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Community Groups, Advocates, and People Impacted by Parole Convene for Lobby Day and Rally on #LessIsMoreNY, Following Scandalous Gothamist Report
Coalition of Former Community Corrections Commissioners and People on Parole Join Forces to Reform a Broken System
Following a Shocking Report from the Gothamist, Advocates Head to Albany to Pass Meaningful Parole Reform
Albany, NY – Today, a unique coalition of people and advocates impacted by parole, community groups, and former community corrections officials convened at the Capitol for a lobby day and rally for the Less is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S.1343B – Benjamin / A.5493A – Mosley). These actions follow a scandalous report released last week by the Gothamist, which details several allegations of Administrative Law Judges being pressured to put people on parole behind bars for minor technical violations. The coalition called upon the New York State Legislature to urgently pass, and for the Governor to sign the Less Is More act which would reduce jail and prison populations; support people who are subject to community supervision in the reentry process; promote safety and justice for families and communities; and save taxpayers money. Lawmakers took meetings throughout the day and are expected to pass parole reforms this session.
Currently, New York State reincarcerates more people on parole for technical violations than any state in the country except Illinois. In 2016, more than 6,300 people on parole were reincarcerated, not for a new offense, but for a technical violation like testing positive for drug use or missing appointments. Ironically, while jail populations around the state decreased by 9.6 percent last year, people held in county jails awaiting their parole violation hearings increased by 7.7 percent in New York City and 11.2 percent in counties outside the city. In Albany and Schenectady Counties, the number of people held in jail for state technical violations increased by 37.5 percent and 26.3 percent.
As the city moves forward with the process to closing Rikers Island, the question of people on parole detained at Rikers looms large. The increasing number of people detained for state parole violations in New York City’s jails not only overuses incarceration for technical violations, but is also slowing the closure of the City’s jails on Rikers Island and creating a barrier between the current estimated size of the Mayor’s proposed borough-based facilities and a significantly reduced size. By passing the Less is More Act, the state can ensure that the detention population shrinks in New York City and the future detention footprint in the City is smaller – even smaller than the size the de Blasio administration promises to further reduce the facilities to, announced Tuesday. According to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the detention capacity estimate for these facilities was previously 5,000 and has now been downsized to 4,000. This reduction is the result of the bail reform proposal that just passed in Albany, and the work on the ground, by community groups and directly impacted leaders and advocates, all working to end mass incarceration – however the City can and must reduce this number even lower.
Through robust implementation of bail reform, passage of the Less Is More bill, and continued changes to policing, diversion, and decriminalization, we can continue to decarcerate and downsize. There is not a more important time than now for the Legislature and the Governor to overhaul the state’s outdated, racially biased, and unjust community corrections system, to decarcerate New York, shutter Rikers Island once and for all, and bring our state closer to having the fair system all New Yorkers deserve.
Statements from Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, and advocates of parole reform:
Ekeythia Dunston, Katal member and Queens resident, said: “I thoroughly support the Less Is More Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act. I am a former New York City Police Officer and a formally incarcerated woman, paroled on July 5th, 2018. It can be stressful just having a violation as a lingering thought, even though I have been successful while on parole. We can utilize our resources in a more efficient, effective, and comprehensive way that will empower and build successful communities. There should be no more delays in passing this bill which will help with the closure of Rikers Island. Experiencing the unsavory conditions and inhumane treatment on Rikers Island would leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth. I call on the Legislature and the Governor to pass the Less Is More Act, which would further decarcerate Rikers, and jails and prisons across New York State, and help people like myself to successfully reintegrate back into their communities with their families. Everyone deserves a quality of life, whether you are from anywhere from Park Avenue to Park Bench.”
Derek Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, who has previously been on parole said: “This bill will not only overhaul the system of community supervision and revocations, but also has the potential to transform the mentality of individuals on parole. When the threshold for returning to jail is so low because parole re-incarcerates people for minor technical violations, hopelessness can set in. The Less is More bill will not only ensure the physical freedom of thousands of people by not sending them to jail for things that are not crimes, but will also give them the mental freedom to live their lives without the threat of a violation constantly hanging over their heads. By introducing an incentive to be discharged from supervision early, this bill creates a much more positive and effective approach to supporting individuals in reintegrating into communities successfully.”
Curtis Bell, Katal member and Brooklyn resident, said: “I feel honored that New York State’s elected officials listened to the cries of its citizens for fairness and inclusion in the sanctuaries of democracy. The passage of the Less Is More Act will increase public safety while holding all accountable to the rule of law. However, passage is not the finality of criminal justice reform, but merely the beginning. We have many more steps to take, but in this moment, the most crucial is the passage of this legislation. This kind of criminal justice reform is necessary in order to achieve progressive change in our society. Let us not stop at the threshold of change. I call on the Legislature and the Governor to pass Less Is More, and I ask that the City is more expeditious in their actions to finally shut Rikers down. Let us not waiver in our commitment to a fairer and more just New York for all.”
