New York Daily News : 2019-02-11
EDITORIAL : 22 : 22
22 DAILY NEWS Monday, February 11, 2019 NYDailyNews.com Lock the parole-prison revolving door Justice for farmworkers M ost people are aware of mass incarceration, but few have heard of mass supervision. Yet behind the scenes, community supervision after prison — generally known as parole — has become one of biggest drivers of jail and prison populations in New York State. The statistics are dismal.
Each year, 30% of the people sent to state prison here are not incarcerated for new criminal convictions, but for breaching parole restrictions. Most of them are imprisoned for noncriminal “technical” violations, such as missing an appointment or failing a drug test.
We send more people to prison for technical parole violations than any other state but Illinois. For every 10 people who successfully complete parole in New York, nine are sent back to prison, usually for technical violations. This amounts to a parole failure rate of 47%, almost twice as bad as the national average of 28%.
Parole failures are not only returning New Yorkers to state prison. They are also driving up the number of people locked up in local jails.
On any given day on Rikers Island, 20% of the detainees are jailed on parole warrants. The large number of alleged parole violators is a major obstacle to plans to close that miserable place.
This is not just a problem in New York City. While the number of people held on technical violations grew by 8% in the city’s jails last year, in county jails in the rest of the state, that number grew by a whopping 15%, costing taxpayers around the state millions of dollars.
Instead of paving the way for people to come home, parole has become a revolving door back to incarceration.
Why is this? To begin with, leaving prison is extremely hard. Returning citizens face huge obstacles finding housing and employment, navigating the complexities of life on the outside and reconnecting with family and supportive peers.
In this context, well-intentioned parole requirements like frequent meetings, travel restrictions, curfews and drug tests become gotcha tripwires. Operating in a risk-averse environment without sufficient resources, parole officers often find reincarceration to be the BE OUR GUEST A BY JONATHAN LIPPMAN AND VINCENT SCHIRALDI Hernandez sued. Gov. Cuomo would not defend the discriminatory law, instead, New York State and Attorney General Tish James sided with Hernandez. The Farm Bureau growers lobby then intervened and the trial judge ruled against Hernandez. The appellate bench must do better.
Right across the street the courthouse is the Capitol. There, for 18 years, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan has sponsored the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act. It has repeatedly passed the lower house, but never the GOP-run Senate.
With Democrats now in charge, Senate Labor Committee chair Jessica Ramos wants to make it law. She, from a family of Colombian coffee pickers, knows the backbreaking labor of the field and, with prime co-sponsor Robert Jackson, is rounding up ever more backers.
As a state, we will reap what we sow. t 1 p.m. today, five appellate justices in an Albany courtroom will hear arguments on whether New York State’s 100,000 farmworkers are human beings. The New York Civil Liberties Union lawyers for fired field hand Crispin Hernandez, whose words appear on the page opposite, correctly interpret the state Constitution’s Bill of Rights to mean what it says: that “employees shall have the right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing,” because the “labor of human beings is not a commodity nor an article of commerce and shall never be so considered or construed.”
Despite that unequivocal statement, a 1930s law denies farmworkers the right to unionize, as well as overtime pay and an unpaid day off per week.
After being fired for talking to union organizers, easiest answer when someone runs afoul of the rules.
How can we fix this system so that it helps people to succeed, rather than sending so many back to jail and prison?
The first step is to allow people to earn “good-time credits” for behaving well that would reduce their time on parole. These would not only incentivize success, but also shrink the number of people under supervision.
Second, we should put hard limits on the degree to which people can be imprisoned for technical violations, an approach that has already met with success in traditionally punitive “red” states such as Oklahoma, Mississippi and Louisiana. After Louisiana limited punishments for parole violations, recidivism dropped by 22% and the state saved $17 million per year in correctional costs.
Finally, New York should use the cost savings from a lower prison population to help people on parole stay out prison by increasing access to housing, job opportunities, health care, substance abuse treatment and other services.
The good news is that our elected leaders are increasingly focused on parole.
Gov. Cuomo is calling for reform. State Sen. Brian Benjamin and Assemblyman Walter Mosley have just introduced the Less Is More Act, which would implement goodtime credits, require due process before a person is jailed for an alleged parole violation, put restrictions on sending people back to prison for technical violations and redirect the savings from imprisoning fewer people to pay for housing and services.
The district attorneys in Albany, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan have already endorsed the bill. What are the rest of us waiting for? Shred the blindfold O One aspect of reform raises near-universal red flags among prosecutors statewide: Witness names and addresses are included in the initial discovery release. Prosecutors ask for more discretion when that sensitive information is shared, out of fear that premature sharing will make witnesses (and possibly victims) hesitant to come forward.
Among the five boroughs, Brooklyn has of late become a model for the state. It shares files far earlier in the process, typically including witness details, but allowing for reasonable exceptions where safety is at risk. Brooklyn prosecutors currently have flexibility on when certain details can be redacted.
If the DAs have specific legislative language, perhaps modeled on the Brooklyn example, to modify the forms, let’s see it.
But the time has come to level the legal playing field. ne of the enduring shames of New York is that its laws, rare in the union, let prosecutors hide evidence from defendants until the eve of trial, which effectively means the 98% of defendants statewide who plead guilty on felony arrests do so with precious little knowledge of the case against them.
That is an offense to fundamental American principles, with the stakes nothing less than life and liberty.
Sound reforms under consideration in the Assembly and Senate, backed in substance by Gov. Cuomo, would require evidence to be handed over to the defense within 15 days of arraignment.
To answer prosecutors’ fears that new rules will enable rampant intimidation of witnesses, prosecutors would be able to demonstrate potential harm and petition a judge to allow them to withhold certain evidence. To BQE or not to BQE T never mind that they’re now a stone’s throw from a beautiful new waterfront amenity known as Brooklyn Bridge Park.
We’d love to see a plan that preserves the Promenade uninterrupted and fixes the highway too.
But, the laws of physics being what they are, it may not be doable. Blithe critics who think the city can just do without the vital connector between Brooklyn, Staten Island and Manhattan without flooding surface streets where families live with cars and heavy trucks are fantasists.
We love public transit, but we need highway capacity too. Especially in these two growing boroughs.
Study the options, including trimming back from a six lane highway to four lanes, opening the Belt Parkway to smaller trucks or even using tolls. Disrupt the neighborhood minimally. But for God’s sake, rebuild. he Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, built in Robert Moses’ day, carries 153,000 vehicles a day, 1 in 10 being trucks. That’s more than the CrossBronx Expressway, the FDR Drive and the Tappan Zee Bridge.
A key piece of it — a why-the-hell-didthey-build-it-that-way triple-cantilevered section that wraps around the bottom of Brooklyn Heights, on top of which sits the neighborhood’s beloved Promenade — is corroding, par for the course for so much of the city’s aging infrastructure. This is a big problem. Some way, somehow, precise method yet to be determined, it needs to be rebuilt. The project, an engineering challenge for the ages, will take somewhere between six and 10 years.
Locals who love the Promenade are having a fit that it could disappear even temporarily, Lippman is a former chief judge of New York State, chair of the Independent Commission on NYC Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, and of counsel at Latham & Watkins LLP. Schiraldi is co-director of the Columbia University Justice Lab and former commissioner of New York City Department of Probation.
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