Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Tuesday, August 02, 2016

July/August 2016

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 now to go directly to the July/August newsletter.

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Posted August 11 - Part 2 of Democracy Now!  interview with RAPP about John MacKenzie's death and the parole system that broke his spirit.

This link will take you to the latest news of how John's death has renewed our efforts in the pursuit of Parole Board reform and the end of Parole torture.  If the risk is low, let them go!

http://www.democracynow.org/2016/8/11/part_2_calls_grow_for_ny

Posted August 11 - from John MacKenzie's last letter


John MacKenzie was tortured to death:

Building Bridges offers condolences to the family, friends and advocates who knew and loved John MacKenzie, a NYS prisoner who took his life on August 3.  

He was 70 years old and could no longer endure the uncertainty of when or if he would be released by the parole board.  He sent a letter to us with some of his last thoughts, written three days before his death.

Preface:  John started writing us in 2009.  In one of his first communications he sent an article he had written, entitled Auschwitz to Attica - Methodologies of Psychological Abuse, in which he quoted from Death Dealer, the Memoirs of a Commander at Auschwitz who claimed that in talking to prisoners he discovered that they could cope with all sorts of indignities and harsh conditions of camp life but not the uncertainty of not knowing how long they would remain in the camp.  John compared it with a ...” 25-Life sentence, where one has a reasonable expectation of parole once the minimum term is served, providing requirements have been met and a good disciplinary record ...but the current trend is to continually deny parole even after meeting all the requirements, thus one’s release is unpredictable.”

It is this kind of uncertainty that we believe drove John to finally, after 40 years of serving a 25 year sentence and 10 parole hearings which all were denials, to take his life. 

The first page of his letter was a poem which he said was meant for those people he’d encountered throughout his life: 

When yesterday’s flickering Stars fade into tomorrow’s Light...
When a life time of memories Flash before your eyes...
As the golden years are Upon you; 
Remember me...
For I have spent a lifetime 
Remembering you.

Following the poem he wrote some thoughts about the cruelty of the Parole Board and the people in DOCCS and how they’ve been in their jobs far too long, hence the level of inhumanity, deprivation and cruelty in the prisons... they have become desensitized ....

He remembered an article in the Guardian that reported that when the Chief Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales, Nick Hardwick, resigned, he said he feared that he was becoming desensitized; that he was getting “Prison-Horror Fatigue.”   Hardwick said, “You shouldn’t do this job for too long because you get used to things you shouldn’t get used to.”   

John added a third quote which he said reminded him of his current situation:
 “...shunned by the reputable and honest, and consigned to the Society and Converse of the wretched and the abandoned; he can only pray that he may soon end his misery with his life,  [from the Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, written from 1766-1769”]:
He went on to write about his recent parole board hearings.  [His regular hearing was scheduled for June 26.  It was postponed until July 26.  Neither hearing was the de novo demanded by the Supreme Court in it’s contempt ruling.] 

Parole Hearing Issues:
  • William Smith was not supposed to be on the panel as per court order... But I still proceeded....
  • Tina Marie Stanford postponed my June hearing for (she claimed)  time for “Completion of Records”, which the Senior Counselor told me was the letter from Fortune Society guaranteeing me housing and the program. I since found out the record they were waiting for was the letter of opposition from the Police Benevolence Association.
  • Commissioner Smith made references to a job assignment from “1983” (33 years ago!) from which he believed I was removed, which is FALSE!  Truth is that, aside from being the wrong date, I quit the job so I could work somewhere else. The fact that there are factual errors in the record is bad enough but learning this parole commissioner was relying on it is even more disheartening!!
  • Commissioner Sharky focused exclusively on the crime and actually stated in the record that there was significant “Community Opposition” which is not only unlawful but what I got granted two de novo hearings on, along with the contempt!!
John ended his letter to us by saying, “Other than that, I’m not sure I can cope with this Fishkill (Auschwitz) or endure the stress and inhuman conditions and abusive treatment (including Sleep Deprivation) much longer...  On that note, I’ll try to mail this immediately (we’re still locked down.)  [emphasis added]

P.S.  John has two daughters.  His suicide has been a horrible shock to them.   If you would like to contribute to his funeral and his family you may send a donation to the Mount Tremper Monastery at 871 Plank Rd., Mt. Tremper NY 12457,  asking to help defray the expenses of the August 14th funeral and travel for John MacKenzie’s family.




