FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 28, 2020
Yan Snead, [email protected] | (518) 360-1534
People Impacted by Parole, Community Groups, Former Corrections Officials, and Advocates Convene Day of Action at Capital to Demand Passage of #LessIsMoreNY
Unusual Coalition of Directly Impacted People, District Attorneys, Former Community Corrections Commissioners, Community Groups and More Call on Lawmakers to Pass the Less is More Bill to End Cycle Incarceration for Technical Violations of Parole
Coalition of directly impacted people, advocates and former and current correctional and law enforcement officials gathered on the steps of the Million Dollar Staircase at the Capitol demanding legislators and Governor Cuomo swiftly repeal the walking while trans ban and pass #LessIsMoreNY.
Albany, NY – Today, a unique coalition of directly impacted people, advocates and former and current correctional and law enforcement officials convened at the Capitol for a day of action calling on lawmakers to pass the Less is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S.1343B – Benjamin / A.5493A – Mosley). New York reincarcerates more people for technical violations of parole – like missing a meeting with a parole officer or being late for curfew -- than every state in the nation except Illinois. Today there are more than 6,000 people incarcerated in state prisons for simple technical violations of parole, and with thousands more cycling through local jails around the state every year. In NYC, people detained for technical violations of parole are the only category of population that is increasing; fixing this problem is critical to the City’s plan to close Rikers. The #LessIsMoreNY Act would fix how New York handles technical violations of parole, improving public safety, advancing justice, and reducing jail and prison populations.
For too long, failed parole reform policies have directly impacted New York’s most vulnerable, often poor, Black and brown communities. Last session, New York’s legislators began to mend the state’s broken justice system, but failed to deliver on parole reform. Furthermore, lawmakers could jeopardize the plans to close Rikers Island if swift, concrete steps are not taken to reduce jail populations across the state.
New Yorkers can no longer wait. The Legislature and the Governor must pass the #LessIsMoreNY Act to overhaul the state’s outdated, racially biased, and unjust community corrections system, shutter Rikers Island once and for all, and provide the reentry support people need to successfully transition back home after periods of incarceration.
Statements from #LessIsMoreNY coalition partners, Corrections Officials, impacted community members and advocates of parole reform:
Bill sponsor Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley, said: “Our state currently has one of the highest rates of parole failure and it's time to repair this and move forward with something that is fair, more effective, and provides people on parole with an opportunity to rebuild their lives. We know that by incentivizing good behavior, preventing re-incarceration for technical violations, and creating a higher threshold for less serious offenses, our state can save money, reform our criminal justice system, and keep people out of a revolving door of reincarceration. The time for Albany to give New Yorkers the just parole system that they all deserve, is now."
Bill sponsor Senator Brian A. Benjamin, said: "Last year we made historic strides towards ending mass incarceration with major reforms to New York’s criminal justice system but there is still more work to do. If we are going to close Rikers Island and meet our goals of decarceration we need to reform our unjust parole system as well. New Yorkers should not be put behind bars for a speeding ticket or being late for curfew, but that is still happening in our state. I am proud to be the senate sponsor of this bill and to be a part of the remarkable coalition of people who make laws, enforce laws, and have been affected by these laws that agrees that when it comes to community supervision, Less is More.”
Marketa Edwards, Katal member and Troy resident, said: “I have been walking the halls of the Capitol for the past year fighting for #LessIsMoreNY. It’s a slap in the face to me and everyone I know, that this bill is still waiting to be passed by the legislature. All we want is freedom and justice for our brothers and sisters behind bars, that haven’t committed a new crime.”
Gerdzer Edmee, Katal member and Brooklyn resident, said: “I’ve been on parole since November of 2019. Since being on parole, I haven’t gotten any incentives for doing the right thing. I have consistently worked, which is hard to do with a criminal record, and kept my life on-track. Even with all the good things I’ve done, my parole stipulations have gotten stricter and stricter. Less Is More will change my life, and the lives of so many others, by allowing Parole Officers to focus only helping us. By creating Earned Time Credits and lessening the risk of incarceration for technical violations, it will give us more time with our PO’s to focus on helping us. Helping us should be the ultimate goal, but right now, we know it’s not. As a person who spent 13 years of my life incarcerated, I know how the system can work against you. It is time to make sure that Less Is More is passed!”
Derek Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained who has previously been on parole, said: "New York's love affair with locking people up for technical parole violations needs to end. Thousands of lives are disrupted every year because parole penalizes people for behavior that is not criminal and poses no threat to public safety. This serves no purpose other than to entrench the Black and Brown and poor folks targeted by the system in a cycle of degradation and instability. If New York is serious about leading the way in ending mass incarceration, there is no better place to start than by passing the Less is More Act this year."
Donna Hylton, President of A Little Piece of Light, who was formerly incarcerated for 27 years, said: “There is only one jail population that is currently rising in New York – people returning to a life behind bars because of an overly punitive system that punishes people for harmless technical violations of parole supervision. The great majority of people on parole do not pose a public safety risk, but still have their lives disrupted for minor infractions – things that the average person would not even receive a ticket for, things that are not even crimes. This is morally wrong, and the parole system is very clearly broken. Albany needs to act and change the status quo this year, especially if we aim to finally shut down Rikers Island.”
