New York Reforms Parole System, Adopts Less Is More Act: Recently Enacted Legislation

Governor Kathy Hochul has signed the Less Is More Act, which will provide much-needed reforms to New York’s parole system by, among other things, eliminating incarceration for most technical parole violations.  The City Bar applauds the bill’s enactment as an important step in turning parole from its current system of stringent conditions that serve as “tripwires” back to prison, into a mechanism that assists individuals in their reentry.

The State’s parole apparatus has been a persistent obstacle to efforts to reduce reliance on mass incarceration and increase fairness in the justice system.  While the primary condition imposed on people on parole in New York is that they not commit any new crimes, people on parole are also required to abide by other conditions, including curfews, travel restrictions, drug testing, and regular check-ins with their parole officer. Violations of these restrictions that do not constitute a new crime are referred to as “technical” violations.  A significant percentage of the people sent to state prison are incarcerated not because they have committed a new crime, but because they committed technical parole violations. Incarceration of New Yorkers accused of technical parole violations has huge financial and human costs; it is estimated that the State spends almost $300 million per year incarcerating people found to have committed technical parole violations.

The Less is More Act will eliminate incarceration for most technical parole violations, require prompt judicial review of parole warrants, place caps on revocation sanctions for both technical and non-technical violations, and allow people to earn time off their parole terms with good behavior. These steps should incentivize compliance, reduce absconding, and allow parole officers to help people receive necessary support.

The City Bar was proud to add its voice to the broad coalition of advocates calling for passage of the Act. The Less Is More Act was first supported by the City Bar’s Corrections and Community Reentry Committee, Criminal Courts Committee, Criminal Justice Operations Committee, and Mass Incarceration Task Force in February 2020, with the Committees renewing their support for the bill this year.  In  March 2021, the committees hosted a panel discussion, “Jailed Without a Crime: How Technical Parole Violations Drive Mass Incarceration in New York and What to Do About It” featuring some of the leading advocates for the bill.  Most recently, the bill was highlighted in the City Bar’s report “A Pathway Out of Mass Incarceration And Towards a New Criminal Justice System: Recommendations for the New York State Legislature” as one of the widespread, systemic reforms necessary to make parole less punitive and incarceratory.

The City Bar thanks Governor Hochul, Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin, Assembly Member Phara Souffrant Forrest and all of the elected officials and advocates who helped make this Act become law.  New York’s parole system too often serves as a revolving door back to incarceration and as a barrier to successful reentry. The Less Is More Act is a needed reform to start addressing this problem in our justice system.