December 22, 2020: New York State
The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced they will be closing three state prisons in the coming weeks, including Watertown, Gowanda, and Clinton Annex Correctional Facilities. In response, Jose Saldana, Director of the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign released the following statement:
“Upstate prisons cannot be a jobs program. We welcome these prison closures but know that far more needs to be done to reduce the state prison population at a time when record-breaking numbers of incarcerated people are infected with COVID-19. The Governor should grant live- saving clemencies before the new year and state lawmakers must go back to Albany in 2021 and pass parole reform, specifically the Elder Parole and Fair and Timely Parole bills, as a humane solution to the COVID crisis and the injustice of mass incarceration.”
BACKGROUND: The New York State prison system has reported 120 new COVID-19 cases amongst the incarcerated population in the last six days. There are currently outbreaks of the virus at Attica, Bedford Hills, Clinton, Woodbourne, Groveland, Cayuga, and Walsh Correctional Facilities.
Amid the pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo has granted three total clemencies to New Yorkers in prison–fewer clemencies than President Donald Trump, and governors in California, Illinois, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and other states across the country. Cuomo has refused to take action despite calls from advocates, attorneys, family members of people in prison, public health experts, Members of Congress, district attorneys and philanthropists, editorial boards, and high profile celebrities for him to grant wide-sweeping clemencies to people in prison in response to the virus. Instead of granting more clemencies, Governor Cuomo has condemned thousands to solitary confinement, which only exacerbates the harm and spread of COVID-19.
There are many thousands of people in New York State prisons who are eligible for parole release, aged 50 and older, imprisoned on a non-criminal technical parole violation, and/or within a year of their release date:
- 4,022 people who are already eligible for parole release
- 3,305 people held on technical parole violation
- 8,291 people aged 50 and older
- 6,524 within a year of max/condition release (including 5 women with infants who are part of the Bedford Hills nursery program and one pregnant woman)
Advocates have also called for lawmakers in Albany to pass three bills amid the pandemic:
- Elder Parole would allow the State Board of Parole to provide an evaluation for potential parole release to incarcerated people aged 55 and older who have already served 15 or more years, including some of the state’s oldest and sickest incarcerated people.
- Fair and Timely Parole would provide more meaningful parole reviews for incarcerated people who are already parole eligible.
- The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act would end the torture of prolonged solitary confinement and replace it with more humane and effective alternatives while still allowing for true medical isolation as needed.