Release - Unique Coalition of Community Groups & Law Enforcement Call on Albany to Pass #LessIsMoreNY Act in State Budget

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- Tuesday, March 31st, 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

 

Unique Coalition of Community Groups & Law Enforcement Call on Albany to Pass #LessIsMoreNY Act in State Budget 

 

Cuomo’s Announcement Last Week of 1,100 People To Be Released in Face of COVID19 Underscores Urgent Need to End Re-incarceration for Technical Violations of Parole

Proposed Reforms Would Improve Public Safety, Save Taxpayer Money – and Improve Public Health in Midst of COVID19 Pandemic 

 

New York, NY: As the COVID-19 crisis spreads in New York, last Friday Governor Cuomo announced plans to release 1,100 individuals incarcerated in city and county jails across the state for technical parole violations, such as missing an appointment, or being out past curfew. In an interview following the announcement on Friday, the Governor explained his stance by stating, we're releasing people who are in jails because they violated parole for non-serious reasons.” Hundreds have already been released and more will be released in the coming weeks under this order. The Governor is correct that these people are incarcerated for non-serious and non-criminal reasons, and they should be immediately released from incarceration – and this should be the legal standard in New York. Toward that end, a unique coalition of community groups, law enforcement, city and county officials, and more are calling on the state to stop reincarcerating people for technical parole violations by passing the #LessIsMoreNY Act in the state budget. 

New York leads the country, second only to Illinois, in re-incarcerating people for technical violations of parole, like missing a curfew or failing a drug test. As of March 24, there were more than 700 people jailed on Rikers for technical violations of parole; and in jails outside of New York City, over 1000 people incarcerated for technical parole violations. There are also over 4,000 people held in state prisons for technical parole violations. (The Governor’s order last Friday did not appear to address people in state prisons.) A recent Columbia University report found that New York’s practice of reincarceration for technical violations disproportionately harms Black and Latinx people. In 2018, nearly six times as many people were reincarcerated in New York State prisons for technical violations as were reincarcerated for new criminal convictions. Incarceration for technical violations costs New York State and localities hundreds of millions annually. 

For weeks, in the face of the COVID-19 crisis rapidly spreading throughout New York jails and prisons, community groups in the #LessIsMoreNY campaign and other groups across the state have demanded the immediate release of thousands of people to help slow the spread of the virus (examples here and here). The Governor’s announcement last week was a welcome development impacting 1,100 people; however, there remain over 5,000 people incarcerated in jails and prisons in New York for “non serious” technical parole violations.

As New York State begins to release people incarcerated for technical parole violations, the Legislature must pass the Less Is More Act and codify that nobody should be incarcerated for non-serious and non-criminal reasons – at any time, and especially not during a global pandemic. This legislation would fix the New York State parole supervision system by increasing the likelihood of successful re-entry into families and communities when people leave jails and prisons, while critically reducing the number of people incarcerated for non-criminal “technical” violations.  

In response to the Governor’s welcome release of 1,100 people, and the growing consensus that people should not be detained for “non-serious” technical violations of parole at all, law enforcement officials, community groups and more are coming together to call on the Governor and lawmakers in Albany to pass – now, in the budget –  the #LessIsMoreNY Act (Less Is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S.1343B - Benjamin / A.5493A - Mosley)). 

In the face of this unprecedented #COVID19 pandemic and with only a couple days left before New York State’s budget is finalized, the legislature must prioritize passing public policy measures that enhance public safety and provide sound and critically needed public health measures -- the Less Is More Act does just this. 

 

Statements by law enforcement, community groups, City and county officials, and more calling on the Senate, Assembly and Governor to pass #LessIsMoreNY in the budget: 

 

Emily NaPier Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained said, "We are grateful that hundreds of people across the state were able to return home to their loved ones over the weekend and that hundreds more will join them in the week ahead. People accused of petty parole violations do not belong behind bars - not during a public health crisis, not ever. The release of 1,100 such people is an important step forward, but several hundred people accused of the same minor infractions remain in local jails, and over 4,000 are behind bars in New York State prisons, most of them Black or Latinx. Had the Less is More Act been passed, these people would be home where they belong, caring for their loved ones during this pandemic and protecting their own health. Instead, people are left wondering if a missed curfew or a positive drug test will turn into a death sentence as COVID-19 rips through jails and prisons across the state. We call on Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to immediately release all people incarcerated in New York State on technical parole violations and to pass the Less is More Act ensuring that we never again have thousands of people behind bars who have committed no new crimes."

Donna Hylton, Founder and Executive Director, A Little Piece of Light, said: "Right now it's incredibly important that we address the needs of people in jail and prisons, especially women, during the COVID-19 crisis. They are the most vulnerable in our society in this moment and releasing as many of them as possible is the best way to keep them safe and alive. I am glad Governor Cuomo heard our voices and is releasing 1,100 people who are detained in local jails like Rikers on technical parole violations. This will save lives. And now he must take it a step further by passing #LessIsMoreNY, especially since he's vocalized his understanding that these people don't need to be locked up for crimeless violations in the first place. I call on Cuomo and the State Legislature to immediately pass the Less is More NY Act, which would make sure people are not subject to immediate incarceration for technical violations of parole. I've been incarcerated in these facilities and know how dangerous they are, especially for women, and immediate action is so important."

