Release Aging People in Prison

RAPP ( promotes the release of people in New York State prisons who are age 50 and older, have served considerable time, and pose no threat to public safety. We urge the governor and other policy-makers to use existing mechanisms—parole, compassionate release, and clemency— to release these elders, and to pass the S.A.F.E. Parole Act to increase parole release rates for everyone.

Come to our monthly meeting in NYC: WEDNESDAY, September 6th, 2017 • 6:00-8:15 pm (with pizza and soda) • Columbia School of Social Work, 1255 Amsterdam Avenue (121/122nd Street), 8th Floor, New York, NY 10027

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About Us

Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP is a grassroots campaign that aims to reduce the number of elders behind bars in New York State. We advocate the release of elders through parole decisions based on legitimate public safety risk and people’s personal growth while in prison. Our coalition includes formerly incarcerated women and men, members of the faith community, family members of incarcerated people, students, teachers and concerned community members.

Led by Mujahid Farid, a 2013 Soros Justice Fellow who was incarcerated for 33 years in New York before his release in 2011, the RAPP focuses on the rapidly growing population of aging people in prison—many of whom are long-termers convicted of serious crimes. Many of these human beings have taken responsibility for their crimes, transformed their lives and developed skills and abilities they lacked before incarceration, and could be released from prison with no threat to public safety. Yet they are denied release, often for political reasons, and needlessly remain imprisoned into old age.

Our campaign seeks fair and objective hearings for all individuals who come before the Parole Board. Significantly, we don’t seek expanded release opportunities for certain classes of offenses by denying opportunities for others. In contrast, we insist that decisions be made on a person’s individual merits and experiences inside. This operating principle allows RAPP to challenge a fundamental pillar of the mass incarceration crisis: the reliance on a system of permanent punishment, a culture of retribution and revenge rather than rehabilitation and healing.

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The RAPP Campaign is mobilizing currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, their families, and other concerned community members in efforts to increase parole release rates for aging people in prison who pose no risk to public safety. RAPP partners with the Drop the Rock Coalition, which previously helped lead efforts to reform NY’s infamous Rockefeller Drug Laws, and we are reaching out to other prison justice groups to join in carrying out this work. From this united base, we will work to (1) raise public awareness about the destructiveness of mass incarceration and the benefits to society in releasing aging people, including those convicted of violent crimes who do not pose a risk to public safety, and (2) promote the use of key mechanisms for releasing elderly people including parole decisions, compassionate release, and policy changes.

For 40 years, the prison population in the United States has been increasing to where it has become an international embarrassment. While this has been acknowledged by federal and state governments, legislators, policymakers, and prison administrators (who face rising administrative costs amidst serious budget crises), and where incremental steps reduced some prison populations, there remains a strong reluctance to utilize available downsizing options as they apply to certain categories of people confined.

This project will seek to address mass incarceration through the “back end” of the criminal justice system, promoting the release of low-risk groups—especially aging people in prison, who make up a rapidly growing portion of the prison population. A recent Human Rights Watch report shows that between 1995 and 2010, the number of state and federal prisoners aged 55 and over nearly quadrupled to 124,400, while the prison population as a whole grew by 42%.

Prison administrators know that older people who have served long sentences frequently serve as role models, facilitate most prison rehabilitation programs, and provide leadership, having found meaning in life through service to others. Moreover, the vast majority of released prisoners over 50 do not return to prison. Those who do return generally do so because of a technical parole violation (failure to report to a parole officer, missing work, or missing curfew).

Despite low recidivism rates, ample evidence of personal transformation, and the significant cost savings that could be realized, political considerations too often prevent administrators from using available release mechanisms. The RAPP Campaign will utilize the voices of the key population of formerly incarcerated women and men and currently incarcerated elderly to show that they can and should be released with no threat to public safety. It will build a public base to encourage policy-makers, parole commissioners and correctional officials to accelerate release of the elderly through both new and existing mechanisms for release.