New York, NY — Public safety is likely to be a key issue in November’s midterm elections. More than three-quarters of voters say violent crime is a major problem in the United States, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll released last week. Nowhere is rising crime more concerning to voters than New York, where a series of high-profile criminal justice reforms have been central to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s reelection campaign. Most recently, Hochul signed into law the Less is More Act, a dramatic overhaul of the nation’s oldest parole system.
In a new Manhattan Institute report, fellow Charles Fain Lehman and Harvard Law School J.D. candidate Elias Neibart argue that despite its intent to reduce consequences for only minor parole violations, Less is More has also put violent offenders back on the streets. The authors review data from the New York City jail system and find that fewer serious criminal parole violators are being detained on a parole hold, even though violent crime has risen. This, they argue, is likely part of a larger trend of unsafe release following Less is More’s implementation.
The authors describe how broad changes in the bill freed not just petty parole violators, but serious criminals. They document how Less is More imported bail reform’s “least restrictive” means standard to the parole revocation process, requiring the release of most parolees on their own recognizance—effectively reducing the incapacitation of serious criminal violators. And they show how heightened evidentiary standards in the parole revocation process have not only made it harder to deter serious criminal violators, but also harmed their victims.
Lehman and Neibart offer some necessary changes to keep the spirit of the bill without endangering the public safety of New Yorkers:
Permitting judges to remand supervisees pending revocation if they find them to be a threat to public safety;
Restoring old evidentiary standards for certain serious violators;
Allowing victims’ sworn, written statements to be used as witness testimony;
Fully funding lawyers, paralegals, and victim advocates focused on prosecuting parole revocations to give the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) equal footing with supervisees’ counsel;
Creating a safety valve that allows a technical violation to lead to revocation if the violation puts the supervisee or someone else in danger.