Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

December 2014


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Building Bridges December 2014
Dear Reader, 

It’s holiday season, and our wish for all our members is that you find a way to make this year’s holidays special.  Love, we believe, is the key.  Family and friends are precious.  The members of the Prison Action Network are precious allies who work together for justice.  Cornell West has said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”  May our struggle for justice continue to be fueled by our love.


Enjoy the Holidays and come back prepared to make waves in 2015,   The Editor!

12/15/2014  Late Breaking News!  Re: Article 3 (see below), Philip Rabenbauer saw the Parole Board and release was granted!

CONTENTS
1. NetWORKS analyzes Ferguson response
2.  Parole News - October release rates and more
3.  Litigation - Rabenbauer Supreme Court decision, Cicero revisited
4.  DOCCS News: reduced recidivism rates, local food sourcing
5Lowest Crime Rates in NYS in 2 decades
6.  Legislation- Unjust Imprisonment Act. A9965
7.  PRP2 revisits Restorative Justice
8.  Education (Bard Prison Initiative)
9.  Success Stories: Raymond Roe
10. Leading with Conviction-JustLeadershipUSA's Leadership Development Program
11. Guest Columnist calls for a Legislative hearing with European criminologists
12. Phoenix Players Theater Group at Auburn is 5 years old


1.  NetWORKS: The monthly message from the New York State Prisoner Justice Network

HANDS UP, DON’T SHOOT: BLACK LIVES MATTER
Those were among the slogans chanted by thousands of people in marches, rallies, vigils, speakouts and protests all over the U.S. in response to the Grand Jury returning no indictment of Darren Wilson, the cop who shot and killed Michael Brown.  Around New York State large crowds expressed anger, pain and solidarity in New York City (where they shut down 3 bridges - see below), Buffalo, Ithaca, Poughkeepsie, Spring Valley, Albany and other locations.
In Albany an astounding 500 people gathered to rally and march and hear dozens of residents speak on the systematic attack on the lives of Black and other people of color, nationally and locally, and what we can and should do about it. Solutions ranged from voting for candidates who will do something different (a heckler was heard to shout, “There aren’t any!”), to boycotting the economy by not shopping this holiday season, to building alliances across race and class and creating an alternative to the existing centers of power.

The Albany demonstration was organized by Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration (an affiliate of New York State Prisoner Justice Network) and allies. The planning committee came together at the follow-up meeting to CAAMI’s successful November 1st Speakout on Police, Prisons, and Mass Incarceration.

Police violence, mass incarceration, and U.S. global aggression are connected in ways that can help us resist all of them more effectively.
First, and most obviously, abusive policing -- stop and frisk, harassment, arrests -- is the entry point for the other systemic abuses that cause the incarceration of 81,000 New York residents.  Equally important, policing and mass incarceration are both strategies to marginalize and disempower economically disadvantaged and people of color communities.  Why do cops need all those assault weapons, tanks, and other war equipment? A militarized police force and an astronomical rate of harassment, arrest, and imprisonment are designed to control resistance in these communities, which have the most reason to rebel and a long and proud history of standing up to injustice. 
The non-indictment of Darren Wilson was just a reminder of the total immunity with which police can and do kill, especially young Black men.  Those of us who are in prison or who have loved ones in prison see the parallel to that immunity every day. The law and the courts give free rein to corrections officers and prison officials: even in the most extreme cases (beating to death) they are never held accountable. 
The connections go further and deeper. The “system” – capitalism, white supremacy, police state, the 1%, or whatever you want to call it, operates in even more murderous and racist fashion in the rest of the world than it does at home. At the same time that the Ferguson Grand Jury decision was announced, media were reporting that the Obama administration just reversed itself on its (bogus) promise to end U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan. Hundreds more troops will be added to the thousands already there, and even more of the raids and drone attacks will be launched that have killed thousands of Afghans (let’s not say “innocent” Afghans because that implies that anyone who has taken up arms to resist U.S. invasion and occupation is “guilty”). When the Afghan puppet government signed an agreement last September to extend U.S. involvement, that agreement – like similar agreements with other puppet governments – included absolute immunity from prosecution under Afghan law for ANY offenses committed by U.S. personnel on Afghan soil.

