ALBANY — The Senate’s Republican majority on Tuesday pushed for sentences of life in prison without a chance of parole and similar measures for repeat violent offenders following the release of Herman Bell, who was convicted of killing three cops.
Bell, 70, was released from prison last week by a parole board after nearly 40 years behind bars.
The Senate bills have little chance in the Democratic-led Assembly, but they did demonstrate effort by Republicans to show voters a sharp divide on criminal justice as they defend their slim majority in the fall legislative elections. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) took note of other convicted killers who have recently been paroled, as well as Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s recent plan to restore voting rights to parolees.
“The only conclusion one can reach from these irresponsible and dangerous actions is that New York’s parole system under Governor Cuomo is broken,” Flanagan said Tuesday. “The state Senate under my leadership will reject any parole board nominees put forward by Governor Cuomo who share his vision of putting the rights of violent convicted criminals ahead of the rights of law-abiding citizens.”
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Republicans and several Democrats voted on bills that would give victims and law enforcement a louder voice in parole and sentencing hearings; would require life imprisonment without parole for murder in the first degree involving the killing of a first responder; would allow parole boards to keep a convict in prison if he or she is a threat to society despite a good-behavior record; would require the sentence for first-degree murder to be imprisonment without a chance of parole; and would require violent offenders to wait 60 months, rather than 24, between parole hearings.
But Senate Democrats noted that the state has repealed many past laws that required judges to impose mandatory sentences and eliminated much of a judge’s discretion to fit sentences to individual cases. Opponents of those laws argued they were ineffective and racially biased.
“These are the same people who say we should have a death penalty,” said Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx). “If we had a criminal justice system that was not flawed, was not racist, I might agree with you.”
Rivera said that the legislation put forward in the Senate on Tuesday “comes from the mentality that anyone who is arrested should remain incarcerated for the rest of their lives.”
Sen. Brian Benjamin (D-Manhattan) said that many Republicans supporting harsher sentences Tuesday opposed another tough-on-crime bill earlier this year that took away the firearms of those convicted of domestic violence. “It doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
Republicans said they were focused on victims be deterrents to crime.
“There comes a point in time when someone should be removed from society,” said Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse).
And Sen. Rich Funke (R-Fairport) said, “Who is going to speak for the victims, if not us?”