New-York News

Op-ed: Beyond the bars: Sentencing reform for second chances

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On the heels of Second Chance Month and entering National Small Business Week, it is a time to reflect as a state and raise awareness on the importance of second chance opportunities for people returning to their communities from incarceration. As a business owner, a New Yorker, and someone who has been incarcerated, I am a living testament to the value of meaningful second chances. The mistakes I made as a young person did not define me, because there were opportunities for me to succeed and contribute to my community.

Since my own release, I’ve become a proud community member of the city and the owner of a thriving business that’s all about second chances. At Untapped Solutions, we connect justice-impacted individuals and other folks from marginalized communities to employers and job opportunities, harnessing the potential of traditionally untapped talents to create more diverse, dynamic, and stronger workplaces. Connecting people to quality jobs drives economic growth, reduces recidivism, and promotes social equity by providing meaningful employment opportunities to talented individuals who want to work and take care of their families.

And I see the opportunity for so many more businesses and our communities overall to benefit from the contributions of formerly incarcerated people if we can pass commonsense sentencing reform this year. New York has not passed meaningful sentencing reform in more than 15 years. Long prison sentences keep people away from their families and locked out of the workforce, without improving public safety. While other states – including Oklahoma and Texas – have passed laws expanding opportunities to reconsider or earn time off sentences, New York has fallen behind. At the same time, many businesses are struggling to hire qualified candidates amidst a persisting workforce shortage.

New York’s elected leaders have the opportunity to address both of these problems by passing a package of sentencing reforms, including the Earned Time Act (S774/A1128) and the Second Look Act (S321/A531), and the Marvin Mayfield Act (SS6471A/A2036B). Advancing these policies will help us strengthen our state’s workforce without compromising public safety.

The Earned Time Act would allow people to earn more time off their sentences for participation in educational and vocational programs that provide them with skills to be ready to rejoin the workforce upon release. The Second Look Act would allow judges to review extremely long sentences to see if a person’s demonstrated rehabilitation means they should be given a reduced sentence, recognizing that people should be given a second chance and that long sentences don’t make us safer.

Every day, I see how supporting justice-impacted people is better for our community as a whole. Employers who utilize Untapped Solutions often tell us how impressed they are with the commitment and work ethic of the employees they find through our platform. Given the right tools and opportunities, formerly incarcerated individuals want to and can thrive in the workforce.

Unfortunately, the longer someone stays behind bars, the more they can fall behind modern technology and the job market. Every year locked away makes it exponentially more difficult to reintegrate into the workforce. With these sentencing reforms that can reduce recidivism and increase job skills, we can make impactful change. 

Passing sentencing reform will bring valuable community members back to the workforce and continue to prioritize public safety. Business leaders across the state see the value of second chances. Now, it’s up to New York lawmakers to pass these data-backed sentencing reforms to provide meaningful second chances, strengthen our workforce, and make our communities safer.

Andre Peart is the CEO and Founder of Untapped Solutions, a technology company that empowers employers to connect with and hire talent from underserved communities.

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Andre Peart , 2024-05-10 18:03:03

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