New York Democratic Supermajority Could Lead To Parole Reform

Jan 27, 2021

Democratic New York lawmakers say this will finally be the year the state makes changes to the parole system. Elected officials will focus on two bills that would speed parole hearings and eligibility for older incarcerated people.

Legislation to reform how parole boards hear cases have been introduced repeatedly over the last five years. They never went anywhere. But now that Democrats control a supermajority in the state Senate, they can overcome any objection from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“This might finally be the year it happens,” said Queens Assemblyman David Weprin.

One bill Weprin said can pass is Fair and Timely Parole, which would tilt the chances of parole more in favor of the applicant. Prison reform advocates have long complained that parole boards are influenced more by politics than by an imprisoned person’s likelihood of recidivism.

A second bill would open up the possibility of parole for anyone over the age of 55 who has served at least 15 years even if their minimum sentence hasn’t been met.

The two bills have garnered the support of the chair of the state judiciary committee and also the chair of the corrections committee — Brooklyn Senator Julia Salazar.

“The incarceration system should — and although it doesn’t do this well — it should be rehabilitative and restorative, then we need to support this legislation,” Salazar said.

Cuomo’s office declined to take a position on either of the bills. His office did defend past parole reforms such as a 2014 settlement with the New York Civil Liberties Union. Cuomo has frustrated advocates by not releasing more people from prison during the pandemic, and by not giving inmates priority access to the vaccine.

Cuomo’s position might not matter, if Democrats can convince a supermajority of their members.