Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Thursday, February 04, 2016

FEBRUARY 2016

Welcome to the site of Building Bridges, Prison Action Network's newsletter 

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Posted February 6 - by Julia Long

SAVING OUR CHILDREN

Presented by New York State Senator Velmanette and Assembly Member Diana C. Richardson 
Juvenile Justice Reform
Diversion Programs & Raise the Age
Saturday, February 13, 2016
Empire State Plaza, Concourse - Meeting Room 1
2:00pm – 3:15pm

MODERATED BY JIM ST. GERMAIN, RAISE THE AGE COALITION 

PANELISTS INCLUDE
Brownsville Youth Court
Center for Court Innovation
Katrina Charland, Bethlehem Youth Court
Venida Browder, Mother of Kalief Browder
Emanuel McCall, Schenectady YouthBuild
Alicia Barraza, Mother of Benjamin VanZandt
Angelo Pinto, Correctional Association of New York
The Office of Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT OFFICE OF 
SENATOR MONTGOMERY: 518-455-3451


Building Bridges February 2016

Dear Reader, 

Until the election takes place next November, I’m going to use this page in Building Bridges to campaign for Bernie Sanders because while I believe real change will only come from the grassroots up, the President of the United States sets the tone.  No matter whether you agree with me or not, I hope you’re registered to vote.  Please make sure.  You can check at https://voterlookup.elections.state.ny.us/.  If you don’t vote, I say you don’t get to complain.  

I‘m sure a Democrat will win.  That pretty much means either Hillary or Bernie.  Bernie stands for most of the changes I’ve been fighting for all my life.  Hillary, the closer Bernie gets to winning, has started talking more and more like him.  And  that’s one of the reasons I don’t want her for our President.  She rarely talked about these issues until he started gaining on her.  She says we should vote for her because she’s more experienced, but experienced at what?  I’ll deal with that in the future.  

Right now I want to tell you a little about Bernie Sanders, who has had lots of experience fighting for what most poor and working class people want. He’s an Independent senator from Vermont who is vying for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.  He was raised in a working class home in Brooklyn and his paycheck to paycheck upbringing has informed his lifelong fight for working families. When he was a student at the University of Chicago, he was a member of the Young People's Socialist League and an active civil rights protest organizer for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
After settling in Vermont in 1968, Sanders ran unsuccessfully for governor and U.S. Senator.  He learned from the experience and in 1981 he was elected mayor of Burlington, the state’s most populous city, and was reelected three times. In 1990, he was elected to represent Vermont's at-large congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1991, Sanders co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He served as a member of congress for 16 years before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006.  In 2012, he was reelected with 71% of the popular vote.
Sanders favors policies similar to those of social democratic parties in Europe, particularly those instituted by the Nordic countries. He is a leading progressive voice on issues such as income inequality, universal healthcare, parental leave, climate change, LGBT rights, and campaign finance reform.  Sanders has long been critical of U.S. foreign policy and was an early and outspoken opponent of the Iraq War. He is also outspoken on civil rights and civil liberties, and has been particularly critical of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system and mass surveillance policies such as the USA PATRIOT Act and the NSA surveillance programs.
His campaign is about transforming a political system captured by moneyed interests into one that represents all Americans and creates more opportunity for everyone.

