Signs the Less is More Community Supervision and Revocation Reform Act (S.1144A/A.5576A); 191 Individuals to be Immediately Released Having Served Their Sentences Under Less is More Standards
Announces Agreement with Department of Corrections and City to Allow for Incarcerated Individuals to be Transferred from Rikers Island to State Custody Here; 40 Individuals Per Day for at least 5 Days Sentenced to at least 90 Days to be Transferred
Governor Hochul: "I watched the Attica trials and I heard the stories come forth. To me it was more than watching on television. I saw people's faces and I heard what went on in those horrific, horrific circumstances. I'm still in the resolve that that should not have happened 50 years ago - and it sure as hell shouldn't be happening 50 years later in 2021."
Hochul: "I also believe that what today is about is protecting human life, the lives of the people who are incarcerated as well as the corrections officers. It's about protecting human rights. The right to work in a safe environment, the right to live and exist in an environment that is clean, hygienic, and above all safe. It's also about protecting human dignity, and this questions who we are as a people when we can allow situations as we've seen in Rikers exist in a prosperous, mighty city like New York. The fact that this exists is an indictment on everyone. And I'm going to do what I can and I've taken some actions that I want to explain today because no one, no inmate, no corrections officer, no family members who visit should have to witness the reality of Rikers as it exists today."
Hochul: "New York State incarcerates more people for parole violations than anywhere in the country. That is a point of shame for us, and it needs to be fixed. It's going to be fixed today. ... the Less is More Act advances critical reforms to make our criminal justice system a better and fairer institution. And what we're going to do is bolster due process and have speedier hearings. ... I'm very proud that New Yorkers have stepped up here today to help, first of all, institute a system that is a true justice system that doesn't penalize people unfairly and gives people another chance in life."
Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul announced actions to improve justice and safety in city jails. The Governor signed the Less is More Act (S.1144A/A.5576A) which modifies the standard of evidence and certain other procedures when determining whether to revoke the community supervision of a person on parole. Governor Hochul also announced an agreement with the Department of Corrections and city to allow for incarcerated individuals who have been sentenced to at least ninety days to be transferred from Rikers Island to New York State facilities.
AUDIO of the event is available here.
PHOTOS of the event are available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:
Thank you to our great Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin, who's here in a dual capacity and also is a forward thinking leader in our State Senate. He is the sponsor of a bill that I'm going to be discussing in a couple of moments.
Also very delighted to be joined by our leadership in the Legislature. We have Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and our Speaker Carl Heastie here. I thank you for lending your clout to this event today because what we're doing actually came out of your two respective bodies and I'm very proud of the work that was done by your members. The sponsor in the Senate as I mentioned, Brian Benjamin, but also Assemblymember Forrest who is also just a great leader on criminal justice reform and I thank her.
Also, having our district attorneys here and I thank all of them for the work they do every single day. It's not easy work. They are really the unsung heroes who have to dispense justice on a daily basis and it's not easy. But I have a lot of respect for what they do.
As well as our amazing advocates. Thank you for never giving up the fight for people, fighting for justice and fairness and ultimately redemption.
When you get a group of people like this from district attorneys to religious leaders to electeds and everyone, you just realize you have to be on the right side of history today, and you think about Dr. King who talked about drum majors for justice. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the band. These are the drum majors for justice that have joined me here on this stage today. So thank you for being here.
I just want to give you a little bit of insight into why this is so important to me personally. As New Yorkers start to get to know me better, I spent three weeks on the job, they definitely would not know the fact that it was exactly 50 years ago last week when as a 13-year-old growing up in Buffalo, I was glued to the evening news - and it was easy because it was only three stations; you turn between three stations; can you imagine? - and the news was captivating.
What I saw was not far from my home, in a place called Attica, a sleepy little town. The world looked like it was on fire. It was exploding and all the eyes of the world were watching this one place, and as a young person who grew up in a very socially conscious household we talked about this at the dinner table, and what was going on there and what this meant and how this could have happened in that day and age 50 years ago.
A lot of questions were raised. How did it happen? How did people not foresee this? How is it not prevented, the violence, the death, the destruction that occurred over that time? And I think about the fact that similar to back then maybe they didn't have noticed, but today we do. It's a volatile situation that we have in one of our jails in the City of New York in Rikers Island. But also I have hope because I know that there's people who are longtime champions of doing what's right. And I also witnessed that as a teenager.
A couple years after I watch this all on television, I became an intern in high school for the local ACLU, and in that capacity, and don't tell my parents this, I skipped school a few times, took the bus an hour bus ride down the City of Buffalo and went into a very foreboding courtroom. I knew I wanted to sit there and witness history. I watched the Attica trials and I heard the stories come forth. To me it was more than watching on television. I saw people's faces and I heard what went on in those horrific, horrific circumstances. I'm still in the resolve that that should not have happened 50 years ago - and it sure as hell shouldn't be happening 50 years later in 2021.
So what are we going to do about it? I've been very focused on this and I want to thank my incredible team, the executive chamber staff and everyone who has been putting in countless hours to help us unpeel this situation and find out what we can do for a facility that is not run by the State of New York, that's very obvious, it's a city-run facility, but when there's cries for help it's very hard to just walk away and pretend you don't hear them. And these advocates know what I'm talking about, to see this, to hear this, to witnesses this.
