February 1, 2021: New York State
ADVOCATES CALL ON NY STATE LAWMAKERS TO TAKE ACTION BY PASSING REFORMS TO PAROLE AND SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
On Saturday January 30, the NY State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) reported that 5,016 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic–the first time the number of incarcerated people who tested positive for the virus surpassed 5,000 cases. In response, the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, Parole Preparation Project, Center for Community Alternatives, the #HALTsolitary Campaign, and FWD.us released the following statement:
“The COVID-19 crisis continues to be a nightmare for incarcerated New Yorkers and their families. Because Governor Cuomo refuses to grant clemencies or provide vaccine access to incarcerated people, COVID-19 is ripping through New York’s prisons. State lawmakers in Albany must step up to stop the spread and harm of the virus by passing the Elder Parole, Fair and Timely Parole, and HALT Solitary Confinement bills.”
BACKGROUND: The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) reported on January 30, 2021 that the number of incarcerated people who have tested positive for the virus has officially surpassed 5,000. At least 3,025 incarcerated people have tested positive for COVID-19 since December 1, which means more people have contracted the virus in the past two months than in the first nine months of the pandemic. There are currently outbreaks of the virus at Bare Hill, Clinton, Franklin, Lakeview, and Wyoming Correctional Facilities.
Through nearly ten months of the pandemic so far, Governor Andrew Cuomo has granted a total of ten clemencies to New Yorkers in prison–fewer clemencies than racist and xenophobic former 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 clemencies, Governor Cuomo has condemned thousands to solitary confinement, which only exacerbates the harm and spread of COVID-19. In addition, the Governor has yet to announce when he intends to offer vaccines to incarcerated
New Yorkers, falling behind the federal government and neighboring Connecticut, New Jersey, and Republican-led Massachusetts.
The Cuomo Administration has, to date, excluded incarcerated people who are predominately Black and brown from eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine while predominantly white prison staff are currently eligible.
There are many thousands of people in New York State prisons who are eligible for parole release, aged 50 and older, or imprisoned on a non-criminal technical parole violation, and/or within a year of their release date:
- 4,786 people who are already eligible for parole release
- 3,305 people held on technical parole violation
- 8,291 people aged 50 and older
- 7,955 within a year of max/conditional release (including 5 incarcerated mothers with infants housed in the Bedford Hills Corr. Facility nursery and one pregnant woman)
Advocates have called for lawmakers in Albany to pass three bills that will uniquely address this pandemic and prevent additional future tragedies:
- 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.