Looking forward to more opportunities, Your Editor 


Table of Contents

  1. Parole News features December release rates,Totals for 2015, Apology letter-bank, and some encouraging news: Cuomo’s proposals for the Parole Board.
  2. Updates on the progress of the campaign to pass the SAFE Parole Act including a White Page document on solving the crisis of aging in prison and a list of the over 100 organizations who support its passage.
  3. 2016 Family Empowerment Tour will make a stop in Rochester on Sunday, May 15 from 11 -1 and in Ithaca the day before, time to be announced.
  4. “An affront to our shared humanity,” is what President Obama said about solitary confinement. The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) comments.
  5. Eliminating Solitary for NYC youth is threatened by staff’s fears at Riker’s Island.
  6. Janet DiFiore has been confirmed as Chief Judge of NYS Court of Appeals, Jeffrey Deskovic weighs in. The previous day Michael Garcia was nominated to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Susan Phillips Read.
  7. NetWORKS convened a statewide conference call of New York State jails activists from different counties across the state who are challenging the injustices of jails as one essential key to ending mass incarceration.
  8. Prisoners are people too, even though they are behind bars because of a perceived wrong. Taking care of business means we work to raise society’s consciousness about the prisoner’s humanity, encouraging understanding, respect and empathy.
  9. Danny O’Donnell comments on curbing the ills of Solitary Confinement.
1.  Parole News - December 2015 Release Rates; Totals for 2015; Apology letter bank; some “hints” for winning parole; and  Cuomo’s proposals for the Parole Board. 
PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS DIN #s through 2001  
unofficial research from parole database
December 2015 Interview Summaries
Interviews
Total 
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year to Date Release Rate
Initials 
13
0
13
0%
29%
Reappearances
52
15
37
29%
25%
Total 
65
15
50
23%
26%
4 special considerations (de novos) denied, 3 released; 1 rescission released

December 2015 - No Initial Releases
December 2015 - Reappearance Releases
Facility
Age
Age @ Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Coxsackie
70
36
20-Life
Mrd 2
9
Fishkill
57
31
20-Life
Mrd 2
5
Fishkill
43
21
25-Life
Mrd 2
**2
Fishkill
75
56
20-Life
Mrd 2
**2
Great Meadow
49
17
25-Life
Mrd 2
5
Greene
63
27
25-Life
Pre 74 Mrd
8
Greene
77
43
15-Life
Mrd 2
12
Greene
56
34
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Greene
40
31
9-Life
JO Mrd1
**8
Hudson
45
19
22-Life
Mrd 2
4
Sing Sing
51
22
15-Life
Mrd 2
9
Sing Sing
45
23
24-Life
Mrd 2
2
Taconic 
59
44
20-Life
Mrd 2
3
Taconic
43
25
15-Life
Mrd 2
3
Wende
64
28
20-Life
Mrd 2
*10
* Rescission   ** Special Consideration (de novo)

December 2015 - Age at Commitment
Age Range
Total Seen
Released
Denied 
Release rate
May ’15 - Dec.’15 
Release Rate
16-20
10
2
8
20%
25%
21-25
20
4
16
20%
27%
25+
35
9
26
26%
25%
Total
65
15
50
23%
26%


December 2015 - Over 60 at time of Hearing
Age Range
Total 
Released
Denied 
Rate of Release
Year-to-Date 
Release Rate
60-69
11
1
10
9%
23%
70-79
5
3
2
60%
20%
80+
0


0%
0%
Total
16
4
12
25%
22%


Summary of All Decisions made in 2015
Type of Interview
Total 
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Initials 
234
68
166
29%
Reappearances 
875
219
656
25%
Total 
1109
287
822
26%


2015 May (when we started tracking) to December - Releases by Age at Commitment 
16-20 
Total Seen
16-20 
# Released
21-25
Total seen
21-25 #Released
25+
Total Seen
25+
#Released
All 
Seen
Total Released
128
32
244
67
345
87
717
186


2015 Year to Date - Releases by Age at Time of Hearing 
60-69
Total Seen
60-69
number Released
70-79
Total seen
70-79 number
Released
80 +
Total Seen
80 +
Number
Released
60 and Over
Seen
60 and Over
Released
177
41
59
12
6
0
242
53


