Gov. Kathy Hochul over the last several weeks has signaled she wants to make a clean break from former Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration, and criminal justice advocates hope that will extend to the state's policies on prison and incarceration.
Advocates on Thursday are marking the end of a 45-day review period by Hochul and her new administration to assess which officials from the Cuomo era should be removed from office to push her to make broader changes on prison policy. Specifically, the advocates are pointing to measures meant to reform the state's parole laws for older people who are currently incarcerated and use her office's power of executive clemency.
“Governor Hochul’s promise to break with the toxic practices of the past administration was welcome," said TeAna Taylor of the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice. "Now we are asking her to honor the spirit of that commitment by working with us to give hope to families torn apart by the state's racist and brutal system of mass incarceration."
Advocates for reforms to parole and prison policies were spurred on in the last year and a half amid the pandemic and the spread of COVID-19 in facilities like prisons. They have argued older people, in particular, are most at risk while incarcerated.
At the same time, Taylor is calling for a full staffing at the state Parole Board with members more sympathetic to advocates' concerns.
"The fact is, she can implement these bills administratively by using her wide-reaching clemency powers to commute the sentences of incarcerated older adults who have already served 15 or more years to at least allow them to appear before the State Parole Board for an individualized, case-by-case assessment, and by ensuring that the Parole Board is staffed with people who uphold their responsibility to evaluate people based on who they are today, and not just on the worst thing they’ve ever done," Taylor said.
Cuomo, while in office, moved to close many prisons as the number of people incarcerated fell over the last decade. Hochul recently approved changes to the state laws for parole violations and moved to release people from Rikers Island jail as a way of alleviating the worsening conditions at the facility.