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Yan Snead, | 609.680.8185

Two People Reincarcerated on Rikers Island Dead in Past Week

Death of Mr. Jose Rivera, Who Was on Parole and Homeless, Brings Spotlight to New York’s Outdated Parole System

Meaningful Parole Reform is Critical to Closing Rikers Island – Albany Must Act Immediately

New York, NY – On Sunday, a tragic death occurred, the second of two in a week on Rikers Island (the first, Layleen Cubilette-Polanco, a transgender woman found dead in her cell Friday). Jose Rivera, 54, was arrested May 7 at a local hospital for a crimeless, technical violation of parole of missing parole meetings. Following his release from prison in 2016, Rivera was homeless and too sick to be transported to parole court on Rikers. He died, handcuffed to a hospital bed.

Today, members and leaders of the #LessIsMoreNY Coalition – including Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice and Unchained – are at the Capitol demanding that lawmakers immediately overhaul New York’s deeply broken, and racially unjust parole system by passing transformative parole legislation. The Less is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S.1343B – Benjamin / A.5493A – Mosley) 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; save taxpayers money, and most importantly, make sure that no one ever dies behind bars again for a crimeless violation of parole.

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 physically and emotionally toxic jails on Rikers Island, and increasing the estimated size of the Mayor’s proposed borough-based facilities. Passage of the Less Is More Act is essential to reducing the population on Rikers and finally shuttering Rikers Island, as outlined in an op-ed by Council Member Keith Powers.

Jose Rivera and Layleen Cubilette-Polanco should still be here with us today working towards successfully rebuilding their lives. Rikers must be shut down. Lawmakers in Albany must urgently pass the Less Is More parole reform bill to stop people from being unjustly reincarcerated for technical violations and swiftly bring about the closure of Rikers once and for all.

Statements from Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, and advocates of parole reform:


Donna Hylton, Director of the Women and Girls Project at the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, said: “As someone who spent years on parole, I can say from experience how urgently our state needs to fix its broken parole system. I could have been Jose Rivera, if I missed one of my parole hearings. Any of the 35,000 people on parole supervision in New York State right now could be Jose Rivera today, next week, or next month. We should not have to walk on egg shells within a system that should be helping us, in order to turn our lives around after we are released from jail or prison. We should not have to fear for our lives as a result of a technical violation of parole. Right now, there are over 700 people detained in NYC jails not because of a criminal charge, but because they were hit with a technical violation of parole, such as missing a meeting with a parole officer because they were too sick to make their appointment just like Jose. The Less is More Act, will bring us one step closer to finally shutting down Rikers Island, and the Legislature and the Governor must immediately pass this bill and make it law so that this tragic situation never happens again.”

Emily Napier-Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, said: “Sunday we lost a human being who was put behind bars on Rikers Island for a technical violation of parole. He died chained to a hospital bed. He should still be alive today. Our parole system is ruining lives. 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 people the mental freedom to live their lives without the threat of a violation constantly lingering over their head. Across the state, including here in Syracuse, people are being sent back to jail and prison for technical violations of parole. This is wrong.  That’s why we were in Albany today to demand passage of the Less Is More Act. This bill is supported by law enforcement, community groups, and, critically, people on parole, and people in prison who will be coming home on parole. Albany must act now! No more deaths. Our state must help people lead successful lives after incarceration.”

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: “Mr. Rivera died in jail custody Sunday, chained to a hospital bed instead of dying with dignity in a respite program like any of us would want. Why? Not because he committed a new crime since his release from prison three years ago, but because he was missing appointments with his parole officer. We need to pass the Less Is More Act this year so we stop locking people up for crimeless violations and make sure no one else dies with indignity like Jose Rivera.”

Tyler Nims, Executive Director of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, said: “The tragic passing of Mr. Rivera while locked up for a non-criminal violation of parole is an urgent call to action for anyone opposed to needless incarceration. Now is the time to enact laws like the Less Is More Act that will help people returning to New York communities after serving time, prevent people on parole who pose no danger to the community from being sent to jail and prison, and put a permanent end to the jails on Rikers Island.”