Press Release - Community Groups, People and Families Impacted by Mass Incarceration, Gather at Rikers Island Bridge in Support of #LessIsMoreNY & Criminal Justice Reforms
September 24, 2021
Yonah Zeitz, [email protected] | 347-201-2768
Follow online: #CutShutInvestNY #CloseRikers | @katalcenter
Community Groups, People and Families Impacted by Mass Incarceration, Gather at Rikers Island Bridge in Support of #LessIsMoreNY & Criminal Justice Reforms
Coalition Stands Against Lawmakers Who, in Face of Humanitarian Crisis on Rikers, are Calling for Policies that Make Our Communities Less Safe and Will Lead to More People Sent to Notorious Jail
New York, NY - Today, members of the #LessIsMoreNY Coalition, including people directly impacted by Rikers and Parole, gathered in support of criminal justice reforms, like the Less is More Act, which advances justice, strengthens public safety, and reduces jail populations. The rally took place as a small group of lawmakers also were gathered outside Rikers -- which is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis where 12 people have died this year alone -- to make their call to send even more people to the notorious jail complex.
The Less is More parole reform Act, passed by the Legislature in June, and signed by Gov. Hochul last week, is about safety and justice. That is why it is supported by law enforcement, including eight district attorneys representing more than half the state's population, law enforcement, and more than 300+ faith and community groups across the state. Many other states have already implemented reforms similar to Less is More, reducing community supervision populations and curbing violations, while also increasing public safety. These states include Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah. The shameless opposition to Less is More by some lawmakers desperately looking for quick headlines, underscores their utter disregard for the lives of people and families in New York impacted by systemic racism and mass incarceration.
People are dying at Rikers, including people detained for noncriminal technical violations of parole, which is the focus of Less Is More. For lawmakers to use racist scare tactics and outright lies to attack Less is More - and to do so outside of Rikers Island in the midst of this latest humanitarian crisis -- ought to be ashamed of themselves. New York has come too far in our fight for both safety and justice, we won't let racism and fear-mongering stop progress toward a safer, fairer, more just system for ALL New Yorkers.
Statements from law enforcement officials, impacted people, and community and advocacy groups:
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr., said: “Before this bill, New York incarcerated more people for parole rules violations than anywhere else in the country. And yet, after decades of this draconian approach, there was no evidence that locking people up for missing appointments with a parole officer, failing to report a change of address, testing positive for drugs or alcohol, or being late for curfew actually helped public safety at all. Instead, jailing people for technical violations counter-productively drove mass incarceration and undermined public safety by destabilizing people who were trying in good faith to reenter their communities. My Office will continue to strongly support the Less Is More Act throughout its implementation, as we have since the day this historic legislation was introduced.”
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, said: "I was an early supporter of Less Is More and was very gratified to see it signed into law. This commonsense legislation will make our state fairer, save money, and also enhance public safety by allowing people to better reintegrate into society and establish productive lives instead of separating them from jobs and relatives through detention for non-criminal violations. No amount of misinformation and fear mongering will change these facts."
Donna Hylton, President and Founder of A Little Piece of Light, said: "Less Is More is about saving lives - the lives of those who are on parole and the lives of their children and families. This law gives those who have already served their time a chance. Lawmakers who have the duty to represent their constituents should be ashamed that they are pushing back against this transformative bill. Sending people back to prison for noncriminal parole violations is harmful, to the individual, the community, and to public safety. New York has taken a big step towards a more just society by enacting Less Is More, and we need it enacted in full by Governor Hochul."
Kenyatta Muzzanni, Director of Organizing at the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: "We stand today in support of Less is More, in support of strengthening safety and justice through much needed criminal justice reform, and we stand in solidarity with the people held in deplorable conditions at Rikers and with the families who have lost loved ones to the violence of this inhumane facility. It is shameful that anyone would stand in opposition to safety and justice, but here we are, with lawmakers standing outside Rikers calling for more people to be sent there, even if it means their deaths. And it is reprehensible that of all days to stand at Rikers to oppose this bill, they choose the day after the unnecessary death of another person, held at Rikers for a technical parole violation. Had Less is More been enacted into law before this week, Isa Abdul Karim may still be alive. New York must leave the racist policies of the past behind and move forward. The less is more bill is rooted in safety and justice, it was shaped by both impacted community members and law enforcement, and it is among the most important pieces of legislation that has passed in our state in a long time. If any elected officials wants to stand for safety and justice, they should be standing with the Less is More coalition. We will not be turned around in our fight for Justice. Thank you Governor Hochul for signing this bill, now let's get it implemented immediately."
