Release - Gov. Cuomo and Legislative Leaders End Special COVID-19 Legislative Session Without Doing Anything to Address COVID-19 in Prisons and Jails, Leaving Incarcerated People in Peril

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Friday, March 29th, 2020

Contact 

Downstate: Yan Snead, ysnead@katalcenter.org | (518) 360-1534

Upstate: Emily NaPier Singletary, emily@weareunchained.org | (315) 243-5135

Follow on Twitter #LessIsMoreNY

 

Gov. Cuomo and Legislative Leaders End Special COVID-19 Legislative Session Without Doing Anything to Address COVID-19 in Prisons and Jails, Leaving Incarcerated People in Peril

 

 COVID-19 is Spreading in State Prisons and Local Jails, Yet Cuomo and Legislative Leaders Continue to Ignore the Crisis in Correctional Facilities

 

With More Than 5,000 People Detained in State Prisons and Local Jails for Technical Parole Violations Alone, the #LessIsMoreNY Coalition Calls on Lawmakers to Pass the #LessIsMoreNY Act to Free Thousands in Face of COVID-19.

 

New York, NY: Today the New York State Senate and Assembly passed, and Cuomo indicated he will sign, a package of bills focused on addressing the COVID-19 crisis. But not one of those bills addresses COVID-19 in prisons and jails across New York. There’s been nearly 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 for incarcerated individuals in DOCCS facilities -- even though most incarcerated individuals have not been tested.

During this crisis, Governor Cuomo has done little to help people incarcerated in state prisons and local jails across the state, including the more than 5,000 people who are incarcerated for technical violations of parole – like being late for curfew or missing a meeting with a parole officer.  New York re-incarcerates more people for technical violations of parole than nearly any other state in the nation.

Even the limited action Cuomo has taken to reduce the impact of COVID-19 has been undercut by Cuomo himself moving to incarcerate more people during the crisis. A Columbia Justice lab  report released this week exposes Cuomo’s cruelty in action: Since Cuomo’s announcement on March 27th to release up to 1,100 individuals jailed across the state for technical parole violations, nearly 30% of that group has yet to be released, and simultaneously, nearly 200 more people have been locked up in Rikers for technicals since the March 27th announcement.

In the face of COVID-19, the #LessIsMoreNY Coalition has called for both the release of people incarcerated for technical violations and for DOCCS to immediately stop all new admissions for technical violations (examples here and here). By failing to pass any legislation to decarcerate in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leaders Stewart Cousins, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have failed incarcerated New Yorkers and their families, and have increased the likelihood of more COVID-19-related deaths among that population. The #LessIsMoreNY Act (S.1343C - Benjamin / A.5493B - Mosley) will save lives and further decarcerate New York, and must be been passed. This is why nearly 150 organizations have signed on in support of the legislation.

 

Statements by groups leading the #LessIsMoreNY Campaign:

Donna Hylton, President of A Little Piece of Light, said: “SHAME! There are no other words to describe the total lack of compassion and empathy that Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature have for individuals who are being held captive in New York's jails and prisons for non-criminal and non-threatening technical violations. As the Country is looking at the Governor's leadership, those of us, his constituents, in his home State are disturbed by the utter disdain he and the Legislature continue to exhibit. The Governor and the Legislature need to consider who voted them in and who will vote them out.”

Emily NaPier Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, said: “The failure of the Governor and the Legislature to take meaningful action to reduce the jail and prison population in the midst of the COVID-19 public health crisis is morally reprehensible. They should have passed #LessIsMoreNY last year when they first had the chance, and the fact that they continue to hold it hostage can only be interpreted as a total disregard for the lives of people incarcerated in New York State, most of whom are Black and Brown. The Governor and Legislative leadership must get serious about releasing people from jails and prisons en masse – it was the right thing to do before the pandemic and is a matter of necessity now. A good place to start is passing #LessIsMoreNY immediately which would free 10 percent of the jail and prison population across the state.”

Lorenzo Jones, Co-Executive Director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice: “The Legislature convened for a special session to address COVID-19 and did absolutely nothing for people who are incarcerated and their families. This is indefensible. And as the new Justice Lab report shows, Cuomo is busily putting more and more people, mostly Black and Latinx people, back into the very same jail facilities where COVID-19 is spreading. The Legislature should come back immediately to pass the #LessIsMoreNY Act and other lifesaving measures to reform parole and end solitary confinement. This is a pandemic, we demand people be treated humanely. That Governor Cuomo refuses to do so only underscores how utterly contemptible his record is when it comes to the lives of the tens of thousands of people imprisoned in New York, their families, and their communities.”

Vincent Schiraldi, co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab and former Commissioner of New York City Probation, said: "It's disappointing that the Legislature and Governor did so little to reduce the number of people New York State locks up for non-criminal technical parole violations. Our state's parole policies were broken before the pandemic and now, with the first two people jailed at Rikers to die of COVID-19 being locked up for technical violations, they have proven deadly. The legislature needs to act swiftly to shut the jailhouse door to those who have failed to abide by minor parole rules, and to release those currently incarcerated for technical violations whose health and safety is in danger.”

Tyler Nims, executive director of the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice & Incarceration Reform, said: “The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the urgent need for a legislative fix to New York’s broken parole supervision system to stop the spread of the virus behind bars and stop the revolving door that sends so many people back to jail and prison for non-criminal technical violations.  As the Columbia University Justice Lab’s recent report demonstrates, without a legislative solution, the dysfunctional jails on Rikers Island will soon be filling back up with people who are not even accused of crimes.  Let’s pass the Less Is More Act as soon as possible to stop the spread of the virus, help people succeed when they return home from prison, permanently close the dysfunctional Rikers jails, and save hundreds of millions in state and local spending that is being wasted on incarcerating people.”

 

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About the #LessIsMoreNY Campaign:

The Less is More Act– developed by directly impacted people, public safety officials, Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, Unchained, and A Little Piece of Light, and Columbia Justice Lab– is comprehensive legislation that addresses the current problems of how technical violations in New York State’s parole system lead to re-incarceration. The reforms in the bill include: incentivizing good behavior and allowing New Yorkers to earn accelerated release from parole; requiring fair hearings; creating maximum terms of re-incarceration for violations and eliminating incarceration as a sanction for certain technical violations; and saving taxpayers money. Details at www.lessismoreny.org