By Elina Tarkazikis and Gloria Pazmino via SpectrumNews
NEW YORK — With the stroke of a pen on Friday, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the “Less is More Act” into law, greenlighting a change to an overly punitive system of parole that for years made New York the state with the highest rate of incarcerated people for parole violations in the country.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- New York has the highest rate of incarcerated people for parole violations in the country
- The “Less is More Act” will reform the state’s parole system and authorizes the emergency release of hundreds of inmates currently on Rikers Island
- The new law is designed to help people complete community supervision while avoiding re-incarceration because of technical parole violations
- Technical violations include missing an appointment with a parole officer, using a controlled substance or missing curfew
Avion Gordon told NY1 the change means thousands of people like him won’t have to face losing their freedom over technical violations of their parole. Gordon said it was a constant fear while he was on parole a year ago.
“For me, this bill is more than just parole reform,” Gordon said. “It’s a life change. It’s freedom, it’s safety for everyone that’s on parole, everyone that is behind those bars.”
The “Less is More Act” will reform the state’s parole system and authorizes the emergency release of hundreds of inmates currently on Rikers Island. Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin originally sponsored the bill.
“When you look at how we incarcerate in New York state, I believe we incarcerate way beyond the need for public safety,” Benjamin said. “A lot of it is fear-driven and based on old models and tactics.”
The new law is designed to help people complete community supervision while avoiding re-incarceration because of technical parole violations, like missing an appointment with a parole officer, using a controlled substance or missing curfew.
Although the bill does not take full effect until March of next year, Hochul authorized the immediate release of 191 people currently held on Rikers for technical parole violations.
“Parole becomes a ticket back into jail because of very technical violations,” Hochul said.
The law will not be fully implemented until March, disappointing advocates who say hundreds more people could have been immediately affected by the change, especially given the state of crisis on the island where a staffing shortage is leading to chaos and violence. Thursday night, a detainee briefly took control of a bus and crashed it into a wall.
“I would like nothing more than to implement the law now,” Hochul said. “I legally cannot change the effective date; only the legislature can.”
Following days of public pressure, Hochul is also authorizing the transfer of approximately 200 people from the island to state-run facilities.
“People will be leaving Rikers, a volatile tinder box, and allowed to go to another state facility,” she said. “We’re going to have a review process.”
The 200 people have all been city sentenced to 90 days or more but less than a year. Hochul said the transfers will be done by moving up to 40 inmates a day for the next five days and are meant to alleviate crowding conditions on the jail.
Hochul is not the only one with the power to release people. Mayor Bill de Blasio also has the authority to call for some releases. He has said, however, he is not currently considering that as an option.
For weeks, lawmakers had called on the governor to sign the “Less is more Act,” citing the ongoing crisis of mismanagement at the city’s jail complex on Rikers Island that has resulted in 10 deaths — five of them suicides — so far this year.
Contributing to the crisis at Rikers is the issue of overcrowding in conjunction with a lack of staffing. The Department of Correction has been struggling to deal with thousands of officers who routinely call out sick or fail to report for duty.
Hochul says she wants to shift the concept of parole from a punitive model that keeps people locked up to an incentive-based model that returns them to their communities.
“New York state incarcerates more people for parole violations than anywhere in the country. That is a point of shame for us, and it needs to be fixed. And it’s going to be fixed today,” Hochul said.