Toward a Fairer Parole Process Examining Parole Denials in New York State

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Every year in New York State, roughly 10,000 people appear before the Board of Parole to make their cases for release. In 2019, only 40 percent of people were granted parole, and in 2020—a year that demanded decarceration in the name of public health and safety given the risk of spreading COVID-19 in congregate settings—the release rate rose by only one percentage point. In many cases, people are denied without receiving any concrete feedback on how to better prepare for release. Instead, they are denied parole because of their original crime, told to come back again in a year or two, and then denied again for the same reason.

This report explores the reasons people are denied parole, analyzing 168 parole transcripts from people serving life sentences across New York State, all of which resulted in denials.

Key Takeaway

Parole commissioners in New York State have immense discretion to deny parole based on someone’s original crime or baseless public safety concerns. The parole process must change to focus on who people are at the time of the hearing and whether they pose a current and clear public safety risk.

Publication Highlights

  • An overwhelming majority of people in the sample showed strong evidence of release readiness but were nonetheless denied parole.

  • Most denials focused on the crime for which the person was originally convicted—an unchangeable fact—rather than on current public safety concerns

  • Commissioners frequently denied parole based on ill-defined concerns about public safety that had little basis in the evidence presented.

Key Facts