Apology Letterbank

At least once a year Building Bridges likes to provide this information:  Apology letters from inmates may be mailed to the DOCCS Office of Victim Assistance, NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Office of Victim Assistance, 1220 Washington Ave , Bldg. 2, Albany, NY 12226-2050.
 Upon receipt, the letter will be “deposited” in the confidential Apology Letterbank file until the victims or their families request information about the inmate.  At that time, it will be explained that there is an apology letter on file.  An offer will be made to read the letter to them or mail it to them for them to read at a time and place that is best for them.  The inmate will not be told if the victim or their family ever comes forward and requests information about the inmate or if they have accessed the letter.
Some hopeful Parole news:  
Governor Cuomo, in his 2016 State of the State Book, on pages 193 and 194, made the following comments that would affect parole applicants significantly if they were enforced.
The Parole Board is an independent entity with members appointed by the Governor. It is charged with making release determinations for incarcerated individuals in cases that require discretion. More than 10,000 people are denied parole annually in New York State and only one in five have it granted.
To expand the Parole Board’s rate of discretionary release, the Governor will call on the Parole Board to explore actions that will result in greater use, including training incarcerated individuals and their advocates about how to prepare strong Parole Board presentations, opening Parole Board interviews with applicants to the public, and requiring the Parole Board to articulate on the record for each case how it weighed evidence of rehabilitation and current risk in making its decision about release. The Governor will also explore statutory changes to institute a rebuttable presumption of release for people at low risk of reoffending.  [emphases added-Ed.]
2.  The Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act
Parole Justice-New York strategizes ways to pass the SAFE Parole Act
On January 2, 2016 the following members of Parole Justice-NY met in person to discuss strategies for passing the SAFE Parole Act:

Representatives from Capitol Area Against Mass Incarceration aka CAAMI,  Milk Not Jails aka MNJ, Parole Preparation Project aka PPP, Release Aging People in Prison aka RAPP, New York State Prisoner Justice Network aka NYSPJN, Prison Action Network PAN, Project Connect, Jews For Racial and Economic Justice,  a Concerned Parent, and on the phone, Attorney Alan Rosenthal. 
The following is a brief and incomplete outline of what was discussed.  Readers who would like to read more, can contact one of the organizations listed above.  
We invite organizations to join the group by sending an email to ParoleReform@gmail.com

Report on some of our efforts to pass the SAFE Parole Act in the past year:
  • New York State Prisoner Justice Network has been gathering Organizational endorsements and signatures on our Petition. Sign-on sheet has 101 organizations statewide (see B. below).  Our petition for individuals to sign in support of the SAFE Parole Act has 500 names.
  • Parole Prep Project has now has 80 active volunteers and 55 parole applicants. PPP wants to bring those people into the movement.
  • Prison Action Network worked on the 2015 Family Empowerment Tour.  Visited 3 cities: Utica, Syracuse, Rochester. 2016 Tour Stops are in the planning stages for Ithaca on Sat. May 14th and Rochester on Sun. May 15th.  (see Article 8 for details.)  
  • RAPP’s White Paper on aging people in prison sent to all the legislators. (See A. below)
  • Project Connect is a reentry project, joined Parole Justice NY!
  • Capitol Area Against Mass Incarceration provided support for downstate visitors attending Albany demonstrations and events, such as the Assembly Hearing on Oversight.
  • Alan Rosenthal worked on preparing the Linares argument before the Court of Appeals. 
  • Next Steps  We made a list of work we’d like to accomplish in 2016  but we cannot do it all, so we either need more people to join us or we must limit our goals for this year.  It’s up to you!  We hope you’ll join us.  Our next step is to figure out who will take on what, and when we expect each task to be completed.  Visit www.ParoleJustice.org  or send email to parole reform@gmail.com to discuss how you can help.
A.   White Page: Solving the Crisis of Aging in Prison: A Collaborative Report
Contains a list of recommendations for reform, including passage of the Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act (S01728/A02930), as well as expanding the use of compassionate or medical release and clemency.
That the population of older people behind bars is a national crisis is not news. For almost a decade, reports have shown that as overall prison population numbers increase, the number of incarcerated people over the age of 50 increases at a much greater rate. And even when overall numbers hold steady or fall, the over-50 incarcerated population continues to rise.
RAPP has consistently argued that the best solution is to release vastly larger numbers of elders, because they have been proven to pose a minimal or non-existent risk to public safety.
Now that solution has found a place front and center in a publication of articles by former correctional and parole officials, academics, policy experts and analysts, human rights attorneys, and formerly incarcerated people, the Center for Justice at Columbia University has released the important policy paper, “Aging in Prison: Reducing Elder Incarceration and Promoting Public Safety.” On November 17  the report was highlighted by The Marshall Project’s daily news roundup, The Opening Statement, as their “Report of the Day.”
“Aging in Prison” contains essays from presentations at a symposium held in March, 2014, at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. That day-long event featured speeches by Brian Fischer, New York State’s former commissioner of corrections; Edward Hammock, former chair of the New York State Parole Board; Jamie Fellner, of Human Rights Watch; and a long list of prominent advocates for a more humane and less costly system of corrections, including formerly incarcerated people (the report’s table of contents has the full list).
High on the list of recommendations for reform suggested by speaker after speaker (and featured beginning on page XVIII of the book) are: expanding and reforming the parole process to stop using the “nature of the crime” to bar release of older people serving long sentences, and passage of the Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act (S01728/A02930), as well as expanding the use of compassionate or medical release and clemency.
Throughout, the articles depict the specific ways in which criminal justice is determined at every step by racism.
       
