Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

Translate this page:

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

March 2015

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 please check back now and then.  Scroll down to read the March newsletter.

To enlarge the text size, try clicking your cursor anywhere in the text, and then press the command key with the + key.


Posted March 18 - NPR RadioAll Things Considered, an NPR radio program, will be broadcasting a segment by Jenny Zou from The New York World, on the difficulty in finding approved housing for sex offenders, resulting in prolonged incarceration for sometimes many months.

Look for it in the archives at http://www.npr.org/programs/all-things-considered/




Posted March 10 - Salon covers Moral Monday in Albany
 Click here to read the article on taking back "Moral Language" in describing the problems and the solutions to mass incarceration and it's manifestations.

  


Posted March 8 - From the magazine Jacobin's blog
Analysis of the current criminal justice system and what's behind it
Read the article here:  http://tinyurl.com/nzzcj5n




Posted March 6 - Articles from The Marshall Project;
Attica's Prosecutors Show Their Hand.
Read the article here: http://tinyurl.com/odzy7z5

How to Cut the Prison Population by 50 Percent.  Read the article here:  http://tinyurl.com/naodb32






Building Bridges, March 2015


Dear Reader,  

  We want you to know about our goals for this year, especially as they relate to the SAFE Parole Act (S.1728/A.2930)

In a nutshell, we are looking at the next two years of Republican control of the NYS Senate, and realizing we’ve been given two years to build a stronger movement.  [We’re not partisan; all political parties with the possible exception of the Green Party (we’ll see what happens when one of them actually gets elected) disappoint us, but the Senate’s Republican majority, despite containing some very nice people, march in lockstep to orders for harsh criminal justice policies, the opposite of what we work for.]  

Our primary goal will be to increase our efforts to educate New Yorkers about the injustices of the NYS criminal (in)justice system and the part our legislators play in its existence.  We want to encourage New Yorkers to vote intelligently and in great numbers in the 2016 election, to get some progressive thinkers in office.  And not only to vote, but those who have time, to run for office.  Running for office is not just about winning; it can also be a megaphone for your point of view.  The media has to pay attention to candidates, even if all they do is ridicule.  Prison Action Network will help promote you.  What’s important is getting attention for our cause.  You, dear readers, have a big role in accomplishing this.  (Do I sound like a broken record?)  

If you think for one moment that Prison Action Network staff can do it all by ourselves, think again.  We need all our members (if you’re getting this, you are one) to join us by making sure every conversation you have involves something about the way systemic injustices hurt you and your family.  If you want justice, you have to doggedly devote a part of your life to mobilizing your friends and families to get involved, because don’t have enough people power yet.  Prison Action Network can help with tools and information, just let us know what you need.  We all have to commit to keep at it and not give up when it gets discouraging or doesn’t happen overnight. (I’m talking to myself here, too, in case you didn’t know....)  

For details of what Prison Action Network is planning:  see Article 2.
                                 The Editor      


Contents:
  1. Parole News: January release rates; 2013-2014 parole decisions by facility;  letters about parole issues
  2. Legislative Report: Bills voted on by Senate crime committee, newly introduced bills, 2015 goals for SAFE Parole Act campaign
  3. Guest Column by Michael Love, Good Samaritans in Prison
  4. Researcher invites you to take a survey on the impact of incarceration on families
  5. Black History Month....Again!  February meeting of Prisoners Are People Too! studied the Black Power Movement of the late sixties, early seventies
  6. Boxed Out: New report on challenges of SUNY admission process, by Alan Rosenthal and colleagues
  7. Talking About Justice: TED talk by Bryan Stevenson, We Need to Talk About An Injustice, followed by discussion with well-known NYS prisoner advocates
  8. Op Ed  in NYLJ by Sol Wachtler calls for an end to Solitary Confinement


