Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

Translate this page:

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

August 2017



Welcome to the site of Building Bridges, Prison Action Network's newsletter   If you would like to receive a copy in your email in-box every month, please send a note with the reason for your interest.



During the month we post late breaking news and announcements here, so you may want to check now and then.  Scroll down now to go directly to the August 2017 newsletter.



Building Bridges
the monthly newsletter of Prison Action Network
August 2017

Dear Reader,  
We intended to take a vacation this month, but the news is so interesting, we decided to publish anyway, just not work against a deadline.  Our statistician has left the country for his vacation, so we’re sorry to say there won’t be any stats until September.  We know you are disappointed but we’ll try to make it up to you in the next issue, which may be a little late.  In fact we may have to publish it in two parts, in order to cover all the statistics.

We’ve added a new column to our monthly regulars. Over the years we have become increasingly impressed by the importance of litigation in creating change in the criminal justice system [as several of the following articles portray].  According to Prisoners’ Legal Services of NY, there were 108 successful pro se cases in NY courts in the last year alone.  The new column, The Silverback LawFair Report, will provide diverse information to readers who may find it useful in their pro se efforts.  
“The only way to win is with a resilient and tenacious pen.” Anon.
With hope and faith, Your  Editor
In Memory
On August 4, in Brooklyn at the Common Cafe, approximately 30 people gathered to celebrate the life of John MacKenzie, who sacrificed his life for the cause of prison and parole board reform.  We all agreed his act revitalized the movement, and has played a crucial part in the positive changes that appear to be happening.  

Table of Contents
  1. Countdown for the March for Justice!   Starting on Sept 26, People will be marching for a day, some for a few days, some for a few blocks and others are marching all 19 days.  The more of us who join the more people who will learn about the struggles of people in prison and their loved ones.  Walk for those who can’t because they’re behind bars.
  2. Offering hospitality to families who have traveled for hours to visit inmates in North Country prisons is one part of the mission of a new organization called Friends in the Adirondacks. 
  3. The Silverback LawFair Report:  Packingham vs North Carolina “the Government may not suppress lawful speech in order to suppress unlawful speech.”
  4. Legislation: 12 Senate bills passed the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee
  5. C.U.R.E takes the position that sex offender registries be abolished. Present laws have rarely assisted in prevention of an abusive situation. Recidivism rates of less than 5%, by convicted sex offenders level 2, certainly mitigates against the efficacy of the tremendous expenditure for the registries.
  6. “Actual Innocence Justice Act of 2017” clarifies that convicted persons who can demonstrate a reasonable probability that they are innocent will have the right to challenge their convictions under the law
  7. Recently appointed to the Parole Board,  Charles Davis will be the first person in that position who is working on a Doctor of Behavior Health degree.
  8. The American criminal justice system is exceptional, in the worst way possible: It combines exceptionally coercive plea bargaining, exceptionally long sentences, exceptionally brutal prison conditions and exceptionally difficult obstacles to societal re-entry.
  9. North Dakota’s Norway Experiment,  Can humane prisons work in America? A red state aims to find out.
  10. Legal Services of Central NY has filed a class action suit on behalf of youth detained in the Broome County Jail. 
  11. One man’s journey.  After 30 years in prison, Jerome Wright from Buffalo became an involved citizen and is now beginning a new career as the Upstate NY Organizer for CAIC (Citizens Against Isolated Confinement).
  12. “There’s software used across the country to predict future criminals. And it’s biased against blacks.”
  13. In response to court rulings, Parole officials in New York have started considering an offender’s age at the time of their crime.
  14. Parole Watchers watched in amazement ….


1.  Countdown for the March for Justice!  
A project of Alliance of Families for Justice
Soffiyah Elijah founder

In baseball terms, we're in the 7th inning stretch. On August 26th we'll be joined by hundreds of New Yorkers from all over the state who will march with us from New York City to Albany and demand that Governor Cuomo and the state legislature bring an immediate end to human rights violations in the prisons and jails and shut down Attica prison. 