So here we come full circle: the same immunity for Ferguson cops, prison CO’s, and U.S. occupation troops. It’s the same because the policies – violence and repression – are the same, and perpetrated by the same people running the same violent, racist, police state system called the United States of America.

This might sound like a VERY depressing conclusion, and indeed it is – except for one thing. If we are all in the same boat, we can row together. Movements against police violence and mass incarceration can draw strength from people around the world resisting U.S. intervention and oppression (though we will have to ignore the mass media and sort out for ourselves which are forces for liberation and which are just a different kind of oppression). To draw on that strength we need to oppose ALL U.S. military interventions.

From our own experiences with police and incarceration, we can learn never to believe justifications for war in the name of freedom, or democracy, or (like Darren Wilson) self-defense. Because we stand up against police killings, we will also stand up against all U.S. wars. And when we do, the struggles of people around the world to be free of U.S. intervention will add the strength of millions to our own actions to end the prison and police state at home. 

New York City Protest--
Thousands of protesters stormed New York City streets Monday night, shutting down at least three bridges and snarling traffic in response to a grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August. Hordes of New Yorkers marched from Union Square to Times Square, up FDR Drive and across the Triboro, Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, shouting chants of "You say get back, we say fight back!" and "Whose streets? Our streets!" By 1:30 Tuesday morning, authorities had shut down all three bridges.


2.  Parole News - Release rates  
OCTOBER 2014 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES Of A1 VIOLENT FELONS,  DIN #s through 2001  unofficial research from parole database
October 2014 Summaries

Total Interviews
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year to date release rate
Initials 
25
9
16
36%
25%
Reappearances *
78
16
62
21%
29%
Total 
103
25
78
24%
28%



October Releases by Age
Total Seen
Released
Denied 
Percent Released
60-69
18
3*
15
17%
70-79
3

3
0%
80+
0
0
0
0%
Total
21
3
18
14%
*1 person died before actual release
October 2014 Initial Releases
Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Bare Hill
43
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Clinton
40
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Fishkill
47
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Great meadow
64
15-Life
Mrd 2
1
Green haven
36
18-Life
Mrd 2
1
Green haven
49
1-Life
Mrd 2 (parole violation)
1
Otisville
46
21-Life
Mrd 2
1
Walsh Medical Ctr
Deceased 67
25-Life
Pre 74 Mrd 
1
Wyoming
31
15-Life
Mrd 2
1


October 2014 Reappearance Releases

Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Albion-female
61
20-Life
Mrd 2
4
Albion-female
39
15-Life
Kidnap 1
10
Fishkill
59
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
43
20-Life
Mrd 2
3
Green haven
56
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Hudson
49
25-Life
Mrd 2
4
Mohawk
55
25-Life
Mrd 2
4
Orleans
55
18-Life
Mrd 2
3
Otisville
58
30-Life
Mrd 2
2
Otisville
50
20-Life
Mrd 2
4
Otisville
43
15-Life
Mrd 2
8
Shawangunk
57
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Taconic-female
58
15-Life
Mrd 2
8
Woodbourne
51
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Woodbourne
57
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Woodbourne
51
20-Life
CPCS1*
7
*Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance 1

The Board of Parole’s monthly business meeting took place on November 17, 2014 and is available for viewing at https://www.parole.ny.gov/parole-board-videos.html -

Koti decision:
“At risk to commit another crime, and ... create disrespect for the law.”That’s what the Board  decided in denying Mohaman Koti parole in 2013. Mohaman was 85 years old with multiple medical problems and confined to a wheel chair.  Sentenced on a 25 to life in 1978, he had been in prison for  35 years and had a low risk assessment and positive record. Luckily on a 2014 appeal, a judge ruled that the board's basis for denying him parole was irrational and called for a new hearing. After a split decision in an August hearing, he won release in September. 


