Thursday, 23 May 2019 10:09

OP ED: Protect Victims of Violent Crimes from Frequent Parole Hearings

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For victims of heinous crimes whose perpetrators are behind bars, parole hearings can be traumatic.

The state can do more to protect victims and families of victims from undue suffering by passing Ramona’s Law. The bill extends the maximum time certain violent felons are reconsidered for parole by the state parole board from two to five years. This change would help protect victims from reliving the crime as frequently as current law requires.

The bill is named for Ramona Bantle-Fahy, a crime-victim survivor and advocate, who bravely spoke in favor of the bill in Albany last week. I was humbled and privileged to stand behind her as she courageously shared her story in front of cameras and lawmakers. In 1992, she was working as a real estate agent in Erie County when a man called her to schedule an appointment to see a house. At the house showing, he attacked her, tied her hands, threatened her with a knife and raped her. He later pushed her down the stairs and shoved her into the trunk of his car. Ramona was able to free her hands and picked the trunk lock. When the car slowed down, she jumped out of the car and ran. Had she not been able to escape, she believes she would have been murdered. Her attacker was later arrested, convicted on several felonies, and sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison.

In 2017, her attacker was up for parole after serving his minimum sentence. He was denied parole but less than two years later, he was scheduled to appear again and she had to prepare to do what she could to keep him behind bars. With the parole hearings, it is not just the hearing date victims have to consider but the process involved. Victims are notified of the hearing date if they choose to be notified and invited to send in written impact statements to the parole board. They may also submit audio or video-taped statements and/or meet with a member of the parole board concerning the inmate. In communication with the parole board, they are asked to explain how lives have been changed as a result of the crime, what emotional and/or physical impact the crime has had, and the effect the crime has had on children of the victim and other family members. After providing these statements, they await notification of the parole board’s decision. All of this ends up taking several months and victims say they relive the traumatic experience each time in order to convince the parole board not to grant parole. By the time it is over, they feel as though they have to begin the process again to prepare for the next hearing.

Ramona’s Law would allow victims of heinous acts more time in between parole hearings. Specifically, it would authorize the parole board to have more discretion in setting the times in between hearings. The state parole board has the discretion to set the date for reconsideration for parole but according to current law, that date can only be set within two years (24 months) of the denial. The bill would extend the parole reconsideration period up to 5 years (60 months) for inmates who have been convicted of certain Class A-I and A-II felonies and certain Class B felonies. These crimes include murder in the first degree, aggravated murder, murder in the second degree, rape in the first degree, sodomy in the first degree and predatory sexual assault against a child.

The change would bring New York more in line with what victims’ advocates have been successful in achieving in other states. Of the 35 states that grant parole boards authority to release an inmate, 25 states allow at least five years between the initial decision to deny parole and subsequent reconsiderations for release. New York should be the next state to help victims of violent crimes from unnecessarily reliving these horrors. In general, we enact many laws in Albany to help criminals but we need to do more for victims. If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185. You may also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.

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