A coalition of groups backing criminal justice law changes are urging state lawmakers to support a bill that would allow for the release of prison inmates who are age 55 or older and have served more than 15 years in prison.
The letter, signed by more than 100 groups and sent to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, comes amid deaths of older inmates and highlights one woman who served decades in prison, earned college degrees and helped train service dogs for wounded veterans.
The woman, Valerie Gaiter, died in August at age 61, 10 years before she would have been eligible for parole.
“Elder parole is a common sense, evidenced-based, and fiscally responsible way to save lives, reunite families and communities, and reinvest millions of taxpayer dollars into much needed public resources,” the letter states.
“The bill affords people in prison aged 55 and older who have served 15 or more years in prison an opportunity to go before the Parole Board.”
The measure would not automatically release older inmates from prison. Instead, it would allow the Parole Board to determine whether an older applicant is suitable for release.
“The bill offers hope and a second chance to those otherwise sentenced to die in prison,” the letter stated.
Overall, the groups estimate there are more than 650 deaths of older inmates in state prisons over the last decade.
A push comes for the measure amid a broader effort in the legislature to change the state’s criminal justice laws, including an end to cash bail for many charges and measures taking effect that would require new procedures for the evidentiary discovery process and an expungement in marijuana-based convictions.
The Cuomo administration over the last eight years, meanwhile, has sought the closure of prison facilities in upstate amid a declining inmate population.