A shelter is no homecoming: Parole must give ex-cons a real place to stay in rebuilding their lives

·2 min read

The overhaul to how parole works in New York in a bill called “Less is More,” which nears passage on this final day of the Legislature’s session, would limit the likelihood ex-offenders can end up back in prison for violating small-bore conditions of their release.

These are humane reforms that will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, without threatening public safety. Setting up ex-cons for a return trip to Attica or Dannemora for tripping over a long list of technical violations, like being late for curfew or missing an parole officer appointment, is counter to the point of parole. Give people a legitimate shot at getting jobs, reestablishing family roots and turning their lives around. Let parole officers violate them and send them back to prison, but only when they meaningfully slip back toward a life of crime.

While they’re at it, lawmakers should also pass another bill to improve how people get paroled. It’s not like in the modern classic, “The Shawshank Redemption,” complete with a job bagging groceries and a room in a boarding house. Instead, vans from the prisons typically pull up outside the city’s homeless shelter intake at Bellevue and unload the “lucky” men, a prison-to-shelter pipeline of hopelessness.

No money, no job, no place to stay. You’re free from prison but now trapped in the homeless system. The reform legislation, properly urged on Mayor de Blasio, would require the state correction and parole agencies to have a comprehensive discharge plan for each inmate 45 days before they are released.

Working with non-profits in the communities, each parolee’s housing, employment, drug/alcohol treatment and health needs (physical, mental and emotional) would be set in advance. The law says if the state “determines that an incarcerated person does not have access to adequate and stable housing, the department shall, upon release of such person, obtain for such person a placement in adequate and stable housing that is not a shelter.” Not a shelter. What a good idea.

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