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Less is More Act Cuts Parole Population by 40% in New York

By March 1, 2023, more than 17,000 New York parolees had been discharged early since the Less is More (LIM) Act took effect a year earlier, cutting the number of people on parole statewide by nearly 40%. Signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) on September 17, 2021, after it successfully passed the state legislature on the last day of its session, the law removed incarceration as punishment for nearly all minor “technical” parole violations, like missing a meeting with a parole officer, failing a drug test or missing a curfew.

Before passage of LIM, state law was particularly cruel for people on parole and sent tens of thousands of New Yorkers back to jail or prison. The re-incarceration would effectively stop the progress the individual had made toward housing and employment stability. The measure’s sponsor, Phara Souffrant-Forrest (D-Brooklyn), championed her bill with the message that the former parole system had “a framework of punishment instead of care.”

In the years prior to its passage, New York was notorious for incarcerating citizens for noncriminal parole violations at a rate over six times the national average, according to Prison Policy Initiative (PPI). Highlighting racial bias in the previous system, Black parolees were five times more likely to be reincarcerated than white parolees for noncriminal parole infractions in 2019, and Latinos were 30% more likely.

Ames Grawert, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, reacted in a statement highlighting the human and financial costs of the old system.

At New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex, where 15 detainees died in 2021, including at least five by suicide, Grawert said LIM would improve conditions by decreasing unnecessary confinement that “served no rehabilitative or public safety purpose.” The attorney added it will also save New York taxpayers more than $600 million a year.

In the first 10 months since taking full effect, the new law saw nearly 2,000 parolees who had been incarcerated for noncriminal technical violations released from jails and prisons. The projected reduction in the state prison population from fewer automatic re-incarcerations for noncriminal violations led to closure of six New York prisons in late 2021.

Of course there have been critics of the measure, who blame the new law for any crime committed by a parolee. But LIM also shut down a sort of bait-and-switch scheme by prosecutors, who went after easy convictions and then relied on draconian parole measures to keep criminals locked up, rather than proving more serious charges.

The Legal Aid Society outlined how the key provisions of LIM created an outsize impact on communities most affected by mass supervision. Those include creating a pathway to finish parole early through earned time credits; ending automatic detention and incarceration for certain technical violations; improving due process; and setting limits on incarceration for technical violations. The success of LIM in New York is a model for other states seeking to “modify and scale back supervision systems and steer clear of unreasonable conditions, fees and other punishments,” PPI noted.  

Source: USA Today

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