3.  Litigation:  Rabenbauer vs DOCCS/NYS Board of Parole
For the second time this year, Judge Frank LaBuda ordered the Parole Board to hold a new hearing for Philip Rabenbauer.  [Readers can request a copy of the Nov. 12, 2014 decision and the NYLJ article that reported on it, by sending an email]  Here are quotes from the decision:


Decided on November 12, 2014    Supreme Court, Sullivan County 
In the Matter of the Application of Philip Rabenbauer, 87 A 9916, Petitioner, against New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, ANTHONY J. ANNUCCI, Acting Commissioner, NEW YORK STATE BOARD OF PAROLE, TINA STANFORD, Chairperson, Respondents.

David Lenefsky, Esq., One Columbus Place, New York, NY 10019, Attorney for Petitioner
Attorney General of the State of New York, One Civic Center Plaza—Suite 401, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601, By: Leilani Rodriguez, AAG, of counsel, Attorney for Respondents.

From the decision:
While a parole board enjoys a significant level of discretion, the discretion is not unlimited. There are numerous things a parole board cannot do. 

First, a parole board cannot base its decision to deny parole release solely on the serious nature of underlying crime. Rios v. New York State Div. of Parole, 15 Misc 3d 1107(A) [Sup. Ct. Kings Co. 2007]; see also, King v. New York State Division of Parole, 190 AD2d 423 [1st Dept. 1993], aff'd 83 NY2d 1277. 

Second, while the board need not consider each guideline separately, and has broad discretion to consider the importance of each factor, the board must still consider the guidelines. Executive Law §259-i(2)(a); Rios, supra. 

Third, the reasons for denying parole must be given in detail and not conclusory terms. Executive Law §259-i(2)(a); Wallman v. Travis, 18 AD3d 304 [1st Dept. 2005]. 

Last, a parole board cannot retry an inmate, harass, badger or argue with an inmate, second guess the findings of com-petent experts involved in the inmate's trial, or infuse their own personal beliefs into the proceeding. King, supra at 432.   In King, the First Department stated:  [W]hile the courts remain reluctant to second-guess the decisions of the Board, it is unquestionably the duty of the Board to give fair consideration to each of the applicable statutory factors as to every person who comes before it, and where the record convincingly demonstrates that the Board did in fact fail to consider the proper standards, the court must intervene. Id., at 431.
After a thorough review of the record before this Court, including the confidential materials for in camera review, this Court has determined the decision to deny parole release to Petitioner was so irrational as to border on gross impropriety and illegal action. The Commissioners based their decision to deny parole release to Petitioner solely on their personal opinions of the nature of the instant offense, improper characterizations of Petitioner's actions ...did not consider all of the guidelines or factors, the decision was in conclusory terms and unsupported by the record, and at least one Commissioner was argumentative and appeared to have made the decision prior to the parole interview.
The first 15 pages of the transcript consist almost exclusively of Commissioner Ferguson providing a narrative of the instant offense, including editorializing about Petitioner's behavior, and at page 12 of the transcript went so far as to speculate as to whether Petitioner was trying to frame a third person for the crime; a notion that the other two Commissioners might have considered in denying parole. Worse yet, Commissioner Elovich, apparently unconvinced by the expert testimony at trial and Petitioner's repeated statements regarding his frame of mind during and for the days following the crime, interrogated Petitioner repeatedly about his claim that he was in shock after he murdered his estranged wife. 
Petitioner has repeatedly expressed remorse, shame and guilt for murdering his wife and takes full responsibility for his actions. He cannot change what he did, yet the board in this matter, as did the previous board, spent portions of the parole interview badgering and arguing with Petitioner about the instant offense.
Since, however, the Legislature has determined that a murder conviction per se should not preclude parole, there must be a showing of some aggravating circumstances beyond the seriousness of the crime itself. King, supra, at 433.

