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Press Release: 1-Year Anniversary of Less Is More

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**PRESS RELEASE**

September 20, 2022

Contact: Yonah Zeitz – 347-201-2768 – yonah@katalcenter.org

Follow online: #LessIsMoreNY • www.lessismoreny.org 

 

One-Year Anniversary: Less Is More Act Overhauled New York’s Parole System to Strengthen Reentry and Public Safety

Families Reunited, Housing Secured, School and Job Options Expanded, and Much More for Tens of Thousands of New Yorkers Thanks to Transformative Parole Reform

Albany, NY – This week marks the one-year anniversary of the historic enactment of the Less Is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act. As the most comprehensive parole reform measure yet passed in the U.S., Less Is More restricts the use of incarceration for non-criminal technical parole violations, bolsters due process for people accused of parole violations, and provides earned time credits for people on parole (see fact sheet for full details). 

For years, the #LessIsMoreNY campaign worked to overhaul New York’s parole system to enhance re-entry and improve public safety. The coalition is a unique combination of people directly impacted by parole and incarceration, more than 300 groups across the state, District Attorneys representing more than half of the state’s population, and other law enforcement and corrections administrators – all working to reduce the use of incarceration for non-criminal technical parole violations, and strengthen reentry and public safety. One year after being signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul, the Less Is More Act has made a transformative impact on tens of thousands of New Yorkers in the parole system. In its first year, the new law cut the parole population in New York by nearly 40%  – affording more than 13,000 New Yorkers the opportunity to secure housing, maintain employment, go back to school, reconnect with loved ones, and much more (see their stories here).

New York is now at the forefront of shifting parole from a punishment-based system to an incentive-based system, encouraging successful reentry and keeping communities safe. The impact of Less Is More during its first year represents a major step forward in the fight to end mass incarceration, advance racial equity, and strengthen public safety in New York. 

Statements from bill sponsors, impacted people, and community and advocacy groups from the #LessIsMoreNY Coalition: 

Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, Prime Bill Sponsor, said: “One year after the passage of #LessIsMoreNY, we have seen the lives of thousands of families changed for the better. This landmark legislation has advanced the cause of freedom and fairness across New York, creating healthier communities and stronger families in the process. Black, Brown, poor, and working-class families have long deserved better, and I am so proud of our movement for bringing much-needed change to our great State.”

Senator Julia Salazar, Chair of the Committee on Crime Victims, Crime, and Correction, said: “The Less Is More Act allows thousands of New Yorkers to live their lives without continuously falling into the cycle of injustice that is re-incarceration through our parole system. Incarceration, particularly for non-criminal technical violations, not only harms individuals and their families but leaves a long-term, negative impact on entire communities.”

Assemblymember Demond Meeks said: “It has been a great privilege to work with my state colleagues in passing this historic piece of legislation. For far too long, the violence of mass incarceration has torn apart black and brown neighborhoods across this country. Hundreds of millions of dollars are wasted annually in New York on reincarcerating disenfranchised members of our community for non-criminal, technical violations. These practices have only contributed to an ongoing cycle of poverty and inequity for our residents and families. Less is More is our opportunity to create meaningful pathways towards reentry and begin uplifting our neighborhoods. It is essential now more than ever that we continue to address these systemic inequalities and deliver critical investments that will help restore our families. Collectively, we can work towards meaningful change for the members of our community and a more equitable future for New York.”

Assemblymember Pamela Hunter said: “Incarceration should never be the first resort when someone on parole is accused of a non-criminal technical violation. The enactment of the Less is More Act allows for a more comprehensive approach to reintegrating those on parole back into the community. I am proud to have supported the passage of the Less is More Act and will continue to work to find ways to improve our criminal justice system.”

Assemblymember Kenny Burgos said: “On the one-year anniversary of the Less Is More Act, we recognize many of the bill’s accomplishments. With this law now being fully implemented, thousands of New Yorkers now have a second chance and an opportunity to reinvent their lives. There is still more work to be done to help end the injustices that have plagued communities of color. But Less Is More is a great step towards bringing true criminal justice reforms to our state.”

