March 16, 2021 • (Tuesday) 11am): New York State • Zoom streaming
PARTICIPANTS WILL CALL FOR PASSAGE OF ELDER PAROLE AND FAIR & TIMELY PAROLE BILLS AS PART OF ‘PAROLE JUSTICE IS GENDER JUSTICE’ ADVOCACY DAY
WHEN: Tuesday, March 16, 11 AM
WHAT: In honor of Women’s History Month, formerly incarcerated women and gender non-conforming people, leading gender justice advocates, and NY State lawmakers will hold a virtual press conference as part of a Prison isn’t Feminist: Parole Justice is Gender Justice advocacy day. Speakers will demand justice for all women and gender non-conforming people behind bars, particularly women of color and trans women, and continue the fight for parole reform. The day is being organized by New Hour for Women and Children – LI, along with the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice, a grassroots campaign backed by nearly 300 groups across New York State advocating for passage of the Elder Parole and Fair & Timely Parole bills, as well as a fair and fully staffed Parole Board.
WHO: Formerly incarcerated women and gender non-conforming people, family members and gender justice advocates, including Pam Neeley with New Hour for Women and Children – LI, Roslyn Smith with the V-Day Campaign, Tamika Graham and Melinda Agnew with Center for Community Alternatives, and Donna Robinson with Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) ; and NY State Assembly Members Carmen De La Rosa, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Amanda Septimo, NY State Senator Julia Salazar, and other state lawmakers.
BACKGROUND: There are currently 1,138 people identified by NYS DOCCS as women incarcerated in New York, of whom 54.9% are people of color, Black, and/or Latinx. Within this population and across the prison system, there many people who are made invisible by DOCCS’ inability to recognize their gender as well as people who cannot disclose their gender identity for reasons of safety. Women, gender non-conforming people, and transgender people are deeply impacted by parole injustice as part of a continuum of gender-based oppression. Surveys show the vast majority are survivors of trauma and abuse. In 2019, the longest-serving woman in New York State prison, Valerie Gaiter, died of an illness behind bars at age 61 after 40 years in prison. She would not have been eligible for parole consideration for another decade, despite having completely transformed and turned her life around many years prior. More recently, Lulu Benson-Saey became the first woman to die of COVID-19 behind bars in New York, also at age 61. Elder Parole and Fair & Timely Parole would have given both of these women a meaningful opportunity for parole release.
The People’s Campaign for Parole Justice is a new, statewide, grassroots campaign pushing for parole reform in New York State. The campaign platform is supported by nearly 300 organizations across New York State and led by a coalition of the state’s biggest and most influential social justice and criminal justice groups, including the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign, Parole Preparation Project, VOCAL-NY, Citizen Action, New Hour for Women and Children, NY Communities for Change, Center for Community Alternatives, Capitol Area Against Mass Incarceration, Osborne Association, NYCLU, FWD.us, #HALTsolitary Campaign, Legal Aid Society, Center for Justice at Columbia, CUNY Law Defenders Clinic, and NYU Law’s Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law.
Racism infects the parole release system just as it does every element of the criminal legal system. A white person in a New York prison is significantly more likely on average to be released on parole than a Black or Latinx person and the disparity widened in 2020, according to a Times Union analysis of the nearly 19,000 parole board decisions over the last two years. The data, which spans October 2018 through October 2020, shows the Parole Board granted parole release to 41 percent of white people, compared to 34 percent of Black people and 33 percent of Latinx people. Importantly, these racial disparities are not new. In 2016, the New York Times conducted an investigation of parole release data and similarly found Black and Latinx people were significantly less likely to be released than their white counterparts.
The People’s Campaign for Parole Justice is calling on lawmakers in Albany to pass two bills that will address this pandemic behind bars and prevent similar tragedies in the future:
- 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 Campaign is also calling on Governor Cuomo to fully staff the Parole Board with 19 Commissioners who come from communities that have been directly affected by mass incarceration and who have professional and clinical backgrounds in areas such as social work, nursing, reentry services, and other fields that allow them to evaluate incarcerated people for who they are today. The Board currently has three vacancies.