Organizations from Buffalo to Long Island, the Adirondacks to Brownsville will be marching and building unity for a common goal. Dozens of volunteers have come forward to help make the March a success. Some are marching for a day, some for a few days, some for a few blocks and others are marching all 19 days. Walking side by side will be families with  incarcerated loved ones and people with a criminal records joined by clergy, lawyers, youth, the elderly, organized labor, health care professionals, entertainers, artists, authors, activists, elected officials, organizers, executives and journalists.
We'll start in Harlem at 9 a.m. on Saturday, August 26th with an exciting kick-off rally and press conference. Performers include author/actor/educator Liza Jesse Peterson, jazz pianist Joel Forrester, Impact Repertory Theatre Performance Company, jazz trombonist Craig Harris and Ensemble, David Tarlow and the Hudson Valley Sally Band and Batala’.

The event will be MC’d by AFJ Board and founding member, Antonio Yarbough who spent 20 years in the notorious Attica prison before he was finally fully exonerated. Antonio will be joined by AFJ founding member and activist, Eddie Rosario. 

At noon the marchers will step off and head to Pastors of Our Savior Lutheran Church in the Bronx. We will hold a community education forum, followed by dinner and some rest. The next morning we’ll head to Yonkers to New Creation of Fellowship Tabernacle. All along the way we’ll hold forums, teach-ins and press conferences. The march includes a mural project where marchers and local artists will memorialize the March by painting a mural wall in each town/village/city where we stop along the route.

The march will culminate in Albany with a major rally and press conference on Wednesday, September 13th. The rally will include performances and solidarity statements from a host of supporters from across the country. The date is historically significant because it marks the 46th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising and horrific massacre. 
                     You can follow the marchers each day of the route at www.afj-ny.org 



2.  Activists join forces to help families visit North Country inmates
She slept like a baby while listening to the sound of water in the creek outside, said Carol Harriott, referring to the time she accepted an offer from a woman near Lake Placid to stay overnight at her home during a weekend visit to her son, an inmate at Upstate Correctional Facility in Malone, near the Canadian border.

Offering hospitality to families who have traveled for hours to visit inmates in North Country prisons is one part of the mission of a new organization called Friends in the Adirondacks. The other part is “opening hearts and minds” of residents of the Adirondacks and “helping them move beyond the stereotypes that render inmates and their families invisible,” said the group’s cofounder, Martha Swan.

Family members are often met with hostility from prison staff and local residents, said the group’s other cofounder, Soffiyah Elijah.  Members of the group host inmates’ visiting families for meals or for overnight stays that make the long trip from New York City less grueling. Otherwise, a typical visit on a bus from New York City involves leaving late on a Friday or Saturday night and riding for as long as nine hours and then being deposited in front of the prison sometimes hours before it opens; visitors then get back on the bus in the late afternoon and return to the city 24 hours after they first left.
Swan said one inspiration for their collaboration came from an experience she had last summer; “Where do we get in?” a family of 3 asked her. She explained to them how to enter, and minutes later she saw them again.  They told her that visiting hours end at 3 p.m., but that the prison stops letting people in at 2:30.  They declined her offer of a place to stay.  That was when the idea came up, Swan said, of the hospitality network.

The organization hopes to expand by creating a network of people between New York City and the prisons, who can help out as needed. She said that those first two women whom she had hosted overnight had left during a snowstorm and had run into car trouble near Queensbury late on Sunday night.  After they called Swan to ask if she had any ideas, she called everyone she knew who might know a mechanic, without any luck, but the incident made Swan think about creating a network of friendship and hospitality up and down the Hudson.   by Elizabeth Floyd Mair



3.  The Silverback LawFair Report
Packingham vs North Carolina
By Anpu Unnefer Amen

In 2002, Lester Gerard Packingham was convicted of a crime in Durham, N.Carolina which required that he register as a sex offender.  A status under the law of that state that could potentially remain for 30 years or more. 

North Carolina enacted a statute in 2008 which made it a felony for a registered sex offender “to access a commercial social networking network website where the sex offender knows that the site permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal web pages.” N.C. Gen. Stat.Ann. §14-202.5 (a),(e).

In 2010, Mr. Packingham was happy to find out that a traffic ticket filed against him was dismissed and posted the following on his Facebook profile:  “Man, God is Good! How about I got so much favor they dismissed the ticket before court even started?  No fine, no court cost, no nothing spent… Praise be to God, WOW!