Assemblymember Sarah Clark said: “In 2019, prior to the Less is More Act being signed into law this time last year, Monroe County spent $12.5 million, the highest in the state outside of New York City, on jailing people over nonviolent technical violations. These resources, including law enforcement’s time, can now be focused on keeping communities safe, investigating violent crimes, and restorative services to keep families and communities whole. Thank you to all the partners who continue to ensure Less is More is successful; I look forward to continuing to work to ensure the intentions around this legislation are coming to fruition.”

Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani said: “Less Is More is a crucial step toward ensuring that when our neighbors return home from prison, they can stay home. New York State has re-incarcerated people for non-criminal technical parole violations at six times the national average. This bill works to change that, setting New York on a path away from perpetual punishment. I am proud to have been a part of its passage and the work of the #LessIsMoreNY campaign and its grassroots organizers.”

Derek Singletary, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Unchained, said: “Over the past year, we have been thrilled to witness the transformative impact of Less is More. Unchained has spoken with hundreds of people around the state, including our own members, who have benefitted from the law. Common themes in those conversations include people feeling like a crushing weight has been lifted from their shoulders because they don’t need to worry about going back to jail for things that are not crimes, and people seeing light at the end of the tunnel of their sentence thanks to the earned time credits. Less is More has given people hope that they will succeed in building a new life after prison. This shift in mindset for people on parole and their loved ones will encourage successful reintegration and help keep our communities safe. As a grassroots group in Upstate New York that organizes people in prison, formerly incarcerated people, and their loved ones, Unchained is proud to have led the way with our partners in getting Less is More enacted and implemented. We will continue working to ensure the law lives up to its promise and that the savings from Less is More are reinvested into Black and Brown communities most harmed by mass incarceration and mass criminalization.”

Kenyatta Muzzanni, Director of Organizing at the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “A year ago, entire families were worried that something as small as missing curfew could be a prison sentence for someone on parole. Today, with Less Is More as law, tens of thousands of New Yorkers and their families are able to breathe easier without the fear that they will be thrown back into incarceration for a minor technical infraction. This fight was led, won, and celebrated by people directly impacted by the criminal justice system, and could not have been won without them. As we look to the future, the #LessIsMoreNY coalition will be here to ensure the law is implemented properly across the state for all New Yorkers. This reform serves as a model for criminal justice legislation not just in New York – but across the country as well.”

Donna Hylton, Founder and President of a Little Piece Of Light, said: “A Little Piece of Light is ecstatic as we celebrate the one year anniversary of the #LessIsMoreNY Act (S.1144-A – Benjamin / A.5576-A – Forrest) being signed into law. This bill brings much needed reform to a supervision system previously noted for being the most brutal, expensive and ineffective in the nation. #LessIsMoreNY is responsible for thousands of people being reunited with their families and communities without fear of unnecessary incarceration. It is a major contributor to the closing of prisons and jails throughout the state. It is an opportunity to invest in Black and brown communities most harmed by the racist, failed policies of mass criminalization and the war on drugs. We extend our gratitude to the diverse and dedicated #LessIsMoreNY coalition; particularly our partners at Katal and Unchained for their leadership and unfailing commitment to this bill and the communities it will most directly impact. #LessIsMoreNY is a testament to the power of grassroots community organizing. Its success forces us to expand our thinking about public safety through prioritizing the humanity of all people and endeavoring to support them rather than tear them apart.”

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams said: “One year ago, after months of work by advocacy groups and our office, Albany passed the Less is More Act; since then, thousands of New Yorkers have been released from prisons and jails, even more have been discharged early from parole. As we mark one year since the bill’s passage, more New Yorkers can stay home, remain with their families, and contribute to their communities instead of returning to prison for a simple technical parole violation. Keeping people incarcerated for technical parole violations is not only unjust and inhumane — it costs New York State more than $680 million each year. This legislation has been a huge step  toward a safer New York State, and we will keep working to keep families and communities together.”

