ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – With no sign of incarcerated individuals in New York’s Vaccine Eligibility plan, advocates of parole justice feel the time is now to push for legislative changes. The People’s Campaign for Parole Justice gathered 600 advocates and lawmakers for a Virtual Advocacy Day to push for the swift passage of two parole bills.

“Prisoners aren’t really seen as people,” Thomas Kearney, the Capital Region Organizer of RAPP—Release Aging People in Prison, a partner in the event. “The incarcerated community is in a worse position than any other community at this moment.”

According to a study by Johns Hopkins University and the UCLA Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project, prisoners are 5.5 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than the average person.

New York State Assembly Member Carmen De La Rosa spoke at Wednesday’s event as the lead sponsor of the proposed Elder Parole bill. The legislation would provide the possibility of release to someone over 55-years-old after they had served 15 years in prison. 

“In the grips of a global pandemic, we have seen that our most vulnerable, elderly, incarcerated individuals have died due to COVID-19,” De La Rosa said.

Additionally, Kearney wonders why those elderly individuals are treated differently from someone in a congregate living facility during such a health crisis.

“It’s really no different than being in a nursing home; it’s actually a worse condition than being in a nursing home,” Kearney said. “The environment that prisons are in, it’s an environment where it’s impossible, absolutely impossible to social distance.”

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple agreed that the environment makes the pandemic even more challenging to handle.

“I mean, you got 25 guys housed really close to each other, then you have other parts of the building where you have 100 housed closed to each other. So, we knew, once it got in, we were in trouble.”

Those involved in Advocacy Day believe that if these bills pass, it will not only provide “fair release opportunities” but it will also save lives.

“This bill is for people who have completed the minimum terms of incarceration and do not pose a threat to others,” David Weprin, NYS Assembly Correction Committee Chair and Fair & Timely Parole sponsor, said.

“Criminal justice reform is essential at this moment with COVID-19 spreading rampantly throughout correctional facilities.”