Press Release - With 2021 Session Underway in Albany, Community Organizations, Advocacy Groups, and District Attorneys Call on Legislative Leaders & Governor Cuomo to Pass ‘Less Is More’ Parole Reform Bill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Contact:

Sumeet Sharma, [email protected] | (646) 591-9483 

Follow online: #LessIsMoreNY | www.lessismoreny.org

With 2021 Session Underway in Albany, Community Organizations, Advocacy Groups, and District Attorneys Call on Legislative Leaders & Governor Cuomo to Pass ‘Less Is More’ Parole Reform Bill

 

Coalition Pushing Critical Parole Reform Bill to Stop Reincarcerations Announces Support of More than 220 Community Groups and Law Enforcement Leaders, State Counties Association, NYC City Council, Rochester City Council & More; Bill Now More Important in Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic

 

New York, NY - With the 2021 Legislative Session now underway in the midst of an accelerating rise of COVID-19 cases and deaths in New York State prisons, the #LessIsMoreNY campaign, with 220 community organizations and advocacy groups, and dozens of public officials including law enforcement leaders, joined together to call on New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to pass the ‘Less Is More’ bill to reform facets of the parole, conditional release, and post-release supervision process.

More than 35,000 people are on parole in New York, and the state leads the country in re-incarcerating people for technical violations of parole. Nearly forty percent of ALL new admissions to prisons in New York are the result of reincarceration for non-criminal technical violations of parole. These practices are fraught with racial disparities. For instance, in New York City, Black people are reincarcerated for technical parole violations at a rate 12 times higher than white people, compounding the pre-existing racial disparities in state prisons. Across the state, Black people are reincarcerated for technical parole violations at 5 times the rate of whites, and Latinx people are 30% more likely to be returned to prison for a technical violation.

The #LessIsMoreNY campaign is supported by more than 220 community, advocacy, and faith-based groups from around the state, along with seven elected district attorneys in New York. Last December, the District Attorneys of Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx published an op ed in the New York Daily News in support of Less is More.

With COVID-19 spreading now like wildfire in New York prisons, and a growing death rate among incarcerated people, it remains unconscionable that New York has taken little action to address COVID 19 in prisons and stop the needless reincarceration of individuals in the past year. The ‘Less Is More’ legislation, sponsored by Senator Brian Benjamin (D - Harlem) in the Senate as S.1144 and currently awaiting a new number for the 2021 session in the Assembly, will restrict or otherwise prohibit the reincarceration of individuals for technical violations of parole, like missing a curfew or violating other minor conditions of parole, and ensure that people are not sent back to prison, especially in the middle of a pandemic. 

The bill would codify and expand actions already taken by the Cuomo administration at the start of the pandemic to release incarcerated people detained on technical parole violations and reduce the number of people being jailed for new technical violations. While these temporary measures were a step forward, they have impacted far too few people, and we risk a return to "business as usual" after the pandemic without legislative action.  For instance, the Administration's release of nearly 800 people from local jails across the state reduced the number of people detained in local jails for technical violations by only about half, leaving hundreds more people in the jails and thousands in state prisons for the same non-criminal offenses languishing with no relief. In addition, while the pace of arresting people for new technical violations has slowed during the pandemic, there were still more than 850 people accused of technical parole violations in local jails at the end of 2020 awaiting either a hearing on those accusations or a transfer to state prison. And that’s on top of approximately 5,000 people currently detained in state prisons for technical violations of parole. 

With another wave of COVID-19 in correctional facilities across New York, the State Legislature can no longer sit idly by. It is time to pass #LessIsMoreNY. 

 

Statements by Directly Impacted People, District Attorneys, Community and Advocacy Groups

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said: “For too many people, our state’s parole and probation system has become a burdensome and punitive driver of mass incarceration that holds them down instead of helping them reintegrate. Now more than ever, as we face a second wave of the COVID pandemic, it is time for the Legislature to pass the Less Is More Act and downsize the prison population. This bill will reduce the number of those held for technical, non-criminal parole violations, shorten imprisonment and incentivize good behavior. It’s a common sense approach that I have long supported, and the time to enact it is now.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. said: "Technical parole violations are a major driver of unnecessary incarceration at a time when it has never been more important to reduce the jail population. Even in the best of times, New York’s parole system disproportionately impacts New Yorkers of color, and incarcerates more people for technical parole violations than every state except Illinois. My office is proud to have supported the coalition working to enact Less Is More since it was first introduced, and I strongly urge lawmakers to pass it during this crucial session."

Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark said: “With the Bronx County Reentry Task Force, we are helping those released from prison navigate back to their communities with the resources they need to be productive. They should not be derailed from getting their lives back on track by a minor, technical violation of parole landing them behind bars again, especially if the violation doesn’t jeopardize public safety. The Less Is More Act is a sensible reform.”

Albany County District Attorney David Soares said: “Passing this measure could offer immediate relief to system-involved individuals and their families. Doing so in this moment would also contribute to flattening the curve. Post-release supervision should be a focused resource targeted at helping people improve their lives, not a revolving door for re-incarceration.  ‘Less is More’ would reduce recidivism by capping technical violation terms and non-criminal violations for individuals being monitored by Parole, allowing for more chances at successful re-entry. While contemplating 'Less' technical violations my hope is that lawmakers also consider ‘More’ resources to this perpetually underserved class of citizens.” 

Tompkins County District Attorney Matthew Van Houten said: “Re-entry into the community after a period of incarceration is extremely challenging.  We should be focusing on fostering the success of people on parole, especially considering the disparate number of technical violations that are brought against people of color.  The Less is More legislation is a necessary reform which will have a positive long-term impact on public safety.”

Westchester County District Attorney Miriam E. Rocah said: “I strongly support the Less is More Act because re-incarcerating individuals on parole for minor technical violations does not help keep the public safe and does nothing to help keep people on track for rehabilitation. On the contrary, re-incarceration makes it harder for people to get or keep jobs, disrupts families, and creates financial hardship -- all while having virtually no impact on public safety.”

Ulster County District Attorney David J. Clegg said: “I support the Less is More Bill. I taught in prison, at Woodbourne Correctional Facility through the Rising Hope Program, for a number of years and stayed in touch with a number of my students after their release from prison. I saw up close and personal how difficult it was for them to navigate the conditions of parole. I believe the bill would help to reduce the high rates of recidivism we now see.”

Derek Singletary, Co-Executive Director of Unchained, said: "For two years now, the Legislature and the Governor have refused to act on #LessIsMoreNY and we are now witnessing the lethal impact of their inaction. Had the Less is More Act been passed and implemented prior to the COVID outbreak, our state's jails and prisons would have already cut their populations by more than 15 percent across the board. Lives would have been saved. Instead, the coronavirus continues to rip through facilities with no end in sight and no meaningful plans to decarcerate. At Elmira prison where I am doing my time, which also happens to be a reception facility for people being sent into the state system from the county jails, 40 percent of incarcerated people tested positive for COVID. This is an emergency situation, and lawmakers in Albany need to start acting like it. People shouldn't have been locked up for technical violations before the pandemic, they should have all been released immediately once the pandemic hit, and we need to pass the Less is More Act now to make sure we stop this damaging racist practice once and for all." 

Donna Hylton, President and CEO of A Little Piece of Light, said: "Speaking from the front lines of the criminal justice reform movement, and as a woman who was imprisoned for 27 years, I understand the importance of moments. How life can change in a moment, and how redemption is a longer series of them. I also understand the significance of embracing moments and I am certain the moment to act on the Less is More Community Supervision and Revocation Reform Act is now. I strongly urge New York Legislators to pass it. I spent five years under parole supervision, and I know what it is like to be afraid of making a small misstep that would send me back to prison. After doing everything right, simply being late to a parole meeting due to juggling childcare, job interviews or employment demands threatened everything.  I urge legislators to take a moment to consider the ramifications of a parole system that sends thousands of people back to prison for simple technical violations. To consider the rising death numbers of the incarcerated due to COVID-19 and increased spread of the virus. And to consider what is possible by passing this legislation and recognizing our efforts -- to rejoin the workforce, reintegrate with our families, and rejoin our communities – more than our failures. New York is known for its progressive leadership in criminal justice reform, and as a leading voice in the fight for the basic rights and basic human dignity of people. I urge you to also be a strong supporter of second chances." 

