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Following Shocking Gothamist Report, City Council Advances #LessIsMoreNY Resolution
Resolution 829 Calls on Albany to Pass the Less is More Act and Update our Outdated Parole System
The Passage of #LessIsMoreNY Would Significantly Reduce the Number of People on Rikers Island and Help with the Closure of the Notorious Jail
New York, NY – This morning, New York City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee held a hearing that included the Less is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S.1343B – Benjamin / A.5493A – Mosley) Resolution 829. The resolution follows a shocking report 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 resolution, sponsored by Council Member Keith Powers, calls upon the New York State Legislature to 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. The Committee took testimony and is expected to pass the resolution and send it to the full council for a vote.
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 New York City moves forward with the process to closing Rikers Island, the question of people on parole detained at Rikers looms large. Resolution 829 acknowledges that 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 increasing the estimated size of the Mayor’s proposed borough-based facilities. 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 – much smaller – than what is currently under consideration in Mayor de Blasio’s plan.
Passing this legislation is an opportunity during this pivotal point in New York’s criminal justice reform history, for the Legislature to overhaul the state’s outdated, racially biased, and unjust community corrections system, to decarcerate New York, finally shut down Rikers Island, and bring our state one step 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. So today I call on you, New York City Council, to pass this Resolution. 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. The City must take swift action to close Rikers because everyone deserves a quality of life, whether you are from anywhere from Park Avenue to Park Bench.”
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. Today I call on New York City Council to pass Resolution 829. 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.”
Donna Hylton, Director of the Women and Girl’s Project for the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, said: “Thank you Councilmember Keith Powers for introducing Resolution 829, calling on the state legislature and Governor to support the Less Is More Act. 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. I support Resolution 829 and urge the committee and entire council to pass it immediately. The Legislature and Governor should immediately pass the Less Is More Act 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: “The problems of parole supervision and imprisonment of people for crimeless, technical violations was on full display today at City Council hearings supporting a resolution by Councilmember Keith Powers to overhaul parole and cut frivolous violations. From the research our Lab has conducted on this subject, to yesterday’s 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: “JustLeadershipUSA calls on the New York City Council to pass the resolution sponsored by Councilmember Keith Powers calling on state legislators to support the Less Is More bill. This 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. I call upon the City Council to pass Resolution 829, but it can not end there. 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, State Legislature and City Council 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 support the City Council’s proposed resolution and 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.”
Rob DeLeon, Associate Vice President of Programs at the Fortune Society, said: “Our ability to reconstruct an equitable legal system absent mass incarceration for New York State and close Rikers Island in New York City hinges on our capability to further reduce the number of people confined. There is an urgent need to end unnecessary criminalization practices that destructively rely on incarceration to address non-criminal behavior. I’ve felt the pressure of the legal system that burdens your shoulders during years of post-release supervision, as you wait powerless for your freedom and your future to be truly yours. I urge the City Council to adopt Resolution 829 supporting the Governor and legislators in both houses as they work expeditiously to pass the critical reforms included in the Less is More Act.”