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, said: “As an elected sheriff, I know we need to take a common sense approach to this issue. In Albany County, we have recognized the positive impact that incentives and diversionary services can have on changing lives. The current parole practices in New York can be greatly improved to strengthen public safety and help people get back on their feet when they return to the community. The Less Is More Act makes changes we need in New York. I am in support of the Less Is More Act to help reform the New York State Parole System, and believe this bill should be passed, signed and made into law.”
Donna Hylton, Director of the Women and Girl’s Project for the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, said: “For years, the pretrial system in New York has been terribly broken. People have been stuck in jail, stuck in the system, stuck in an endless cycle of injustice. I know this personally, from my own experience and from the countless stories of formerly incarcerated people I hear every day, especially from the women I work with and serve. The justice system in New York City must be wholly transformed, and the City must dramatically cut down the number of people in detention. At the state level, we’ve just won bail reform, which will drop jail populations significantly. Now we must focus on proper implementation while continuing to move reforms forward in Albany, and that is why we were at the Capitol today demanding passage of Less Is More. The Legislature and Governor should immediately pass this bill to reduce the number of people on parole who are detained on Rikers, and jails and prisons in New York State. And I call on the City to promptly close Rikers Island, and chart a new path to justice and freedom for all New Yorkers.”
Tyler Nims, Executive Director of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, said: “Instead of paving the way for people to come home, parole has become a revolving door back to incarceration. In New York City, the growing number of people who are jailed for alleged non-criminal ‘technical’ parole violations is a warning sign that today’s parole laws are not working as they should. It is also a major obstacle to putting an end to the jails on Rikers Island. Sending so many people back to jail and prison for non-criminal behavior is neither fair nor productive. It is also a waste of resources that should be spent on helping people succeed, not on locking them up. Reforming parole so that significantly fewer people are jailed for alleged technical violations is not only the right thing to do – it is also hugely important to the goal of putting an end to the misery of Rikers.”
Vincent Schiraldi, Co-Director of the Columbia University Justice Lab, Author of the Less Is More report, and former New York City Probation Commissioner, said: “From the research our Lab has conducted on the subject of parole supervision, to the scathing Gothamist article, to the voices of people with lived experience on parole, to the Less Is More Act co-authored by Senator Brian Benjamin and Assemblymember Walter Mosley, the message is clear – the need for parole reform is acute and the time for parole reform is now.”
DeAnna Hoskins, President and CEO of JustleadershipUSA, said: “The Less Is More bill would limit the length of parole, cut down on the way that parole fuels incarceration, and help ensure that people receive the services they need after returning home to their communities. The city must take swift action to decarcerate and close the Rikers Island jails complex. We must utilize all avenues toward decarceration, and recognize that New York State’s parole system is fueling the only growing population on Rikers. This is why passing the Less Is More act, sponsored by Senator Brian Benjamin and Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley, is critical in shrinking the system, reducing the harm that the system is causing, ending the way that supervision creates a revolving door back into incarceration, and generating cost savings that can be used to support people and #buildCOMMUNITIES. As directly impacted people working to cut the U.S. correctional population in half by 2030, JLUSA is committed to ultimately eliminating the need for parole and probation, and we know that #LessIsMoreNY is a critical piece of that work.”
Dr. Vanda Seward, Professor of Criminal Justice at the CUNY Kingsborough Community College, former Director of Statewide Reentry Services, NYS Division of Parole, said: “Many of the existing parole practices are old and counterproductive. The antiquated policies do not promote building community capacity, families or individuals’ lives. These outdated policies and views have been handed down over the years to the current parole staff. Changing the way that parole does business today does not fall solely in the laps of the parole officers. Parole officers do not make the policy, they follow it. By reducing the rate of persons who are on parole or returning to prison on a technical parole violation, families, communities and individuals will remain in intact. By passing Less is More, the state will be able to begin reinvesting incarceration costs to other critical service needs. In order to enhance public safety, SAVE human lives, SAVE human dignity, and SAVE taxpayers money. The Governor and Legislature must pass the Less is More bill.”
Alejo Rodriguez, Community Liaison and Assistant Program Developer of Exodus Transitional Community, said: “I was released 2 years ago from New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision after serving 32 years in prison. Any system that feels justified in punishing bad behavior, no matter how minor, and is reluctant to reward good behavior, no matter how significant, is an unjust system detached from the people and communities which they serve. Additionally, locking people up for technical violations undermines the collective work of community based organizations whose missions are to provide reentry services and mentoring support to ensure successful reintegration into society. To keep people locked into an endless cycle of walking one tight rope after another only perpetuates further distrust of law enforcement and prevents individuals from feeling safe in seeking help when needed. I call on the Governor and State Legislature to pass the Less Is More Bill to ensure the State’s mission to support the successful reentry of all individuals returning from state custody.”
Wesley Caines, Reentry and Community Outreach Coordinator of the Bronx Defenders, said: “The Bronx Defenders supports the objective of making every aspect of our criminal legal system transparent and committed to real due process. We call on the Governor and State Legislature to demonstrate continued support for a fair system of justice. We further call on the Governor and State Legislature to cease this moment in history when New Yorkers are calling for a justice system reflective of our values and core beliefs, by passing the Less is More bill.”