Albany, Tuesday, January 29: A broad coalition of advocates, formerly incarcerated people and community leaders from the Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP Campaign, Parole Preparation Project, he #HALTsolitary Campaign, Osborne Association, Brooklyn Defenders Services, Chief Defenders Association of New York, New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and state lawmakers rallied during the NYS legislature’s budget hearing on public protections in support of significant changes to the state’s parole release process.
The coalition demanded that Governor Cuomo’s executive budget proposal include funding to fully staff the State Parole Board and to support advocate-led efforts to release older people from prison. They called on the Assembly and Senate to pass legislation that will ensure parole release is based on rehabilitation and individuals’ current risk to public safety (S497/A4346); a bill to establish elder parole for incarcerated older people (S2144/A4319), and to support a fully staffed and rehabilitation-based Parole Board. National expert on sentencing and parole, Nicole Porter (Washington, D.C.), and leaders of the faith-based and crime victims’ communities joined advocates pleas for sweeping reforms.
Photos: Walter Hergt
Jose Saldana, Director of the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign said, “RAPP is calling on our elected representatives to make sweeping and genuine criminal justice reforms that serve the interests of the communities they represent, not special interest groups. Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal is woefully inadequate. For parole reform to have any meaningful impact, it must include a fully staffed Parole Board with 19 diversified commissioners, and the passage of Fair and Timely and Elder Parole. We demand an end to the Parole Board’s paradigm of perpetual punishment. The true meaning of ‘parole’ is to make a fair and impartial evaluation for release based on who the parole applicant is today, not who they were decades ago.”
“I am proud to support Fair and Timely Parole (S497) and Elder Parole (S2144) as part of the criminal justice reform agenda for our state. I will also work tirelessly toward the full staffing of the Parole Board to ensure that it is able to assess eligibility for parole in an effective and fair manner,” said State Senator Luis Sepulveda, Chair of the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee (SD-32). “These reforms are meaningful first steps toward moving us away from the failed path of mass incarceration. It is an honor to stand alongside advocates and fight for a more just New York.”
“Supporting reform in our parole system is not only the right thing to do, but smart policy,” said Assemblymember David I. Weprin, Assembly Correction Committee Chair. “By ensuring we allow individuals the opportunity for a second chance while keeping the public’s safety in mind with a fair review process; we can protect the public, ensure we’re not spending exorbitant amounts on incarceration while making for a better and more compassionate New York.”
Nicole Porter, Director of Advocacy at the Sentencing Project (Washington D.C.) said, “New York is among a handful of states acknowledged to be leading the country in decarceration. Yet, the state’s prison population is more than double its 1980 levels and has some of the nation’s highest numbers of incarcerated older people and those serving life sentences. Mass incarceration will not be meaningfully addressed unless lifelong prison terms are challenged.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman (SD-27) said, “Our criminal justice system is broken and has been for decades. Elder parole (S.2144) is the first of many necessary steps we must take to reverse the decades of failed policy that has led to mass incarceration across our state. There’s no justice in a system that denies fairness to so many, and I will continue to work with my Assembly co-sponsor David Weprin, and the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign towards meaningful criminal justice reform this session.”
“For far too long, our State’s Parole Board has not been fulfilling its duty and has left thousands of New Yorkers stranded behind bars because they lack the willpower or manpower to adequately assess cases,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera (SD-33). “Along with colleagues of the Senate Majority Conference, I will continue to relentlessly fight to implement common-sense measures that focus on rehabilitation, instead of punishment and truly improve the parole system for incarcerated individuals.”
“I stand with advocates in demanding a just parole system,” said State Senator Julia Salazar (SD-18). “The Parole Board must be fully staffed in order to properly fulfill its responsibility to fairly review each person’s eligibility for parole. In addition, I support establishing a presumption of eligibility for parole once an individual has completed their minimum sentence, and fully support the release from prison of elderly incarcerated people, who pose a low risk of re-offending. We must continue to find ways to reduce New York’s reliance on long-term incarceration. These bills are important steps towards that goal.”