One says how does this hell on earth exist today? I also believe that what today is about is protecting human life, the lives of the people who are incarcerated as well as the corrections officers. It's about protecting human rights. The right to work in a safe environment, the right to live and exist in an environment that is clean, hygienic, and above all safe. It's also about protecting human dignity, and this questions who we are as a people when we can allow situations as we've seen in Rikers exist in a prosperous, mighty city like New York. The fact that this exists is an indictment on everyone. And I'm going to do what i can and I've taken some actions that i want to explain today because no one, no inmate, no corrections officer, no family members who visit should have to witness the reality of Rikers as it exists today.
So today we're taking on an aspect of our criminal justice system that's too often overlooked, the antiquated system of the parole system. Parole is meant to help people return to life, reentry programs, and not just drop them on a curb and say good luck, but to have a system of monitoring when required to make sure that they comply with what they're supposed to do, but ultimately, become part of society again. Debt has been paid. People are now free. They're supposed to be part of the family again. That's the premise behind parole. But for all too often, in this state particularly, parole becomes a ticket back into jail because of very technical violations. Someone was caught with a drink. We're using a substance, or missing of an appointment. We call these technical violations and what it does is it lands people back in a place that they finally paid their debt to and were released from and they're back among the masses. No chance of rehabilitation, no chance to get that job, no chance of getting reunited with their families. They are back because of a technical violation and we have far too many - 65 percent of the people who have been returned on parole violations were for these technical violations.
So it doesn't make us any safer. These people weren't a danger in the first place. They were released properly and because of a technicality, they are returned. So New York State incarcerates more people for parole rules, violations, than anywhere in the country. Let me repeat that: New York State incarcerates more people for parole violations than anywhere in the country. That is a point of shame for us, and it needs to be fixed. It's going to be fixed today. And it'll put us among the ranks of others. And this is almost embarrassing to say, that Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, already ahead of us on this. Okay? A little catching up to do here, folks, okay? But we want to have people rejoin society.
So we have a bill, and again, I commend the sponsors, my Lieutenant Governor and the Assemblymember who worked so hard on this, and a lot of people who stood on behalf of people who often are forgotten, other than by their families. And thank God we have these people who go out there every single day and put a spotlight on what is occurring behind bars.
So the Less is More Act advances critical reforms to make our criminal justice a better and fairer institution. And what we're going to do is bolster due process and have speedier hearings. What has happened is that people will spend more time awaiting, after parole, and this is again, parole, these are people who've already been released, technicality, they're back in it, they'll spend more time waiting for their adjudication under that circumstance than actually the penalty would require. Think about that. They may only get a 30 day time, they would have to pay for the parole violation, and they have to wait 120 days to get to that. Think about the cruelty of that dynamic as well.
So what we're going to allow for is earned time credit for people who did not violate the conditions of their parole, shifting from a punitive model that locked up people to an incentive-based model to help New Yorkers who reenter their communities. Again, we've seen it work in other cities, and those of you who are fiscally conscious, I certainly find myself in that category as we deal with major budge. It also saves money and that is why there's a lot of support from unlikely sources throughout the State of New York. It is saving money because these people do not need to be incarcerated to protect society. And the states that have done this have seen their recidivism rates drop significantly.
We're going to also take some immediate action on Rikers. I want to address the fact that these reports are deeply disturbing, and what I was concerned about when I reviewed this legislation that came before me is that the effective date is not until March of 2022. That was written by the Legislature, I understand that, but I believe that we also have to take some very swift action and take it right now.
So the Board of Parole, under my direction, will have 191 people released today. They have served their sentences. They have served their sentences under the dictates of the new Less is More, but they shouldn't have to wait for the enactment date. 191 today.
Separately from the parolees, we have a combustible situation still at Rikers because of overcrowding. What does that look like? It means there's too many people and too few people to protect them and to guard them.
So as of today, I'm directing a brand-new process in cooperation with the city of New York. That's probably the headline, "in cooperation with the city of New York." We're working closely with the state Department of Corrections, the city Department of Corrections, constant communication on how we can team up together and make some affirmative steps to resolve this. So as of today, we're directing that 40 sentenced prisoners be sent to Rikers Island each day for the next five days. People will be leaving Rikers, a volatile tinder box, and allowed to go to another state facility, and we're going to have a review process. We have our teams embedded to make sure that people are properly released, but they'll be released and sent to another place.
Again, these are not the parolees. These are people who already have to do their time. And these are people have a least 60 to 90 days left in the term. Again, trying to take the pressure out of this situation. Over 200 people we expect again will leave over the next few days.
We know that a larger systemic problems still exists. We know that and I believe that while we take these first steps, we encourage the city of New York to do what they need to do to alleviate the staffing situation and the other crisis situations. But I'm very proud that New Yorkers have stepped up here today to help, first of all, institute a system that is a true justice system that doesn't penalize people unfairly and gives people another chance in life. And also, we want to make sure that our streets are protected and that the people who work in our prisons and jails are also protected. So this is why it's supported by so many entities across the state.
So again, my drum majors for justice, I thank each and every one of you for being part of a journey that I believe that starting today will take significant steps with this new law, which I'll be signing momentarily. But also, a new program where the state of New York will be taking prisoners who otherwise would be incarcerated at Rikers, and again that process is beginning today. At least, when we look back on 50 years ago, nothing was done to prevent what happened at Attica, and I'd like to believe that what we're doing here today is an affirmative step from the State of New York to say, no more. It begins here today.