The end of the legislative year is just around the corner, which means it’s crunch time.
One of the last big agenda items still left on the table is parole reform.
Advocates have been pushing for years now a package of bills they say will reform the way the parole system works in New York.
Now with most big items wrapped up and legislative leaders hinting this could be the next step, advocates are ramping up their push to get these bills passed this year.
“We believe in the right to restorative and rebuilding of our humanity,” Luz Marquez Benbow said. “And what does it mean to be behind bars for such a long time, to do your time and to be able to come out with dignity and humanity.”
There are two bills that are at the forefront.
The Elder Parole bill would give incarcerated individuals who are at least 55 years old and who have already served 15 years in prison a chance to go before a parole board.
The other piece of legislation, the Fair and Timely Parole bill, would change the standards of parole, centering release on a person’s rehabilitation while in prison, not on the original crime.
Assemblyman Chris Burdick says these bills focus on changing what incarceration means.
“It is an intersection with human rights and elevating people to be recognized as capable of redemption, capable of reforming themselves,” Assemblyman Burdick said.
Senator George Borrello countered these arguments however, saying that a person’s age should not make them eligible for parole.
“If you've been sentenced and you've served 15 or more years, you've likely done something really egregious, murder, rape, other things,” Senator Borrello said. “And just because you reach a certain age, you're automatically eligible for parole? It's ridiculous.”
Senate Republicans have introduced their own package of anti-crime bills, with one focusing on changing how members are appointed to the parole board.
With crime rates spiking in many of the big cities across the state, Borrello says the Legislature needs to shift its attention to public safety.
“Statistics don't lie,” Borrello said. “Crime is up in almost every category and instead of looking for ways to address that, looking for ways to make New Yorkers more safe, the Democratic leadership is just trying to win some ridiculous contest to prove that New York is the most progressive state in the nation.”
The Elder Parole bill has not made it out of committee at this time. However, the Fair and Timely Parole bill has advanced to the Senate floor, but has not been scheduled for a vote yet.