Advocates for former and current inmates rallied Tuesday on Long Island and in New York City for clemency for eligible prisoners and a pair of bills that would change parole and release policies for rehabilitated offenders.
On Long Island, about 20 members of the New Hour for Women and Children, a group that seeks to help incarcerated women, rallied along with former inmates and family members at the Sisters of St. Joseph Campus in Brentwood.
The group called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to expand clemency for rehabilitated inmates, who they argued should be released to rejoin families for the holidays and contribute to society.
Rallygoers chanted, "We want clemency," as they stood outside around a fully set holiday dinner table with empty chairs to signify relatives who were still incarcerated during the holidays.
The New Hour group also handed out Thanksgiving meals later Tuesday to families and formerly incarcerated inmates who attended.
"We’re not saying to let anyone go but look at the paperwork and let people eligible to come home," said Pamela Neely, 62, of Huntington. "How many people are missing Christmas and Thanksgiving? We’re not asking you to open the jail doors but let those fortunate not to die in prison be allowed to start programs and be productive members of society."
Advocates are also urging state legislators to pass a pair of bills to change parole policies.
The Fair and Timely Parole bill would give discretion to the state parole board to release eligible inmates with a record of good conduct unless they present a "current unreasonable risk" that can't be mitigated by parole supervision.
The Elder Parole Bill would allow the state parole board to give a timely review of eligible inmates 55 and older who have already served 15 or more years on their sentence.
Both bills in the state Senate and Assembly were under review in committees.
Laura Ahearn, executive director of the Crime Victims Center in Ronkonkoma, said she and other crime victims groups oppose both bills.
She said she is working with legislators to extend the time between when violent offenders come up for parole because every two years family members and crime victims have to make their case to keep convicted inmates in prison.
"You’re going to make those family members suffer every two years and launch a campaign to keep them incarcerated," Ahearn said.
"We’re calling for our loved ones to be given the opportunity … to see the parole board," New Hour’s director Serena Liguori said. "As a state, we need to reconsider our criminal justice system as more than locking them up and letting them go. It’s about how they transformed and who needs to come home."
But Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), a former prosecutor, said the proposed legislation amounts to resentencing offenders and penalizing victims, saying: "We understand our system is geared to rehabilitation but there is a debt that needs to be repaid … It’s really not fair to the victims to let them out when they have not served their complete sentence."