To end mass incarceration, New York needs a fully staffed parole board

10 April 2019

State law allows for up to 19 commissioners but there are currently only 12

By Luis Sepúlveda

Last week, colleagues and I in the New York state Legislature took historic steps to end mass incarceration and promote justice for all New Yorkers. Working with advocates, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other stakeholders, we made critical changes to state laws concerning bail, discovery and speedy trial. These amendments ensure more due process and fundamental fairness for people detained pre-trial in local jails.

Forty percent of New Yorkers in prison – roughly 20,000 people – are serving a parole-eligible sentence, which includes a minimum and maximum term of incarceration (e.g., 25 years to life) The remaining 60% are serving determinate sentences in which their sentence is definitive (e.g., 10 years flat). When an individual serving a parole-eligible sentence completes his or her minimum term of imprisonment, the Board of Parole evaluates that person’s suitability for release and either denies or grants parole. Parole commissioners – appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate – make these critical determinations. We must make sure the board is staffed to capacity with qualified commissioners who uphold values of fairness and justice.

With only 12 commissioners determining the freedom of roughly 12,000 parole applicants annually, incarcerated people, their families and the board itself face myriad problems. The board does not have enough time for thorough and individualized assessments of parole files, parole interviews are often only staffed with two commissioners (as opposed to standard three-person panels), and parole interviews are frequently postponed, leaving the freedom of incarcerated people hanging in balance.

In March 2019, my colleagues on the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus issued a letter to the governor, calling on him to swiftly appoint seven qualified commissioners to the board. We emphasized that appointees must embrace notions of rehabilitation, mercy and redemption, and come from professional backgrounds that align with these principles. We want social workers, therapists, physicians and others qualified to make independent assessments about the people appearing before them and how they may have changed over time.

[...] This is an excerpt. For the full op-ed, please visit City and State NY.