Two parole reform bills pushed by New York criminal justice advocates became victims of rising violent crime around the country.
Elder Parole (S.15A/A.8855A) and Fair and Timely Parole (S.7514/A.4231) both languished at the end of a legislative session marked by a fierce pushback by the public, Republicans and moderate Democrats who see the national rise in crime as a powerful counter-narrative to the push for social justice seen in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and many others.
But for activists like Jose Saldana, the need for these parole bills to pass is as urgent as ever.
“They are critically important for literally tens of thousands of families with incarcerated loved ones,” Saldana, executive director of RAPP ( the Release Aging People in Prison campaign), told Capital Tonight. “We have a serious public health crisis in our prisons across the state. Men and women languish in prison unnecessarily for decades more because of the politics of mass incarceration.”
Saldana said that thousands of men and women, mostly Black, have been in prison for various crimes for upwards of five decades.
“These are people who went through a genuine transformation,” he said of older inmates. “(These are people) who can be a valuable asset to their home communities.”
Under the Elder Parole bill, an incarcerated person who is 55 years of age and who has served at least 15 years of their sentence would have a chance to appeal for parole every two years. Fair & Timely Parole would require parole to be offered to incarcerated people who are eligible unless they pose a risk that cannot be handled by parole supervision.
When asked if the rise in crime around the nation may have hurt the chances of passage for these bills, Saldana said possibly, but that our political leaders are focused on the wrong issues if they want violent crime to recede.
“There is no quick fix to crime in our communities, in our society. But rather than deal with the root of the issue, that contributes to crime, they (leaders) have chosen a simple fix, which is not a fix at all, which is more punishment, more incarceration,” Saldana said.
Despite critics of the legislation citing crime rates and victims as the reason for their opposition, the legislation has received support from various crime victim and anti-gun violence groups including the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault and New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. In a letter to legislative leaders last month, a coalition of groups called for passage writing “endless punishment poses a systemic barrier to healing and accountability — it does not encourage individuals who have done harm to take responsibility for their actions or transform their behaviors so that the harm, violence, or abuse does not happen again.”
Another bill that didn’t pass this session that advocates like Saldana were hoping to see cross the finish line was the Clean Slate bill (S1553C/A6399B). Clean Slate would automatically clear a New Yorker’s conviction record once they become eligible.
“It’s just counterproductive especially in our community, to keep these barriers – employment, education and housing,” he said.