February 8, 2018

Dear Speaker Heastie and the entire New York Assembly:


We, the undersigned, are writing to urge the Assembly to immediately pass the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, A.3080B and both Presumptive Parole, A.7546, and “Second Look” Parole Consideration. In that regard, we urge that these meaningful and gold standard solitary confinement and parole bills be included in the Assembly’s one-house budget resolution and the Assembly’s criminal justice reform package (if the Assembly plans to pass such a package this year). We are very encouraged by the Assembly’s ongoing focus on the need for changes to New York’s injustice system, and particularly this year regarding bail, speedy trial, discovery, and other changes. We write to ensure that this meaningful solitary and parole legislation is also a priority of the Assembly this year.



Summary of Need to Pass HALT solitary and Meaningful Parole Reform

The Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, A.3080B, is the gold standard bill to remedy the harm of solitary confinement. It would end the torture of solitary confinement for all people, and create more humane and effective alternatives. The Labor-Religion Coalition of NYS, JustLeadership USA, The Mental Health Association of NYS, The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, NY Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, and over 180 other organizations across New York State and over 100 NY legislators now support HALT. HALT is the only bill that will end the torture of solitary for all people.

Presumptive Parole: A.7546, would require that parole release be determined based on a holistic, evidence-based process and would grant parole presumptively at subsequent parole hearings unless an individual poses a current, unreasonable risk to public safety.

Second Look Parole Consideration would give older people aged 55 plus who have already spent 15 consecutive years in prison an opportunity to appear before the parole board even if they haven’t yet reached their minimum sentence or are not ever otherwise parole-eligible. A.6354 should be amended to use 55 years of age and 15 years, and then should be included in the reform package.

HALTsolitary and these parole bills are a top priority for the undersigned and now is the moment to pass them in the Assembly. In addition to plans to include meaningful bail, speedy trial, discovery, reentry, and other legislation, any Assembly one-house budget resolution and criminal justice package should include HALTsolitary and these parole bills in order to have widespread support.

Reasons for the Urgency of Passing these Bills

HALT solitary: Solitary confinement is torture. Thousands of people, disproportionately Black and Brown people, remain in solitary in NY each day: 22 to 24 hours a day in a cell without any meaningful human contact or programs. People continue to spend months, years, and decades in solitary (30+ years) in NY. These conditions cause devastating physical, mental, and behavioral impacts. The entire United Nations, including the US, passed rules prohibiting solitary beyond 15 days for any person, because it otherwise would amount to torture. Colorado has implemented a 15-day limit in its prisons and reduced the number of people in solitary from 1,500 to 18. HALT would similarly include a 15-day limit on solitary, and would create more humane and effective alternatives. While Governor Cuomo has touted reforms to solitary, New York still has a higher percentage of people in solitary (5.8%) than the national average (4.4%) and much higher than states that have reformed solitary (less than 1% to 2%). HALT is the only legislation in NY that would address this problem, place total time limits on solitary, and end the torture of solitary for all people.

Parole Reform: Presumptive Parole: Parole Board decisions should be rooted in a holistic and lawful evaluation of the factors outlined in the Executive Law and not on the punitive introductory language of the outdated statute, which allows the Board to deny release based on one, unchangeable factor: the nature of the crime. Thousands of people continue to be denied parole release each year, and people are often repeatedly denied parole multiple times, incarcerated additional years and decades beyond their minimum sentence, due to the nature of their crime. People should be evaluated according to their current risk, accomplishments, and readiness for release. Presumptive Parole, A.7546, would ensure that parole decisions are based on these forward-looking factors.

Second Look: At the same time, older people 55 years of age plus who are serving prison terms that amount to death sentences should be given a “second look,” and appear for parole consideration after serving 15 consecutive years. Based on overwhelming evidence indicating that incarcerated people typically engage in meaningfully transformative and rehabilitative change within 10-15 years of their incarceration, combined with the incredibly low-risk older people pose to public safety, some states are already engaging in this sort of initiative. Assembly Member Weprin’s proposed bill—A.6354—would meet these goals if amended by lowering the sentence length and age to 55 years old and 15 years in prison. Without a "second look," New York guarantees that hundreds of people will die in prison. New York should join other states throughout the country that understand that a "second look" is the compassionate and cost-beneficial thing to do.

