Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Thursday, April 02, 2015

April 2015

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

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During the month we post late breaking news and announcements here, so please check back now and then.  Scroll down to read the April newsletter.

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Posted April 8:


May 9: John Brown Day

2-4 p.m. • Saturday, May 9
John Brown Farm State Historic Site, Lake Placid


Novelist Russell Banks • John Brown biographer Lou DeCaro • Poet Martín Espada • Celebrate the life of Brother Yusuf Abdul-Wasi Burgess


May 15, 17: Selma & Timbuktu screenings

LPCA, Lake Placid

Ask about student screenings

June 19: Harriet Was Here

Students Celebrate Juneteenth, Auburn

August 15: Diversity in the Adirondacks 

Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council symposium
SUNY-ESF, Newcomb

Visit us on Facebook for more information!



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BUILDING BRIDGES APRIL 2015

Dear Reader,

Next month Building Bridges may either be short, a week or so late, or not published at all, because we’re moving.  In any event, I hope it’s warm by the time you hear from us again.  This issue is full of interesting articles; we hope you’ll read them all, and be impressed with how many people are working for justice.  Notice how each person brings something unique and special to the cause.  

Enjoy this season of re-birth,  The Editor          


CONTENTS

1.  NetWORKS asks if we who are working from the outside have a right to recommend patience when, as more than one honest prisoner has said or thought, “Easy for you to say – from out there!”

2.  Parole News corrects omission in the January stats; and reports a 56% initial release rate in February


3.  Legislative report - No Senate Crime committee meetings or Assembly Correction committee meetings were scheduled in the past month probably due to pressures to pass the NYS budget on time.

4.  FED 2015 Tour - No need to wait any longer to climb on board!!  It’s official!  The Family Empowerment Day 2015 Tour is taking to the streets and highways of New York to bring you tools for building a movement that will demand passage of the SAFE Parole Act.  Starting on May 14 in Albany, with Utica and Syracuse sometime in June.

5.  Citizen Action-NY announces support of the SAFE Parole Act

6.  Cognitive Sentencing and the 8th Amendment; it's not just the length of a sentence but also the suffering it causes that should be considered.

7.  Housing the Unwanted - the sentence is served, now where can those convicted of a sex crime go?

8.  What is "Open Buffalo"? -  A clue: Buffalo was selected, along with Puerto Rico and San Diego to be engaged in a pilot project that would emphasize the development of solidarity and empowerment in our respective communities.

9.  Halden Prison, a radically humane Norwegian prison is the physical expression of an entire national philosophy about the relative merits of punishment and forgiveness. 

10. CAIC Advocacy Day on April 22: a chance to support the HALT Solitary Confinement Act.

11. 'Prison Terminal' documentary tells the story of the final months in the life of a terminally ill man in prison and the hospice volunteers, also locked up, who care for him


1. NetWORKS, the monthly column of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network
Are Our Strategies for Parole Reform Working?

“On June 17, 2014, I was again denied release on parole for the 8th time. Obviously, efforts to change the parole system are not gaining measurable or significant traction.” Jalil Muntaqim, Black liberation era political prisoner in his 40th year of incarceration, Attica, NY

How do we measure whether and to what extent our strategies are working? When people are sitting in prison for years and decades past their minimum sentences, when injustice and suffering should have been abolished a few lifetimes ago, how do we evaluate the pace of change? Are ineffective strategies the problem? Or are the forces arrayed against us so malicious that we can never convince them to change, and so powerful that we are not – yet! – able to force them to change? Do we who are working from the outside have a right to recommend patience when, as more than one honest prisoner has said or thought, “Easy for you to say – from out there!”

In reality, all of those aspects are present at once. The forces in support of mass incarceration are very powerful and malicious, AND we always have to try to make our strategies more effective. We need both patience and urgency.

As we struggle, from inside and out, to do our very utmost to bring justice to this monster of a criminal injustice system, we have to put both sides of the equation together. People who are incarcerated tell outsiders what the system actually is and does, which is usually a million miles from what it says it is and does; and they are the ones who know whether our strategies are changing anything on the ground. From the outside, we organizers report on possibilities and obstacles to movement-building and power-shifting,  whether activism is growing and public perception is changing. When movement-building and public education fall short of getting our loved ones out, we still believe they are the necessary preconditions to change; and our incarcerated friends remind us that unless we take these gains to the next level they are just talk. Inside and out, our best chance of succeeding is listening to and learning from each other. 

