Statement from Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP
• January 18, 2019 •
Governor Cuomo’s executive budget proposal, announced on January 15, does nothing to end the crisis of aging in prison and fails to address the Parole Board’s woeful understaffing. This proposal ignores decades of research and the detailed recommendations experts, advocates, and community members have repeatedly given. The governor has once again insulted our communities and put forward the exact same policy proposal he offered last year, now under a different name: “compassionate” parole.
There is nothing “compassionate” about the Governor’s supposedly new proposal. It narrowly and ineffectively expands New York’s medical parole program, and does nothing to ensure that more people will be released from prison. In fact, the proposal excludes entire groups of incarcerated people by categories of crime and sentence and allows the Parole Board to deny compassionate release based on the nature of someone’s offense, regardless of how sick they are. Our communities reject the view that some people are unworthy of compassion.
Further, the governor failed to heed our demands to fully staff the Parole Board with Commissioners who are committed to assessing people through their rehabilitation and readiness for release. The seven vacancies on the board have caused harmful delays, procedural unfairness and hopelessness among incarcerated people. Until the governor listens to advocates, implements fair, meaningful and inclusive parole reforms, and promotes release mechanisms that center transformation instead of punishment, New York will continue to have a criminal justice system that creates mass aging, despair and death in prison.
RAPP’s analysis of the governor’s proposals (including our recommendations):
New York State Proposed Budget FY 2020 • State Parole Board Budget & “Compassionate” Parole:
STATE PAROLE BOARD BUDGET:
- In FY 2019, the Governor proposed an increase in Parole Board staffing by allocating $305,000 for three additional Parole Commissioners. *
- At the time of the FY 2019 proposal, there were 13 Commissioners and six vacancies on the Parole Board. **
- Had the money been used to appoint and confirm three new Commissioners to the Parole Board, the proposed FY 2019 budget allocation would have increased the Board’s capacity to 16 Commissioners, leaving three remaining vacancies.
- In FY 2020, the Governor proposed no increase in money for Parole Board staffing or to the Board’s overall budget. ***
- At the time of the FY 2020 proposal, the Parole Board has 12 Commissioners and seven vacancies.
- The proposed FY 2020 budget allocation allows the Parole Board to increase its capacity to 16 Commissioners but does not allow for the Board to be fully staffed.
RAPP’s RECOMMENDATIONS (see bottom of page for testimony of RAPP and the Sentencing Project on the budget)
- The Governor and legislature should ensure that the Parole Board has the money to increase Parole Board Commissioner staffing to complete capacity—19 Commissioners.
- If current budget allocations allow for 16 Commissioners, then the Governor and legislature should increase the Parole Board’s funding by an additional $305,000 so that the Board can be fully staffed in 2019.
*Parole Board Commissioners make $101,600 per year (NYS Executive Law §169).
** See Assembly Yellow Book 2018 (p. 112): https://nyassembly.gov/Reports/WAM/2018yellow/2018files/2018yellowbook.pdf
*** See DOCCS FY 2020 Executive Budget Proposal (p. 4): https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy20/exec/agencies/appropData/CorrectionsandCommunitySupervisionDepartmentof.pdf
CHANGES TO “COMPASSIONATE” RELEASE:
- In FY 2019, the Governor proposed “geriatric” parole, a new program and extension of New York State’s medical parole program for incarcerated older people, aged 55 and older with serious medical conditions. *
- The proposal excluded people convicted of murder 1, aggravated murder, an attempt or conspiracy to commit either and those sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
- To be eligible, incarcerated people must have served at least half of their sentence (half of a determinate sentence or half of the minimum sentence on an indeterminate sentence)
- The DOCCS Commissioner, at the request of the incarcerated person, their spouse, relative or attorney, can order an investigation to determine whether or not an assessment should be made to determine whether or not the person fits the medical standard for “geriatric” parole.
- After a physician conducts the assessment, it is reported back to the Commissioner, who decides whether or not to certify the incarcerated person for “geriatric” parole.
- If the Commissioner certifies the incarcerated person, then they refer the incarcerated person to the Parole Board within seven days of the certification. The Parole Board ultimately determines whether or not the person is released.
