Release - Governor Cuomo and Legislature Fail to Pass #LessIsMoreNY Act in the Budget as COVID-19 Spreads in Jails and Prisons Across the State

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Thursday, April 2, 2020                     

Contact 

Downstate: Yan Snead, ysnead@katalcenter.org | 518.360.1534

Upstate: Emily NaPier Singletary, emily@weareunchained.org | 315.243.5135

 

Governor Cuomo and Legislature Fail to Pass #LessIsMoreNY Act in the Budget as COVID-19 Spreads in Jails and Prisons Across the State

 

The COVID-19 Crisis Further Exposes New York’s Excessive Use of Re-incarceration for Technical Violations of Parole, Highlighting the Urgent Need for Reform

The #LessIsMoreNY Coalition Calls on Lawmakers to Pass Transformative Less Is More Parole Legislation to Enhance Public Safety, Save Taxpayer Money – and Improve Public Health in Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic 

 

New York, NY: Today Governor Cuomo and lawmakers in Albany finalized the state’s budget, but failed to pass the #LessIsMoreNY Act (Less Is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S.1343B - Benjamin / A.5493A - Mosley)). In the midst of this public health emergency and fiscal crisis, it is unfathomable that New York will continue to incarcerate people for technical violations of parole—which Gov. Cuomo recently described as  “non-serious” in an interview with MSNBC—such as missing an appointment or being out past curfew. The Less Is More Act has broad support from community groups, law enforcement, city and county officials, and more, who agree that these reforms will enhance public safety and increase the likelihood of successful re-entry, while also significantly reducing jail and prison populations and taxpayer spending across the state. Additionally, to reduce the potential for community corrections to inadvertently spread COVID-19, 50 probation and parole commissioners around the country recently called for a reduction in the number of people under supervision and technical violations-- exactly the kind of provisions contained in Less Is More.

New York reincarcerates more people for parole violations than any other state in the nation except Illinois. Right now, as the COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging through communities across the state, there are over 5,000 people incarcerated in local jails and state prisons for technical violations of parole, being held in cages, subjected to sickness, and death. Without passing the #LessIsMoreNY Act these incarcerated individuals, corrections employees, and the larger community are even more susceptible to the spread of and potential death by COVID-19. For example, in the notorious jails on Rikers Island, which have become the epicenter of the COVID pandemic, the rate of infection is 7 times higher than the rest of the city. In this context, the #LessIsMoreNY legislation is a preventative public health measure that will mitigate the public health emergencies in New York’s jails and prisons. It is also essential to the closure of Rikers Island and is needed to decrease the number of people detained there.  

 

Statements by leaders in the #LessIsMoreNY Campaign

 

Emily NaPier Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained said, “It is reprehensible that as COVID-19 rips through jails and prisons across the state that Governor Cuomo and the Legislature failed to pass a common sense measure that would safely send people home to their families where they belong. People accused of minor parole rule violations, not new crimes, make up 1 in 10 people caged in our state prisons and 1 in 8 people detained in our local jails, and most of them are Black or Latinx. Freeing them is the right thing to do not just during this pandemic but going forward. Our state government failed to do the right thing in the budget, but they can still take action and pass the Less is More Act this session. Lives are on the line, and it’s time Governor Cuomo and the Legislature start acting like it.

Donna Hylton, Founder and Executive Director, A Little Piece of Light, said: “As a woman who served 27 years in prison and experienced the HIV/AIDS epidemic, it is unconscionable to see the lack of care, concern and compassion at a time such as this. It is not just bad public policy for New York to flood prisons and jails during this pandemic – especially with people who have not committed new crimes – it is in violation of Public Health Law and just plain unethical. The most vulnerable are those who cannot help themselves – our incarcerated people. And Governor Cuomo and the Legislature have failed them by not including the Less Is More Act in this year’s budget. The right thing to do should not be predicated on guilt, innocence, race, socio-economic status, gender, violent or non-violent – but should be saving as many lives as possible, and I implore lawmakers to do the morally correct thing and pass the Less Is More Act when they return this session.”

Lorenzo Jones, Co-Executive Director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, said: “By failing to pass the #LessIsMoreNY Act, Governor Cuomo, the NY State Senate and the NY State Assembly are leaving thousands of incarcerated people and their families and our communities to suffer. As the Chief stewards of New York face down COVID-19, it is frankly immoral not to act with urgency and precision to save lives. While praise is rightfully being heaped on the Governor's Administration during this pandemic, this same administration along with the Albany Legislature is ignoring the mortal consequences of not passing #LessIsMoreNY. Now that the budget is done, the Legislature must immediately pass, and the Governor must sign, the #LessIsMoreAct.”

Tyler Nims, Executive Director of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, said:​ “There is still time for Albany to pass the urgently-needed Less Is More Act this session – and the sooner, the better.  The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for parole reform so that thousands of people – the vast majority of whom are people of color – are no longer locked up for non-criminal technical parole violations, at high risk for viral infection and all of the other harmful consequences of incarceration.  And in an era of great economic pressure on state and local budgets, Less Is More could reduce spending on jails and prisons by hundreds of millions of dollars each year. In these dire days, the Less Is More Act is a rare win-win opportunity: it would put an end to the needless incarceration of thousands of people, reduce recidivism and help people succeed, cut millions in state and local spending, and promote public health in the midst of the COVID-19 tragedy.”

Vincent Schiraldi, Co-Director of the Columbia University Justice Lab, Author of the Less Is More report, and former New York City Probation Commissioner, said: “It was already bad public policy for New York to be imprisoning more people than almost any other state for non-criminal rule violations of parole. There is no evidence that imprisoning someone for a technical violation improves public safety, many states have successfully reduced technical violations without jeopardizing safety, and the practice costs taxpayers in New York more than $600 million annually. But during this pandemic, imprisoning someone in close proximity to other medically-vulnerable people because they missed appointments or stayed out past curfew is madness.”


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About the Less is More NY Campaign:

The Less is More NY Campaign is a coalition of groups working to pass the Less is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S.1343B – Benjamin / A.5493A – Mosley), developed by people on parole, people currently incarcerated, family members, and groups across New York. Passing this bill would be an important step in the fight to end mass incarceration and mass supervision by restricting the use of incarceration in response to parole violations and promoting early discharge from community supervision. For more information visit: www.lessismoreny.org