CA Statement on the Apparent Suicide of John MacKenzie

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Correctional Association of New York (CA) Statement on the Apparent Suicide of John MacKenzie

(August 8, 2016, New York): The Correctional Association of New York is heartbroken by the apparent suicide of John MacKenzie, and outraged by the  continuing cruel vindictiveness of the actions of the New York State Parole Board. The Parole Board continues to destroy people’s lives by repeatedly denying release to men and women who have transformed their lives, demonstrated their readiness to return home, and do not pose a risk to society. Despite public outcries and judges’ admonitions, the Board continues to deny parole based on the nature of their original offense — something that can never change regardless of what they have accomplished or who they are today, or the  positive contributions they have and will continue to make.  In doing so, the Board thwarts and undermines the very purpose of parole, strips away applicants’ hope, devastates their families, and deprives communities of people who could make positive and meaningful contributions to its well-being.

In his more than 40 years in prison, John MacKenzie transformed himself and touched innumerable people’s lives. He was deeply remorseful for Matthew Giglio, the person’s life he had taken, and decades ago started a victim impact program in honor of Matthew and his family. John earned multiple college degrees while incarcerated, started and led programs, mentored many other incarcerated people, and had a clean disciplinary record for over 35 years. At more than 70 years old, he was a highly skilled jailhouse lawyer and advocate whom many of us at the Correctional Association knew for a long time.

Despite John’s decades-long transformation and growth, and the low risk his State evidence-based risk assessment reflected, the Parole Board repeatedly denied parole release to John, who had already served 16 more years in prison than his minimum sentence. The Board’s latest denial last week was not only counter to logic, reason, and fairness; it was also in defiance of a New York Supreme Court decision. Judge Maria Rosa in October 2015 vacated an earlier denial of John’s parole release, and then in May 2016 found the Board in contempt of court because the Board ignored her decision and denied John parole again  solely on the basis of his original offense. In Judge Rosa’s words, “This case begs the question, if parole isn’t granted to this petitioner, when and under what circumstances would it be granted?”  The New York Times Editorial Board agreed with Judge Rosa’s assessment and called for the Board’s release of “obviously qualified people like John MacKenzie.”

The judge ordered a new hearing and ordered that none of the commissioners who had been on John’s hearings in 2014 or 2015 participate in the new hearing. Yet, last week, the Parole Board had one of those very same commissioners sit in on John’s hearing and vote to deny parole release yet again.

The Parole Board’s repeated denial of John’s release is hard to be understood as anything other than the infliction of cruelty, vengeance, and perpetual punishment. In John’s case, the result was the tragic loss of his life. Unfortunately, the Board is regularly carrying out this same approach with countless others of repeatedly denying parole based on the nature of a person’s original offense regardless of who the person is today. The Parole Board, along with the Governor and the State of New York, must finally stop this unlawful intransigence and perpetual punishment and must release parole-ready people. In John’s memory and honor, we must all continue the struggle for parole justice and the return home of our fellow community members.