‘We can’t intervene before something bad happens’: Parole officers say no one asked them about parole reform

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A man was arraigned on double murder charges in Rochester City Court Wednesday morning. The Rochester Police Department says the man was on parole at the time of the murders in September.

There were no allegations raised in court that the defendant had outstanding violations of parole, but parole officers and their union are upset about parole reform dubbed "Less is More." They say it will hinder their ability to keep parolees on the right track.

Less is More was voted on and passed in June and signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in September. It takes effect April 1, 2022, the start of the state’s fiscal year, but changes are already happening.

Parole officers told News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean the reform takes away accountability and they were never consulted about reform.

Part of the reform says technical violations by a parolee — missing curfew, doing drugs, hanging out with the wrong people — will not land them back in prison.

John Snyder, NYS parole officer 15 years: "I’ve never seen a single instance where a person goes back to prison for one curfew violation or for one instance of fraternizing with someone."

Brean: "So what’s the problem with Less is More then? What’s the big deal?"

Snyder: "Well because now we don’t have the ability to intervene when a person has not been home for the last five or six visits from their parole officer."

When Gov. Hochul signed the Less is More bill in September, she said New York jails more people for parole violations than any other state.

"That is a point of shame for us and it needs to be fixed," she said.

Assemblyman Harry Bronson (D, 138) ran transitional houses for parolees before he became a state assemblyman. He co-sponsored and voted for the bill.

"So what this measure says is — let’s not be quick to the draw of putting a parolee back behind bars when they commit a minor violation of the terms of their parole," Bronson said.

Bronson said the reform adds due process to the parole system. Parole officers can record and bring up technical violations for a review but can’t use that list or one or two violations to get a warrant for arrest and incarceration.

The reform also guarantees parolees can have an attorney at their review.

When Hochul signed the bill, New York had 624 parolees in jail. Since October, 518 have been released "in the spirit of Less Is More," a Department of Corrections spokesman said.

State Corrections says there are currently 44 parolees in custody for technical violations.

The parole officers say those technical violations can be a sign that something isn’t going right.

"We can’t intervene before something bad happens. We have to wait for something bad to happen," Officer Snyder said.

"Our shared goal for everybody is that we create a great New York where people can live and feel comfortable living. And no one ever asked us for our input," Officer Gina Lopez said.

There’s an expression — How do you change a law? You do it before it becomes a law.

This reform already has the governor’s signature.

The parole officers and the Public Employees Federation hopes people are prompted to call the governor and get some changes to the reform before it officially becomes law in April.