Martha Rayner (far right), co-director of the Criminal Defense Clinic, and Kaela Economos, the Clinic’s social work supervisor, traveled to Albany last month along with two future CDC students, Rachel Patterson (left) and Jackie Prosky, to meet with New York legislators about two pending bills seeking to reform New York’s parole laws. They carry a sign with a quote from Pope Francis, “Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty.”
There are nearly 9,000 people serving life sentences in New York state. The process of deciding who should be paroled is highly discretionary and vulnerable to political pressure resulting in repeated denials of parole despite strong evidence of rehabilitation and low risk to public safety. The Fair and Timely Parole bill seeks to change the backward-looking standard currently in use by the Parole Board, to a forward-looking standard that considers who the person is today. Many of the men and women serving life sentences without parole have served multiple decades in prison, committed their crimes at a young age, engaged in meaningful programming and education, and transformed. Yet, under the current law, they will never be considered for release. The Elder Parole bill, would permit anyone at age 55 or older, who has served at least 15 years, to be eligible for parole.