Weeks after she authorized the emergency release of some Rikers Island detainees, lawmakers are asking Gov. Kathy Hochul to further use her power to release additional detainees, citing the ongoing crisis unfolding at the city's jails.
In a letter to the governor, Deputy State Senate Majority Leader Mike Gianaris is asking the governor to lift parole violations and warrants on approximately 800 Rikers detainees.
Gianaris and 30 other lawmakers are also asking Hochul to fully implement the Less is More Act, which Hochul signed into law earlier this month but will not be fully implemented until March of next year.
"There are about 800 people who are being held right now who would not be if it were March," Gianaris told NY1. "To put them through this crisis now and put their lives in danger simply because the law doesn't take effect for a few more months is irresponsible."
So far, 201 detainees have been released from Rikers after Hochul signed Less is More and 128 Rikers detainees have been transferred from Rikers to state-run facilities.
The Less is More Act seeks to reform the state's parole system by eliminating what advocates say is punitive enforcement of parole violations. Instead the new law creates a system that will help people complete community supervision while avoiding re-incarceration if they commit technical violations of their parole -- such as missing an appointment, using a controlled substance or missing a curfew. More specifically, the law also bans incarceration for a person's first and second technical violations of parole and caps incarceration for subsequent violations at 30 days in jail.
According to Gianaris, there are approximately 164 people in the custody of the Department of Correction who remain on Rikers for technical violations of their parole and who do not have a pending criminal case.
Gianaris says there is a larger group of approximately 672 people who remain in city jails for a combination of parole violations and additional pending criminal charges. Even if they were able to post bail on the new charges, they would still be held under the parole violations, which Gianaris argues should no longer stand in their way.
"Doing so would entitle these individuals to address their pending criminal matters without mandatorily being held because of their accompanying parole violation, Gianaris wrote. "Simply put, it would allow them to benefit from the Less is More Act today instead of languishing another 6 months without relief while waiting for the law to fully take effect."
The question of detainee releases has been widely debated as the crisis on Rikers continues to unfold. The vast majority of people on the island are pre-trial detainees, meaning they have yet to be convicted of any crime.
Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson for the governor, said Hochul has already used her authority to release some detainees.
“Governor Hochul has taken bold, swift action to address the crisis on Rikers Island, from signing and implementing core tenets of Less is More to negotiating an agreement with the City to transfer individuals from Rikers to DOCCS," Crampton-Hays said in a statement. "The Governor is also working with the courts to expand remote hearings and reduce time languishing on Rikers waiting for a day in court. We are committed to continuing to work with elected partners on solutions to improve justice and safety and promote human dignity.”