Building Bridges July/August

Dear Reader,

  

Recently, as we were about to make a plea for donations, the Woodbourne Lifers sent an unsolicited and very generous gift.  What great timing!  Thank you, guys! A few days later we were offered another substantial (by our standards) donation from another source.  It felt so good that people value the work we do and don’t even wait to be asked to send a donation.  Your donations not only keep us afloat, but they let us know it’s worth doing.  We use your input to decide what is included in each issue.  Please send your donation to Prison Action Network at PO Box 6355, Albany NY 12206.


On another note:

There is too much hysteria on the presidential election front right now.  The only viable reality is we are faced with a choice between fascism (an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization) and the continuation of a plutocracy (government by the wealthy). Neither one of them is a democracy, the dream to which most of us reading this are committed.  The electoral system is deeply flawed.  Yet if we don’t vote, we could lose the right to vote.  Please vote, and continue being part of the political revolution afterwards.

                                 Thanking you in advance,  Your Editor 



Table of Contents
1  Parole board release rates for both May and June, for A1V0’s and Everyone who sees the Board;  Report on Ciaprazi’s court decision

2.  Legislative Report.  A last gasp: 10 bills passed through both houses, one of them signed already by Cuomo.

3.  Litigation: Update on CassidyRefreshing dissents written by US Supreme Court Justice SotoMayor.

4.  The SAFE Parole Act: Latest report

5.  Parole Justice-NY report: We’ve been busy!

6.  NetWORKS:  Each small step forward helps give us the strength to keep going.

7.  Prisoners Are People Too! July meeting included the film, “Revolving Door? Does the System Play Fair?”

8.  .Life Inside, the Marshall Project solicits stories of your surprising personal experiences with the System.

9.  Small things go unnoticed, like mitigating circumstances of childhood abuse.

10.  19 Dutch prisons are closing for lack of ‘criminals‘

11. Building a Winning Team: Community basketball tournament with half time panel on Mass Incarceration.

12. Cuomo seeks to expand medical coverage for those rejoining society.


1.  Parole News - Release Rates for May and June
MAY PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS DIN #s through 2001  unofficial research from parole database

MAY 2016 - Interview Summaries

Type
Total 
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year To Date Release Rates
Initials 
23
8
15
35%
29%
Reappearances
82
27
55
33%
28%
Total 
105
35
70
33%
28%
Four reappearances were denied on a de novo hearing.     Two reappearances were released on de novos.  One released reappearance was at a rescission hearing.   Three of the 8 initials were deported.

May 2016 - Initial Releases
Facility
Age at hearing
Age @ Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Otisville
55
30
28-Life
Mrd 2
1
Shawangunk
56
38
40-Life
*CSCS1
 1 deport
Woodbourne
43
19
25-Life
Mrd 2
1 deport
Woodbourne
45
22
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Woodbourne
49
26
23-Life
Mrd 2
1
Woodbourne
43
27
18-Life
Mrd 2
1
Woodbourne
51
28
25-Life
Mrd 2
 1 Deport 
Woodbourne
63
39
25-Life
Mrd 2
1

*Criminal Sale of Controlled Substance-1

May 2016 - Reappearance Releases 
Facility
Age @ hearing
Age @ Commitment

Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Altona
50
19
16-Life
Mrd 2
9
Attica
67
23
25-Life
 Mrd pre 74
             11rescission
Attica
49
30
20-Life
Mrd 2
2
Attica
76
44
25-Life
Mrd 2
5
Auburn
51
22
26-Life
Mrd 2
3
Eastern
36
21
15-Life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
39
23
15-Life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
55
29
15-Life
Mrd 2
9
Fishkill
53
26
25-Life
Mrd 2
               3   de novo
Grt meadow
54
18
2-Life
Mrd 2
5
Green haven
55
27
19-Life
Mrd 2
6
Groveland
65
24
20-Life
  Mrd pre 74
13
Groveland
53
28
18-Life
Mrd 2
5
Mohawk
46
19
22-Life
Mrd 2
4
Orleans
53
32
15-Life
Mrd 2
5
Other agency
55
25
25-Life
Mrd 2
4
Otisville
58
24
20-Life
Mrd 2
7
Sullivan
54
20
26-Life
Mrd 2
6
Sullivan
63
21
25-Life
   Mrd pre 74
11
Ulster
71
43
15-Life
Mrd 2
8
Woodbourne
34
19
15-Life
Mrd 2
2
Woodbourne
43
22
17-Life
Mrd 2
4
Woodbourne
48
25
15-Life
Mrd 2
6
Woodbourne
49
25
23-Life
Mrd 2
2
Woodbourne
75
33
15-Life
Mrd pre-74
14
Woodbourne
49
28
21-Life
Mrd 2
              2   de novo
Wyoming
64
35
20-Life
Mrd 2
6


