Release our elderly from prison


To the editor:

Our state Assembly currently has an opportunity to right some historic and long-standing wrongs.

An important set of bills are on the table which address criminal justice, bail and parole reforms. One of these, the Elder Parole Bill (S.2144/A.4319) would allow older people, who have served more than 15 years in prison, a consideration for parole release.

The importance of this legislation is magnified by the continuing COVID-19 health crisis. This bill does not mandate release. It only allows for the parole board to individually evaluate older incarcerated people on a case-by-case basis.

Currently, a large number of medically frail elders remain incarcerated with no possibility of return to their loved ones and communities. State Sen. Brad Hoylman, a sponsor of the bill, stated “death by incarceration is New York’s new death penalty.”

Jose Saldana, the director of Release Aging People in Prison, explained that the “passage of Elder Parole is a real first step in addressing the crisis of incarcerated men and women growing old, sick and dying in prison.”

Our state prisons have become substandard nursing homes, at great expense to taxpayers, and at incalculable cost in terms of needless human suffering.

Recidivism is extremely low among the elderly. The reality is that many formerly incarcerated elders have become mentors, teachers and community activists, working to prevent violence. It has been noted often that one of the most disturbing characteristics of the former Trump administration was its implementation of policies that were needlessly cruel and that served no positive purpose for the national good.

Let’s work for humane and evidence-based approaches.

It’s vital that we oppose punishment-based and punitive models that have not worked to keep us safe.

Please urge your elected officials to support this much-needed reform in New York state.

Silvia Blumenfeld

The author is a member of the Northwest Bronx Indivisible steering committee.

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Silvia Blumenfeld,