B.  101 organizations that have publicly endorsed the SAFE Parole Act :
Advocacy Campaign for Trans Prisoners
Albany County Central Federation of Labor
Albany Friends Meeting
All Things Harlem
Alternative Chance, NYC
Audre Lorde Project, Brooklyn
Avodah Dance Ensemble, NYC
Back to Basics Outreach Ministry, Buffalo
Binghamton Justice Projects
Broken Chains Prison Ministry Outreach, Staten Island
The Bronx Defenders
Brooklyn Defender Services
Buffalo Local Action Committee
Burning Books, Buffalo
Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration, Albany
Center for Community Alternatives, NYC, Syracuse
Center for Law and Justice, Albany
Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, NYC
Central NY Save the Kids, Syracuse
Chaverim Organization, Sullivan Correctional Facility
Chelsea Reform Democratic Club, NYC
Citizen Action of New York State
Citizens Against Recidivism, NYC
Coalition for Parole Restoration, NYC
College and Community Fellowship, NYC
Community Service Society, NYC
The Correctional Association of New York
The Drug Policy Alliance
End the New Jim Crow Action Network (Poughkeepsie, Newburg, Kingston, Woodstock)
Episcopal Peace Fellowship of the Ithaca Area
Erie County Prisoners Rights Coalition
Exodus Transitional Community, NYC
Exponents Harm Reduction Coalition, NYC
Focus Churches of Albany
The Fortune Society, NYC
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, NYC
Greenhope Services for Women, NYC
Harlem Restoration Project
Hour Children, Long Island City
Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison, Ossining
Incarcerated Nation, NYC
Inside Out Art, NYC
In Your Face, NYC
Ithaca Area Prisoner Justice Network
Jewish Voice for Peace, Albany Chapter
Judicial Process Commission, Rochester
Justice Cmtee., Sisters of St. Joseph, Albany Province
JustLeadershipUSA
Latinos United Organization, Sullivan Correctional
Legal Action Center, NYC
Logan Jaycees, Auburn Correctional Facility 
Men of All Colors Acting Together, NYC
Milk Not Jails
Morningside Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, NYC
Narco Freedom, Inc., NYC 
Nassau Inmate Advocacy Center, Hempstead
National Action Network Second Chance Committee 
National Alliance on Mental Illness-NYS Criminal Justice Committee
National HIRE Network, NYC
Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem
New York City Jericho Movement
New York Quarterly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
New York State Assn. of Criminal Defense Lawyers
New York State Council of Churches
New York State Defenders Justice Fund
New York State Prisoner Justice Network
New York State Working Families Organization
New York Task Force on Political Prisoners
The Osborne Association, NYC
Otisville Correctional Facility Lifers & Long Termers  
Peaceprints of Western New York, Buffalo
Prison Action Network, Albany
Prison Families Anonymous, Central Islip
Prison Policy Initiative, Massachusetts
Prisoners Are People Too, Buffalo
Prisoners Legal Services of New York
Project CARE, Sullivan Correctional Facility
Release Aging People in Prison
Riverside Church Prison Ministry
Saratoga Peace Alliance
The Sentencing Project, Washington, DC
Social Justice Center of Albany
Social Responsibility Council of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany
SOhopeful of New York
Solidarity of the Capital District
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church Against Mass Incarceration, Albany
The Staten Island Executive Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
Stop Prison Abuse
Sylvia Rivera Law Project, New York
The Think Outside the Cell Foundation, New York
Troy Area Labor Council
Veterans Organization, Sullivan Correctional Facility
VOCAL New York
Western New York Peace Center, Buffalo
WORTH Women on the Rise Telling HerStory, NYC
Youth Represent, NYC

