The State Senate on Wednesday, April 21, passed legislation (S.261) sponsored by state Sen. Zellnor Y. Myrie (D-Central Brooklyn) that would allow the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to consider higher education credit earned by an incarcerated New Yorker as grounds for “merit time” reductions in sentences.
The legislation would permit certain individuals to be considered for parole early based on this expanded definition of “merit time.”
“Today’s vote in the Senate underscores the growing awareness that our criminal legal system has, for too long, emphasized punishment instead of rehabilitation,” said Myrie, who represents the 20th Senatorial District.
“This bill creates an incentive for incarcerated New Yorkers to enroll in college-level programs, develop job skills and prepare for a successful re-entry,” he added. “I’m grateful to my colleagues for advancing this important step toward restorative justice, and to Assembly Member Harvey Epstein for sponsoring this bill in the Assembly.”
Currently, Myrie — whose grandmother hailed from Jamaica — said merit time allowances can be granted to incarcerated individuals who successfully participate in work and treatment programs assigned to them, along with those who earn a GED, complete vocational training or participate in approved community service.
He said the legislation expands the merit time criteria by including college-level credits as grounds for individuals who have been convicted of nonviolent offenses to demonstrate their rehabilitation.
“As a former class instructor in a maximum security prison, I know first hand how valuable higher education inside a correctional facility can be,” Myrie said. “Incentivizing education while incarcerated not only benefits the individuals who receive that education — by reducing recidivism and increasing earning potential — it also benefits the families and communities to which they return.”
Myrie said individuals convicted of violent felonies, sex crimes and additional class A-I felony offenses — excluding criminal possession and sale of controlled substances — are not eligible for merit time allowances and would not be able to receive sentence reductions through this program.
This bill passed the state Assembly earlier this year (A.3078, Epstein), and now awaits Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.