May 2016 - Over 60 Age Summary
Age Range
Total Seen
#Released
# Denied 
May Release Rate % 
 YTD Release Rate
60-69
20
5
15
25%
22%
70-79
6
3
3
50%
26%
80+
0



50%
Total
26
8
18
31%
23%



May 2016 - Summary of ALL Parole Releases  -  unofficial research from parole database
Type of Release
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year to Date Release Rate
Initials
302
75
227
25%
22%
Reappearances
328
99
229
30%
29%
Total
630
174
456
28%
26%

AND 

JUNE PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS DIN #s through 2001    unofficial research from parole database
June 2016 - Interview Summaries

Types
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year to Date Release Rates
Initials 
20
9
11
45%
29%
Reappearances
99
37
62
37%
28%
Total 
119
46
73
39%
28%


June 2016 - Initial Releases
Facility
Age at Hearing
Age at Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Auburn
47
26
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Bare hill
45
25
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Cayuga
48
24
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Eastern
50
27
25-Life
CSCS-1
1
Fishkill
59
35
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Fishkill
42
21
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Otisville
71
47
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Otisville
52
28
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Woodbourne
45
22
25-Life
Mrd 2
1

June 2016 - Reappearance Releases
Facility
Age at hearing
Age at Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Adirondack
63
35
23-Life
Mrd 2
4
Albion-fem
43
22
20-Life
Mrd 2
2
Auburn
55
29
21-Life
Arson1
4
Bare hill
42
20
18-Life
Mrd 2
4
Bare hill
37
19
20-Life
Mrd 2
       2  de novo
Fishkill
48
32
15-Life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
57
24
30-Life
Mrd 2
3
Fishkill
60
27
20-Life
Mrd 2
7
Fishkill
55
27
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Fishkill
56
32
15-Life
Arson1
6
Fishkill
42
22
20-Life
Mrd 2
2
Franklin
50
22
18-Life
Mrd 2
7
Franklin
42
18
15-Life
Mrd 2
6
Franklin
49
26
23-Life
Mrd 2
2
Franklin
51
22
26-Life
Mrd 2
      2 de novo
Franklin
52
27
25-Life
Mrd 2
      2 de novo
Gouverneur
44
20
15-Life
Mrd 2
6
Gouverneur
39
18
20-Life
Mrd 2
2
Gouverneur
50
31
15-Life
Mrd 2
7
Green haven
59
27
25-Life
Mrd 2
  5  viol
Green haven
72
34
25-Life
Mrd 2
8
Orleans
66
31
20-Life
Mrd 2
9
Otisville
54
21
20-Life
Mrd 2
8
Otisville
55
24
25-Life
Mrd 2
5
Otisville
61
34
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Otisville
48
24
15-Life
Mrd 2
6
Otisville
71
47
15-Life
Mrd 2
      7 de novo
Otisville
57
23
18-Life
Mrd 2
    10 de novo
Riverview
72
29
15-Life
Pre 74
    16 de novo
Shawangunk
58
28
25-Life
Mrd 2
4
Shawangunk
54
27
25-Life
Mrd 2
4
Shawangunk
50
32
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Sing sing
44
17
26-Life
Mrd 2
2
Ulster
50
30
19-Life
Mrd 2
2
Woodbourne
80
46
25-Life
Mrd 2
16
Woodbourne
44
18
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Woodbourne
44
19
25-Life
Mrd 2
2


June 2016 - Over 60 Age Summary
Age Range
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied 
Rate of Releases % 
Year to Date Release Rate
60-69
23
4
19
17%
21%
70-79
9
4
5
44%
32%
80+
1
1
0
0%
60%
Total   (one age unknown)
33
9
24
27%
24%


June 2016 - All Parole Decisions - (Includes Merit time cases)
Type of hearing
Total 
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year to Date Release Rate
Initials
423
111
312
26%
22%
Reappearances
472
147
325
31%
29%
Total
895
258
637
29%
26%


Acting Supreme Court Justice James Pagones has ordered a man released after 20 years in prison.  
Judge Pagones ruled that Roberto Ciaprazi knows he will be deported to Romania when released;  immigration Judge Mitchell Levinsky signed the order in January 1998 and ICE has confirmed it more recently. 

Pagones noted that the parole board's ruling spoke of Ciaprazi's "risk to the community" and "community reintegration," elements that are irrelevant for an inmate destined for eastern Europe.

"He has absolutely no right or expectation that release or parole means assimilating into American society," Pagones wrote in Ciaprazi v. Evans, 0910/2016.

Ciaprazi represented himself before Pagones in challenging the board's denial of his parole application. Assistant state attorney General Elizabeth Gavin argued for the parole board.

