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Parole Changes In The Spotlight As New York's Legislative Session Ends

NEW YORK NOW - Advocates for criminal justice reform continued their push at the state capitol for the passage of two parole reform bills in New York Monday morning.

Members of the RAPP Campaign, Release Aging People in Prison joined Democrats in calling for the passage of bills known as Elder Parole and Fair and Timely Parole.

The Elder Parole measure would require a person who is 55 or older to be considered for release by the parole board if they’ve served at least 15 years of their sentence.

Assembly member Zohran Mamdani, a Democrat from Queens, said that 55 years old may not seem elderly by normal standards, but that prison life is no normal standard.

“But that is tied to the fact that in prisons, the average age of death is 58 years old,” Mamdani said. “We are spending up to $240,000 per year to keep elder New Yorkers incarcerated, and I have a question for my fellow New Yorkers; does that make you feel safer?”

The bill is in the Senate Crime Victims, Crime, and Correction Committee, and the Assembly Corrections Committee.

The other measure addressed during Monday’s event was Fair and Timely Parole. That bill would require a person to be released after they’ve completed their minimum sentence, unless the parole board determines that they’re an immediate threat to the public.

Sen. Gustavo Rivera, D-Bronx, sponsors that bill. He said he believes in redemption.

“We cannot continue to have a system in which the worst thing that you’ve ever done is the only thing that you are judged for,” Rivera said. “We cannot have a system that is purely, and only about punishment.”

The measure has passed committee and is now on the calendar in the Senate, and is in the Assembly Codes Committee.

Sexual assault survivors and advocates were also at Monday’s event, voicing their support for those measures. Chel Miller of the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault said the incarceration of survivors can sometimes lead to further abuse.

“We also know that prisons are sites of sexual violence,” Miller said. “In Bedford Hills most recently, more than half of people interviewed experienced sexual violence, or sexual harassment, or physical abuse at the hands of a correctional officer, or they witnessed it.”

Both of those proposals come as other changes to the criminal justice system are seeing support in the final days of the legislative session.

Those include the Less is More bill, which would limit the punishments for technical violations of parole, and the Clean Slate bill, which would automatically expunge a person’s record after they’ve finished parole.

Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay, R-Oswego, said measures like those are the wrong approach at a time when crime is on the rise.

“Maybe one or two of these in a vacuum would be okay, but looking at the totality of the situation, it just seems absolutely backwards,” Barclay said.

“What we ought to be doing is looking at reforming bail reform, we ought to be looking at reforming Raise the Age, and those types of policies that are really causing this huge spike in violent crime.”

The legislative session is tentatively set to end later this week.