October 07, 2011

NYSACDL Supports Call For Parole Reform

The NYSACDL [New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers] has joined a growing list of legal, advocacy and community organizations that have called for the reform of New York parole law. This diverse coalition supports the Safe And Fair Evaluation of Parole Act, also known as the SAFE Parole Act. The SAFE Parole Act would amend New York’s existing parole statute, Executive Law § 259-i... ...

It might be asked why parole reform should be supported at a time when the newly appointed New York State Permanent Sentencing Commission seems poised to recommend adoption of a mostly determinate sentencing scheme for nonviolent felonies, adding it to the determinate scheme already adopted for violent and drug felonies. The answer is simple. No matter how quickly the Sentencing Commission and the Legislature act, there will still be thousands of people in prison serving indeterminate sentences for decades to come who will face parole board appearances. For example, there is certainly no consideration being given to ending indeterminate life sentences for A-1 violent felonies, A-1 drug conspiracies and major traffickers or persistent felony offenders.

In fiscal year 2009-2010 the Parole Board conducted over 19,000 hearings for people who were serving indeterminate sentences. It will take years for that number to diminish substantially. As of January 1, 2009 there were over 9,100 men and women in New York prisons serving life sentences for A-1 violent felonies. With an initial parole release rate of just 8% for A-1 violent felons, and a subsequent parole release rate of 13%, the number of people requiring parole consideration will measure in the thousands for the foreseeable future. The remarkably low release rate for this population reflects the Parole Board’s aversion to parole release for applicants convicted of A-1 violent felonies. The Parole Board has chosen to focus on the “serious nature of the criminal offense” rather than looking at factors grounded in prison based performance, to determine if there is a reasonable basis to conclude that the individual will live a law abiding life if released. It is noteworthy that the recidivism rate for this group is significantly lower than any other group of parole releasees. According to the Division of Parole, of the 784 people serving life sentences for A-1 violent felonies who were released on parole during 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 the recidivism rate, measured by return to DOCS for a new felony conviction, was 1/4 of one percent.

It is both unfair and bad corrections policy to require such a significant number of people to continue to be subject to a parole release system so fundamentally flawed.

For full article, including a review of some of the changes proposed by the SAFE Parole Act, see:
NYSACDL Supports Call For Parole Reform (Atticus, Volume 23 Number 1, Winter 2011)