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Kathy Hochul calls New York's incarceration rate a "point of shame," orders the release of 191 Rikers Island inmates

Lawmakers report awful conditions at Rikers Island
New York lawmakers describe deteriorating conditions at Rikers Island jail 10:16

New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Friday signed the "Less Is More" act and ordered the immediate release of 191 inmates housed at Rikers Island in an attempt to reduce the state's prison population.

"New York State incarcerates more people for parole violations than anywhere in the country. That is a point of shame for us, and it needs to be fixed. It's going to be fixed today," Hochul said at a press conference Friday. "Our fellow New Yorkers on parole deserve to re-enter society with our support and respect — re-incarcerating parolees for technical violations traps them and doesn't help our communities."

The "Less Is More" act is aimed at rewarding parolees who have successfully re-entered their community and reducing overcrowding at correctional facilities by speeding up the time between hearing dates and devising alternative corrections for technical parole violations.

In addition to releasing 191 inmates, Hochul said an additional 200 convicted inmates who have less than 60 to 90 days left in their sentence will be allowed to leave Rikers and moved to a different state facility. The major changes in criminal justice have all been made and will be implemented "in cooperation with the city of New York," the governor said.

Rikers Island is scheduled to close by 2027, putting an end to some of its longstanding issues of violence and neglect. However, lawmakers who visited the facility said Thursday they saw cockroaches, rotting food and urine on the floor. They also reported that inmates were crowded together without access to showers, food or clean spaces.

9/11 Security Briefing held in NYC
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 10: New York Governor Kathy Hochul (C) attends the 9/11 Security Briefing at the One Police Plaza in New York City, United States on September 10, 2021. Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

"The place is in a state of emergency, and we need to act now," New York State Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas told CBS News on Thursday. "We must work to decarcerate."

New York State Senator Jabari Brisport said some inmates waited months for trials in small, cage-like rooms and did not have access to bathrooms. "In one of the intake facilities that is so overcrowded, they have been staying in rooms without bathrooms," Brisport said. "Usually they would be in there a few hours. Some have been in there for days."

In Friday's press conference, Hochul called New York's current parole system "antiquated" and blamed the program for failing to provide inmates with helpful ways to reenter society. She said it ultimately gives them a "ticket back into jail" and fuels the issue of overcrowding. 

On Tuesday, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio issued an emergency order to relieve major problems for Rikers' staff and inmates. The order adds harsher penalties for staff who don't show up for their shift, allows for quicker emergency repairs and speeds up intakes to prevent overcrowding.

"New York City will take any action necessary to keep everyone safe throughout the justice system. These reforms will do just that — both by taking immediate steps to put officers back on duty and by making deeper reforms to reduce the number of incarcerated New Yorkers," De Blasio said. "We will uphold our obligation to provide a safe, clean environment on Rikers Island while pivoting to a fairer and more humane justice system."

Rikers Island Coronavirus Outbreak COVID-19
This 2014 photo shows the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City. Seth Wenig / AP
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