The Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP Campaign believes that Governor Cuomo’s calls to reform New York’s criminal legal system are only a baby step in the right direction. While we acknowledge his proposal to expand medical parole for incarcerated older people with debilitating health conditions (his “geriatric parole” bill), his proposal has serious flaws. Medical parole is a rarely used, limited, and at times exclusionary program that has led far too many people who pose no risk to public safety to die in prison of illnesses that could otherwise be adequately and safely cared for in the community. The governor’s bill still excludes whole groups of incarcerated people only because of the crime for which they were convicted. While we hope that the governor’s proposal promotes the release of more older people, including those with chronic, hard-to-manage conditions, and is a catalyst for the expanded use of medical parole for all eligible people, it must be amended if it is to be truly effective—and just.
In addition, the governor’s proposal only affects sick people. While some incarcerated older people are sick, many others aren’t. Their wellness should not limit opportunities for release. Older people should not have to become ill in order to be considered worthy of returning home. People should be able to come home before they’re stricken with a debilitating illness. As the crisis of older people in prison continues to worsen and the population of older people has reached an all-time high of 10,337 people—more than 20 percent of the entire state prison population—much more is needed to end the mass incarceration of older people in New York.
RAPP believes that the Parole Board should presumptively release all parole-eligible older people, unless there is clear evidence that they pose a current risk to public safety. If the Parole Board is unwilling to do this on their own, then the governor and legislature should legislate this change. That is why we support and urge the legislature to pass Assembly Bill A7546, which would ensure that people who pose little if any risk to public safety be released on parole.
We also believe that older people who are not parole-eligible, serving prison terms that amount to death sentences, should be given a “second look”—an opportunity for parole consideration. Such sentences were draconian and flawed to begin with, and pose no benefits to public safety.So we urge the passage of an assembly bill that would give people who are 55 or older and have served at least 15 years a shot at parole.
RAPP’s priorities require political will from the governor and all branches of state government across the political spectrum. We hope that he listens to the statewide community of formerly incarcerated leaders, families, and concerned New Yorkers who seek peace and justice. Taking meaningful and expanded action to release older people in prison will prevent death, despair, aging, and illness behind bars, and under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, make New York a true leader in the struggle to end mass incarceration.
Cover photo by RAPP member Dan Rous
Join us to push for release of older people from New York prisons—a big step towards ending mass incarceration. See RAPPCampaign.com/about and RAPPCampaign.com/events for ways to get with us. Follow us on Twitter: @RAPPCampaign