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#LessIsMoreNY Coalition Rallies at Bridge to Rikers Island, 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 Out Union Lies.
New York, NY – Today, members of the #LessIsMoreNY Coalition, including victims rights advocates and people formery detained at Rikers, and people on parole, gathered in support of the Less is More Act and to call for decarceration at Rikers. Coalition members confronted the New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF), which is spreading falsehoods and outright lies about Less is More. The union’s apparent new priority is to promote mass incarceration and demand that even more people be incarcerated at Rikers Island — even in the midst of an unprecedented crisis where 12 people have died this year alone.
The Less is More parole reform Act, passed by the Legislature in June, and signed by Gov. Hochul in September, is about safety and justice. That is why it is supported by law enforcement, including eight district attorneys representing more than half the state’s population, law enforcement, and more than 300+ faith and community groups across the state. Less is More also has widespread support from victim rights groups like the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assaults, who issued a memo of support today from the perspective of survivors. Many 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. The shameless opposition to Less is More by the parole officers union underscores their utter disregard for the lives of people and families in New York impacted by incarceration for noncriminal technical violations of parole.
The Public Employees Federation is fighting tooth and nail to uphold mass incarceration, which disproportionately impacts low-income and Black and brown New Yorkers. The union is using fear mongering and scare tactics to perpetuate a punitive parole system while providing no solutions that actually address the needs of people returning home from incarceration. Their baseless claims do a disservice to both people on parole and crime survivors because pushes to lock people up for minor technical violations, which makes communities less safe. For PEF to hold a press conference at Rikers to call for more people to be incarcerated, in the midst of a crisis where 12 people have already died at Rikers this year — including an individual incarcerated for a technical violation of parole — is shockingly immoral and shows a true lack of human decency. With Less is More, New York is moving from having the most punitive revocation system in the country to one of the most supportive and constructive. We are not going backward.
Statements from impacted people, and community and advocacy groups:
Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, Prime Bill Sponsor, said: “Our prisons and jails are currently in crisis. Overcrowding, due to a failed policy of ‘lock up first, ask questions later’ has made our facilities dangerous, both physically and emotionally. My bill, Less Is More, is a step to change that policy and move toward a process that centers care and support as the solution to issues of public safety. I continue to stand by the simple ethos enshrined in the name of the bill: that incarcerating fewer people is necessary to have more stable, happy, and economically prosperous communities. It is for that reason that I am proud to stand with our movement to demand the ongoing implementation of our bill and other decarceral measures, and to oppose the harmful approach being taken by others.”
New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NYSCASA), said: “NYSCASA supports #LessIsMoreNY because we recognize the cumulative traumatic experiences results in a disproportionately large percentage of our state’s prison and jail population filled with people with unmet needs, particularly with regard to mental health. #LessIsMoreNY removes the threat of constant reincarceration through restricting the use of incarceration for non-criminal offenses, enabling increased and better access to these vital supports that are necessary for people returning to communities after incarceration.Endless punishment poses a systemic barrier to healing and accountability. It ignores the diversity of needs of survivors of violence and trauma, compounds the trauma suffered by incarcerated survivors, and takes necessary resources away from community safety. NYSCASA wants care for all survivors, opportunities for meaningful accountability for people who have committed violence and harm and investments in community-led initiatives to prevent and respond to violence. #LessIsMoreNY promotes safety and justice for families and communities. We thank Governor Kathy Hochul for signing #LessIsMoreNY into law and join the growing coalition of survivors and advocates dedicated to defending the bill and calling for its immediate and full implementation.”
Donna Hylton, President and Founder, A Little Piece of Light, said: “#LessIsMoreNY is a law that helps to restore dignity to the women who deserve a second chance. The women who have earned a second chance. Today I’m speaking not only as a woman who was imprisoned for 27 years and spent five years under parole supervision, but also as a domestic violence and sexual assault survivor. When I was 19 I stood in front of a judge who sentenced me to 25 years to life. I remember feeling like I was a bad person who deserved everything happening to me, including the years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse I endured that led to a loss of confidence and a propensity for making bad decisions. I also remember feeling like my life was over. The irony is that it was in prison where I learned that I was not alone. The women I met at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility shared stories that revealed a pattern: most suffered from trauma and abuse. More than one million women are currently behind bars or controlled by the criminal justice system and it’s increasing at nearly double the rate of men. The Less is More Act ends a punitive cycle and offers the chance to reunite with family and re-engage with society. I know what’s possible with these women. Let’s put our efforts and resources behind building them up, not tearing them down.”
