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Senator proposes end to life without parole sentences

Since 2008, the most serious penalty a New York state court could impose on someone convicted of a crime has been life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Sen. Luis Sepulveda, D-Bronx, wants to end that sentence and make sure every prisoner has the opportunity to be granted parole. Sepulveda has introduced S.7426 in the state Senate to both end the imposition of life without parole as well as the remove any mention in state law to the death penalty. The state’s death penalty legislation was ruled unconstitutional by the New York Court of Appeals in 2004.

“When we outlawed the death penalty in New York state, life in prison without the possibility of parole should not have taken its place,” Sepulveda wrote in his legislative justification. “People who are aging behind bars should have the opportunity to seek parole.”

Massachusetts lawmakers recently debated a bill that would offer the chance for a parole hearing 25 years after prison time to anyone serving a life sentence, including for those convicted of murder. The bill has roughly two dozen supporters, according to a recent report by NBCBoston, and would affect about 1,000 inmates in Massachusetts. See END, “I believe life without parole is death by another name, and I do not believe in death sentences,” Rep. Liz Miranda told her colleagues on Tuesday according to the NBCBoston report. “I do not believe that justice is upholding mass incarceration in our communities that perpetuates generational poverty, violence and trauma.”

Miranda mentioned in her discussion with fellow Massachusetts lawmakers that New York has about one-third the amount of inmates serving life-without-parole sentences, which would place New York’s number around 300.

Most legislation abolishing life imprisonment deal with life sentences for children who are tried as adults. Maryland earlier this year became the 25th state to ban juvenile life-without-parole sentences.

Sepulveda wrote that the state’s annual cost per incarcerated individual was $69,355 in 2015, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. It costs twice as much to incarcerate people over 50 and in some cases up to five times as much due to medical costs.

“Therefore, by giving all incarcerated individuals the ability to go before the parole board, we will save the state money. The elderly population has a very low recidivism rate and studies show that most elderly people in prison (disproportionately people of color) have already spent decades behind bars, post little or no risk to public safety,” Sepulveda wrote in his legislative justification.

While Sepulveda’s bill is considered new legislation, the idea behind it is anything but new. In January 2020, activists assembled in Albany to voice support for the Elder Parole Bill, which would allow anyone who has served 15 years in prison to come before the parole board when they turn 55, no matter how long their original sentencing was or the charges on which they were convicted. That bill (S15A/A3475A) is sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman in the Senate and Carmen De La Rosa, D-Northern Manhattan, in the Assembly. Neither bill has been approved in its respective chamber’s committee.

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