Press Release - Less is More Bill Sponsors Senator Benjamin & Assemblymember Souffrant-Forrest Announce Legislative Agreement on Major Parole Reform Legislation

Bill to Address How State Handles Technical Parole Violations Slated for Vote in Both Chambers Thursday; #LessIsMoreNY Coalition Calls for Swift Passage

Contact: Sumeet Sharma - [email protected] - (646) 591-9483

Follow online: #LessIsMoreNY | www.lessismoreny.org 

#LessIsMoreNY Coalition rallies to demand NY's legislative leaders reform parole by passing Less Is More outside of the New York State Senate & Assembly offices in Manhattan.

Albany, NY – Today, the #LessIsMoreNY Coalition, made up people directly impacted by parole and mass incarceration, nearly 300 community, faith, and advocacy groups, eight District Attorneys, and a bipartisan group of elected Sheriffs, joined Less Is More bill sponsors State Senator Brian Benjamin and Assemblymember Phara Souffrant-Forrest for a major announcement: the State Senate and State Assembly have reached an agreement on the Less Is More Act to reform how the state handles technical parole violations. New York reincarcerates more people for non-criminal technical violations of parole than any other state in the nation, with deep racial disparities associated with the practice. The Less is More Act was introduced in 2018 to address this problem. The legislative agreement, which was reached late in the day on Monday, keeps main aspects of the legislation intact while amending language to address concerns raised by legislators.

The Less Is More Act includes provisions to: 

  • Restrict the use of incarceration for non-criminal technical violations of parole. 
  • Bolster due process. Rather than being automatically detained in local jails, people accused of a non-criminal technical violation would be issued a written notice of violation with a date to appear. Hearings will be held in the community, in a location accessible to the public, instead of within jails and prisons, as is current practice. 
  • Require speedy hearings. Persons under community supervision shall be afforded a speedy adjudicatory hearing upon an alleged violation of their conditions of release. Hearings for people on parole who are in the community will be completed within 55 days. Hearings for people detained will be completed within 35 days, rather than taking up to 105 days as is the case today.
  • Provide good time credits: Most people on parole would be eligible to earn a 30-day “earned time credits” reduction in their community supervision period for every 30-day period in which they do not violate a condition of supervision. 

The agreement clears the way for Less Is More, S.1144-A / A.5576-A, to advance to the floor for a vote by the full Senate and Assembly this week. The vote on Less is More is slated for Thursday, the last day of session. 

Statements from bills sponsors, impacted people, and community and advocacy groups from the #LessIsMoreNY Coalition: 

Senator Brian Benjamin, Prime Bill Sponsor, said: “New York imprisons more people for non-criminal technical violations of parole than any state in the country. One thing is very clear: There are too many people who are being re-incarcerated on parole for low-level offenses, and all we’re accomplishing by doing that is fueling the epidemic of mass incarceration. Less Is More will transform our broken parole system and eliminate huge barriers to reintegration into society for those who have been released from prison.”

Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, Prime Bill Sponsor, said: “After many years of hard work, I am extremely pleased to see that an agreement has been reached between the Assembly and Senate that paves the way for the passage of Less is More. For too long, New York’s parole system has had a framework of punishment, rather than a framework of care. Our society has an obligation to provide support to those who are leaving prison and their families. The passage of the Less is More Act will make that support so much easier to give, and will make the process of parole so much more humane. It is my honor to have been able to play a part in this fight for justice.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said, “I have long supported the Less is More Act because there is no public safety reason to justify the astronomical sums our state spends on incarcerating people for technical parole violations. Locking people up for technical violations when they have not committed a new crime does nothing to keep us safe and in fact leads to less safety because it impedes the ability of people on parole to go to school, hold down a job, take care of their families – all of the things we want people to do when they get out of prison to get their lives back on track. Now, with the two houses of the legislature having agreed on amendments to address some of the concerns of legislators, it is time to pass the Less Is More Act, and for Governor Cuomo to sign it.”

Donna Hylton, Founder of A Little Piece of Light, said: "An alarming and growing number of women are ending up back in prison because of minor parole violations that happen as they begin to deal with the realities of life. I know many of these women personally, and how dedicated they are to getting their lives back on track. They are desperately trying to rebuild relationships with their children and families. They are applying for jobs, looking for housing, and trying to open bank accounts. I myself have been on this very journey, as a woman who came home on parole after nearly 30 years in prison. Let's recognize the challenges that come with re-entering society after decades in prison. Let's root for these women, instead of building more barriers for them to overcome and unfairly punishing them for a late or missed parole appointment. Let's pass LessIsMoreNY now."

Derek Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, said: "It would be unconscionable for our state legislators to go home without passing the Less is More Act. We cannot spend another year locking up thousands of people for petty parole violations that pose no threat to public safety. This is a practice that disproportionately rips Black and Latinx New Yorkers away from their families and communities, often just when they are beginning to get their feet on the ground after returning home from incarceration. It's time to stop destroying lives and wasting money and start supporting and investing in the people most harmed by the racist legacy of mass incarceration. The state legislature must pass the Less is More Act this week, and Governor Cuomo must sign it as soon as it is delivered to his desk."