Marketa Edwards, community leader with the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, said: "Last week Governor Cuomo announced the release of 1,100 people on parole from jails and prisons across the state, and I can't describe the happiness I feel knowing our voices were heard. But this only confirms that people shouldn't be locked up in cages for technical violations in the first place, which is why this #LessIsMoreNY fight will not end until this bill is passed. Reincarceration is not the solution for crimeless technical violations, and we won't back down until Governor Cuomo and the legislature pass Less Is More!”

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.” 

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, said: “I commend Governor Cuomo for his exemplary leadership during the coronavirus crisis and for releasing people who are incarcerated for parole violations. Now more than ever, we should end the practice of holding individuals on technical parole violations where doing so would not compromise public safety – to reduce the prison population, to allow those who re-enter society a better chance to succeed and to enhance fairness in our justice system. I call on Albany to achieve these goals now by incorporating the Less Is More Act into the upcoming budget.”   

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. said: “As New York confronts the coronavirus crisis, the health and well-being of all of our citizens is paramount. On March 18, our office consented to the release of 173 individuals being held on technical parole violations, because thoughtful, decisive actions must be taken now to reduce our jail population, limit the spread of the illness, and protect incarcerated New Yorkers and correctional staff alike. We will continue to support policies that drastically reduce supervision caseloads and the issuance of technical violations. Even in the best of times, non-criminal, technical parole violations are major catalysts of unnecessary re-incarceration statewide that disproportionately impact New Yorkers of color. Today’s crisis further underscores New York’s urgent need for a forward-looking, evidence-based overhaul of our parole system. The Less is More Act, co-sponsored by Senator Brian Benjamin and Assembly Member Walter Mosley, would deliver this substantial overhaul, and I strongly encourage lawmakers to enact it as part of the budget.”

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, said: "I commend the Cuomo Administration's decision to release New Yorkers who are incarcerated because they missed a curfew, failed a drug test, or for similar minor, non-criminal offenses. This action will help us mitigate the spread of coronavirus in our jail system, vital to ensuring the safety of staff and incarcerated individuals. Unfortunately, our criminal justice system has been jailing people for minor parole violations for far too long. This is a great step, and we should take it even further by passing the Less is More Act and fixing the critical problems we have with the current system."   

Former Chief Judge of New York State and Chair of the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform Jonathan Lippman said, “Non-criminal, technical parole violations have become a major – but too often unseen and unknown – driver of mass incarceration here in New York State, and they overwhelmingly impact people of color. Governor Cuomo’s recent decision to release many people who were accused of non-criminal parole violations to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our state’s jails was a smart and much-needed move.  It also points the way towards a re-envisioned parole system that helps people return home to their communities rather than sending them back to jail and prison in alarming numbers. If we are going to permanently close the jails on Rikers and create a more effective and equitable justice system, the next step is passing the Less Is More Act to improve outcomes for people on parole, reduce needless incarceration, save taxpayer dollars, and promote public health in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.”

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: “Governor Cuomo is to be congratulated for releasing people incarcerated for non-criminal, technical violations - what he rightly called ‘non-serious reasons’ - so they don't spread the coronavirus in and out of our  jails. That was good policy even before the virus, doubly important since the pandemic. Now he and the legislature should incorporate the Less is More Act into the budget to ensconce this sound policy into law.” 

Roger Juan Maldonado, President, New York City Bar Association, said: “We applaud Governor Cuomo for releasing people incarcerated for parole violations in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons. We support and urge immediate passage of the Less Is More Act, which would enshrine in law much-needed reforms to the parole system and reduce New York’s incarceration rates in the long run.”

Timothy M. Donaher, Monroe County Public Defender said, "We are very grateful that Governor Cuomo ordered the release of jailed citizens who were accused of committing minor violations of their parole. This is a recognition that the vast majority of persons accused of 'technical' parole violations are no threat to public safety. We should end the unacceptably high rate of reincarceration for technical parole violations. Please pass the Less is More Act now."

Linda Gehron, Executive Director of the Frank H. Hiscock Legal Aid Society in Syracuse, said: “The Hiscock Legal Aid Society of Syracuse, New York welcomes the action that Governor Cuomo has taken to reduce the population of the jails and prisons in an attempt to minimize the exposure of incarcerated people to COVID-19. Releasing persons charged with technical parole violations from custody will almost certainly save lives without threatening public safety. We also hope that the Legislature and the Governor will see the benefits of eliminating incarceration for technical parole violations after the health crisis is over and act on it by passing the Less Is More Act.”

Andrew Correia, Wayne County Public Defender said, "The Wayne County Public Defender's Office supports the Governor's decision to release 1,100 people accused of parole violations. This is important and necessary action during this pandemic. However, we urge the expedition of this process. We further urge the passage of the Less is More Act which would codify this recognition that people accused of minor parole violations do not belong behind bars."

