Brooklyn Boro

A bill to increase parole for ‘elder’ inmates now has the Brooklyn DA’s support

April 29, 2019 Noah Goldberg
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said Monday he supports parole opportunities for older convicts who have served 15 years or more. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese.

Just weeks after creating a new unit dedicated to reevaluating how his office handles parole consideration, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez told the Brooklyn Eagle Monday that he supports a bill that would establish automatic parole consideration for people at least 55 years old if they have served 15 years of their original sentence.

“I believe that warehousing elderly people in prison is often expensive, does not promote public safety and perpetuates the problem of mass incarceration,” Gonzalez said in a statement to the Eagle.

The legislation faced criticism last week because it would offer the chance of parole to violent offenders, including serial killers and rapists.

In throwing his support to the bill, Gonzalez said he wants to put those “who no longer pose a safety threat” before a parole board, “which would evaluate whether they have been fully rehabilitated and can be safely reintegrated into society.”

The legislation, sponsored by New York State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember David Weprin, is in committee in both the State Senate and Assembly.

“I think it’s fair and just for [Gonzalez] to try to at least adjust the growing crisis of people aging, getting old and dying in prison,” said Jose Saldana, director of Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP), which helped draft the “elder parole” bill and find support for it in Albany.

Jose Saldana served 38 years in prison for attempted murder. Now, as director for Release Aging People In Prison, he advocates for parole opportunities for older people. Photo courtesy of RAPP.
Jose Saldana served 38 years in prison for attempted murder. Now, as director for Release Aging People In Prison, he advocates for parole opportunities for older people. Photo courtesy of RAPP.

Saldana spent 38 years in prison for attempted murder and was released on parole just over a year ago. Many of the men who helped him mature and transform are still serving sentences, Saldana said.

“We believe every human that’s incarcerated is redeemable,” Saldana said.

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Brooklyn Defender Services is one of several groups who issued a joint letter Monday morning urging the governor and legislator to support elder parole, among other legislation. The organization said as many as 10,000 inmates across the state could be affected.

“New York, like other states across the country, is in the midst of a crisis of older adults aging and dying in prison. There are approximately 10,000 people over the age of 50 in New York state prisons, many of them aged beyond their years due to decades of inadequate healthcare and nutrition in prison, and countless among them will die in prison unless the Legislature and Governor offer them a lifeline,” Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director at Brooklyn Defender Services, said in a statement. “It therefore is very heartening to see Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announce his support for Elder Parole, a bill that would guarantee older adults an opportunity to appear before the parole board and make a case for release.”

Earlier this month, Gonzalez unveiled a new Parole and Clemency Unit as part of his larger Post-Conviction Justice Bureau. The bureau also includes a Sealing Unit that handles applications to seal convictions, and the Conviction Review Unit, established by former DA Ken Thompson in 2014, which investigates and has the power to overturn convictions.

The parole unit’s stance will be to support parole for incarcerated people who pleaded guilty to crimes and served the minimum of their sentences.

The unit will also give “special considerations” to cases when people under 23 are sentenced to indeterminate life sentences. But there were no specifications for people 55 and older.

“We appreciate, acknowledge and think that DA Gonzalez is right to support elder parole and we ask that he support other policies that promote the release of aging people in prison,” said David George, associate director of RAPP.

Gonzalez’s counterparts in Staten Island and Queens did not see the bill in the same light, with Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon calling the bill “outrageous and idiotic,” according to the New York Post.

Update (5:00 p.m.): A statement by Brooklyn Defender Services was added to the story.

Correction (6:15 p.m.): A previous version of this article attributed a quote to Jared Chausow, senior policy specialist at Brooklyn Defender Services. The quote is from Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services.

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