Two social justice groups came together on Thursday evening to call attention to New York’s prison and parole system and call on the Democratic state senators and Assemblyman Phil Ramos. Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) and Long Island Social Justice Network created forums and bills on how to effectively change the system.
The Elder Parole Bill will grant a hearing to incarcerated people above the age of 55 that completed 15 years or more. The bill would not mean automatic release for the incarcerated, but instead an evaluation with the parole board.
According to both organizations’ Parole Justice Campaign Platform, the Fair and Timely Parole would provide a closer look into the incarcerated person’s rehabilitation process rather than the original crime they were prosecuted for. The Parole Justice Campaign Platform says it’s goal for this bill is to evaluate the person’s eligibility for release and not relitigate the case.
The interest for Pastor Katherine Corbett of New Life Christian Church sparked with the Parole Justice Campaign Platform when her grandson was incarcerated and told her his experiences from inside prison.
“It almost made me feel like no matter how much you give someone, even though we were working hard all these years, there are certain bills and certain things you cannot change to really help these kids,” said Corbett.
It was when RAPP lobbied on the conditions of the criminal justice system that made Pastor Corbett feel she had to get involved, for the sake of her grandson.
Their Fair and Fully Staffed Parole Board Bill reads, “The Campaign calls for a fully staffed Parole Board (19) with commissioners who can adequately evaluate rehabilitation, and who have experience in social work, healthcare, reentry services, and mental health, all fields that are critical when evaluating a person’s readiness for release.”
John Dukes, New Hour member and formerly incarcerated, spoke at the Town Hall Series of his experience being inside prison.
“This system was not designed for us to flourish,” said Dukes. “Prison is not a pleasant place… the trauma I’ve faced in prison and the trauma I still endure is not right. It’s not productive”.
Both organizations reached out to Long Island state legislators to attend the virtual forum. The town hall event was held in District nine, which is represented by State Senator Todd Kaminsky. RAPP said that they would be targeting him and each of the democratic state senators on Long Island and one assembly member, that person being Assemblyman Phil Ramos.
“We’re particularly targeting these folks because they’re people that are going to be able to sway the direction of passing these bills in our favor,” said Flores. “We also think they have a role in these communities, they have a moral obligation to address the crisis that we’re in.”
“The devastating pandemic has shed light on so many of the inequities that plague New Yorkers across our state, including those within our criminal justice system,” said Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean Pierre who presides over Assembly District 11. “With COVID-19 continuing to jeopardize the health and safety of incarcerated individuals and prison staff alike, timely passage of these reforms to our parole system is absolutely critical. I stand with all advocates who seek a fairer, more equitable New York that prioritizes people and justice over the profits of mass incarceration, and thank both the Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) and Long Island Social Justice Action Network (LISJAN) for organizing these virtual town hall events to continue educating the public on this important issue.”
Senator Todd Kaminsky and Assemblyman Phil Ramos were not available for a comment.