, at Nesmith’s Albany apartment. But when Nesmith refused to part with Sa’yon, her enraged ex-boyfriend, as Nesmith tells it, slammed her into a wall of photographs, mostly images of a smiling Say’on. Glass shattered, cutting the ex-boyfriend’s face. Say’on looked on, wailing.

When the violence ended, Nesmith grabbed a hammer from the kitchen and ran after him. It wasn’t the first time he had beat her, she said.

Wielding the hammer as both threat and protection, Nesmith demanded her daughter back, worried because Sa’yon had come back from her father’s house with injuries after other visits. She screamed that she would smash his windshield but he drove away, Say’on with him.

It was Dec. 15, 2008. Eventually, police arrived at Nesmith’s apartment. Nesmith, a petite woman who stands 5 feet, 4 inches tall was arrested and charged with assault, criminal possession of a weapon with the intent to use, menacing and endangering the welfare of a child. Read more

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