As the result of an investigation that was being conducted, Packingham’s post was discovered and he was indicted by a grand jury for violating the North Carolina Penal Code.  Although it was never alleged that he utilized Facebook to engage in sexually deviant behavior he was ultimately convicted and given a suspended prison sentence.  After a series of appeals his case became one of the first of its kind handled by the  U.S. Supreme Court to address the “relationship between the First Amendment and the modern internet.  Packingham vs North Carolina, 137 /s.Ct. 1730  (decided June 19, 2017).

In analyzing the North Carolina Statute, the Supreme Court reasoned that sexual abuse “is a most serious crime and an act repugnant to the moral instincts of decent people,” and that a legislature “may pass valid laws to protect… victims of sexual assault from abuse.”  However,, the Court determined that the North Carolina  statute impermissibly restricts the lawful speech of those affected by the statute in violation of the First Amendment.  By barring access to social media, current events, the ability to check ads for employment, impinging on an individual’s ability to receive legitimate benefits from being able to access the world of ideas, especially where individuals have been convicted of crimes who are actually seeking to reform and pursue lawful and rewarding lives, while being prohibited from otherwise exploring “the vast realms of human thought and knowledge,” the law implemented by the legislature in North Carolina addresses a critical problem but “sweeps far too broadly to satisfy the demands of the Free Speech Clause.”

Citing one of its prior precedents, the Supreme Court stated that:”a fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more.”  This particular decision is binding on all states throughout the nation although it addressed legislation that was enacted in North Carolina.  Especially here in New York State where countless restrictions are included within the parole conditions of individuals convicted of sex offenses under its statutes.  The United States Constitution is the “supreme law of the land”, and the United States Supreme Court is vested with the “judicial power of the United States” thereby making them the “interpreters of the Constitution.”  In conclusion, although the supreme Court ruled that the statute is unconstitutional as applied, it did not rule out the enactment of “valid laws to protect children and other victims of sexual assault from abuse.”  Its main concern in these type of situations is enforcing and maintaining the constitutional mandate 
under the First Amendment which directs that the “the Government may not suppress lawful speech in order to suppress unlawful speech.”        

[ Next month’s article will talk about Federal Civil Immigrations detainers,  and how they violate the United States Constitution.] 



4.  Legislative report:  Senate Bills that passed in Committee on June 7th.
Explanation:   S stands for Senate, A stands for Assembly.   If a bill has a sponsor in both chambers we identify it with a slash mark between their two numbers (A.1234 / S.5678) and the primary sponsors like this: (Kavanagh/Parker).  For Assembly bills, the first name is the Assembly Member and for Senate bills the Senate sponsor is listed first.  We don't list the co-sponsors.  You may write us for that information (SASE required) or look it up on-line.
If a bill is “reported” or “referred”, it means it passed out of the Corrections Committee to another committee (from where it may go to the entire Assembly for a floor vote).  Before any of these bills become law they have to be passed in both houses, where changes can be made from the floor before a final vote.  If passed, the Governor has to sign them before they can become the law.
On June 7, 2017,  12 bills were passed by the Senate's Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee  - 
Patrick Gallivan, Chair.  (what is it with this group and sex-offenders?*)
Bill Number
Primary Sponsor/s
Purpose
S.3689/A.8247
Committed to Rules
Tedisco/Jones
An individual who has been convicted of first or second degree murder, aggravated murder, or first, second, or third degree rape shall be ineligible to partake in a furlough program or a temporary release program. No such person shall be left in the company of civilians without supervision of a prison guard or law enforcement officer. Nor should such individual be granted the privilege of wearing civilian clothing.
S.3957/A.6545
Committed to Rules
Seward/Brindisi
To prevent sex offenders from knowingly living near their victims, entering or living near school grounds, and to prohibit attendance or participation in school events or activities.
S.4262/A7060
Committed to Rules
Montgomery/Walker
Distributes the appointing authority of the State Board of Parole
among the Governor, Senate and Assembly. On and after January 1, 2019
the Parole Board shall consist of 19 members. Of such members nine shall be appointed by the governor, three shall be appointed upon recommendation of the temporary president of the senate, three shall be appointed upon the recommendation of the speaker of the assembly, two shall be appointed upon the recommendation of the minority leader of the senate and two shall be appointed upon the recommendation of the minority leader of the assembly.
S.4909/A.2394
Passed in both houses
Diaz/Dinowitz
To create a volunteer program of home visitation to elderly and invalid victims of violent crime, in consultation with the NYS Office for theAging.
S.5068/no same as. Passed Senate
Gallivan
A defendant convicted of a sexually motivated felony will be considered a "sex offender" for purposes of the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA)
S.5348/A540
Passed Senate
Murphy/Gunther
Restricts level three sex offenders from working within 500 feet of any school or day care facility.
S.5386/A.8449 Passed Senate
Murphy/Simanowitz
Prohibits certain sex offenders from entering or remaining on school grounds or at any facility for the treatment of children.
S.5409/A.7985
Passed Senate and Assembly
Gallivan/Blake
Allows county jails to contract with medical professional corporations for the provision of inmate health care services.

