For Immediate Release: Thursday, July 16th, 2020
Contact: Yan Snead, [email protected] | (518) 360-1534
Follow online: #LessIsMoreNY | www.lessismoreny.org
New Data: More than 300 People Sent to Rikers for Non-Criminal Technical Violations of Parole Since March 27th, When Governor Cuomo Ordered Releases in Face of COVID-19 Pandemic
Individuals Released as a Result of Governor Cuomo’s Order Have Already Been Replaced by New People Sent to Rikers for Alleged Technical Violations of Parole
Directly Impacted People, Constituents, and Community Groups Demand Legislature Pass #LessIsMoreNY Act Immediately to End this Cycle & Decarcerate Jails and Prisons
New York, NY – New admissions data about Rikers Island show that Governor Cuomo’s order to release people detained for technical violations of parole has effectively been canceled out by his Administration’s ongoing arrests of people for the same non-criminal violations during the COVID-19 pandemic – contradicting Cuomo’s own public statements and imperiling the lives of New Yorkers. On March 27th, Governor Cuomo announced plans to release up to 1,100 individuals held in local jails for technical violations of parole, acknowledging that people incarcerated for technical violations of parole should not be incarcerated during a pandemic. Two months after Governor Cuomo’s announcement, the state had released only 791 of the anticipated 1,100 individuals, including 379 in New York City.
New admission trends data from the Vera Institute show that since the March 27th announcement more than 300 individuals in New York City have been incarcerated for technical violations of parole, effectively erasing Cuomo’s emergency COVID-19 response initiative and going against public health and correction experts' recommendations, putting the lives of incarcerated individuals, corrections staff, and the larger community at grave risk. The first two incarcerated individuals on Rikers to pass away from COVID-19 were there solely on technical violations of parole. In the rest of the state, 440 new warrants were issued for technical violations in the first two months after Cuomo’s announcement, nearly eclipsing the 470 releases from local jails outside of New York City in just 60 days. Under Cuomo, New York reincarcerates more people for technical violations of parole than any other state in the U.S. except Illinois.
Right now, as the COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging through jails and prisons across the country, there are more than 5,000 people incarcerated in New York’s jails and prisons for technical violations of parole being held in cages, subjected to sickness and death. The racial disparities are stark as Black people are incarcerated in State prisons at 5 times the rate of whites and at Rikers, Black people are incarcerated for technical violations of parole at 12 times the rate of whites.
With DOCCS continuing to incarcerate people for alleged technical violations of parole, it is clear legislative action is urgently needed to fix this problem, and legislative leaders must prioritize passage of the #LessIsMoreNY Act (Less Is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S.1343C - Benjamin / A.5493B – Mosley)). Passing #LessIsMoreNY Act will lead to thousands fewer people incarcerated for technical violations, advancing the goal of decarceration while saving lives. We cannot wait for more people to die. In the midst of a pandemic like COVID-19, releasing people from jails and prisons -- including for those incarcerated for technical violations of parole – is a public health imperative. With nearly 150 groups across the state and multiple district attorneys backing the measure, the time to pass the #LessIsMoreNY Act is now.
Statements by Directly Impacted People and Community Groups
Donna Hylton, Founder and President at A Little Piece of Light, said: "It is egregious that during a global pandemic, which hit New York the hardest, that our collective criminal justice, law enforcement and parole agencies would execute a rash of arrest warrants for technical parole violations of people who overwhelmingly posed no threat to their communities. These unnecessary arrests served only to increase the already dangerously high population in facilities where social distancing is impossible. This was utter disregard for life, public health and the integrity of our system."
Emily NaPier Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, said: "It's appalling that New York State continues to lock people up for things that are not crimes in the midst of a pandemic. This phenomenon illustrates the need for legislative action to rein in the power of parole officers and other DOCCS officials. While the rate of arrests for technical violations has slowed and jail populations across the state are at historic lows, it is clear that DOCCS will return to business as usual without a legislative intervention. There is no better time to pass the Less is More Act, as these past few months have proven what people on parole have known all along: locking people up for technical violations has nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with criminalizing Black and Brown folks to keep jails and prisons full. As state and local governments grapple with responding to the Black Lives Matter movement and huge budget shortfalls from the pandemic, the Less is More Act should be at the top of the list of legislative priorities. The New York State Legislature must pass the Less is More Act as they return to session this month, and Governor Cuomo must sign it immediately when it reaches his desk."
Tyler Nims, Executive Director of the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration, said: “Non-criminal ‘technical’ parole violations have become a huge – but often hidden – driver of mass incarceration in New York, and they overwhelmingly impact Black people and other people of color. If we are going to permanently close the dysfunctional jails on Rikers and create a more effective and equitable justice system, the legislature must take up the Less Is More Act to put an end to pointless and harmful incarceration, save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons across the state.”
