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Reform Coalition Responds to Racist Fear Mongering and Misinformation about the Less Is More Act in Monroe County
Coalition Representative: “Spreading Lies About Less is More is Reprehensible, Especially When Those Lies are Rooted in Racism”
Rochester, NY: Today, community groups and lawmakers who are part of the statewide #LessIsMoreNY Coalition responded to Republican lawmakers and some law enforcement officials who held a small press event today on Rochester to push racist fear mongering and misinformation about the Less Is More Act.
The #LessIsMoreNY Coalition is made up of more than 300+ Groups around New York — including groups in Monroe County and across upstate — as well as law enforcement officials. The Less Is More Act will improve public safety while strengthening the reentry process, which is why it was endorsed by eight District Attorneys representing more than half of the state’s population as well as Sheriffs and other law enforcement officials from across the state. The major provisions of the new law were modeled on successful reforms made in other states, including conservative states like Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, where community supervision populations were reduced and violations were curbed while also improving public safety.
This is not the first attempt to spew misinformation to the public about the Less is More Act. Just last week, the #LessIsMoreNY coalition responded to a misleading NY Post article about the Less is More Act regarding a person on parole who was detained in Monroe County for technical parole violations and released. Local law enforcement attempted to blame the Less is More Act for their own failure. (The person in question would not have been released but for the bungling of local officials.)
For years, New York State has been grossly out of step with the rest of the country, incarcerating more people for noncriminal technical violations of parole than any other state, at a rate 6 times the national average. Monroe County has been the worst county within the state of New York, locking up more people for these technical violations than any county outside New York City. And while Monroe County locks up fewer people for technical violations than New York City, it does so at twice the rate; people accused of technical parole violations make up about 8% of the population at Rikers but 15% of people in the Monroe County Jail, even in the midst of a global pandemic. This excessive jailing of people accused of technical parole violations in the Monroe County Jail costs the public nearly $12.5 million a year.
The Less is More Act does not eliminate the rules people on parole must follow, nor does it eliminate consequences for breaking those rules. It simply limits the use of incarceration as a consequence for breaking rules that are not crimes, just as states like Louisiana and South Carolina have done.
The shameless opposition to Less is More by some lawmakers desperately looking for quick headlines, law enforcement officials wanting to maintain mass incarceration, and new outlets disregarding fact-checking to sell stories underscores the utter disregard for the lives of people and families in New York impacted by systemic racism and mass criminalization.
Statements from elected officials and community and advocacy groups:
Rachel Barnhart, Monroe County Legislator, 21st District, said: “Less is More is an important law that ends the unfair cycle of imprisonment for people on parole trying to get back on their feet. These leaders should do more to support people in this community to attain stability rather than focusing on petty, noncriminal infractions.”
Timothy P. Donaher, Monroe County Public Defender, said: “I am dismayed by local news stories outlining 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. Sadly, some in the media are all too willing to provide a forum for misinformation, instead of offering a factual analysis of Less is More. 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 reincercerate, but instead will advance its original mission to support the formerly incarcerated as they rejoin their communities.”
Leanne Lapp, Ontario County Public Defender and President of the Chief Defenders Association of NY, said: “I applaud Governor Hochul for signing Less Is More, as it provides individuals who have already served their prison sentences an opportunity to remain employed, support their families, and otherwise be productive members of society, instead of being re-incarcerated for alleged minor technical violations of parole terms. Those who harm others or commit violent acts while on parole will still face parole violations, but Less is More treats struggles with substance use and mental health as treatment issues instead of criminal acts. Addressing treatment needs and working collaboratively with people instead of imprisoning them increases the likelihood of their success, which makes families healthier and our communities safer.”
David Schopp, CEO and Kevin Stadelmaier, Chief Attorney Criminal Defense Unit, Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, said: “Decarceration isn’t just a progressive talking point, it’s a moral imperative. No amount of Republican and law enforcement fear mongering will change the fact that less people in jail means less people on unemployment, fewer parents ripped from their children and less taxpayer dollars wasted on fruitless punishment strategies. The Less Is More Act is based on a national trend away from incarceration and toward effective community supervision. Given time to work it will undoubtedly have the desired effects.”
SusanC. Bryant, Executive Director at New York State Defenders Association, said: “Each year, thousands of New Yorkers on parole are needlessly incarcerated for weeks and months for alleged technical violations, harming individuals and families, a disproportionate number of whom are Black and brown. Less is More will change that without impacting public safety. The Act will also provide needed due process protections and provide earned time credits for not violating supervision conditions. The Less is More Act is a necessary step to help end the perpetual cycle of punishment that people on parole in New York face.”
The Reverend Peter Cook, Executive Director at New York State Council of Churches, said: “Some Republican lawmakers, in their criticism of Less is More, are actively promoting crime and a lack of safety in our communities. Less is More is intended to keep us safe by strengthening the purpose of parole which is to help people redeem themselves by getting a job, caring for their children, tending to their marriages, securing stable housing and once again contribute to society as productive tax paying citizens. When we punish people on parole by reincarcerating them for technical violations, we destroy the redemptive work by harming the breadwinner and placing their families in a precarious economic situation which can lead to many other social ills including crime. It is important that we not confuse re-incarceration for a technical violation, like missing an appointment, with the legitimate requirement to reincarcerate those who actually committed a very serious crime while on parole. It’s disgusting and immoral for politicians to deliberately misrepresent good criminal justice reform while advocating for every policy which undermines more effective, proven and holistic approaches to alleviating crime and addressing public safety.”