Listening to incarcerated people is how New York State Prisoner Justice Network came to prioritize parole reform and the SAFE Parole Act. For those behind bars, parole injustice is one of the bitterest pills. It keeps people incarcerated, for years or even decades, who are no danger to society and who have long since paid their dues and done their hard time. The parole board’s decisions are often arbitrary, cruel, and politically motivated. Anyone who is listening has heard this heartbreaking story multiple times: “I have done everything possible – kept a clean record, taken programs, gotten degrees and certificates, taken responsibility for my actions – and the parole board is not interested in anything but the one thing I have no power to change, my original crime.”

The NYS Prisoner Justice Network supports the SAFE Parole Act, which was written with input and participation from people who experienced the parole process. It would make the parole process fairer and more predictable, and would make parole dependent on what the parole applicant has done since being sentenced to be ready to return to her or his community rather than on what she or he did in the distant past. 

The SAFE Parole Act, like every reform bill, raises the questions of whether it goes far enough -- will it really make parole into a fair system? Or too far – is it so radical that it has no chance to pass? In this climate still dominated by racist fear-mongering, the only reform bills that are easy to pass are those that do not make much difference. And a bill which would change everything that needs to be changed is, at this point, pie in the sky. So all reform bills have to strike a balance. The most effective ones promote meaningful but achievable reforms and at the same time contain some degree of challenge to the fundamental pillars of the system: punishment and scapegoating. 

The SAFE Parole Act fixes a lot, but not everything. And it has a chance of passing, but probably not immediately. Its reforms will make parole fairer and release more people, not overturn mass incarceration altogether. It challenges the underlying assumptions of the system by respecting the lives and efforts of people who are incarcerated. Ultimately, like every other piece of reform legislation, its chances of passing, and once passed of making a real difference, are as good as the movement behind it.

This is an auspicious moment to give that movement wings and make it fly. No movement is an island. More than at any time in the past forty years, the injustices of the criminal justice system, from deadly policing to incarcerated grandparents, have come onto the radar of mass consciousness – thanks to multiple, persistent, organized voices from both sides of prison walls. In New York State over the next few months, several different campaigns, programs, and projects for parole reform are scheduled to be rolled out. Watch for them in Building Bridges, and be ready to climb on board for a ride which never promises to be easy, but has the potential to soar to great heights.




2.  Parole News - February Release Rates

Correction - In our January Parole Release Statistics we reported 10 initial releases, but the list that followed only contained nine.  Left out was a man from Cayuga C.F., 56 years old with a 25 to Life sentence for Mrd 2.
February  2015 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS DIN #s through 2001
unofficial research from parole database
February 2015 Interview Summaries

Interviews
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year to date Release Rate
Initials 
16
9
7
56%
45%
Reappearances
65
19
46
29%
30%
Total 
81
28
53
35%
34%


February 2015 Initial Releases by Facility

Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Downstate
50
15-Life
Mrd 2
1
Fishkill
50
15-Life
Mrd 2
1
Fishkill
60
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Fishkill
53
22-Life
Mrd 2
1
Lakeview
37
15-Life
Mrd 2
1
Orleans
40
15-Life
Mrd 2
1 - Deport
Taconic-female
37
20-Life
Mrd 2
1
Woodbourne
48
28-Life
Mrd 2
1
Woodbourne
50
18-Life
Mrd 2
1


February 2015 Age Summaries

Age Range
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied 
Percent Released 
60-69
12
3
9
25%
70-79
3
0
3
0%
80+
0
0

0%
Total
15
3
12
20%


February 2015 Reappearance Releases by Facility

Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Attica
56
23-Life
Mrd 2
9
Auburn
42
20-Life
Kid 1
2
Bare Hill
56
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Eastern
37
15-Life
Mrd 2
3
Elmira
67
20-Life
Mrd 2
9
Fishkill
58
15-Life
Mrd 2
13
Fishkill
51
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
50
15-Life
Att Mrd1
8
Fishkill
47
20-Life
Mrd 2
3
Fishkill
64
20-Life
Mrd 2
3
Fishkill
58
17-Life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
37
15-Life
Mrd 2
3
Fishkill
37
15-Life
Mrd 2
3
Franklin
61
26-Life
Mrd 2
6
Franklin
58
25-Life
Mrd 2
4
Gowanda
38
15-Life
Mrd 2
4
Woodbourne
51
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Woodbourne
45
20-Life
Mrd 2
5
Woodbourne
47
20-Life
Mrd 2
2



3.  Legislative report -

No Senate Crime committee meetings or Assembly Correction committee meetings were scheduled in the past month probably due to pressures to pass the NYS budget on time.