1.  Parole News - January Release Rates,  2013 and 2014 A1VO Parole Decisions by Facility, Letters from inside

January  2015 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS DIN #s through 2001
unofficial research from parole database
January 2015 Interview Summaries

Interviews
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year to date release rate
Initials 
26
10
16
38%
38%
Reappearances
75
23
52
31%
31%
Total 
101
33
68
33%
33%


January 2015 Age Summaries

Age Range
Total Seen
# Released

Denied 
   Percent Released
60-69
23
7
16
30%
70-79
5
3
2
60%
80+
0



Total
28
10
18
36%


January 2015 Initial Releases by Facility

Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Cayuga
Collins
56
60
25-Life
20-Life
Mrd 2
Mrd 2
1
1 - Deport
Fishkill
45
22-Life 
Mrd 2
1
Green Haven
53
20 - 30
*CPCS 1
1 - Deport
Otisville
46
25-Life
Mrd 2
1 - Deport
Otisville
37
15-Life
Mrd 2
1
Otisville
50
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Otisville
55
20-Life
Mrd 2
1
Wende
41
23-Life
Mrd 2
1 - Deport
Wyoming
60
25-Life
Mrd 2
1

*criminal possession of a controlled substance

January 2015 Reappearance Releases by Facility

Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Attica
53
31-Life
Mrd 2
2
Clinton
49
17-Life
Mrd 2
5
Coxsackie
72
25-Life
Mrd pre 74*
9
Coxsackie
49
25-Life
Mrd 2
4
Coxsackie
72
15-Life
Mrd 2
3
Fishkill
55
25-Life
Mrd 2
5
Franklin
62
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Franklin
44
17-Life
Mrd 2
3
Great meadow
44
15-Life
Mrd 2
5
Green haven
61
20-Life
Mrd 2
7
Green haven
68
33-Life
Mrd 2
6
Green haven
48
15-Life
Mrd 2
9
Groveland
61
25-Life
Mrd 2
4
Hudson
56
25-Life
Mrd 2
6
Midstate
52
15-Life
Mrd 2
6
Otisville
67
25-Life
Mrd pre 74*
11
Otisville
70
15-Life
Mrd pre 74*
15
Otisville
55
25-Life
Mrd 2
6
Otisville
Otisville
59
55
15-Life
25-Life
Mrd 2
Mrd 2
10
3
        

Otisville
54
1-3
Mrd 2
3
Otisville
41
16-Life
Mrd 2
4
Otisville
38
15-Life
Mrd 2
2

*before 1974 some murder sentences were shorter than they are now.  The Parole Board apparently feels they have the right to increase the punishment to today’s standards by denying parole for many years beyond the pre-’74 minimum sentence.


2013 and 2014 A1VO Parole Decisions by Facility
We have charts for both years but we don’t have space to publish both.  So we’re printing the 2014 data and summarizing the 2013 data.  If you want a copy of the 2013 chart, please send us an email with your request.  

At the facilities with the smallest number of A1VO parole applicants the percentages are the most extreme, because, for example, if only 3 people were seen and two were released over the course of a year, that results in an impressive sounding 67% release rate, as it was in 2013 at Adirondack.  The percentage looks good but only two people, doesn’t.

In 2013 three prisons, Fishkill, Otisville and Woodbourne, had the largest numbers of hearings, with 122, 100, and 64 respectively, with release rates of 43%, 47%, and 36%.  There were 893 interviews in all facilities combined; 648 resulted in denials; 245 were releases. That’s a 27% release rate for all hearings in 2013.

In 2014, you’ll notice that Fishkill had 15 more interviews than in 2013, and a release rate of 55%, as compared with 43% in 2013.  Clinton saw 37 parole applicants and released only 5 in 2013; in 2014 they saw 46 with 7 releases.  Green Haven saw 38, released 8 in 2013; 50 in 2014 with 11 releases.  2014 ended with a 28% release rate overall for the year.

