On Monday, April 24, RAPP members and other advocates challenged the New York State Parole Board to release greater numbers of people who have served long sentences.
The statewide Parole Justice New York Coalition, with RAPP as a member, has released this new short film, “The Nature of the Crime,” featuring RAPP lead organizer Mujahid Farid, former parole commissioner Ed Hammock, and other experts on the issue.
The film shows how 14 people in New York State control the freedom of tens of thousands of men and women. The 14 people are called the Parole Board and they determine whether people in prison with indefinite sentences (such as 25 years to life) should be released. Every year 10,000 incarcerated New Yorkers are denied parole. Most of these people are denied repeatedly despite the fact that they pose little if any risk to public safety. For the skyrocketing population over age 50 in the New York prisons—a group that poses the lowest risk of committing a new offense if released—this means a future of illness and death behind bars. For New York as a whole, this means the destruction of our communities and families, and the immense waste of public funds spent keeping people behind bars for no reason. It means a continuation of the culture of revenge and permanent punishment that has filled the prisons in this country and threatens to keep doing so. It means continuing a racist system of “justice” that treats Black people and other people of color as criminals unworthy of a second chance at life.
“The Nature of the Crime” refers to the reason the Parole Board gives when it denies an incarcerated person parole: no matter what you have accomplished in the 20, 30, or 40 years since your conviction, no matter how much support you have in the community, no matter how low a risk you pose of returning to prison or committing a new crime, you cannot be released because of the nature of the crime for which you were convicted, often many years ago. That is something you cannot change. And it is an unreliable measure of whether you are ready to be released. It only means that there is a political gain for the Board to deny you: they can show how “tough on crime” they are.
The film premiered in Albany at the state Capitol in May to pressure the legislature to pass the Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act. RAPP is part of a statewide effort to use this film to increase public support for the SAFE Parole Act and for the wisdom and humanity of releasing aging people from the New York prisons.
If the risk is low, let them go. Bring our grandparents, our fathers, our mothers, our loved ones and friends home. Please share the video and the campaign homepage with your friends and family, then join the campaign for justice for New York.
Life Outside: Rosalie Comes Home
April 28 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Part of the: Release Aging People from Prison Film Series
Directed by Frances Negrón-Muntaner
Life Outside tells the story of Rosalie Cutting as she navigates finding a job and housing at 71, after serving a 27-year prison sentence.
Heyman Center for the Humanities at
74 Morningside Dr,
(Enter on 116th Street)
New York, NY 10027
The number of aging people in New York State prisons is skyrocketing, confining thousands of seniors to cruel and degrading conditions, wasting financial and human resources, and doing nothing to enhance public safety.
• The number of incarcerated people ages 50+ in New York has increased 98% from 2000 to 2016, even as the total number of people locked up has fallen about 27% during the same period. Today, more than 17% of incarcerated men and 15% of incarcerated women in the New York prison system are over 50 years of age. Those percentages continue to rise every year.
This is an unnecessary crisis. Many of these elders could—and should—be released. New York routinely denies parole and compassionate release to elders behind bars, even though they pose no risk to public safety and are fully prepared to successfully re-enter and contribute to society.
• The recidivism rate (rate at which released people return to prison) of people who have served long sentences for serious felonies is 1.3%—lower than any other category of those released. And many of these elders can make meaningful contributions not only to their families, but to the entire New York community. Already throughout New York, many creative and vigorous efforts on prison reform are led by formerly incarcerated people.
RAPP is mobilizing advocates, formerly and currently incarcerated people and their families, and concerned citizens to demand that New York release incarcerated elders who have served considerable time and pose no threat to public safety. Our coalition meets the first Wednesday of every month. See our events page for details, and join us!
NY1 featured Release Aging People in Prison, with Mujahid Farid, Larry White, and Correctional Association of NY Executive Director Soffiyah Elijah. The community agrees: release our elders. Watch the video.
Listen to this radio story on how Colorado has advanced prison reform (and public health and safety) by releasing elders from prison and helping them reunify with their communities.
In the first half of September, 2014, aging people in prison—and the challenges they face winning release and reintegrating into their communities on the streets—provoked a flurry of articles. Here are some (check our press page for more):
September 12: “What’s Wrong With This Picture? Elderly People in NY’s Prisons,” by Peter Wagner: Prison Policy Initiative
September 12: “Begging Cuomo for Clemency,” editorial: The Bedford/Pound Ridge Record Review
September 16: “Mohaman Koti, 87-Year-Old Prison Inmate, Granted Parole After 36 Years,” by Albert Samaha: The Village Voice
September 17: “Even Model Inmates Face Steep Barriers to Parole,” by Bill Hughes: City Limits
September 18: “You’re Old & Finally Out of Prison. What Happens Now?” by Victoria Law: the Gothamist
AND our own Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP Interviews: A Preliminary Report, by Ariane Davisson: RAPP
What might the rest of the year bring? We hope: more releases of aging people in prison, to start undermining mass incarceration and its foundations of permanent punishment, racism and revenge.
Take action now: Sign our petition to release aging people in prison.