Black inmates who go before the New York State Board of Parole have a dramatically lower chance for release than white inmates, a recent New York Times investigation found.
As part of a broader analysis into racial disparities in the New York state prison system, the Times reviewed three years’ worth of parole decisions for male inmates, and found that one in four white inmates are released at their first parole hearings, while fewer than one in six black or Latino inmates are released.
Between 2013 and 2016, the board released 30% of white inmates who were convicted of property crimes, but just 18% of their black peers. The disparity is even more obvious among young inmates – with 30% of white inmates under 25 being released, and just 14% of black and Latino inmates.
On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the Times’ investigation “disturbing” and announced he would order an investigation into the racial disparities within the state prison system.
He added that he plans to nominate several minority candidates to the state parole board, which is composed of predominantly white commissioners who interview largely black and Latino inmates.
The Times’ report noted that many of the commissioners earn six-figure salaries, have no background in rehabilitation, and are from upstate New York, often leaving them with little in common with the inmates they meet.
To demonstrate the potential effects of that disparity, the Times’ investigation also compared the parole outcomes of several pairs of inmates with similar criminal histories and convictions, but different racial backgrounds.
In one such case, the Times compared two inmates interviewed by separate parole commissioners at different times, but both with histories of petty crime and diagnosed mental illnesses. They even made similar pleas to the parole board, explaining that they didn’t want to spend their lives in prison.
John Kelly, who was white, was homeless when he was arrested on charges of shoplifting from a Duane Reade. Darryl Dent, who was black, told the board he had been “confused” and hearing voices when he stole a wallet in a Manhattan church.
Kelly was granted parole. Dent was told his release would be “incompatible with the welfare of society.”
Transcripts of board hearings also demonstrated how rushed and disorganized the parole hearing process can be, with dozens of inmates being brought before the board and given just 10-minute interviews, often over a video conference rather than in person.
“We were a mess,” parole board commissioner Marc Coppola said in one videotaped board meeting in September. “We didn’t even know who was in the chair.”
The Times notes that it’s impossible to determine whether race factors into each individual parole decision, but a pattern of racial inequality is evident from the data.