- When determining whether or not to release someone on “geriatric” parole, the Parole Board must consider the factors they consider for all parole applicants. Additionally, they must consider the nature of the incarcerated person’s condition and level of care; the amount of time the incarcerated person must serve before becoming eligible for release; the incarcerated person’s current age and age at the time of the crime; and any other relevant factors.
- Like for all parole applicants, the Board must provide notice to the sentencing court, district attorney, incarcerated person’s attorney, and the crime victim. They cannot grant “geriatric” parole until the expiration of a 30-day period that allows the aforementioned parties to comment.
- The Board has total discretion with regard to the weight it applies to all the factors it must consider when determining whether or not to grant someone “geriatric” parole. They can justify a denial if they determine that release would “deprecate the seriousness of the crime as to undermine respect for the law.”
- If released, “geriatric” parole applicants would be supervised by DOCCS.
- The Board may require, as a condition of release, that the released person remain under the care of a physician, hospital, nursing home, hospice, family care, or any other placement that can provide the appropriate medical care recommended by the medical assessment.
- A discharge plan must be completed with confirmation of the availability of the aforementioned placement.
- If the incarcerated person has a cognitive illness that renders them unable to sign off on their discharge plan, and if they don’t have a guardian to do so, then the facility health services director would be empowered to be their guardian and sign off on discharge plans.
- The Parole Board Chair must annually report the following to leaders of the legislature: the number of people who have applied for “geriatric” parole; the number of people who have been granted “geriatric” parole; the nature of the illness of the applicants; the counties to which applicants were released and the nature of the community placement; the categories of reasons for denial; the number of people who recidivate post release.
* “Geriatric” parole medical standard: “An incarcerated person suffering from chronic or serious conditions, diseases, syndromes or infirmities, exacerbated by advanced age that has rendered the [person] so physically or cognitively debilitated or incapacitated that the ability to provide self-care within the environment of a correctional facility is substantially diminished.”
- Despite advocates’ deep analysis and detailed recommendations to “geriatric” parole, the Governor proposed “compassionate” parole in FY 2020, which, with the exception of the change in name, is exactly the same as the “geriatric” parole proposal from FY 2019. **
- Pass Elder Parole (S.8581/A6354A): Parole release programs for older people must be inclusive of all older people in prison, not just a small portion of people who are very sick and dying. In place of this proposal, the Governor should champion real elder parole (S8581/A6354A), which would give parole consideration to all people aged 55 or older who have served 15 years or more in prison.
- Remove “compassionate” and medical parole restrictions based on crime of conviction. If our state truly values compassion, mercy, and rehabilitation, then this new policy will be inclusive of all people regardless of their crime. By excluding certain people based on crime of conviction, New York guarantees that some older people will die in prison, effectively reinstating the death penalty in New York.
- Remove the following proposed language from “compassionate” parole and all other statutes in the Executive Law, “release is not incompatible with the welfare of society and will not so deprecate the seriousness of the crime as to undermine respect for the law” (emphasis added). This punitive language is used in boilerplate fashion in the standard parole denials of tens of thousands of currently and formerly incarcerated New Yorkers. It allows the Parole Board to deny someone based solely on the nature of their crime.
- Remove the Parole Board’s requirement to provide notice and a 30-day comment period to the sentencing court, district attorney, incarcerated person’s attorney, and the crime victim.
- Create rules that require facility medical providers to do initial “compassionate” parole screenings for people aged 55 and older with serious chronic illnesses to see if such incarcerated people might be eligible for medical parole. This process requirement could begin in the RMUs and DOCCS’ hospice units.
- Create more transparency and accountability. Annual reports on medical parole should include detailed summaries of the number of applicants who reached each phase in the application process, as well as HIPPA-compliant information on their conditions. All annual reports should be made available to the public and accessible on the Department of Corrections and Community Supervisions’ website.
** See FY 2020 New York State Executive Budget: Public Protection and General Government Article VII Legislation (p. 363-369): https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/archive/fy20/exec/agencies/appropData/CorrectionsandCommunitySupervisionDepartmentof.pdf
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