GUEST COLUMN: Pass “Christopher’s and Deanna’s Law” to make crime victims seen

PHOTOGRAPHER:

By Sen. Jim Tedisco

For The Sunday Gazette

 

When in New York is a victim impact statement only a “victim statement” without any possibility of creating an impact?

The answer is when those state parole commissioners who are interviewing the inmate that’s up for parole never see it!

Unfortunately, for New York crime victims and their families, this situation is all too often the case.

New York state has a broken parole system that makes it difficult for crime victims and their families to have meaningful input on decisions about whether to free those convicted of crimes, including violent offenders.

No one understands this more than the families of the late Shenendehowa students, Christopher Stewart and Deanna Rivers, who were tragically killed 10 years ago this month by a drunk, drugged and dangerous driver on the Northway.

Shockingly, when victims and families give their impact statements to the state Parole Board, they may only speak to one board member, with no guarantee that even one individual who will see their statement will be on the panel to make or be part of the decision as to whether to parole or not.

In New York, this frustrating situation is faced by many crime victims and their families who want to make their voices heard, as Regina and Michael Stewart and Debbie and Brian Rivers, the parents of Christopher Stewart and Deanna Rivers, can attest.

The individual who killed Christopher and Deanna, like other eligible inmates, has been up for parole every two years.

This causes further heartache for crime victims and their families, who must constantly go through the emotionally exhausting and gut-wrenching process of preparing to testify in the parole process again and again.

That’s why I am sponsoring legislation “Christopher and Deanna’s Law” to enhance the voices of crime victims and their families in parole hearings.

The bill (S.2046/A.5335), named in memory of Christopher Stewart and Deanna Rivers, is straightforward.

Should the crime victims choose, it requires all victim impact statements to be video recorded and mandates all state Parole Board members who vote on parole for an offender, must watch the videos before making their decision.

This is critical because not all Parole Board members meet with victims and their families in person and there’s no guarantee that the person you are meeting with is on the panel deciding the fate of an inmate.

There would be no additional cost to taxpayers for the state to implement “Christopher’s and Deanna’s Law,” as the videos can be recorded for free using smart phones, tablets or personal computers via Zoom, Facetime or one of many video applications. Parole Board members would have to attest that they have watched the video recorded victim impact statements in their entirety.

It’s time to put victims first by passing “Christopher’s and Deanna’s Law” to ensure victim impact statements are video-recorded.

I also am calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to include “Christopher’s and Deanna’s Law” in her 2023 state budget and implement it through executive action.

Using modern technology that’s easily accessible to everyone to ensure the voices and true emotional impact on crime victims and their families are clearly communicated to all Parole Board members is a no-brainer and should be uncontroversial.

We can be compassionate for people who have made mistakes, done their time, and are trying to turn their lives around, but first and foremost, we need justice and compassion for crime victims, who all too often have become New York’s forgotten people.

They say seeing is believing. It’s time the Parole Board truly makes crime victims and their families seen.

Sen. Jim Tedisco represents the 49th District in the New York State Senate.

Categories: Guest Column, Opinion

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