Statement of The Legal Aid Society, Issued by Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice

The Legal Aid Society is both saddened and incensed that John MacKenzie, a fully rehabilitated individual, died in custody when he should have been free. Mr. MacKenzie, who has been in prison for the past forty years, was seventy years old. The Parole Board should have released him well over a decade ago. His achievements while incarcerated were nothing short of stellar. His remorse was intense and genuine – one of his accomplishments was starting a victim impact program in memory of his victim.

In June, Justice Maria Rosa found the Parole Board in contempt of court for failing to give Mr. MacKenzie a lawful parole hearing. It is a tragedy that Mr. MacKenzie died while waiting for the resolution of the State of New York's challenge to that order. He may have died believing that justice would never come.

Mr. MacKenzie was one of multitudes of people who continue to languish in prison long after they have fully rehabilitated and pose no actual risk to the community. This is a situation wholly created by the Parole Board, which refuses to comply with statutory requirements to consider the whole person, and what risk they pose, when making parole release decisions. Instead, like in Mr. MacKenzie’s case, the Board fixates nearly exclusively on the nature of the crime committed. With each denial, the Board tells us that there is nothing people can do to gain their parole release; that there is no hope. But there is hope because decision-makers are now listening to us and asking for change – for example, the Governor pledged in the State of the State to reform the Board. There should be no tragedies like this one. So we stand with Mr. Mackenzie’s memory and all those who should be free but remain imprisoned.