Emily NaPier Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, said: “PEF’s claims that Less is More does a disservice to crime survivors and puts the public at risk are lies, plain and simple. There is no evidence that locking people up for non-criminal technical parole violations makes our communities any safer. In fact, we know it destabilizes families and communities, making them less safe. Further, the Less is More campaign is made up of tens of thousands of people across the state, many of whom are survivors of violent crimes, as well as district attorneys and law enforcement officials charged with responding to those crimes. The campaign worked extensively with survivors groups to ensure they were comfortable with the new law, and that is reflected in the more than 300 organizations that support it. Finally, PEF’s parole officers conveniently ignore the fact that a large percentage of their own caseloads – people on parole – are themselves survivors of violent crimes. Retraumatizing them by returning them to prison for things that are not even crimes is not an effective approach to supporting their successful reentry into their communities. No matter which way you look at it, PEF is on the wrong side of public safety in their opposition to Less is More.”
Kenyatta Muzzanni, Director of Organizing with the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “While PEF spreads lies about #LessIsMoreNY, people on parole are languishing in state prison and jails for minor technical violations. In the midst of the crisis that is Rikers Island, it is repugnant that PEF is holding their press conference at Rikers while calling for more people to be locked up across NY. When fully implemented, Less is More will decarcerate state prisons by 12%, and reduce the number of people cycling in and out of jails. Because of its positive impact on justice and public safety, over 300 community groups – including DV and SA survivors groups – elected officials, law enforcement, and others are signed into the campaign. Our members, who are people on parole and family members of those who have been locked up, can attest to the need for #LessIsMoreNY – they’ve led the charge to pass this important bill. We reject the fear-mongering from PEF, and commend the legislature for passing this bill and Gov. Hochul for signing it. Now it must be implemented immediately.”
Dr. Vanda Seward, Director of the Criminal Justice Program, CUNY Kingsborough Community College and Former Statewide Director of Reentry Services NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, said: “The timely response to the passing of the Less Is More law and the need to reduce the parole population has caused a major misunderstanding. The Less is More law does not allow for persons who are a public safety concern to be released off community supervision (parole) early. The Less is More law is about helping people who are already under community supervision who have been satisfactorily adjusting to their transition from incarceration to the community and have shown over a period that they are a law-abiding tax paying citizen. PEF and others want people to believe that the tax dollars already spent to rehabilitate prior to release from prison is not sufficient and more tax monies is needed to supervise after release. Less is More Law is about enhancing public safety by reallocating the taxpayers’ dollars to enhance the supervision of those that need increased monitoring and community-based services needed to support their reintegration. In lieu of planting fear someone needs to explain to the taxpayers why NYS DOCCS rehabilitative programs cost them so much if they are not working and why those most affected do know about all the training, education, treatment services that persons engage in to prepare for the reintegration process. The fear-mongering perpetuated by PEF is not in the interest of public safety but is harmful for all New Yorkers who believe in justice for everyone.”
Lori Zeno, Executive Director of Queens Defenders, said: “Less Is More NY represents a turning point in the way New York State works with formerly incarcerated individuals. We proudly support this recently signed law as it will drastically improve lives, support communities disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration, and help save our state a significant amount of money by reducing the number of people held in NYC prisons. The Public Employee Federation’s resistance to this game changing legislation is misguided, particularly when the deplorable and life-threatening conditions at Rikers Island are in the public eye. Their stance showcases an unfortunate, deficit-based mentality and an egregious lack of respect for the individuals with whom they work.”
The Reverend Peter Cook, Executive Director, New York State Council of Churches said, “New York State Council of Churches was pleased to participate in the very robust political debate that resulted in Less is More becoming law. The opposition had plenty of time to make their perspective known. The legislature listened to all sides and then they took a vote deciding to approve a bill which will make our state safer and more humane by not destabilizing families and communities by sending people with technical violations back to prison. We are very proud of Governor Hochul for signing this bill into law so that New York can follow the lead of more conservative states in realigning our parole system to rehabilitate people and not perversely punish them. It’s upsetting to people of faith who preach the Gospel of love and redemption, that the very officials who are there to ensure that the people they help are following the law are now opposing this one just because they don’t like it. This lawlessness proffered by the opponents is hypocrisy at its worse and particularly alarming coming from parole officers who are hired to follow the stated mission of DOCCS which is as follows: ‘to ensure public safety by operating safe and secure facilities, preparing individuals for release, and then supervising them to be successful when they return home from prison. DOCCS’ vision is to enhance public safety by having incarcerated persons return home under supportive supervision less likely to revert to criminal behavior.’ If we are serious about fighting crime in this state, there are far better and proven ways to do it. Reincarcerating people who are trying to do the right thing is not one of them.”