Dr. Vanda Seward, Director of the Criminal Justice Program, CUNY Kingsborough Community College and Former Statewide Director of Reentry Services NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, said: "The timely but untimely response to the passing of the Less Is More law and the need to reduce the Rikers Island parole population has caused a major misunderstanding. The Less is More law does not allow for persons who are a public safety concern to be released early. The Less is More law is about helping people who are already under community supervision who have been satisfactorily adjusting to their transition from incarceration to the community and have shown over a period that they are a law-abiding tax paying citizen. The media is attempting to scare the citizens of New York as always by not reporting accurate information. Persons being held at Rikers Island who are awaiting court due to new criminal charges are not being released but are being transferred to a New York State Correctional Facility. This transfer will assist in eliminating the dangers for both correctional staff and persons incarcerated at Rikers Island. This is a mayoral election year her in New York City and the public should already be familiar with the strategies that politicians use to get the vote. Fear should not be a strategy. The Less is More Law is about enhancing public safety by reallocating the taxpayers’ dollars to enhance the supervision of those that need increased monitoring and community-based services needed to support their reintegration."
Zachary Katznelson, Executive Director of a More Just NYC, said: “We are witnessing a humanitarian crisis in real time. The stakes are far too high to be distracted by baseless scare tactics. In the last two weeks alone, we have seen multiple preventable & tragic fatalities at Rikers. Legislation like Less Is More ensures that those with technical parole violations are not trapped in an unsafe, inhumane place like Rikers Island. It is also a common sense safety measure, mixing real consequences for rule breaking with positive incentives for compliance, based on tried and true reforms from across the country.”
Stan Germán, Executive Director of the New York County Defender Services, said: “Just days ago, a 42-year old father of two died on Rikers Island, where he languished for over a month without medical attention after being held solely on a technical parole violation. Tragically, if the Less Is More Act had been in effect last month, he would never been incarcerated at all. In no world should missing an appointment or smoking (now legal) marijuana be a death sentence. And yet, that is exactly what happened to Mr. Isaabdul Karim, and that is exactly what Senate Republicans would like to see happen more often to the hundreds of Black and brown men our state cages for such petty infractions.”
Serena Martin-Liguori, Executive Director of New Hour-Long Island, said: “It’s reprehensible that legislators are attempting to undermine the Less Is More Act. Our clients across Long Island are impacted by and have worked on the #LessIsMoreNY campaign because of its tremendous positive impact on so many lives. Less is More is about public safety, and it’s a public safety issue to try to discredit the bill while people are dying on Rikers and COVID numbers are rising. We need the Less Is More Act, and we need it to be fully implemented by Governor Hochul.”
Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society, said: "By signing the Less Is More Act - a measure supported by a wide range of law enforcement and prosecutorial leaders across the state - New York finally turned the page on a draconian parole revocation system that helped perpetuate mass incarceration for decades. New York must continue to build on that success, especially given the humanitarian crisis impacting thousands of New Yorkers at local jails. Today’s action from these lawmakers is tone-deaf political theatre from people on the wrong side of history.”
Jordyn Rosenthal the Director of Community Engagement at the Women's Community Justice Association, said: Last week, New York State took a significant step forward with passing the Less is More Act. In this time of dire crisis, where 12 people have lost their lives while languishing on Rikers Island it is unconscionable to repeal this urgent and historic legislation. We need to be actively decarcerating and providing people with resources and supports that aid in stability such as housing and healthcare while removing bureaucratic barriers like technical parole violations. If we do anything, it should be decarcerating and closing Rikers Island as soon as possible. We can start by closing the Rose M. Singer Center before the end of this administration.
Alison Wilkey, Director of Public Policy, John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity, said: “The Less Is More Act makes New York’s criminal legal system more just, plain and simple. Previously, New York State re-incarcerated more people for technical, non-criminal violations of parole than any other state. This does not make anyone safer, and it is a waste of both human potential and money – it costs New York State $79,879 per incarcerated person annually. This pushback around Less Is More is nonsensical – people are dying in Rikers while incarcerated for technical violations. Jail should not be a death sentence. Less Is More is one step closer to reforming our unjust system and saving lives.”
