Prison inmate advocates push NYS reform this legislative session

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Advocates, current and former inmates claim the COVID pandemic exposed what they call the likelihood of “death by incarceration” — where those in the prison system die behind bars without the chance to prove they’ve changed.

“We knew that jails and prisons were dangerous before, but after COVID they are even more so. They are deadly. People are dying disproportionately within the department of corrections,” says Center for Community Alternatives Statewide Organizer Marvin Mayfield.

“They were putting, keeping infected inmates in general population. I myself caught it while I was up there back in March,” says Cimarron Manney, who just left Shawangunk Correctional Facility in January. The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services says Manney was convicted in October 2019 for attempted second-degree criminal sexual act.

The Center for Community Alternatives is one of several advocacy groups pushing lawmakers to pass the “Justice Roadmap” — a list of bills directed towards New York State prison reform and inmate rights. Monday, senate members of the Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee voted to move one of the first bills forward for fair and timely parole.

“Just to have a fair chance at being able to apply to a parole board, or just to see a parole board. Not necessarily get out of jail free or that they would automatically get parole if they have this access,” Mayfield explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

This follows Thursday’s virtual rally where legislators on the committee explained what they saw when making surprise visits to state prisons. They say they met inmates who had spent years without access to the parole board.

Another bill in the Justice Roadmap includes parole for those over 55, as long as they’ve served 15 years of their sentence and don’t show a reasonable threat to society. Manney says after 16 months in Shawangunk Correctional Facility, he says he’s less worried for himself, and more for the elderly he met in prison.

“I understand the whole concept of rehabilitating people, definitely. But when you walk in at 18, 19 years old and you’ve got 30, 40 years in, how do you even get a chance to do anything else in life? It’s all you know is behind bars,” says Manney.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s last update says 3,737 people have been released early throughout the pandemic to reduce population and in response to case spikes. Advocates say that’s good, but they hope these bills can make the practice permanent.

“It’s certainly not enough. This legislation gives people who are incarcerated a fairer chance to get released and prove they’ve changed,” says Mayfield.

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