To call the New York State Parole Board’s handling of the lives of human beings a failure of monumental proportions is to give the Board credit it doesn’t deserve. It is a political cesspool, an affront to every sentencing judge who does his best to impose a lawful and justifiable sentence. It is above reason. Above law. Above integrity. Above everything.
And now, it killed John MacKenzie.
MacKenzie’s story was told here and by the New York Times. He was as appropriate a human being for parole as could be, and there was absolutely no legitimate dispute that he should have been paroled. This is why Kathy Manley obtained a ruling from Dutchess County Supreme Court Justice Maria Rosa holding the Parole Board in contempt for its irrational refusal to grant MacKenzie parole, after 40 years in prison and 16 years of parole eligibility, without any justification other than the original offense of conviction for which he was sentenced by the court.
But the Parole Board, unrestrained by anything, decided that they didn’t like that sentence. They wanted MacKenzie to stay in prison for as long as they decided. Forever, if that’s their choice, because they are under no constraints to do anything more than whatever the fuck they feel like doing for any reason or no reason. Because they can, as long as they throw in the right words.
Yesterday, Kathy sent me an email with a press release:
John MacKenzie, whose repeated parole denials focused attention on the extreme cruelty of the New York State Parole Board, died in an apparent suicide in Fishkill Correctional Facility Wednesday following his tenth parole denial after more than 40 years in prison. John’s case had recently been featured in a June 13, 2016 New York Times editorial, which stated, “No one disputes that Mr. MacKenzie has been a model prisoner with a perfect record… The effectiveness of [parole reform] efforts … will be determined by whether they result in releases for obviously qualified people like John MacKenzie.”
And what of Justice Rosa’s holding the Parole Board in contempt? Well, first they put on another dog and pony show, where they told the judge to kiss their asses and denied parole yet again. Then they appealed the contempt ruling, which meant MacKenzie continued to sit in prison and rot away. Because no one, no judge, no law, tells the Parole Board what to do.
Judge Maria Rosa of Dutchess County Supreme Court said the parole board’s denial in John’s case was improper, and stated, “This case begs the question, if parole isn’t granted to this petitioner, when and under what circumstances would it be granted?” She found the Parole Board in contempt for violating the court’s order to hold a new hearing for Mr. MacKenzie that correctly considered all the factors as required by law. The Parole Board then held another hearing in front of some of the same biased commissioners who had previously defied the court order. This hearing resulted in a denial. The Parole Board’s appeal of Judge Rosa’s decision was going forward at the time that Mr. MacKenzie apparently took his life.
Don’t blame the judge. The law doesn’t provide any means of judicial oversight for the Parole Board. Judges have struggled for years to find some way to rein in these political appointees who engage in one of the worst official abuses of power possible.
Blame The Governor, Andy Cuomo,* who appoints these smug hacks to the board. Blame the legislature for its failure to correct the law so that judges can order the parole board to follow its mandate. Blame the hacks appointed to the parole board for their flagrantly flouting the law.
But you won this time, Parole Board. You won’t have to come up with some bullshit reason to deny John MacKenzie parole an 11th time. He killed himself. Congratulations.
There will be a protest against the Parole Board for what happened here.
Parole reform advocates will protest John MacKenzie’s death by parole board cruelty on Monday, August 8 at 5:30 p.m. at the Parole Office in Albany, 97 Central Avenue.
Will the Parole Board give a damn? Why would they start now? They are untouchable, and neither Cuomo nor the legislature has the guts to do anything about it.
*Perhaps Andy is too busy fighting for affirmative consent laws and preventing people on the sex offender registry from playing Pokemon Go. With such important issues to be addressed, maybe he has no time for the Parole Board and the lives of people like John MacKenzie.