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Aging Prisoner’s Suicide Roils Parole Debate

An update on our July cover story

Renee Feltz Aug 10, 2016

One of the men featured in The Indypendent's July cover story about aging prisoners who are denied release by the New York State Parole Board despite their low risk of recidivism was found dead in his cell on August 4. 

John MacKenzie, aged 70, reportedly hung himself after he was denied parole the previous week. He had spent 40 years redeeming himself and working with victim's families, and had been eligible for parole since 2000. "We don't intend to allow the death of John to be in vain," said Mujahid Farid, founder of Release Aging People in Prison, who spoke to MacKenzie the day before he died, and had been working with him on a case in which a judge held the parole board in contempt of court for refusing to acknowledge his clear remorse for killing a police officer in 1975.

"This petitioner has a perfect institutional record for the past 35 years,” New York Supreme Court Judge Maria Rosa demanded in May. “If parole isn’t granted to this petitioner, when and under what circumstances would it be granted?”

MacKenzie's death was marked by rallies at the board's Albany office and another in Manhattan. "I hold the parole board responsible," said his lawyer Kathy Manley. "They are not letting people out when they should be, and it is killing people."

More than 9,500 people over the age of 50 are held in New York's prisons, and two-thirds are eligible for parole. MacKenzie daughter Danielle said that while her father "took responsibility for his actions, the parole board has completely ignored theirs."

Watch Mujahid Farid on Democracy Now! this morning discussing John MacKenzie and the fight to free aging-prisoners:

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