Rabbi Hilly Haber, Central Synagogue, said: “As Jews and as people of faith we believe in teshuvah: the power of repentance, atonement, and return to community. We believe in second, third, and fourth chances. We believe that someone should not be thrown back in jail and separated again from family and friends for missing a curfew, testing positive for alcohol, or missing an appointment with a parole officer.”
Lee Winkelman, Lead Organizer of the New York Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC-NY), said: “RAC-NY celebrates the passage of the Less Is More Act, a new law that transform’s New York’s parole system that had been the worst in the country. Reform Jews throughout the state worked hard to win the support for Less Is More because it embodies the Jewish principle of T’shuva, that everyone can turn their life around. The Less Is More Act will increase racial justice in New York’s criminal justice system, strengthen public safety, and save the State money.”
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.”
Serena Liguori, Executive Director, New Hour for Women & Children LI, said: “New Hour for Women and Children LI stand in solidarity and support of Less Is More. This much needed and long overdue bill is a first step in many needed to end the continuous cycle of punishment our community inflicts on returning citizens.”
Marcellus Morris, CEO of Reign 4 Life, said: “We fully support #LessIsMoreNY because of what it means to our communities. In New York City black people are 12 times more likely to be re-incarcerated for a technical parole violation than their white counterparts. #LessIsMoreNY finally addresses this problem that has been plaguing black and brown communities for centuries. We should not be here today fighting to defend this legislation. Instead we should be working on ensuring that adequate services and proper housing are being provided for formerly incarcerated individuals.
However, we must take time to defend #LessIsMoreNY because PEF is more worried about losing jobs than saving lives. It must stop, not only will #LessIsMoreNY save lives once fully implemented but it will also save the State $680 million dollars that can be reinvested in communities most impacted by mass incarceration.”
Shoshana Hershkowitz, Long Island Social Justice Action Network (LISJAN), said: “LISJAN affirms our support of #LessIsMoreNY. In our work, we have seen too many in the re-entry process punitively punished for small infractions, and this bill helps to address and alleviate this injustice.”
Kenneth Edwards, Leadership & Organizing Specialist, Center for Employment Opportunities, said: “People directly impacted by the parole system led the #LessIsMoreNY campaign and are ready to support its implementation. For the thousands of people currently on parole whose lives are at risk as they are incarcerated on technical violations and their families and their communities, this bill will have an immediate impact. At the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), we are ready to support people in their reentry along with hundreds of other organizations throughout the state committed to this reform.”
Kandra Clark, Vice President of Policy and Strategy, Exodus Transitional Community said: “Before #LessIsMoreNY, New York imprisoned more people for non-criminal ‘technical’ violations of parole like missing an appointment with a parole officer or testing positive for alcohol and other drugs than any other state in the country. If we allow legislation to be driven by fear mongering, the lives of our people and communities will continue to suffer. Technical parole violations are not crimes and no one should be sent to jail or prison for changing their address or being late for curfew. #LessIsMoreNY was signed into law because New Yorkers overwhelmingly reject the idea that incarcerating people for alleged violations makes our communities safer. New Yorkers came together to get #LessIsMoreNY signed into law and we will continue to fight to keep it in place.”
Alison Wilkey, Director of Public Policy, John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity, said: “This opposition to Less Is More is outrageous – people are dying in Rikers while incarcerated for technical violations. Jail should not be a death sentence, and people should not be trapped in a never-ending cycle of re-incarceration. The Less Is More Act is one step closer to reforming New York’s unjust system and saving lives. It must be implemented immediately.”
Kim Belizaire, Director of Advocacy at Good Call, said: “New York has the second-largest rate of reincarceration of people on parole for technical violations, and black people are incarcerated in New York City jails for technical parole violations at more than 12 times the rate of whites. In the midst of the current humanitarian crisis at Rikers, we need the Less is More legislation to reduce the rate of incarceration within black and brown communities and help facilitate the process of closing Rikers. 11 people have now died on the island, and we don’t need any more deaths! We CANNOT wait until 2026 to close this place of horror! The time to close Rikers is now! How can we call ourselves a progressive city, but we have a humanitarian crisis going on right here in our own backyard and advocating to increase the rate of incarceration within our own city. It’s time for us to live up to those progressive values and end this crisis so we can treat all New Yorkers with the care and dignity they deserve.”