4.  The Family Empowerment Day 2015 Tour is on its way!     Please Join us!
We’ll be bringing “The Nature of the Crime”a movie about Parole Reform and a workshop on legislative visits to a New York neighborhood near you.

No need to wait any longer to climb on board!!  It’s official!  The Family Empowerment Day 2015 Tour is taking to the streets and highways of New York State, bringing tools for building a movement that will demand passage of the SAFE Parole Act.  

Part 1 of a two-part agenda will feature the  film, the Nature of the Crime” with a question and answer session to follow.  

Part 2: After lunch, interested participants will be invited to stay for the FED 2015 workshop on planning effective visits to your legislators.  If you have a family member in prison who will be seeing the Parole Board any time soon, you are strongly encouraged to attend.  It could make the difference between his or her release or denial.

We can pass the Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act if we join together now!  

This Spring, join a coalition of groups including New York State Prisoners Justice Network, Milk Not Jails, Prison Action Network, Release Aging People in Prison, and the Riverside Prison Ministry to change New York’s dysfunctional and unfair parole system and reunite families. 

We are organizing a Family Empowerment Day 2015 Statewide Tour premiering a new documentary: "The Nature of the Crime," directed by Josh Swartz and produced by Milk Not Jails, which weaves together stories from formerly incarcerated people, former parole commissioners, families and activists about the current parole system's problems and its larger impact on society.

“The Nature of the Crime” features the voices of criminal justice leaders Mujahid Farid (RAPP), Judith Brink (Prison Action Network), Sheila Rule (Think Outside the Cell), Tom Grant, Ed Hammock and Barbara Hanson Treen (all former parole commissioners).  

Each stop on The Tour will include a screening of the film, and whenever possible the Family Empowerment Day 2015 interactive workshop for families and supporters of the SAFE Parole Act on how to initiate effective visits to their elected officials to gain legislative support for the bill. We need every legislator in New York State to sign-on to support the SAFE Parole Act, and we need your support in your community to make this happen.  

You and your family members can make this tour a success by hosting a screening in your community.  We’ll need your help to bring out family members, friends, formerly incarcerated loved ones and neighbors, community leaders, service providers, clergy, etc..  If you have a lead on a location (think school, community center, house of worship, etc.) please share it with us, and most of all, please get the word out. We'll work with you to make a flyer, press release, and assemble a program and workshop to follow the screening.

Are you near Albany? Join us for the first stop on The Tour on Tuesday, April 14th at 5:30pm for the premier screening of “The Nature of the Crime”right before the 7pm Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration (CAAMI) meeting.  Its a potluck, so bring something to share! We'll be meeting at the Albany Social Justice Center at 33 Central Avenue in Downtown Albany.  See you there.  

Future stops will be Utica and Syracuse sometime in June.  We’ll send out notices by email; please send us email addresses for people you’d like to be kept informed.

Our hope is that this tour makes its way to every legislative district in the state, so please help us to find allies and supporters in the North Country, Southern Tier, Western New York, Catskills, Long Island and don’t forget the Big Apple! 

Contact us at action@milknotjails.org , (917) 719-6455  or ParoleReform@gmail.com, (518) 253-7533 to get involved today.



