A passionate and vocal group of advocates, including former inmates, gathered in Yonkers on Wednesday October 25 to rally for two crucial pieces of legislation. Their message was clear: New York needs the Elder Parole Act and the Fair and Timely Parole Act to ensure justice for incarcerated individuals, particularly those who have spent significant time behind bars and are over the age of 55.
The Elder Parole Act guarantees hearings for individuals aged 55 or older having served at least 15 years in prison. The Fair and Timely Parole Act establishes that denial of parole be based on reasons other than the original crime.
The rally for reform
The rally, located in the legislative district of New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, underscored the importance of these two bills in the upcoming legislative session.
Dannie McQueen, who served 33 years after being convicted at the age of 16, shared his experiences. McQueen cited cases of inmates, including a paralyzed fellow prisoner, being denied parole despite posing no threat to society. He expressed the urgency of passing these bills to prevent such injustices.
Jeffrey Deskovic, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years and is now an attorney, argued that the current parole system can be unjust. This injustice leaves some inmates incarcerated for years, even when they are in poor health or advanced in age.
Advocates for the bills hope to see both the Elder Parole and Fair and Timely Parole Acts passed in tandem. However, opposition exists, notably from the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), the largest NYPD union. PBA President Patrick Henry expressed concerns about watered-down parole standards. He argued that the bills could release dangerous criminals back into the community.
The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York also raised concerns about judicial discretion. They too fear that violent offenders could be released without assessing their threat to society. However, several district attorneys from populous counties like Brooklyn, The Bronx, and Manhattan have publicly supported these reforms.
As the legislative session begins in January, advocates are optimistic about the bills’ prospects. They call on lawmakers like Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins to allow these pieces of legislation to come to a vote. They believe there is ample support within the legislature to pass these bills, ensuring that individuals who have served their time and are no longer a threat can reintegrate into society. And the rally in Yonkers underscored the importance of parole reform on people’s lives.