Allowing a parole board to rely on the seriousness of the instant offense in every decision to deny parole release to an inmate who is serving an indeterminate sentence of a minimum amount of years to life, and who is otherwise ready for release, amounts to nothing short of allowing the parole board to rewrite the sentencing guidelines for murder in the second degree to life without parole until a parole board decides otherwise.
The transcript leaves no doubt that this parole board based its denial of parole on the Commissioners' personal opinions regarding the nature of the offense, their personal opinions regarding Petitioner's behavior after he murdered his wife, and their personal interpretation of what is appropriate behavior to constitute "shock." 
Based on the record in the instant matter, it appears that this board, like the one in Winchell, began the interview and proceeded through much of it with such antagonism toward Petitioner, that this Court is left to conclude that the board had no intention of considering parole release to Petitioner herein prior to even meeting with him.
If inmates have no remedy at law after a parole interview such as the one in the case at bar, then perhaps the legislature should consider abolishing parole and restructuring the sentencing guidelines to allow for only determinate sentences handed down by the learned judges in this state who hear the trials or accept the plea agreements of defendants. 
It is fiscally irresponsible to maintain a system that serves little purpose other than to chastise inmates for past criminal behavior they cannot change, and prolong punishment based on personal beliefs even when an inmate has become rehabilitated and their likelihood of recidivism is nil.
While this Court agrees with the Appellate Division in King, that the first parole appeal should be remanded to the parole board for a de novo hearing, the instant case involves returning the matter to the parole board for a second de novo hearing following the Board's abdication of its responsibilities for a second time. This Court believes that if this matter is again returned upon an Article 78 proceeding, involving the same circumstances, a different remedy may be warranted.
Based on the foregoing, it is therefore
ORDERED, that the petition is granted to the extent that the Parole Board shall afford the petitioner herein a de novo parole hearing/interview within thirty (30) days of the date of entry of this order, and a decision thereon not more than fifteen (15) days thereafter; and it is further
ORDERED, that the de novo hearing herein shall consist of at least two Parole Board members, none of whom sat on the prior parole hearing involving the above captioned inmate; and it is further
ORDERED, that Commissioner Elovich is forbidden from participating in any parole matters involving Petitioner. 
[all emphases added]

Commentary from a jailhouse lawyer:
The matter of Rabenbauer v. NY DOCCS  is important, after Hamilton, and shows two things that we think may be important.  First, when any petitioner is seeking a de novo parole hearing the petitioner should seek a detailed remedy such that the order, if granted by the relevant supreme court, will not allow the DOCCS to just do the same thing all over again as they did with the petitioner in this case.  Second, it also shows that, despite Hamilton, justices may likely find that the use of guidelines and TAP must be used to govern the Parole Board use of COMPAS and that they may not focus exclusively on the serious nature of the crime ( as may be evidenced by the short shrift that the PB gives to all positive factors as well as the lack of detail connecting evidence in the record to their conclusions).
This case is unpublished and represents one of the best explications of the current parole law debate by a Supreme Court county justice.

Time to have a new look at the issues brought up in the Cicero case. (Cicero V Olgiati – 1975-1979)  [reprinted by permission from the C.U.R.E.-NY Fall 2014 Newsletter]

 In 1975, Inmates filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York  “challenging the standards and methods by which the parole board granted or denied parole on the ground that they were so arbitrary as to have violated the requirements of due process”.
The court allowed the case to go forward rejecting the State’s argument opposing the suit and holding that the procedures " raised a serious question as to whether the statute was not unconstitutionally vague.
By 1979, a new parole stature had been signed into law by Governor Carey who underlined the law’s intent:
“..it permits a reasonable expectation of parole when a minimum sentence, fixed in accordance with the guidelines, has been served, provided the inmate fulfills the requirements of statute”. (On approving L.1977, c. 904)
With the law passed, the plaintiffs dropped their case and the issue became moot. The attorney for the plaintiffs explained why:
“In the summer of 1977, the New York State Legislature enacted a new parole statute which, together with its regulations, thoroughly revised the old law. N.Y.Exec.Law §§ 259 to [**3] 259-r. (Supp. 1972-78). The new statute and regulations fix a minimum range of imprisonment for each inmate, based on severity of sentence and prior criminal record, and create a presumption in favor of parole once the minimum term has been served unless certain specified aspects of an inmate's record are found unsatisfactory. ….Plaintiffs have advised the court that they are satisfied that the new parole statute is sufficiently structured to meet the objectives of the lawsuit. (Letter of plaintiffs' counsel, May 15, 1979);”

However, 25 years later it’s obvious that the intent of the law is not being followed. People with assessments of low risk are denied over and over again with no explanation except the nature of the crime.



