Gov. Hochul signs parole reform bill into law amid Rikers crisis

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NEW YORK — Amid calls for action over the crisis at New York City’s Rikers Island, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday signed into law the Less Is More Act in a major overhaul of New York’s parole system.

The legislation, which will take full effect in March 2022, will prevent people from being reincarcerated for technical, non-criminal parole violations.

These violations include missing a curfew, arriving late to an appointment with a parole officer, changing a residence without approval and failing to attend a mandated program.

It will also allow for shortened parole sentences due to good behavior, and expedite the time frame in which parole hearings can be held.

Hochul said that 191 inmates would be released from Rikers on Friday who meet the threshold of the new legislation.

Watch Friday’s event and bill signing in full below:

Most of the city’s jail inmates are being held for trial or on parole violations.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, 274 people in New York City prisons are being detained for a technical parole violation, out of 6,079 inmates.

Supporters say incarcerating people for technical parole violations is costly and fuels recidivism. 

The Republican minority in the Legislature has accused Democrats of focusing more on perpetrators of crimes than victims.

Hochul’s action comes as a spotlight has once again been put on the city’s notorious jail complex, which has spiraled into turmoil during the pandemic.

It’s not just inmates and advocates saying that. City officials, including the mayor, admit there are serious problems.

The growing crisis, brought to light in recent weeks by advocates, news reports and a federal monitor who wrote of “grave concerns” with the city’s jails, has sent officials scrambling for remedies amid plans to close Rikers by 2026.

Mayor Bill de Blasio this week unveiled reforms that include requiring absent guards to get a doctor’s note if they’re out for more than a day, speeding inmate intake procedures and fixing infrastructure problems like broken cell doors.

On Wednesday, the city started suspending jail guards for 30 days without pay if they refused to come to work. Last week, the city said the staffing situation was so dire it was enlisting a telemarketing company to entice recently retired correctional officers to return to work.

Advocates, lawmakers and even the union for jail guards say the measures aren’t enough to fix a system where 10 inmates have died this year, at least five in suspected suicides.

Advocates want inmates released immediately. Some say Rikers should be closed right away.

Lawmakers who toured Rikers complex this week said it’s filthy and inhumane, with overflowing toilets and floors covered in dead cockroaches, feces and rotting food. State Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas said inmates told her they felt like they were being treated like slaves and animals.

The union, meanwhile, has said that hiring more guards is the answer and that suspensions will leave remaining officers working “triple and quadruple shifts with no meals and no rest.”

“The mayor cannot discipline his way out of this staffing crisis that he caused by refusing to hire a single correction officer for nearly three years, even as the inmate population doubled,” said Benny Boscio Jr., the president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association.

In actuality, the city’s jail population has risen by about 58%, topping 6,000 inmates at the end of last week after falling below 3,900 inmates as bail reforms took effect, arrests slowed and some inmates were sent home early in the pandemic.

In addition, city jail Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said Monday that the city has authorized the hiring of at least 200 correctional officers.

Schiraldi thanked Hochul after she signed Friday’s legislation.

“Eliminating non-criminal, technical parole violations is the decent, humane thing to do and it will only increase public safety by disrupting the incarceration cycle at a critical point, when people are reintegrating into the community,” Schiraldi said.

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