S.6038/ no same as
Funke
Increases penalties for parolees who violate parole by committing a violent crime while on parole.
S.6176/A588
Reported to Rules
Little/Rosenthal
Relates to providing feminine hygiene products at no cost to individuals in correctional facilities and in any other punitive custodial setting. 
S.6189/no same as  
Passed Senate
Lanza
Provides that certain sex offenders who are released on parole or sentenced to probation may not enter public, association or free libraries.
S.6322/A.8340 Committed to Rules
Hoylman/Weprin
Directs the commissioner of DOCCS to undertake a study of the surveillance, prevention, treatment and prevalence of hepatitis C among the inmate population




5.  *A Principled Position on the Sex Offender Registry
An Alternative Approach
C.U.R.E takes the position that sex offender registries be abolished. Present laws have rarely assisted in prevention of an abusive situation. Approximately 90% of all sex offenses are committed by a family member or close acquaintance1. Recidivism rates of less than 5%, by convicted sex offenders level 2, certainly mitigates against the efficacy of the tremendous expenditure for the registries.

Registration results in severe collateral consequences such as unemployment, homelessness, and often physical and humiliating attacks on registrants, their property, and families.
The sex offender registry has resulted in registrants and their families facing significant obstacles in building a life for themselves after incarceration. One of the best methods of prevention should be a positive life for a former sex offender – being on the registry can bring on some of the same characteristics that led the person into an abusive life in the past. Registration laws actually decrease public safety by making it more difficult for former offenders to reintegrate into society, ultimately increasing their likelihood of reoffending.

Our nation needs to change the presumptions that have led to such hysteria in thinking there is so much sexual abuse by those previously convicted. That theory has been fueled by “law and order” and “get tough on crime” approaches which have failed. It has taken on a mentality like the Salem witch trials of the past, or the infamous Japanese internment camps during World War II that were created out of fear.

They are as ineffective and damaging as the infamous “war on drugs” where other failed policies were applied to another group. And many benefitted from an industrial complex that developed, just as the present development with the sex offender registry industry.
Instead of producing a sense of safety, it has fostered and perpetuated a sense of fear amongst an uneasy public and inhibits positive, proactive discussion around the causes that can lead to an abusive circumstance – causes that have nothing to do with how far away someone lives from a school or bus stop, or whether they are permanently rendered pariahs by a modern scarlet letter. These registries promote hatred and retaliation against former offenders, their families, and even their victims at times. It is counterproductive to enact such registries.
It is imperative that legislative bodies effectively address the problem and rescind, or seriously refine, the laws that are harmful and are not assisting in sex abuse prevention. It is time to take a smart approach, not a hysterical one.

By eliminating the registry, those resources saved could be re-directed to a concerted effort to educate the public – including media, social networks, and lawmakers – regarding the nature of sexual offenses and how to protect children and the vulnerable from such activity. Sexual abuse is foremost a public health problem and cannot be effectively solved through the criminal justice system, as we have seen. The elimination of the registry will allow former sexual offenders to more effectively reintegrate into society.

Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants -  Sex Offenders Restored Through Treatment
P.O. Box 1022, Norman, OK 73070-1022 G Phone: (405) 639-7262 - E-mail: info@cure-sort.org - Web: www.cure-sort.org



6.  “Actual Innocence Justice Act of 2017”
introduced in February 2017 and referred to Codes, might be of interest to readers who claim innocence. Note: it has not passed.
S.351/A.4689
Reported to Codes
Peralta/O’Donnell
Establishes the actual innocence justice act of 2017; clarifies that convicted persons who can demonstrate a reasonable probability that they are innocent will have the right to challenge their convictions under the law, notwithstanding any other procedural or technical provisions of law that would have prevented them from doing so. 
JUSTIFICATION:
Over the past twenty years, 284 DNA exonerations of convicted innocents in the United States have drawn the attention of citizens and legislatures around the country to the phenomenon of wrongful convictions of the innocent. According to the data provided by the Innocence Project, twenty-six, or nearly 10%, of those 284 exonerations were in the State of New York. In addition, the New York State Bar Association's Task Force on Wrongful Convictions recently identified and studied fifty-three "judicial/formal exonerations" over the last twenty-odd years, thirty-one of them non-DNA  exonerations. Thirty-nine additional non-DNA exonerations have been identified in preparing this legislation, mainly by examining the results of compensation actions pursuant to Court of Claims Act § 8-b. 

Thus, at least ninety-five men and women have been clearly identified in New York as having spent years, sometimes decades in prison for murders, rapes, and other serious crimes they did not commit. A significant number of other reversals and vacaturs have occurred where there was strong evidence of innocence, but for one reason or another cannot be included in a set of clear-cut “exonerations." Thus wrongful convictions are not a trivial problem in New York. As Judge Lippman recently wrote in Hurrell-Harring v. State: “Wrongful conviction, the ultimate sign of a criminal justice system's breakdown and failure, has been documented in too many cases." 2010 WL 1791000  (N.Y. May 6, 2010).

Many exonerations in New York were achieved through the litigation of CPL § 440.10 motions, demonstrating that New York's post-conviction statute is an excellent avenue of collateral relief for many innocent individuals - a good model, in fact, for other states to follow. Yet it has become clear that some state court judges are not providing justice in such cases, often because of their interpretation of the procedural limitations of the current law. In the case of Marty Tankleff, the lower court denied Tankleff’s motion to vacate judgment based on 440.10(1)(g)and 440.10(1)(h). Tankleff’s direct appeal of the verdict to the appellate division and a federal habeas appeal had also been previously denied. In denying the motion based on 440.10(1) (g), the trial Court found the defendant did not exercise due diligence in moving for a new trial. The 440.10(1) (h) motion was denied based on the court's finding that there exists no constitutional right to relief based on actual innocence. If it had not been for the appellate division remitting the case to the county court for a new trial, Tankleff’s wrongful conviction would most likely never have been heard due to the limited nature of the few remedies available to him. It is intolerable that any person in New York whose trial has been shown to have led to a manifest injustice should remain in prison on a technicality under state law.

For individuals like Marty Tankleff, the Criminal Procedure Law currently offers only limited hope for collateral relief by establishing a series of post-conviction procedural roadblocks that, taken together, can deprive an innocent person from having his or her innocence claim fully and fairly aired. The tragic result--as graphically demonstrated in hundreds of wrongful conviction cases throughout the country - is that an innocent person can spend years or even decades behind bars while the real perpetrator remains free to commit more crimes and terrorize additional victims. This bill is intended to renew and strengthen the authorization of state court judges, despite any and all procedural or other technical obstacles, to re-visit and give a fair hearing to any case that presents to the reasonable mind a serious doubt about factual guilt.   
[For the complete Justification, please send a SASE and the title of this article to the address below.]



7.  Future Doctor of Behavior Health student appointed to the NYS Parole Board
Charles Davis will be working toward a BDH degree at Cummings Graduate Institute for Behavioral Health Studies

This marks the first time in history that a future DBH has served on a State Board of Parole in New York or any other US State. Reflecting upon the recent appointment, Charles shared that “Because I have the DBH program listed on my resume, the Senators wanted to know all about the program in each hearing. I was questioned by New York Senate Board members to explain the DBH program, and the ‘DBH’ title.  Everyone appears to be excited to have someone on the Board with behavioral experience. My goal is to use the education and skills acquired at CGI to improve behavioral health services throughout the New York correctional system.  Integration of care will support inmates while in prison, and will ensure appropriate treatment upon release, thus reducing recidivism rates among the formerly incarcerated.”


