NY Parole Boards Would Lose Authority Under Cuomo Plan

Parole Boards Would Lose Authority Under Cuomo Plan
Joel Stashenko ContactAll Articles

New York Law Journal
March 11, 2011
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PrintShareEmailReprints & PermissionsPost a Comment ALBANY – Parole boards
would lose their authority to set restrictions on the lives of former
prisoners under a provision of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed budget.

Mr. Cuomo’s proposal would give the commissioner of a newly created
Department of Corrections and Community Supervision the power to set details
of parole, such as requiring curfews and attendance in drug or alcohol
programs, that are currently up to parole commissioners to decide.

The bill also would give the commissioner of the new agency the authority to
revoke parole and to shorten its terms. Those decisions now are the ultimate
responsibility of the chair of the full Board of Parole, a position the
governor wants to abolish.

Mr. Cuomo argues that the merger of the Department of Correctional Services
and the Division of Parole would streamline operations of both agencies,
better coordinate pre- and post-release programming for offenders and help
save an estimated $271 million from the agencies’ current spending of just
over $3 billion for corrections and $189 million for parole. The combined
agencies’ projected spending of $2.94 billion takes into account savings
from the proposed elimination of 3,500 beds in the prison system at
still-to-be-identified facilities.

Details are spelled out in a budget bill Mr. Cuomo sent to lawmakers last
month (A4012-A/S2812).

However, one Republican senator who is a former parole board member
expressed concern at a state budget hearing earlier this week that the
proposal would put too much power into the hands of a single official likely
to be more attuned to the needs of the prisons than to parole.

“While I have tremendous respect for the current [corrections] commissioner
[Brian Fischer], what we’re doing is allowing one person to potentially
manipulate the prison population, in a good way or bad way,” said Senator
Patrick M. Gallivan, of Elma, a former sheriff of Erie County and a parole
board commissioner from 2005-2010.

Elizabeth Glazer, Mr. Cuomo’s deputy secretary for public safety, responded
that parole boards would continue to make the ultimate decision of whether
an inmate should be released.

“The first and most critical piece is that the parole board itself remains
independent and that is written into the legislation, that the structure
remains and the key decision to release or not remains with the board,” Ms.
Glazer said.

Mr. Gallivan acknowledged in an interview that parole boards would continue
to make release decisions but said that he is worried about the long-term
implications of ceding the power to revoke parole to the new commissioner.

“There are two ways to look at it,” Mr. Gallivan said. “You talk to
conservatives and they say they are worried that a liberal commissioner will
let everyone out of prison. You talk to liberals, and they say a
conservative commissioner would never let anyone out. My point is that you
no longer would have an independent body making decisions about who’s in
prison or out of prison or who has to come back.”

Smaller Parole Boards?

Mr. Cuomo also has proposed reducing to 13 from 19 the number of authorized
commissioners from whom parole boards are drawn.

There are about 15,000 fewer prisoners than there were in 1999, when the
prison population peaked at 71,600 inmates. Moreover, most felons now
receive determinate sentences, Ms. Glazer noted.

She said that the number of parole hearings has fallen by 43 percent in the
last decade, meaning that fewer commissioners are needed. There currently
are six unfilled positions, and the commissioners have had no trouble
keeping up with their workload, she said.

Traditionally, three commissioners have heard applications for parole.

“Right now, we don’t anticipate a reduction,” Ms. Glazer said. “I don’t
think this will happen. I think the way in which we have been operating so
far, with the 13 [commissioners] has permitted us to operate with the
three-man boards and I anticipate that will continue.”

If two-member boards were used, a second panel would have to hear any cases
in which there is a tie.

Parole commissioners make $101,600 each. The chair of the board makes

Middletown attorney Robert N. Isseks, who represents inmates before the
parole board, contended that the current commissioners are overworked as it

“We feel the more on the panel the better,” Mr. Isseks said in an interview.
“The caseload for commissioners now could be up to 100 hearings a day, where
the commissioners get the paperwork that day and the hearings are
perfunctory and last maybe five to seven minutes, more or less, and the
commissioners are only half listening at best because they are looking at
the paperwork for the next case.”

Albert O’Connor of the Defenders Association said that smaller parole panels
would make release harder for some inmates.

“When you have three members, you have a more diverse panel,” Mr. O’Connor
said. “You have an opportunity for a commissioner to persuade a colleague.
When you cut that down to two, obviously, it’s unlikelier that you’ll
connect with a board member. The chances of gaining release are diminished
for the harder cases, for ones where there might be some historical
reluctance to release.”

In the 2009-2010 fiscal year, parole commissioners conducted 29,059
interviews of inmates. About 40 percent of inmates were released, including
9 percent serving time for violent offenses and 3 percent for sex offenses.

Ms. Glazer also defended Mr. Cuomo’s proposal to create a new Division of
Criminal Justice Services by consolidating the Office for the Prevention of
Domestic Violence, the Office of Victim Services, the Commission of
Correction and the current Division of Criminal Justice Services. Mr. Cuomo
estimates that consolidation will save $6.4 million in the next fiscal year.

@|Joel Stashenko can be contacted


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