5.  Citizen Action New York supports the SAFE Parole Act

Citizen Action of New York, a well-known grassroots membership organization which takes on big issues that are at the center of transforming society, and works to elect progressive candidates who are committed to these issues, has voted to sign on as a supporter of the SAFE Parole Act.  Please join us in thanking them: Citizen Action - NY,  94 Central Ave., Albany NY 12206,  Att: Bob Cohen or bobcohen@citizenactionny  or 518 465 4600



6.  Cognitive Sentencing and the Eighth Amendment
Ken Strutin, New York Law Journal
March 24, 2015

These are quotes from an insightful commentary on sentences.  To read the entire article, please click here.
From the moment someone is arrested until the moment he or she steps off the bus at state prison, his orher mind and body are being punished. Experiential life does not discriminate the traumas of incarceration due to high bail or lengthy prison sentence. The Penal Law demands that judges sentence in one dimension—length—and in one tense—the present. But by taking pages from constitutional theory and cognitive science, judges can learn to impose sentences that acknowledge the depths of confinement.

From start to finish, all incarceration is experientially connected; legal distinctions between pre-trial detention and post-conviction sentence are fictions; innocence and guilt irrelevant. The cruelty of confinement cannot be fractionated into innocent integers like the amount of bail or a term of years—incarceration is living time cater-cornered with human suffering.

There is a constitutional spectrum to incarceration that begins with arrest (Fourth Amendment), then pretrial detention (Fourteenth Amendment) and ends with imprisonment as punishment (Eighth Amendment). Nonetheless, the Eighth Amendment can be the prism through which to see sentencing laws and the conditions of confinement from beginning to end.  Regardless of which fragments of history courts and lawmakers might settle on in their understanding of the Eighth Amendment, inhumane prison conditions make incarceration cruel (excessive) and unusual (torturesome). Thus, the missing element from incarcerative sentencing laws is how the sentence is carried out.  So to restore balance to sentencing, the legislature ought to write the conditions of confinement into the criminal statutes.

Cognitive Sentencing
Both federal and state judges ought to be mindful of the whole Eighth Amendment sentencing package: the stream of psychological and physical traumas for the accused and the convicted that includes the uncertainty of release (bail, parole or clemency); the cruelty of confinement; and the likelihood of reduced life expectancy and "death-in-custody." So it is that a defendant guilty of their crime might yet be innocent of their punishment.

Conclusion
Any society that brooks capital punishment, life without parole, solitary confinement and wrongful conviction can legitimate sanctions without limits   Indeed, a jurisdiction that administers irreversible penalties must acknowledge that its entire punishment apparatus is barbarous. And acquiescence in barbarity makes possible every incarnation of  injustice.

Just as newly discovered evidence sheds light on the inaccuracy of a conviction, freshly uncovered prison conditions illuminate the cruelty of detention and incarceration.  Prisoners have a dignity interest in surviving the prison experience; a liberty interest in challenging their convictions; and an expectancy interest in someday being released. And yet, the harshest conditions of confinement are not retrofitted to judicial sentence making.

Strip away the façade of prison walls and what remains are the numberless incidents of violence, rape and neglect that exceed the boundaries of just punishment.  Inhumane conditions for those penned up before trial should shorten the time they spend incarcerated afterwards.  Indeed, whenever the depredations of life in confinement overrun the barricades of Eighth Amendment dignity, courts and parole boards should not hesitate to adjust prison terms for the overpunished.
[Ken Strutin is director of legal information services at the New York State Defenders Association]  


7.  Housing the unwanted
Posted March 18, 2015 in The New York World, a publication of the Columbia Journalism School
By Jie Jenny Zou & Roger Miller  (click on their names to read the article)

Quotes:
For the next three years of J. Mercado’s life, finding a suitable place to live in New York City will depend entirely on how close the building is to area schools, plus the consent of his parole officer.  Under state law, Mercado, as a paroled sex offender, cannot live within 1,000 feet of schools—making large swaths of Brooklyn off-limits. Parole conditions also prohibit him from fraternizing with other ex-convicts and limit contact to family and friends screened by parole officials.

So when he was finally released from an upstate prison in January, Mercado was confused to find himself living with dozens of sex offenders and other parolees in an illegal rooming house in Flatbush, Brooklyn. “I don’t even understand the logic—who comes up with this?” said Mercado, who was assigned to a rooming house on Bedford Avenue operated by Horizon Hope Center, which is described in a flier as “safe housing for all who need it, with the comforts of home, and a feeling of close-knit peer support.” As many as 50 men reside in a converted medical office where doorless units connect in a maze of drywall. Narrow bunk beds infested with bedbugs crowd rooms a few feet wide with posted signs instructing that rent be sent to a postal box by the 10th of every month, “no exceptions.” Residents share two bathrooms and sign in and out of the building, leaving details of their whereabouts on a clipboard with a housing manager—also a resident with a criminal background and the only one with keys. “I don’t want to be there,” Mercado said of Horizon Hope. “It’s really just me getting out of there as soon as possible and getting back as late as possible.”

