Overhauling Parole

Assemblyman David Weprin, D-Richmond Hill, stands with advocates urging parole reform legislation at the state Capitol in Albany Jan. 29.

A proposal in the state Legislature would make certain inmates who reach the age of 55 eligible for release from prison, even if they're serving life sentences without parole. 

The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblyman David Weprin. The state Board of Parole would be required to conduct a hearing to determine if an older inmate should be released. 

To be eligible for parole, an inmate must serve at least 15 years of their sentence. The parole board could release an individual if "there is a reasonable probability that ... he or she will live and remain at liberty without violating the law and that his or her release is not incompatible with the welfare of society." 

Hoylman, D-Manhattan, and Weprin, D-Queens, assert that the legislation would address the aging inmate population in state prisons. The number of inmates who are over age 50 is up 81 percent since 2000, according to the bill. 

In 2007, there were 1,572 inmates who were at least 60 years old. The total number of inmates over age 60 increased to 2,389 in 2016. The average age of the inmate population also rose from 36.5 to 38.2 during the same time period. 

The sponsors say a greater number of older inmates will require prisons to open additional geriatric nursing care units and expand services for inmates with certain medical conditions, such as dementia, diabetes and heart disease. 

The bill notes that crimes are "largely committed by young people" and older inmates who have served long prison sentences have the lowest risk of recidivism. 

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Several Republican lawmakers oppose the bill. State Sen. Bob Antonacci, who represents parts of Cayuga and Onondaga counties, criticized the measure after William Wood, who killed two people at a Chili's restaurant in the Syracuse area, was sentenced to life in prison without parole. 

If the bill is signed into law, Wood could get a parole hearing when he reaches age 55. 

"I am opposed to this bill," Antonacci said, "passage of this bill will not make us safer." 

The state Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction committee approved the bill by a 5-2 vote last week. Two Republican members, state Sens. Fred Akshar and Patrick Gallivan, opposed the measure. It now must be considered by the Senate Finance Committee. 

The Assembly Correction Committee advanced the bill in February. It is awaiting review by the Assembly Codes Committee. 

The bill was introduced during the last legislative session, but it didn't receive a vote in the Assembly or Senate. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.