The state’s parole board is structurally flawed and must be drastically overhauled, prison advocates said during a forum Tuesday.
The board has not been fully staffed in years and commissioners often spend just a few minutes hearing prisoners plead their cases.
“It’s time for the leadership in New York State to step up,” said Jose Saldana, a community organizer with Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP). “They must fill the Parole Board to capacity, pass elder parole, and ensure that every person in prison has a fair and meaningful opportunity for parole release based on who they are today.”
Saldana and other advocates testified at a public forum hosted by state Sen. Luis Sepulveda in lower Manhattan.
The Bronx lawmaker last year successfully introduced a bill “requiring the parole board to publish annual demographic data including race, ethnicity, region of incarceration” for prisoners who go before the board.
Criminal justice reformers are pressing state lawmakers to pass several other sweeping bills.
That legislation includes the “Presumptive Release” to “require the Board to parole all individuals at their first hearing unless there is a current unreasonable public safety risk.”
They also want Elder Parole legislation to give parole consideration to all people aged 55 and older who have served 15 years or more in prison.
“These bills recognize and value humanity, remorse, and transformation of individuals who are parole eligible,” said Liz Gaynes, president of the Osborne Association, which helps people in prison.
Currently, the board has only 12 out of 19 commissioners. They have to decide on an average of 12,000 cases each year.
In a rare agreement, the union representing police officers is also calling on state lawmakers to revamp the board.
The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association wants convicted cop killers to be permanently blocked from parole.
Currently, the board uses a risk assessment system to determine if a prisoner should be set free.
But the PBA believes the current system does not give enough weight to the families of slain officers. The board does not meet them in person or talk over the phone.