Failure to make nightly curfew at Horizon Hope can trigger a parole violation that lands Mercado back in prison.

Residency laws are “wildly popular” in the U.S. even though researchers have found little evidence that they curb recidivism or deter sex crimes, said Cynthia Calkins, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice specializing in sex offender issues. “It’s another piece of feel-good legislation that would work if our stereotypical idea of sex offending were true, but it’s not.”A 2007 statistical study by the Minnesota Department of Corrections found “very little support for the notion that residency restriction laws would lower the incidence of sexual recidivism, particularly among child molesters.”  Rebuking the “stranger danger” stereotype, Calkins said, “most sex crimes are perpetrated against people the offender knows.” Instead, research shows parolees of all criminal backgrounds are less likely to commit another offense when they have stable housing with strong family and community support. But that same document also notes that keeping offenders together in the same location may be preferable as it makes supervision easier for parole officers. It makes no mention of what constitutes a high concentration of sex offenders, or the implications of clustering offenders together.  [emphasis added]

Since January, state legislators have proposed more than 100 bills involving sex offenders—mostly aimed at restricting residency, movement, and job prospects or expanding supervision and notification protocols. Efforts to enact statewide residency laws for all sex offenders, regardless of parole status, have intensified in light of a recent state Court of Appeals ruling striking down local laws that went beyond state SARA restrictions. One bill would allow municipalities to block sex offenders from moving into an area “overly concentrated” with them, giving municipalities the option to set the maximum at one offender per address. The proposal was drafted in response to motels near Albany housing numerous sex offenders.  

Offenders such as Mercado ultimately have little say in where officials place them. Parole officials rejected dozens of Mercado’s proposed residences before settling on the Bedford Avenue rooming house.  Little information is available about Horizon Hope, which filed as a nonprofit with the New York State Department of State in 2008, but isn’t registered with the Internal Revenue Service or the state Charities Bureau, as required. The building, which is in foreclosure, is rife with unpaid city fines and has been cited for broken sewage pipes, mold, and vermin.  But none of these issues deterred DOCCS officials from sending more than $3,200 to Horizon Hope since 2014 to cover “emergency housing of parolees,” according to a DOCCS spokesperson. The agency said it has sent parolees to Horizon Hope since 2012.

In February 2014 a report about offenders living in violation of the 1,000-foot rule spawned negative media reports faulting state officials for lax oversight.  That same month, DOCCS Commissioner Anthony Annucci circulated an internal memo to top agency administrators announcing a new “pre-release screening policy and procedure” for sex offender inmates “in an effort to move the department in the direction of a more efficient and accurate way to monitor sex offender cases. “Statutory provisions and case law say they are supposed to locate employment, vocational programs, treatment and housing,” Sanders said of DOCCS. “How much work is DOCCS doing to find addresses for these guys?” She said it’s unclear exactly what parole officers are looking for when they inspect proposed addresses in person, which is required for approval. Offenders themselves aren’t provided with written explanations why particular addresses are rejected. Sanders has had to subpoena for the information on behalf of clients.

Luis Garcia, a level 3 offender who was released from Woodbourne Correctional Facility in February, submitted dozens of addresses that were ultimately rejected. He remained in prison for an additional three months past his November release date.  A review of his records shows the address for a Brooklyn shelter, the Eddie Harris Residence on Chauncey Street, was rejected in December. Two months later, when he was finally set to be released, parole officials assigned him to the same address.  When Garcia was officially released, parole officials changed their minds again, first sending him to Queens and then to Wards Island. “I asked, and they didn’t say anything,” Garcia said of the housing confusion leading to his current shelter assignment. “It’s not a place where a person can live.” Given a choice, Garcia said he would stay at his mother’s house in Brooklyn where he visits regularly as he tries to spend most of his time away from the shelter.

But that address was rejected for being too close to a school. “I can visit, but I can’t live there,” he said.


