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'Broken' parole system costs Erie County taxpayers millions, says watchdog group

Being late for a meeting with a parole officer, missing curfew, using drugs or alcohol. Those are all non-criminal acts that can land a parolee back behind bars.

And sending them there costs Erie County $10 million a year, according to study a by New Yorkers United for Justice, a bipartisan criminal justice reform group.

The cost accounts for the county’s Holding Center in downtown Buffalo and its Correctional Facility in Alden.

On average, individuals spend 100 days in jail for parole violations while they go through court hearings. But more than just the monetary cost behind that time, it’s the human cost that Peaceprints Western New York Executive Director Cindi McEachon sees as most detrimental.

“If you are removing somebody from their family, from their community, from their job, from their home,” she said. “And placing them in jail for 100 days because you have the discretionary authority to do so, and then we find out you don’t have enough to hold them and you let them back out, you have disrupted their opportunities for growth, for success, for maintaining their lifestyle in the community.”

In her job helping people get through the criminal justice system and into post-prison services, McEachon sees a lot of frustration among parolees dealing with the rigors of complying with guidelines of their release.

But several reform bills now making their way through committee in the state legislature aim to change the focus of those guidelines. Instead of using them as a penalty resulting in a return to jail, they would incentivize the adherence as a means of shortening post-prison supervision.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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