RAPP advocate Tony Simon addresses
Community Board 12. Photo by Tess McRae
BY TESS McRAE
When a serious crime is committed and a young individual is sent to prison for decades, it’s hard to imagine them as a senior citizen living behind bars. But more often than not, men and women over the age of 50 sit and eventually die in prison, even if they haven’t posed a threat to society for years.
At the June Community Board 12 meeting, representatives from the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign called on members to support their goal in changing the parole system to “resolve the crisis of aging behind bars.”
“I just served 30 years, I came into the prison system in 1981 and was released in 2013, but I made a transition while in prison,” Tony Simon, a former inmate and RAPP advocate, said. “So many young people make mistakes in life, end up with long-term bids and change as they age. They become positive assets to society through making amends and redeeming themselves.”
RAPP was established in 2013 by Mujahid Farid, who was incarcerated for 33 years after being denied parole nine times.
“Many of these human beings have transformed their lives and developed skills and abilities they lacked before incarceration.” Farid writes. “They could be released from prison with no threat to public safety. Yet many are denied release, often for political reasons, and needlessly remain imprisoned into old age. These elders could return to their communities if current mechanisms such as parole and compassionate release were correctly utilized.
According to Simon, elders pose the lowest threat when released from prison. Individuals ages 65 and older have a one percent chance of returning to a life of crime. Meanwhile, younger parolees have a 40 percent chance of recommitting a crime.
RAPP states that it costs the state more to keep senior citizens in prison. The group reports an annual cost of $120,000 to $240,000 per inmate each year. The expenses include daily needs and medical expenses. In 2013, 213 elders died in prison, but only eight were let out on compassionate release.
“What is going on here seems like genocide in its own right,” Simon said.
Community District 12 is among the top 12 districts where former inmates are being released in. It is because of this, RAPP asked the board to support their activism and help them petition the state in creating more transparent parole procedures and increasing access to compassionate release.
“We seek fair and objective hearings for everyone who comes before the Parole Board,” the RAPP website reads. “We will not try to expand release opportunities for certain classes of offenses by denying opportunities for others. Instead, we insist that decisions be made on each person’s individual merits and experiences inside.”
In addition to advocating more of the aging prison population to qualify for compassionate release, RAPP is developing a pilot program to work with seniors in their reentry and reintegration into society.
Reach Editor Tess McRae at (718) 357-7400 ext. 123, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @tess_mcrae.