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Will the pandemic be enough to reform New York’s parole violation system? - Karen Maniraho

HAYLEY ZHAO, HOST: During the pandemic, the move to reduce prison populations has taken on special urgency.

ARCELIA MARTIN, HOST: Last week, the state senate began consideration of a bill known as the Less is More Act,--the bill aims to reduce incarceration for technical violations of parole. Karen Maniraho has more on the bill and movement behind it.

KAREN MANIRAHO, BYLINE: In 2018, Michael Hendrickson was released from a three-year prison sentence in Rochester, NY and placed on community supervision. He began reimagining his life, and for the first year, things were going great.

MICHAEL HENDRICKSON: I hit the ground running. I got myself enrolled in school - I had worked very diligently to catch up on my past child support that I incurred while I was incarcerated, having my own place to live, you know, and I was really doing well.

MANIRAHO: But then his parole officer spotted a picture of his kids in Hendrickson’s apartment. Visiting his kids would violate the rules of his parole and so while the officer investigated--Hendrickson returned to jail. He waited for six months to appear before a judge, and then was released.

Kendra Bradner, is Director of the Columbia Justice Lab’s Probation and Parole Reform Project. She says people under parole supervision have to abide by upwards of 15 different rules.

KENDRA BRADNER: It could be a curfew. They can't move without permission. And they have to get permission in order to do a whole variety of things. And you can be sent back to prison, or jailed pending the assessment of that violation. And for breaking any one of those rules or for being alleged to have broken any one of those rules.

MANIRAHO: Philip Desgranges is a Supervising Attorney at the Legal Aid Society. He says New York City policies around technical parole violations are excessive and unnecessarily disrupt the lives of parolees.

PHILIP DESGRANGES: They go back into the community and they're released from prison, when they've reconnected with family members when they're trying to pay their rent, and so can actually have a counterproductive effect on public safety, because you're destabilizing lives or you're causing homelessness, and you're causing joblessness as well.

MANIRAHO: We reached out to the New York State Department of Corrections for comment on the issue of parole violations and the Less is More Act, but they did not reply. The bill would limit the offenses and jail time permitted for technical violations of parole. Desgranges says it would also add new pathways for due process for parolees accused of violations.

DESGRANGES: The Less is More Act would really stem and prevent such high levels of incarceration going forward, but it would also ensure that there'd be a lot less discretion and a lot more fairness, honestly, for people who are on parole.

MANIRAHO: For Uptown Radio, I’m Karen Maniraho.

Correction on Feb. 21, 2021: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYS DOCCS) did not reply for a request for comment. NYS DOCCS did respond with a statement saying they didn’t comment on pending legislation, but that issuing a technical parole violation is a last resort in cases of consistent violations where other efforts have failed, and that in such cases due process and representation by an attorney is guaranteed.

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