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Parolee assault of elderly woman highlights critical role of services, parole system

A homeless man on parole for killing his mother nearly two decades ago brutally assaulted a 65-year-old Asian woman in New York City and the attack, caught on surveillance video, is compelling evidence that the parole system needs more support and now is not the time for broad reform.

“Law enforcement is still struggling to get ahold of the consequences of bail reform,” said PEF President Wayne Spence, a New York State parole officer. “Now they want to add to that with the ‘Less is More’ parole reform? There are now more parolees on the street than ever before and there are less staff to supervise them. In 1992, we had 1,200 state parole officers – we now have fewer than 700.”

The Less is More parole reform bill would make it virtually impossible to incarcerate anyone for violating one of the few violations deemed significant enough to merit re-incarceration (i.e., testing positive for alcohol or non-prescribed drugs or controlled substances, failing to report, and failing to notify of a change in address).

“Now is not the time to propose major parole reform and let more people out without the resources and the manpower,” Spence said. “If you do, you are going to have more instances like this man who killed his mother in 2002, was released on parole and now brutally attacks a woman. There will be more of these crimes.”

Parole officers need appropriate resources in place to serve parolees and protect communities. Slashing state mental health services, substance abuse programs and other vital services, and proposing reform that would limit when parole officers can incarcerate individuals is ill advised at this time, said PEF Parole Officer and Council Leader Gina Lopez.

“If you let more people out and you don’t have the services for us to utilize, it’s a disservice to the community and to the parolee,” Lopez said. “You can do all the reform you want, but if you have nothing to help reengage parolees back into the community with employment, and good mental health and substance abuse services, it won’t work. Unfortunately, those areas are being cut by the state.

“The goal of parole officers is to do what’s best for parolees and the community,” she said. “Sometimes it does take us having to put them back in to get them services or into an inpatient program. You have to have avenues to engage that parolee to become a productive citizen. Our mental health caseloads across the state are doubled and we don’t have the staffing to be able to do the quality supervision that the community should want.”