Rachel Barnhart, Monroe County Legislator said, "We must do everything we can to prevent an outbreak at our local jails. That would be tragic for staff and incarcerated individuals. I am glad to see the Governor has taken action to release 1,100 people across the state accused of minor parole violations. Now is the time to pass the Less is More Act and stop locking up people who have only broken rules, not committed new crimes."

DeAnna Hoskins, President and CEO of JustLeadershipUSA, said: “We all deserve the right to human dignity and fairness, but the fact remains that New York reincarcerates more people – disproportionately Black and brown people – for technical violations of parole than any other state, except Illinois. The release of 1,000 incarcerated people is a good first step, but does not go far enough. I urge lawmakers and officials to further protect the health of directly-impacted people by staying the course of criminal justice reform, and dramatically decarcerating New York and our nation."

Stanley Richards, Executive Vice President of Fortune Society said: “The Fortune Society believes that people under active supervision on parole deserve the opportunity to participate fully in their communities through employment, education, being good parents, sons and daughters, and through the chance to give back as contributing members of society.  Locking up people on parole who commit minor parole infractions destroys that opportunity. One third of all new admissions to state prisons result from technical violations – a waste of taxpayer money and a waste of life. The Fortune Society is proud to stand with our sister agencies and so many elected officials in support of The Less is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act.  Building a more just society demands compassion and common sense. Less is More is just that.” 

Kassandra Frederique, Managing Director, Drug Policy Alliance: "The release of 1,100 people from jails is an important start, but more must be done immediately. Thousands of Black and Latinx New Yorkers are currently reincarcerated for technical violations of parole, including positive drug screens. We already know that incarceration is not a solution for addiction or drug use or anything else. We need immediate action from the Assembly, Senate, and Governor to address this, now, in the budget. It's time to pass the Less Is More NY Act."

Marcellus Morris, Founder and Executive Director, Reigh 4 Life (Long Island), said: "As someone who works to support people on parole, people who are trying to get their life on track, I thank the Governor for directing release of 1,100 people last week. I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to face re-incarceration for a non-serious technical violation of parole. But there are thousands more who should also be released, and with the #COVID19 pandemic now spreading through jails and prisons here on Long Island and across the state, it's imperative that the Governor and Legislature act now to pass the #LessIsMoreNY Act. The lives of our people depends on swift action, now."

Dyjuan Tatro, Government Affairs and Advancement Officer of  Bard Prison Initiative, and Fortune Society Board Member, said: "The reality is, the 1,100 people the Governor released last week who were being held on technical violations of parole, should have never been incarcerated in the first place. The COVID-19 crisis has revealed a parole system in crisis; we need to pass #LessIsMoreNY now to prevent future injustices." 

Soffiyah Elijah, Founder and Executive Director of the Alliance of Families of Justice, said: "Governor Cuomo was right to grant release to 1,100 people detained in local jails for technical violations of parole. In the face of this unprecedented public health crisis, however, the state must do even more to protect the health and well being of people incarcerated in jails and prisons. That is why, in addition to granting release to even more people immediately, the Governor and legislature should pass the Less Is More Act in the final state budget, so that people are no longer incarcerated for, as the Governor himself said, ‘non serious reasons.’ Reincarcerating people for technical violations of parole is hugely disruptive to the reentry process and harms families who are working to support their loved ones. It is time now to pass Less Is More."

Sarah Fletcher, Rochester Site Director for the Center for Employment Opportunities, said: “I commend Governor Cuomo’s decision to release 1,100 individuals that are being held in jails across the state for technical parole infractions. We must acknowledge that all people, including incarcerated individuals, deserve to be treated humanely. As our local jail and prison populations decrease, crimes across the state have steadily declined. It is clear, now more than ever, that New York State should pass the Less Is More Act proposed by Senator Benjamin and Assemblymember Mosley so that we can continue to reform our fractured justice system and promote reentry."

Nicole Triplett, Policy Counsel, New York Civil Liberties Union, said: "Thousands of people are incarcerated in New York for technical parole violations, for actions as trivial as missing an appointment or being late for curfew. It took a global health crisis to acknowledge that minor infractions should not be a reason to put someone behind bars. Now, lawmakers must make this a permanent reality by passing the Less Is More Act."

Lorenzo Jones, Co-Executive Director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, said: “Following the Governor’s correct action last week to release 1,000 people who are held on technical violations of parole, now the next step must be taken. The Governor and Legislature should immediately pass the #LessIsMoreNY bill. We wouldn't have this many people in jail and prisons if they had already passed this bill, which has broad support across the state. We need bold, immediate action in this crisis. This is a critical action Albany can take now to save lives not only of people incarcerated in jails and prisons, but of their families and communities as well. Pass #LessIsMoreNY as part of the budget now.”

  

About the Bill: 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 shockingly high number of people who are sent to jail and prison for technical violations in New York State. 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.

 

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