The League of Women Voters New York City, said: “We at the League of Women Voters NYC advocate for and support the implementation of #LessIsMoreNY. We firmly believe people should not be detained for technical parole violations. Furthermore, we are dismayed at the deplorable conditions at the Rikers Island Prison. We urge our current and future Mayor to change and correct the inhuman conditions at Rikers.”
Tomas Garita, Co-Chair of the NYC Brown Berets, said: “We have a grave humanitarian crisis happening at Rikers Island. The Less Is More Bill has been the light at the end of the tunnel that many of us have been fighting for. We have yet to even begin implementing this new alternative to incarceration and we already have conservatives fighting back against the Less Is More Bill. Studies have shown that in many cases extended prison sentences does more harm than good to an individual. We will defend and fight back against the opposition to the Less Is More Bill, we owe it to the people that have been reincarnated for draconian laws.”
Jasmine Bracy, Member of the Katal Center, said: “I am completely disgusted. Our community has been fighting for human rights for all New Yorkers. People who commit crimes should not be punished for the rest of their days when they have served their time and are genuinely trying to come back home. The truth is, politicians and unions alike, are lining their pockets on the backs of our loved ones. At the end of the day closing Rikers Island and keeping Less Is More NY means that people will lose money. But we should be using the $680 million of taxpayer money that is saved through Less Is More NY to fund social programs like housing, and mental health services. Our community will not allow Less Is More NY to be repealed. Our community will not allow another person to die on Rikers Island because of the interest of politicians.”
Emily and Robert, Spoke and Feather, said: “#LessIsMoreNY is a law that effectively balances justice and safety. It not only transforms the state’s parole supervision system to stop the senseless flow of people in and out of our state’s prisons and jails for minor, non-violent, technical violations, but also improves conditions for city and state Correction workers. The Less is More Act will help reduce the overcrowding in our prisons and jails, increasing safety for both officers and incarcerated individuals alike. It will reduce the overwhelming caseloads of overburdened parole officers; granting them the time necessary to provide robust and intentional support to aid in successful reentry, benefiting entire communities. We believe successful implementation of the Less is More Act will benefit not only justice involved individuals and their families but also all those who work in corrections professions. We proudly and resolutely support #LessIsMoreNY, a bill that makes New York State a more just and safe society for all.”
Paul Rivera, Member of the Katal Center, said: “Those who are in power will always have an opposition to the truth. Less Is More NY saves not only money, but it saves lives from the dehumanizing dungeons of Rikers Island.”
Avion Gordon, Member of the Katal Center, said: “The people who oppose this law have known for years that the parole system in its previous form was not sustainable. If it were there wouldn’t be people incarcerated for technical violations of parole and there wouldn’t be parole officers overwhelmed by caseloads that make it impossible for them to actually assist someone coming back into the community. This circle of deception around how the parole system has functioned in New York has been going on for years. The truth is they had years to come to the table to draft a sustainable law that actually prioritized the safety of the people on parole and they didn’t. Now they want to erase the efforts of the people who dedicated their lives to protect those that for years have been harmed by this unjust system. It’s disgusting and we will not stand for it!”
Henry Robinson, Member of the Katal Center, said: “I am enraged to hear politicians and unions come against Less Is More NY and say that Rikers Island should remain open. I know people personally who have been raped and abused by Rikers Island correctional officers. Everyone at Rikers Island is living in hell right now, and we all know it, so I don’t get why we are still trying to staff that Island. We need professionals to take care of and heal the thousands of people who have been actively traumatized by Rikers Island staff.
I have been at Rikers, I lived through the suffering brought against us there by the staff. I was struggling with mental health issues, but I was never screened properly, I was never treated. They left me to suffer. All because I was deemed a “menace to society.” We have people there who are committing suicide and self harming on the Island. But the correctional officers do not care, because they do not see us as fully human. And what is worse, is that these correctional officers on the inside, and the parole officers on the outside, don’t respect our mental health challenges. They actively deny you the access to services you need to heal, recover and re-enter society properly. And when we are released, we don’t get access to housing, medical treatments or job training. We need to stop funding these detention centers, and fund real social support systems. Ultimately, it costs more to help us and it costs much less to just let us die.”