8.  Open Buffalo - What is it?
by Karima Amin

For nearly two years, you have been hearing about “Open Buffalo” and you may still have questions about what it is and what it isn’t. So let’s begin at the beginning.

First, defining “Open Society Foundations,” we see it is described as “…a grantmaking network …aimed to shape public policy to promote democratic governance, human rights, and economic, legal, and social reform.”  Next, looking at “Open Society Initiatives,” we learn that there are several. Buffalo is involved with the “Open Places” initiative. Recently, Buffalo was selected, along with Puerto Rico and San Diego to be engaged in a pilot project that would emphasize the development of solidarity and empowerment in our respective communities.

The “Open Buffalo” campaign is changing the landscape of our community, helping us to become stronger and better informed about the systems that impact our lives. “Open Buffalo” has provided opportunities for training members of our community in methods for resolving our own issues and problems.   At a press event and celebration held on January 17, 2014, at the Frank E. Merriweather Library, it was announced that Buffalo had been selected to become an “Open Places Initiative” site. At that time, the Buffalo News announced that a collaborative proposal submitted to OSF by Partnership for the Public Good, PUSH-Buffalo, Coalition for Economic Justice and VOICE-Buffalo, was one of 3 proposals selected, from a field of 16, to receive funding for 10 years.

That funding has been used thus far to address the challenges of systemic racism, especially in light of the many ways that our criminal justice system and education system have negatively impacted Buffalo citizens. 

Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will meet on Monday, April 27, from 7:00 to 9:00pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, Buffalo, NY.

For more information: Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org;
or BaBaEng,  g.babaeng@yahoo.com

Be sure to visit our website: www.prp2.org and “like” us on Facebook.



9. 
NYTimes.com: The Radical Humaneness of Norway’s Halden Prison

BY JESSICA BENKO
The goal of the Norwegian penal system is to get inmates out of it.

My destination was the town of Halden, which is on the border with Sweden, straddling a narrow fjord guarded by a 17th-­century fortress. On the outskirts of town, across from a road parting dark pine forest, the turnoff to Norway’s newest prison was marked by a modest sign that read, simply, HALDEN ­FENGSEL. There were no signs warning against picking up hitchhikers, no visible fences. Only the 25-­foot-­tall floodlights rising along the edges hinted that something other than grazing cows lay ahead.

Smooth, featureless concrete rose on the horizon like the wall of a dam as I approached; nearly four times as tall as a man, it snaked along the crests of the hills, its top curled toward me as if under pressure. This was the outer wall of Halden Fengsel, which is often called the world’s most humane maximum-­security prison. I walked up the quiet driveway to the entrance and presented myself to a camera at the main door. There were no coils of razor wire in sight, no lethal electric fences, no towers manned by snipers — nothing violent, threatening or dangerous. And yet no prisoner has ever tried to escape. I rang the intercom, the lock disengaged with a click and I stepped inside.

To anyone familiar with the American correctional system, Halden seems alien, but it is ...something more [than a prison]; [it is] the physical expression of an entire national philosophy about the relative merits of punishment and forgiveness.

The treatment of inmates at Halden is wholly focused on helping to prepare them for a life after they get out. Not only is there no death penalty in Norway, there are no life sentences. The maximum term for any crime is 21 years.....  “Better out than in” is an unofficial motto of the Norwegian Correctional Service, which makes a reintegration guarantee to all released inmates. It works with other government agencies to secure a home, a job and access to a supportive social network for each inmate before release; Norway’s social safety net also provides health care, education and a pension to all citizens. With one of the highest per capita gross domestic products of any country in the world, thanks to the profits from oil production in the North Sea, Norway is in a good position to provide all of this, and spending on the Halden prison runs to more than $93,000 per inmate per year, compared with just $31,000 for prisoners in the United States, according to the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization.

That might sound expensive. But if the United States incarcerated its citizens at the same low rate as the Norwegians do (75 per 100,000 residents, versus roughly 700), it could spend that much per inmate and still save more than $45 billion a year. 

The prison is secluded from the surrounding farmland by the blueberry woods, which are the native forest of southeastern Norway: blue-­black spruce, slender Scotch pine with red-­tinged trunks and silver-­skinned birches over a dense understory of blueberry bushes, ferns and ­mosses in deep shade. It is an ecosystem that evokes deep nostalgia in Norway, where picking wild berries is a near-­universal summer pastime for families, and where the right to do so on uncultivated land is protected by law.