The League of Women Voters New York City, said: “The League of Women Voters Committee for Criminal Justice Reform stands firm in our belief that the Less Is More Act is a necessary reform for the justice system. The system should be one that rehabilitates and reintegrates people who are formerly incarcerated, not one that actively tries to reincarcerate people for minor violations. Doing so only contributes to the problem of mass incarceration. We will continue to fight against any push back the bill receives and support the efforts of all our partners.”
Yamirca Vasquez, Member of the Katal Center, said: “It is so disappointing to see some elected officials fighting against Less Is More NY. So many community members worked to get this amazing piece of legislation passed. And for our voices to be blatantly disregarded is ridiculous. Less Is More NY allows people to finally be at ease, because they won’t have to worry about getting violated and jailed for something as small as being late to a meeting. The delays in signing Less Is More NY played a huge role in a number of deaths on the island; those deaths were completely preventable. And now we have elected officials saying that they want to keep locking people up at Rikers Island during this crisis? It is unacceptable. We need the District Attorneys, elected officials and mayor to stop sending people to Rikers Island immediately. Sending people to detention centers is not always the answer, especially for those struggling with mental health issues or addiction.”
Carlos Aguilera, Member of the Katal Center, said: “These Republicans are hypocrites. They rely on fear mongering, rather than talking about the facts. Especially when it comes to the condition at Rikers. Less Is More NY isnt just opening the jail doors, and letting everyone out. That is just not the case! Take me for example, if I get violated for being late to an appointment, does that suddenly mean I deserve to get locked back up at Rikers? No, that shouldn’t be the case, that should never be the case. Elected officials do not care about people, families or communities. All they care about is money, and using fear mongering during an election cycle to get more votes. They don’t care that people have lost their lives. These Republicans don’t visit Rikers and see first hand the abuses that are happening, because if they did, they would never call to keep Rikers open.”
Jasmine Bracy, Member of the Katal Center, said: “The crisis at Rikers is beyond politics, beyond any fear monger statistics, and beyond a paycheck. This is about the people who lost their lives while in custody at Rikers Island. There have been 12 deaths on Rikers Island, from this year alone. Three of those deaths happened within just a two week period. How can you justify that? Why would you try to justify that? Families are being affected because their loved ones are being incarcerated. People are suffering even though they have served their time. So many people on Rikers should have never been reincarcerated in the first place. Let alone sent back during this crisis. I’m calling on elected officials to stop the fear tactics, and for once do what is in the best interest of our communities.”
Francis Pascuzzi, Member of the Katal Center, said: “Yet again our leaders are trying to scare the public based on the actions of just one or two people. They do not make up the majority of people on parole. Elected officials should stand on our side, and fight with us, not against us.”
Emelissa Curo, Member of the Katal Center, said: “Our prison population and incarceration rate has grown exponentially. This especially affects in a very disproportionate way our black and brown communities. The parole system is brutal, punitive and racist. It doesn’t offer the right services needed for people to thrive back in the community after incarceration. Rolling back LessIsMoreNY will be a disgrace and a death sentence for many, especially those incarcerated at Rikers. There is absolutely no reason for people on parole to be incarcerated for non-criminal technical parole violations. I do not want my loved ones and the people in my community to be subjected to this injustice. Politicians asking for the repeal of Less is More, shows us that they do not care about the human crisis and abuse that incarcerated people have to go through on a daily basis. I strongly oppose the call of a rollback on #LessIsMoreNY. Now is the time to decarcerate and LessIsMoreNY will accomplish just that and more”
Tomas Garita, Member of the New York City Brown Berets said: “It’s infuriating that Republicans are holding an event opposing the Less Is More bill when clearly New York State if anything is not doing enough to decarcerate. The Less is More bill takes on a whole new approach to actually keeping our communities safe. Republicans continue to push this narrative of more policing and more arrests will equal more security for our communities when in reality the State has been on this approach for decades. Their approach has caused nothing more than an increase in recidivism rates that make it impossible for Black and Brown people to break free from the cycle of mass incarceration. We need a new approach and the Less Is More bill provides that fresh approach, because it was crafted by the people directly impacted by mass incarceration.”