New York, NY – Friday, the #LessIsMoreNY Coalition, including family members of incarcerated people and people directly impacted by parole in New York, rallied outside of the NYC office of Governor Cuomo, demanding passage of the #LessIsMoreNY parole reform bill, and calling on the governor to take aggressive action to protect incarcerated people in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
New York reincarcerates more people for technical violations of parole than any other state in the country. Today there are more than 5,000 people incarcerated in New York for non-criminal technical violations of parole, like missing an appointment with a parole officer or testing positive for use of alcohol.
The racial disparities associated with this process are stark: Black and Latinx people on parole are re-incarcerated at far higher rates than white people on parole. Research shows the price tag for incarcerating people for noncriminal technical violations of parole in New York is nearly $700 million every year.
New York’s unique and harmful use of incarceration for noncriminal technical violation of parole is extremely disruptive to the reentry process for 35,000 people on parole in the state. Meanwhile, the pandemic has ripped through prisons in the state, and Cuomo largely ignored the COVID crisis behind bars until community pressure and a series of lawsuits forced him to start making vaccines available to incarcerated people, including those incarcerated for technical parole violations.
The Less is More bill, S.1144 (Benjamin) / A.5576 (Forrest), will transform the parole process in New York to focus resources on helping people get back to life after prison by limiting the incarceration of people for technical parole violation and by incentivizing rehabilitation through successful completion of parole.
The Less Is More Act is supported by over 260 community & advocacy groups across NY, 8 District Attorneys from the counties of Albany, Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Nassau, Tompkins, Ulster, & Westchester, and law enforcement leaders from across New York including the Albany and Erie County Sheriffs.
A full list of supporters and more information on the Less Is More Act can be found at www.lessismoreny.org.
Speakers at Friday’s action included people on parole and family members with incarcerated loved ones sharing their stories about how a broken parole system is disrupting reentry, harming families and communities, and contributing to the incarceration crisis in New York. Speakers also called on Cuomo to expand vaccine access for incarcerated people, and to follow public health recommendations to release people from prisons and jails – #FreeThemNowNY.
Statements from impacted members, and advocacy groups:
Avion Gordon, Member of the Katal Center, said:
“I learned many things in prison and one thing I will never forget is people act within the structures of the institutions of which they are a part of. If the parole system is one of rehabilitation then why are there additional hurdles and burdens being placed on an individual that has been released from prison. The parole system is a barrier to success. There are around 5,000 individuals Incarcerated for technical violations. These technical violations make it impossible for people on parole to have a good job of any caliber because at any given moment they could be re-incarcerated for something as simple as being late for curfew or police contact or missing child support payments. We need Less Is More to stop the arbitrary and capricious actions from parole officers”
Tracy Lang, A Little Piece of Light, said:
“Today there are more than 35,000 people on active parole supervision, and I am one of them. It is imperative that the #LessIsMoreNY Bill passes because it will lessen the fear that so many families such as mine have had. The fear that their loved one might return back to prison because of a minor technical parole violation. I know that this will not be the case for long. A change is coming now!”
Paul Rivera, Member of the Center for Employment Opportunities, said:
“Being on parole I have found that the syncretism of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision with the Parole Board demands the passage of the LessIsMore Act. Parole compliance suffocates the human spirit, deforms morality, equates me with my past, and restricts my present. All the while negatively altering, impacting and defining my future. The passage of LessIsMore will Restore stability to myself and others. It is for this and more that I Support this the Less Is More Act!”
Michael Hendrickson, Member of the Katal Center, said:
“Like so many New Yorkers, when I initially became a part of the criminal justice system, I was ignorant to the truth behind the wall of fiction that is the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. It wasn’t until I was subjected to being incarcerated for a non-criminal technical parole violation that I realized the truth. Upon being released from prison I had been a productive member of my community for a year and a half before I got a technical parole violation. I had to spend a year in a county jail because my parole officer thought ‘I needed to be reeled in’ for being too successful. Ever since I have been a strong supporter of the Less Is More Act not just because of my lived experiences but that of others that have had their lives ruined by these mass incarceration techniques. I implore you Governor Cuomo to release everyone that is being held on a technical violation in New York State. Be a leader that sets the example for all other states to emulate as you do with so many other groundbreaking policies and enact into law the Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act.”
