[Pnews] NY Parole Board Drags Its Feet on COMPAS (forward-looking assessments) to determine parole

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 21 10:35:27 EST 2016

  Parole Board Drags Its Feet on COMPAS

New York Law Journal

January 21, 2016

New York State and the entire country are engaged in a serious public 
conversation on the meaning of justice and how it is applied in our 
communities, courts and prisons. Issues of particular importance to the 
legal community enter into that discussion, including sentencing reform, 
mandatory minimums, wrongful convictions and the ways in which racism 
shapes the application of justice. As lawyers with many decades of 
experience representing people caught up in the criminal justice system, 
we welcome that conversation. Whether in the media, including the New 
York Law Journal, in courtrooms, or in legislatures, there is a growing 
recognition that our justice system has too often been unfair and its 
punishments vengeful and draconian.

 From this conversation has emerged a national consensus that we have 
relied too much on incarceration to solve social problems and enhance 
public safety. The incarceration of huge numbers of people has not 
lowered our crime rate. It has, however, separated families, contributed 
to the impoverishment of entire communities, and returned literally 
millions of people to the community burdened with statutory and social 
obstacles to successful lives.

In order to address the tragedy of mass incarceration, we must include 
in the conversation the issues of parole and release for incarcerated 
people. Recognizing the importance of rehabilitation and reentry, a 2011 
change to the New York State Executive Law mandated that discretionary 
release to community supervision be governed by evidence-based "needs 
and risk assessments" rather than disproportionately focusing on the 
nature of the crimes committed perhaps decades before.

New York has adopted an actuarial assessment model called COMPAS to 
guide the Board of Parole in its decision-making. This approach creates 
an individualized picture of how the incarcerated person has changed 
since the original crime, what risks there are for future criminal 
behavior, and what support is necessary for the individual's successful 
reentry, and critically, what kinds of skills, attitudes and capacities 
the individual has developed during their incarceration. Risk assessment 
is intended to replace subjective decision-making with science, and 
standards that reflect the needs of public safety, and honor the 
rehabilitative goals of the penal system. At least 24 states have 
adopted similar models.

But the Board of Parole has dragged its feet in applying these more 
reliable and transparent methods. Instead of placing proper emphasis on 
the careful risks and needs assessment, the board's decisions almost 
uniformly stress the "nature of the offense," a fact that can never 
change, no matter the growth, remorse, or transformation of the 
individual who now stands before the parole board.

Even though the best criminal justice thinkers (and many community 
members) support the use of forward-looking assessments like COMPAS, one 
powerful group continues to stand in the way: the New York City 
Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA). It clings to the view that no 
one who has been convicted in the death (or attempted killing) of a 
police officer should ever be released on parole. Note that we are not 
talking about those people convicted and sentenced to life without 
parole, but rather those given a life sentence with consideration for 
release on parole after a minimum term (generally 15 or 25 years), as 
required by New York State law.

To enforce their hold on any Board of Parole decisions, the PBA has a 
link on their website. With one mouse-click, form letters are sent to 
the board opposing the release—ever—of anyone so convicted, no matter 
how old or sick, how insightful and changed, and no matter the 
likelihood that they will ever commit another crime.

We know that the sheer volume of these letters matters because parole 
commissioners have said so. They have relied on thousands of form 
letters from people who know nothing about the person seeking release 
other than the crime of conviction—something that in many cases occurred 
more than 40 years ago. Rather than rely on science and fairness, 
recognized by New York law and the experience and practice of those 
people, the board has allowed their actions to be held hostage by the 
PBA, seeking decision-making by political popularity. ("Ex-Parole 
Commissioners Decry Rescission of 'Cop-Killer's' Release," NYLJ, Nov. 
26, 2012).

In 1974, then Appellate Division Justice Lawrence H. Cooke dissented in 
a matter wherein a prisoner was challenging the denial of his release on 
parole. /Hamm v. Regan/, 43 A.D.2d 344 (3d Dept. 1974). While "negative 
community reaction," was not an issue on the appeal, it had been part of 
the record which Cooke felt compelled to address: "The instant case is 
an example of how impermissible considerations might possibly enter into 
parole board deliberations and improperly affect their decisions.

[B]y stating its 'reason' for rescinding petitioner's parole the board 
has indicated that the 'negative community' reaction' was deemed 
controlling. If such a consideration, in and of itself, can properly 
enter parole board deliberations, let alone control the exercise of 
their discretion, few prisoners would ever be paroled as it can 
reasonably be assumed that communities rarely welcome offenders into 
their midst. Parole is not to be granted solely on the basis of 
community approval; rather, the board must consider whether there is a 
reasonable probability that, if released, the prisoner will live and 
remain at liberty without violating the law, and that his release is not 
incompatible with the welfare of society."

With the increasing awareness of the tragedy of mass incarceration and 
of the dangers of allowing police forces to function without oversight 
and constitutional control, Cooke's remarks are as insightful now as 
they were over 40 years ago. An unchecked Board of Parole, under the 
influence of the PBA, cannot be permitted to make decisions contrary to law.

/*Robert J. Boyle
Rukia Lumumba
Moira Meltzer-Cohen
Eve Rosahn
Susan Tipograph
Michael Tarif Warren*
The authors are all attorneys practicing in New York City/
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