3.  2016 Family Empowerment Tour has been invited to stop in Rochester and Ithaca in May
We would all agree that the prison “system” is in desperate need of change. There are those among us who work tirelessly at parole reform. Some of them work on the laws that incarcerate men and women in the first place. There are those among us who volunteer within the prisons to help alleviate some of the psychological stressors placed on the prison population. There are those among us who have a loved one behind bars and know the emotional battle first hand. Regardless of the angle, each person invited to gather at this meeting is working toward a prison system that represents “justice for all”. Each person invited to this meeting feels compelled to change the current system. 
With that being said, Rain Christi would like to cordially invite a small group of people to come together in Rochester on Sunday, May 15th  from 11-1 and listen to the individual angles that will be represented. I would like to ask each person to be prepared to tell the gathering what their work is, what their goals are, as well as what they have accomplished so far. Afterward, I would like to invite everyone that attends to mingle and network. The time is ripe with culminating change. The dream can still be realized.  Together, we CAN!

The Tour has been invited to Ithaca the day before, time to be announced.  Plans are being made with Ithaca’s Episcopal Peace and Fellowship group.
 STAY TUNED:  Building Bridges will confirm time and place and other details for both events as they get closer. 

4.  Solitary Confinement; “An affront to our shared humanity”
President Obama has joined the growing chorus of community leaders, incarcerated individuals and their families, medical professionals, scientists, legal scholars, advocates for human rights, and everyday people in calling solitary confinement what it is – ‘an affront to our shared humanity.’ The President’s words should signal to governors, mayors, corrections officials and legislators throughout the country that it’s time to adhere to the Mandela Rules recently adopted by the United Nations and bring an end to the torture of solitary confinement in the United States.
The Executive Orders issued by the President limiting solitary confinement in Federal Prisons is a first step. Ending solitary confinement for young people and expanding treatment for people suffering from mental illness are important, but do not go nearly far enough. Solitary confinement is torture for all people and should be abolished. It is a known harmful and failed approach to discipline that resurged in this era of Mass Incarceration. It has failed to achieve its purported goals of making jails and prisons safe and instead, as the President noted, it makes us all less safe.
In New York, legislators have the opportunity to end solitary confinement and replace it with humane and effective alternatives in response to violence and disorder in its prisons. The HALT Solitary Confinement Act (S2659/A4401) is an opportunity for New York to lead the nation into an era of respect for the human rights of all people.
By the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement,
 in response to President Obama’s recent statements on Solitary Confinement


