Senator James L. Seward joined members of the New York State Senate Majority Conference and the family of fallen New York City Police Officer Harry Ryman to announce the introduction of comprehensive legislation that will dramatically strengthen the state’s parole laws to help restrict the release of potentially dangerous violent felons.
Today’s announcement is a direct response to the alarming increase in the parole release rates for A-1 violent felons that has occurred since Governor Eliot Spitzer took office. New State Division of Parole data shows that A-1 violent felons appearing for the first time before the parole board are now being released at a rate 180 percent higher than during Governor George Pataki’s last term in office. Felons who reappear before the board are being released at a rate 122 percent higher than during Pataki’s last term.
"This is about safety in our communities and on our streets," Seward said. "We have to stop the high numbers of violent criminals being paroled in this state."
"The senate majority’s tough criminal justice reforms helped to produce record-breaking drops in crime throughout the past decade, and we are not going to allow that progress to be reversed under any circumstances," said Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee Chair Michael Nozzolio (R-C, Fayette). "These critical parole reforms will help keep our communities safe, empower crime victims, and help to ensure that cop killers and other vicious criminals are kept behind bars where they belong."
"The senate majority will not stand by and let our state’s criminal justice system become a revolving door for violent criminals," Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno said. "This important new bill will strengthen the rights of crime victims, better ensure public safety, and help bring an end to the dangerous shift in parole release policies that we’ve witnessed since Governor Spitzer took office."
"My family and I believe that parole procedures need to change; not on behalf of the inmates – but on behalf of the very people whose lives were destroyed by them," said Margaret Rainone, daughter of slain NYPD Officer Harry Ryman. "The current lack of equality regarding victims in the parole process only serves to minimize the impact statement and its real value in the process."
The legislation to be advanced by Senator Nozzolio and the senate majority would:
Require at least 3 parole board members to conduct parole hearings for inmates convicted of a class A felony, and require a unanimous vote for parole to be granted in these cases (presently, only a majority vote is required);
Require the Division of Parole to maintain a listing of inmates and their parole eligibility dates, along with other relevant data, on their website;
Allow victims who did not choose to receive notice of parole hearings at the time of the inmate's conviction to elect to do so at a later date;
Require the division’s website to provide a mechanism enabling victims of all crimes, not just violent crimes, to register to receive notice of when their perpetrator will appear before the parole board for a hearing. The website must also provide a notice of their rights as a victim to make either a written or oral statement to the board;
Require the parole board to give notice to victims who have requested to be notified of a proposed parole hearing, and their rights as victims to make either written or oral statements to the board;
Require the Division of Parole to provide an annual report to the state legislature on all parole releases, release rates and other information; and
Mandate that the Division of Parole must contact the local district attorney in the county where a crime was committed, whenever an A-felon or violent felony offender comes up for parole.
In addition, legislation to be introduced by Senator Martin Golden (R-C, Brooklyn), a former member of the NYPD, would mandate an extensive array of information about inmates be made available on the State Division of Parole website, including their record of behavior while incarcerated.
"From closing prisons, to releasing cop killers, to dismantling our state’s parole system, Governor Spitzer’s soft-on-crime policies pose a dangerous threat to public safety," said Senator Golden. "We will do everything in our power to prevent this administration’s misguided policies from bringing us back to the days when New York was the national poster child for rape, murder and mayhem."
Legislation sponsored by Senator Andrew Lanza (R, Staten Island) will strengthen provisions of the law pertaining to impact statements given by victims and family members at the parole hearing. Under current law, it is only required that statements be heard by one member of the parole board. This bill (S.6825) would require all three parole board members to hear testimony from crime victims and their families.
"New York’s most violent criminals must not be released back into our neighborhoods where they can once again threaten the lives and safety of innocent people," said Senator Lanza. "Unfortunately, it seems as though current misguided policies are in fact releasing dangerous criminals from serving out their full sentences. The stakes are simply too high not to fix this problem immediately."
According to the senate majority, the dramatic increase in parole rates is in keeping with a troubling pattern that has emerged since Governor Spitzer first took office – a pattern that will serve to weaken the state’s criminal justice system and place the public at greater risk. Elements of this pattern include the following:
The governor’s proposed budget calls for the closure of four correctional facilities across the state;
The governor’s proposed budget would dramatically expand the state’s "compassionate release" policies for inmates, including A-1 felons. The proposal would effectively change the law so that inmates who have a "permanent" illness can be released without intensive supervision (at the present time, only "terminally ill" inmates can be released, and these individuals are only released under intensive supervision); and
In November of 2007, news reports revealed the fact that the Spitzer administration and Board of Parole were quietly negotiating a court settlement that would have dramatically altered the governance of parole hearings in order to favor the rights of violent criminals, including notorious killers such as David Berkowitz, the "Son-of-Sam." Under the proposed settlement, cop killers and other vicious criminals would have received additional opportunities to seek early parole, while also being empowered to select the parole officer of their choice. Strong opposition from the senate majority led the administration to abandon the negotiations.