BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Advocates in Binghamton gathered on Thursday to back parole reform legislation pushed by some lawmakers in Albany and ask for further changes to prevent re-incarceration.
One of the bills garnering attention would expand parole eligibility to those who are 55 or older and serving long sentences. Another would change the basis for granting parole from a person’s crime to their change while in prison.
Advocates outside Binghamton City Hall applauded those reforms but added that legislation focused on what happens to a person once they are released on parole is just as necessary, if not more so.
Khamesi Black, a community advocate with the harm reduction organization Truth Pharm, has been incarcerated and said people on parole face many technical rules and conditions that serve as “trip-wires” for recidivism.
“Even if the court ends up dismissing the violation, that one day or few days that you spend in jail are enough to lose your job, your housing, the things you need to not only survive,” Black said.
A bill coined the Less is More Act would limit which technical parole violations can send someone back to prison.
Black and other advocates thanked Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-123), who was a co-sponsor of that bill.
“The goal of these bills is to give incarcerated individuals who are not at serious risk of re-offending the ability to apply for parole,” Lupardo said in a statement on Thursday. “As always, these cases will be considered on a case by case basis by the Parole Board.”
Other bills commended by advocates included a measure to vacate the records of human trafficking survivors and a one that would restore voting rights to all New Yorkers upon release from prison.
Since 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has granted pardons to tens of thousands of people on parole through an executive order. Prior to that, people on parole after a felony conviction were disenfranchised.
But advocates for a restoration bill statewide said the voting rights of many people of color have not been reinstated through Cuomo’s program, and are worried a future governor could end the program. Terri Weathers with Citizen Action said permanent, straightforward legislation is necessary.
“It enacts a simple, bright-line rule that is easy to administer and understand: if you are living in a community, then you can vote,” Weathers said. “It just makes sense.”
Among the bill’s co-sponsors was Assemblywoman Anna Kelles (D-125), whose district includes the Ithaca area. It passed the State Senate in February, but has yet to come to a vote in the Assembly.