State slow to release jailed parolees

Report finds state corrections officials reluctant to follow an edict from Gov. Cuomo, aimed at curbing COVID infections, to release parole violators jailed on minor violations.

Despite a push from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Erie County is releasing only a quarter of parolees being held in its county jails because of technical violations of their release.

The number lags behind the statewide average and other upstate urban counties. While Erie County has released 28 percent of detained parolees, Monroe County, including Rochester,  Onondaga County (Syracuse) and Albany County have released about half of theirs. That holds true for neighboring Niagara County, as well.


County Parolees jailed Released % released
Schenectady 39 23 59
Monroe 137 80 58
Onondaga 62 31 50
Niagara 19 9 47
Albany 53 25 47
New York State 1,697 648 38
Oneida 36 12 33
Erie 89 25 28
Source: Partnership for the Public Good

In March 2020, Cuomo ordered the release of those being held for technical parole violations unless they were deemed a risk to public safety. Technical violations include violating curfew, missing appointments with a parole officer or failing to obtain permission to change jobs or residences.

The governor also called for parole officers to stop arresting violators for technical infractions or minor crimes. Arrests have continued, however.

Cuomo’s intent was to reduce the jail population to thwart the spread of COVID-19, as close quarters inmates are confined in are a cause of concern. A report issued Tuesday by the Partnership for the Public Good found the number of imprisoned technical parole violators dropped by only an estimated 38 percent statewide, leaving more than 1,000 behind bars. 

“Far too few people were released,” Stephen Hart, author of the report, said at a press conference Tuesday. The report covered February through May of last year.

“I don’t know what to call this but a lack of good faith with deadly consequences, a kind of reckless indifference to human beings.”  

Hart noted the difference in release rates in large urban counties.

“The same person having committed the same violation with the same record would be treated in a radically different way depending on whether they lived in Buffalo or Rochester,” Hart said. “That’s inherently unjust.”

He faulted a lack of consistency among the different branches of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, whose Albany and Buffalo offices did not respond to a request for comment from Investigative Post.  

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Hart assessed 37 incarcerated parolees in Erie County. Thirty-five posed no possible danger to public safety, he said. Over half had conditions that elevate their risk of infection from COVID-19.

One-third of admissions to state prisons come from parole revocation. Hart contends the Department of Corrections has an incentive to jail parole violators, as it can translate into more funding.

In addition to the continued release of those being held for parole violations, Hart recommends legislation ending pre-hearing detention and as moving parole into an agency more able to support and rehabilitate returning citizens.

“I’m very dubious that DOCCS is institutionally capable of running a sensible and humane parole system,” Hart said.