The Elder Parole and Fair and Timely bill did not pass this session, and it is now on hold until the next legislative session, unless legislators reconvene.
The Elder Parole Act is a bill that amends the executive statute regarding parole eligibility for certain offenders aged 55 and up. The bill’s goal is to establish a framework for evaluating older convicts to see if they pose a substantial public safety danger.
The Fair and Timely Act permits the parole board to release eligible inmates unless they pose a current and unreasonable risk that cannot be mitigated by parole supervision.
For decades, mass incarceration has had a massive effect on the Black community. The Elder Parole and Fair and Timely Release focuses on repairing the community’s damage.
“Devastating effect, devastating effect. Mass incarceration has fathers, uncles, grandfathers, husbands, not near the family. They’re upstate, because it’s economic development for the white population in the state, it’s where the prisons are, so it is hard for the families to stay connected with them,” said Hazel Dukes, president of NAACP.
There have been a lot of challenges and misunderstandings when it came to passing the bill.
“There is not a sense of urgency of freeing our friends and our loved ones that have been rehabilitated,” remarked TeAna Taylor, policy and communication associate with the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice. “We have been doing what we can to raise public awareness for the fact that a lot of our loved ones that are incarcerated are suffering long sentences and have been rehabilitated and do deserve a second chance,” Taylor said.
The policies enacted during the drug war led to higher arrest and incarceration rates not due to a higher frequency of drug use, but rather to law enforcement’s greater concentration on urban regions, low-income neighborhoods, and minority communities.
“The mass incarceration most of it is from drug offenses. Others are there for burglary and murders. We do have and we can’t deny that there is a problem of guns in our communities. But if a person pays their dues, you can look at statistics and you see the amount of times that Black people receive in courts by judges are more higher than what whites receive and sometimes for the same offense, the same charges,” said Hazel Dukes.
Another issue, according to Dukes, is that when Black men and women are freed from prison, they are left to face many challenges on their own. Many who have been rehabilitated and want to improve their lives confront the stigma of being incarcerated in society. However, the majority of former inmates have trouble obtaining work after their release. Many people lose their employment skills and have little opportunities to get relevant work experience while in prison. Furthermore, in recent years, the availability of job-training programs in prison has decreased.
New York’s three-year recidivism rate is around 40%, and while Black people make up 18% of the state’s population, they account for 55% of the almost 30,000 inmates currently incarcerated in state prisons.
“You can’t put everybody in the same category. Some people say the whole time when I get out, I won’t come back, and that happened to some of them, they don’t go back in there. Because, again, I say because when they come home, they have no family, they have nowhere to go. And so there is a shelter for them,” Dukes said.
There was a widespread misperception that individuals who are hurt by those who are incarcerated oppose the bills. Many survivor groups and surveys, on the other hand, have shown the opposite.
While each victim survivor is unique, TeAna has stated that many survivors want the person who harmed them to be held accountable for their actions, and they want their communities to be safe from additional violence.
TeAna Taylor’s father is currently incarcerated and served 17 years now for a violent crime. He has been an example of many who redeemed themselves and are dedicated to their community. Her father has dedicated his life to being a great father behind bars and also stopping violence in his community and reducing harm through the program he is a part of.
“A lot of incarcerated folks have seen the harm that they have done, it has caused nothing but despair and so they dedicate their lives to rehabilitating themselves and doing what’s right by going through therapeutic programming, by figuring out what trauma has led to them to lead a life of criminality in the first place and to work as a mentor for young people.”
TeAna Taylor asserts that Black people are not more likely to commit crime; rather, they are more likely to be criminalized. “Mass incarceration is generational pain and trauma growing up with your loved one and also dealing with the stigma that society puts on incarcerated community members. Now a lot of folks are standing up to say my incarcerated loved one is not just their crime and I need my incarcerated loved one in my life,” TeAna remarked.