ICYMI: Assemblywoman Sarah Clark and Assemblyman Demond Meeks Pen Op-Ed on the Less is More Act

Rochester, NY - In case you missed it, on Sunday the Democrat and Chronicle ran an op-ed piece written by Assemblywoman Sarah Clark and Assemblyman Demond Meeks regarding the Less is More Act.

Ending incarceration over technicalities vital for equity

November 21, 2021

By Assemblymembers Sarah Clark and Demond Meeks

For many years, New York had the worst parole system in the country when it came to the use of incarceration for technical parole violations – things like missing an appointment, being late for curfew, or testing positive for drugs or alcohol.

We incarcerated people for non-criminal technical violations at a rate six times the national average, costing New York taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year, including $12.5M in Monroe County alone. Shockingly, here in Monroe, we have the highest incarceration rate over technical violations in the state – over twice the rate of New York City.

Forty percent of the people admitted to our state prisons every year were sent there for these technical violations, not a new conviction. The racial disparities therein were stark: Black people were up to 5 times more likely to be reincarcerated than whites. Our state lagged far behind the national movement to make parole systems less punitive, and more collaborative and restorative.

That is why we proudly sponsored the Less Is More Act in the Assembly and applaud Gov. Kathy Hochul for signing it into law in September. We also thank the #LessIsMoreNY statewide coalition – comprised of more than 300 groups, faith leaders, as well as public officials across the political spectrum – for their tireless advocacy in getting this done.

The Less is More Act eliminates the use of incarceration for many technical violations and severely restricts its use for others, allowing people to safely remain with their families and in their communities as they readjust to life outside of prison. However, immediately after the governor signed this bill into law, special interests began a misinformation campaign about the reform. With no facts to support their arguments, they resorted to fearmongering and twisting of the truth suggesting this reform has resulted in higher crime rates locally, even though the crux of the bill does not go into effect until March of next year.

The opponents of Less is More will tell you that the new law prevents parole officers from violating people who break the rules of their parole. This is untrue. Under Less is More, breaking the rules is still a parole violation; the new law simply requires parole officers to use community-based alternatives rather than incarceration to address non-criminal and non-violent technical violations.

Opponents will tell you that limiting reincarceration for non-criminal technical parole violations makes our communities less safe. Not true. There is absolutely no evidence that locking people up for technical violations improves public safety.

In fact, it destabilizes families and communities when people lose their already fragile housing and employment after being thrown in jail for non-crimes. Legislation comparable to Less is More in other states makes communities safer, and that’s why law enforcement officials across the state and country – including the former Deputy Chief of the Rochester Police Department, District Attorneys representing more than half the state’s population, the Erie County Sheriff and more – have endorsed this legislation.

These allies understand that the tens of millions of dollars being spent to house these non-violent individuals needs to be reallocated to address the desperate need for restorative resources for parolees and their families locally, rather than reintroduce them to society with insufficient support systems that are vital to their future success.

Finally, opponents will tell you that Less is More is bad public policy that only gained popularity because of so-called one-party rule by the Albany Majority, which is also not rooted in facts. The reforms are actually modeled on successful ones already implemented in states like Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, saving them millions. Recidivism rates in these states have remained flat, and in some states declined, illustrating that the Less is More Act can be implemented in New York – and in Monroe County – without diminishing public safety, and in fact improving it.

Two months after Gov. Hochul signed the Less is More Act, we are a long way from full implementation. Not only must we speed up that timeline to prevent needless incarceration as COVID-19 continues to spread in our jails and prisons, we must protect the law from baseless attacks with questionable motives.

The truth is, the Less is More Act will make Monroe County a safer and more equitable community for all, and we look forward to continuing to build out our local coalition of faith leaders, public defenders, law enforcement, and community leaders, to ensure it is indeed a success.

Sarah Clark and Demond Meeks are members of the NYS Assembly in the Rochester region.

The Less is More Act eliminates the use of incarceration for many technical violations and severely restricts its use for others, allowing people to safely remain with their families and in their communities as they readjust to life outside of prison.