8.  The Practical Case for Parole for Violent Offenders
By Marc Morjé Howard
New York Times  Opinion AUGUST 8, 2017

Excerpts:
The American criminal justice system is exceptional, in the worst way possible: It combines exceptionally coercive plea bargaining, exceptionally long sentences, exceptionally brutal prison conditions and exceptionally difficult obstacles to societal re-entry.
This punitiveness makes us stand out as uniquely inhumane in comparison with other industrialized countries. To remedy this, along with other changes, we must consider opening the exit doors — and not just for the “easy” cases of nonviolent drug offenders. Yes, I’m suggesting that we release some of the people who once committed serious, violent crimes.
There’s widespread agreement that current practices are unsustainable. The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, yet has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. The grim reality of American justice is that there are 2.3 million people behind bars, five million on parole or probation, 20 million with felony convictions and over 70 million with a criminal record.
Rejection is usually based on the “nature of the crime,” rather than an evaluation of a person’s transformation and accomplishments since they committed it.
It permanently excludes people who would be eager to contribute to society as law-abiding citizens, while taxpayers spend over $30,000 a year to house each prisoner. And it deprives hundreds of thousands of people of a meaningful chance to earn their freedom.
But are prisoners who have served long sentences for violent crimes genuinely capable of reforming and not reoffending? The evidence says yes. In fact, only about 1 percent of people convicted of homicide are arrested for homicide again after their release. This outcome may sound surprising, but having spent one afternoon a week for the past three years teaching in a maximum-security prison in Maryland, I’m not shocked at all. Many of the men I teach would succeed on the outside if given the chance. They openly recognize their past mistakes, deeply regret them and work every day to grow, learn and make amends. Many of them are serving life sentences with a theoretical chance of parole, but despite submitting thick dossiers of their accomplishments in prison along with letters of support from their supervisors and professors, they are routinely turned down.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that all long-term prisoners should be released nor that the perspectives of crime victims should be ignored. Serious crimes warrant long sentences. But other democracies provide better models for running criminal justice and prison systems. Perhaps we could learn from them and acquire a new mind-set — one that treats prisons as sites to temporarily separate people from society while creating opportunities for personal growth, renewal and eventual re-entry of those who are ready for it.
Marc Morjé Howard is the director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative at Georgetown, where he is a professor of government and law, and is the author of “Unusually Cruel: Prisons, Punishment and the Real American Exceptionalism.”


9.  North Dakota’s Norway Experiment,  Can humane prisons work in America? A red state aims to find out.
Dashka Slater for Mother Jones’ July/August 2017 Issue

Late one night in October 2015, North Dakota prisons chief Leann Bertsch met Karianne Jackson, one of her deputies, were having a drink in a hotel bar in Oslo, Norway. They had just spent an exhausting day touring Halden, the maximum-security facility dubbed“the world’s most humane prison,” yet neither of them could sleep.

Halden is situated in a remote forest of birch, pine, and spruce with an understory of blueberry shrubs. The prison is surrounded by a single wall. It has no barbed wire, guard towers, or electric fences. Prisoners stay in private rooms with en suite bathrooms and can cook for themselves in kitchens equipped with stainless-steel flatware and porcelain dishes. Guards and inmates mingle freely, eating and playing games and sports together. Violence is rare and assaults on guards are unheard of.  Solitary confinement is almost never used.

By this point, Bertsch had been in charge of North Dakota’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which includes four adult prisons and one juvenile facility, for more than a decade, and Jackson had spent seven years as director of correctional practices. They’d left Bismarck feeling pretty good about their system, which prided itself on its humane practices and commitment to rehabilitation. But now, sitting in the glassed-in bar of the Radisson hotel with its view of the Oslo fjord, Bertsch began to cry. “We’re hurting people,” she said.

It is worth noting that Leann Bertsch is no pushover. She comes across as stoic and cool. She grew up on a farm in the eastern part of the state and served 21 years in the National Guard (retiring as a major) and eight years as a state prosecutor. She has run the prisons in this deep-red state under three Republican governors, and she moonlights as president of the Association of State Correctional Admin­istrators. But in Oslo that evening, Bertsch was uncharacteristically emotional. 

“It was definitely one of those moments where you’re rethinking everything,” she recalls. “I had always thought that we run a good system. We’re decent. We don’t abuse people. We run safe facilities with good programs. It was just like, ‘How did we think it was okay to put human beings in cagelike settings?’”