Ernest Patterson, an Unchained member, said: “There’s a difference between being free from prison so you can be on parole and being free from parole so you can make your own decisions in life. Getting off parole was the first time in my adult life that I felt free. I cried when I first got my release papers, it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I saw my parole officer after I was released, and I had so much joy in my heart that I found myself being nice to him. I haven’t felt so happy in such a long time, I feel like I’m a completely different person because I’m off parole.”

Rabbi Hilly Haber, representing the New York Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC-NY), said: “RAC-NY, a statewide coalition of Reform Jewish congregations, salutes the first anniversary of the Less Is More parole reform law, which has helped thousands of New Yorkers stay out of jail and prison and stay connected to families, housing, education, and employment. Over 800 Reform Jews from 65 congregations met with 57 legislators as part of a broad coalition to support the enactment of this law. Less Is More embodies the Jewish principle of T’shuva, that everyone can turn their life around.”

Dr. Vanda Seward, former statewide director of re-entry services at the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervisions, said: “After decades of significant injustices in the community supervision system,  the one-year anniversary of the Less Is More Act marks a tremendous step forward in reforming our criminal justice system. As a former New York State Department of Community Supervision executive and practitioner for over 35+ years, I am happy to see people under community supervision finally receive the justice they deserve. This reform removes many of the restraints and stipulations that were imposed upon them and rewards those that are following the rules and doing well. This would not be possible without the New York State Community Supervision executives and parole officers who continue to assist in making this reform successful and far-reaching. The Less Is More Act is about helping persons under community supervision who no longer pose a threat to public safety continue on their path of building community capacity, enhancing the lives of their children and loved ones, and being a key player in the workforce. Thank you to all the elected officials, advocates, and organizations that this historic day possible.”

Gretchen Jacobs, Member of the Katal Center, said: “I am beyond happy to finally be done with parole a year and a half early due to Less is More. I’m now a full-time driver for Amazon and live with my amazing wife and three children. I look forward to helping formerly incarcerated individuals with their reentry process.”

Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Fellow at the Columbia Justice Lab and former Commissioner of  New York City’s Departments of Probation and Correction said: “New York State once stood as the worst offender nationally when it came to incarceration for non-criminal, technical parole violations. Less Is More may very well be the most far-reaching reform of the parole violation process in the country – I’ve not seen a more profound reform. This is important not only for New Yorkers, but may very well pave the way for reforms nationally. Governor Hochul is to be congratulated for having the courage to embrace Less Is More during challenging political times, and Assemblymember Souffrant Forrest for co-sponsoring it.”

Muhammad Irving, an Unchained member, said: “I have one more year on parole [instead of two more years] because of Less is More. Once I’m off, I’ll be able to live a normal life. I’ll be able to connect more with my family. Less is More is good because it’s preventing people from going back to prison. People are dying in prisons. Less is More is a great thing for a person who wants to avoid those horrible conditions and do better in life. “

Susan C. Bryant, Executive Director of the New York State Defenders Association said: “We join the many other individuals and organizations marking the one-year anniversary of the Less is More Act. Because locking up people for allegedly failing to meet technical conditions of their parole is harmful to them and us all, Less is More’s passage mattered. As we did last year, we thank the Legislature and Governor Hochul for making the law a reality. Over the past year, thousands of people have avoided unnecessary incarceration and have been discharged from parole supervision after receiving earned time credits, allowing them to remain in or return to their homes, families, and communities. This has improved public safety while saving local, county, and state resources. In line with our mission to improve the quality and scope of public defense representation, the New York State Defenders Association has and will continue its efforts to train and share information with defenders and collaborate with partner organizations to guarantee that the full scope and intent of Less is More is fulfilled.”

Jermaine Hordge, Member of  Unchained, said:  “I’m excited about getting off parole early partly because being off parole will allow me to do more to advocate for incarcerated people. We need change inside New York State prisons – for example, we need more safety and better access to phones for incarcerated people. Being fully off parole will give me more freedom to support people who are struggling in prisons.”

