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One step towards racial justice in NY state

02/12/2021 04:29:49 PM


Thank you to Carolyn Kunin for providing the content for this post.

RAC-NY, the Reform Movement’s New York State social justice advocacy group, in which TINW is active, is embarking on a campaign to reform the state’s current parole system, which re-incarcerates people for minor, technical parole violations.  Our state imprisons 7,500 individuals per year for violations such as missing an appointment, staying out beyond a curfew, or testing positive for alcohol. This March and April we will call on the New York State Legislature to pass the Less is More bill for parole reform.  (See a comprehensive fact sheet on this reform below.)

Join us in taking the opportunity to virtually advocate, together with representatives of New York Reform Jewish congregations, to rectify this racial justice issue.  And a racial injustice it is: black people are 12 times more likely to be incarcerated in New York City jails for technical parole violations than white people, and 5 times more likely to be incarcerated in state prisons than white people. 

In March and early April, RAC-NY will conduct virtual lobby meetings with New York State legislators to urge them to pass the  Less is More legislation.  As a first step, please plan to attend a Zoom gathering on Tuesday, February 23 at 8 PM ET. Rabbi Jaech and Rabbi Maura Linzer (Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester) will hold an educational session on Less is More and RAC-NY.  See the TINW website to register for this session.  

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION (Supplied by Amy Glickman of Central Synagogue in New York)

What is the Campaign?
A major driver of mass incarceration in our State of New York is that parole officers can and do re-incarcerate people for missing an appointment, staying out beyond a curfew, or testing positive for alcohol after their release from prison. New York State reincarcerates more people for minor transgressions like these – known as “technical” or “supervision” violations - than any state in our country except Illinois. Forty percent of all people sent to prison in New York State are sent for technical violations. Our State is an outlier.

There are 35,000 people under active parole supervision in New York State. These are people who have served their time in incarceration and need help to start and stay reconnected to families, jobs, and housing. Yet their lives can be disrupted for a minor mistake by a sudden and lengthy new jail stint before they’re even entitled to a hearing. Nearly 7,500 of them across the State suffered this fate in 2018, including over 1,600 people who were reincarcerated solely to receive drug treatment. 

Not only is this unjust, the data demonstrates that it’s even more unjust for Black people: they are incarcerated for technical parole violations at 12 times the rate of white people in New York City jails and almost 5 times the rate of white people in State prisons. Reincarceration for such reasons, in the words of the State Bar Association, “can have devastating consequences for the person charged while having no appreciable positive impact on public safety.”

It’s also extremely expensive: our state pays $359 million per year in prison costs for this inhumane policy, and localities, including New York City, spend an estimated $300 million more.

Who is/are RAC-NY’s key partner(s) on this issue campaign? 
The lead organizers are the Katal Center for Equity, Health and Justice (NYC, Capitol Region); A Little Piece of Light (NYC); and Unchained (Syracuse). The bill was developed by people on parole, people currently incarcerated, family members, and advocacy groups working with them. 

How is/are the bill(s) game changers?  How do they lead to a bigger transformation toward justice, compassion and wholeness?
The Less is More Act would provide much-needed reforms by:
•    limiting the types of technical violations for which incarceration is permitted
•    capping the amount of time someone can be reincarcerated for remaining eligible violations
•    ending automatic re-incarceration without a hearing for alleged parole violations
•    instituting “earned time credits” to shorten terms of parole and incentivize positive action
Thousands of people on parole could lead their lives with less fear of sudden disruption of whatever progress they have made towards rebuilding their lives after prison. Parole officers could reduce their caseloads and focus on helping people receive necessary support as returning citizens and as a result, improve public safety.  

What are the chances the bill(s) will become law this year?  Who is supportive, opposed and swing voters on this bill? 
Success on criminal justice reform is never assured in the NY State legislature, but this bill has two critical advantages in this particularly challenging year. First, it’s projected to save hundreds of millions of state and county funds in the face of a looming state budget deficit. And second, it has significant law enforcement support, including 7 district attorneys and two county sheriffs, three former NYC Commissioners of Probation, the former Chief Justice of the State of New York, and other current and former law enforcement and local elected officials. Gov. Cuomo broadly agreed in 2018 that “New York jails and prisons should not be filled with people who may have violated the conditions of their parole, but present no danger to our communities.” The parole officers’ union opposes the bill.  

What can RAC-NY do to make a difference in the passage of the bill(s)?  What is there for the members of our congregation do to help as the bill(s)?
Our congregations can join virtual advocacy meetings with state legislators, send postcards and emails and call their state legislators and the Governor, and participate in social media outreach in support of the bill. They also can invite congregation members to virtual campaign rallies or press conferences.

Are there opportunities here in NY to help change Federal policy on this issue? 
Because supervision (parole and probation) laws vary so much state-by-state and on the federal level, the details of reform looks different in each jurisdiction. But there is a growing national movement around the need to reduce the footprint and punitiveness of supervision and improve community integration across jurisdictions. See This legislation would allow New York to set a standard for the nation, rather than continue to be a laggard.  

Why are you excited and/or concerned about making this issue campaign RAC-NY’s main issue campaign for 2021? 
In our current atmosphere of misinformation, fear, and resentment, especially around crime, the RAC-NY and its member congregations can bring a critical Jewish perspective to remind elected officials that our criminal justice system must be just. Sending people back to incarceration for minor transgressions undermines rehabilitation and is incompatible with the quintessentially Jewish concept of T’shuvah – repentance, return, and new beginnings.


Thu, June 30 2022 1 Tammuz 5782