Interested readers can request the NYLJ article by Joel Stashenko, New York Law Journal July 27, 2016, from which this information was taken, by sending a SASE to PAN.


2.  Legislative report
Explanation:  A bill has to be passed in both houses and signed by the Governor before it becomes the law.

Bills of interest that passed both houses since our last report              (To date Cuomo has only signed A.9696):

Bill # and Action
Sponsor/s
Purpose
A1819a / S1608a
Gunther/Bonacic
 Defines "residence" for clarification in the Sex Offender Registry Law and directs the Division of Criminal Justice Services to develop a notification procedure for mandatory reporting by offenders who have multiple residences.
A1984/S6806
O’Donnell/Montgomery
Requires parole appeal decisions to be published on a publicly accessible website within 60 days of such decision
A5548/S992
Sepulveda/Rivera
Requires DOCCS to provide a certified translator for inmates appearing before the Parole Board, whose first language is not English or who are in need of a deaf language interpreter.
A7500A/S5427A 
Joyner/Rivera
Requires (DOCCS) to be responsive to the next of kin or other designated person who inquires as to the circumstances surrounding the death of a prisoner, and to provide such person with an original preliminary death certificate
A9239/S7252
Englebright/Ortt
Requires the Division of Criminal Justice Services to provide notice to the appropriate local police agency, within 48 hours, of the change of address, or the other information relating to a sex offender
A9406/S7224
Blake/ Rivera
Requires(DOCCS) to provide inmates with a medical authorization and a mental health treatment information consent form and to keep such form in inmate’s file and to make the forms available to authorized persons.
A9696/S7224

SIGNED BY CUOMO
DenDekker/Murphy
All current or prior crime victim's statements shall be provided to the parole board for their consideration at each board appearance so that victims do not feel they need to submit a new statement every time an offender is up for parole release. Victim impact statements have no expiration date. It also ensures that transcripts of parole board interviews are promptly provided to any victim who has requested such a transcript.
A10190/S7862
O’Donnell/Gallivan
Due to outrage exhibited in two communities about the way parole warrant sweeps were conducted, from now on only properly trained personnel shall carry out the job duties assigned to parole officers. 
A.10200/ S.7853
Rozic/Gallivan
Provides death certificates from the state health department and the NYC bureau of vital statistics at no charge to state and local correctional facilities as well as to NYC DOC,when such death certificates will be used for administrative purposes.
A.10706/ S.8114  
The editorial boards for both the Albany Times Union and the New York Times have urged the Governor to sign this into law.
Fahy/DeFrancisco
Requires state reimbursement to counties and cities in which a county is located of the full amount of expenditures for indigent legal services. Provides state funding and oversight of criminal defense for those accused of a crime, while relieving a huge unfunded constitutional mandate for Upstate counties.



3.  Litigation:  Cassidy decision,  Dissent by Sotomayor

In a nutshell, the 2nd Department decision in the Cassidy case was not good.  The Court ruled that the petitioner did not show by clear and convincing evidence that the Board violated a clear and unequivocal court order.  “The determination made at the conclusion of the de novo hearing took into account his COMPAS assessment and other statutory factors. The written decision and the hearing transcript together demonstrate that the Parole Board fully complied with its responsibilities."

Dissent written by Supreme Court Justice SotoMayor:     In an impassioned dissent, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor broke with the majority of the court in a case about unreasonable searches and seizures, citing James Baldwin’s and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s written experiences of constantly being viewed as criminally suspect as black people in America.

The case, Utah v. Strieff, examined whether it was constitutional for evidence collected unlawfully by a police officer to be used as evidence in court. In 2006, Utah Narcotics Detective Douglas Fackrell stopped Edward Strieff Jr. in Salt Lake City based on an anonymous tip about potential drug activity, discovered an outstanding warrant, arrested him, and found drug paraphernalia.

In a 5-3 decision, the Court reversed the Utah Supreme Court decision that the illegal stop disqualified the evidence. Instead, the Supreme Court ruled that the evidence did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the evidence seized weakened the unlawful stop.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined sections I through III of Sotomayor’s dissent. Justice Elena Kagan also issued a separate dissent, joined by Ginsburg.

For Justice Clarence Thomas, who gave the opinion, Utah v. Strieff was a case in which "the costs of exclusion outweighs its deterrent benefits." But in section IV, Sotomayor wrote for herself about how the ruling was a clear erosion of individuals’ rights:
By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.

The central point in Sotomayor’s dissent is that the case centers around "suspicionless stops" that are all too familiar for people of color, even though the defendant in this case is white. She cites James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me as evidence of those who have testified to what it is like living with the indignity of always being susceptible to unconstitutional searches, especially when one has done nothing more than be born in a body that is always already deemed criminal.

