“Structural racism” in New York’s parole system has created an almost insurmountable barrier for people of color to rehabilitate themselves and re-enter civil society, says the Columbia University Justice Lab.
African Americans are returned to New York State prisons for “technical violations” of parole at five times the rate of whites, and Latinx people are 30 percent more likely than whites to be reincarcerated for behavior that would not otherwise merit a prison term, according to a research brief released Thursday.
The brief, written by Kendra Bradner, director of the Probation and Parole Reform Project at the Columbia Justice Lab, and Vincent Schiraldi, co-director of the lab, said the New York figures vividly showed how America’s community supervision systems fueled mass incarceration.
“Nearly six times as many people are reincarcerated in New York State prisons for technical violations—such as missing an appointment [with a parole officer], being out past curfew, or testing positive for alcohol—as were reincarcerated for a new criminal conviction,” the authors said.
They noted that New York is second only to Illinois in the number of people returned to prison for non-criminal, technical parole violations.
The problem is exacerbated by stark racial disparities, said the brief, whose conclusions were endorsed by a cross-section of New York’s legal and civil rights community.
Nationwide, African Americans are 50 percent more likely than whites to have their parole revoked for technical violations, in what the authors described as the consequence of “structural racism.”
“Black and brown communities often experience concentrated disadvantage in the form of elevated poverty rates, poor public service provision for things like education, health care and transportation, and concentrated policing activities,” the authors wrote.
“[As a result,] supervision requirements that seem race-neutral on their face can have disproportionately negative impacts for black and brown people.”
According to figures cited in the brief, African Americans are detained for alleged parole violations in New York City jails at a rate 12 times higher than for whites, and Latinx people at about four times the rate of whites. Some 99 percent of those held in New York City jails awaiting trial for alleged parole offenses were people of color.
The impact extends much further than the individuals immediately sanctioned for violating parole, the brief said.
“It is important to remember that the risk of reincarceration looms large not only for the person under supervision, but also for their family and wider network. Someone struggling with drug addiction may feel unable to seek help because admitting a relapse would lead to a violation,” wrote the authors.
“A father may be unable to accept a well-paying night job or take a sick child to the emergency room if it conflicts with curfew.”
The authors said their findings should reinforce reform efforts such as the “Less is More” Act proposed by two New York State legislators, Sen. Brian Benjamin and Assemblymember Walter Mosley.
The bill would limit incarceration for technical violations, curb the use of jail for holding alleged parole violators, and allow individuals to reduce their parole terms with “positive performance.”
In a prepared comment on the brief, Mosley said the research underlined the devastating impacts on communities of color of what amounted to a ”revolving door” community supervision system.
“We legislators like to talk about the damage the prison pipeline in and out of our communities has had,” Mosley said. ”Now is the time to walk the walk.”
Former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman called the figures revealed in the brief “shocking.”
”If we are going to…create a fairer, more equitable justice system, we must do away with needless incarceration for non-criminal violations of parole and work together to address the issue of unequal treatment,” Lippman said.
The New York State Bar Association, which recently issued similar recommendations for changes in community supervision, also welcomed the brief.
“New York State and its municipalities spent nearly $600 million last year reincarcerating people on technical parole violations,” said Henry M. Greenberg, the association’s president.
“The impact of reincarceration falls disproportionately on people of color. Given the Columbia University report, the New York State Bar Association renews its call to drastically reduce the use of reincarceration for such minor transgressions.”
Similar expressions of support came from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. , Brooklyn, N.Y., DA Eric Gonzalez, Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and DeAnna Hoskins, president of JustLeadership USA.
Additional Reading:”When It Comes to Parole Supervision, Less is More,” The Crime Report, Dec. 6 2019.
The Columbia Justice Lab brief can be downloaded here.