Emelissa Curo, Member of the Katal Center, said: “For obvious reasons, the threat of Covid-19 is even greater in prisons and jails. We have seen many COVID-19 outbreaks in these facilities, and it has put the lives of incarcerated people at an even higher risk. The passage of the #LessIsMoreNY bill will help decrease prisons and jails’ population, ultimately reducing the number of people exposed to the virus. Roughly 5 thousand people will be able to go home. It will also restrict the use of incarceration for non-criminal technical violations. I strongly believe it is in everyone’s best interest that we address the policies that unjustly lead to easy reincarceration of people on parole. I call upon our elected officials to support the #LessIsMoreNY because all New Yorkers need to be protected from this horrible virus and given a fair chance at having a normal life in society.”

Reverend Peter Cook, Executive Director of the NY State Council of Churches, said: “The New York State Council of Churches is committed to ensuring the New York parole system offers a structured path which helps the previously incarcerated resume a productive life. A system littered with technical traps which can send people back to jail for insignificant infractions is a system which is more interested in playing a perverse game of “gotcha” than fulfilling its purpose which is to heal and restore. We call on the Senate and Assembly to pass and the Governor to sign the Less is More bill.”

Rabbi Hilly Haber, Central Synagogue, said: “To imagine a parole system steeped in Jewish values, is to see a system whose objective is return, a system which does not create additional, non-criminal, opportunities for re-incarceration, but offers programs and incentives for those who have walked the path of repentance and come home. It is to imagine a system that seeks to keep families safely together, a system which seeks not to profit off of re-incarceration, but to offer New Yorkers every opportunity to contribute to their communities and our state...to work, to raise families, to care for loved ones, and serve as role models and leaders for all of us who walk this path of teshuvah.”

Jonathan Lippman, Former Chief Judge of New York State and Chair of the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice & Incarceration Reform, said: "Parole supervision is meant to help people return home from prison and thrive. Yet, today thousands of New Yorkers -- disproportionately Black and Latinx -- sit behind bars for non-criminal "technical" parole violations. This does nothing to boost public safety and costs our State and counties over $600 million per year. Passing the Less Is More Act will end this harmful system and hasten closure of the brutal and dehumanizing jails on Rikers Island. 2021 is the year for Albany to act."  

Kendra Bradner, Director of Columbia Justice Lab's Probation and Parole Project, said: "Incarcerating people for non-criminal technical parole violations is bad public policy - it's unnecessarily harmful, disruptive, inequitable, and costly. The Legislature should listen to the broad coalition demanding parole reform, and seize the opportunity to curb the harm of New York's parole practices by passing Less Is More."

Tim Donaher, Monroe County Public Defender, said: “It is time to end a system that re-incarcerates thousands of women and men who are accused not of committing a new crime, but of minor violations of their parole terms. Incarcerating people for technical parole violations does nothing to enhance public safety; it instead continues a cycle of needless incarceration that has decimated communities of color in New York State. The Legislature should pass, and Governor Cuomo should sign, the Less is More Act to ensure that the focus of parole becomes rehabilitation and reintegration of formerly incarcerated people, and not their needless reincarceration."

JoAnne Page, CEO and President of the Fortune Society, said: “At a time when COVID-19 still presenting a major healthcare crisis in prisons across the state, the last thing we should be doing is locking more people up for minor violations of their parole (like missing a curfew, violating travel restrictions for a job interview or being late for an appointment.)  Incarcerating people who are under active parole supervision – people who have already served their time – is not only a waste of taxpayer money, it denies these New Yorkers a chance to participate fully in their communities while putting their lives at risk.  The New York State Legislature needs to finally take action on this bill and the Governor needs to sign it: COVID-19 is here to stay, and so our state’s criminal justice policies need to adjust themselves accordingly.”

Virginia Thomas, Member of the Katal Center, said: As a society, we always need to find alternatives to incarceration. Individuals must have a chance of successfully reintegrating back into their communities. Incarcerating someone for these minor infractions on their parole robs them of this chance. #LessIsMoreNY will help people on parole live without the fear of being reincarcerated for these minor infractions on their parole supervision. It will not only reduce incarceration, but it will save $600 million dollars of taxpayer’s money. This money can be better spent in our communities by funding educational, employment, and counseling programs. All things are possible, and nothing is impossible if we all work together and love one another. I urge the legislature to pass #LessIsMoreNY now!"

