LI Republicans speak out against new criminal justice and parole reforms

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Long Island Republican state lawmakers oppose bills by Democrats advocating for reforms to parole, criminal penalties for law enforcement misconduct, and the expungement of certain criminal convictions.

Republicans called the collection of bills “pro-criminal” and “anti-public safety” during a press conference Friday morning outside Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead. The main focus of the conference was Senate bill S15A, which would make convicts over the age of 55 eligible for review by the state’s parole board. The law does not require anyone to be released.

“The factors that are required to be considered for release of these defendants are only ones that are to the benefit of the defendant, what they’ve done in jail. They got a GED, well that’s a checkmark in the right column, despite the fact that they slaughtered people to have a life sentence,” Sen. Anthony Palumbo said. 

The lawmakers said the bill would be disastrous for the safety of New Yorkers, comparing it to the bail reform enacted in 2020 that eliminated bail for nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors. The reform was quickly amended to restore some of the powers of judges and make more cases eligible for bail after police blamed the reform on a surge in violent crime. 

The bill aims to reduce New York’s large population of older adults serving life sentences, a population that is disproportionately Black and Latino. It would allow inmates age 55 and over who have served at least 15 years of their sentences the opportunity to demonstrate how they’ve changed while imprisoned. 

“The perpetual confinement of aging and elderly people is particularly immoral as studies show that re-arrest rates for older adults released from prison are vanishingly small, particularly for those originally convicted of serious crimes,” the bill reads.

The Republican lawmakers charged that passage of the law would result in parole for rapists and serial killers, like LIRR shooter Colin Ferguson, who was sentenced to 315 years to life. Although the law would require convicts to be reviewed by the parole board, the lawmakers said the law would be dangerous because the members of the parole board were appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat.

“These are not rehabilitated individuals,” Sen. Alexis Welk said. “It is not up to the parole board to decide that after an individual has been charged with a 315 year life sentence that they can let them out,” Welk said.

Assemblyman Michael Durso said the bill “puts criminals ahead of the victims.”

“We must protect our victims. We must protect the people that we represent,” Durso said. “That’s why we were put into office. That’s why the police took this job, is to protect the people. The people that are making these laws are not doing that anymore.”

The lawmakers also attacked S6615, a bill that would amend the penal law to provide more specificity for situations in which police can use lethal force. It would also establish criminal charges for use of excessive force by police. The group calls the bill the “police stand down law.”

“So when gunshots go off around the corner and our family members are in the line of fire, police officers are going to say, “Well, I can do my duty, but I also risk losing my house and my job and going to jail because of maybe a poor judgment call,” Palumbo said. “That is not making us safe.”

Another bill, S1553A, would expunge certain misdemeanor and felony convictions on criminal records three years after imprisonment other than for certain situations, like purchasing firearm licenses. Having “already paid their debt to society,” the change would allow ex-convicts to move forward with a clean slate, the bill says. 

Sen. Phil Boyle called the bill “absolutely insane” and that it’s important for people doing business with others to know their criminal history.

Republicans urged New Yorkers to contact their elected officials and threaten to vote them out of office if they support the collection of bills. They said the uptick in crime is leading to the deterioration of New York, and passage of the laws would lead to more crime.

“We’re at the point now that this is making the state so unsafe, that people are going to leave in droves worse than they already are,” Palumbo said.

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