Statistics show that the number of men of color who are incarcerated in New York State prisons has tripled in the last three years.
On Sunday, January 10, in Albany, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled a bold prison reform initiative that will help citizens and at-risk youth who enter the criminal justice system better opportunities to rehabilitate, return home and contribute to their communities.
The proposal is called the “Right Priorities” initiative, and it is aimed at promoting alternatives to incarceration while also breaking the trend of mass incarceration.
“For all the progress we have made, far too many of our young people end up trapped in our criminal justice system with no path out – and it’s time that changed,” said Gov. Cuomo. “It can’t be that every door is closed except the revolving one back into prison. We must break this vicious cycle for the betterment and safety of our communities and countless families across the state.”
Some of the initiatives in the proposal include
- A $100 million investment in community schools model to transform failing schools and other high needs schools
- A $50 million investment in Urban Youth Jobs Program that will help 10,000 more disadvantaged or at-risk youth find employment
- A $7.5 million investment to offer college-level educational programming in state prisons
- Office of Court Administration will no longer sell criminal records information on individuals pardoned for youthful offenses; Governor continues push to Raise the Age
The Right Priorities initiative also will reform the pipeline that leads to jail and prison by expanding opportunities for employment and modernizing the justice system; use the time in prison to change behavior; zero in on the crucial period after release to provide guidance and support when people are most vulnerable, and seek justice for 16 and 17-year olds.
“I applaud Governor Cuomo for his effort in putting forth such a forward-thinking proposal that not only addresses the obstacles formerly incarcerated people face upon re-entering society, but will allow inmates access to education while in prison,” said State Sen. Kevin Parker. “The support initiatives like the community schools and the urban youth jobs program that the Governor highlighted shows that New York State is finally going to take a holistic approach to improving the lives of its most vulnerable residents.”
Last July, Parker introduced the Beacon Schools Bill which, if passed, would allow for state funds to be used to keep school buildings open after regular school hours, while allowing private enterprises to sponsor Beacon School programs.
Currently in New York City, there are 33 Beacon Schools functioning as community recreation centers at night, and on weekends giving kids a chance to play basketball, take computer classes, drama classes and other enrichment programs.
Parker says all public schools should be turned into Beacon schools. Kids would have some place to go after school, helping to alleviate gang violence and, hopefully, incarceration.
“My Beacon Schools bill that I have in the Senate seeks to create a similar, positive dynamic in our public schools that the Governor seeks to achieve with his Community Schools proposal,” Parker said.
“I have every intention to work with the Governor and my colleagues in Albany to advance legislation that creates stronger schools to support our communities, fairer outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals, and safer streets for all New Yorkers.”