The push to parole older inmates in state prison

Community members gather at the Liberty Pole for change to the prison system

Community members gather at the Liberty Pole for change to the prison system

ALBANY, N.Y. – The state prison population is a fraction of what it was 20 years ago. From 66,110 in 2003 to 31,329 in 2022.

But as more inmates get paroled or serve their sentence and get released, the percentage of older inmates is going up.

So we went to the Liberty Pole to meet people who say the state should reform the system that keeps them in.

The group called Release the Aging People in Prison Campaign called forward former inmates who are making a difference in the Rochester community.

“Derrick Sides!” said Jose DiLenola, Director of the RAPP. 

Sides got out of prison last year. Now he’s got a full time job and he’s in his first year at U of R. Geneo Brown did 20 years and got out a decade ago. Now he’s a barber and advocates for human rights.

“Thank you Thaxton,” said DiLenola as he handed Thaxton Hamlin a proclamation.

Hamlin ran study groups in prison and now works for the city’s office of violence prevention.

“I want to be the change that people see,” Hamlin said.

RAPP wants the state to reform elderly parole and create fair and timely parole. Right now there are 31,329 prison inmates in New York and 25,000 parolees.

Twenty percent of inmates from Monroe County are over the age of 50.

“I would like to call Thomas Gant,” DiLenola said

Gant spent more than 25 years in prison. When he got out in 2022 he got his associate degree from Genesee Community College. Now he is the prison re-entry coordinator at U of R.

Brean: “When you talk to them, what do you talk to them about?”

Thomas Gant: “Well, I talk to them about taking advantage of the opportunity of being free of being productive and contributing to our society.”

Brean: “There’s going to be a lot of people watching tonight who feel like crime is a problem in our community.”

Gant: “Yes.”

Brean: “How do we reconcile with what you think is the right thing to do, with people’s concern that there is crime going on?”

Gant: “Well part of the reason why we crime is poverty, right? And poverty isn’t just about money. It’s about the way you think. And a lot of our youth and some of the issues we have in our community, can be solved by having their elders return home.”

The bills that reform elderly parole and fair and timely parole have lingered in the state crime committees. The earliest they would get back into gear is January and if they’re included in the state budget, that vote is around April 1.