As Vox’s Dara Lind has noted, over the past 50 years, there has been a growing push from the Court undermining the rights of defendants and suspects in criminal cases despite the fact that their rights make up a significant portion of the Bill of Rights. Utah further solidifies the pro-prosecutor standing that Sotomayor does not share.

But Sotomayor’s dissent highlights how the ruling fails to listen to those who have long discussed the ways illegal stops undermine American democracy.

"We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are 'isolated,'" she wrote. "They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere."


4.  The Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act
Should you skip your next parole hearing?  Do you feel hopeless because nothing has changed since your last hearing? ...and you’re tired of being treated with disrespect?  We have read your letters and we can empathize.  But....

We encourage you to go to your next parole hearing regardless of how hopeless you feel.  The reality is the Parole Board DOES release around 20 people (in May it was 35...) with serious violent crimes every month.  What their reasoning is we’ll never know.  The Board certainly does not make their decisions based on compassion or the law.  So while there are reasons beyond our knowing for the low rate of releases, some people make it. There is probably nothing a parole applicant can do to increase his/her chance at being one of them, but we encourage everyone to walk into there assuming you will be one of those released.  That attitude might be the key...

The SAFE Parole Act will make your chances better,  but it will take a monumental public outcry in order to pass the SAFE Parole Act, which like every other needed criminal justice reform bill,  seems hopeless at times.  But if every citizen who was impacted by the Parole Board's abuses got involved in the movement to make changes in the Parole Board processes, we would have a much better chance.  That’s why Prison Action Network is doing our best to get you involved.

As long as New Yorkers keep voting for a Republican majority, the Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee will continue to block reform legislation from passing into law. This is not to say the Democrats are all lining up to do the right thing. Voters need to put good people from both parties into office. At this time however, there are more NYS Democrats than Republicans who are on our side when it comes to dealing with crime.  However, Prison Action Network is not partisan; if Martians promised to pass the bill if elected, we would join their party!

Our allies in the Assembly and the Senate are frustrated also.  They submit good bills, some of which even resemble sections of the SAFE Parole Act.  If the legislators cannot pass the bills they've drafted themselves, what reason do we have to think they can pass ours?  They are up against the PBA, and the Correctional Officers Union and their allies - together the strongest political force in NYS.  And yet as you will read in our Legislative report, one bill has passed and 9 others are just waiting for Cuomo to sign them. We need to build a movement that will have the clout to get more helpful bills passed. We have to spread the word.  We have to show up and stand up!  Or those who want to harm us will win.

The Ithaca Family Empowerment Tour Stop on June 17th      After worrying that it would be attended only by the core group of the planners, we had an overflow crowd. About 30 people attended. Some of them represented agencies and all of them were concerned about ending mass incarceration for personal or moral reasons. We had two speakers, from Ithaca, who spoke about their experiences with the parole board.  Everyone in the room told their reason for being there after which we discussed how their stories would be perfect to tell their legislators in support of the SAFE Parole Act.  Many of the guests were interested in contacting their legislators.  Joey Cardamone, director of Ithaca Prisoner Justice Network will be supporting their efforts, and Parole Justice - NY has promised to provide support when requested.



