Less Is More Act, To Reduce Prison and Jail Populations in New York, Advances Through Senate Crime, Crime Victims, and Correction Committee

Monday, February 8, 2021

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:

Sumeet Sharma, [email protected] | (646) 591-9483 

Follow online: #LessIsMoreNY | www.lessismoreny.org

 

Less Is More Act, To Reduce Prison and Jail Populations in New York, Advances Through Senate Crime, Crime Victims, and Correction Committee

 

Legislation Limiting the Reincarceration of People on Technical Parole Violations is Supported by Nearly 230 Groups, Plus Law Enforcement

 

ALBANY, NEW YORK - The New York State Senate Committee on Crime, Crime Victims, and Correction voted to favorably advance the Less Is More Act, S.1144, as part of the Legislative Agenda for the Committee for February.

It was the first time the Less Is More bill was brought up for a committee vote in either house of the New York State Legislature and follows months of advocacy by community, advocacy, and faith-based groups.

The Less Is More Act will limit the use of incarceration for technical violations of parole, bolster due process, strengthen public safety, and significantly reduce state prison populations as well as local jail populations across the state, from upstate jails to downstate jails including Rikers Island Jail Complex. In the midst of COVID-19, advocates have called on elected officials to end the reincarceration of people on technical parole violations with coronavirus cases rising rapidly in jails and prisons across New York.

The bill has support from nearly 230 community,  advocacy, and faith groups. It also enjoys the support of  7 District Attorneys from across the state from the counties of Albany, Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Tompkins, Ulster, & Westchester, the Albany and Erie County Sheriffs, and a growing slate of community corrections officials. 

A full list of supporters and comprehensive information on the Less Is More Act can be found at https://www.lessismoreny.org/

 

Quotes from elected officials, community & faith groups, and more: 

Senator Brian A. Benjamin, Prime Bill Sponsor, said: "I want to thank my colleagues on the Crime, Crime Victims, and Correction Committee for voting favorably to advance the Less Is More Act. Too many people are being sent back to prison for non-criminal parole violations. I find it very troubling that more than a third of the time someone is sent to prison, it’s for a non-criminal parole violation. It is a waste for everyone. And, as we see time and again in the criminal justice system, the racial disparities are glaring. We can do better. We must do better. My legislation, which was crafted with input from directly impacted people, community corrections leaders, judges and law enforcement, will put a stop to this, improve public safety, strengthen the reentry process, and save taxpayers millions every year. With nearly 225 groups supporting this bill and strong support from  law enforcement around the state including seven district attorneys, this is the year to pass #LessIsMoreNY."

Senator Julia Salazar, Chair of Crime, Crime Victims, and Corrections Committee, said: "Passing the Less is More Act through the Committee on Crime Victims, Crime & Corrections is an important step that we’ve taken toward parole justice in our state. As a state, New York reincarcerates more people for technical violations of parole than any other state in the country except for Illinois. Parole is supposed to allow for community supervision and re-entry into society, but insignificant parole violations have only exacerbated the crisis of incarceration. When this bill passes, it will bring positive change to the lives of people in the criminal legal system and to the system itself. I thank Senator Benjamin for his leadership as the bill’s sponsor and I look forward to seeing the Less Is More Act passed this session."

Gabriela Vazquez, Member of the Katal Center, said: “Decarceration is of the utmost importance during these times when we have COVID-19 ravaging through our communities and prisons. The passage of #LessIsMoreNY will ensure that people are not being incarcerated for a minor technical parole violation in the middle of a pandemic. I'm happy that the bill was passed out of the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee! Still, we will continue to push for #LessIsMoreNY, and ensure that it gets put on the Senate floor for a vote. The time has come for people on parole to be protected! The time has come for #LessIsMoreNY!"

