Comprehensive Legislation Will Overhaul New York’s Parole System to Address Current Bias – Reducing Recidivism by Incentivizing Good Behavior and Early Release, Mandating Fair Hearings, Capping Violation Terms and Saving Taxpayer Dollars
New “Less is More” Campaign Will Rally Support for Passage of Sweeping Legislation in Albany
A coalition of New York groups and Assemblyman Walter Mosley (D-Brooklyn) today announced new legislation – the most progressive in the nation – to reform the state’s antiquated parole system and improve reintegration of formerly incarcerated New Yorkers to society. The Less is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act is comprehensive new legislation that addresses the current problems of how technical violations in the parole system lead to reincarceration. The reforms in the bill include: incentivizing good behavior and allowing New Yorkers to earn accelerated release from parole; requiring fair hearings; creating maximum terms of reincarceration for violations and eliminating incarceration as a sanction for certain technical violations; and saving taxpayer dollars by reducing the number of incarcerated New Yorkers, and reinvesting those funds back into the community.
New York Assemblyman Walter Mosley said: "Research from Columbia University shows us without a doubt that parole reform is not only possible, it's the smart move to make. Our state currently has one of the highest rates of parole failure, but there are ways for our parole system to become more effective while making life easier for people on parole. By incentivizing good behavior, preventing re-incarceration for technical violations, and creating a higher threshold for less serious offenses, our state can save money and reform our criminal justice system. My bill draws on this research and will serve to make our communities safer. We look forward to advancing and passing this legislation in the 2019 session.”
The bill introduction also marks the launch of the Less is More NY Campaign - a statewide effort to address the problems of mass supervision in New York and pass this new legislation.
Donna Hylton, Director of the Women and Girls Project at the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, who was formerly incarcerated for 27 years, said: "New York State is known to be a progressive leader in criminal justice reform, a leading voice in the fight for basic human dignity, and a strong supporter of ‘second chances.’ Yet our parole system is sending so many people back to jail and prison for simple technical violations. It now has the terrible distinction of being a national leader in reincarcerating people who are on parole. Sending people back to jail and prison for simple technical parole violations is deeply flawed and undermines the reentry process. Unfortunately, Black and Brown people are more likely to be reincarcerated for a technical violation than are white people, and we all know that's not right. As a formerly incarcerated person who spent 5 years under parole supervision, I know what it's like to be afraid that after years of being incarcerated, I could be doing everything right, but a basic misstep like being late to a meeting might send me back to prison. Thankfully, we can fix this. The Less is More Act represents a great start for New York to be the beacon of progressive reform and ‘second chances’ it purports to be. We are proud to stand with Assemblyman Mosley in support of this bill, and invite others to join us in the Less is More campaign to win real reform and strengthen our communities."
The new legislation follows the recommendations of the “Less is More in New York” report released earlier this year by the Justice Lab at Columbia University. While New York City jail populations have dipped below 9,000 for the first time in 35 years, New Yorkers in city jails for state parole violations have increased by 15 percent. New York reincarcerates more people on parole for technical violations – a missed appointment, broken curfew, or positive test for alcohol – than any state in the country except Illinois. Of people on parole whom New York sent back to prison in 2016, over 65 percent were reincarcerated for technical parole violations. According to a report by the Columbia University Justice Lab, for every 10 people who successfully complete parole in New York, nine fail.
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: "New York is ironically both a leader in safely reducing its prison population and in revoking parole for non-criminal technical violations like missing appointments or possessing drugs. We have the second highest number of technical violations in the country, almost a third of people entering our prisons are entering for technicals rather than new crimes, and people incarcerated for technicals are the only growing population on Rikers Island. The Less is More Act will put New York back in the lead in this area, reducing technicals while providing resources for people to thrive when they’re released from prison.”
The new legislation adopts the following recommendations to address these disparities and reform New York’s antiquated parole system:
- Shorten parole terms and incentivize good behavior by allowing people to earn accelerated discharge
- Require a hearing before a judicial officer before jailing someone accused of a technical violation
- Create a high legal threshold for jailing people on parole for less serious offenses and expedite their hearings
- Cap the amount of time people can serve in jail for violations and eliminate incarceration as a sanction for certain technical violations
- Require the use of graduated sanctions and rewards prior to revoking people under supervision to incarceration
- Reallocate savings to community programs
Schyla Silburn, Katal member in Albany, New York, said: “This system is taking our men and women from our homes. After serving ten years in prison, my fiancé came home in September and was trying to find employment and get his life on track. In October, he had a curfew violation and found himself back in the county jail and now back in prison – all for a curfew violation! Before I read this legislation, I was almost willing to take an ankle bracelet despite the fact that this is another form of incarceration! He's not home to provide for his family, which is very stressful to the household and now has become another bill adding onto the bills left behind due to his departure. The rent, the children's needs, having to put money on the phone, visits – which has tremendous travel costs, motel fees because he's so far away, and packages. It's tiring and very stressful! He's already been out of our lives, in terms of not being home, for ten years. Ten years of me taking care of all of the things that hold us together as a family. When these men and women are reincarcerated, it leaves their families to take on the burden of caring for them, adding to the fact that we are struggling with balancing work and the children's needs. I had to take a second job just to make sure that he's okay. These kids are sad and missing their father. The injustice is just not fair and we need reform now. That’s why I support this legislation, and the Governor and all the lawmakers in Albany should support it as well."
Derek Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, who has previously been on parole, said: "This bill will not only overhaul the system of community supervision and revocations, but also has the potential to transform the mentality of individuals on parole. When the threshold for returning to jail is so low because parole reincarcerates people for minor technical violations, hopelessness can set in. The Less is More bill will ensure the physical freedom of thousands of people by not sending them to jail for things that are not crimes, and will also give them the mental freedom to live their lives without the threat of a violation constantly hanging over their heads. The incentive to be discharged from supervision early is a much more positive and effective approach to supporting individuals in reintegrating into communities successfully."
Lorraine McEvilley, Director of the Parole Revocation Defense Unit of the Legal Aid Society, said: “The Parole Revocation Defense Unit wholeheartedly supports the Less is More bill. Far too often, parole violators are sent back to prison not because their violations of conditions represent a threat to the community, but as a punishment for punishment’s sake. By rewarding those on supervision to earn time off their sentence by abiding by conditions of parole, the bill creates rational incentives for those on parole to follow their supervision requirements. We applaud these New York groups and Assemblyman Mosley for introducing this measure and urging Albany to enact it immediately.”
States including: Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah have successfully implemented reforms similar to those proposed in the Less is More Act to reduce disparities and overhaul state-level parole systems. These reforms have worked: after South Carolina adopted graduated sanctions, compliance revocations decreased 46 percent, and recidivism rates for people under supervision dropped by a third. Meanwhile, crime rates dropped by over 20 percent. Similarly, after Louisiana implemented caps on jail or prison terms for first-time technical violations, the length of incarceration declined by 281 days and 22 percent fewer people under community supervision were sent back to prison for new crimes. After Missouri adopted earned time credits for people on probation and parole, supervision terms dropped by 14 months, the supervised population fell 18 percent, and average caseloads decreased 16 percent.
Permitting New Yorkers to earn accelerated discharge of community supervision will responsibly shrink the number of formerly incarcerated individuals subject to supervision and allow the state to concentrate its finite resources on where they're needed most. By passing these sweeping reforms, New York has the opportunity to reduce jail and prison populations, support people in the reentry process, and promote safety and justice for all the state’s families and communities.
The Less is More NY Campaign is organizing across the state to pass this legislation and create a safer, fairer, more equitable New York. #LessIsMoreNY