Barclay: Crime victims’ families who fight for justice are an inspiration

Last week, the Assembly Minority Conference joined the families of violent-crime victims to call for changes to New York’s parole procedures and implore the state to fix its broken criminal justice system. Despite pleas to keep cop-killers and rapists behind bars, the state’s misguided parole board has allowed individuals convicted of heinous acts of violence out of jail while the families of their victims expressed shock, fear and frustration.

Recently, Samuel Ayala was released from prison after being convicted of raping and murdering two Westchester mothers while their children were present. Herman Bell, convicted in 1971 of murdering two police officers, was let out two years ago, and Anthony Bottom, who was imprisoned for that same murder, was granted parole last week and is expected to go free this month. These decisions are clear evidence the parole board has lost its way.

The courage of individuals like Diane Piagentini, the wife of NYPD Patrolman Joseph Piagentini who was killed by Bell, and Jason Minter, whose mother, Bonnie, was a victim of Ayala’s, for coming forward and repeatedly demanding change cannot be overstated. They, and countless other crime victims, are the inspiration for our recent criminal justice campaign and the spark behind our newly proposed legislation to reform the parole board.

Instead of being able to peacefully mourn their lost loved ones and move on from the tragedies brought upon them, they are, instead, continually forced to fight an entrenched and mismanaged bureaucracy over policies that make no sense. This is unfair on every level and flies in the face of justice.

 To address these egregious policy failures, we have introduced a new bill to strengthen legislative oversight of the 19-member parole board, including allowing members of the board to be removed by a majority vote of the state Assembly and Senate, in addition to removal by the governor. We are also calling for a requirement that a minimum of three (currently two) members of the board interview inmates seeking parole and a requirement for a unanimous vote of the three members in order for parole to be granted (currently only a majority is required).

We have also reiterated our support for Ramona’s Law (A.6663), which, among other things, would extend the maximum number of months from 24 to 60 for the time between hearings for denied parole applicants in certain cases.

 The inspirational bravery and calls for reform from victims and their families are just the first steps in our fight to restore justice in New York. We ask you to join us in this fight and sign our petition to reiterate the interests of hardened criminals cannot be put above those of these victims. There is much work to do to fix that, but we are committed to giving every victim and their loved ones a voice in this fight.

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay can be reached by mail at 200 N. 2nd St., Fulton, New York 13069 and by email at barclayw@nyassembly.gov. You can also find him on Facebook or on Twitter at @WillABarclay.

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