2014 A1VO Parole decisions by Facility 


Total Interviews

Denied

Denied
# Released

Released
All Facilities
1147
824
72%
323
28%
ADIRONDACK
1
1
100%
0
0%
ALBION
10
6
60%
4
40%
ALTONA
1
1
100%
0
0%
ATTICA
29
27
93%
2
7%
AUBURN
31
28
90%
3
10%
BARE HILL
30
21
70%
9
30%
BEDFORD HILLS
9
5
56%
4
44%
CAPE VINCENT
8
8
100%
0
0%
CAYUGA
21
15
71%
6
29%
CLINTON
46
39
85%
7
15%
COLLINS
32
25
78%
7
22%
COXSACKIE
15
11
73%
4
27%
EASTERN
12
8
67%
4
33%
ELMIRA
14
11
79%
3
21%
FISHKILL
137
61
45%
76
55%
FIVE POINTS
8
8
100%
0
0%
FRANKLIN
38
25
66%
13
34%
GOUVERNEUR
21
18
86%
3
14%
GOWANDA
16
13
81%
3
19%
GREAT MEADOW
33
28
85%
5
15%
GREEN HAVEN
50
39
78%
11
22%
GREENE
21
15
71%
6
29%





GROVELAND
12
12
100%
0
0%
HALE CREEK-ASAC
1
1
100%
0
0%
HUDSON
11
8
73%
3
27%
LIVINGSTON
21
21
100%
0
0%
MARCY
14
12
86%
2
14%
MIDSTATE
26
21
81%
5
19%
MOHAWK
19
10
53%
9
47%
MT. MCGREGOR
3
3
100%
0
0%
ORLEANS
20
15
75%
5
25%
OTHER AGENCY
10
9
90%
1
10%
OTISVILLE
123
72
59%
51
41%
RIVERVIEW
9
9
100%
0
0%
SHAWANGUNK
23
15
65%
8
35%
SING SING
26
17
65%
9
35%
SOUTHPORT
8
6
75%
2
25%
SULLIVAN
18
17
94%
1
6%
TACONIC
15
9
60%
6
40%
ULSTER
1
1
100%
0
0%
UPSTATE
12
11
92%
1
8%
WALSH MED CNTR
12
6
50%
6
50%
WASHINGTON
17
14
82%
3
18%
WENDE
36
32
89%
4
11%
WOODBOURNE
99
71
72%
28
28%
WYOMING
28
19
68%
9
32%


Letter from a discouraged parole eligible person in a NYS facility”
To his Offender Rehabilitation Counselor:  
This is to inform you of my intent to exempt myself from attending any and all future Parole Board hearings, and I ask that my decision be respected.
The reason for this decision is that from my initial appearance before the Parole Board to my 11th, I have not done anything differently.  I go to my hearing believing I will get a fair hearing, that this group of parole commissioners will be able to see that I am sorry for what I have done.  That I am remorseful that a life was lost because of my actions.  I hope they will see that I hate the fact that I had allowed myself to be talked into something that I should never have done.
However, again and again the parole commissioners focus heavily on my conviction and barely consider who I have become.  The felony murder [means he was part of a group, but not the one who committed the actual crime] - the commissioners never asked if I had done it, but why?  Yes, I was there, but I wasn’t the killer,  and yet I’m still in prison 40 years later on the sentence of twenty years which the Judge felt I deserved.
In all the 20 some years of parole hearings the issue that is foremost in my mind, and which is a great dilemma for all of us with indeterminate sentences, is the Parole Board’s repeated reliance on the phrase “to release you at this time will deprecate the seriousness of the offense.”  My crime will never change, but after 40 years I have.  However the parole commissioners tell me there’s a reasonable probability that I’m going to commit a new crime, without providing any evidence at all to justify that statement.  It’s completely unsupported.  So in knowing all this I will no longer subject myself to the humiliation of what I perceive to be a racially motivated regime that blatantly inflicts injustices upon people of color.
I want to be clear.  I fully realize that there are victims in my crime and I know I caused pain in the lives of their loved ones.  For that and for my crime against my community, I will always be truly sorry.  But I do ask that I am seen as the person who I am today, and not who I was yesterday.  Until I can be sure of that, I respectfully request to be excused from further humiliating and nonproductive experiences before the Parole Board.

