Why New York Must Reimagine Aging in Prison

Why New York Must Reimagine Aging in Prison


Popular culture often maintains a myopic portrayal of individuals with justice involvement, one that freezes them at the time they commit an alleged crime. But the unavoidable reality of individuals in prison, particularly those who serve lengthy sentences, is that time does continue. The endlessly ticking clock has resulted in over 10,000 elderly individuals age 55 and older currently living in New York incarceration facilities. For individuals within this age group who have served over 15 years in prison, their perceived threat to community safety is low but the cost to support them is high—upwards of $240,000 annually.

A human-centered approach to justice urges us to reimagine the emotional and financial tolls of incarcerating elderly individuals who have served lengthy sentences and pose little to no threat to public safety. On February 13, The Fortune Society sent a memo to key New York political leaders in support of Fair and Timely Parole Act (S.497/A.4346) and Elder Parole (S.2144/A.4319), two measures that would help restore justice to an archaic and debilitating system.

Learn more from portions of the memo below, then, if you have not done so already, sign up for The Fortune Weekly to receive updates on how Fortune is tackling this issue and ways to get involved.

Two Legislative Solutions to Aging in Prison

Fair and Timely Parole S.497 (Rivera)/A.4346(Weprin)

This bill ensures that the parole release process in New York State is based on rehabilitation and someone’s current risk to public safety as opposed to punishment and revenge.

The New York State Board of Parole denies release to the majority of parole-eligible people. Their decisions are often based on one unchangeable factor—the nature of the crime—despite a person’s accomplishments in prison, reentry plans and low risk of recidivism. As a result, people serve years and decades on top of their minimum sentences, languishing in prison well into their elderly years.

Elder Parole S.2144(Hoylman)/A.4319(Weprin)

This bill allows a consideration of parole release to older people aged 55 and older who have already served 15 consecutive years in prison.

Many aging people in prison are not yet eligible for parole or have sentences that prevent them from seeing the Board of Parole before they die in prison. This bill would allow elders in prison to appear for parole consideration, regardless of their original sentence. Overwhelming evidence indicates that incarcerated people undergo meaningful and transformative change within 15 years of incarceration. Furthermore, older people pose little to no risk to public safety.

Why It Matters

Since 1967, The Fortune Society has worked to advocate and provide services for people coming home after incarceration. This includes providing housing for elderly individuals who are without family support as a result of isolation. The two measures mentioned above embody the organization’s key values of redemption, safety, fairness, and mercy, and would bring justice and healing to countless people throughout New York State. They would ensure that no one is defined solely by the worst thing they have ever done or die in prison because they were never given an opportunity for parole release.

*Article by Root Stitches LLC

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