#LessIsMoreNY Coalition, Including People Directly Impacted by Parole, Rallys Outside NYC Offices of Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins & Assembly Speaker Heastie, Demanding Passage of Less Is More Act for Much-needed Parole Reform
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#LessIsMoreNY Coalition rallies to demand NY’s legislative leaders reform parole by passing Less Is More outside of the New York State Senate & Assembly offices in Manhattan.
New York, NY – Today, outside NYS Senate and Assembly offices at 250 Broadway in Manhattan, the #LessIsMoreNY Coalition, including people directly impacted by parole, rallied to demand the State Senate and Assembly pass the Less Is More parole reform bill, S.1144 (Benjamin) / A.5576 (Forrest), before the legislative session ends. The Coalition was today joined by lead sponsor Senator Brian Benjamin.
The action in NYC comes just days after a heartbreaking story reported by THE CITY of two people, Thomas Braunson III and Richard Blake who died in April and May this year while being held at Rikers for technical parole violations.
With the end of the legislative session just days away, criminal justice reform and racial justice remain top priorities for communities impacted by mass incarceration and systemic racism. Parole supervision, and the resulting incarceration of people for technical parole violations, disproportionately impacts Black people, families and communities. Parole in New York is wrought with racial disparity: In New York City, Black people and Latinx people are respectively 12x and 4x more likely to be incarcerated for a technical parole violation. In New York State, Black people are incarcerated for technical violations of parole at 5x the rate of whites, and Latinx people are 30 percent more likely than whites to be reincarcerated for technical parole violations.
The #LessIsMoreNY Act (S.1144 (Benjamin) / A.5576 (Forrest)), will transform the parole process in New York to focus resources on helping people get back to life after prison by limiting the incarceration of people for technical parole violation and by incentivizing rehabilitation through successful completion of parole. The bill enjoys the support of more than 275 faith, community, and labor groups in New York, along with 8 District Attorneys, 3 Sheriff’s and more. The bill is pending in the Senate and Assembly. A full list of supporters and more information on the Less Is More Act can be found at www.lessismoreny.org.
Speakers at the action shared the effects of being impacted by parole in New York, described the arduous and often arbitrary parole process, and reflected on the immense consequences of being incarcerated for a technical parole violation – like missing a curfew, or being late for a parole appointment – can have on an individual. Speakers then called on Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to pass #LessIsMoreNY.
Statements from impacted members, and advocacy groups:
Derek Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, said: “Locking people up for technical violations is bad policy: it costs the state nearly $700 million a year and creates a revolving door to incarceration that targets Black and Latinx New Yorkers, all with no benefit to public safety. This has gone on far too long, and the legislature could stop it today by passing the Less is More Act. We have the votes to pass the bill. Speaker Carl Heastie and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins must bring it to the floor before the legislative session ends on Thursday.”
Julia Roberts, Member of the Katal Center, said: “The parole system in New York perpetuates a vicious cycle of reincarceration. My husband is on parole and the conditions imposed on him are incredibly harsh. He was re-imprisoned for yet another technical violation — failing to report to parole — the political status of the matter was hidden as was his deportation and asylum request. All that mattered was that he failed to report. He was given a year as a “technical violation”. It is very difficult to live a normal or productive life under these circumstances. The passing of Less is More would alleviate some of these issues. How does someone serve 22 years on parole and never be considered for discharge? We need real measures and solutions to the problems of parole and the recent passage of behavioral modifications to the Executive Law is more of the same stuff: more prison, more punishment, more family separation, more lives destroyed. Let’s end the vicious cycle — pass Less is More!”
Audrey Johnson, A Little Piece of Light, said: “Less is More is important to me because of the humanity aspect. Our people have been severely impacted by the capricious stipulations imposed by the Department of Correction and Community Supervision. We must put a stop to the vicious cycle of incarcerating people for these technical parole violations. Every human being regardless of age, race and sexual orientation deserves to be treated with dignity. Pass #LessIsMoreNY Now.”
Donna Lieberman, Executive Director, New York Civil Liberties Union, said: “New York state must take a bold and overdue step to curtail the one of the most regressive parole systems in the country by passing the Less is More Act, which will end our state’s inhumane practice of detaining New Yorkers for non-criminal technical parole violations. This legislation recognizes that people on parole who have committed no new crimes should be with their communities and families, not behind bars for missing an appointment. The state legislature must pass the Less is More Act without delay.”
Sochie Nnaemeka, State Director of the New York Working Families Party, said: “With just a few days left of the legislative session, our elected leaders have the chance to transform New York’s parole system this year by passing the Less is More Act and other crucial parole reform legislation. Shamefully, New York incarcerates more people for technical violations than any other state in the country. We must pass this bill this year to ensure those on parole have the chance to reunite with their communities, and to take a meaningful step toward ending mass incarceration.”
Tyler Nims, Executive Director, Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, said: “New York locks up more people up for parole rule violations than any other state in the nation, at tremendous human and financial cost, with no evidence of any benefit to public safety. More conservative “red” states like Louisiana, Missouri, and Alaska have already reformed parole, reduced recidivism, and saved money. New York should be a leader when it comes to parole, as we are in so many other areas. Now is the time to pass the Less Is More Act to help people and communities, end wasteful spending on incarceration, and hasten the closure of the harmful jails on Rikers Island.”