Norway banned capital punishment for civilians in 1902, and life sentences were abolished in 1981. But Norwegian prisons operated much like their American counterparts until 1998. That was the year Norway’s Ministry of Justice reassessed the Correctional Service’s goals and methods, putting the explicit focus on rehabilitating prisoners through education, job training and therapy. A second wave of change in 2007 made a priority of reintegration, with a special emphasis on helping inmates find housing and work with a steady income before they are even released. Halden was the first prison built after this overhaul, and so rehabilitation became the underpinning of its design process. Every aspect of the facility was designed to ease psychological pressures, mitigate conflict and minimize interpersonal friction. Hence the blueberry forest.

“A lot of the staff when we started out came from other prisons in Norway,” Stromnes said. “They were a little bit astonished by the trees and the number of them. Shouldn’t they be taken away? And what if they climb up, the inmates? As we said, Well, if they climb up, then they can sit there until they get tired, and then they will come down.” He laughed. “Never has anyone tried to hide inside. But if they should run in there, they won’t get very far — they’re still inside.  “Inside” meant inside the wall. The prison’s defining feature, the wall is visible everywhere the inmates go, functioning as an inescapable reminder of their imprisonment..

The Correctional Service emphasizes what it calls “dynamic security,” a philosophy that sees interpersonal relationships between the staff and the inmates as the primary factor in maintaining safety within the prison. They contrast this with the approach dominant in high-­security prisons elsewhere in the world, which they call “static security.” Static security relies on an environment designed to prevent an inmate with bad intentions from carrying them out. Dynamic security focuses on preventing bad intentions from developing in the first place. The guards socialize with the inmates every day, in casual conversation, often over tea or coffee or meals.

Of the 251 inmates, nearly half are imprisoned for violent crimes like murder, assault or rape; a third are in for smuggling or selling drugs. Nevertheless, violent incidents and even threats are rare, and nearly all take place in Unit A. It is the prison’s most restrictive unit, housing inmates who require close psychiatric or medical supervision or who committed crimes that would make them unpopular in Units B and C, the prison’s more open “living” cell blocks, where the larger population of inmates mixes during the day for work, schooling and therapy programs.

When Halden opened, there was a wave of foreign news reports containing snarky, florid descriptions of the “posh,” “luxurious” prison, comparing its furnishings to those of a “boutique hotel.” In reality, the furniture is not dissimilar from what you might find in an American college dorm. The truly striking difference is that it is normal furniture, not specially designed to prevent it from being turned into shivs, arson fuel or other instruments of violence. The kitchen also provides ample weapons if a prisoner were so inclined. As one inmate pointed out to me, the cabinets on the wall contained ceramic plates and glass cups, the drawers held metal silverware and there were a couple of large kitchen knives tethered by lengths of rubber-­coated wire.

The officers try to head off any tensions that could lead to violence. If inmates are having problems with one another, an officer or prison chaplain brings them together for a mediation session that continues until they have agreed to maintain peace and have shaken hands. Even members of rival gangs agree not to fight inside, though the promise doesn’t extend to after their release. 

If an inmate does violate the rules, the consequences are swift, consistent and evenly applied. Repeated misbehavior or rule violations can result in cell confinement during regular work hours, sometimes without TV. One inmate claimed that an intrepid prisoner from Eastern Europe somehow managed to hack his TV to connect to the Internet and had it taken away for five months. (“Five months!” the inmate marveled to me. “I don’t understand how he survived.”)

...there’s a logical type of error which is common ...,” ....“That is, you shouldn’t mix two kinds of principles. The one is about: How do you fight crimes? How do you reduce recidivism? And the other is: What are the principles of humanity that you want to build your system on? They are two different questions.” “We like to think that treating inmates nicely, humanely, is good for the rehabilitation. And I’m not arguing against it. I’m saying two things. There are [sic] poor evidence saying that treating people nicely will keep them from committing new crimes. Very poor evidence.”