5.  Parole Justice-NY 
If you ever think we’re not doing enough, read on!:
  • Should we try to find someone to seek appointment to the parole board?   After a conversation with Tina Stanford, chair of the Parole Board, a group member came away thinking nothing could be done with the set of characters we have serving now, and that we need to promote a candidate.  Another member recalled an effort to do that a few years ago, which failed despite vigorous campaigning. For now the group agreed to put it on a back burner and think about it again after November if the Senate flips.
  • Senator Montgomery has submitted legislation about the composition and appointment of the parole board.  We will research ways we can support her.  A process for reviewing bills relevant to parole and developing ways to support them will be discussed by our Legislative Committee.  Some good bills came out of the Assembly.  Building Bridges will continue publishing a monthly column which lists all legislation that has been voted on by the two legislative crime committees.  At the time of our meeting only S.9696 had passed in both committees.  It relates to victim statements and is described on page 5Since then the Governor has signed it into law, and nine other bills have passed both houses and are waiting for him to sign as well.  We‘ve been told it could be December before he signs anything else, unless there’s a special session this Summer
  • The Jamaica Queens RAPP event brought together criminal justice activists and social workers focused on Reentry.  About 100 people were there, several from Parole Justice-NY.
  • Parole Preparation Project has a close to 50% release rate even though they only take people with indeterminate sentences with life at the end!  They currently have 76 active cases.  There are around 120 volunteers with a big backlog of cases.  PPP pairs attorneys and lay people with incarcerated people throughout the state to help them prepare for their parole hearings. The teams are a mix of lawyers and non-lawyers. They do not give out legal advice. They may be able to take Article 78’s in the future but not now.   Parole Applicants who reach out to PPP  ( ℅ Rankin and Taylor , 11 Park Place Suite 914, NY NY 10007) are put on a waiting list and sent a do-it-yourself parole preparation guide.  PPP will be presenting at the National Lawyers Guild convention.
  • The Gov’s clemency program is on the minds of many people who write us;  some put a lot of faith in it, others suspect it is just hype.  We think it is probably hype.  So far we haven’t heard of anyone being released.  Lots of people have been called by counselors to answer questions and fill out a bunch of forms, which encourages them to think they have a good chance.  We hope so.
  • We attended the Bronx Defenders Block Party,  circulated petitions and talked with people including formerly incarcerated women .  Housing is a big issue for the women.
  • Parole Justice-NY’s members are calling legislators to meet with them in their district offices. So far, they have an appointment with the chair of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, Nick Perry, whom they plan to ask how to get SAFE on the Caucus priorities list.
  • We discussed the status of litigation after Cassidy (cited parole board for contempt of court) was overturned by second department. Mackenzie is a similar case. Some people are saying that John MacKenzie might be released when he goes back to the board – possibly board will release him in order to moot the case.
If you know someone who wants to join Parole Justice-NY in the struggle for fair parole hearings, and they are able to commit to regular attendance at our meetings (3 or 4 per year in person and conference phone calls every 3rd Monday at 7:30 pm),  please provide them with our number:  518 253 7533



6.  NetWORKS, the monthly column of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network

“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” (Mother Jones, labor agitator, 1902)


The super-hype of the election season is swirling all around us. The grief from yet another round of killings by police threatens to drown us. Black Lives Matter is blamed (by some) for the deaths of police officers. No cops or prison guards are ever held accountable, no matter what they do.

In the midst of this time of sadness and confusion, we anti-incarceration activists and organizations are overwhelmed with grief, rage, and frustration just like everyone else who hopes for justice. Yet collectively we seem to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other, steadily focused on the goal of reducing and eventually eliminating the scourge of mass incarceration. Because we are accountable to each other and to those who are living and dying under the heel of the criminal punishment system, we do not have the luxury to despair.  Each small step forward helps give us the strength to keep going.

Here are two recent small steps forward that the New York State Prisoner Justice Network (NYSPJN) is involved in. Just writing about them gives this reporter a glimmer of joy and hope.
The formation of the New York State Jails Justice Network. Jails are a serious part of the problem of mass incarceration. Although the terms “jails” and “prisons” are often loosely interchanged, especially by those who haven’t spent time in them, jails are the local (county or city) lockups for people awaiting trial or convicted of less serious charges, while prisons are the state and federal systems for people serving longer sentences for more serious crimes. Of the 77,000+ people incarcerated in New York State in 2016, nearly one-third (25,000) were in county jails or the New York City jail system, according to the Commission of Correction  (www.scoc.ny.gov/pop.htm). This is consistent with national figures that place about one-third of all incarcerated people in jails.

Jails are a gateway into the state prison system, a hidden world of torture, and a system for caging those not even convicted of anything – supposedly innocent until proven guilty.  In the public discussion about mass incarceration in recent years, jails have been nearly invisible. And yet they are plagued with many of the same issues as prisons -- brutality, terrible health and mental health care, solitary confinement (including for juveniles), suicide, over-incarceration – as well as issues that are unique to them as jails such as confining people because they can’t make bail and a complete absence of programs. In their separate counties, activists have been fighting against some of these conditions, many for decades, in isolation from others waging similar struggles.

This year the New York State Prisoner Justice Network realized we had been in touch with a number of jails activists. What could we do to support these far-flung local campaigns? What could we offer them? And then we realized we could offer them the most valuable resource of all – each other! So we put together a contact list of jails justice activists from counties around the state, and arranged to introduce them to each other by conference call.

These activists who had been working in their own separate counties on exposing brutal jail conditions, stopping jail expansion, promoting diversion, and other issues were delighted to meet each other and share information and advice. That first exploratory call has led to the establishment of a network that meets by conference call every month and is planning to have a face to face meeting in the fall. Counties that are represented in the network include Albany, Broome, Cortland, Delaware, Dutchess, Erie, Greene, Nassau, Onondaga, Orange, Rensselaer, Suffolk, Sullivan, Tioga, Tompkins, Ulster, and New York City. On the statewide phone calls jails justice activists report on the campaigns in their counties and share advice on what strategies are and aren’t effective. Eventually, the group plans to develop collaborative work on statewide issues that impact jails, such as bail and an adequate public defense system.
The Challenging Incarceration Collaborative. The New York State Prisoner Justice Network is a founding member of this new statewide formation whose goal is to foster greater collaboration among the diverse groups involved in anti-mass incarceration work throughout New York State.

