The New York State Legislature worked until night to pass new laws designed to curb the number of people sent back to prison for non-criminal parole violations.
The Senate and Assembly passed the Less Is More Act to prevent people on parole from being sent back to prison for technical violations.
If signed into law by Governor Cuomo, the “Less Is More Act” will stop parole officers from reincarcerating people for technical offenses, like missed check-ins and curfews or marijuana use. It will also give residents legal counsel when they are accused of violating their conditions of release and shorten parole periods for those who consistently follow the rules.
The new legislation, passed by the state’s Democratic supermajority, is intended to slash New York’s prison population. New York sends more people back to prison for violations than any other state in the country with the possible exception of Illinois.
In 2019, 40 percent of people in New York prisons were there simply because of technical parole violations.
“‘Less Is More’ is a critical first step to reforming New York State’s punitive and racially discriminatory parole revocation system,” said Lorraine McEvilley, Director of the Parole Revocation Defense Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “We look forward to working with the New York State Legislature next session to ensure that our clients do not continue to face harsh penalties, including years in prison for low-level, non-violent conduct, merely because they are under parole supervision.”
n addition to helping formerly incarcerated people, Alexander Horwitz, executive director of New Yorkers United for Justice, notes the legislation could save New York state and municipal agencies hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
“If you pay taxes in New York state, ‘Less is More’ impacts you,” Horwitz said. “Right off the top, it addresses one of the biggest issues for all of New York, which is the incredible waste of this system, what we pay to wrongfully destroy lives.”
The bill’s passage is the latest in a string of victories for progressive criminal justice reform advocates, who previously pushed state Democrats to cut down on pre-trial detention and speed up defendants’ rights to access police records in criminal cases.
But not all law enforcement groups are happy. The union that represents parole officers opposes the bill, arguing that its members should have discretion in making decisions about who should go back to prison and who should not. Similar objections have been voiced by numerous police agencies
In response, the Republican Minority Conference Assemblyman Will Barclay responded. “Recent new laws have upended our criminal justice system and fueled an unprecedented spike in violent crime in communities across New York. Rather than restoring order, Albany Democrats have been systematically dismantling the rule of law piece by piece. The Assembly Minority Conference is committed to push even harder on behalf of innocent victims and protect the interests of those who protect us.
Even though we’ve reached the end of the session calendar, I, along with my colleagues, am committed to continuing to do the people’s work each day. New York has moved too far in the wrong direction, and we must ensure we get back on track before more residents pack their bags and head for the exits.”
Many pro-reform advocates feel the reforms have not gone far enough.
Some groups want prisoners to have the right to appeal parole board denials to judges who would be above the board itself. Others are pushing for a bill to release more people over the age of 55 who have spent more than 15 years in prison.
A spokesperson for Cuomo said the Governor’s office would review the legislation.
The Assembly also passed a bill Thursday to end the arrest and prosecution of kids below the age of 12, except in homicide cases. That bill earlier passed the Senate.
Under current state law, children can be charged as juvenile delinquents as young as age 7. In 2019, police arrested over 800 largely Black or Hispanic elementary school children in New York City ages 12 and younger, according to city data.
The unfinished business regarding the Child Victims Act and to pass an Adult Survivors Act, left advocates clamoring for lawmakers to return soon to session.