Lawmakers seek to pass criminal justice reform bills

Local News

ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – New York lawmakers are looking to pass two bills that would change how parole violations are handled in the state.

One bill, known as “Less is More,” would make it harder for New York to lock up formerly incarcerated individuals for minor parole violations, like breaking curfew or failing a drug test.

The second bill, known as “Clean Slate” would seal criminal records for misdemeanors after three years and seal most felony records after seven, making it difficult for the public and potential employers to access information about prior convictions.

Advocates argue these bills will be a second chance for those re-entering society because it will end probation periods earlier than scheduled and limit reincarceration for people who violate technical terms.

“People are being jailed and imprisoned in New York State without ever having committed a new crime. Trivial things like missing phone calls from your parole officer, moving into an apartment building where people with criminal records might also live, hanging out with the wrong people,” Executive Director for New Yorkers United for Justice Alexander Horwitz said. “These aren’t crimes, these are things regular New Yorkers don’t have to worry about.”

Not everyone is in favor of the bill, including Schuler County Sheriff William Yessman.

“To tell a victim that this person has been released in three or seven years and their record will be sealed, that’s a hard bill for the victim to swallow,” Yessman said.

Still, activists say there are consequences, such as jail time, for people who commit a major crime on parole.

“There are all sorts of safety valves in mind to make sure that public safety isn’t maintained, but enhanced,” Horwitz told 18 News.

The goal of these bills is also to eliminate the stigma surrounding incarceration.

“Our research shows these can lead to some real missed opportunities and poverty in the long term,” Senior Council at the Brennan Center for Justice Ames Grawert said.

The ultimate hope is that the bills will make finding a job, heading off to college or renting an apartment easier.

Lawmakers have also pitched two other parole-related bills, including one that would allow elder inmates to apply for release. It’s unclear if those bills will pass.

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