Letter from Christian Gonzalez, a Juvenile Offender, after receiving a release date at his 7th parole hearing:
I was given a sentence of 9 years to Life and I’ve been incarcerated for 18 years. I was incarcerated when I was 15 years, and I will be approaching my 34
th birthday when I get home.  I know I’m one of the lucky ones.  Maybe it had something to do with how I did my bid.  I taught A.R.T.(Aggression Replacement Therapy, was an I.P.A.(Inmate Program Associate) Facilitator and also facilitated Orientation and Phase I and I spoke with the youth here at the facility.  Maybe it paid off, because I finally made it.  I hope this news will give a little hope to the many other J.O.’s serving life in a State Prison since the age of 13,14, and 15 years young.



2.  Legislative report - bills voted on by Crime Committee, new bills introduced by Sen. Montgomery, Sen. Diaz and Assembly member Sepulveda. 

Explanation:   S stands for Senate, A stands for Assembly.   Bills with a sponsor in both chambers have a slash mark between their two numbers (A.1234 / S.5678) 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 cosponsors.  You may write us for that information (SASE required) or look it up on-line.  *W/R (1)  means (1 )person voted yes With Reservations.

“To” means it passed out of the Committee to another committee (from where it may go to the entire Assembly for a floor vote).  Bills become law when they pass in both houses, where changes can be made from the floor before a final vote.  The Governor has the final say; he has to sign them before they can become the law.

Bills voted on by Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction   Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Bill # + Action
Sponsor/s
Purpose

S.449   to Finance
Passed 13-0,  *W/R (1) Montgomery
Marcellino
Provides notification of certain persons upon the conditional release of an inmate convicted of a crime against a member of the same family or household.

S.2058 / same as A.1128
To Finance, Passed 13-0, *W/R (1) Montgomery


Flanagan/Lavine
Prevents a convicted person from profiting from his or her crime.
S.2883 /A.2799
 to Finance  Passed 13-0
W/R (2) Montgomery and Rivera

Ranzenhofer/Sepulveda
Implements automated payment detection, prevention and recovery solutions to reduce correctional healthcare overpayments and requires that private health insurance and Medicaid are billed for eligible inpatient hospital and professional services.

S.2885 / A.4254  
Passed 9-2  *W/R(2) Montgomery and Perkins,
Nay: Hassell-Thompson and Rivera

Ranzenhofer/Kearns
Prohibits sex offenders from residing in community homes for the mentally ill.
S.3094 / A.5269
To Finance, Passed unanimously
Marchione/McDonald
Requires DOCCS to take responsibility for costs of monitoring any person required by Parole to use an ignition device.
S.3667 / A.4065
Passed 12 -1  W/R(2) DeFrancisco and Montgomery, 
Nay: Perkins

Savino/ DenDekker
Enables victims to view parole hearings via closed circuit television or a secure online website.
S.3818 / A.2424
Passed unanimously
Hassell-Thompson
/O’Donnell
Requires that notice be provided to any officer or employee of the department of corrections and community supervision whose personal information is the subject of a subpoena duces tecum.


Senator Velmanette Montgomery has introduced bill S.0968 to amend the executive law, requiring that the composition of the state board of parole reflect the prison population that it serves and to ensure professional diversity among its members.
SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS:  Section 1 amends subdivision 1 of section 259-b of the executive law, to require that the members of the board of parole be appointed by the governor, with the advice and consent of the senate and in consultation with the Correctional Association of New York. Additionally, there may not be more than nineteen nor less than fifteen members on the board and the members must reflect the composition of the prison population in race, age, and geographic area of residence. At least one-third of all members must have a minimum of five years previous employment experience in the areas of prison reentry or social services.