Jared Trujillo, policy counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union, said: “We applaud Governor Hochul for listening to people on parole, their families, and those experiencing the humanitarian crisis in New York prisons and jails by signing the Less Is More Act into law one year ago. This critical legislation has already reduced the number of New Yorkers that are incarcerated for technical parole violations, limited sanctions for others, and is helping to ensure that New Yorkers receive the due process that they deserve. New York state must continue taking urgent action to reduce inequity within our broken criminal legal system by overhauling our state’s racist and draconian sentencing laws, passing Fair and Timely Parole and addressing the aging crisis in our parole system. Our criminal system should not be centered on vengeance.”

Denise C, Member of the Katal Center, said: “Finally, on March 15th, my friend informed me that he was done with parole early because of Less Is Mord. All I could do was cry. I sat there and thanked god that our sentence was finally over and he was free. This year he will experience his first Christmas as a free person since 2011. This year he won’t have to run off in the middle of a holiday meal/celebration to make curfew. For that, we are grateful!”

Vikki Pryor, GOSO’s President and Chief Executive Officer, said:  “Getting Out Staying Out (GOSO) is committed to the wellbeing of individuals and communities impacted by, and at risk for, violence, arrest and incarceration.  Historically, the justice system has presented a number of challenges that make it difficult for our participants to manage day-to-day life and to achieve successful futures. By creating a pathway to completing parole early, ending automatic detention for technical parole violations, as well as other improvements to due process, the “Less is More” Act has transformed the parole system in New York State and made a positive impact on individuals served by GOSO every day.”

Magen Solano, an Unchained member, said: “When I found out that I could get off parole next year instead of years from now because of Less is More, it changed so much for me. All of sudden I had a timeline to look at. I didn’t feel like I was under this huge rock of being on parole for the next 5 years. Knowing I could be released next year — that opened up job opportunities for me that lined up at the same time as me getting into programs at school. Now I know I can live with my husband and have this really great job. Something like this – Less is More – it just put it on the front lines for me.”

Lorraine Mc Evilley, Director of the Parole Revocation Defense Unit at the Legal Aid Society in New York City said: “The Less Is More Act has already saved thousands of New Yorkers from incarceration over non-criminal, technical parole violations such as missing a curfew or failing to report a change of address. This transformative law is being fully realized, protecting families, communities and furthering public safety. With session only a few months away, The Legal Aid Society looks forward to working with Albany lawmakers on other critical measures to reform our broken criminal legal system.”

Stella Mednik, said: “I learned quickly that being on parole gives you the illusion of freedom.– Getting discharged from parole early has really given me the piece of mind that I needed and now I am focused on getting a new job and being fully present for my friends and family.”

Rashaan Brown, Founder of Gangsters Giving Back, said: “One time a new parole officer called me at 5 in the morning for a home visit and then had the audacity to question why I was not answering. They never gave me the respect you give to another human being. It was truly a blessing to get off parole a year early. I can now finally continue to do my work in the community with no barriers, visit my family without the fear of a curfew violation, and travel the world.”

Anthony Maund, Member of the Katal Center, said: “I had an episode of use and was terrified to get help, out of the fear of being incarcerated. When my parole officer found out, he told me that he could not send me to prison “because of Less Is More.” I cannot express the relief I felt about finally being treated like a human being who deserves a chance. I’m also looking forward to being discharged early from parole in June 2025, to finally reunite with my family.”

NYC League of Women Voters Committee for Criminal Justice Reform, said: “The League of Women Voters is proud to join our partner organizations and members to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Less Is More Act. As an organization founded on the principles of freedom and empowerment of those disenfranchised, we stand firm in our belief that New Yorkers deserve a criminal justice system that functions to better the lives of those impacted. Since the passage of Less Is More, freedom has been restored to thousands of individuals that were discharged early from parole. As a result, families were able to reunite and those released were able to reenter society without fear of reincarceration. The League will continue to support and work with members of the community to advocate for reforming the system to one that administers justice based on fairness and equality.”

