by Kevin Bliss
Prison reform advocates contend that parole does more to perpetuate recidivism than it does to monitor positive rehabilitation into society. Columbia University’s Justice Lab prepared a report in 2017 that stated that New York City’s jail population had more people being held for parole violations than the total population of any other jail in the state except Rikers Island.
The report stated that in the past four years the total number of pretrial detainees in New York City had decreased due to reformation initiatives, except parole violators, which have increased in percentage by double digits in that same time period.
New York’s parole system requires that parolees do regular check-ins, respond to all communications from their parole officer in a timely fashion, allow their parole officers to search their homes or places of employment at any time, and refrain from contact with anyone known to have a criminal record. Some conditions also require a parolee to live in a certain area, abide by a curfew, or enroll in a substance abuse program.
When a parolee is in violation of any aspect of his or her conditions, officers are encouraged to lock them up first. There are few alternatives open otherwise. This in itself is a violation of the parolee’s conditions. Even if all other charges that led to the initial arrest are dropped, the parolee is still susceptible to revocation simply because he or she was detained.
Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice Co-Founder/Co-Director Gabriel Sayegh stated, “The resources that we have made available to deal with some of these issues, we have invested in the carceral state, not in the community programs that these folks need. That just limits what the parole officers have available to them in terms of providing resources to these people.”
Sayegh, the Legal Aid Society, and New York State Senator Brian Benjamin, along with others, have begun the Less Is More campaign, which has introduced legislation to change the way the state handles parole. The Less Is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act, awaiting committee approval, would require a bond hearing for each detainee for release until his or her revocation hearing is held. It would end incarceration for certain technical violations. It would also allow a parolee to earn time off his or her supervision for every 30 days that they have maintained positive parole supervision.
As it stands, parole violations make up 29.9 percent of incoming prisoners in New York’s corrections system. Technical violations have increased 15 percent within the last four years. Moreover, one-third of the prisoners released within the past three years have come back on technical violations.
“It ends up having all these other impacts. People lose their housing, they lose their jobs, they get taken from their kids. Jail, let alone prison, are these super traumatic institutions, structures to put people inside of. It’s like we’ve created a system that makes it practically impossible for anybody to succeed,” stated Sayegh.
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