Group rallies in Yonkers for parole reform bills
A group rallied in Yonkers Wednesday to push for the passage of two parole reform bills.
"It took me five times at the parole board to be denied," said Dannie McQueen, of Mount Vernon. "I didn't have life, I had a conditional release and that's how I got out."
McQueen spoke about his time in prison at the rally.
"Parole is about justice, or should be about justice, but where is the justice in denying people for parole for the sake of denying people for parole," he said.
According to the Release Aging People in Prison campaign, 28% of Westchester County residents in New York state prisons are 50 years or older and many were locked up as teenagers and lack pathways to be fairly considered for release.
"I was 16 when I committed the crime, 17 when I went upstate. When I was 42, at my first parole board, I was no longer the same person. I didn't think the same, nor did I act the same, but I was treated the same," said McQueen.
The rally was organized by the People's Campaign for Parole Justice, a coalition of organizations working toward reforming the parole system in New York. They want state lawmakers to pass two bills next legislative session that would create pathways for older incarcerated people.
The Elder Parole Bill would allow a person 55 or older, who has served at least 15 years of a sentence, a chance to be considered for release by the Board of Parole. The second bill, the Fair and Timely Parole Bill would provide that the Board of Parole release incarcerated people who are eligible for parole, unless they've demonstrated a current and unreasonable risk the individual will violate the law.
"In New York, do we believe in a second chance or we don't?" asked attorney and exoneree Jeffrey Deskovoic.
Deskovoic, who was wrongfully convicted of a brutal Peekskill murder, is a staunch advocate for the bills and said releasing people like McQueen, who now runs a nonprofit that helps at-risk youth, is a benefit to society.
"There are many formerly incarcerated people who have worked in nonprofit settings, and they work with homeless populations and at-risk youth so they engage in very meaningful crime prevention work, so we lose out as a community," said Deskovoic.
The next legislative session begins in January.