Parole grants skewed by race in New York State

By Rahsaan Thomas

Even in prison, it is a privilege to be White, according to a recent study. It showed that the New York State Board of Parole grants Whites parole more often than Blacks who committed the same crimes.

“Before a black inmate takes a seat in the hearing room and utters a word, the odds are stacked against him. Guards punish black men in some prisons at twice the rate of whites, send them to solitary confinement more often and keep them there longer,” a New York Times analysis of nearly 60,000 cases found.

New York parole commissioners viewing the case are all White except for one Black man, the study said. The White men mainly come from upstate areas and have mostly law enforcement backgrounds.

The boards hear up to 80 cases in two days through video screens, and only give incarcerated men 10 minutes to plead their cases. However, these are just part of New York’s broken parole system, according to the Times Dec. 2016 article.

The story titled “For Blacks Facing Parole in New York State, Signs of a Broken System” said research revealed racial disparity in parole decisions.

The newspaper found a clear pattern of racial inequity from analyzing more than 13,876 parole board decisions for first-time appearances from May 2013 to 2016.

Violent offenders were denied parole 90 percent of the time, no matter what race they were. Non-violent offenders were released significantly more. Forty-one percent of White third-degree burglary offenders were paroled compared to 30 percent of Blacks and Hispanics.

The story cited the cases of Braxton Bostic, a young Black man, and Robert Summa, a 49-year-old White man. Bostic, at 17, stole some money from a purse in church. The court gave him probation, but a probation violation sent him to prison for one to three years.

Summa, who has a history of convictions for theft, drugs and robbery, and has spent 12 of the last 15 years in prison, was serving three and a half to seven years for robbing a deli. Bostic had one minor disciplinary infraction, and Summa had two.

They both told the board they had family and jobs waiting upon release. Summa completed all his programs, Bostic, who was serving less time, did not.

The board denied Bostic parole for at least one year but released Summa. Within months after being freed, Summa robbed a Chinese restaurant.

At Clinton Correctional Facility, the Times found only one of 998 guards is Black, and Blacks incarcerated there were nearly four times more likely than Whites to be sent to isolation for longer periods of time.

After the Dec. 5 Times story broke, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered an investigation into the practice of punishing incarcerated Blacks more than Whites.

“I am directing the state inspector general to investigate the allegations of racial disparities in discipline in state prisons and to recommend appropriate reforms for immediate implementations,” wrote Cuomo in a statement.

Parole board members are almost all White men from upstate New York, the newspaper stated. This means they have more in common with White prisoners than Black men from the inner city, leading to more favorable parole decisions for Whites.

Last June Cuomo nominated new commissioners, including several minorities, but the corrections hearing committee never confirmed any of them. Cuomo said he plans to advance new appointments soon to make the current parole board panel more reflective of the three-fourths Black and Hispanic prison population.

State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, a Republican chairman of the committee that oversees the department of corrections, said, the committee would review any new appointments right away, according to the Times article

Appealing a parole board decision takes about two years, which is almost the same as the time it takes to get a new hearing. Plus, all the state Supreme Court can do is order a new hearing, according to the article.

A state judicial commission in 2014 recommended doing away with parole boards in favor of determinate sentences. For 20 years, sentences with pre-defined parole board dates have been issued for half of the state’s offenders, including most drug offenders. However, the Times found doing away with parole boards keeps everyone in prison longer and destroys the incentive to take rehabilitative programs in order to earn good time for early release.

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