John MacKenzie, whose repeated parole denials focused attention on the extreme cruelty of the New York State Parole Board, died on August 3rd in an apparent suicide in Fishkill Correctional Facility following his 10th parole denial after more than 40 years in prison. The denial came despite a standing order of contempt against the Board for their repeated rubber-stamp denials of Mr. MacKenzie’s applications for parole.
Mr. MacKenzie had filed a motion for contempt following a string of parole appearances and denials stretching over 15 years. In 2015, the court had ordered a de novo hearing after one such denial, citing the Board’s failure to do more than rehash the details of the original crime. When the new hearing merely echoed the earlier ones, Mr. MacKenzie sought the contempt citation. In her decision granting Mr. MacKenzie’s motion, Dutchess County Supreme Court Justice Maria G. Rosa wrote, “It is undisputed that it is unlawful for the parole Board to deny parole solely on the basis of the underlying conviction. Yet the court can reach no other conclusion but that this is exactly what the parole Board did in this case.”
Judge Rosa also wrote, “It is undisputed that this petitioner has a perfect institutional record for the past 35 years. This case begs the question, if parole isn’t granted to this petitioner, when and under what circumstances would it be granted?”
In late July, in the face of the standing contempt order, the New York State Parole Board proceeded to conduct another hearing which included parole commissioners specifically excluded from participating by the contempt order because of their past exhibited bias. This is criminal conduct and we demand that the offending parties be charged and arrested.
In June of this year, the New York Times wrote an editorial supporting this decision and release for John MacKenzie. Sadly, as the Times noted, Mr. MacKenzie’s case is not unique. Thousands of aging incarcerated people in New York State meet similar treatment and cruelty at the hands of the Board.
John MacKenzie fought valiantly for justice for himself and all those others. After the Board again denied his application for parole this past July, he just didn’t have any more energy left trying to face a parole board that has no respect for lawful procedure and is left to operate without restraint.
But we haven’t given up. We intend to increase the organizing of public pressure against these outlaws who have no respect for our communities.
There is another part of this tragedy that is sadly typical: the Nassau County Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association/PBA mobilized loudly against release each of the 10 times John MacKenzie met the Board, and the Board listened to them rather than to the broader community. Allowing the PBA to control parole decisions puts the vengeful cries of police above the voices of reason that say the purpose of parole should be to judge a person’s current character and the risk they pose—or, in the case of most incarcerated elders, the lack of risk they pose—to public safety. For far too long the parole process in this state has been dominated and controlled by the law enforcement establishment. The same police brutality that has killed so many Black people around the country has also killed John MacKenzie.
Rallies were held on August 8th in Albany and NYC to protest the NYS Board of Parole’s torture of John MacKenzie and all incarcerated people who are unreasonably denied release.
For more on the fight for justice for John MacKenzie and all incarcerated elders:
“Suicide of 70-Year-Old John MacKenzie After Tenth Parole Denial Illustrates Broken Parole System”
August 9, 2016: Victoria Law, The Village Voice
“Aging Prisoner’s Suicide Roils Parole Debate”
August 10, 2016: Renée Feltz, The Indypendent
“After Being Denied Parole 10 Times, Elderly Prisoner Allegedly Commits Suicide in Upstate Prison”
August 10, 2016: Amy Goodman, Juan Gonzalez and Renée Feltz, Democracy Now and democracynow.org
“Part 2: Calls Grow for NY Gov Cuomo to Reform Parole Board That Denies Eligible Prisoners”
August 11, 2016: Web Exclusive, democracynow.org