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Legislation would parole certain inmates at 55 if eligible

ALBANY (AP) — New York prison inmates would be eligible for parole once they reach 55 after serving 15 consecutive years under legislation being considered by the Democratic-controlled state Legislature.

While the measure introduced in the Senate by Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, doesn’t mandate an inmate’s release at 55, it would allow the state parole board to evaluate whether an older prisoner should be released.

Hoylman introduced the bill a week before parole was granted Wednesday to 69-year-old Judith Clark, who has served more than 37 years for being the getaway driver in a 1981 armored truck robbery in Rockland County that left two police officers and a security guard dead.

A similar bill was introduced in the Assembly in February by Assemblyman David Weprin, D-Queens.

Republican lawmakers oppose the measures.

“It’s nuts,” Sen. Bob Antonacci, a Syracuse-area Republican, told the Times Union of Albany. “It’s unbelievable that a cop killer is being freed.”

According to Hoylman’s legislation, the number of older inmates in the state prison system is rising even as the total inmate population has dipped below 50,000. He said the number of state inmates over the age of 50 has increased by 81% since 2000, requiring corrections facilities to provide more geriatric nursing care units to treat prisoners suffering from age-related ailments such as dementia, diabetes and heart disease.

In Clark’s case, the parole board cited her age, the length of time served, her apologies to victims, her disavowal of radical principles and her accomplishments in prison.

“There are so many more Judith Clarks out there — elder, incarcerated New Yorkers who have honestly confronted their crimes, taken responsibility, served their time, and worked to change the path of their lives,” Hoylman said after the Clark parole decision was announced.

Advocates for releasing aging inmates say studies indicate that the recidivism rate for prisoners released at 50 or older is 5% and the rate falls below 4% at age 65.

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