Prisoner Advocates Say Parole Board is Understated and Overwhelmed

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(August 14, 2018) Two groups that advocate on behalf of prisoners issued a report Tuesday charging that the New York State Parole Board is seriously understaffed. It also asserted that two of the board’s commissioners are biased against inmates who’ve committed violent crimes.

Currently, 12 Parole Board commissioners conduct about 12,000 hearings per year. Often, only two commissioners attend the hearings, according to the report, a practice that was supposed to end as of August of last year. Two-person parole panels are considered problematic because if there’s a split decision, the inmate must return to prison until the tie can be broken.

“So they have to go again before a new panel next month and relive probably the worst moment of their life,” said David George, associate director of Release Aging People in Prison, which released the report along with the Parole Preparation Project.

George said that inmates regularly get denied parole if they have committed violent crimes, even when they have met four other criteria (are considered a low public-safety risk; complete rehabilitation programs’ accept responsibility for their actions; and can return to a stable home).

The report calls out two commissioners, W. William Smith and Marc Coppola, for being biased and at times unprepared for hearings; it also says Smith has given more than $16,000 in campaign contributions to state Sen. Patrick Gallivan, raising a conflict of interest. Gallivan chairs the State Senate’s Crime and Correction Committee, which must approve any Parole Board nominees.

George said that on the day Smith was reappointed, his most adamant supporter was Gallivan.

Gallivan said the contributions had no influence on him. He said he would hold hearings this September and examine the release rates of the different commissioners.

“Those are the things that I’m going to be looking at in the fall,” he said.

Smith and Coppola declined to comment, but state Department of Corrections spokesman Patrick Bailey said, “The Board of Parole wholeheartedly disagrees with many of the false accusations in this report.”

Read the full article by Cindy Rodriguez.