Tyler Nims, Executive Director, Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, said: “We applaud the Senate and Assembly’s announcement that they intend to pass the Less Is More Act, which will help New York shift from a deeply flawed parole system that too often sends people to jail and prison for rules violations, at tremendous cost but no demonstrable benefit to safety, towards a system that helps people succeed in our communities.  There’s no excuse for New York to incarcerate more people for parole violations than any other state, particularly when traditionally punitive “red” states have already pointed the way towards successful reforms that improve lives, preserve safety, and conserve taxpayer resources. With the passage of Less Is More, New York can be a leader in the movement towards a more effective, equitable, and fair justice system.”  

Kenyatta Muzzanni, Director of Organizing at the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: "New York is the worst state when it comes to parole, period. That's evident from the stories we hear from our Members who are on parole, and from the various reports that have shown that our state lags behind every other state in the country. Today's press conference showed now only the wide variety of people we have supporting #LessIsMoreNY, but the necessity to pass this bill now. The agreement between the Senate and Assembly isn’t everything we wanted, but without question the amended bill is robust, far-reaching, and will improve the quality of life for tens of thousands of New Yorkers on parole, and their loved ones, every year. We are looking for the swift passage of #LessIsMoreNY this week! "

Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said: "New York state must take a bold and overdue step to curtail the one of the most regressive parole systems in the country by passing the Less is More Act, which will end our state’s inhumane practice of detaining New Yorkers for non-criminal technical parole violations. This legislation recognizes that people on parole who have committed no new crimes should be with their communities and families, not behind bars for missing an appointment. The state legislature must pass the Less is More Act without delay."

Lee Winkelman, lead organizer for the New York Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC-NY), said: "Reform Jews call on legislators to pass Less Is More. This bill increases racial justice, strengthens public safety, and saves the State money, all at the same time. Reform Jews support for Less Is More based on the Jewish principle that everyone can turn their life around.” 

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, many of whom are people of color,  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. All New York citizens should be ashamed that New York leads the nation in re-incarcerating people on parole for non-criminal violations. 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 re-incarceration.” 

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.  We are encouraged by the news out of the Legislature and urge the Senate and Assembly to pass and the Governor should sign the Less Is More Act without delay."

SeQuoia Kemp, BS, RN of Doula 4 a Queen, said: “With just a few more days left in the legislative session, we urge our lawmakers to do the right thing by passing Less Is More NY. We believe people deserve to stay in their communities and have a fighting chance to rebuild their lives after incarceration. Being sent back to prison on a technical violation disrupts families and supportive networks for those on parole. Imagine the community needs that could be met with 683 million dollars?! Free housing, greater employment opportunities, access to health clinics, grocery stores, etc. The state needs to divest from mass incarceration and invest in our communities by passing Less Is More NY!”

Alice Fontier, Managing Director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, said: “New York’s parole laws are racist, outdated, and used to unjustly ensnare thousands of our neighbors every year. Addressing them must be a priority for legislators before the session in Albany closes on Thursday. That means passing the Less is More Act this Thursday. Technical parole violations, which the Less is More Act would address, imprison New Yorkers for petty infractions like being late to a meeting with a parole officer or missing curfew. New York owes its people a fair chance to rebuild their lives in their communities following incarceration. We are encouraged that the Senate and Assembly have agreed on the bill and urge them to pass it on Thursday.”

Andrew Correia, Wayne County Public Defender, said: "The Wayne County, NY Public Defender’s Office strongly supports the Less Is More Act.  Jailing people for mere technical violations of parole does nothing to enhance public safety or support rehabilitation. In reality, it upends people’s lives, causes them to lose good jobs, and rips families apart, costing the state millions in the process. Less Is More helps ensure a fairer parole process where people are supported in the reentry process. We call on Albany to pass it immediately."

Tia Strother, Project Coordinator for the Black Freedom Project, said: "Today's Less Is More press conference only highlighted why we need this bill to pass. Racism is woven intimately into the parole system across the state, and this bill would have a positive impact on the thousands of Black New Yorkers on parole. As a statewide coalition of Black organizers and advocates, we demand that the legislature pass this bill this week for all of us."

Avion Gordon, Member of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “Let’s learn from the success of states that have taken a proactive approach at community Supervision. We have seen how implementing approaches like earned time credits for people on parole provides an incentive for folks to do better and move forward with their lives. We know that when we treat people with dignity, they will thrive. Even more, the passage of Less Is More will save the state over $680 million dollars and this is money that could be better used for things like crime prevention and rehabilitation. We need to make sure that Less Is More passes now”

Rabbi Hilly Haber of Central Synagogue, said: "We at Central Synagogue are committed to Less Is More NY because to imagine a re-entry system steeped in Jewish values is to see a system that offers New Yorkers every opportunity to heal, raise families, find and keep employment, care for loved ones, and serve as leaders and builders of community.  After today's press conference, we are looking forward to the swift passage of Less Is MoreNY this session."

