Advocating for Justice Across Generations

31 July 2017

The Osborne Center for Justice Across Generations, formerly known as the Osborne Center for Justice Policy and Practice, focuses on shaping policies  and practices for children of incarcerated parents and people who are aging in prison. As the Center prepares for next year’s budget and legislative session, we look back on two key legislative successes through our advocacy and collaboration with other organizations: reforming and rebuilding the parole board and protecting and strengthening visiting in New York State prisons.

The path to parole reform

Advocates have worked for years to change the composition of the State Board of Parole and raise its low release rates. Historically, individuals appointed to serve on the Board of Parole are former prosecutors, law enforcement officers, or staff of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The majority of recent commissioners have been white and from rural New York, while most parole-eligible people are of color, and from the state’s largest, most diverse cities. As established by the state legislature, the Board of Parole has capacity for 19 commissioners, but until recently, there were only 12 commissioners serving on a Board that reviews and decides roughly 12,000 cases per year.

Osborne staff and participants at “Parole and
Prison Justice Advocacy Day” in Albany 

On May 10, Osborne joined Challenging Incarceration and a coalition of other organizations and advocates in Albany for “Parole and Prison Justice Advocacy Day.” Osborne staff and participants met with legislators, attended rallies, and marched through Albany for better parole practices. A group of young adults from our mentoring program attended the advocacy day and spoke about issues in the criminal justice system that affect them and people they know.

In June, as the legislative session was nearing its end, Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed six new commissioners. The candidates come to the job with diverse racial, professional, and geographic backgrounds—a marked departure from the current makeup of the Board. Additionally, the Governor and Senate did not reappoint three Commissioners—two of them appointed during the Pataki administration—who seldom have complied with new, more equitable standards for parole release, and who for decades have declined to release people who pose little or no risk to public safety. Additionally, another Parole Commissioner, whose term did not expire until 2019, resigned from the Board. The composition of the Board after these changes offers real opportunities to enact the repeated direction from the administration to release individuals who do not pose a risk to public safety and are eligible for parole.

Other Successes

  • Senators on the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee that confirm the appointments voiced strong opposition to the reappointment of one  commissioner who many view as one of the most punitive. The opposition continued onto the larger Senate floor, where Senators publicly dissented and 19 people ultimately voted “no” on his reappointment. Although not enough to defeat the reappointment, such a public objection of a long-standing commissioner suggests a new energy around reforming the parole board and parole policy.
  • Lorraine's Law, a bill that would increase the time between Parole Board hearings from 2 years to up to 5 years for people convicted of the most serious crimes, was defeated.

 

Protecting and strengthening visiting

At the beginning of the legislative session, when the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision submitted their budget recommendations to the governor, they proposed to cut visiting days at maximum security prisons from seven days a week to three. This change would align visiting policy at maximum security prisons with current practice at medium security facilities.

Press conference at NYC City Hall in support of
bills proposed to strengthen visiting at
correctional facilities 

With the support of Assemblymember David Weprin, Chair of the New York Assembly Committee on Correction, Osborne staff, partner organizations, and people directly affected by the criminal justice system organized press conferences, a social media campaign, and trips to Albany to raise awareness to the devastating effects the cut would have on families and children. The proposed cut was ultimately not included in the budget.  

Assemblymember Weprin was moved by the stories he heard from families and introduced a bill that would restore seven-day visiting to medium security prisons. Osborne’s New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents (NYCIP) joined a press conference at New York City Hall on June 16 to support Weprin’s bill and a bill introduced by Assemblymember Carmen de la Rosa to reinstate the DOCCS Prison Visiting Bus program. Although these bills did not pass this legislative session, we continue our efforts to strengthen visiting policy and practice and ensure children are better able to visit their parents.

Proximity Pilot Bill

Youth Action Council Members with Chair of
Corrections Committee, David Weprin

We continued our work on the Proximity Pilot Bill that would ask DOCCS to consider proximity to family when placing a person in a correctional facility. In May, Osborne’s Youth Action Council, a group of young people with incarcerated parents who share their stories to influence policy, traveled to Albany to speak with legislators about the importance of reducing the burden of visiting their incarcerated parents. Although legislation did not pass this session, the Youth Action Council continues to advocate for their right to “speak with, see, and touch” their parents.

Our staff, partners, and supportive legislators continue to raise awareness to the needs and rights of people who are incarcerated and children with incarcerated parents. We are encouraged by the progress we made this session and will continue to work to reform parole and visiting policies and practices now and into the next legislative session.