JUSTIFICATION:  Currently the composition of the NYS prison inmate population is 49.5% African American, 24.6% Hispanic, 23.1% White, and 2.8% Other. The average age of an inmate is 37.5; 47.5% are from New York City and 23.9% are from Upstate Urban areas. However, the NYS Parole Board does not reflect that composition at all.  While African Americans and Latinos are overrepresented in the prison population, they are underrepresented in almost every other area of the criminal justice system, including membership on the Parole Board.  Currently, the Board consists of a majority of Caucasian members. It is important that the Board reflect the population it is required to serve.

Moreover, it is important that the Board issues fair decisions. The Executive Law mandates that in making a parole release decision, the following factors are to be considered: the institutional record including program goals and accomplishments, academic achievements, vocational education, training or work assignments, therapy and interpersonal relationships with staff and inmates; performance, if any, as a participant in a temporary release program; release plans including community resources, employment, education and training and support services available to the inmate; and the written statement of the crime victim or the victim's representative (see Executive Law 259-i(2) (e)). This mandate, however, has been undermined by the Parole Board as a result of a shift in parole policy.

 Since 1991 the percentage of prisoners released on parole has drastically declined. The sharp drop in parole rates is the result of two major changes in parole laws since 1995 in an effort to get tough on crime. In 1995, a law was passed that requires all people convicted of a second violent felony to serve 85 percent of their sentences. And in 1998, Jenna's Law required that all violent felons serve 85 percent of their terms. This shift in policy away from determining parole based on an individual, case-by-case basis to an en masse denial of parole based on the original crime undermines the purpose of parole.

In order to achieve the standard set in the Executive Law, the Parole Board needs a diverse membership that reflects the prison population and includes members with a background that gives them a perspective other than law enforcement.

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY: 2013-2014 -- S.4431-A; Died in Committee
Jan 7, 2015: REFERRED TO CRIME VICTIMS, CRIME AND CORRECTION]



S.356/A.2943  Senator Diaz/ and Assemblymember Sepulveda have introduced a bill that directs the Board of Parole to add to their annual report the demographic data of persons considered for release.

SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS:  Section 1. Amends the executive law, section 259-c, subdivision 13. Provides that the Parole Board shall publish demographic data including race, ethnicity, region of commitment and other relevant data regarding the persons it considers for release in its statutorily required annual report to the governor and the legislature.

JUSTIFICATION:  The Board of Parole has reported that it does not track release decisions by age, ethnicity or other standard criteria maintained by the Department of Correctional Services. In a public hearing in 2013, the Board chair testified that it has remained completely neutral with respect to demographic comparisons in its parole release decision-making process but admitted that the Board maintains no demographic data to support that claim. The chair also testified that the Board gives no special consideration to the characteristics of inmates which are known to indicate a low risk of recidivism, characteristics like age and category of crime, and has no ability to make sure that discriminatory decisions are not being made based on race, ethnicity, region of commitment, type of offense, age or gender.

The Board claims that race is not a factor in its decisions, but since the Board has never documented race or other demographic data of persons it considers for release, the Board cannot know whether it is in fact as neutral as it purports to be. Because the Department of Correctional Services documents and reports on the demographics of its inmates in a large variety of categories, the ability to track such data and report on it is already available at no additional cost to taxpayers. The Board should be able to reflect on its own performance and lay to rest any claims of disparate treatment.

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY:  2014: S.7844 - Referred to Crime Victims, Crime and Correction/A.9370 Passed Assembly

FISCAL IMPLICATIONS:   Minimal to none in consideration of the fact that the data is already tracked by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, and that the Board already is required to issue an annual report.


