By Amy Berberyan
ALBANY, NY – Rodney Holcombe, New York State Director of Criminal Justice Reform at FWD.us, a bipartisan organization that engages in both criminal justice and immigration reform across the country, this week used the word “encouraging” to describe New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s 2022 State of the State address.
Holcombe primarily addressed the governor’s plans for both investing in New York’s people and public safety, noting his support for Hochul’s public commitment to improving public safety, fully staffing the parole board, and approving policies meant to decrease employment barriers for those who were previously incarcerated in and seeking reentry services from New York.
“There’s so much to be done to continue to advance safety and justice in New York,” he said. “Even with important recent criminal justice reforms, New York still struggles with an incarceration crisis that sends far too many people to jails and prisons and keeps them there for unnecessarily long periods of time.”
Holcombe maintained that one way to further address this was by “passing Elder Parole and Fair & Timely Parole.”
Elder Parole is proposed legislation that calls for granting parole eligibility to certain incarcerated persons over the age of 55.
Fair & Timely parole, according to the New York Senate’s website, is meant to “[provide] that the Board of Parole shall release incarcerated persons who are eligible for release on parole, unless such person presents a current and unreasonable risk or such risk cannot be mitigated by parole supervision.”
Both pieces of legislation are meant to address the prison crisis by creating a more fair parole process that allows opportunities for incarcerated persons to be released to their communities and families.
“Right now, thousands of parole-eligible New Yorkers are repeatedly denied release and thousands more aren’t eligible for a parole hearing at all,” said Holcombe.
“These restrictive parole policies extend already long sentences, disproportionately impact Black and Latinx people, and have contributed to an alarming increase in the number of older people in state prisons,” he said, “many of whom will die behind bars without reform.
Holcombe stressed the importance of “the Governor and state lawmakers [protecting] the recently enacted and historic bail reform law that [protects] thousands of New Yorkers from unnecessary pretrial jailing amid an ongoing pandemic.”
After acknowledging the misinformation about the new law, he maintained that it worked to protect New Yorkers, noting, “Unnecessary jailing increases community instability and recidivism, pulls critical public resources away from public health and violence prevention, and puts thousands at risk behind bars.
“Death in custody rates are chillingly high,” Holcombe added.
Hochul’s “Jails to Jobs” initiative is a program meant to, according to the State of New York website, mitigate recidivism through connecting individuals “with education, resources, and opportunities for job placement.”
Holcombe concluded that it is important that state leaders “help combat continued misinformation, and follow the facts, which make clear that bail reform makes us safer and should be protected in the 2022 session and beyond.”