March 24, 2021: New York State
THE GROUP WILL CALL ON LEGISLATURE TO PASS PAROLE REFORMS, DEMAND GOV. CUOMO SIGN THE HALT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ACT, AND CALL FOR OTHER JUSTICE REFORMS
WHAT: After visiting Bedford Hills and Albion women’s prisons, four state lawmakers will host a Women’s History Month virtual press conference to call for urgent justice reforms alongside formerly incarcerated women who served time at both facilities and are advocates with New Hour for Women and Children – LI, the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice, the HALTsolitary Campaign, VOCAL-NY, and the Justice Roadmap. Speakers will report back on women denied meaningful parole release opportunities, women locked in solitary confinement, the devastating impact of the moratorium on visiting, and more, urging the legislature to pass Elder Parole and Fair & Timely Parole and the Governor to sign the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, as well as urging DOCCS to restore visitation and programs and improve conditions.
WHEN: Thursday, March 25 @ 12 noon
WHERE: On Zoom at bit.ly/325ParolePressConference
WHO: Assembly Members Carmen De La Rosa (Manhattan), Demond Meeks (Rochester), Karines Reyes (Bronx), and Sarah Clark (Irondequoit/Rochester area); leading advocates for reform who were all incarcerated in Bedford Hills or Albion prisons, including Serena Liguori of New Hour for Women and Children – LI (Long Island), Roslyn Smith, RAPP member (Brooklyn), Sherika Stewart, New Hour member (Bronx), Antria Blue, New Hour member (Long Island), VOCAL Member Casey Hayner (Albany) and VOCAL Member named Eileen Maher (Brooklyn).
BACKGROUND: There are currently 1,165 people identified by NYS DOCCS as women incarcerated in New York, the majority are Black and/or Latinx. Within this population and across the prison system, there are 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 expansive 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. 8 out of 10 women in prison are mothers and children have not been allowed to visit their mothers behind bars for over 6 months.
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.
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.
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 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.
In addition, the #HALTsolitary Campaign is advocating for Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (S2836/A2277A), which passed in the Legislature with supermajority support last week. The bill would end the torture of prolonged solitary confinement and replace it with more humane and effective alternatives.