The Safe and Fair (S.A.F.E.) Parole Act,  Assembly Bill A.2930 Aubry, Senate Bill S.1728 Parker:   

GOALS for 2015-16:
The same legislators from the last session are supporting the bill.  Senator Gallivan still chairs the Senate’s Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee, and Assembly Member O’Donnell remains the chair of the Assembly’s Correction Committee.  

Under these circumstances, we will be focusing on building our movement.  You are seriously needed!

Several advocacy organizations (not all have been identified yet) will be presenting a conference this Fall to educate people about the counterintuitive reality that the people with the longest sentences, the elderly and people who have been convicted of homicides, in particular, murder, have a low recidivism rate and are not the dangerous criminals we’ve been programmed to see them as. You’ll be needed to spread the word about this conference when we have a date and time and place.

Prison Action Network is organizing, along with allies, a statewide tour of our Family Empowerment Day 6 workshop on how family members can design an effective visit to their legislators’ district offices to advocate for the SAFE Parole Act.  We need you to put us in touch with your relatives and supporters in the community you call home.  
URGENT: Please send their names and addresses, (email addresses if they have one).  We’ll need them to be a vital part of these workshops.

PAN is also collaborating with Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration’s Legislative Committee to educate new people about the role of legislation in our combined struggles, and how to lobby for issues.

The NYS Parole Reform Campaign published Mandu Ra’s booklet on parole board practices as he sees them, which will be sent to anyone who wants to have a better understanding of the issues or to use in explaining this complex issue to others.  Contact them at PO Box 6355, Albany NY 12206,  parolereform@gmail.com, or 518 253 7533.

We are working on another booklet, which will contain quotes from the people and organizations who submitted comments in response to the Parole Board’s specious proposal for rules and regulations to guide their implementation of Risk Assessment tools.  Hopefully it will be ready in a few weeks.

We’d love to hear your suggestions for supporting the SAFE Parole Act...



3.  Guest Column by Michael Love

Good Samaritans in Prison

If your vision is for a year, plant wheat; if your vision is for ten years, plant trees; if your vision is for a lifetime, plant people.” 
 --- Chinese proverb

People helping other people in prison is nothing new.  Stories abound about incarcerated men and women helping others become better and do better.  Often these unsung heroes and sheroes make significant contributions to the safety of the prisons as well as to the communities to which they return.  They are courageous enough to demonstrate genuine concern in these predatory, dog-eat-dog environments where kindness can lead others to perceive weakness. Good Samaritans in prison may sound like an oxymoron, but when people in prison genuinely change and have been reconciled with their humanity, they understand what they owe others, and so they live as contributing members of their communities.

Throughout the years I have seen men exemplify deeds of generosity so wonderful that it takes me aback.  One example is a gentleman named King.  Incarcerated for 34 years, King is serving 25-Life for second-degree murder.  With multiple parole board appearances, King was recently hit with another two years.  In spite of that, he saw that his neighbor, a young man in his mid-thirties, was living in a disorganized and unkempt cube.  Rather than make snide and dismissive remarks about the young man, King showed him how to make up his bed and properly fold his clothes.

Like others I’ve seen, who take similar interest in their fellow inmates, he did not give into cynicism and let himself be paralyzed with indifference.  He had resolved to hold firmly to his humanity.

One of the most admirable vocations that exists in prison is that of Hospice Aide volunteer. These selfless people make themselves available to those who are terminally ill.  Here at the Hospice in the Regional Medical Unit (RMU) at Fishkill C.F., Hospice Aides provide care and comfort to patients with whom they stay until the moment they die.  For Hospice volunteers these people are not nameless and faceless.  From this altruism Hospice volunteers not only learn about the value of each life but also learn humbling lessons about the fragility and brevity of human life.  

Many people conform to the insanity of prison culture; others, however, transform themselves so that prison, with all of its attending ills, does not find a home in their hearts.  As Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote, “They have learned the last of human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”.

The Good Samaritans I’ve witnessed (and aspire to be) have discovered what many great men and women all over the world have learned; it is only in giving of ourselves that our lives take on greater meaning.