He paused. “But then again, my second point would be,” he said, “if you treat people badly, it’s a reflection on yourself.” In officer-­training school, he explained, guards are taught that treating inmates humanely is something they should do not for the inmates but for themselves. The theory is that if officers are taught to be harsh, domineering and suspicious, it will ripple outward in their lives, affecting their self-­image, their families, even Norway as a whole. Kristoffersen cited a line that is usually attributed to Dostoyevsky: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

I heard the same quotation from Are Hoidal, Halden’s warden, not long before I left Halden. He told me proudly that people wanted to work at the prison, and officers and teachers told me that they hoped to spend their whole careers at Halden, that they were proud of making a difference.  “They make big changes in here,” Hoidal said as we made our way through the succession of doors that would return us to the world outside. There was, improbably, an actual rainbow stretching from the clouds above, landing somewhere outside the wall. Hoidal was quiet for a moment, then laughed. “I have the best job in the world!” He chuckled and shook his head. He sounded surprised.                                                   

To read the entire article visit NYTime.com and search for The Radical Humaneness of Norway’s Halden Prision, or Google it.  


10.  JOIN New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC)to end the torture of solitary confinement in NY prison and jails.  

Sign up TODAY for Advocacy Day!!!
CAIC will be heading to Albany on April 22 for an Advocacy Day in support of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, A. 4401 / S. 2659. Also save the date for May 5 to join the NY Reentry Roundtable for their Advocacy Day supporting HALT and other criminal injustice reform. FREE buses will be leaving from NYC. If you live outside NYC, still sign up and we will work on other transportation. If you are interested in joining, please directly email Agata at ADera@urbanjustice.org or Scott at spaltrowitz@correctionalassociation.org, with the following information:
•             Name
•             Cell Phone Number (so that we have it that day)
•             Email Address
•             Organizational Affiliation (if any)
•             Mailing Address (so that we can identify your legislators)
•             Interested in CAIC Advocacy Day April 22?
•             Interested in CSS Advocacy Day May 5?

Please join THIS WEEK and NEXT: WORKSHOPS in Preparation for Advocacy Day:
•             April 1, 6 pm: NYC: Urban Justice Center (40 Rector St., 9th Fl)
•             April 7: 6 pm: NYC: Correctional Association (2090 Adam Clayton Powell, Suite 200)
•             April 6– 6pm, Rochester: Empire Justice Center, One W. Main St., Suite 200
•             April 9—5 pm, Ithaca: Quaker Meeting House, 120 3rd St., 2nd Fl.
•             April 12— 1 pm, Long Island: UUCSR, Art Gallery, 48 Shelter Rock Road.
•             April 12—2 pm, Buffalo: St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, 15 Fernhill Ave., RSVP: evestay@live.com

DONATE to Advocacy Day
Help support CAIC’s efforts  educate the public, mobilize activists, and promote passage of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act:https://www.crowdrise.com/helphaltsolitaryinnewyork/fundraiser/NYCAIC  

SPREAD  the Word: Please forward this email to any and all! And here is an events’ page for Advocacy Day 2015: https://www.facebook.com/events/1416307378674255/



11.  Be the Evidence International invites you to a viewing of PRISON TERMINAL: THE LAST DAYS OF PRIVATE JACK HALL.  GOING INSIDE A PENITENTIARY HOSPICE STAFFED BY INMATE VOLUNTEERS

This documentary film by the Oscar-nominated filmmaker Edgar Barens is a moving cinema verité documentary that breaks through the walls of one of Americas oldest maximum security prisons to tell the story of the final months in the life of a terminally ill prisoner and the hospice volunteers, they themselves prisoners, who care for him. The film draws from footage shot over a six-month period behind the walls of the Iowa State Penitentiary and provides a fascinating and often poignant account of how the hospice experience can profoundly touch even the forsaken lives of the incarcerated.

There will be a follow-up with Edgar Barens and directly following there will be a facilitated dialogue with the audience to assess how far we have come as a community to work cooperatively to address the aging and serious ill population in prison and after their release, especially in New York. 

Date and Time of Event: April 25, 2015, 12:30PM-2PM & 6:30PM-9PM
Location: Pope Auditorium, Fordham University, Lincoln Center Campus. 113 West 60th Street, New York, NY 10023

Participation is free and open to the public. RSVP for film-viewing and discussion at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/betheevidence-prison-terminal or email btep@fordham.edu

Building Bridges is the way Prison Action Network communicates with our members. 

Please contact us if you’d like to join.

Read now!