“When someone has served their time for mistakes made in the past, the decision on their parole should not stretch endlessly into the future,” said State Senator Zellnor Myrie (SD-20). “These essential reforms will move us closer to a justice system that will affirm the dignity and humanity of returning citizens and give them a fair and timely chance to begin again.”
“The Crime Victims Treatment Center stands with our partners in seeking increased funding for the Parole Board and a holistic, trauma-informed reformation of the parole process in New York State,” said Christopher Bromson, Executive Director of the Crime Victims Treatment Center. “Over the past four decades, we have been at the vanguard of the victim services community, continuously working to break down barriers that stand between survivors of violence and the powerful healing services that we and our colleagues offer. We recognize that many individuals enter the criminal justice system with histories of trauma, and that more may experience devastating sexual victimization during their incarceration. And yet we also believe that healing and change are possible. The Parole Board is uniquely positioned to bear witness to that human capacity for change, and to affirm the possibility of healing from violence. By moving toward thoughtful reform, we can make sure it continues to serve that purpose. And that’s not lost on survivors – both those in our communities, and those behind bars.”
“It’s no secret that the New York State Parole System is in dire need of repair. Simply put, the continuous parole denial of individuals who have completed their mandatory minimum sentences, satisfied their required rehabilitative programming, and in the interest of public-safety, been determined to be least likely to reoffend makes no sense and is definitely not a good way to spend taxpayers’ money. We all bear the burden and share a general responsibility for reforming an unjust and broken parole system. To that end, we at Brooklyn Defender Services relentlessly advocate for a more balanced and transparent system, and we thank bill sponsors Senator Rivera, Senator Hoylman, and Assembly Member Weprin for championing these urgent reforms,” said Samuel Hamilton, Reentry Advocate at Brooklyn Defender Services.
“Osborne is proud to stand with our elected officials, fellow direct service providers, and advocates to call for a fully staffed Parole Board, fair and timely release for people eligible for parole, and elder parole for those aging, sick, and dying in prison. For more than 85 years, our work in prisons has shown us people’s capacity to take responsibility for the harm they have caused and transform their lives,” said Liz Gaynes, President and CEO of the Osborne Association. “If enacted, these proposals will ensure that we have safe and effective alternatives to endless punishment. We cannot punish our way to public safety or continue to incarcerate people into old age and death; it is not who we are and it comes with a tremendous human and financial cost.”
“As a longtime criminal defense attorney and President of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, I’m honored to join formerly incarcerated New Yorkers and other advocates in calling for critical reforms to help end mass incarceration in New York State. Today, defenders are convening in Albany to urge immediate passage of open, early, and automatic discovery reform (S.1716-Bailey/A.1431-Lentol). We also express our strong support for urgent parole justice measures, including Elder Parole and Fair and Timely Parole. Ultimately, we must overhaul the system from the front end and the back to make it more fair and just,” said Lori Cohen, President of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
The 100+ advocates marched through the Capitol building, rallied on the Million Dollar Staircase, and met with some 30 members of the Assembly and Senate to secure support for the three initiatives—and to introduce them to the people of New York who elected them and are now urging them to make the changes we need in order to bring our elders home, heal our families and neighborhoods, and bring justice to New York. At least three lawmakers added their sponsorship to the Fair and Timely Parole and Elder Parole bills, joining the lead sponsors of the two bills, Senator Gustavo Rivera, Senator Brad Hoylman, and Assemblymember David Weprin.
After the rally, members of RAPP, the Sentencing Project, and the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement testified at the legislative budget hearing. (Click on group names to read testimony. Watch video of RAPP, video of Nicole Porter of the Sentencing Project, and video of DOCCS Acting Commissioner Annucci’s testimony)
READ press coverage of the rally and the hearing on RAPPCampaign.com/press
SAVE TUESDAY, May 14, 2019 to join our next major Albany advocacy day for parole justice.