With less than a week left until the end of New York’s legislative session, we wanted to make sure you’d seen two pieces of parole legislation that can address New York’s incarceration crisis and help safely reduce the prison population: the Elder Parole bill and the Fair & Timely Parole Act. This is a top end-of-session issue that has garnered the support of over 300 groups and people across New York, including the NAACP, (see a quote from NY Chapter Leader below or here), Working Families Party, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, and Chelsea Clinton, among many other groups representing elder rights, labor, LGBTQ+ issues, survivors and victims. In addition, lawmakers across New York have expressed their support for the two bills, from Long Island to Buffalo, New York City to Rochester, and Hudson Valley to the Capital Region. If passed, the Elder Parole and Fair & Timely Parole bills will reunite New York families, free up $522 million every year, and reduce racial disparities in parole release decisions.
Fifteen percent (15%) of people in the state’s prisons – nearly 4,900 people – are aged 55 or over. Long sentences and few opportunities for release have ballooned the older incarcerated population over the past two decades, even as the non-elderly population in state prisons declined. This has created an aging crisis because incarcerated people who are 55 years old have the health profile of someone who is 65 or 70 years old who is not incarcerated. New York’s growing number of elderly people who are incarcerated is in part due to lengthy prison sentences doled out during the “tough on crime” era, and also because New York currently doesn’t grant fair or meaningful parole release opportunities.
New York could reverse this troubling trend by passing Elder Parole, which would expand eligibility for parole reform by allowing people who’ve reached the age of 55 and have served at least 15 years of their sentence an opportunity to have a parole hearing. If passed, roughly 1,000 older New Yorkers would immediately be eligible to go before the Parole Board, and hundreds more would become eligible each year after passage. This would free up hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on healthcare, affordable housing and education that make communities stronger, create real opportunities for our elders to come home, all while prioritizing public health and public safety to ensure fewer people languish behind bars.
Additionally, New York’s Parole Board routinely denies release to people based solely on the nature of their conviction. This senseless practice reduces individuals to a single act while it fails to improve public safety and comes at a fiscal and emotional cost to incarcerated people, their families, and communities. The Fair & Timely Parole Act is the first step toward creating meaningful opportunities for the release of thousands of incarcerated New Yorkers, and would make the parole release process more fair.
Hazel Dukes, President of the New York State chapter of the NAACP, noted that the two bills will “chart a course toward equality” in reducing racial disparities in the state. Racial disparities in parole eligibility in New York are acute: in 2020, white people were released at a rate of 41%, compared to 34% of Black people and 33% of Latinx people. This follows a pattern of well-established racial disparities among parole releases in New York, and means that Black and Latinx people are less likely to be reunited with their families and communities than their white neighbors who are incarcerated. Enacting parole reforms will help chip away at the racial disparities that exist in New York’s parole system and sentencing practices.