4.  DOCCS NEWS:
Recidivism Report:  ALBANY -- A new recidivism report released Nov. 24, 2014 by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) shows that nine percent (9%) of ex-offenders, released in 2010, were sent back to prison based on a new felony conviction within three years of their release. The figure is the lowest since monitoring started in 1985.  The report, “2010 Inmate Releases - Three Year Post Release Follow-up” highlights several demographic and legal history characteristics, including:
  • Criminal History: The overall return rate increases as the number of prior felony convictions increases. 
  • Release Crimes: Individual crimes with the highest return rates included Burglary 2nd (55%), Burglary 3rd (53%), Robbery 2nd (52%), and Possession of Stolen Property (50%). Individual crimes with the lowest return rates included Murder (13%) and Manslaughter 2nd (17%). 
  • By Region: Return rates:  Upstate Urban counties (49%), New York City (38%); Suburban New York City (41%), Upstate Rural counties (43%)
  • Gender: Return rates: Women (29%) less than men (42%) for both new convictions (5% vs. 9%) and parole violation returns (24% vs. 33%). 
  • Age: Younger offenders returned to DOCCS’ custody at a higher rate than older offenders. (53%) of the offenders released in 2010 who were under 21 years old returned. 

DOCCS buys Local!
DOCCS has made a commitment to purchase yogurt from upstate dairy farms.  The department has added a 4 ounce vanilla yogurt to its statewide menu and serves the product twice per month. ...More than 37% of DOCCS’ total food budget supports products that are grown, produced, or packaged within New York. Our aim is to collaborate in order to support more New York jobs while continuing to serve our agency’s most basic needs.”
5.  Lowest Crime Rates in Two Decades
Data reveals New York reached an all-time low in crime in 2013 and continues downward in first 6 months of 2014
Albany, NY (September 25, 2014)
According to research recently published by The PEW Charitable Trusts, New York’s imprisonment rate has dropped 24 percent since 1994 and the crime rate also declined dramatically during the same timeframe, by 54 percent. Additionally, for 2013 the New York crime rate has reached an all-time low with a continued decline in the first six months of 2014. In 1994, the prison population in New York was 66,750. At the end of 2012, 54,865 individuals were under custody in state prisons. The prison population reached an all-time high of 72,649 in 1999, but today it stands at a 25-year low, with 53,692 individuals incarcerated—a 26 percent decrease.

New York State has also experienced a significant decrease in the number of reported crimes. From 1990 through 2012, the state saw crime drop 62 percent, driven by a 73 percent decrease in New York City. In 2012, New York State was the safest large state in the nation, and the third safest overall, behind only Idaho and North Dakota, according to data compiled by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

The reduction in the prison population is due entirely to a decrease in the number of nonviolent drug offenders who are in prison. The number of drug offenders has declined by 70 percent. Today, there are 6,834 drug offenders incarcerated in New York State, as compared with the all-time high of 23,511 in 1996. Violent offenders now make up nearly two-thirds of the prison population.

Every single category of index crime declined from 2012 to 2013. That downward trend has continued through the first six months of 2014, with reported crime down 5.5 percent as compared to January through June 2013. New York State’s success in reducing crime cannot be attributed to any one program or initiative, rather, it is the result of the collective efforts of criminal justice professionals and policy makers at all levels of government.  While New York State leads the nation in reducing those rates, it is not alone: the study also notes that the drop in crime rate has been bigger in states that also reduced their imprisonment rates.

Since taking office in 2011, Governor Cuomo has taken steps to make the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision more efficient in the wake of these dramatic declines, removing 5,519 prison beds, closing 13 underutilized prisons, and saving NY Taxpayers an estimated $162 million annually.