Lee Winkelman, lead organizer for the New York Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC-NY), said: “Reform Jews across the state call on the Legislature to pass Less Is More. This bill increases racial justice, strengthens public safety, and saves the State money at the same time. Reform Jews support for Less Is More comes from the Jewish principle that everyone can turn their life around.”
Rabbi Hilly Haber, Central Synagogue, said: “We at Central Synagogue are committed to Less Is More NY because to imagine a re-entry system steeped in Jewish values is to see a system that offers New Yorkers every opportunity to heal, raise families, find and keep employment, care for loved ones, and serve as leaders and builders of community.”
Robert and Emily, Co-Founders of Spoke & Feather, said:“The transition back into the community after incarceration is a challenging time for the formerly incarcerated and their families. The current parole/community supervision system fails to support people in that vulnerable time and adds a minefield to the equation. The constant threat of reincarceration for a minor technical violation creates an atmosphere of anxiety and stress. As we’ve all seen during COVID, stress and isolation beats people down. When people are beaten down, it becomes easy to give up and fall back into old behavior. The Less is More Act would remove the minefield and replace it with clear pathways to successful community reintegration. By promoting and rewarding positive, pro-social behavior, the Less is More Act will create new opportunities for returning citizens and their families to thrive, and lawmakers must pass the bill now.”
Phil Desgranges, Supervising Attorney of the Special Litigation Unit with the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society, said: “Every year, thousands of Black and Latinx New Yorkers are sent back to prison for technical violations of parole although they pose no risk to public safety. Their lives are upended, their families are torn apart and they face serious risk of contracting COVID-19 in prison, all because they missed an office report or tested positive for marijuana. Albany needs to enact the ‘Less Is More Act’, which would keep our clients safe in their communities, stable in their jobs, and create incentives to earn early discharge from parole supervision. Less Is More is supported by a broad statewide coalition — from public defenders and faith communities to sheriffs and district attorneys — and we urge Albany to enact this critical legislation immediately.”
Alison Wilkey, Director of Public Policy, John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity, said: “People on parole cannot wait until the next legislative session for our State representatives to act. Nearly one-third of the new admissions to New York State prisons are people reincarcerated for technical violations of parole – not because they were convicted of a new crime. New York must stop funneling people back into jails and prisons. We urge the New York Legislature to pass Less is More: the Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act this session.”
Dr. Jocelynne Rainey, President & CEO, Getting Out & Staying Out (GOSO), said: “Every four minutes, someone on parole is put behind bars for a technical violation–things that most of us do often and without a second thought, like crossing state lines, going out past 9pm, or being late to a meeting. At GOSO we see the crippling effects this system has on the young men we work with every day: the fear that any minor slip-up could result in prison time, taking their freedom and separating them from their loved ones, is a weight they carry constantly. It’s time for New York to do the right thing and pass the #LessIsMoreNY Act.”
Alice Fontier, Managing Director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, said: “New York’s parole laws are racist, outdated, and used to unjustly ensnare thousands of our neighbors every year. Addressing them must be a priority for legislators before the session in Albany closes on Thursday. That means passing the Less is More Act. Technical parole violations, which the Less is More Act would address, imprison New Yorkers for petty infractions like being late to a meeting with a parole officer or missing curfew. New York owes its people a fair chance to rebuild their lives in their communities following incarceration. It should support them, not sabotage them.”
Scott Levy, Chief Policy Counsel at The Bronx Defenders, said: “The Less Is More Act is a critical component of the effort to remake New York’s criminal legal system and decarcerate our jails and prisons. Incarcerating people, disproportionately Black and brown New Yorkers, for technical parole violations is cruel and counterproductive. This bill will allow thousands of New Yorkers to maintain stable housing, keep jobs, take care of their families, and avoid the risk of COVID-19 while incarcerated. The Senate and Assembly should pass and the Governor should sign the Less Is More Act immediately.”
Reverend Peter Cook, Executive Director, New York State Council of Churches, said: “It is sad that lawmakers conflate a commitment to public safety with reflexive opposition to criminal justice bills which are designed to help people get a fair shot who have already paid their debt to society. Less is More ensures that we are no longer re-incarcerating people for technical violations while on parole. New York needs laws which are not punishing people who are doing the right thing for straightening out their lives when faced with incredible challenges coming out of prison. The response to those on parole needs to be proportionate to the infraction. Right now, we have a one size fits all response to people on parole which means that someone who missed a date on curfew is treated in the same way as someone who commited a violent felony. It’s hard to understand how such an approach improves public safety or further the process of rehabilitation.”
Corey Brinson, Policy Associate at the Legal Action Center said: “We urge New York to pass “Less is More” legislation. Returning people who may struggle reentering society need more mental health and substance use disorder treatment, more opportunity for employment and business ownership, and more community and family interactions. Technical parole violations, which lead to people unnecessarily returning to prison, exacerbates mass incarceration, removes breadwinners from families, and robs employers of needed labor and returning people from employment opportunities. People with one foot outside the criminal legal system need to be reintegrated into the community and not back to prison for noncriminal violations.”
Dakem Roberts, Member of the Katal Center, said: “The passage of Less Is More will place the US, in general, and the state of New York, in particular, a step closer to ending America’s shameful practice of using criminal justice to continue slavery, subjugation, and the exploitation of human labor power for state profit.”