Advocates Recite Shortcomings of N.Y. Parole Review Process
ALBANY - Several dozen parole-reform advocates convened on a legislative hearing Wednesday where the reform-minded chairman offered hope that a process increasingly criticized by the courts is ripe for change.
Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat and former public defender with the Legal Aid Society, said he has visited a dozen state prisons in the past three months, and expressed concern that felons who seemingly pose no threat are routinely denied parole because of a violent offense committed decades in the past. He said there are times when the system is "just plain stupid."
O'Donnell invited testimony from witnesses ranging from the chairwoman of the parole board to former parole commissioners to advocates to family members of inmates who have been denied parole despite their achievements in prison to former inmates who presented themselves as living proof of rehabilitation.
He got an earful.
"If the Parole Board doesn't like the crime, you are not going to get out," said Robert Dennison, a former chairman of the board who now advocates on behalf of select inmates (NYLJ, Sept. 16).
"The Parole Board process is broken, terribly broken," said former parole commissioner Thomas Grant, adding that parole board members up for reappointment are loath to let anyone out (NYLJ, Sept. 21, 2012).
"The problem today is that the Parole Board often acts as if it were…responsible for sentencing," said Columbia Law School Professor Philip Genty. "It simply reexamines the underlying crime and history—factors that will never change."
"The board has adopted a cavalier attitude that its decisions are above judicial scrutiny," said Orlee Goldfeld, an attorney with Hollyer Brady.
Goldfeld represented former political consultant Hank Morris, whose denial of parole prompted a Supreme Court justice to accuse the Parole Board of manipulating the process to evade judicial review (NYLJ, April 18). Morris, a first time offender convicted in connection with a pay-to-play scandal involving the state retirement fund, had been denied parole despite his perfect institutional record and the fact that he had served far beyond the guideline range for his crime.
"They know how to manipulate the system so as to run out the clock on the inmate's claims," Goldfeld said. "The board should not be allowed to continue to warehouse human beings for its own self-preservation and political and economic interests. It must stop."