Derek Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, said: "We are grateful for the members of the Senate Crime Victims, Crime, and Correction Committee who voted to advance the Less is More Act and are hopeful that this signals a new sense of urgency from the Legislature around decarcerating our state's prisons and jails. Incarcerating people accused simply of non-criminal minor rule infractions has been bad policy for decades, with especially devastating consequences for Black and Latinx communities who are more likely to be under community supervision and more likely to be returned to jail for petty infractions. The COVID-19 pandemic, still ripping through jails and prisons with no plan from the state for vaccinating incarcerated people, has made bad policy deadly policy, putting everyone in our jails and prisons at increased risk with no benefit to public safety. Now that the Senate Committee has moved the bill, the Assembly must do the same, and both chambers must bring the bill to a floor vote. Lives hang in the balance, and we urge the Legislature to act quickly to pass the Less is More Act." 

Donna Hylton, President and Founder of A Little Piece of Light, said: "The passage of #LessIsMore NY by the Senate Crime, Crime Victims, and Corrections Committee is a great step in the right direction. New York is known for its progressive leadership in criminal justice reform, and as a leading voice in the fight for the basic rights and basic human dignity of people. I urge legislators to vote YES when it is brought to the floor and to be a supporter of second chances."

Reverend Peter Cook, Executive Director of the New York State Council of Churches, said: "The New York State Council of  Churches thanks the Senate Crime, Crime Victims, and Corrections Committee for approving the Less is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act (S1144) and sending it on to the full Senate for action. When someone goes on parole the purpose is to offer a structured path to help that individual improve and not be reincarcerated. When that path is littered with traps, which are comprised of technical violations in which a person on parole can unwittingly step on and then be sent back to prison, parole moves from being a process of rehabilitation to a perverse game of gotcha. The way parole is structured becomes unjust and defies its intended purpose while costing the public about $600 million annually in wasteful spending. The Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act would address the injustice of technical violations while helping with the state's finances. We urge the passage of #LessIsMoreNY."

Rabbi Hilly Haber, Advocacy Co-chair of the Jewish Coalition on Criminal Justice Reform and Director of Social Justice Organizing and Education at Central Synagogue, said: "To imagine a parole system steeped in Jewish values is to see a system whose objective is return; it is a system which does not create additional, non-criminal, opportunities for re-incarceration, but offers programs and incentives for those who have walked the path of repentance and come home. Less Is More is a common-sense, money-saving, tried and true reform to a broken system whose effects will be felt by thousands of New Yorkers. In its pursuit of a more just legal system, it is deeply aligned with our Jewish texts and allows us to imagine and fight for a system guided by teshuvah and compassion for the most vulnerable among us. We are glad to see it pass out of the Senate Crime, Crime Victims, and Corrections Committee, and we look forward to seeing it voted on favorably by the full Senate."

Imani Webb-Smith, Policy Analyst with the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), said: "Today the Center for Employment Opportunities celebrates the swift, overwhelming passage of  S.1144 or the #LessIsMoreNY bill by the members of New York State's Crime, Crime Victims, and Corrections Committee. #LessIsMoreNY offers the opportunity to enact real, robust reforms to our inequitable system of justice through overhauling the state's parole system that fuels mass incarceration and diverts over $600 million annually of taxpayer money from communities. CEO is the nation’s largest reentry employment provider, offering individuals returning from incarceration access to the support, skills, and training necessary to attain economic mobility. The passage of #LessIsMoreNY will reduce one of the most significant barriers to successful reintegration for people coming home from prisons and jails throughout the state. By reducing the use of incarceration for alleged violations, New Yorkers on parole will have significantly greater opportunities to secure and maintain employment after release and achieve the foundation necessary for a more stable economic future. CEO bears witness daily to the myriad ways New York's parole system betrays the promise of equal protection under law. Racial disparities exist at every stage of the criminal legal system -- from police stop to arrest to conviction to sentencing to parole decisions. The trauma of these inequities persists well after incarceration: Black and brown people are less likely to be granted parole and more likely than their white counterparts to be re-incarcerated for technical parole violations (such as being late to a meeting with their parole officer). If the legislature and Governor are truly committed to a thriving, equitable, multi-racial system of justice in New York, they can no longer afford to continue practices and policies that are in direct conflict with this goal. CEO is proud to support #LessIsMoreNY and and we applaud the Committee's bold commitment to this bill's passage and are eager to see the legislature and Governor follow in their footsteps and enact this crucial legislation without delay."