Henry Robinson, Member of the Katal Center, said:”In 2017, I was incarcerated on Rikers Island for almost three months for a technical parole violation. I was put behind bars simply because I was defending myself from a “curfew” violation warning. This is one example of the injustices that individuals endured under this system. That is why I fought tooth and nail to ensure that Less Is More became law. Now, with the implementation of Less Is More, it has given my friends who are on parole the ability to take ownership of their lives and not have to go through what I went through.”

Lt. Diane Goldstein, Executive Director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), said: “We are coming up on the one year anniversary of the Less Is More Act being signed into law, and already, the positive effects of this law are being felt throughout New York. What people failed to realize during the ‘Tough on Crime’ era is that locking people up and throwing away the key is not a solution to any of our societal problems. True justice incorporates successful reintegration and second chances. True justice ensures that members of our communities have equal opportunity to have a life after contact with our justice system. Once again, congratulations on the successful signing of this law and its implementation.”

Martin Garcia, Marshall Project staff member, and Unchained member: “Parole told me don’t even think about asking for permission to visit my family members in Colombia. While I was under post-release supervision, and it broke my heart. Especially because my grandfather passed away there while I was in prison.Unable to see him in the years before he died. Now, because of Less is More, I’ve begun the process of applying for my passport. I can go to Colombia and surprise my father soon. My two daughters have never seen Colombia; I want to take them there and introduce them to the culture and their family there.”

Kristin Hogan, the Program Coordinator of Court Advocacy at the Osborne Association, said:“Although the Less is More Act has only been in full effect for about six months, we’re already seeing the meaningful impact on our clients in the parole system. We are thrilled that Less is More has led to many clients awaiting resolution of their cases in the community, home with their families, instead of being subjected to the life-threatening conditions on Rikers. We are confident that our clients will benefit even more once Less is More has been in effect longer and systems have had time to adjust.”

Della Smith, Member of the Katal Center, said: “Thanks to the Less Is More legislation, so many individuals in New York State finally have the opportunity to fully move forward with their lives. As a member of Katal, I worked endlessly to ensure the success of this legislation. I will not stop until we can guarantee that the 680 million dollars saved by the implementation of the bill, is used to support services and opportunities. That can help address the barriers many individuals on parole are confronted with, when they return home to their families and communities.”

Yung-Mi Lee, Legal Director of Brooklyn Defender Services’ Criminal Defense Practice, said: “Before the enactment of the Less Is More Act, hundreds of New Yorkers jailed at Rikers Island and many more across the state were incarcerated simply because of ‘technical’ violations of parole, such as missing a curfew or being late to an appointment with a parole officer. Since its enactment, thousands of New Yorkers have been spared incarceration as a result of technical parole violations, helping to reduce dangerously high jail populations and allowing people to remain with their families and maintain their housing and employment. The Less Is More Act has been critical in reducing the scope and punishment of the parole system, and we celebrate the anniversary of its enactment.”   

Avion Gordon, Member of the Katal Center, said: “I have been on parole and know first-hand that the parole system,  instead of assisting formerly incarcerated people on their journey back into the community, made it ten times harder. Before Less is More, they would incarcerate individuals for not following rigid stipulations that, were set in place to make them fail. Now that the community has Less is More, individuals are thriving. I see it every day. My peers and their families have been given a proper chance and it’s beautiful. This was a long time coming!”

Jon N. Griffin, Special Assistant Public Defender at the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office said: “Less Is More has had an immediate and positive effect on the lives of people on parole and their success in rejoining their families and neighbors. By keeping people on parole out of jail for minor violations, the law helps them hang onto their gains.Letting them earn their way off parole, motivates them to establish and maintain the ties that make our communities strong.”