6.  Legislation:  The Unjust Imprisonment Act, A9965
Quotes from an announcement by A.G. Schneiderman of the Unjust Imprisonment Act: 
It is hard to imagine an injustice worse than someone being sent to prison for a crime they did not commit. Not only is the innocent person wrongly denied freedom, the victims of the crime are denied justice and the real perpetrator is still free.
That is why Section 8-b of the New York State Court of Claims Act allows people who are found guilty of a crime, imprisoned, and later have the conviction overturned, to present a claim for damages against the State.
But certain people are excluded under Section 8-b from suing the state after having been wrongfully convicted and incarcerated.  Section 8-b allows such claims only if the person, and I quote, “did not by his own conduct cause or bring about his conviction.”  This has been interpreted to restrict claims by those who falsely confessed – or made admissions or pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit – but who cannot prove their confession or admission or plea was the result of coercion or duress.
A statute that allows some wrongfully convicted individuals to seek restitution but denies that legal right to others is an unjust and unequal application of the law.
[I am] submitting for introduction by the Legislature a bill – the Unjust Imprisonment Act, A.9965, Lentol, no same as – that would change our state statute so that someone who falsely confesses or pleads guilty and later has that conviction overturned may still pursue a claim for damages – even if the person cannot prove the confession or plea was coerced. The bill will be sponsored by Assemblymember Joe Lentol, who has been a tireless advocate for changing harmful practices that lead to wrongful convictions. 
One of the most vocal supporters for the reform of Section 8-b was Fernando Bermudez, who served more than 18 years for murder before he was exonerated. Today, Mr. Bermudez is seeking damages from the State for being wrongly locked up for 18 years – and because of a fundamentally unjust technicality in this law, I am obligated to fight his claim. This is a fight the New York State Attorney General should not be required to engage in. I believe Mr. Bermudez should have his day in court.  If the changes I am proposing were in effect today, Mr. Bermudez would have an opportunity to correct his attorney’s mistake and get his day in court.  Mr. Bermudez is not the only one doubly victimized by this unjust law.  These people paid a debt they didn’t owe; New York State must make good on the debt we owe them.

7.  Taking Another Look: Through a Restorative Justice Lens
By Karima Amin

Several years ago at one of our monthly meetings, we screened the film “Prison Song,” a 2001 film, produced by B.E.T. (Black Entertainment Television), starring Mary J. Blige (R&B diva) and Q-Tip (rapper from “A Tribe Called Quest). Upon viewing, our follow-up discussion centered upon the factors that promoted juvenile incarceration, and by extension, mass incarceration. The film’s prologue states these undeniable facts that have only been exacerbated over the years since then:
·  7 million children have a parent in prison or jail or recently released on probation or parole;
·  Black children are 46 times more likely than whites to be sentenced to juvenile prison;
·  4.6 million Black men out of a voting population of 10.4 million have lost their voting rights due to felony convictions;
·  Newborn Black males have greater than 1 in 4 chance of going to prison during their lifetimes.

Although this film is not a classic and may not receive a 5-star rating from everyone, it does a very good job of describing a community that is struggling with multiple social ills on a daily basis. Miseducation, weak community relations, poor health care, inadequate youth intervention, disrespectful and inhumane community policing, drug abuse and a criminal justice system that ignores the fact that victim and offender may both be victims.
Our most recent meetings have viewed Restorative Justice as an “umbrella theme,” directly and/or indirectly related to community policing, reintegration following incarceration, and community building.  Since BaBa and I have had the opportunity to train core teams at various community spaces, I thought it would be interesting to view this film again now that Restorative Justice and Restorative Justice practices have been introduced. The dysfunction and sadness depicted in “Prison Song” might have been avoided if the community had been strengthened through peace circles and community conferencing, leading to community empowerment.  In this film, locking up people is the ultimate solution to everything. The main characters are institutionalized in the mental hospital…. juvenile detention…the group home… and finally, the state prison. This film offers a clear description of what can go wrong when criminalization trumps restoration.
PLEASE NOTE: This film was shown at our November 24th meeting.  Our next meeting is scheduled for Monday, January 26, 2015.   Happy Holidays!
For more information about Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., visit our website- www.prp2.org , for more information about Restorative Justice. Go to the “Brother BaBa Speaks” page. Also contact us via e-mail: karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org; g.babaeng@yahoo.com. Like us on Facebook. This program is supported by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng.

