Grassroots campaign aims for parole reform amid day of advocacy for Black History Month
Dozens of Long Island residents and leaders gathered virtually Tuesday to demand parole reform in New York.
A grassroots campaign known as "The People's Campaign for Parole Justice" held a virtual news conference to mark a day of advocacy during Black History Month.
The group says there's currently a disparity in the parole system between whites and minorities.
There are currently two bills in committee in Albany that would make it easier for people to be considered for parole.
The group wants Albany lawmakers to pass the bills known as "Elder Parole" and "Fair and Timely Parole." Elder parole would give inmates 55+ who have served 15 years or more a chance to see the parole board. Fair and timely parole would give inmates already eligible for parole a more in-depth review based on recent behavior.
"We know that decades of harsh and racist sentencing have led to our current system of mass incarceration, where roughly 35,000 people are incarcerated in New York state prisons," says the Rev. Kimberly Johnson, of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork. "These people are disproportionately Black and brown."
Cynthia Manuel of Amityville was one of those joining in the day of advocacy. Her brother is currently incarcerated.
"He has been in prison for 34 years and he has been rehabilitated, and so have a lot of other people in prison," says Manuel.
But advocates for crime victims say early parole is not the answer.
Jennifer Harrison's boyfriend was murdered in 2005 by a man on parole. She says this can't be a "blanket release policy."
"How is this making anyone safer? How is this helping any kind of community and when are victims going to be counted in all this?" asks Harrison, of Victims Rights NY. "Reform is definitely needed, we want the system to be more just and more fair, just as anyone does for our sake and to protect the innocent, and to protect other victims of the system. But this is just not the answer."
The campaign is also calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to fully staff the Parole Board with commissioners who come from diverse communities or who have a background in social work or other related fields.