The Norway sojourn was the brainchild of Donald Specter, executive director of the Prison Law Office, a California public-interest law firm. In 2011, while visiting European prisons with a group of Maryland college students, Specter was struck by how profoundly the experience altered their views on incarceration. He decided to use some of the legal fees his office had won in its lawsuits against California prisons to bring state corrections chiefs, judges, and lawmakers on similar journeys.
And so, when Bertsch and Jackson returned home, it was with a radical new goal: “to implement our humanity.”

Bertsch and Jackson are convinced that their quest to treat prisoners like human beings jibes well with their state’s conservative goals: Be nice. Be fiscally responsible. Be a good neighbor. “The most I can do with the Legislature,” Bertsch tells me, “is get them to understand that incarcerating more people is not a good investment. If we had the same incarceration rate as Norway, we would have the resources to do a really good job with the people in our system.”
“I’m not a liberal,” she adds. “I’m just practical.”  
[copies of the full article are available for a SASE with the month and name of this article.]


10.   Legal Services of Central NY has filed a class action suit on behalf of youth detained in the Broome County Jail.  By Bill Martin, for JUST
This is a major advance in the struggle against unwarranted medical and physical abuse at the Broome County jail--a jail with an unprecedented death rate and a record of abuse long reported to no avail by JUST to county officials and the State Attorney General's office among others. 
As the opening statement notes, "This class-action civil-rights lawsuit challenges the solitary confinement of 16- and 17-year-olds, most of whom have not been convicted of any crime, at the Broome County Correctional Facility (“Broome County Jail” or “the Jail”). Despite an emerging consensus that solitary confinement places juveniles at risk of serious harm-   including suicide, psychosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder-   and despite a national abandonment of solitary confinement of juveniles, the Broome County Sheriff’s Office has embraced the frequent and arbitrary use of solitary confinement. As the Sheriff’s Office is well aware, these practices are exposing the young people held at the Jail to serious harm. Compounding the profound consequences of the Office’s wanton use of solitary confinement, 
Office officials also are denying juveniles basic educational services and denying students with disabilities access to special education supports and services."This is part of a wide-ranging series of actions by many.  Further information is on the Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier (JUST) website (www.justicest.com) and facebook pages, and in many of our op-eds and articles on the jail.  The full text is available through our website.
By Bill Martin, for JUST

11.  One man’s journey through the re-entry process. 
The Urban Justice Center (UJC) and the CAIC Hiring Committee are pleased to announce that Jerome Wright has been hired to serve as the CAIC Upstate NY Organizer. Jerome lives in Buffalo and will spend a significant amount of time in Albany during the legislative session. Jerome will start in this full-time position on August 1.

The funding for this position came from a grant from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock (UUCSR) Large Grants Program. Jerome will be a staff member at UJC. If you are interested in learning more about the position, please take a look at the job announcement.

Jerome is a member of CAIC in Western New York. He participated as a team leader at our advocacy days in Albany in 2016 and 2017. This year he was a speaker at the morning panel on May 2. (You may have met some of the students he brought with him from Vertus Charter High School in Rochester.)

Jerome is a returning citizen who spent 30 years in prison. Upon his release in January 2009, Jerome immediately began working at Basics Outreach Ministries with their Youth Intervention Program and eventually he ascended to Program Director. Jerome later worked with the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) as Site Supervisor and Life Enrichment Class facilitator, training, teaching and supervising both people on parole and probation who worked to help beautify the most run down and blighted areas of Buffalo. He now works as the President/CEO of the MAN (Mentoring And Nurturing) Program and as a Preceptor (teacher/mentor) at Vertus Charter High School in Rochester providing student support services and court advocacy while also providing mentoring, tutoring and behavior modification training to at risk youth in Buffalo and Rochester.   

Jerome provides mentorship training at Elim Christian Fellowship and the “Reentry Friends” ministry at Westminster Presbyterian Church to better prepare them for mentoring the formerly incarcerated population in Buffalo.  He also has done community work through his church, Elim Christian Fellowship, especially working with young people in the Central Park neighborhood through the SHOFAR and Men's Ministries.  After several years of dedicated service with the Safety Ministry at Elim Jerome was ordained by Bishop T. Anthony Bronner as a Deacon in 2012 where he continues to serve and do community outreach/advocacy, currently working as an Anger Management facilitator and a facilitator/trainer in the Restorative Justice initiative at Elim.  
[Building Bridges applauds Mr. Wright for his good works, and welcomes more stories about reentry]  



12.  In the MIT Technology Review Vol. 120 No 4, titled Inspecting Algorithms for Bias
“Machine Bias,” the headline read, and the teaser proclaimed: “There’s software used across the country to predict future criminals. And it’s biased against blacks.”

ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize–winning nonprofit news organization, analyzed risk assessment software known as COMPAS which is being used to forecast which criminals are most likely to ­reoffend. Guided by such forecasts, judges in courtrooms throughout the United States make decisions about the future of defendants and convicts, determining everything from bail amounts to sentences. When ProPublica compared COMPAS’s risk assessments for more than 10,000 people arrested in one Florida county with how often those people actually went on to reoffend, it discovered that the algorithm “correctly predicted recidivism for black and white defendants at roughly the same rate.” But when the algorithm was wrong, it was wrong in different ways for blacks and whites. Specifically, “blacks are almost twice as likely as whites to be labeled a higher risk but not actually re-offend.” And COMPAS tended to make the opposite mistake with whites: “They are much more likely than blacks to be labeled lower risk but go on to commit other crimes.”

It’s not necessarily a bad idea to use risk assessment systems like COMPAS. In many cases, ADM systems can increase fairness. Human decision making is at times so incoherent that it needs oversight to bring it in line with our standards of justice. As one specifically unsettling study showed, parole boards were more likely to free convicts if the judges had just had a meal break. This probably had never occurred to the judges. An ADM system could discover such inconsistencies and improve the process.

But often we don’t know enough about how ADM systems work to know whether they are fairer than humans would be on their own. In part because the systems make choices on the basis of underlying assumptions that are not clear even to the systems’ designers, it’s not necessarily possible to determine which algorithms are biased and which ones are not. And even when the answer seems clear, as in ­ProPublica’s findings on COMPAS, the truth is sometimes more complicated.



13.  Parole Board to consider age of person at time of offense

Parole officials in New York have started considering an offender's age at the time of their crime in response to court rulings which state that juvenile offenders serving life sentences must have a meaningful shot at release. 

The Board of Parole immediately changed its procedures after a 2016 state appellate court decision and is working on final regulations to codify the change, according to state corrections agency spokeswoman Rachel Heath.
The 2016 decision by New York state's appellate division found that a juvenile offender's youth must be considered during parole hearings in order to give them a meaningful chance at release.

While New York has not sentenced juveniles to life in prison without parole, critics of the parole board said it made little difference if they routinely denied parole to offenders sentenced to decades or life in prison as juveniles. Recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings have significantly narrowed the instances in which those who commit offenses under age 18 can be subject to the harshest penalties.


14.  ParoleWatchers could hardly believe their eyes and ears

For those who don’t know, a random group of people show up every month when the Parole Board holds its business meeting in Albany.  Anyone who wants to watch silently is permitted.  To find the dates and times,  please visit the Parole website: www.doccs.ny.gov/ParoleBoardSchedule.pdfMeetings take place - usually at 1pm - at the New York State Training Academy of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision located at 1134 New Scotland Avenue, Albany, N.Y., 12208. 
Future meetings as posted:  August 28, 2017,  September 25, 2017,  October 23, 2017,  November 27,  2017.  In case there’s a postponement we suggest checking again near to the date.   (call 518 486 5477)

The July 31st Parole Board Business meeting was encouraging:
To start with: the metal detector was not turned on, although, like trained sheep, some of us walked through it anyway.
The business meeting began with an apology to the visitors (us) by the Boards’ Chair, Tina Stanford, for not allowing us to bring our cell phones into last month’s meeting.  She explained it was a mistake by a new employee.
After giving the new parole commissioners time to introduce themselves, Chairwoman Stanford made the following announcements.

  • Their complete bios will be posted soon on the Parole website.
  • The Vera Institute will be training the NYS Parole Commissioners.  Ms Stanford made it mandatory for all of them.  (Check out Vera’s website and articles on criminal justice reform at Vera.org) for a better idea of the significance of this)
  • The rules and regs (remember them?) will be posted very soon.
  • There will be no more 2-person Parole Panels.  (Starting date was not revealed.)
  • The website will soon have a current list of commissioners with their terms, etc.


The new commissioners and Tina looked happy.  The old Board members sat stone-faced and did not comment when they were invited to give feedback. 

Read now!