8.  Education: What it’s like when a prison debate team matches wits with college kids
The United States imprisons more people per capita than any country. Why not educate them? 
Reported by Matt McFarland/The Washington Post. We've excerpted portions of it below.
On October 10, 2014, Max Kenner, founder of the Bard Prison Initiative, was honored for his work in education at Smithsonian Magazine’s American Ingenuity Awards. The Bard initiative offers the chance for inmates at six New York state prisons to take classes and earn degrees from Bard College. 
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Kenner made the following remarks: 
A few weeks ago the debate team from the University of Vermont debated the team at Eastern N.Y. Correctional Facility in upstate New York.  Debate Issue: NATO should be immediately abolished. 
The men at Eastern hadn’t had access to the Internet for research or e-mail for professional advice, no debate camps. UVM’s team is ranked 14th in the world. After 45 minutes of arguing, it’s over.  And after some discussion, the judges reach a decision. The incarcerated Bard students had won.
 “For all our disagreements about how you can train young people and provide education in this country, there’s one thing I’ve learned doing this work for sure. As long as we consider education reform an effort to engage other people’s children, we’ll fail. The Bard Prison Initiative succeeds because we do the opposite. We provide the same education that anyone in this room would want for their own children, to the people America is most certain can’t succeed at anything. They do succeed; it’s inexpensive; it’s replicable; and we can repeat it.
Most profound, though we never talk about it — never discuss it — there’s no group of people in American history who accomplished so much in education than the generation of women and men who 150 years ago freed themselves from slavery.  These Bard students you saw, they learned German because they’re inspired to read Hegel in the original. Frederick Douglass, DuBois the same. They go from algebraic literacy to third-term calculus and beyond. They manage businesses. They’re artists. They’re irreplaceable assets of the community-based organizations after release in the most impoverished communities we have in this country, after they return home from prison. They’re also enrolled right now at graduate schools, CUNY and NYU and Columbia and Yale. 
They don’t return to prison, but they do pay taxes, they do support their children. And it’s only our cynicism that makes this seem impossible.

9.  Success stories
[Please submit your success story, 300 words or less, to inspire others.]

Raymond Roe 
Ray was sentenced to 15 1/3 to 46 years, an aggregate term for two first degree robberies, run consecutively. Once the minimum had been served, Mr. Roe appeared in front of a parole board with an exemplary institutional record complete with all required programming, college credits, and the lack of misbehavior reports. He also presented the board members with many letters of support from family, professors and correctional officers.  But for eight years parole was not forthcoming, as with so many other prisoners.
Since his release, Raymond has been successfully employed, working as a shipping and receiving clerk, a truck driver, and now a mobile unit assistant for the American Red Cross. Raymond assists with daily blood drives within a 200 mile radius of Binghamton. He has been released from parole after 3 years for good behavior, and his first act was to register to vote.
As an advocate, Raymond has spoken to students at Cornell University, Binghamton University and Broome Community College, emphasizing how it is in society's best interest to educate prisoners, as well as preventing prison abuses.

Raymond was appointed to the board of CPEP, Cornell Prison Education Program. This is a program he attended while incarcerated, and he’s given speeches at fundraisers to help preserve the program.


In efforts to give back to the community, Raymond has given speeches at the Fingerlakes Residential Center in Lansing, NY and at Pennsylvania Treatment & Healing in South Montrose, PA, trying to reach youth who have gotten into trouble with the law.  


10.  Leading with Conviction, a 12-month leadership development opportunity
Glenn Martin, criminal justice reform advocate who spent six years in New York State prisons and went on to become Vice President of The Fortune Society, has created an ambitious new organization, JustLeadershipUSA whose mission is to reduce crime and cut the US prison population in half by 2030.  We wish him well! 

JustLeadershipUSA is launching a 12-month leadership development opportunity, Leading with Conviction, for those who have been involved in the criminal or juvenile justice system, are already in leadership positions, and are committed to criminal justice reform.  If you qualify, you are invited to apply for this opportunity to increase your leadership skills and succeed in the work of reducing crime and the prison population.

For more information visit  applications@justleadershipusa.org.   The deadline for readers to apply is December 17.



