A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward
Earlier this year, I joined with my Senate Republican colleagues to unveil a package of bills designed to reform our state’s parole system. The purpose was two-fold – ensure violent criminals who would be a danger to the public remain behind bars and ease the parole process for victims and their families who have already suffered too much.
The package of bills, known as the “Victims’ Justice Agenda” included a bill I have advocated in favor of for a number of years. Senate Bill 4354 would allow the New York State Parole Board to extend the period between reconsidering parole board denials from two years to five years when the inmate is serving a sentence for a violent crime.
Each time a killer comes up for a parole hearing the victim’s family, along with the entire community, is forced to relive the horrendous crime. There is no reason why criminals who have committed heinous offenses like murder should be given the privilege of a parole hearing every two years.
In many cases, especially murder and other violent offenses, parole is denied multiple times and extending the timeframe for reconsideration would give the parole board greater discretion in setting hearing dates.
Acts of traumatic violence take a devastating toll on a family. Forcing individuals to needlessly relive a horrendous crime like murder every two years is cruel and extreme. Victims and their families need to heal and this legislation is a very small measure to help with that process.
To understand how this law would work you need to look no further than the murder of 18-year-old Gillian ‘Jill’ Gibbons in 1989 in Oneonta in my senate district. The convicted killer, David Dart, has had three parole hearing since 2014 and has another scheduled for later this year. Dart is a confessed murderer who has threatened the victim’s sister and would be a danger to the community if he were released.
Every time Dart is up for parole, Gillian’s family members plead with the parole board to keep him behind bars. The process is an excruciating, gut-wrenching ordeal that no one should have to endure once, let alone repeatedly.
While the Senate has passed the parole hearing extension legislation on multiple occasions, the state assembly has never even brought the bill to the floor for a vote. This year, under new leadership, the senate also failed to consider the bill. This sends the wrong message to crime victims and needs to change. I will be pushing hard again next year to get this bill passed in both houses and signed into law by the governor. It is time New York State do the right thing and stand up for victims.
The Oneonta Daily Star newspaper in an editorial also called for action, writing, “We agree that families of victims must bear less burden for situations forced upon them by bad people. The increase in time between hearings, especially for violent crimes, seems fair.”
Recently, I held a community rally with Gillian’s sister, Jennifer Kirkpatrick, to raise awareness about the upcoming parole hearing for Dart. Jennifer is extremely brave and I was proud to stand with her to help get her message out. Releasing Dart would be an affront to Gillian’s memory and would endanger the community – he is exactly where he belongs, behind bars.
I have written the parole board to voice my opposition to Dart’s release and you can do the same.
There is an online form available at http://www.doccs.ny.gov/DOCCSWebLettersToBoardofParoleForm.aspx.
Letters can be sent to:
Fishkill Correctional Facility
Supervising Offender Rehabilitation Coordinator
18 Strack Drive
Beacon, NY 12508-0307.
When contacting the parole board, be sure to include the name David Dart and the DIN #91B0463.
You can tell the parole board that David Dart needs to stay behind bars. You can help uphold Justice for Gillian.