Press Release - #LessIsMoreNY Coalition Rallies at Rochester Hall of Justice, Confronts Union That is Calling for More Mass Incarceration

Contact: Yonah Zeitz - 347-201-2768 - [email protected]

Emily NaPier Singletary - 315-243-5135 [email protected] 

Follow online: #LessIsMoreNY | www.lessismoreny.org 

 

 

#LessIsMoreNY Coalition Rallies at Rochester Hall of Justice, Confronts Union That is Calling for More Mass Incarceration

The #LessIsMoreNY Coalition, Made up of Community and Faith Groups, Law Enforcement, Victims Rights Orgs, and More -- Calls for Swift and Effective Implementation of the Less Is More Act.

 

Rochester, NY - Today, members of the #LessIsMoreNY Coalition, including Rochester-based organizations and elected officials, people directly impacted by parole, families, faith leaders, and advocates, held a rally at the Rochester Hall of Justice in support of the Less is More Act -- a critical parole reform bill passed by the Legislature in June and signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in September. The Less Is More Act is supported by over 300 community, advocacy, and faith groups across the state, eight District Attorneys representing more than half of the state’s population, and law enforcement leaders from across New York including the Albany and Erie County Sheriffs. Less is More also has widespread support from victims’ rights groups like the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault. 

At the rally in Rochester, Coalition members confronted the New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF), which held its own rally to call for more mass incarceration and to spread misinformation and outright lies about Less is More. Mass incarceration may be a boon for union jobs within the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, but only serves to undermine safety, justice, and racial equity. 

New York has the worst parole system in the country in terms of the use of incarceration for non-criminal technical violations of parole -- like missing an appointment or testing positive for drugs or alcohol. And the racial disparities are stark, as Black people are incarcerated for technical violations at 5 times the rate of white people. Monroe County holds the distinction of being the worst county in the state -- almost twice the rate of NYC -- when it comes to incarcerating people for non-criminal technical violations of parole. 

The costs to Rochester and Monroe County in particular are significant. When DOCCS detains people accused of technical parole violations in the Monroe County Jail, it costs the county $12.5 million annually, with no proven commensurate gains to public safety. On Sunday, two Rochester Assemblymembers published an important op-ed on Less is More,  highlighting how this reform measure will benefit Monroe County. The #LessIsMoreNY Act fixes this and promotes safety by eliminating the use of incarceration for many non-criminal technical violations and severely restricting its use for others, allowing people to safely remain with their families and communities as they work on effective reentry. 

Many of the provisions in Less is More are drawn from other states have already implemented reforms similar to Less is More, reducing community supervision populations and curbing violations, while also increasing public safety.  These states include Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Utah. Additionally,  Less is More aligns with reform principles outlined by current and former community corrections officials from across the country.  

Through Less is More, New York will now be at the forefront of shifting parole from being overly punitive to being supportive and focused on making reentry effective and keeping communities safe. 

Statements from impacted people, and community and advocacy groups: 

Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, Prime Bill Sponsor, said: "Our movement passed #LessIsMoreNY because our society cannot afford to treat people as disposable. Instead, we have worked for a model that centers care and community over using incarceration as a method of first resort. Such an approach is the only humane and just one available to us. It disappoints me to see, therefore, those who have the greatest responsibility toward guaranteeing that caring approach instead choose to protest it. I look forward to a moment soon when we can instead collaborate together and ensure that all those involved in the parole system, whether they are serving time on parole or are working to administer the process, are given dignity and respect."

Assemblymember Demond Meeks, said: “The opponents of Less is More will tell you that the new law prevents parole officers from violating people who break the rules of their parole. This is untrue. Under Less is More, breaking the rules is still a parole violation; the new law simply requires parole officers to use community-based alternatives rather than incarceration to address non-criminal technical violations, allowing people to safely remain with their families and in their communities as they readjust to life outside of prison. Two months after Governor Hochul signed the Less is More Act, we are still a long way from full implementation. Not only must we speed up that timeline to prevent needless incarceration as COVID-19 continues to spread in our jails and prisons, we must protect the law from baseless attacks with questionable motives. The truth is, the Less is More Act will make Monroe County a safer and more equitable community for all.”

Assemblywoman Sarah Clark, said: “There is absolutely no evidence that locking people up for technical violations improves public safety. In fact, it destabilizes families and communities when people lose their already fragile housing and employment after being thrown in jail for non-crimes. Legislation comparable to Less is More in other states makes communities safer, and that’s why law enforcement officials across the state and country have endorsed this legislation. These allies understand that the tens of millions of dollars being spent to incarcerate individuals needs to be reallocated to address the desperate need for restorative resources for people on parole and their families locally, rather than reintroduce them to society with insufficient support systems that are vital to their future success.”

Deputy Chief Wayne Harris (Ret.) of the Rochester Police Department and current board chair for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, said: “The Less Is More Act is about public safety and social equity. When we are able to keep people in our communities, we contribute to the health, well-being and safety of our communities. Historically, provisions of law that we are looking to fix have disproportionately affected Black and Brown communities, leading to family separation and intergenerational traumas which perpetuate cycles of poverty and crime. Instead of just putting together patchwork solutions to these problems, we need a holistic fix, and the Less Is More Act provides that.”