Without these bills, thousands of New Yorkers will continue to be subjected to the torture of solitary for months, years, and decades; the population of older people will continue to rise to untenable levels; and there will be an ongoing and worsening economic and humanitarian crisis. All three of these bills reflect common sense, economic intelligence, and a respect for human rights.

We urge the Assembly to pass all of these bills immediately, and to include them in the Assembly’s onehouse budget resolution and any criminal justice reform package. Thank you very much for your consideration and your ongoing partnership in making New York’s injustice system more humane, fair, and just.

Sincerely,

New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC)
Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) Campaign
Action Corps NYC
All Things Harlem
Alliance of Families for Justice
Antiracist Alliance
Black & Pink NYC
Black Lives Matter/Social Justice Committee, Unitarian Church of Staten Island
Blank Forms
Books through Bars
Brooklyn Defender Services
Brooklyn For Peace
Campaign to End the New Jim Crow - NYC
Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration
The Clergy Campaign for Social and Economic Justice
Community Service Society of New York
Correctional Association of New York
Criminal Defense Clinic, Fordham Law School
Criminal Justice Caucus at Columbia School of Social Work
Donna Murch, Associate Professor, Department of History, Rutgers, State University of New Jersey
Freedom Socialist Party
Granny Peace Brigade
Group 73 of Amnesty International, Ithaca, NY
Hope Lives for Lifers Project
Incarcerated Nation Corporation (INC)
Interfaith Impact of NYS
Interfaith Prisoners of Conscience
Jails Action Coalition
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP-NY)
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
Jim Owles Democratic Club
John Brown Lives!
Judson Memorial Church
Just Leadership USA (JLUSA)
Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice
Liberation Literacy
Life Progressive Services (LPS) Group, Inc.
Metro NY Raging Grannies
Metro-New York Religious Campaign Against Torture
The MICAH Institute at the Interfaith Center of New York
Milk Not Jails
Morningside Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers
National Action Network NYC Chapter Second Chance Committee
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Huntington
National Alliance on Mental Illness – New York State Criminal Justice
New York Conference of the United Methodist Church
New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, Inc. (NYAPRS)
Oratory Church of St. Boniface Social Justice Committee
New York State Prisoner Justice Network
National Jericho Movement
National Lawyers Guild – New York City Chapter
New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, Inc. (NYAPRS)
Northeast Political Prisoner Coalition
NYC Books through Bars
NYC Jericho Movement
NYC City Counsel Member Bill Perkins
On the Count, WBAI
Osborne Association
Parole Preparation Project (PPP)
Parole Justice Albany
Parole Justice New York
Parole Revocation Defense Unit
Peace and Justice Task Force of All Souls Unitarian Church
Peacemakers
Prison Action Network
Prison Families Anonymous
Prisoners are People Too
Public Interest Resource Center at Fordham Law School
Rebecca Lemov, Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University
Restorative Justice Initiative
Dr. Richard L. Koral, Clergy-Leader, N.Y. Society for Ethical Culture
Rise & Shine Community Services, Inc.
Rockland Coalition to End the New Jim Crow
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) New York State
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Buffalo
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Capitol District
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Hudson
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Ithaca
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Rochester
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) NYC
Social Justice Committee, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Poughkeepsie
Social Justice Ministry of Christ Church Riverdale
Social Responsibilities Council of Albany Unitarian Universalist Society
Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement
Students for Prison Education and Reform (SPEAR), Princeton University
Susan M. Reverby, PhD Fellow, Crime and Punishment Workshop, Charles Warren Center, Harvard
University
Syracuse Jail Ministry
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
United Voices of Cortland (UVC)
Uptown Progressive Action
Urban Justice Center
Uri L'Tzedek: The Orthodox Social Justice Movement
VOCAL-NY
WESPAC Foundation
Westchester Coalition for Police Reform
Westchester Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute for Nonviolence
Women in Black (Union Square)
Youth Represent

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