Key Component of the Governor's 2019 Women's Justice Agenda
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (S.1077/ A.3974), a bill that codifies more meaningful sentence reductions for domestic abuse survivors in the criminal justice system and a key initiative in the Governor's 2019 Women's Justice Agenda. Current law allows judges to administer indeterminate sentences for domestic violence survivors who have committed a crime only in relation to their abuser under certain circumstances. The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act will build upon this law by adding offenses committed due to coercion by an abuser, as well as offenses committed against or at the behest of an abuser who does not share a household or family with the survivor—preventing further victimization of individuals who have endured domestic and sexual violence at the hands of their abusers.
"The vast majority of incarcerated women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, and too often these women wind up in prison in the first place because they're protecting themselves from an abuser," Governor Cuomo said. "By signing this critical piece of our 2019 women's justice agenda, we can help ensure the criminal justice system takes into account that reality and empowers vulnerable New Yorkers rather than just putting them behind bars."
"My mother dedicated her life to helping survivors of domestic violence, and her work has inspired me during my time in public service," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "This new law is a significant reform to our criminal justice system and will ensure survivors are not subjected to harsh punishment for defending themselves from abuse. With the enactment of another essential component of our Women's Justice Agenda, New York continues to lead the way to protect the most vulnerable and strengthen our society."
"Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, New York is advancing the strongest anti-harassment and women's equality laws in the nation that should serve as a model for the rest of the country to follow," Secretary to the Governor and Chair, New York State Council on Women and Girls, Melissa DeRosa said. "Women today are up against a federal government actively campaigning to strip women of the rights they have fought so hard to earn, but in New York State we are actively protecting and expanding those rights. With the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act now signed into law, we have taken yet another step toward a fair and just New York."
Senator Roxanne J. Persaud said, "Too often survivors of domestic violence are punished by our criminal justice system for defending themselves or their family, leading to unjustified prison sentences. These brave survivors deserve support and the ability to rebuild their lives, instead of being unfairly incarcerated. The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act will finally right this wrong, which is why I staunchly fought for and sponsored this bill. I applaud Governor Cuomo for signing it into law today."
Assemblymember Jeffrion L. Aubry said, "I am proud to be the sponsor of the DV Survivors Justice Act, legislation that expands judicial discretion in cases involving domestic violence survivors convicted of crimes directly related to the abuse they suffered. Governor Cuomo has helped to bring justice to DV survivors by signing this bill into law today. All too often, when a survivor acts to protect herself, she receives punishment and prison instead of compassion and assistance. The DV Survivors Justice Act takes critical steps to change that unconscionable dynamic and restore dignity and justice to criminalized DV survivors in our state."
New York State Homes and Community Renewal Special Advisor for Policy and Community Affairs, and former Senator and bill sponsor Ruth Hassel Thompson said, "We rarely get to enjoy the shade of the seeds we have planted. Thank you Governor Cuomo for signing into law the Domestic Violence Survivor's Justice Act. This represents more than a decade of commitment by a host of people dedicated to social and Criminal Justice reform."
Connie Neal, Executive Director of the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence said, "Today, as the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act becomes law in New York, we are reminded of the groundbreaking work of Sister Mary Nerney in the 1980s who initiated critical support services for survivors including those imprisoned for protecting themselves from their abusers. This legislation builds on her work which is now lead by countless survivor advocates. We thank Governor Cuomo, Assemblymember Aubrey, Senator Persaud and the Legislature for ensuring this critical legislation becomes a law."
Tamar Kraft-Stolar & Jaya Vasandani, Women & Justice Project Co-Directors said, "This victory is the result of years of hard work by so many, especially the currently and formerly incarcerated survivor advocates whose leadership and expertise guided the DVSJA campaign from day one. We're honored to have worked on this campaign with the Coalition for Women Prisoners, survivors on both sides of the walls, and the hundreds of individuals and organizations that united in support of this bill across the state. We thank the Governor for enacting this vital legislation, and we applaud sponsors Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry and Senator Roxanne Persaud, and former Senate sponsor Ruth Hassell-Thompson for their tireless efforts on this bill. Much work still remains, but the DV Survivors Justice Act brings us one critical step closer to securing justice for criminalized survivors and ending mass incarceration for all."
The Coalition for Women Prisoners said, “The Coalition for Women Prisoners is elated that the DV Survivors Justice Act becomes law today. We deeply appreciate the Governor’s leadership and thank him on behalf of all criminalized survivors of domestic violence.”
Kim Dadou Brown, Coalition for Women Prisoners member and DVSJA campaign leader, said, “I survived years of abuse and when I protected myself, I was sent to prison for 8 1/3 to 25 years. I was denied parole five times and spent 17 years in prison. The court system is supposed to protect you and instead it was turned against me. I am proud to have stood with my sister survivors for over a decade leading the DV Survivors Justice Act campaign and sharing our experiences and expertise so that this critical bill could become law. I applaud the Governor and the bill sponsors who stood with us to protect the human rights and dignity of survivors, and to stop survivors from losing years of their lives in prison like I did.”
Lady Kathryn Williams, advocate and Co-Chair of the Coalition for Women Prisoners’ Ending Violence Against Women Committee, said, “Thank you Governor Cuomo for your unwavering support of the DVSJA.”
This bill will allow judges to reduce prison sentences and redirect sentencing from incarceration to community-based programs, which has proven far more effective in rehabilitating survivors. The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act would also permit a small population of currently incarcerated survivors to apply for re-sentencing and earlier release due to their prior victimization.
Domestic violence and incarceration rates are highly linked, as over 90 percent of incarcerated women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. With the understanding that many women have gone to prison for defending themselves against their batterer or were coerced into illegal activity by their abuser, the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act takes another step toward ending this cycle of violence and incarceration, and places the burden on the batterer rather than the victim.
Throughout his administration, Governor Cuomo has championed women's equality and criminal justice initiatives. Earlier this year, the Governor announced legislation signed last summer to expand the assistance available for victims of hate crimes and certain other crimes associated with domestic violence who were not physically injured during the crime is now effective. In 2018, the Governor signed legislation that removed both handguns and long guns from the possession of domestic abusers.