Michael Hendrickson, Member of the Katal Center, said: “As someone who has spent a year in prison for not committing any new criminal offense, I see today’s vote to move the #LessIsMoreNY bill out of the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction committee as a huge step towards decarceration. This bill works to end the incarceration period that people on parole may face upon a technical violation. It will finally give people on parole and their families the chance to live without fear that at any moment, their lives may be completely disrupted by incarceration. Now it is of priority that the bill gets put on the full Senate floor for a vote!"

Joanne Page, President and CEO of the Fortune Society, said: "The passage of #LessIsMoreNY through the Senate Crime, Crime Victims, and Crime Corrections Committee is one step closer to justice for all New Yorkers. Now more than ever, as we endure the worst public health crisis of our lifetime, it is time to pass this necessary bill. The quality of healthcare in our prisons and jails is suffering due to the pandemic, and the continued practice of locking people up for minor technical parole violations only harms our incarcerated population even further. The passage of #LessIsMoreNY out of the Senate Crime, Crime Victims, and Corrections Committee signals that New York is ready to tackle progressive criminal justice policies. We now look to the full Senate to follow suit.

Serena Liguori, Executive Director New Hour for Women & Children LI, said: “Women and mothers on parole continue to face tremendous barriers to their success. Passage of #LessisMoreNY would create a first step to support successful reentry and stability for so many women and men who deserve a fighting chance to succeed as returning citizens. We are grateful that this bill passed out of the Senate Crime, Crime Victims, and Corrections Committee.” 

Michelle Jaskula, Member of the Katal Center, said:  “The fact that there are about 5,000 people incarcerated in NY for a technical parole violation is unacceptable. For far too long, we have seen how the parole system has instilled the fear of technical violations to disrupt folks’ reintegration back into productive lives. The passage of #LessIsMoreNY is extremely important to me because it will give folks the chance to reunite with their loved ones and successfully reintegrate into society. I am happy that the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee voted to move the bill out of committee. I ask the legislature to pass #LessIsMoreNY in order to save the lives of New Yorkers, and so that families can be reunited."  

Erika Lorshbough, Deputy Policy Director at the NYCLU, said: “The NYCLU applauds the passage of the Less is More Act through the Senate’s Standing Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections, and we are grateful to Chair Julia Salazar for bringing it up for a vote. This crucial legislation will ensure that people under parole supervision are encouraged and rewarded for their rehabilitative efforts, and prevent them from being cruelly locked back up for minor technical violations that have no bearing on public safety. This common-sense reform enjoys broad support from law enforcement and top prosecutors, as well as defenders and civil rights advocates, and we look forward to its passage and enactment.”

Jonel Beauvais, Founder of The Welcome Home Circle, Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, said: "We support Less Is More because no one should be sent back to prison for technical violations. We should instead, invest in people, communities, and programs.   We believe that leaning in with support for those transitioning back into society is more beneficial for the individual and to society‘s wellness rather than punishing them and continuing to disrupt the process of transformational justice." 

Kevin "Renny" Smith, Executive Director of Families and Friends of the Wrongfully Convicted, Inc., said: "When people are released from prison, in many cases, it may take them years to recover from that traumatic expérience. In knowing this, people are in need of treatment, not more prison. As such, sending people back to prison for a technical violation doesn't help them, it hurts them. The Division of Parole should focus more on helping people to make a successful transition back into society, instead of being quick to imprison them." 

Roslyn Smith, Program Manager at Beyond Incarceration Vday, said: “As a woman currently on parole, I wholeheartedly support the passage of Less Is More. It is inhumane to continue warehousing people in prison cells for parole violations which are not constituted as a crime; yet, people are held without bail, without a timely hearing, and sit in jail for up to 90 days awaiting their fate. The time is at hand to pass Less Is More now!!!”