Rabbi Peter W. Stein, Religious Action Center of New York and Senior Rabbi of Temple B’rith Kodesh, said: “As a rabbi and a member of the Religious Action Center of New York Leadership Team, I support the continued implementation of Less is More. This law is important because reducing the number of people on parole will reduce often overwhelming parole caseloads, so that officers can focus on the people who need the most attention. The law will hold people on parole accountable with reasonable sanctions, after speedier hearings, for those who break post-incarceration rules. Judges can order limited, but increasing, jail time for serious and repeated rule-breaking, and can mandate mental health and drug treatment. In my Jewish tradition, it is taught that after transgression comes forgiveness, and that the community should welcome the return of one who has gone astray. Torah teaches us that crime merits penance; that the penalty must fit the crime; and that a moral system works toward restoration, not perpetual punishment. Let’s check our fears, check the facts, and support laws and policies like Less Is More that, where appropriate, lead to less incarceration and more community reentry.”

Timothy P. Donaher, the Monroe County Public Defender, said: “I am dismayed by the misinformation campaign directed towards the Less is More Act. Once again, vital criminal justice reform is being mischaracterized by police officers, political candidates, and governmental officials in an attempt to scare our fellow citizens into supporting efforts to rollback needed reforms to our deeply flawed criminal justice system. They argue that Less is More will result in violent criminals being released from custody and imply that Less is More has resulted in the release of individuals accused of committing violent crimes. These arguments and implications are lies. For decades New York enacted criminal justice policies that resulted in over-incarceration that has decimated poor communities and communities of color. Our parole system was replete with policies that contributed to this needless incarceration instead of providing the support needed by the formerly incarcerated to resume their lives as productive members of society. Thanks to Less is More, parole will no longer be a system designed to reincarcerate, but instead will advance its original mission to support the formerly incarcerated as they rejoin their communities.”

Emily NaPier Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, said: “PEF’s claims and those of some law enforcement officials in Monroe County that Less is More puts the public at risk are lies, plain and simple. There is no evidence that locking people up for non-criminal technical violations of parole makes our communities safer. The fact is that Monroe County locks people up for technical violations at a higher rate than any county in the state, further destabilizing Black and brown families and communities that have already been devastated by mass incarceration, and that puts the public at risk. Imagine what Monroe County could do with the $12.5 million it spends every year detaining people in the Monroe County Jail for things that are not even crimes. Resources, not incarceration, are what make our communities safe, and the Less is More Act will free up hundreds of millions of dollars across the state every year to be reinvested in infrastructure and services to help our most vulnerable residents thrive.”

Donna Hylton, President and Founder, A Little Piece of Light, said: "I will continue to stand behind #LessIsMoreNY and in doing so will be standing up for justice. Those who are engaging in fear-mongering would have you believe that this law does more harm than good. I know some of the women who have ended up back in prison for nonviolent technical parole violations. I understand the challenges they face reentering society and navigating a whole new world. A missed appointment with a parole officer shouldn’t put them behind bars. The truth is that #LessIsMoreNY will help restore the dignity that they deserve, and the second chance they have earned."

Kenyatta Muzzanni, Director of Organizing with the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: "Opponents of Less is More have to resort to lies and fear mongering because that’s all they’ve got. The facts are clear: the current parole system in NY makes our communities less safe by destabilizing families, taking parents away from their children, undermining the reentry process, and leaving New York with the dubious distinction of leading the nation for re-incarcerating more people, mostly Black and Latinx people, for noncriminal technical violations of parole. Less Is More is a critically needed reform that addresses these problems. Because Less is More will improve both justice and public safety, it is supported by over 300 community groups, including domestic violence and sexual assault survivor groups, as well as district attorneys and more. Our members, many of whom are either on parole or are family members impacted by the parole system, fought hard to get the Less Is More Act passed and signed into law. Now we call on Gov. Hochul for the full, swift, and effective implementation."

Reverend Peter Cook, the Executive Director of the New York State Council of Churches, said: “As clergy, chaplains and corrections professionals who are entrusted with the rehabilitation of those who are incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, we have a special responsibility to ensure that the laws we pass and what we do and say, offers a beacon of hope to those who have paid their debt to society and are trying to improve their lives. Getting out of prison and starting anew one’s life is much harder than for the average person. It’s wrong to inflict even more pain and obstacles by reincarcerating people for technical violations. Instead, we must embrace better ways to promote accountability and improvement. This is why Governor Hochul, following the lead of much more conservative states, signed into law the Less is More Act which eliminates the overly punitive practice of incarceration for technical violations and builds in better incentives for people to successfully complete parole. Let us not devote ourselves to undermining this law but focus on its strengths that we might offer hope and ensure public safety by not destabilizing returning citizens who are trying to improve their lives and contribute to their communities.”

