In New York state, black men going before the parole board are at a marked disadvantage, reports the New York Times in the second in a series on racial bias in the state criminal justice system. An analysis of thousands of parole decisions over several years found that fewer than one in six black or Hispanic men was released at his first hearing, compared with one in four white men. The disparity includes small-time offenders who commit property crimes like stealing a television from a house or shoplifting — the people many states are now working to keep out of prison in the first place. Since 2006, white inmates serving two to four years for a single count of third-degree burglary have been released after an average of 803 days, while black inmates served an average of 883 days for the same crime.
Intended as a tool to promote good behavior, parole has become a hurried, often chaotic procedure. Inmates typically get under 10 minutes to plead their cases before they are sent back to their cells. The parole board rarely sees a prisoner in person. Inmates are usually glimpsed from the shoulders up on a video screen. Board members often read through files to prepare for the next interview as the inmate speaks. The process is run like an assembly line. They hear cases two days a week and see as many as 80 inmates in that time. Board members are mainly from upstate. They tend to have backgrounds in law enforcement rather than rehabilitation. Most are white; there is only one black man, and there are no Latino men. They have little in common with the black and Latino inmates who make up nearly three-quarters of the prison population. After the Times reported on racial bias in both the state’s prisons and its parole system, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered an investigation of the problems, the Times reports.