An open letter to Sen. Anna Kaplan and Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti:
There is an issue to which I had not given any particular thought until this past week, but it cries out for our attention.
Hundreds of people who have been in New York State jails and penitentiaries for many years, with no infraction, are routinely denied or passed over for parole.
One of these was the late Benjamin Smalls, 20 years in prison, a steward of the law library, serving at Green Haven Correctional Facility, who helped hundreds of men file appeals and fight restrictions on visitation. He died in prison last year of Covid.
Not quite as unlucky was Port Jefferson resident John Dukes, 19 1/2 years at Sing Sing, finally granted parole, now guiding young people in his community not to make the same mistakes he did.
Hundreds of inmates are 55 years and older and the repeat offender rate for people in this category is less than 1 percent. The cost to taxpayers to incarcerate such a person is $150,000 to $240,000 a year, or over $500 million taxpayer dollars annually.
But then there is the emotional cost to their families.
Two pending bills before the New York State Senate could address this situation: the Fair and Timely Parole and the Elder Parole bills (S1415 and S15A, respectively). These don’t guarantee parole for the people in question, just a fair and full review, based on behavior while serving time.
I recommend others who read this letter to contact state Sen. Anna Kaplan before June 12, 1 Old Country Rd., Ste. 270, Carle Place, NY 11514, [email protected], (516) 746-5924, and Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti, (516) 482-6966, urging passage of these two measures.
Rev. Ben Bortin