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New Federal Report: New York is Second in the Nation in Incarcerating People for Non-Criminal Technical Violations of Parole, With Nearly 6,000 People Incarcerated for These Violations in 2018 Alone
Bureau of Justice Statistics Data Also Reveals That New York State Reincarcerates More People on Parole to Receive “Drug Treatment” Than All Other States Combined
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 data on people exiting parole reaffirms that New York is second in the nation, behind only Illinois, for incarcerating people for non-criminal technical violations of parole like missing a curfew or failing an alcohol test. The new Bureau of Justice Statistics report shows that in 2018 alone, New York sent 5,783 people to jail and prison for technical violations of parole. Today, as the COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging through jails and prisons across the country, there are thousands of people incarcerated in New York’s jails and prisons for technical violations of parole being held in cages, subjected to sickness and death.
And the BJS data shows that New York leads the nation — by an extremely wide margin — in incarcerating people on parole to receive treatment. In 2018, New York sent 1,648 people to jail or prison in for drug treatment. There is near universal agreement among health officials that incarceration is not an effective approach to the health problem of drug use or addiction. Yet, New York remains an outlier among states across the country in incarcerating thousands of people a year to receive drug treatment, a practice that disproportionately impacts Black and brown New Yorkers. The BJS report underscores the urgent need to reform New York’s unjust parole system and prioritize treatment within communities that is rooted in dignity and care.
In March, as the COVID-19 crisis in jails and prisons intensified, Governor Cuomo acknowledged the immoral and impractical decision to incarcerate people for technical violations of parole by announcing plans to release up to 1,100 individuals held in local jails for technical violations of parole. However, since that announcement New York continues to incarcerate people for technical violations of parole and DOCCS has once again begun to increase the number of people sent to county jails for these violations. This directly contradicts public health and correction expert’s recommendations, putting the lives of incarcerated individuals, corrections staff, and the larger community at grave risk.
In the three special sessions since the pandemic started, the Governor and legislature have failed to take action to address this life threatening issue. 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 and reducing the fiscal deficit. With nearly 150 groups across the state and multiple district attorneys backing the measure, the time to pass the #LessIsMoreNY Act is now.
Statements on the new BJS Data by Directly Impacted People and Community Groups
Donna Hylton, Founder and President of A Little Piece of Light, said: “The new data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics just highlights how far behind New York is when it comes to parole practices. New York continues to send more people back to prison for noncriminal technical violations of parole than nearly any other state in the nation, nearly 6,000 people in 2018. Women are routinely impacted by these practices of imprisonment instead of support, with our reentry completely upended by reincarceration for a technical violations. Even more disturbing, more than any other state, New York sends people with substance use back to prison for “treatment” instead of finding ways to address these health issues in the community. We don’t have time to play ‘catch up’ on parole reform when human lives are at stake. The #LessIsMoreNY Act needs to be passed immediately.”
Emily NaPier Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, said “These newly released data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics underscore the urgency of passing the Less is More Act. New York State remains the worst in the country, second only to Illinois, in locking people up for non-criminal technical violations of parole. It is outrageous to send nearly 6,000 people back to prison in a single year for these minor infractions, accounting for a third of new admissions to state prison. Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that New York sent an additional 1,600 people back to prison in a single year under the guise of receiving treatment for substance use – more than all 49 other states combined. Adding this number to the number of people returned for other technical violations vaults New York past Illinois to rank as the number one jailer in the country of people accused of non-criminal infractions. Prison is not the place for treatment, and it is not the place for addressing any other technical violations. New York must pass the Less is More Act and stop using parole to keep prison beds full. Without this critical legislation, nearly 8,000 people every year will continue to have their lives disrupted by a return to prison with no benefit to public safety. New York must live up to its progressive reputation and pass the Less is More Act.”
Lorenzo Jones, Co-Executive Director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, said: “This Bureau of Justice Statistics report shows again that when it comes to criminal justice reform, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is failing New Yorkers, especially communities of color. Thousands of people are reincarcerated every year for noncriminal technical violations of parole. That doesn’t make sense on a normal day, let alone during a pandemic and a recession. And sending thousands of people to prison for drug treatment — when all the evidence shows that this doesn’t work, that people are more effectively served in their communities — is outrageous. And of course, it’s Black and brown communities who are bearing the brunt of these practices, which is no surprise given the systemic and institutional racism of mass criminalization. Leaders in Albany should stop delaying and immediately pass the #LessIsMoreNY Act.”
Vincent Schiraldi, former Commissioner of New York City Probation and co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab, said: “New York continues to lead nationally in the dubious category of locking up people on parole for non-criminal, technical violations. This is despite the racial inequities in parole violations, the hundreds of millions of dollars this costs New York taxpayers and the fact that the first two people to die of COVID-19 at Rikers Island were locked up for technical violations. The legislature and governor need to pass Less Is More immediately to end this destructive, inequitable and costly practice.”
Zachary Katznelson, Policy Director of the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration, said: “BJS’ data makes clear that New York State parole authorities have been over-incarcerating outliers year after year. It is long past time for New York to go from second-worst in the nation to becoming a leader in parole reform. Racial justice, public safety, and fiscal responsibility demand that the Legislature pass the Less Is More Act as soon as possible.”
Melissa Moore, New York State Director at Drug Policy Alliance, said: “It is unconscionable that New York continues to weaponize technicalities in the criminal legal system to reincarcerate people — let alone doing so during the pandemic. The shocking scale of new Yorkers who are incarcerated for technical parole violations should drive the Legislature to take immediate action to pass the #LessIsMoreNY Act. New York State should be employing tested and proven methods for treatment that focus on the health and safety of the person receiving that treatment, not abridging people’s personal liberty by ensnaring them in the criminal legal system. Judicial diversion, jail-based treatment, or other coercive forms of treatment should not be the driver connecting people to healthcare systems. Mandating someone to involuntarily treatment will not decrease drug use or solve the problem of overdose; in fact, it is likely to make it worse. Forced, compulsory ‘treatment’ does not ensure sobriety or wellbeing, but it does lead to a significantly increased risk of overdose upon release from incarceration. Instead of fueling the criminalization of people who use drugs and technical violations, New York must shift focus and resources to policies that save lives and make our state safer for all, such as evidence-based drug treatment in community and quality healthcare and mental health services.”