Gov. Hochul signed a parole reform bill into law last week Friday, according to the Less Is More NY Coalition, an advocacy group that found the act transformative and wants a more supportive and less punitive parole system.
The parole bill, the Less is More Act, was introduced in 2018 by Assemblywoman Phara Souffrant Forrest (D-Brooklyn) with the purpose of restricting the use of incarceration as punishment for noncriminal technical violations; bolstering due process so that instead of automatically being detained in jails, people accused of a noncriminal technical violation will be issued a notice of violation to appear at hearings at a location that is accessible to the public; requiring speedy hearings that are completed within 55 days instead of 105; and providing “earned time credits” reduction in parolees’ community supervision period for every 30-day period in which they do not violate a condition of their parole, according to the coalition.
“Our fellow New Yorkers on parole deserve to reenter society with our support and respect — reincarcerating parolees for technical violations traps them and doesn’t help our communities,” Hochul said in a statement on Sept. 17 after agreeing with the Department of Corrections and the city to allow for 40 incarcerated individuals per day to be transferred from Rikers Island to state custody. “New Yorkers currently serving sentences in jails and prisons also deserve our support — there is no justice in mistreating incarcerated New Yorkers. While this is just one step ... more work needs to be done collaboratively with all levels of government.”
There are approximately 2,490 parolees throughout Queens, according to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, which defines recidivism as a recommitment or return to the DOCCS after an inmate’s sanctioned release to the community. There were only 48 parole officers and senior parole officers managing the supervising of the borough.
“The management and operation of prisons is difficult work,” according to a statement from the agency. “DOCCS is responsible for the care, custody and treatment of individuals sentenced to state prison, working with these inmates to ensure successful re-entry into the community and supervising those who are placed on parole. That’s our department’s mission and it’s the guide we follow to carry out the very serious responsibility entrusted to us.”
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) said that for far too long people on parole have lived in fear over being late for a curfew in a city that has unreliable public transportation.
“We all know that life happens,” said Weprin, chairman of the Committee on Corrections. “Anyone who lives in New York is aware that subways and buses can run late and cause a missed deadline. A non-criminal technical violation should not be a reason for families to be separated from their loved ones.”
The Empire State has 35,000 people on parole, according to the coalition.
There are an estimated 5,000 people who are incarcerated in prisons and local jails, including hundreds at Rikers Island for minor and noncriminal violations, with a significant number being Black and Hispanic, who are more likely to be re-incarcerated than their white counterparts.
“It is a momentous day for New Yorkers across the state — particularly low income residents of color who have shouldered disproportionate levels of incarceration,” said Lori Zeno, the executive director of Queens Defenders.
In 2019, approximately 40 percent of all new admissions to New York state prisons were people on parole re-incarcerated after being accused of a minor or noncriminal technical violation.
“Many of the families in my district have bright and prosperous futures that will be unlocked with the Less is More Act enacted into law,” said Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson (D-South Ozone Park). “We are indebted to these families and advocates who have fought tirelessly to amplify principles of rehabilitation and restoration.”
The People’s Campaign for Parole Justice, however, believes Hochul must go even further.
“New York can’t declare victory on parole reform until we address a Parole Board that disproportionately denies release to Black and Latinx people,” said TeAna Taylor, a member of the People’s Campaign. “We can’t declare victory on parole reform as long as our system of parole leaves people to grow old, sick, and die in prison for no reason. We can’t declare victory until they create a system that centers redemption over permanent punishment. In order to do that, the legislature must pass the Elder Parole and Fair & Timely Parole bills this session.”
The Elder bill would allow the state Board of Parole to conduct an evaluation for potential parole release of incarcerated people aged 55 and older who served 15 or more years, including some of the state’s oldest and sickest, according to the People’s Campaign. The Fair and Timely bill would provide more meaningful parole reviews for people who are already parole eligible.
“Governor Hochul’s actions will go a long way towards addressing so many New Yorkers and their families being harmed by our state’s draconian technical parole violation problem,” said Taylor. “However, the parole problem in New York is two-fold: thousands of people are routinely denied parole or never make it to their first hearing alive, and thousands more are reincarcerated for technical parole violations.”