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New York Times Releases Harrowing Article Highlighting Need to Reform New York’s Unjust Parole System and Pass the #LessIsMoreNY Act
Statement from A Little Piece of Light, Katal Center from Health, Equity, and Justice, and Unchained
On Friday, July 31st the New York Times released yet another article highlighting how New York, in the midst of a global pandemic, continues to incarcerate people for minor technical violations of parole such as missing curfew or testing positive for alcohol. This article comes a week after the legislature resumed for a special session, where they failed to include #LessIsMoreNY Act (Less Is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S.1343C – Benjamin / A.5493B – Mosley)) and other much needed criminal justice legislation on the agenda.
It is unconscionable and directly goes against public health recommendations to continue to place people in congregate settings during the COVID-19 public health crisis, yet that is exactly what the NY Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) is doing. The New York Times piece explains how a man on parole, Earl Russell, was forced by DOCCS to choose between an overcrowded shelter or Rikers Island, even though he had an apartment and family to live with. This exposes how the current parole system is extremely antiquated and needlessly puts Mr. Russell’s life at grave risk. We cannot wait for more preventative deaths to occur to take action on this issue.
Passing #LessIsMoreNY Act will lead to thousands fewer people incarcerated for technical violations, advancing the goal of decarceration and putting the state at the forefront of reforming the country’s parole crisis, while saving lives and keeping people safe. This is a public health imperative and it will also save New York over $600 million a year. The New York legislature must prioritize passing the #LessIsMoreNY Act when they return to session.
Statements by groups leading the #LessIsMoreNY Campaign
Donna Hylton, Founder and President of A Little Piece of Light, said: “This article highlights what we have been saying for years—the parole system in New York state needs to be overhauled immediately. No one should have to tell their parole officer to “ship them” back to jail because they fear getting a technical parole violation in the middle of a pandemic. Had the legislature passed #LessIsMoreNY during the special session, Mr Russell would not have had to have been shipped back to Rikers Island. Thousands more are facing the same injustice across this state. The legislature must do what is right and pass #LessIsMoreNY now!”
Emily NaPier Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, said: “Gina Bellafante’s recent New York Times piece highlights the absurdity of locking people up for technical violations ever and the danger of continuing the practice during a deadly pandemic. In addition to the people newly admitted to Rikers since the end of March for such non-criminal behavior, parole has also issued hundreds of warrants for technical violations for people in the upstate counties outside of New York City. This blatant disregard for the health and safety of people on parole and their loved ones illustrates why we cannot rely on administrative changes to close the revolving door of parole back to jail and prison. The Legislature must pass the Less is More Act to stop this heinous practice once and for all.”
Lorenzo Jones, Co-Executive Director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, said: “After the legislature failed again last month to pass #LessIsMoreNY, as if on cue here’s yet another harrowing story, this time in The New York Times, detailing the grave injustices faced by people on parole in New York. Mr. Russell’s account is tragic and outrageous, and entirely preventable. But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Cuomo is busy touting himself on national television instead of taking action to save the lives of people in New York’s jails and prisons, including over 5,000 people detained across the state for technical violations of parole, as Mr. Russell was. The legislature must take action immediately to fix this by passing #LessIsMoreNY. Gov. Cuomo has to do right and bring his Administration’s support to bear for people being sent to COVID-19 infested cages, including those detained for non-criminal technical parole violations.”