Mary Kay Villaverde, Families for Sensible Drug Policy Board Director, said: “When someone is incarcerated for a ‘technical’ violation while on parole, they do not suffer in isolation. Each of these individuals has a family or a community that is deeply affected and burdened emotionally, and usually financially as well. Our New York Families support #LessIsMoreNY. The way in which New York State handles technical violations of parole supervision needs to be wholly reformed so that communities can move forward with support and healing.
Albany District Attorney David Soares, said: “Post-release supervision should be a focused resource targeted at helping people improve their lives after incarceration. ‘Less is More’ would reduce recidivism by capping technical violation terms and non-criminal violations for individuals being monitored by parole. Improving re-entry services is sensible reform that could offer immediate relief to system-involved individuals and their families.”
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, said: “Our parole and supervision system has grown too big and it now mostly creates barriers rather than helping individuals to re-enter society. The Less Is More Act will enact a number of common sense measures, like restricting incarceration on technical violations and enhancing due process, that will make the justice system fairer and more equitable. This bill complements our successful approach in Brooklyn of reducing reliance on jail, assisting in re-entry and focusing on dangerous offenders. That is why I have long supported this bill and why I am calling on legislators to pass it without further delay.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., said: “Parole is meant to provide a more rehabilitative, less punitive alternative to incarceration. Instead, technical parole violations continue to be major catalysts of unnecessary incarceration across our city and state. Today, New York State imprisons people for ‘offenses’ that prosecutors no longer prosecute, and for things that are not even crimes. I thank Assemblymember Mosley, Senator Benjamin, the Katal Center, and the Columbia Justice Lab for their contributions to this forward-looking, evidence-based overhaul of our parole system, and I urge New York lawmakers to enact it now.”
Ulster County District Attorney David Clegg, said: “I support the Less is More Bill. I taught in prison 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.”
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, said: "As we continue to take steps to reform our criminal justice system, it is critical that we stop jailing people because of minor parole violations, such as missing an appointment or failing a drug test. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of New Yorkers sitting in jail for these and similar violations, who now make up over 12% of our jail population. The Less is More Act will right this wrong, and I urge my colleagues in Albany to pass this law as soon as possible. The City Council passed a resolution urging Albany pass this bill, and funded two innovative programs to address the unique needs of this population, but we need the state to address the increasing numbers of those incarcerated solely for technical issues. The City Council designated $3 million in this year's budget for new Alternatives to Incarceration programs that provide people with technical parole violations to provide them with the services to get released from jail quickly. Working in close cooperation with The Fortune Society and the Osborne Association, our programs are trying to keep New Yorkers who don't belong in jail, out of it. These programs identify individuals quickly, and provide wrap-around services and support to expedite their release and prevent recidivism. We cannot reform the criminal justice system without reforming the parole system.”
Michael Jacobson, Director of CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance, former Commissioner, New York City Departments of Correction and Probation, said: “New York has had one of the highest rates of failure on parole in the US. Most of these failures are due to technical violations of the conditions of parole rather than for new criminal acts and results in unnecessary and harmful incarceration, at great costs, in local jails and state prison. The Less is More act is designed to reform this process and reduce unnecessary incarceration, increase success on parole and make sure our tax levy dollars are spent efficiently and maximize public safety.”
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: "Why does New York send the second highest number of people to prison nationally for technical, non-criminal violations of parole like missing appointments or drug use, at a cost of over $300 million? Why is our failure rate on parole nearly double the national average? Why are one out of ten people in our county and city jails just waiting for hearings on their technical parole violations? Especially in a year with a $6 billion budget hole, we need to stop this madness, pass Less Is More, and divert funds towards helping people thrive when they come out of prison, not locking them up for ticky-tack fouls."
Jonathan Lippman, Former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, said: "Parole is supposed to help people reintegrate into the community and never return to prison. Yet across New York State, thousands of people are locked up every day for non-criminal parole violations, contributing to a revolving door of incarceration. New York should follow the lead of states like Louisiana and Missouri and establish common sense approaches to reforming parole that will improve outcomes, save taxpayer dollars, and hasten the day when the brutal and dehumanizing jails on Rikers Island can be shut down forever."
Legislator Richard John, representing Tompkins County District 4, said: “Tompkins County is proud of its comprehensive system of alternatives to incarceration that have dramatically reduced our Jail population without seeing an increase in our local crime rate. Even before bail reform commenced, we have seen record low numbers. Unfortunately, we have seen no change whatsoever in our parolee jail population. The difference is stark and cries out for change. We can and must do better.”
Arline L. Hanna, Wayne County Assistant Public Defender, said: "People on parole should be given every chance for success – not set up for failure. We can’t continue to allow arbitrary technical violations to land an otherwise law-abiding person in prison for months, or even years. Parole should be a system which supports people and cultivates opportunities which help them reintegrate into our communities, rather than a compliance-driven system centered around re-incarceration."
Timothy P. Donaher, Monroe County Public Defender, said: “For far too long the parole system has needlessly incarcerated thousands of New York citizens on minor, technical violations unrelated to public safety or rehabilitation. The Less is More Act will restore sanity to a system that lacked due process or humanity.”
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