Lorraine Mc Evilley, Director of the Parole Revocation Defense Unit at the Legal Aid Society, said: "Every year, thousands of Black and Latinx New Yorkers are sent back to prison for technical violations of parole that pose no risk to public safety. Their lives are upended, their families are torn apart and they face serious risk of contracting Covid-19 in prison, all because they missed an office report or tested positive for marijuana. The Less Is More Act would keep our clients safe in their communities, stable in their jobs, and create incentives to earn early discharge from parole supervision. Less Is More is supported by a broad statewide coalition — from public defenders and faith communities to sheriffs and district attorneys — we urge Albany to enact this critical legislation immediately.”

Alice L. Fontier, Managing Director of the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, said: “Nobody benefits when we warehouse people in jails, particularly for trivial, technical parole violations like being late to a meeting or missing a curfew. But that’s exactly what New York state does, ruining lives, hurting communities and burning taxpayer money on technical parole violations at a rate five times higher than the rest of the country. This hectoring and needless surveillance hurts our communities in upper Manhattan and has no place in our legal system. The Less is More Act is an important step towards right-sizing the parole system, and we urge the legislature and governor to act swiftly in bringing it to fruition.”

Erika Lorshbough, Deputy Policy Director with the New York Civil Liberties Union, said: “We should be doing everything we can to support people released from prison and jail and help them re-enter their communities, rather than allow technical violations to derail their chances for rehabilitation and success. Parole revocations are one of the major drivers of incarceration in county jails and prisons across the state, and in the spring they led to two preventable deaths in New York City jails. New York should pass the Less is More Act to ensure that people are not being put behind bars for technical parole violations and are given a fair chance to rebuild their lives at home in their communities.” 

Aikio Garnes, Member of the Katal Center, said: “I am justice-involved and can attest that parole reform in NY is long overdue. Being incarcerated for a non-criminal technical parole violation does not only affect one person. I have witnessed first-hand the toll it takes on their families and their loved ones. To be readmitted to a city jail and be stripped of your personal clothing, placed in squalid conditions, given inadequate medical care, and being exposed to aggressive policing by correction officials is not something anyone should go through. My loved ones have gone through degrading visit procedures just to see me. NY State’s current parole system is a failure because it does not give folks a fair chance to reunite with their loved ones and be a part of the community. The provisions outlined in #LessIsMoreNY will reduce incarceration, reduce parole officers’ workload, and save taxpayers dollars. This is why I support #LessIsMoreNY and call upon Albany to take action in passing this bill.”

Kandra Clark, Vice President of Policy and Strategy at Exodus, said: “The era of mass incarceration can begin to end through the passage of the #LessIsMoreNY bill. Incarceration affects more than just the person, it affects their families and communities. At Exodus, we support the movement to end the imprisonment of our community members based on technical, non-criminal violations, such as violating a curfew order. We must end the criminalization of poverty, intergenerational disenfranchisement and trauma in our communities. Passing #LessIsMore will bring us one step closer in doing so.”

Imani Webb-Smith, Policy Analyst, with the Center for Employment Opportunities, said: “The Center for Employment Opportunities supports the Less is More: Community Supervision and Reform Act because New York cannot continue to invest in a broken parole system that is riddled with staggering racial disparities at every stage, increases the likelihood of future incarceration and further reduces already limited opportunities for economic mobility. We strongly urge the Assembly to pass and Governor Cuomo to sign #LessisMoreNY as swiftly as possible.”

Dyjuan Tatro, Government Affairs Officer with the Bard Prison Initiative, said: “Since being released from prison in 2017, I’ve completed a degree and built a career. I pay taxes and I am civically active within my community. However, over 3 years later, with no infractions or violations and an excellent report record, I am still on parole. Throughout this time NYS Parole hasn’t done one thing to aid my success, but everything to hamstring me in the world. From wasting my valuable work hours each report day to threatening to imprison me on the smallest technical violation, It’s a system designed for failure, not success. Pass #LessIsMoreNY now!”