CAIC, [pronounced cake], (The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement) brings together advocates, formerly incarcerated persons, family members of currently incarcerated people, concerned community members, lawyers, and individuals in the human rights, health, and faith communities throughout New York State. Through statewide actions, petitioning legislators to support the HALT Solitary Confinement Act (S2659/A4401), and educating their communities about the torture of solitary confinement, CAIC members advocate for sweeping reform of New York’s use of solitary confinement and other forms of extreme isolation in state prisons and local jails.  CAIC is having an advocacy day in Albany re HALT on April 12. Learn more at www.nycaic.org.
5.  Elimination of solitary confinement of NYC youth is already threatened
After a series of assaults on guards at Rikers Island, the New York City Correction Department is seeking to delay a plan announced last year to eliminate the use of solitary confinement citywide for inmates ages 18 to 21.
The Correction Department is now requesting an extension until June for putting the plan into effect. Already the number of young adults in solitary confinement has declined to 41 from 253 since the correction commissioner, Joseph Ponte, took over in April 2014, according to city data.
Mr. Ponte said in an interview on Friday that he was still committed to ending solitary confinement for this group, but acknowledged that safety concerns had compelled the department to go slower.
“We wanted to make sure that we had good staff buy-in,” Mr. Ponte said. After recent assaults on officers, he said, “the confidence of the staff to move this project forward was a bit shaken.”
In a letter sent on Friday to the Board of Correction, the city’s jail watchdog, Mr. Ponte said that he required the additional time to hire and train staff members, as well as to prepare alternative units to house inmates who would be coming out of solitary. He said he needed to do so while also maintaining safety and security in the jail complex. The board must still vote to approve the extension.
6.  Court of Appeals appointments:
A.  On January 21st Janet DiFiore was confirmed by the NY Senate to take over Judge Lippman’s seat as Chief Judge of the NYS Court of Appeals.  DiFiore is a Democrat, a former State and County judge, and Westchester district attorney since 2006.  The NYS Constitution forces Court of Appeals judges to retire at the end of the year they turn 70,  which is why Judge Lippman retired this year,  and why Judge DiFiore will be forced to step down at the end of 2025.
Her nomination was opposed by Jeffrey Deskovic, who wrongfully served 16 years in prison for the 1989 rape and murder of a Peekskill High School classmate in Westchester County.  Deskovic was freed after DiFiore took office in 2006 and allowed the DNA testing that contributed to his exoneration.  In his letter he criticized DiFiore's overall record on wrongful convictions, questioning why she didn't do more to push for changes in the interrogation process, including mandatory videotaping.  "My appreciating DA DiFiore doing the right thing in my case does not mean that I turn away from or remain silent in the face of her overall abysmal record on wrongful conviction and prosecutorial misconduct," Deskovic wrote.
B.  The day before DiFiore’s nomination was confirmed by the Senate, Governor Cuomo nominated Michael Garcia to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Court of Appeals Judge Susan Phillips Read.  If confirmed, Garcia would be one of two Republicans on the bench. The other is Judge Eugene Pigott Jr.  Garcia is best known for his work as a prosecutor in the case that caused Gov. Spitzer to leave office.


