At a press conference in Albany, New York, crime survivors and victims’ rights advocates joined state legislators to seek passage of parole justice legislation in the state’s final legislative session.
“Our communities don’t need to perpetuate punishment, instead of putting money into prisons which make the problem worse, we must shift those resources to effective solutions to the problems our communities are suffering from. We need to prioritize and invest in community care,” said TeAna Taylor, policy and communication associate with the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice who spoke at a conference
The People’s Campaign for Parole Justice is calling on lawmakers in Albany to pass two bills that, together, will ensure that people in prison have meaningful opportunities for individualized consideration for parole release based on who they are today, what they have done to change, and whether they pose a risk if released. Both bills cover a humanitarian, cost, and public safety component.
The Elder Parole Act would give the State Board of Parole the authority to undertake case-by-case reviews of inmates aged 55 and over who have already served 15 years or more in prison, including some of the state’s oldest and sickest convicts. Fair and Timely would deliver more meaningful parole examinations to people who are currently eligible for parole, depending on who they are now and if they are fit for parole.
Luz Benbow is a sexual assault survivor who has dedicated her life to advocating for women of color and helping to establish policies that benefit sexual assault survivors. Benbow said in a press conference on Monday that the systems in her community that were supposed to protect her as a teenager who had been sexually abused had failed her. She claims that the two-way system, which sees some people as victims and others as offenders, has failed her by refusing to realize her as a victim.
“When we think of crime victims and people who commit crime we usually think of these as two distinct people but oftentimes we are not, we are often the same people,” said Luz Marquez Benbow.
Despite the fact that only 18% of the state’s population is Black, Black people account for 55% of the nearly 30,000 persons currently incarcerated in New York State prisons. People of color account for 77% of the population.
Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who is presently supporting the fair and prompt parole bill, has voiced his support for both bills, demonstrating his faith in redemption. “We cannot have a system purely and only by punishment. We cannot have a system that says that you will be judged purely for that worst thing that you ever did and that we will never change. Individuals change and the system must change,” he said.
Jose Saldana, director of Release Aging People from Prison, was incarcerated for over 38 years beginning at the age of 27 and believes that the bills will help people like him reintegrate into society at a time when they are still productive and valuable assets. It would be immensely advantageous to inmates who have been sentenced to death or who are serving long prison sentences that will take their life, he remarked. He stated that he believes that all people may be saved and that no one should be punished for committing a single mistake.
“I am a student of transformative justice. I have done transformative justice in prison for the last sixteen years. I believe that once we address harm in a different manner than just addressing it with violence whether it be state violence or interpersonal violence it is still violence that creates a way to harm. When we start addressing harm from the fundamentals of looking into flaws of people’s character, try to empower people with correct information and knowledge where they can start looking at themselves with the vision to improve who they are and respect the humanity of all those around them then change will come,” said Saldana.
Saldana stated that if both bills are passed, the $522 million that will be saved annually from prison systems should be used to assist and rehabilitate communities that have been severely impacted by mass imprisonment, as well as crime prevention and reentry.