EDITORIAL: Heed the voices of victims, survivors in parole reform

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Nearly two decades later, Jennifer Harrison still vividly remembers “the call.”

She was wearing a white off-the-shoulder sweater, pink high heels and the jeans her boyfriend, Kevin Davis, had bought her for her birthday, she recalled in a 2021 interview with The Patch news organization.

She said she was thinking about their future together when the phone rang.

“Something terrible happened,” the person on the other end of line said. The man Harrison called “the love of her life,” had just been stabbed to death in an altercation outside a New Jersey bar.

Since that horrible night more than 18 years ago, Harrison has been an advocate for crime victims and a staunch opponent of legislation designed to go easy on violent criminals.

It’s survivors like Jennifer Harrison that state lawmakers should listen to very closely as they try to rush through parole reform legislation before they adjourn for the summer in 13 days.

Lawmakers are considering two controversial pieces of legislation designed to reform the state’s parole practices, and the push for both bills appears to be picking up steam.

The Fair and Timely Parole Act (A0162/S0307) — which passed out of the Senate crime committee earlier this week — sets a lower bar for keeping inmates in prison after the completion of their minimum sentence. The parole board would have to come up with a clearly articulated public safety reason to keep an inmate in prison and declare that inmates at future parole hearings have a “presumption of release,” unless the board finds a “preponderance of evidence” to keep them in prison.

The Elder Parole bill (A2035/S2423) sets a timetable for release of inmates age 55 and over who’ve served at least 15 years of their sentence.

The justification behind this bill is that older inmates pose less of a safety risk than others, and that many inmates, particularly inmates of color, are kept in prison longer than necessary. It also is a money-saving measure, as older inmates cost the state between $100,000 and $240,000 a year to house, the bill memo states.

We saw what happened when state lawmakers didn’t take the time to thoroughly vet the bail reform and discovery reform legislation. They ended up getting backlash from the stakeholders they ignored and had to go back and make changes to both. The same could easily happen with the Elder Parole and the Fair and Timely Parole bills.

Before establishing these one-size-fits-all standards for release based on compassion, cost and anecdotal evidence, lawmakers should factor in the emotional, mental and physical impact such a policy will have on the victims and the survivors of violent crime. It is they who have been directly affected by the crime and it is they who will be again directly affected by the criminal’s release.

Lawmakers should also heavily consider the court decisions that led to the sentences imposed on these upon conviction, along with the voices of prosecutors and local public officials, when altering the terms of release for convicted criminals who were dangerous once and may still be dangerous.

Rushing through important public safety legislation hasn’t served New Yorkers well in the past.

It won’t serve them well with this legislation either.

Categories: Editorial, Letters to the Editor, Opinion, Opinion

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