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Kenyatta Thompson, | (860) 937-6094

Yan Snead, | (518) 360-1534

Follow on Twitter @KatalCenter #LessIsMoreNY

Family Members of Incarcerated People & Community Group Protest Governor Cuomo in NYC, Demanding Passage of #LessIsMoreNY

COVID-19 Spreads in Jails and Prisons; Over 5,000 People Incarcerated in NYS For Non-Criminal Technical Violations of Parole, Like Missing Curfew

 New York Leads Nation in Incarcerating People for Technical Violations of Parole, and in 2018 Sent More People on Parole Back to Prison for “Drug Treatment” than All Other States Combined 

For images and videos of the action, see our Twitter feed here.

New York, NY – Today, dozens of constituents — including individuals on parole, and community groups — convened outside of the Governor Cuomo’s NYC Office for a rally and speak out to demand action to address the spread of COVID-19 in NYS correctional facilities, and to call for the immediate passage of the #LessIsMoreNY Act.

Throughout the protest, constituents spoke about Governor Cuomo and the legislature’s outrageous reluctance to reform the parole system and end the senseless practice of incarcerating New Yorker’s for technical violations of parole. Directly impacted members and constituents demanded that the Governor take swift and aggressive action to decarcerate New York’s jails and prisons in order to continue to flatten the curve of COVID-19 and save lives.

Since the onset of the pandemic, community groups, including those with the #LessIsMoreNY campaign, have demanded that Governor Cuomo use his executive authority to immediately release people from NYS prisons, including every New Yorker currently incarcerated for a technical violation of parole. This demand directly aligns with a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine which calls for large-scale releases and decarceration to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

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 is increasing the number of people sent to county jails for these violations. This means thousands of people are incarcerated in New York’s jails and prisons for technical violations of parole, held in cages and subject to sickness and death. The racial disparities are stark, as Black and Latinx people are far more likely than white people to be reincarcerated for technical violations.

Passing #LessIsMoreNY Act (Less Is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S.1343C – Benjamin / A.5493B – Mosley)) 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 170 groups across the state and multiple district attorneys backing the measure, the time to pass the #LessIsMoreNY Act is now.

With COVID-19 spreading in NYS prisons and jails, Governor Cuomo and the legislature must act now to save the lives of incarcerated people, who are disproportionately Black and Latinx. We cannot wait for more needless deaths. Families and community members will continue holding Cuomo and the Legislature accountable until they release people and pass #LessIsMoreNY.

Statements from #LessIsMoreNY Campaign Members

Gabriela Vazquez, Member of the Katal Center, said: “In my life, I’ve witnessed first-hand how incarceration impacts my community: my brother-in-law is currently incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit, and my good friend is currently on parole trying their hardest everyday not to be violated for a minor infraction. We see how so many Black and brown people receive heavy sentences for minor crimes, including ‘technical parole violations’. People shouldn’t be incarcerated because of these minor violations, especially as COVID-19 continues to ravage our communities and our prisons and jails. Passing #LessIsMoreNY is important to my friends and family because it can create a much needed change in the justice system that impacts us all!”

Donna Hylton, Founder and President of A Little Piece of Light, said: “Governor Cuomo has been more concerned with his ratings than with his response to the pandemic for the people of New York State. Unfortunately, he continues to neglect the thousands of New Yorkers who are locked up in state prisons and jails. #LessIsMoreNY would ensure that thousands of New Yorkers would no longer be at risk of reincarnation for a minor infraction while they also grapple with the pandemic.”

Robert and Emily Pollock, 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.”

Theodore Carter, Member of the Katal Center, said: “There are thousands of people just like me on parole. Many are grappling with mental illness and using substances, just as I have, and that is an isolating experience while on parole. To lock someone up for failing a drug test or struggling to remain sober is just wrong. You send the wrong message in doing so, and the message that is received is ‘I am going to jail, and no one wants to help me’. Let me make this clear– this is a public health problem, not an incarceration problem. That is why we need to pass #LessIsMoreNY!”

Marcellus Morris, CEO of Reign 4 Life, said: “We support #LessIsMoreNY given the racial disparity in the parole system in NY. In NYC, Black people are incarcerated in New York City jails for technical parole violations at more than 12 times the rate of whites. That is unacceptable. The $600 million in annual funds that New York would save passing #LessIsMoreNY should go to adequate housing, training, healing circles and other appropriate supports for those of us suffering from Post-Incarceration Syndrome. #LessIsMoreNY is a no brainer and needs to be passed now.”

