Hochul signs Less is More Act while evoking Rikers Island jail crisis, Attica uprising
Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill Friday curbing incarceration for non-violent technical parole offenses such as missing curfew while also evoking the 50th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising and the current crisis at Rikers Island jail complex.
Surrounded by advocates, district attorneys, and others, Hochul signed the Less is More Act, which allows for quicker hearings for people accused of non-criminal technical violations. They can now be given written notice of violation with a date to appear instead of being reincarcerated.
"And I also believe what today is about is protecting human life," Hochul said Friday. "The lives of the people who are incarcerated, as well as the corrections officers."
"It's about protecting human rights," she continued.
The law does not take effect until March of next year, but Hochul said the parole board will release 191 people on Friday, citing the ongoing crisis at Rikers of staff shortages, deaths, and disarray.
Hochul said those conditions similar to those leading up to the deadly Attica prison uprising in 1971. In the lead-up to the rioting, correctional staff and people incarcerated had complained about the difficulty in getting parole, as well as meager food provisions and access to health care.
"At least when we look back at Attica 50 years ago, nothing was done to prevent what happened at Attica," she said. "I like to believe what we are doing here today is an affirmative step in the State of New York to say, 'No more begins here today.'"
The bill's passage comes at a moment of crisis at Rikers Island jail complex, with conditions similar to those at Attica before the uprising.
Advocates say the facilities at Rikers have become overwhelmed with a jail population of around 6,000, which is higher than pre-pandemic levels.
Ten people incarcerated at Rikers Island have died this year, with several of those deaths being by suicide. The complex is also suffering from the crippling effect of correctional officers regularly calling out sick.
Several lawmakers who recently toured the facility described the conditions there as dire, with trash strewn around, overcrowding and infestation.
"There's garbage everywhere, rotting food with maggots, cockroaches, worms in the showers, human feces and piss," Assemblymember Emily Gallagher said on Twitter. "Most of the toilets are broken so men are given plastic bags to relieve themselves in."
Yet others said the release of nearly 200 people incarcerated at Rikers would make New York streets less safe.
"She’s been governor less than a month and she’s already made every single New Yorker less safe," said Nick Langworthy, New York Republican chairman.
But advocates point out more conservative states such as Georgia and Arkansas have instituted reforms similar to the Less is More Act. They also point to data showing that New York is an outlier throughout the country in the reincarceration for technical parole violations.
Elissa Johnson, director of advocacy and campaigns at FWD.us, said in a statement that the passage of the bill is an important step forward but that more work will need to be done.
“Stemming the unjustifiable practice of revoking people back behind bars for minor violations of their parole supervision conditions is an important step towards addressing the crisis behind bars," Johnson said. "However, as the human rights catastrophe on Rikers Island unfolds with increasing horror before our eyes, we are sobered by the urgent work ahead."