Emily NaPier Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained (based in Syracuse) said: “Given Monroe County’s dubious distinction of being the worst county in the worst state in the nation when it comes to locking people up for non-criminal technical parole violations, it is not surprising that local opponents of the Less is More Act are grasping at straws to maintain the racist status quo. What these lawmakers and law enforcement officials are hoping the general public is too stupid to realize is that they are the ones undermining public safety, not the Less is More Act. They want to continue to waste millions of taxpayer dollars every year to destabilize Black and Brown families and communities by locking people up for things that are not even crimes, despite zero evidence that doing so improves public safety. If conservative states can implement reforms like those in the Less is More Act while simultaneously enhancing public safety, New York can certainly do the same. It’s clear that the opposition to the Less is More Act is not motivated by genuine concern about public safety but by racism and economic exploitation.”
Kenyatta Muzzanni, Director of Organizing with the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “These baseless and racist attacks against #LessIsMoreNY will actually harm public safety rather than improve it. New York is ranked one of the worst states in the country for parole, and thousands of residents are impacted by the state’s archaic parole system. Measures like #LessIsMoreNY have worked in other states. For lawmakers to spread misinformation about the bill while New Yorkers languish under the current system is reprehensible. #LessIsMoreNY will improve public safety, improve the lives of people on parole, and improve communities as a whole. If lawmakers want to support public safety, they should join the effort to implement the Less is More Act.”
Donna Hylton, Founder & President, A Little Piece of Light, said: “We need to remain focused on what matters about this law: the truth. The truth is Less Is More NY is freeing people who should no longer be imprisoned. The truth is they have served their time and are being punished for small missteps, like being late for a meeting because of the demands of childcare or public transportation delays. The truth is Less Is More helps society – not hurts it – by recognizing these women, and men, are doing their best to get their lives back on track, reunite with their families and contribute to their communities.”
Leslie Bishop, State Board Chair of Citizen Action New York, said: “Not offering second chances to people with criminal convictions only demonstrates the utter lack of empathy and knowledge held by some of the most powerful elected officials within New York State’s government. As a tax paying citizen of New York State, it is a travesty to think anyone would prefer to waste $300 million taxpayer dollars annually to incarcerate people for non criminal activity, rather than invest it in our communities to improve schools, healthcare and access to quality housing. We must do better! #LessIsMoreNY is the first step in the right direction”
Bill Bastuk, National Chair of the Monroe County-based It Could Happen To You, said: “Once again local law enforcement is attempting to mislead the average joe whom do not possess information on the many nuances of the criminal justice system. There is no rational for throwing an individual who has served their sentence, back in jail for a minor technical parole violation such as forgetting to inform their parole office of a change in employment. And there are law enforcement leaders in other parts of upstate New York who share this common sense.”
Courtney Burke, Member of the Katal Center, said: “I have loved ones on parole that everyday are doing their part to move forward and be productive members of our community. I do not want them to ever experience being put behind bars for something like being late for curfew! We need to realize that when someone is incarcerated their whole family and community is negatively impacted. The individuals that are getting released as a result of the Governor signing Less is More are finally being given the opportunity to reunite with their families and they are finally getting the justice they deserved. Being torn away from family time after time for a non-criminal technical parole violation is shameful. We must uphold this legislation!”
Bobbi Leigh, Member of the Katal Center, said: “I have been a witness to how destructive the parole system is in the state of New York. I have seen people on parole be stripped away from their jobs and families simply because they were late for curfew or tested positive for alcohol and other substances. I have had loved ones on parole that struggle with addiction and mental health issues get thrown back into jail for these minor infractions. Incarceration does not address the real issue here and it does not offer any type of rehabilitation for those that are battling addiction. This is why Less is More is important, it gives people on parole the peace of mind that they don’t have to fear being put behind bars for a simple human error. The legislators who are asking for the repeal of Less Is More are not thinking of the countless families that the parole system has destroyed. Keeping families together is what makes our communities stronger and safer!”
About the Less Is More Act: 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 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 Less is More Act impacts the more than 35,000 people on parole supervision in New York, improving public safety while strengthening the reentry process. The law restricts the use of incarceration for most technical violations, bolsters due process, provides speedy hearings, and provides an earned time credit for most people on parole.
About the #LessIsMoreNY Campaign: #LessIsMoreNY is a statewide coalition of more than 300 community, faith, and advocacy groups; 8 District Attorneys from the counties of Albany, Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Nassau, Tompkins, Ulster, & Westchester; law enforcement leaders from across New York including the Albany, Erie, and Tompkins County Sheriffs, and more. The Coalition came together to develop and pass the Less Is More Act. Restricting the use of incarceration for noncriminal technical violations of parole will support people in reentering their community after incarceration; responsibly reduce jail and prison populations; promote safety and justice for families and communities; and save taxpayers money. A full list of supporters and more information on the Less Is More Act can be found at https://www.lessismoreny.org/supporting_letter