7.  NetWORKS, the monthly column of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network
Jails!
If you are or have been incarcerated in a prison in New York or any other state, chances are you spent some time in a county jail along the way. And like many people, inside and out of prison walls, you may have been horrified at the conditions in jail but not really focused on challenging them because prison time is so much longer and prisons hold so many more people. 
Many people use the words “prison” and “jail” loosely to mean any kind of lockup. But here we are talking about facilities run by local governments – county or city – with the main purpose of locking up people who have been charged with a crime and are awaiting the disposition of their case, and people who have been convicted and are serving a year or less. Jails also hold some people whose incarceration is being paid for by another jurisdiction: those awaiting transfer to state prison or held because the prisons are full, and some federal prisoners, including immigration detainees.
There are about 700,000 people in U.S. jails. 62%  have not been convicted of a crime – they are, supposedly, innocent until proven guilty. So U.S. jails hold more than 430,000 innocent people on any given day (not counting those who have been falsely convicted). 
And while prisons and their injustices have gotten some attention in the past few years, jails, and the suffering they cause, are almost as invisible today as they were before Mass Incarceration became a household term. 
There are some signs that the invisibility of jails is beginning to change.  And none too soon. Those of us who thought jails were less important than prisons because they hold fewer people for a shorter time were wrong. Besides being a gateway to the whole mass incarceration system, jails are a hotbed of suffering and injustice, worse in many ways than prisons. They also hold more people than you think: although there are fewer people in jail than in prison on any given day, if you look at annual admissions rather than daily census a different picture emerges.
“Annual admissions to jails nearly doubled between 1983 and 2013 from six million to 11.7 million, a number equivalent to the combined populations of Los Angeles and New York City and nearly 20 times the annual admissions to state and federal prison.” (Vera Institute of Justice: Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America; October 2015)
The Vera Institute recently developed a new tool to measure rates of jail incarceration and compare them from one county to another. This is a useful tool, but what is astonishing is that until 2015 no one bothered to investigate the rates at which people were being put in jail!  
Nearly 2/3 of the 26,000 people in New York’s county jails have not been convicted of a crime; nor have they been judged too dangerous or too great a flight risk to release. The majority are there because they are too poor to post bail. Jails are mainly a system of locking up poor people – disproportionately people of color – simply because they are poor.
Although jails have received less public attention than prisons, local justice activists throughout the U.S., and in New York State, have engaged in hard-fought campaigns against a whole array of jail injustices. Recently the New York State Prisoner Justice Network convened a statewide conference call of New York State jails activists to meet and support each other and to compare issues and campaigns in different counties across the state.  This was a ground-breaking initiative, and the conversation produced a powerful and disturbing picture of the many  injustices plaguing the system of jail incarceration across New York State.
Fighting jail expansion was a theme in several counties. When jails get crowded, predominantly as a result of the same policy and policing choices that have filled the prisons, counties want – or are forced by state oversight bodies – to build bigger jails. Participants in the conference call talked about how to change that conversation to one about putting fewer people behind bars. 
Bail reform – or abolishing bail altogether – is one key to smaller jail populations. The idea is gaining momentum that it is unfair to lock people up who can’t pay while releasing those who can. A prominent judge recently proposed that release without bail be granted automatically except to people who are a high flight risk or a danger to society.
Another issue discussed on the conference call was that people who are in jail for even a short time often experience extreme long-term dislocation and destabilization of their lives, including losing jobs and housing. Jails do not have reentry services or programs, and community reentry programs are more often focused on those returning from longer prison sentences. People who await their disposition in jail are more likely to serve time in prison than those released on bail or on their own recognizance. 
Other issues raised by the jails activists were lack of programming, poor medical care, poor mental health care with increased danger of suicide, abuse by prison staff, overcrowding, solitary confinement, juveniles and other vulnerable populations held under unsuitable conditions, and degrading visit conditions. 
A grim picture emerged of jails as institutions with even less accountability, more dangerous and more abusive than prisons, with virtually no oversight. Yet the jails activists said over and over how glad they were to be connecting with others facing the same issues they are facing. They were eager to reconvene so they could discuss strategies for change, share information resources, and find avenues for collaboration. 
As with prisons, the first step toward fundamental changes in the use of jails is public exposure, information, and coming together to build a movement for change. In New York State,  the New York State Prisoner Justice Network has initiated that first step with jails justice activists. More steps are on the way, as we work toward challenging the injustices of jails as one essential key to ending mass incarceration. 

The New York State Prisoner Justice Network proudly announces publication of its newly updated New York State Prisoner Justice Network Directory. 
 The directory lists and describes  more than 100 New York State organizations representing a wide range of regions and strategies, and promoting a variety of campaigns and issues -- all challenging mass incarceration, racism, abuse, and the punishment paradigm in New York’s prisons and jails.
The Directory is a tool for activists, a communications network for people in prison, a connections hub for organizations, a map of our anti-mass incarceration movement, a stepping stone to further participation, and a blueprint for future  collaboration and success in the pursuit of justice.
A sturdy and attractive hard copy is available free to people in prison. To request it, send a letter to NYSPJN, 33 Central Avenue, Albany NY 12210. It is also available as a pdf at the New York State Prisoner Justice website:
8.  Taking Care of Business
by Karima Amin