Theodore Carter, Member of the Katal Center, said: “I have said this time after time: people should not be reincarcerated for these technical parole violations. There are thousands of people on parole just like me and they are living with the constant fear that at any moment their lives can be completely disrupted by incarceration. I have PTSD from my contact with the criminal justice system and whenever I see a cop I get anxious. Whenever I get a call from my parole officer my heart starts racing and I get to thinking ‘will this be the day I go back to prison?’. I think this even though I know I'm doing everything in my power to stay in my community, and I'm not doing anything wrong. That is what happens when people enter the criminal justice system and have parole on their backs; we live in fear and it shouldn't be like that. I want to reclaim my freedom and feel like every other citizen in NY. The #LessIsMoreNY bill should have been passed years ago to protect our communities and families. I am grateful that the Bill has been passed by the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee. Now is the time to get this bill to the Senate floor for a vote immediately!"

Alice L. Fontier, Managing Director of the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, said: “New York’s Senate and Assembly must pass the Less is More Act immediately because communities like ours, in Harlem and Northern Manhattan, are ravaged by high incarceration rates and intense surveillance.  Technical parole violations are a prime example of how racism, and not safety concerns, drive these practices. Technical parole violations funnel thousands of our neighbors into jail for as little as being late to a meeting. New York owes its people a fair chance to rebuild their lives in their communities following incarceration. It should support them, not sabotage them.”

Jacqueline Gosdigian, Senior Policy Counsel of Brooklyn Defender Services, said: “As the COVID-19 pandemic ravages New York State’s prisons and jails, it is imperative we recognize and address the imminent risk of re-incarcerating people on parole. In any situation, pandemic or not, no one should ever be in a cell for violating arbitrary parole rules. Brooklyn Defender Services calls on Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to prioritize and pass the Less is More NY bill, which will reduce incarceration and improve fairness and safety for all.”

Robert Gangi, Director of the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), said: "PROP urges state leaders to enact The Less is More NY Act which would serve the dual purpose of creating a more sensible & fair parole system & of substantially reducing the needless incarceration of NYers who pose no risk to public safety. Its main provision is to sharply restrict the use of imprisonment for technical parole violations like missing an appointment or being late for your curfew. NY currently locks up more people for such non-criminal violations than any other state except Illinois. Failure to enact this long overdue change would represent a willingness on the part of NY policy makers to persist both in wasting scarce government resources at a time of severe fiscal austerity & in perpetuating a gross injustice inflicting harm & hardship on some of the state's most vulnerable citizens"

Chelsea Kraimer, Senior Career Manager and Director of Reentry Services at GOSO, said: Getting Out and Staying Out (GOSO) wholeheartedly supports #LessIsMoreNY because we believe that increased incarceration and community supervision does not create a safer or more just New York. Parole is just another way that our legal system seeks to trap people in a cycle of justice-involvement, and this disproportionately impacts people of color, who are 99% of the people we serve at GOSO. This cycle must end here and now. We call for the Senate and Assembly to pass, and for Governor Cuomo to sign, #LessIsMoreNY. We need to build supportive communities, provide resources and services, and increase access to opportunities, not incarcerate or supervise our neighbors. 

Alison Wilkey, Director of Public Policy at the John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity, said: “Nearly one third of the new admissions to New York State prisons are people reincarcerated for technical violations of parole – not because they were convicted of a new crime. This draconian and arbitrary practice that traps people in cycles of incarceration has to stop. The New York State Senate and Assembly must pass Less is More: the Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act this session.”

Scott Levy, Chief Policy Counsel at The Bronx Defenders, said: "The Less Is More Act is a critical component of the effort to remake New York's criminal legal system and decarcerate our jails and prisons. Incarcerating people, disproportionately Black and brown New Yorkers, for technical parole violations is cruel and counterproductive. This bill will allow thousands of New Yorkers to maintain stable housing, keep jobs, take care of their families, and avoid the risk of COVID-19 while incarcerated. The Senate and Assembly should pass and the Governor should sign the Less Is More Act immediately."

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