4.  "Beyond Prison Walls: The Impact of Incarceration on Families, Children and Community.”

Dear reader, I am a student currently working on a research paper for a sociology class entitled The Family, looking at how incarceration impacts families. If you are interested in taking part in a short survey, and are willing to answer questions regarding your incarceration and how it has affected you and your family, children, and community please respond to: Ben Algeroy WWC-CPO #8040 PO Box 9000 Asheville, NC 28815 or email balgeroy@warren-wilson.edu.

[Ben was referred to Building Bridges by Rima Vesely-Flad, whom many of our readers may remember as the former director of ICARE (Interfaith Coalition of Advocates for Reentry and Employment).  She and her family are now living in Asheville N.C. where she teaches at Warren Wilson College.]



5.  Black Black History Month….Again!

By Karima Amin

I recently made a comment to someone about February being Black History Month. In an incredulous tone, that person replied, “Again!?” I was a little shocked as I was speaking to someone who was my age and college-educated who, for some reason, didn’t realize that Black History Month is an annual observance. Also, she had never heard of Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, “The Father of Black History,” who founded “Negro History Week” in 1926. Initially, the response was lukewarm but the idea gained in popularity over the next five decades and by the 1970’s school administrations, religious institutions, fraternal organizations, city councils, and some state governments embraced the importance of acknowledging the significance of the history of people of African descent. Canada and the UK also celebrate Black History Month. Woodson died in 1950 after distinguishing himself as a historian, journalist, and author, most notably for Mis-Education of the Negro.

I am always encouraged to see my history highlighted and I try, every day, to learn something new that I can share with others.  Although Woodson only designated one week for study and celebration, he spent a lifetime establishing the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (1915) and a journal, The Negro History Bulletin (1933) that still exist today.

At least once or twice yearly, Prisoners Are People Too takes the time to acknowledge Black History by inviting a guest speaker or screening a film which invites us to take a look back at where we have been, to have increased understanding of where we stand today. In February we screened a film, “The Black Power Mixtape -1967-1975,” which is a documentary compilation of people, events, and ideas that fueled nearly a decade known as the “Black Power Movement.” It goes back in time but includes the voices of contemporary people who were influenced by the history.  If you were aware of what Black Americans were experiencing in the 60’s and 70’s, then you need to see this film. You will see that so much of what is going on in this nation now has happened before. If you were a child in the 60’s and 70’s then you need to see this film to know something of the history that was misinterpreted by media, often making the US appear benign and blameless and Blacks appear responsible for their own oppression. This documentary will give you what the typical textbook leaves out.  Yesterday’s frustration with the status quo that ignores Black humanity is still with us today. Yesterday’s police brutality and subsequent violence are still with us today. Yesterday’s racism, both overt and covert, are alive and well in the 21st century USA.

Prisoners Are People Too! holds meetings on the last Monday of each month at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, in  Buffalo, from 7:00- 9:00pm. For more information: Call 716-834-8438; or contact Karima, karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org; or BaBa,  georgebaba_eng@yahoo.com. Visit our website: www.prp2.org and be sure to “like” us on Facebook.



6.  Boxed Out

The Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) and the Education from the Inside Out Coalition are pleased to announce the release of  Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Application Attrition, written by Alan Rosenthal, Esq., Advisor on Special Projects and Counsel; Emily NaPier, M.A., Senior Research Associate; Patricia Warth, Esq. Director of Justice Strategies; and Marsha Weissman, Ph.D., Executive Director. 

“Boxed Out” is a case-study of the State University of New York (SUNY) and its application requirements and processes. The findings clarify the barriers that are created for otherwise qualified applications when they are forced to undergo a supplemental and discriminatory application process.

