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Parole reform bills in NYS legislature

Posted at 11:56 PM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-26 23:56:18-04

ALBANY, N.Y. (WKBW) — Two parole reform bills are in the New York State Legislature. The first changes timing of parole eligibility for some, the second changes parole evaluation.

Donna Robinson is the WNY Regional Organizer for Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP).

“Our bills are based on redemption, everyone is worthy of redemption, everyone should be given a chance at freedom,” Robinson said.

Under the Elder Parole bill, those 55 and over, who served at least 15 years, become eligible for parole. The parole board still has to review the case.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said that sentence length applies to more serious offenses.

You’re talking about the worst of the worst, the baddest criminals that we have, and those people need to do the time that the judge gave them,” Flynn said.

According to the group People's Campaign for Parole Justice about 230 people from Erie County in prison are 55 and older.

The second bill is the Fair and Timely Parole bill. Under the bill, people eligible for parole would be released as long as they don't pose a "current and unreasonable risk" to society.

Jerome Wright with Citizen Action WNY said it's an opportunity to address years of lengthy sentences and drug crimes disproportionately impacting people of color.

“They will go before a parole board and get an opportunity to say who they are now, what they have accomplished, and have that juxtaposed against the crime, but not have the crime, which will never change, be the weighing factor in whether they get released or not,” Wright said.

Flynn said he's more concerned with the second bill, which he said puts the focus on behavior in prison before the crime.

“It (behavior in prison) shouldn’t be the main reason why you get out of jail," Flynn said. "What you did, the crime that you committed, has to be just as important if not more of a factor.

According to the state legislature's website, the Elder Parole bill is in committee. The Fair and Timely Parole bill is one step further in the Senate, it's on the floor calendar.

"They are human beings, and they deserve a chance, the very least, at a fair hearing," Robinson said.

The legislative session ends in June.

Both bills had versions introduced in the 2017-2018 and 2019-2020 legislative sessions.