Leniency reform advocates pitch to lawmakers in Albany

Dozens of former incarcerated people and other criminal justice reform activists gathered in Albany on Tuesday in an effort to change the state’s parole laws.

The legislature, which brought together reform proponents from Rochester, Long Island, Syracuse and the five boroughs, backed two bills that will make it easier for incarcerated men and women to receive parole, namely anyone over 55 who has been incarcerated for at least 15 years. has been in service. time and those who have shown a record of improvement.

Daryl Tolbert, a Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) member who has been calling on lawmakers all day, is 69 and was released from prison at age 67.

“I saw so many of my peers in the next cell, and people I knew who died and didn’t get that chance,” Tolbert said.

Nearly a quarter of the state’s prison population is now over 50, a percentage that has doubled in recent years.

“These individuals who were once teenagers incarcerated are now the elderly population,” said RAPP activist Jeannie Colon, “and the prison is not equipped to care for these elderly individuals.”

Colon’s husband, Jose Colon, is currently serving a 30-year to life sentence for a murder he committed in 1999 when he was 17.

She said many people in prison are “thrown out and forgotten” but “deserve a second chance”, something the Fair & Timely Act needs to address.

Reasons for rejection

According to a 2021 report by the Vera Institute, about 10,000 people appear before the New York State Probation Commission each year, with a 41% approval rate in 2020. In 9 out of 10 denials, the council cited the original crime as the top reason for rejection. and as the sole reason in 6 out of 10 cases.

“Current parole criteria,” the authors said, “allow commissioners to ignore sufficient evidence to support a person’s willingness to parole and deny parole solely on the basis of the original crime. As a result, many New Yorkers are behind bars. being held based on who they were decades ago, with no recognition of who they are now.”

In New York, race is a factor in who gets parole and who gets a longer sentence — just as it is a factor in many other aspects of the criminal justice system. An Albany Times-Union report found that white inmates are more likely to be paroled than black or Hispanic inmates, and half of all New Yorkers who die behind bars are black, according to a survey by the Center for Justice of Columbia University. That same study found a 777% increase since the 1980s in the number of people who died behind bars and were employed for at least 15 years.

A 2019 State Department of Corrections analysis found that the average age at which the prison died “from natural causes” was 57. This compares to a lifespan of 80.5 years for the average New Yorker.

Fighting perceptions

Supporters of the two bills said they have the support of a majority of state lawmakers, but so far no word from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie or Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, meaning that it is unclear whether the measures will be put to the vote before the vote. end of the current parliamentary term.

Hoping to gain momentum, the day began with a march through the state capitol lobby and a press conference, followed by meetings with lawmakers and their aides.

After one meeting, lawyers discussed one of the main hurdles to getting support: overcoming fear mongering and racism at the heart of the criminal justice system and changing perceptions of Who the stereotypical incarcerated person includes the many men and women who age or even die behind bars.

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