Robin Lawrence, Member of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “I have seen and experienced the parole system here in New York City. We need to put an end to this ongoing revolving door of incarceration and actually help our formerly incarcerated loved one's reintegrate back into our communities. My family member was recently released on parole and already feels the pressure of parole. He has only been home for a couple of days and all the stipulations he has to follow has made his process back into the community so much harder. The passage of The Less Is More Bill will give formerly incarcerated men and women the opportunity to get their lives in control by ruling out incarceration on technical violations. I call upon the NYS legislature to pass #LessIsMoreNY."

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, said: Congregation Beit Simchat Torah believes in the ability of every human being to pursue a path of teshuva, the Jewish concept of restoring one’s relationship to the community and to one’s self, and we support New Yorkers' efforts to build better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities following incarceration.  We strongly urge the passage of #LessIsMoreNY in order to create a more just New York by eliminating reincarceration for most technical parole violations.

BLM Syracuse, said: "It is no secret that Black and brown communities in Syracuse are over-policed, over-criminalized, and over incarcerated. We regularly see how parole is weaponized against Black people in our community and how it deepens and maintains the stark concentration of poverty in the Syracuse community. We need to pass the LessIsMore bill immediately so the black and brown folks in Syracuse no longer have to suffer the multigenerational, physical, mental, and emotional harm caused by these antiquated and racist policies, practices, and procedures."

Alison Wilkey, Director of Public Policy, John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity, said: “People on parole cannot wait until the next legislative session for our State representatives to act. Nearly one-third of the new admissions to New York State prisons are people reincarcerated for technical violations of parole – not because they were convicted of a new crime. New York must stop funneling people back into jails and prisons. We urge the New York Legislature to pass Less is More: the Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act this week."

Emily & Robbie of Spoke and Feather, said: "Under the current parole/community supervision system, people transitioning back to the community after incarceration, and their family members, face an uphill battle. The lack of support for people during a vulnerable time  and the constant threat of reincarceration for a minor technical violation creates an atmosphere of anxiety and stress and creates a difficult to navigate minefield for people on parole. 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. By promoting and rewarding positive, pro-social behavior, the Less is More Act will create new opportunities for returning citizens and their families to thrive. We call on New York's State Legislators to pass Less Is More now!"

Michael Hendrickson, Member of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: Community supervision should be a pathway to success not a revolving door to reincarnation, which is what we are clearly seeing as the case currently. The Less Is More Bill is at the cornerstone of effective reforms of the department of corrections and community supervision. It will empower individuals to find and retain success re-entering their community and help strengthen families by not dividing due to reincarceration of these minor infractions of parole. The New York legislature needs to take action and bring community supervision in New York to the 21st century. The time is now to pass progressive parole reform like Less Is More!" 

Peter Cook, Executive Director of the The New York State Council of Churches said, "The New York State Council of Churches thanks Senator Brian Benjamin and Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest for sponsoring and courageously shepherding the Less is More Bill through the legislature. We are encouraged that the bill will likely receive a vote from the legislature. Less is More will help New York join 49 other states in significantly improving the parole process by not punishing people for technical violations with re-incarceration. We need to be a state which is about rehabilitation and renewal and not mean spirited revenge." 

Corey Brinson, Policy Associate at the Legal Action Center, said: ""We urge lawmakers across New York to pass Less Is More, especially after today's press conference. Returning people who may struggle reentering society need more mental health and substance use disorder treatment, more opportunity for employment and business ownership, and more community and family interactions. Technical parole violations, which lead to people unnecessarily returning to prison, exacerbates mass incarceration, removes breadwinners from families, and robs employers of needed labor and returning people from employment opportunities. People with one foot outside the criminal legal system need to be reintegrated into the community and not back to prison for noncriminal violations. We are looking forward to the legislature making the right move and passing Less Is More this week!"

About the Less Is More Act and the #LessIsMoreNY Coalition:

Parole supervision, and the resulting incarceration of people for technical parole violations, disproportionately impacts Black people, families and communities. Parole in New York is wrought with racial disparity: In New York City, Black people and Latinx people are 12x and 4x more likely to be incarcerated for a technical parole violation. In New York State, Black people are incarcerated for technical violations of parole at 5x the rate of whites, and Latinx people are 30 percent more likely than whites to be reincarcerated for technical parole violations.

The Less is More bill, S.1144-A (Benjamin) / A.5576-A (Forrest) will have an impact on the more than 35,000 people on parole supervision in New York, improving public safety while strengthening the reentry process. The bill restricts the use of incarceration for most technical violations, bolsters due process, provides speedy hearings, and provides an earned time credit for most people on parole.

The reforms in the Less Is More Act are supported by nearly 300 community, faith, and  advocacy groups; 8 District Attorneys from the counties of Albany, Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Nassau, Tompkins, Ulster, & Westchester; law enforcement leaders from across New York including the Albany, Erie, and Tompkins County Sheriffs ,and more.  A full list of supporters and more information on the Less Is More Act can be found at www.lessismoreny.org.

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