Luke Steele, Member of the Katal Center, said:
“There are currently thousands of incarcerated people being exposed to the virus. New York must reduce the number of people being incarcerated during the pandemic. We have to decarcerate. One of the demands from our #FreeThemNowNY campaign is to release incarcerated people. Even more, people should not be incarcerated during a pandemic for a technical parole violation. As someone who is on parole right now, I fear going back simply for missing one of the stipulations imposed by DOCCS. This is why I am calling upon Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to pass legislation like the Less Is More Act to reduce the number of people being incarcerated and to release people now who are being held for a technical parole violation. They must also act swiftly to give all incarcerated individuals access to the vaccine in order to lower the risk of contracting COVID-19 and to save lives!”
Emelissa Curo, Member of the Katal Center, said:
“I have family and friends that will be affected by the parole system when they come out of prison. I have a friend that is spending over 5 years in prison for a technical parole violation because he traveled outside the state for his job; a job, by the way, that was recommended by his parole officer. This is just one example of many that clearly show you the harm that the parole system is causing in our community. It is an unfair, punitive, cruel and racist system that needs to be changed. This is why we need to keep voicing our demands for justice, we need to keep shining our light for those whose lights have been diminished. I demand that Governor Cuomo and the NYS legislature passes #LessIsMoreNY in order to free our people now!”
Bobbi Leigh, Member of the Katal Center, said:
“I have seen throughout my life so much injustice in our criminal system. However, none have affected me and my loved ones more than the hoops we have had to jump through once they were released. When an incarcerated person is released into the streets and put on parole, they are expected to live by standards that hinder their success on the outside. Standards that no one else in society has to live up to. My fiance has been sitting in jail for 9 months on a parole detainer because he violated curfew. He has been sitting in a county jail for a technical violation with no end in sight. If our government abided by the demands of the #FreeThemNowNY campaign then he would have gotten released due to his preexisting health condition that makes him far more vulnerable to contracting the virus. He has 1 lung that now has emphysema and when covid spread rampant in the jail, we were terrified that he wouldn’t make it home to us at all. He needs help, not more jail time! He needs rehab and real doctors and real treatment that can only be achieved within the community and with the people that care about him. If Less is More were passed, he would not have been incarcerated for a technical violation in the middle of a pandemic. This why I demand that Governor Cuomo pass #LessIsMoreNY Now!”
Gabriela Vazquez, Member of the Katal Center, said:
“Families should not be separated because their loved one’s missed curfew or missed an appointment with their parole officer, it’s not fair to be sent back to prison for such a minor infraction. Yet, this is the reality that so many people in New York are facing. The parole system does not rehabilitate people. It does not help them with their reentry process. What it does is create this never-ending cycle of reincarceration. I know first-hand the mental toll that incarceration has on not just an individual but their family. Like many, my family knows what it’s like to constantly worry about your loved ones who are incarcerated especially during this pandemic. Our government should take notes from our #FreeThemNowNY demand which clearly lays out the measures our government must take to protect our incarcerated loved ones from the pandemic. We demand they have access to proper PPE and that they be released if they have a pre-existing medical condition. Even more, they must pass legislation like #LessIsMoreNY because it will put an end to this senseless cycle of reincarceration for a technical violation of parole and decarcerate many. I urge the NYS legislature to pass #LessIsMoreNY immediately!”
Robin Lawrence, Member of the Katal Center, said:
“The needs of formerly and currently incarcerated men and women have fallen onto deaf ears for far too long. I myself have witnessed all the injustices that exist within the parole system. It is so depressing to realize how far behind our state is when it comes to ensuring that people on parole are protected from the abuse that parole officers can inflict on them. It is so depressing to me because I know how much our state and how much our people have to offer. The need to pass #LessIsMoreNY now is so pressing because we need to protect our loved one’s now more than ever. There needs to be an end to mass incarceration due to technical violations. I am calling on our elected officials to do better by our people and pass #LessIsMoreNY!”
Della Smith, Member of the Katal Center, said:
“I am a grandmother raising a 10 year old granddaughter of a son, soon to be on parole. As a society we must help individuals on parole to be successful and rebuild their lives in our forever changing society. They deserve the chance to rebuild productive meaningful healthy lives as citizens. For this reason, we must support parole reform in New York State and everywhere! We must pass the Less Is More Act now. It is a step towards a more just society for all citizens. We are equal to all and superior to none!
For more information on the #LessIsMoreNY campaign, please visit www.lessismoreny