‘New York State sends more people to prison for parole rule violations than any other state in the country – and sends Black New Yorkers back to prison for these violations at five times the rate of white New Yorkers.’
Think about the last time you got stuck in traffic or waited for a delayed train. Maybe it made you late to work, maybe you were late to pick up your kids from school, maybe you missed a doctor’s appointment or a meeting. For many of us these inconveniences, though frustrating, are just a part of everyday life. But for the 35,000 New Yorkers living on parole in New York State, delays like these could cost them their freedom if it means missing an appointment with their parole officer.
Spending the night at a friend or family member’s home or dating without your parole officer’s permission may seem like benign, harmless activities to most people, but for some parolees, they are actually technical parole violations that could land them back in jail. The severity of parole violations vary, but it is fair to say many are minor activities that would baffle the average New Yorker when told the potential consequence. In 2019, 40 percent of all admissions to New York State prisons were made up of parolees being reincarcerated for technical parole violations.
New York State sends more people to prison for parole rule violations than any other state in the country – and sends Black New Yorkers back to prison for these violations at five times the rate of white New Yorkers. We spend three times as much on the services that police, incarcerate, and supervise our communities as we do on services that help them flourish. New York spends $18.2 billion on the carceral system, including state police, prison, and the parole system, among other aspects of the system – while spending just $6.2 billion on mental and public health services, youth programs, recreation, and elder services.
Our current system of parole not only derails people’s efforts to reenter society, but it also costs taxpayers millions of dollars, taking away money that could be spent on more pressing priorities in under-resourced communities across New York State. We need parole reform that supports rehabilitation and enables community members who have served their time to continue living and working in their communities.
This disjointed spending on parole doesn’t just occur in urban centers like New York City, it occurs statewide, creating financial burdens for counties like Nassau ($7 million), Suffolk ($7 million), Erie ($9.95 million), Westchester ($6.6 million), and Monroe ($12.5 million). Without systemic reform of the parole system, these costs will likely exceed $6.8 billion over the next 10 years, or nearly 20 percent of the state’s entire 2022 education budget.
This disparity isn’t an accident.
Government budgets are declarations of values. As currently set, New York state’s budget reflects historical values that its criminal justice system has held for generations, embodied by its systematic blocking of low-income communities of color from realizing their economic and human potential by over relying on a carceral system that has made imprisonment, and poverty, endemic to these communities.
New York has taken important steps to redress aspects of our criminal justice system, but the state’s parole system remains among the most punitive and flawed in the nation.
Evidence proves that there are better ways that New York State can manage its parole system. Reforms will save money, enable New Yorkers to maintain stable housing, work, and support systems that prevent recidivism while also protecting public safety. Red states like Louisiana, Missouri and South Carolina, among others, have enacted parole reforms that reduced the number of people under community supervision, saved their states money, and importantly, led to no increase in crime.
The Less is More: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act, currently under consideration in the New York State Legislature and sponsored by State Senator Brian Benjamin and Assembly Member Phara Forrest, would narrow the scope of the types of technical violations for which people could be reincarcerated, provide parolees more due process before they could be reincarcerated, and limit how long they could be behind bars for these violations.
Passing Less is More would allow New Yorkers on parole to remain in their communities as the court system resolves their technical violation charges, keeping families intact, minimizing disruptions to a parolee’s employment and ultimately limiting the lifelong economic impacts of reincarceration on families and communities. Critically, passing this bill would incentivize people on parole to avoid violations,by reducing supervision terms by 30 days for every 30 days without a violation. This legislative proposal has broad support, including that of more than 240 community organizations, the #LessIsMoreNY coalition, 8 district attorneys statewide as well as faith leaders.
As New York works to recover from the devastation of the pandemic and economic crisis it caused, we need to take steps that make it easier – not harder – for all New Yorkers to succeed. This means reinvesting the millions of dollars spent on our flawed and antiquated parole system into our communities and the organizations that help New York’s children and families thrive, especially those who have been disproportionately affected by the collateral consequences of our justice system for far too long.
Jason Cone is the chief public policy officer at Robin Hood.