Vincent Schiraldi, Co-Director of the Columbia Justice Lab and former Commissioner of New York City Probation, said: "Incarcerating people for non-criminal technical violations, which New York does more than all but one state in the country, was bad public policy even before the pandemic. Now it is not just bad policy to lock so many people up for technical violations, but it endangers their lives and increases the potential for community spread when they return home. The need to pass the Less Is More Act and to stop incarcerating people for non-criminal rule violations is more important now than ever."
Cassondra Roberts, Member of the Katal Center, said: "We need to hold our politicians accountable when they don't keep their promises. Governor Cuomo said he would release 1,100 people with technical parole violations in March. Not only has he fallen short on his promise by refusing to release everyone he said he would, there were 318 people sent to Rikers Island alone w/ technical parole violations. It's time to pass #LessIsMoreNY."
Lisa Tonks, Member of the Katal Center, said: "We are overdue to pass #LessIsMoreNY. Governor Cuomo says to reimagine NY, and this bill would do just that. We need justice and consistency in NYS parole! There is no justice when people are reincarcerated for minor infractions during a global pandemic. We are behind on parole reform this time NY. Catch up and pass #LessIsMoreNY!"
Kerry Kennedy, President at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, said: “Our state lawmakers must act with urgency during this special session to swiftly pass #LessIsMoreNY and finally address the harms of our parole system in New York State. New Yorkers deserve better, and our leaders in Albany must not squander this opportunity to provide much needed relief for those being unjustly incarcerated on technical violations. During this pandemic, jailing could result in a death sentence."
Allison Frankel, Aryeh Neier fellow in the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of an upcoming report on probation and parole violations, said: “Incarcerating people for failing to meet the overly burdensome requirements of probation and parole upends peoples’ lives without meaningfully addressing their underlying problems—while putting them at heightened risk of contracting infectious diseases like Covid-19. New York should immediately pass the Less is More Act to reduce incarceration for violations and help people get the resources they need.”
Megan French-Marcelin, Director of Campaigns at Worth Rises, said: “New York’s parole system is racist and classist by design. The arbitrary and wholly irrational technical violations are used to brutalize communities that are subject to over-policing and constant surveillance by tying one’s freedom to the whims of a parole officer or a cop. In doing so, technical violations in New York have been used to further prop up a system that is dependent on the exploitation and marginalization of Black and Brown communities and communities with low income.”
Annette Gaudino, State & Local Policy Director at Treatment Action Group, said: "With thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers taking to the streets daily marching for justice, the time is now for the Legislature and Governor to break the cycle of re-arrest and incarceration for technical parole violations. New York's broken community supervision system cycles poor, Black and brown people through our prisons and jails, placing them and the communities where they return at increased risk of COVID-19 infection. TAG recognizes that decarceration is a public health strategy, and calls on Albany to pass the Less is More Act."
Joanne Page, CEO of The Fortune Society said: "At a time when COVID-19 still presents a major healthcare crisis in our jails and prisons, the last thing we should be doing is locking people up in life-threatening conditions for minor violations of their parole like missing a curfew, violating travel restrictions for a job interview or being late for an appointment. This disturbing new admissions data, particularly in the midst of the pandemic, makes passage of the Less is More Act even more urgent and critical. Incarcerating people who are under active parole supervision – people who have already served their time – is not only a waste of taxpayer money, it denies these New Yorkers a chance to participate fully in their communities while putting their lives at risk.”
Corey Stoughton, Attorney-in-Charge of the Special Litigation Unit with the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society, said: “Far too often, parole violators are sent back to prison not because their violations of conditions represent a threat to the community, but as a punishment for punishment’s sake. By rewarding those on supervision to earn time off their sentence by abiding by conditions of parole, the bill creates rational incentives for those on parole to follow their supervision requirements. We urge Albany to enact this legislation immediately.”
Sharon White-Harrigan, Executive Director of the Women's Community Justice Association and member of the Justice for Women Task Force, said: "We should hold our city and state officials accountable who decided that caging people for technical violations takes precedence over saving lives. When do we stop the oppression and start the healing of our communities?"
Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services, said: “The people and families hit hardest by COVID-19 come from the very same communities that have been devastated by mass incarceration, mass criminalization, and other inequities in our society. For example, Black people are incarcerated in New York City jails for technical parole violations at a rate more than 12 times that of white people. One measure of relief came earlier this year when, amidst the pandemic, the state consented to the release of hundreds of people who were in jail – a hotspot for the virus – for technical parole violations, yet many New Yorkers continued to be incarcerated anew on these grounds and, anyway, no one should ever be in a cell for violating cumbersome parole rules. Brooklyn Defender Services calls on Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to prioritize and pass the Less is More NY bill, which will reduce incarceration and improve fairness and safety for all.”
Congregation Beth Elohim's Dismantling Racism Team, said: “As people of faith, we call upon the legislature, Senate Majority Leader, and Assembly Speaker to immediately consider and pass the Less Is More Act for moral, public-safety, and fiscal reasons. We must remake a parole system marked by extreme racial disparities, senseless incarceration of thousands of people each year, and hundreds of millions of annual wasteful spending.”
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