ALBANY — Newly proposed state legislation seeks to create a monthly retirement benefit for New York prison inmates who are at least 62 years of age and have completed at least five years of their sentences.
The measure, proposed by Sen. Luis Sepulveda, D-the Bronx, points out that elderly incarcerated individuals, under the rules of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), are typically required to participate in prison jobs and other programs “even if they are well past retirement age.”
The monthly stipend would be set at $30 and would kick in at the same time that people eligible for Social Security can begin collecting that government benefit, Sepulveda’s bill states.
“People in prison should have that same benefit, even if drastically reduced,” Sepulveda stated in the bill’s justification section.
The measure, if enacted, would potentially cost state taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
State data obtained by CNHI indicates New York prisons now have 1,144 inmates who are at least 65 years of age. A total of 1,457 inmates range in age from 60 to 64.
Other state data shows that most state prison inmates are incarcerated for violent felony offenses, such as homicides, rapes and robberies.
Sepulveda reasoned in the bill that stipends are warranted for older inmates because they “tend to be more isolated than younger prisoners and have less family support, so they often do not have outside income sources or anyone to send them packages, making them totally reliant on the income they receive from their jobs in prisons in order to make commissary purchases.”
While Sepulveda, as a Democrat, is a member of the party that controls both the Senate and the Assembly, it was not immediately clear whether the legislation will advance in the current session.
But the proposal received a frosty reception from two upstate lawmakers with several state prisons in their districts.
Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said the inmates who would benefit from Sepulveda’s plan are receiving free housing, meals and other services from the state.
“They’ve been enough of a burden on society,” Stec said. “We don’t need to be creating a pension system for them.”
If lawmakers want to find worthy recipients for new state benefits, Stec said they should examine the plight of homeless U.S. military veterans.
Last year, Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, signed a measure that allows prison inmates to qualify for the state’s tuition system program if they enroll in college classes at correctional facilities.
Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsbjurgh, said he opposes the proposal to qualify older inmates for state financial stipends.
“This sends the wrong message to our society,” said Jones, a former state corrections officer. “It’s not cruel and unusual punishment if we don’t give an inmate a retirement system.”
Delaware County Sheriff Craig DuMond said he was disappointed to learn that lawmakers have taken up the proposal.
“It’s a complete, direct slap in the face to crime victims and to taxpayers,” DuMond said. “People should be outraged about this. Under this bill, we would be giving taxpayer money away to people who victimize people. It’s just an appalling idea.”
The Sepulveda proposal comes on the heels of another bill that would allow inmates 55 and older who have served 15 years behind bars to qualify for “elder parole.” Inmates who are deemed qualified could be released on parole based on merit and their behavior.
Representatives of Release Aging People in Prison, an advocacy group that supports elder parole, had no immediate comment on the bill that would create a stipend system for inmates 62 and older.
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