Leah Todd // New York State must respect the Parole Board’s decision to release Herman Bell

New York State must respect the Parole Board’s decision to release Herman Bell | Center for Constitutional Rights – International principles concur that the intention of incarceration should be reform and rehabilitation, not simply punishment. America’s prisons haven’t yet caught up to this thinking, as they are rife with abuses yet hardly provide the tools to facilitate transformation among people who are incarcerated, leaving prisoners to overcome great challenges in working to accomplish and provide evidence of growth and change on their own. But New York Governor Cuomo, who stated that he disagreed with the Parole Board’s decision in Herman’s case, once seemed to embrace this idea himself, as he devoted pages of policy documents and paragraphs of speeches to the importance of re-entry and the opportunity for a second chance for people in prison and their communities. Herman has achieved all of the benchmarks that should support his release – earning higher education degrees, engaging in mentorship of younger prisoners, leading charity projects, staying deeply connected to his family, sustaining strong community ties to facilitate his re-entry, and maintaining a clean disciplinary record – which is why he was given the lowest possible risk score on New York’s newly instituted risk assessment tool for parole candidates. Cuomo repeatedly stated his clear intention to introduce a scientific, fair methodology to the parole review process; the members of the Board that he recently brought on to carry out his initiatives were merely following through on their jobs in the spirit of the new reform-oriented approach when they decided to grant parole to Herman.

The tactics of those opposed to Herman’s release, on the other hand, appeal to fear and bias rather than justice. The PBA sent out a “safety alert” to all of its members following the parole announcement, suggesting that Herman will pose a danger to the city’s thousands of armed officers once released. In fact, Herman just a few months ago suffered a serious attack by prison guards that left him with two broken ribs. In that case as now, it is difficult to imagine how one senior citizen could realistically be a threat to law enforcement; the true threat is the potential danger to Herman, as well as the PBA’s attempts to sabotage the parole process.

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