In “Boxed Out,” CCA found that almost two out of every three applicants who disclosed a felony conviction were denied access to higher education. In many cases, the applicants were not blatantly rejected but were more subtly driven out of the application process by the stigmatizing questions, the “gauntlet” of additional requirements, and an overall unwelcoming atmosphere.  CCA terms this phenomenon “felony application attrition” to describe when college applicants drop out of the application process because of external pressures. The report warns that its prevalence is cause for major concern about the equity and fairness of application processes in which criminal history questions are involved. 

This case study of SUNY has national implications.  The supplemental procedures and requirements imposed by SUNY campuses reflect procedures followed by many colleges and universities across the county.

Click here For a copy



7.  Talking About Justice 

Tuesday, March 24 from 6:00 to 9:00 PM at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs
  • Bryan Stevenson’s TEDTalk, “We Need to Talk About An Injustice.”
  • Roundtable led by Jonathan Gradess, Executive Director of the New York State Defenders Association with:
  • Professor David Karp, Skidmore College, nationally renowned Restorative Justice practitioner;
  • Rev. J. Edward Lewis, President of NYS Chaplains Assoc., Chaplain at Fishkill Correctional Facility;
  • Rev. Petero Sabune, Global Outreach Officer of Episcopal Church;
  • Cara Benson, poet and prison poetry teacher will read from recently published works;
  • Sean Dalpiaz and Derek Anderson, poets and former residents of Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility.

Bryan Stevenson’s recent book Just Mercy is part memoir, part sociopolitical history of the male African American experience in the United States. Former Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Alabama, and currently law professor at New York University School of Law, he blends his own experiences as a young African American civil rights attorney getting his start with the experiences of the condemned men and prisoners he represented in the 1980s. EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent prisoners on death row, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults. EJI recently won an historic ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court holding that mandatory life-without- parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional.     For more information, call 518-581-7933.



8.  Op Ed in New York Law Journal by Sol Wachtler

Calls for an end to the use of Solitary Confinement


Justice Scalia saying the torture is not "punishment" if it’s inflicted for a good reason, redefines the word torture,  a component of which is punishment of the most horrendous sort. This is consistent with his failure to agree with his colleagues in applying  Eighth Amendment  Constitutional protections to prisoners in our jails and prisons. 
We should reflect on our moral and Constitutional obligation when considering the way in which we treat those imprisoned in our own jails and prisons.  Senator Richard Durban recently called for "all federal and state facilities to end the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, pregnant women, and individuals with serious and persistent mental illness, except in those exceptional circumstances where public safety requires it.”

If we want to maintain our claim to morality, we should heed that call. We  hold more prisoners in solitary confinement  than any other democratic nation. The human impact of holding tens of thousands of men, women and children in small solitary and  windowless cells for 23 hours a day is immeasurable.  I'm not talking about gang leaders who are isolated for security reasons:  I am talking about the thousands of others, many of whom are seriously mentally ill.

I have been with and seen them.  They may respond to voices only they can hear, or talk to invisible persons in a world constructed from their own hallucinations.  They may self-mutilate and riddle their bodies with scars.  At least half of all prison suicides occur in solitary confinement.  This acting out, this aberrational behavior, constitutes infractions for which additional punishment is inflicted by way of dietary restrictions and additional time in the "hole.". Placing many of these inmates in solitary confinement is both uncivilized and counterproductive.

Despite Justice Scalia's pronouncements, the Supreme Court has held that : "Confinement in a prison or in an isolation cell is a form of punishment subject to scrutiny under Eighth Amendment standards. "  Our  Eighth Amendment prohibition against inflicting cruel and inhuman punishment is one of our nation's most significant claims to "exceptionalism."  We should not allow it to be undermined.

[Sol Wachtler is a lawyer and Republican politician from New York.  He was Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals from 1985 to 1993. He achieved national notoriety when he was charged with, and then convicted of, acts stemming from threats he made against a former lover and her daughter. Upon conviction, Wachtler served a fifteen month prison sentence.]

Read now!