Bill would give judges more discretion when sentencing domestic violence survivors

Advocates for women in prison are pushing for passage of a bill that would allow judges to use their discretion when sentencing survivors of domestic violence for crimes they commit as a result of their abuse.

The Correctional Association of New York and the Coalition for Women in Prison were in Albany on June 5 to lobby the state Legislature to enact the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (A.4314-b/S.3337-b) sponsored by Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon, and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, D-Corona.

The bill would allow judges to sentence domestic violence survivors convicted of crimes directly related to the abuse they suffered to shorter prison terms or community-based alternative-to-incarceration programs, and would allow currently incarcerated survivors to apply to the courts to be resentenced and to come home earlier.

Supporters of the bill say domestic violence and women’s incarceration are inextricably linked: nine of 10 incarcerated women have experienced severe physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, eight of 10 experienced serious physical or sexual violence during childhood; 75 percent suffered severe physical violence by an intimate partner during adulthood; and 37 percent were raped before their incarceration. Ninety-three percent of women convicted of killing an intimate partner were abused by an intimate partner in the past.  Read more of this article in The Legislative Gazette.

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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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