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daily news: coronavirus should drive state lawmakers to pass parole act: lippman commission

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Coronavirus should drive state lawmakers to pass parole act: Lippman Commission

The commission that backed the push to Close Rikers is calling for state lawmakers to quickly pass legislation that would reduce the number of parolees in city jails and help curb coronavirus.

The Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform — better known as the Lippman Commission — is among a number of groups that say lawmakers should push through the Less is More Act.

If passed, that law would ensure those accused of technical parole violations get a fair judicial hearing to determine whether they should be incarcerated — and could potentially reduce the city’s jail population by at least 400 people, according to a new report released on Thursday by the commission.

That translates to a 65% reduction in the number of people incarcerated for technical violations at Rikers Island, the report says.

“As the nation’s leading public health officials are instructing us to practice social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19, it is more important than ever to identify and act quickly to safely eliminate unnecessary incarceration in our jails and prisons, where many of those detained are already at high risk,” said commission chair Jonathan Lippman.

“Many people are incarcerated at Rikers only for allegations of technical violations of parole — not for new criminal charges … It is my hope that swift action is taken to release as many of these people as possible and to pass the Less Is More Act.”

The legislation — which is also supported by three city district attorneys — is part of a bigger push from criminal justice groups to release state parolees amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“There are hundreds in Rikers and thousands across the state who should not be detained, yet are today stuck in a cell where disease transmission is far more likely,” said Gabriel Sayegh, co-executive director of the Katal Center for Health, Equality, and Justice. “The city and state should release these people immediately. That they haven’t done so yet is disgraceful and dangerous.”

There are nearly 700 state parolees in city jails, which is about one out of every eight people in custody, city data shows.

Those individuals are incarcerated solely because they were accused of non-criminal, technical violations of parole conditions like missing appointments with a parole officer or being late for curfew, the commission report says.

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About 100 of those people are 55 years old or older, the reports says — the age group that’s at high risk for suffering severe coronavirus symptoms.

“The crisis we are in right now highlights the absurdity of incarcerating so many people only because they are accused of non-criminal technical violations of parole,” said Lippman Commission Executive Director Tyler Nims. “We have said this is the right thing to do.”

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