Gov. Hochul signs Less Is More Act, announces release of 191 Rikers Island inmates

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York Governor Kathy Hochul is answering Mayor Bill de Blasio's call to take action on the crisis at Rikers Island, signing the Less is More Act Friday and announcing that 191 inmates being held on non violent technical parole violations will be released immediately.

The bill, which takes effect next March, removes minor infractions made by parolees as reasons to be put back behind bars, such as being late for an appointment or missing a curfew.

De Blasio said only those inmates who don't "pose an immediate threat" will be released, and in some cases, the city will have to go back through courts to get them out.

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Inside Rikers Island, there's an increase in violence, and it's not just attacks amongst inmates. Assaults against corrections officers are up by 23%.


Additionally, Hochul announced the state corrections department will start moving 200 prisoners from the city-run prison to state facilities in the coming days.

Hochul called Rikers "volatile," where too often "parole becomes a ticket back into jail" because of technical violations like drinking or missing an appointment.

The mayor praised the governor for signing the bill.

"She is acting to help us get a number of people out of Rikers immediately," he said. "It looks like initially that could be several hundred people, which could be tremendously helpful. We've got to reduce the population the right way."

Still, the mayor also had harsh words for the large numbers of correction officers and supervisors calling out or simply not showing up at Rikers daily.

"This is a very cynical situation," he said. "We know officers have tough jobs. We are doing everything we can to support them. But when officers fake being sick and stay out inappropriately, when they are AWOL, they are hurting all their fellow officers, they are hurting everyone. And the union has not been a productive player. They have been quite counterproductive in all this. We are now laying down very, very tough rules, making clear anyone who is not truly sick, they have to report to work or be suspended for 30 days."

New York City Department of Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi praising the bill signing.

"Governor Hochul has my utmost thanks for prioritizing the signing of this critical legislation, which marks a huge step forward in ending the era of mass incarceration, and its cousin, 'mass supervision,'" he said. "Eliminating non-criminal, technical parole violations is the decent, humane thing to do and it will only increase public safety by disrupting the incarceration cycle at a critical point, when people are reintegrating into the community. I also wholeheartedly thank the governor for using her discretionary power to implement facets of the bill that we can benefit from immediately without waiting until March."

Republicans in Albany, however, were quick to speak out against it.

"Albany Democrats today quadrupled down on their pro-criminal, anti-victim, and anti-law enforcement policies by ordering the blanket release of hundreds of criminals with their "less is more" law," Senate GOP leader Rob Ortt said. "Under One-Party Rule, violent crime has been on the rise across the state. It began with Democrats' so-called "bail reform" in 2019 - and it will undoubtedly become worse with this new law signed today. Aside from the fact that New York will once again favor criminals over victims, perhaps the most frightening element is that this law was actually written in-part by a convicted killer. By signing this bill into law, Albany Democrats are saying "less is more" means less criminals behind bars, and more victims as a result."

The mayor's Emergency Rikers Relief Plan includes the following:
--Adjust staffing at courts by shifting NYPD to help operate courts, allowing some Department of Correction (DOC) staff to shift back to duty on Rikers
--Toughen accountability for AWOL staffers with 30-day suspensions for Correction officers who do not show up to a post.
--Expand medical evaluation capacity for staff with additional medical providers to evaluate DOC officers for duty
--Engage in emergency contracting to quickly repair broken doors, clean facilities more efficiently, distribute commissary more quickly, scan mail onto tablets to reduce drugs entering facilities, and more
--Speed intake to reduce crowding with a goal of moving people through the intake process in 24 hours or fewer. Two currently closed clinic spaces will be opened to allow greater capacity

RELATED | Protest held as New York City Council holds hearing on Rikers conditions
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Before community leaders testified about conditions at Rikers, human rights advocates gathered to make sure their voices were heard.


The mayor also called for actions across the justice system in the following areas:

--Enacting the Less is More Act
--Speeding up transfers out of Rikers into state-operated locations in five days or less
--Calendaring 500 court cases immediately out of the 5,000 people on Rikers Island in pre-trial, including over 1,500 people have been held for over one year
--Encouraging judges to use supervised release for non-violent offenders, instead of pre-trial detention at Rikers

The city is hiring 600 new officers this fall but the union says they have lost that many officers due to resignations and retirements over the past few months.

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