Michelle Jaskula, Member of the Katal Center, said: “The Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act, aka, #LessIsMoreNY, needs to be passed immediately. People who have been incarcerated for a technical parole violation need to be released. This will give them a chance at a better life, and will allow them to be with their loved ones, especially in light of COVID. We have seen how similar reforms have passed in other states, and they have had a drop in parole violations and crime rates. Ultimately, the $600 million funds saved from decarceration could be better spent on other things like mental health resources, COVID-19 testing, housing, and other improvements in our communities. Do the right thing Governor Cuomo, and pass #LessIsMoreNY immediately.”

Michael Hendrickson, Member of the Katal Center, said: “I had to spend a year in prison for a technical violation of my parole, and it uprooted my entire life. I lost my apartment because I no longer had an income to pay for it. It disrupted the process of reuniting with my youngest two daughters. I care about #LessIsMoreNY not only because of the experiences that my family and I have gone through with parole, but also because I have listened to others with the same shared experience. The #LessIsMoreNY bill will put an end to the use of incarceration for a technical violation. Even more, it will remove the fear that all people on community supervision have; a fear that turns into a question of ‘Is today the day my life may be destroyed again?’ I implore you, Governor Cuomo, to release everyone that is being held on a technical violation in New York. Be a leader and pass #LessIsMoreNY.”

Zachary Katznelson, Policy Director of Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration, said: “Passing the Less Is More Act would be a massive win for racial justice, public safety, and our dire budget situation. New York parole authorities lock up Black people at 12 times the rate of white people for technical violations of parole conditions – like testing positive for drugs. This unjust, destructive incarceration costs hundreds of millions of dollars a year and there is no evidence of any public safety gain. We need reform immediately.”

Angel Tueros, Member of Freedom Agenda, said: “Parole has been a waste of community resources. It’s been a waste of my time & a roadblock in my ability to thrive ever since I came home. Rather than invest in keeping a roof over my head or supporting me in getting my education, parole serves as a watchdog to continue punishing me when I am supposed to be free. Passing Less Is More NY would change countless lives and give people the opportunity for true freedom like everyone else when they come home.”

JoAnne Page, CEO and President of the Fortune Society, said: “The Fortune Society has too many clients who are under active parole supervision – people who have already served their time –who aren’t able to participate fully in their communities, because of their risk of being re-incarcerated for “technical” violations of their parole (like missing a curfew, violating travel restrictions for a job interview or being late for an appointment.). Not only are these rules actively unfair, at a time when new data is showing that COVID-19 still presents a major healthcare crisis in prisons like the Elmira and Greene facilities, the last thing we should be doing is locking up more people up for minor violations of their parole. Instead, the New York State Legislature needs to finally take action on this bill: COVID-19 is here to stay, and so our state needs to adjust its criminal justice policies accordingly. People on parole should not have to worry about being locked up for technical violations at a time when they would not only lose their freedom but would be at risk of losing their lives.”

Laura Eraso, Caitlin Miller, Melanie Robinson and Cara Hoffman, Parole Revocation Defense Unit at the Legal Aid Society, said: “We represent more than 5,000 indigent people who are arrested and detained each year in New York City accused of violating the conditions of their parole. Far too often, our clients on parole – the vast majority of whom are people of color – are sent back to prison, not because they are committing new crimes or pose a threat to the community, but for petty infractions, such as missing a single office report or staying out a few minutes past curfew. Parole violations like this are not only counterproductive to public safety, they are costly and expensive to taxpayers and impede people on parole from keeping stable jobs and housing and successfully reintegrating into society. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed just how destructive and deadly New York’s parole violation is for New Yorkers. Michael Tyson and Raymond Rivera – who were jailed solely on technical violations – suffered cruel fates. Michael Tyson died from COVID-19 in an NYC hospital prison ward waiting to see a parole judge, and Raymond Rivera died after becoming critically ill from COVID-19 while waiting to be released from a parole judge. If “Less is More” had been law both men might be alive today. While some of our clients accused of technical violations were released earlier this year, many were not released and we are seeing again New York’s jails and prisons quickly filling back up with people detained only on parole violations. It is time for a critical reevaluation of criminal justice enforcement. We call on Albany to answer, and enact Less is More immediately.”