11.  Guest Columnist of the Month:  Henry Halm   
Let’s hear from the Europeans who have shorter sentences, kinder prisons, and lower recidivism - 

I’ve been incarcerated for 19-1/2  years for crimes I did not commit, and which are not even considered crimes in other countries.   Our government speaks glorious idealistic words which are just that, words.  Our country was founded on taking this land from those who lived here 20,000 years so that Europeans could have better lives.  They then used slavery to help America more quickly become a rich powerful nation.  They proclaim wars to rapidly create industries (weapons manufacturers for one) and to take us out of a depression.   Now they have created a huge criminal justice system to create lots of jobs and prisons in rural areas so those areas can become more stable and prosperous. You only have to research the Economic Multiplier Effect* to see how 1000 prisoners create good lives for 3-5000 residents surrounding the prison.

It’s political/economic pragmatism exemplified.  You’d think a country that claims to be the freest, most just nation ever to exist, would want to look to European nations to see if they have any better ways to deal with drug use and other victimless crimes.  But politicians don’t do that because the present system is economically essential to so many.  There is evidence that if we TRIED the freer, more just and effective laws of European nations, 95% of U.S. prisons would close, saving Americans $100 billion per year in reduced crime costs, lower taxes, etc., while actually making the streets safer.  But the ends justify the means and an eternal drug war serves to put uncountable profits into the hands of politicians.

We can’t criticize, because it is this political economic pragmatism that has made America the world’s superpower. 

Systemic change would be great but it took hundreds of years for ‘UnAmerican’ evil slavery to be abolished using a horrific war.  “The struggle for freedom must be fought not only without fear, but with hope.” [F.Nietzsche]

* Economic Multiplier Effect:  Every time there is an injection of new demand into the circular flow there is likely to be a multiplier effect. This is because an injection of extra income leads to more spending, which creates more income, and so on. The multiplier effect refers to the increase in final income arising from any new injection of spending.  A withdrawal of income from the circular flow will lead to a downward multiplier effect. Therefore, whenever there is an increased withdrawal, such as a rise in savings, import spending or taxation, there is a potential downward multiplier effect on the rest of the economy.  [From Economics Online]

[If you’d like to share your thoughts with our readers, please submit your essay on a topic relevant to the criminal justice system.  It must not exceed 400 words, and arrive in our mailbox by the 20th of the month.  Please let us know how to attribute it.]


12.  The Phoenix Players Theater Group is now five years old.

Michael Rhynes originally conceived of Phoenix Players when he began participating in the renowned Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP), which has been providing classes staffed by Cornell faculty and assistants at Auburn Correctional Facility since 2009. Michael felt that most rehabilitative programming is constructed by someone on the outside who has a concept of what men on the inside need. He saw that the men in prison who struggle with their own past, their own current transformation, are planning for their own future. They are the experts; and within Phoenix Players they control its direction, within ACF guidelines.

The weekly Phoenix Players workshop is currently composed of 12 men from inside working with four to six facilitators from the outside. Much of daily life inside is regimented. Fifteen hundred men are supervised by a large number of staff. When they eat, what they eat, when they can leave their cell to do what, is determined for them year after year. Two hours a week the men are permitted, within the facility regulations, to determine how they wish to proceed within Phoenix Players.  Some of the men in the group claim Phoenix Players' main objective is to reawaken the humanity in them,  “As one member put it: ‘Theatre is a conduit we use to reach the still waters of the soul.’”

ACF and DOCCS have given permission for a documentary about the Phoenix Players Theater Group. Filming and basic editing are now complete. Once additional funding is raised, the film will go through the final editing process, excerpts from which will be posted on the Phoenix Players Theatre Group’s upcoming website. The final video will also be screened for the members of PPTG at Auburn.



Building Bridges is Prison Action Network’s way to communicate with our members. 
Please contact us if you’d like to join.

URGENT
We’re running out of money to print and mail Building Bridges to our incarcerated members who can’t afford to donate what it costs us: $12/year.  If you would like to sponsor one or more memberships, please send a check to PAN, at PO Box 6355, Albany NY 12206.  

Thank you.


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