New York City has a great number of anti-incarceration and prison reform groups, but they lack strong ties with the rest of the state, and in some cases with each other, while the upstate groups are very spread out geographically and often do not have resources to work together. All, however, are facing the same issues of injustice, abuse, and impunity in the criminal punishment system.

At the Beyond the Bars Conference at Columbia University last March, a group of half a dozen diverse organizations/campaigns, including Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, NYS Prisoner Justice Network, Beyond Attica,  Milk Not Jails, and Release Aging People in Prison, presented a workshop together – a collaborative workshop on collaborative organizing. The large auditorium was packed – apparently many people wanted to know how to collaborate against mass incarceration.

Following the workshop, the groups decided to hold another event for a wider audience. This second event was a panel and discussion attended by about 50 people from about 25 organizations. Those who attended wanted to continue to build ways to work together, and held a third well-attended meeting, all three in New York City.  Discussions have focused on developing a multi-issue unified platform and campaigning for NYS legislators more favorable to prison reform. New York State Prisoner Justice Network is working to make the group more fully representative of the whole state of New York by involving more upstate organizations.

These are only two of the many ways anti-incarceration activists are strengthening ties with each other in order to work more effectively, as well as continuing to advance their separate pieces of work. While there’s a lot of sound and fury coming from the top of the power chain, down here at the bottom we are keeping on keeping on: building the work of justice one march, forum, meeting, protest, lobby day, or press release at a time.

There are still some New York State Prisoner Justice Network Directories available. They are free to prisoners, $5 each to non-prisoners. You can order a directory or get in touch with us about anything else at NYS Prisoner Justice Network, 33 Central Avenue, Albany NY 12210 or nysprisonerjustice@gmail.com.


7.  “Revolving Door?”
by Karima Amin

When someone is paroled, they serve part of their sentence under the supervision of their community with an eye toward the parole candidate’s becoming a productive member of society. Frustration abounds when prison staff imply that the parolee will be returning to prison, sooner or later.  On the outside, despite best of intentions, the parolee may be confronted with issues that sent him or her to prison in the first place, poor mental health, unemployment, drug and/or alcohol addiction, unsettled home life, etc.  To further complicate one’s return to society, the parolee has to navigate a minefield of negative attitudes, framed by stereotypes, that are often based on misconceptions, attitudes that malign the parolee, limiting his or her potential.

We have shown films and have discussed recidivism before. This is an important topic.  Previously, we screened “The Very Same House,” a film about recidivism in Buffalo, by Canisius College student, David Goodwin.  At our last monthly meeting, our guest speaker was Gerrod Bennett, a recent parolee who was released on June 14 this year, after 22 years in State Prison.  -His family is helping him to navigate the many pitfalls of this brand new world. He is becoming a successful reentry candidate. The Center for Employment Opportunities (C.E.O.) in Buffalo works hard to assist parolees who are seeking gainful employment. According to the C.E.O. website, “While nearly everyone will eventually be released, recidivism rates are stubbornly high: more than 40% will be reincarcerated and more than two thirds will be rearrested within three years. Employment challenges, sobriety, housing, mental health, and a lack of strong social ties are among the premier reasons that people return to jail or prison.”

Our July meeting addressed the issue of recidivism with the film, “Revolving Door? Does the System Play Fair?” by Charles Duncan and a speaker, Pastor Charles Walker from Back to Basics Outreach Ministries.  Pastor Walker is the Reentry Coordinator at Back to Basics. He works with parolees, helping them to become assets in society, not liabilities.

 For more information: Karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org  or BaBa at   g.babaeng@yahoo.com.



8. The Marshall Project's "Life Inside" series: Write about your surprising personal experience with the criminal justice system. 

