NEW YORK - New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Friday that she would direct the state parole board to release 191 prisoners at Rikers Island immediately and transfer more than 200 others to state prisons.
Hochul, calling Rikers a "volatile tinder box," made the announcement during the signing of the Less is More Act in Manhattan. The law gives parolees more leniency by modifying the standard of evidence and certain other procedures when determining whether to revoke the community supervision of a person on parole.
"We have a combustible situation still at Rikers because of overcrowding," said Hochul. "It means there are too many people and too few people to guard them."
The inmates being released include those locked up for technical parole violations, like missing a curfew, being late for an appointment or finding alcohol or drugs in urine samples.
Many inmates would not have to wait until March 2022 as the law called for.
"They have served their sentences under the dictates of the new Less is More and they shouldn't have to wait for the enactment date," said Hochul.
More than 200 inmates who have at least 60 or 90 days left in their terms will be transferred to other state prisons over the next few days.
Time off parole sentences would also be granted for good behavior.
"Our fellow New Yorkers on parole deserve to reenter society with our support and respect - reincarcerating parolees for technical violations traps them and doesn't help our communities. New Yorkers currently serving sentences in jails and prisons also deserve our support - there is no justice in mistreating incarcerated New Yorkers," said Hochul.
The move comes after several lawmakers toured the notorious jail complex earlier in the week. The group sounded the alarm about the dreadful and deteriorating conditions for inmates and staff.
One jail watchdog called it "a complete breakdown in the operation of the jails."
"In our office's 50 years of monitoring the city jails, this is one of the most dangerous times we’ve seen," said Mary Lynne Werlwas, a lawyer and the director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project at the Legal Aid Society.
When asked earlier this month about a report that New York City officials would call for the early release of inmates, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said he would oppose any such plan.
"When you go around New York City and you get a mouthful from New Yorker generally they tell you the opposite: get these criminals off the street. I certainly hope that is not the case. As it is, it's extremely difficult to get criminals into Rikers Island. The last thing I would want to see would be more criminals being released," said Shea.
The city plans to close Rikers by 2026 and move inmates to various smaller jails.
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