Susan C. Bryant, Executive Director of the New York State Defenders Association, said: “Less is More makes common sense changes to New York’s punitive parole system. People who are on parole face many challenges when adjusting to life outside of prison. We need to support and encourage people returning to our communities after being incarcerated. Reincarcerating someone for a non-criminal action disrupts the adjustment process and makes it harder for that person to succeed when they are eventually released again, all while costing the public millions each year and ultimately making us less safe. We applaud the Governor and Legislature for recognizing that safety can be enhanced by implementing the reforms contained in Less is More.”

Lee Winkelman, New York Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC-NY), said: “Less Is More provides incentives for people returning from prison to follow the rules and live productive lives. Similar bills have been introduced in other states with no increase in crime.  Less is More Is a big step for New York toward racial justice, cost-saving and public safety for New York. It should be fully implemented.”

Jared Trujillo, Policy Counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), said, “Before the Less Is More Act was signed into law, New York sent more people back to prison for technical parole violations like missing an appointment, changing employment with improper notice, and using alcohol or cannabis than all but one other state. This law ensures New Yorkers will not be ripped from their families, jobs, and treatment programs for minor infractions. It is imperative that the governor fully implement the law before its March 1 effective date to prevent people from languishing in jails and prisons, and to aid the rehabilitation of people reentering their communities.”

The League of Women Voters New York City, said: “We at the League of Women Voters New York City continue to support the Less Is More Act that Governor Hochul signed into law. We oppose a repeal of this legislation as it prevents the unfair detention of people on parole from immediate detention for technical violations and ensures their right to due process.”

Kendra Bradner, Director, Columbia University Justice Lab Probation and Parole Reform Project, said:  “The data-driven, evidence-based, and common sense reforms at the heart of the #LessIsMoreNY bill will make New York State's parole more fair and equitable, save taxpayer money, and bring us one step closer to racial justice in our criminal legal system. While some who claim to represent the best interests of the system clamor for preservation of a harmful status quo, we remain grateful for the advocates, directly impacted leaders, researchers, and law enforcement officials who helped pass this historic bill.”

Breyana Clark, Western NY Campaigns Coordinator at VOCAL-NY​, said: “The Less Is More Act corrected a decades-long, egregious misuse of taxpayer dollars that never offered successful reentry for individuals on parole. No one should be under the constant, imminent threat of re-incarceration for a missed curfew, or be punished for being too poor to maintain payments associated with the conditions of their parole. Spreading misinformation disproved by data is an effort to distract from the fact that incarceration does not make our communities safer. Our communities need resources and rehabilitation. Calling for the repeal of Less Is More will not bring restoration to our community. It will only further its collapse.”

Courtney Burke, Member of the Katal Center for Equity, Health and Justice, said: “It is so discouraging to hear the fear-mongering that the parole officers, and police unleashed onto the media. The rhetoric has led to massive amounts of misinformation surrounding LessIsMoreNY, both in its intent as a transformative piece of legislation and in terms of its effect on public safety. #LessIsMoreNY will help protect our friends, families and communities and for me personally, it will ensure my daughter's future. My daughter is currently incarcerated and will one day be available for parole. And as her mother, I will work to reform the parole system so it can function as a place for reentry and rehabilitation. Nobody ever thinks that they will be, or a loved one will be, incarcerated in this broken system. So it is imperative that we all speak out against injustice, and it is even more important for community members to take a stand and correct the fear-mongering tactics whenever you see it. ”

The Long Island Social Justice Action Network said: "The Long Island Social Justice Action Network fully supports the Less Is More legislation, which takes necessary and important steps toward addressing the injustices of the parole system in New York State. We reject right-wing attacks on this long-overdue reform."

Rev. Schuyler Vogel, Senior Minister Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York, said: “If our society believes in redemption, if we believe that no one is beyond God’s love, if we believe that goodness can be found in each human heart, then we must support the full implementation of Less is More. Less is More is about tearing down impediments to second chances and fresh starts. It is our witness to the truth that new life and new hope is always possible, no matter who we are or what we’ve done. Less is More is love, mercy, and justice given life in law. We must ensure it transforms as many lives as possible.”

Charlie Grosso, Member of the Katal Center of Equity, Health and Justice, said: “Having spent 40 years in prison I was lucky enough to immediately get a job at a homeless shelter which I’ve held since my release 15 months ago. I can give back to my community through my work. And in three years I can apply to have my lifetime parole sentence reduced. But there are times I wake up, with such a deep, unshakable sadness when I reflect on the time I spent away and all the experiences I missed. I know the only way I can move on from the trauma of all that I have experienced is by being allowed a true second chance and granted my full freedom. It was hard enough to be away from my family for 40 years. And those hardships didn’t magically vanish upon my release, because I had the putative parole system hanging over my head. It wasn’t until I learned about #LessIsMoreNY that I began to believe in a better tomorrow for myself and everyone involved in the criminal justice system. I won’t stand by while people spread lies about this bill.”

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  • Yonah Zeitz
    published this page in Updates 2021-11-22 12:23:51 -0500