The widely read internet publication, The Marshall Project, is soliciting pitches for their series, ‘Life Inside’. “We're looking for 400 to 1,400-word nonfiction essays about a surprising, personal experience you had with the system — whether you're a lawyer, prisoner, judge, victim, police officer, or otherwise work or live inside the system. Poetry, fiction, essays about experiences that are not directly related to criminal justice, and op-eds will not be accepted.  Send your Life Inside story to ehager@themarshallproject.org”  



9.  “It’s the small things which go unnoticed that make the biggest difference.”
By Anonymous

I was a poor Black child, physically and sexually abused, with a brain injury -which I didn’t know I had until I was an adult and being diagnosed for another problem - and which caused me to have a learning disability.  Quite frankly the oppressive abuse I suffered caused me to become emotionally disturbed and at the age of 20, to lose control and snap and kill, unintentionally. My early years of being abused might cause any child to suffer depression, as well as unconsciously and thoughtlessly veer onto a detrimental destructive path. I was abusing alcohol to erase painful thoughts. 
Yet, I worked many jobs earnestly, and was not into crime, but I lived in poverty- in a crime-ridden violent environment infected with prostitution, AIDS, HIV, drugs, crack, dope, cocaine. Many of my peers became victims of drug addiction and became infected with AIDs, HIV, STDs.  I was against selling crack poison to people.  However, I succumbed to this destructive path by living around it, having an older brother, cousins, friends, neighbors, etc. hooked on drugs which amounted to childhood abuse, detrimental to the well being, interest, and welfare of a child. 
Ultimately I was falsely arrested, spat on, cut with broken glass, punched and slapped, kicked, stomped, cut, robbed, called ugly, rejected, deprived, denigrated and bullied.The Court ignored all the significant mitigating circumstances of childhood abuse and the fact that the indictment (#8809-6115) was fatally defective, where it does not charge any crime at all, and does not charge an element of criminal intent pertaining to the act. The Court sentenced me to 20-Life for which I have already served 24 years. 


10.  Dutch prisons are closing because the country is so safe
By /Chris Weller

In 2013, 19 prisons in the Netherlands closed because the country didn't have enough criminals to fill them.  Now, five more are slated to close their doors by the end of the summer, according to internal documents obtained by The Telegraaf.

While these closures will result in the loss of nearly 2,000 jobs, only 700 of which will transition into other unknown roles within Dutch law enforcement, the trend of closing prisons follows a steady drop in crime since 2004.  The problem of empty jail cells has even gotten to the point where, last September, the country imported 240 prisoners from Norway just to keep the facilities full.

Still, according to The Telegraaf's report, Justice Minister Ard van der Steur announced to parliament that the cost of maintaining sparsely-filled prisons was cost-prohibitive for the small country.  A number of factors underlie the Netherlands' ability to keep its crime rate so low, namely, relaxed drug laws, a focus on rehabilitation over punishment, and an electronic ankle monitoring system that allows people to re-enter the workforce.
A study published in 2008 found the ankle monitoring system reduced the recidivism rate by up to half compared to traditional incarceration. Instead of wasting away in a jail cell, eating up federal dollars, convicted criminals are given the opportunity to contribute to society.

These measures all add up to an unbelievably low incarceration rate: Although the Netherlands has a population of 17 million, only 11,600 people are locked up. That's a rate of 69 incarcerations per 100,000 people.  The US, meanwhile, has a rate of 716 per 100,000 — the highest in the world.  It's marked largely by its lack of attention to social services and rehabilitation programs once prisoners finish their sentences. Without a safety net to give them any other options, many fall back into their old habits.

Seeing as how the Netherlands is literally importing prisoners to keep jails full, larger countries like the US could learn a thing or two from the Dutch model. 


11.  Building a Winning Team: Speaking Out Against Mass Incarceration
Community basketball tournament organized by: Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP), Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC), and JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA)
Saturday, August 20th, 4pm, Riverside Church  A half time panel will speak on Mass Incarceration

If you'd like to speak on the panel, or play on the teams (all ages and skill levels are welcome!) please contact:
Yazmine Nichols (RAPP) yazmine.nichols@gmail.com  413.884.5205
Molly Padgett (CAIC) molly.padgett@gmail.com      Molly Padgett cell: 505.690.1186 


12.  Governor Cuomo seeks to expand medical coverage for people leaving prison.
That makes New York the first in the nation to request Federal approval to provide high-need individuals with Medicaid coverage 30 days prior to release to avoid relapse & recidivism.  He announced that New York State will seek federal approval to provide Medicaid coverage to incarcerated individuals with serious behavioral and physical health conditions prior to release. The program would ensure a smooth transition back into society for thousands of formerly incarcerated individuals and help reduce the rate of relapse and recidivism in communities across the state. The Medicaid coverage would apply to certain medical, pharmaceutical and home health care coordination services.  It’s a great gesture, and we hope it gets approved, but we are prepared to once more be disappointed by a Governor who gets our hopes up and then doesn’t produce results. 

Building Bridges is Prison Action Network’s way 
to communicate with our members.
Please contact us by one of the methods below if you’d like to join us.


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