Bobbi Leigh, Member of the Katal Center, said: “All the parole system did was strip them away from their jobs and families simply because they were late for curfew or tested positive for alcohol and other substances. Now that Less Is More has been implemented, I no longer have to worry about incarceration coming in between their recovery journey.”

Roy Bonner, Member of VOCAL-NY, said:“After being on parole since 2010 and surviving six technical violations thanks to Less Is More. I’m back on my feet with my own apartment. It feels good to be recognized for the positive things I’ve done. I’m looking forward to being fully off parole next year. I’m not in a hurry,  I’m enjoying this freedom.” 

Craig P. Schlanger, Supervising Parole Attorney at the Hiscock Legal Aid Society in Syracuse said: “One fundamental change brought about by Less is More is that individuals who are on parole now have the incentive to make a good faith effort to re-enter society without the threat of incarceration for technical violations looming over them. The focus has shifted to the primary goal of community supervision, which prevents recidivism. We would like to see a greater emphasis on community resources, counseling, housing, job training, and other means to achieve successful reentry into society, and less emphasis on reincarceration and punishment.”

Courtney Burke, Member of the Katal Center, said: “Less Is More offers people coming out of prison the opportunity to end their additional sentence of parole early based on their proven positive progress. People in Rochester NY, and my loved ones are benefiting from Less Is More because it allows formally incarcerated individuals to be productive members of society earlier than their original parole sentence.”

Arline L. Hanna, Second Assistant Public Defender at the Wayne County Public Defender’s Office said:“The Wayne County Public Defender’s Office enthusiastically marks the one year anniversary of Less is More being signed into law. Our clients are now less likely to suffer the destruction and destabilization that prolonged re-incarceration brings. Many are now able to stay in their community pending their revocation hearings, rather than sitting in the county jail for months, waiting. That ‘waiting’ cost people their jobs, their housing, and their families, even before they were actually found guilty of any violation. Less is More is a step forward for rehabilitation for people under parole supervision.”

gabriel sayegh, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “When we started the Less Is More campaign in 2018, skeptics, of course, told us we couldn’t win. Fortunately our members and campaign partners knew better. Through sustained organizing over many years, today we’ve not only made a new law, but we cut the parole population in New York by nearly 40%, thousands of people have been released from jails and prisons, and the community supervision side of the parole system in New York has been completely overhauled to focus more on fairness, safety, and justice.  

Background

Prior to Less Is More, there were more than 31,000 people on parole in New York. For decades, people on parole would face frequent disruptions to their reentry process because the parole system focused more on punishment than support. New York imprisoned more people than any other state—at more than six times the national average—for non-criminal “technical violations” of parole rules, like missing an appointment with a parole officer, being late for curfew, or testing positive for alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs. Across the state, Black people were 5 times more likely and Latinx people 30 percent more likely to be reincarcerated for a technical parole violation than whites. This practice cost New York State taxpayers more than $680 million annually with no commensurate public safety gains.

One year after the bill signing, thousands of New Yorkers have been reunited with their families thanks to Less Is More. Since incarceration is now limited to the most serious and repeated technical violations, almost 1,500 people were released from jails and prisons across the state. This reform also ends automatic detention for alleged violations, allowing people to remain home with their families and keep their hard-earned employment during the hearing process. Restructuring the use of incarceration as a sanction and eliminating automatic detention has resulted in a nearly 90 percent decrease in the number of people detained for technical violations in local jails across the state. 

As a result of the earned time credits created by Less Is More, which incentivize compliance with parole rules, nearly 13,000 of the more than 31,000 people on parole were discharged early, reducing the total state parole population by almost 40 percent These are all people who followed the rules of parole and finally got rewarded for their compliance. Now they can return to their lives as full citizens after successfully serving their time.

#LessIsMoreNY is a statewide coalition of community groups, service providers, and public safety experts who worked together to implement the #LessIsMoreNY Act. The coalition is now working to implement the new law effectively. The #LessIsMoreNY campaign is led by the Katal Center and Unchained. For more information, visit www.lessismoreny.org.

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