Activists call on Cuomo to fully staff state Parole Board

Jamel Bellamy is seeking clemency from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo courtesy of Bahar Ansari

Jamel Bellamy is seeking clemency from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo courtesy of Bahar Ansari

By David Brand

A coalition of criminal justice reform advocates will rally outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York City office Thursday to urge the governor to appoint more commissioners to the state parole board, which is less than two-thirds full.

The state Parole Board has space for 19 commissioners, but only 12 people serve on the board.

Advocates from the Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP Campaign and Parole Preparation Project say understaffing means fewer incarcerated New Yorkers, especially older adults, have a fair shot at a comprehensive case review and hearing. The state receives about 12,000 parole applications per year.

“Such staffing levels lead to repeated postponements and shorter interviews, less time for individualized evaluations of parole applicants and their files, and other administrative challenges,” said the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus in the Legislature in a letter to Cuomo last month. “These conditions have devastating consequences for incarcerated New Yorkers, as many seeking parole are aging and infirm and cannot afford to wait any longer for their appearances.”

Demonstrators will also urge Cuomo to appoint reform-minded commissioners from diverse fields such as social work, psychology and behavioral science.

Last week, State Sen. Brad Hoylman and RAPP director Jose Saldana wrote an op-ed in the Albany Times Union encouraging state lawmakers to consider legislation that would release older adults who have served lengthy prison sentences.

“New York's new death penalty is death-by-incarceration,” Hoylman and Saldana wrote. “[Criminal justice] reforms must also fix a system that keeps older people languishing in jail cells for decades, long after they've been rehabilitated at great cost to human dignity, taxpayers, and the credibility of the justice system.”

Hoylman and Saldana specifically focused on the case of Stanley Bellamy, a 57-year-old Corona resident who was sentenced to 62 1/2 years in prison for his role in a 1985 murder. In December, the Eagle wrote about how Bellamy has turned his life around, becoming a mentor and leader behind bars. He is not eligible for parole until 2048.

“If we are serious about addressing mass incarceration, we have to ask, ‘How much time should someone serve for violent act?’” CUNY Criminal Defense clinic director Steve Zeidman told the Eagle. “A lot of students who want to represent poor people accused of crimes grapple with the fact that [people] are not just [imprisoned for] marijuana sales.”