Scott Levy, Chief Policy Counsel at The Bronx Defenders, said: "The Less Is More Act is a critical component of the effort to remake New York's criminal legal system and decarcerate our jails and prisons. Incarcerating people, disproportionately Black and brown New Yorkers, for technical parole violations is cruel and counterproductive. This bill will allow thousands of New Yorkers to maintain stable housing, keep jobs, take care of their families, and avoid the risk of COVID-19 while incarcerated. The Legislature and Governor should enact the Less Is More Act immediately."

Jacqueline Gosdigian, Senior Policy Counsel of Brooklyn Defender Services, said: “As the COVID-19 pandemic ravages New York State’s prisons and jails, it is imperative we recognize and address the imminent risk of re-incarcerating people on parole. People on parole are often deemed ‘delinquent’ due to minor technical violations, such as missing curfew, being late to an office visit, or testing positive for alcohol, which can lead to re-arrest and re-incarceration, which now more than ever, can be life-threatening. In any situation, pandemic or not, no one should ever be in a cell for violating arbitrary parole rules. Brooklyn Defender Services calls on Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to prioritize and pass the Less is More NY bill, which will reduce incarceration and improve fairness and safety for all.”

Alison Wilkey, Director of Public Policy at the John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity, said: “New York State re-incarcerates more people for non-criminal ‘technical’ violations of parole than almost any other state, which has devastating effects on individual and family stability, and harms Black people at more than 12 times the rate of white people. The Legislature must pass the Less is More Act this session to stop re-harming New York’s most oppressed communities and commit to racial justice.”

Robert and Emily Pollock, Co-Founders of Spoke & Feather, said: “We support the passage of the Less is More Act because it is a smart, sensible bill. The current parole and post-release supervision system is punitive, arbitrary, expensive, and provides no incentive for positive behavior. Passing the Less is More Act will improve the lives of formerly incarcerated people and their families, by reducing the stress created by the constant threat of re-incarceration. We believe it will also increase public safety by shifting resources to those who are struggling most with re-entry and incentivizing positive, pro-social behavior. It will reduce costs by avoiding re-incarceration for minor technical violations and the associated court costs. We encourage the legislature and Governor Cuomo to pass the Less is More Act now! It just makes sense.” 

Nick Encalada-Malinowski, Civil Rights Campaign Director at VOCAL-NY, said: "With a popular mandate for progressive reforms to the so-called criminal justice system following a one-sided election in the fall and the securing of a super majority in both houses in Albany, excuses are running out for the state legislature to pass this bill. Our members experience parole supervision used time and time again to trap people and incarcerate them, it must end." 

Chelsea Kraimer, Senior Career Manager and Director of Reentry Services at GOSO, said: "Getting Out and Staying Out (GOSO) wholeheartedly supports #LessIsMoreNY because we believe that increased incarceration and community supervision does not create a safer or more just New York. Parole is just another way that our legal system seeks to trap people in a cycle of justice-involvement, and this disproportionately impacts people of color, who are 99% of the people we serve at GOSO. This cycle must end here and now. We call for the Senate and Assembly to pass, and for Governor Cuomo to sign, #LessIsMoreNY. We need to build supportive communities, provide resources and services, and increase access to opportunities, not incarcerate or supervise our neighbors

Marcellus Morris, CEO of Reign 4 Life, said: “We support #LessIsMoreNY given the racial disparity in the parole system in NY. In NYC, Black people are incarcerated in New York City jails for technical parole violations at more than 12 times the rate of whites. That is unacceptable. Now with COVID-19, it's a no win scenario. #LessIsMoreNY makes sense, and needs to pass immediately.”

Robert Gangi, Director of the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), said: “We urge state leaders to enact The Less is More NY Act which would serve the dual purpose of creating a more sensible & fair parole system & of substantially reducing the needless incarceration of NYers who pose no risk to public safety. Its main provision is to sharply restrict the use of imprisonment for technical parole violations like missing an appointment or being late for your curfew. NY currently locks up more people for such non-criminal violations than any other state except Illinois. Failure to enact this long overdue change would represent a willingness on the part of NY policy makers to persist both in wasting scarce government resources at a time of severe fiscal austerity & in perpetuating a gross injustice inflicting harm & hardship on some of the state's most vulnerable citizens"

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