Happy New Year! 2016 is here and we are good to go! 2015 was jam packed with actions and movements, some frustrations and disappointments but we accomplished much.  
Restorative Justice is becoming much more than just a catch phrase as a total of twelve  “peace hubs” have been established throughout the city and more are on the horizon.  Twice monthly “peace circles” are being conducted with small groups of Youth at the Erie County Correctional Facility and I have been appointed to the Erie County Conditional Release Commission, which will give twenty-five parole-ready and parole-eligible men and women the opportunity to come home early with wrap-around services all set up to ensure a successful reintegration.
 Our Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders is still functioning and happy to report success in our mission of bringing two more reentry candidates home after more than two decades behind the wall.  
Regarding State Prison issues, we’ll continue to work with Prison Action Network, the New York State Prisoner Justice Network, the Drug Policy Alliance, and more. In May, we will return to Albany to address our State lawmakers on issues of mass incarceration that affect all of us: parole reform, mental health care in the prisons and solitary confinement. Three months ago, I openly asked for your help in an article entitled “The Work Needs YOU.” Things haven’t changed and the need is great.
The title of this article, “Taking Care of Business,” refers to the business of caring for each other.  Unfortunately, when one thinks of  “prisoners,” all too often that person is not thought of as being fully human. I am a woman, a teacher, a mother, an activist, an artist, a friend…and the list goes on. A prisoner is more often viewed simply as one convicted of a wrongdoing. This person could be a son or a daughter, a parent or a chef, a musician or a writer…someone worthy of a second chance and willing to be a community asset. The work that we do honors the prisoner and his/her family, believing that they are deserving of humane and professional treatment.  Prisoners are people who are behind bars because of a perceived wrong. The work that we do recognizes the prisoner’s humanity, encouraging understanding, respect and empathy. I would like for our first meeting of the new year to be really inspirational. I am looking for individuals who are willing to discuss the hardships of their imprisonment, the challenges of reintegration, and the obstacles they faced in seeking to establish a legitimate business while dealing with the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction.  
Get in touch with me if you are willing to share your story in public.
Our monthly meetings are at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, from 7:00-9:00pm.
For more information, e-mail or call Karima Amin, karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org or 716-834-8438.
 P.S.- BaBa Eng, our Program Director, was injured in a car accident on January 13. The car was totaled but he suffered no breaks or fractures. He is resting comfortably at home.  Your prayers and healing thoughts are requested. Thank you.....  PO Box 273,  Buffalo NY, 14212.
9.  Curb the ills of solitary confinement
By Daniel O'Donnell, Commentary 
Published in the Albany Times Union, Wednesday, February 3, 2016
A recent investigation by The Department of Justice prompted President Obama to use executive action to reform the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons. By banning solitary confinement for juveniles, expanding treatment for the mentally ill and increasing the amount of time inmates in solitary confinement can spend outside of their cells, the Obama administration will positively affect tens of thousands of federal prisoners currently held in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement in prisons and jails ultimately makes prisoners more dangerous at the expense of taxpayer dollars. While Obama's move is important, most inmates in this country are incarcerated in state facilities. So, states must also ban this inhumane and costly practice for juveniles, and expand treatment for the mentally ill.

In New York, a court ordered settlement on the use of solitary confinement prohibits placing juveniles in solitary, created a presumption against placing pregnant women in solitary and led to the establishment of new guidelines reducing the amount of time most inmates will serve in for disciplinary sanctions compared to past practice. But New York and other states need to do more.

Last year, the Assembly passed my bill to ban solitary confinement (A1346A) for juveniles younger than 21 and any person with a mental illness or developmental disability. My bill would bring New York prisons and jails in line with the United Nations Committee Against Torture's 2014 recommendations for curbing the ills of solitary confinement.

The U.N. recommendations echo those of the DOJ and are reflected in my legislation: First, inmates need only be kept in solitary confinement for the minimum period of time necessary to maintain order, and second, we must prohibit the placement of juveniles, inmates suffering from mental illness, and inmates who are developmentally disabled, in solitary. I call on my colleagues in the state Senate to support this bill, and if not, I call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to mirror Obama's executive action.

If our consensus is that our prison structure creates a cycle of costly recidivism that puts young people on a worse track, we must codify the DOJ and U.N. commission's recommendations in law. It is unacceptable that solitary confinement is practiced regularly in the United States, but is considered torture in other countries. We cannot expect individuals serving long periods of time in solitary to return to society psychologically prepared to rejoin their families and contribute to their communities. It is time for states to follow the president's lead, and stop continuing to undermine the opportunity for prisoners to have a second chance.

 Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, D-Manhattan, is chair of the Assembly Correction Committee.



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