Readers Write: Parole justice for elderly prison inmates

I recently spent the morning on a virtual advocacy day focused on two bills in committee in the New York State legislature—both concerning parole justice. Now I know that incarcerated people don’t always rise to the level of highest priorities for many and that is exactly why this advocacy is so important.

One bill provides for individuals who have been incarcerated 15 years or more and have reached the age of 55 to be granted a parole hearing. Not a get out of jail free card, just the opportunity to show, if apt, that they are not the same person they were when their criminal act was committed. Let me just share a few reasons for this:

First, 55 in prison is considered elderly in NYS due to the conditions in prisons which age people prematurely. (In many other states it is 50!)
Second, All of the data shows that for people from 50-65 the recidivism rate is less than 2 percent and for people older than that essentially zero.
Third, This is the age when incarcerated people begin developing age-related illnesses, which prisons are largely incapable of treating appropriately. These conditions, of course, worsen with age especially without proper treatment, causing in effect death by incarceration.
Fourth, the cost to NYS taxpayers per elderly imprisoned person is the astonishing figure of $240,000 annually as opposed to $60,000 for people who are younger.

The second bill called “Fair and Timely” would allow people already eligible for parole to receive a meaningful hearing, which would identify a person’s readiness for release. Currently much of the limited time for these hearings is taken up with a relitigation of the offense, often one which took place decades earlier when the person was a teen or young adult instead of considering what that person has done while incarcerated.

Remember the offense is the one immutable thing—the parole seeker cannot change that, but can change what they have done with their lives while incarcerated.

Please consider writing to your NYS Assembly member and senator urging them to co-sponsor and support these bills.

Shelley Sherman

Great Neck

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