Since 2013, RAPP has brought community power to bear on unjust systems in New York State
When RAPP launched in 2013, we organized incarcerated people, their families, community members, and organizations to change the NYS Parole Board’s regulations so that parole release decisions were based on who incarcerated people are today. RAPP sourced hundreds of official public comments from currently and formerly incarcerated people and community organizations in support of this initiative; met repeatedly with government stakeholders; and organized community events and media coverage. As a result, the Parole Board changed their regulations twice—in 2014 and 2017—ultimately codifying that parole decisions be guided by “risk and needs principles,” based on who parole applicants are today.
We coupled structural change efforts with cultural ones, demanding a change in the Parole Board’s Commissioners, who determine the Board’s release decisions. Historically, commissioners were white people from rural New York with law enforcement backgrounds. Through public education; research; media work; rallies and press conferences; and meetings with key stakeholders, we advocated for Gov. Cuomo to not reappoint five of the Board’s most punitive commissioners to another 6-year term and to instead appoint new commissioners with diversified professional backgrounds and identities. In June 2017, five of the Board’s worst commissioners retired or were not reappointed, and the governor appointed six new commissioners—the first cohort whose professional experience did not include policing or prosecution.
As a result of these changes to the Board’s regulations and personnel, parole release rates have risen from around 20-25% to 40-45%. For the first time since 2000, the number of elders in NYS prisons fell. It was a first step.
Beginning in 2018, when Democrats gained control of the state legislature, we began to advocate for structural changes to the laws governing parole release. We continue this advocacy as part of a large statewide coalition, the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice (ParoleJusticeNY.com). For more, please see “Current Campaigns.”
From our inception, we have worked most closely with the Parole Preparation Project. Together we have made changes and done work to release hundreds of older incarcerated New Yorkers, and together we continue to lead the work of the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice.