Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Building Bridges, December 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 often post late breaking news and announcements here, so you may want to check now and then.

  Scroll down now to go directly to the December 2017 newsletter.  (you know how to enlarge the fonts, right? )


2  Announcements:



Posted 12/14.17

“OPEN LETTER TO THE COMMUNITY”
The New Directive #4911-A is Anti-Family Support
The principle problem with DOCCS new Directive #4911-A is that it is pro-business and anti-family. It will increase revenue for those businesses DOCCS has designated as approved venders, with alleged kick-backs in the contract. Also, it will be more expensive for families to support their incarcerated loved ones. Directive #4911-A restricts the ability of the incarcerated to maintain any semblance of societal normalcy; rather it serves to dehumanize the incarcerated into a collective of uniformity, and denies any sense of individuality. 

DOCCS has been incrementally taking away all of the gains won by those who sacrificed their lives during the Attica insurrection. It is time for family, friends and the community to resist and prohibit the implementation of Directive #4911-A.

Here I am listing the most noticeable changes in comparison with the January 1, 2014 issue of Directive #4911.

 1. The Directive #4911-A totally eliminates any food or any packages being brought to the facility by family or friends during visiting hours.

2. The weight of packages ordered from DOCCS-approved vendors has been reduced to 30 pounds from 35 pounds per month. However, families/friends may order up to three times per month to accumulate the amount of 30 pounds. A 35-pound package of food has been severely restricted to only 8 pounds of food per package. The resulting effect is a family member or friend would have to spend additional shipping and handling for the equivalent of 24 pounds of food for the month.

3. The purchase of Bread(s), Canned Foods, Fresh or Dried Fruit and Fresh Vegetables is PROHIBITED!

4. No item with a logo will be permitted, including clothing, plastic containers, etc. Prior to the new Directive, clothing could have a logo no larger than 1 inch.

5. Clothing: The maximum cost of clothes has increased from $50 to $80 an item. The colors of clothing have been severely restricted to WHITE, PINK, TAN and GREEN solid colors. Previously, the only restricted colors were Blue, Black, Gray and Orange. The restrictions now include: Yellow, Gold, Brown, Burgundy, Purple, Maroon, Red—essentially every color that is not white, pink, tan or green. All briefs and underwear must be white, with the exception of the waistband. The same for thermals—no more underwear with colors, all must be white. Furthermore, all footwear must now be a solid color; no more multi-colored sneakers or shoes, which restricts the selection of footwear of any kind.

6Belts of any size are no longer permitted.

7. Sweatshirts and Sweatpants: No more hooded sweatshirts, no more sweats with a stripe down the side, no sweats with a logo or with a zipper, and only in the colors of white, pink, tan or green.

8. No longer able to receive carbon paper, a clip board, scotch or masking tape.

9. Women are no longer permitted to order a hair/blow dryer. All Incarcerated Persons are no longer able to have key chains, extension cords, floor rugs (with the exception of a prayer rug), no linens (sheets, pillow cases, blankets, towels, washcloths).

10. All religious items permitted in Directive #4911 have been removed, with the exception of a prayer rug, religious chain w/pendant.

Because of the limited vendors, there is no indication from where or how incarcerated persons can obtain books, magazines, newspapers and other reading materials. Furthermore, there is no indication that clothing, footwear and other items currently possessed by the incarcerated person will be permitted to be kept or must either be sent home, donated or destroyed or if, upon transfer to another facility, they will be confiscated as contraband.

The issue of DOCCS eliminating many of the hard fought and won possessions of incarcerated persons serves to negate to what extent formerly incarcerated persons fought to achieve the humanization of the prison system. It also further establishes DOCCS intends to develop business relationships which will prove exploitative to the family and friends of the incarcerated person(s).

This issue is not insignificant or minor in NYS DOCCS, rather it points to efforts to further undermine incarcerated families’ ties, and generally create a system in which the majority of interactions will be business transactions. Similar to how DOCCS sought to restrict visiting to weekends only, and having already removed hooded sweatshirts from the population, this is another DOCCS conservative attempt to isolate, alienate and eventually eliminate all family and community relationships between incarcerated persons and the outside community. 
This nefarious effort by DOCCS must be vehemently opposed by every segment of the community, and to further demand any future proposed changes MUST be based on advice and consent by the community.

Keep in mind, it is the community that will have to deal with the end product of DOCCS alleged mandate to rehabilitate the incarcerated person. Therefore, it is the community that must be engaged in this process to ensure the rehabilitation process is successful.
ask that this open letter to the community be widely distributed and given serious consideration in opposition to the implementation of DOCCS Directive #4911-A.

Jalil A. Muntaqim
December 8, 2017



Posted 12/27.17

 or 845-288-1865

free rides from the metronorth station to people visiting their family and loved ones at Beacon-area prisons (Fishkill, Downstate, Wallkill, Green Haven, Shawangunk).


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Building Bridges. December 2017

Dear Readers

Most of you have been incarcerated or have a relative in prison.  Building Bridges does our best to provide you and your families with true information that will inspire you, raise your hopes, provide important information, prepare you for the future, and bottom line, show you how much support you have on the outside.  [Article 2 is an illustration of that.]

People new to the movement sometimes get the impression that there are too many organizations doing their own thing and not working together. But that’s not really how it plays out so I’m going to take this opportunity to try give you a real picture:

A person who is hurting from looking at the state of the Criminal Legal System searches for some way to change it.  They learn about a group of advocates and get involved in whatever way that suits their time and enthusiasm.  Slowly the group grows and joins with another group, a network, or coalition, and with the extra people power they are able to do more things and get better at it.  The goal is to make change; to reform or end mass incarceration and the oppression of certain people.  Another organization forms to take on a piece of the problem, and some of those other groups decide to join them and double the support each issue gets. Pretty soon, skill sets start working together (lawyers, students, artists, social media experts; organizers, statisticians, etc) to the benefit of all the organizations with whom they’re affiliated…

Recently several of the networks have begun to get funding to pay organizers to help them, and again all of the organizations benefit.  As the organizations work with one other and start to get the ear of those who run the system, we begin to see more and more of our suggestions being taken.  I cannot help but feel that everyone reading this and many more had something to do with who was appointed to the Parole Board recently.  This is a country that once believed that “People Are the Power”, and we are seeing an example of how once again, ordinary people like you and me can truly have an influence when we work together with commitment and fervor!.  Power to the People!
At least that’s how I see it. The Editor


Table of Contents:
  1. Sept. 2017 Parole Statistics: 38% release rate for all parole applicants 33% for just A1VO’s. 
  2. NetWORK: Watching the Parole Board
  3. Report on Parole Board’s Business Meeting
  4. Appeal decisions will go on-line
  5. Health Care
  6. Justice and Derrick Hamilton
  7. Prisoners are People Too!


1.  September 2017 Release Rates.  DIN#s through 2002.   Unofficial research from parole database.  Total percentage of  parole releases: 38%.   Total for just A1VOs: 33%   For a copy of all the statistics gathered,  please send an email.


2.  NetWORKS, the monthly column of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network
THE PEOPLE’S PAROLE WATCH: WATCHING THE PAROLE BOARD

For the past year, a small but intrepid group of advocates have represented the concerned public by attending the monthly meetings of the New York State Parole Board and reporting on its activities. In this month’s Building Bridges you have an opportunity to read a detailed report by an advocate who attended the November Parole Board business meeting.

How did this come about, and why is it important? The Parole Board has always operated under a cloak of secrecy. It has not been easy for advocates to find out how the Board operates, and what factors actually go into its decisions. Parole applicants who have had hearings before the Board come back with harrowing stories of being humiliated, browbeaten, disbelieved, and verbally attacked – and then hit with two more years in prison. Reasons for parole denials are given in stock boilerplate language with no hint of what the applicant can do to win release, other than climb into a time machine and undo their original crime. 

What were those parole commissioners thinking? Who are these people who play God and with our loved ones’ lives? What drives their actions and what can we do to arrive at a more just and more merciful outcome?

Members of the Parole Justice Committee of Albany decided to investigate. They discovered that the Parole Board is subject to the Open Meetings Law, which provides that state agencies must allow the public to attend their business meetings. They do not have to let the members of the public say anything – just to be present. (The Open Meetings Law does not apply to parole hearings, only to the monthly business meeting.) The time, date, and place of the meetings are published on the agency’s website. So the Parole Justice advocates just showed up one day to see what would happen. They have attended every monthly meeting ever since. They call themselves the People’s Parole Watch.

Apparently no one had ever done this before. The Parole Board chair and commissioners seemed to be taken by surprise. Soon afterward, they started shortening the public part of the meeting and conducting most of their business in a closed meeting, called Executive Session. The Parole Watchers contacted the agency overseeing the Open Meetings Law to find out whether the reasons being given for keeping the public out were legitimate. The agency informed the Parole Board that they had to stick to open meetings unless they could cite specific legal reasons for closing them.

The Watchers saw some interesting things. A group called the Downstate Coalition for Victims made a presentation to the Parole Board which included strong evidence that the majority of victims favor solutions that prioritize accountability and safety over punishment and incarceration. This same coalition is scheduled to do a training for the Parole Commissioners in February about victims’ issues and needs. The myth that endless incarceration works for the benefit of victims is unraveling right there at the Parole Board. 

At another Parole Board meeting, Watchers heard the group Release Aging People in Prison present information showing that elders who have served long sentences are overwhelmingly not a safety risk to their communities, and keeping them incarcerated is cruel, expensive, and unnecessary. 

And then in June, another event occurred which had never happened before: six new parole commissioners with very different identities and backgrounds from the previous ones were appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate, and some of the old commissioners were not reappointed. It seemed very likely that public outrage and organized advocacy played a major role in shifting the composition of the Board.

From personal first-hand accounts, it seems the new commissioners are already making a substantial difference in the tone and results of parole hearings. Release rates are going up!
As the new commissioners took their seats, the Watchers saw a change in the business meetings too. The most remarkable evidence of transformation was the proposal by one of the commissioners at the November meeting (see the Parole Watch report in this issue) to gather information on better practices by other states in reintegrating sex offenders and people with mental illness, who often remain in prison even when proven to be at low risk for re-offending, because there is literally no place for them to go. Looking for a better way to do things seems to be an entirely new approach for the Parole Board – but with a majority of Board members in attendance being new, it was voted on and passed! 

The People’s Parole Watch has achieved some remarkable victories in its first year. It has made the point to the Board and to policy officials that advocates care about and are keeping tabs on the Parole Board’s actions. It has given advocates, families, and incarcerated people a window into the functioning of the Board. And it has played a role, along with many other organizations and advocates, in changing the composition and practices of the Parole Board for the better.

Keep up the good work, People’s Parole Watch!



3. Report from Parole Watch, Albany:  
The November Parole Board Business Meeting, held November 27th, marked an anniversary for us—our small, but committed group has been attending since October 2016.   The meeting began at 1:05p and there were 11 of us present, seated in the back of the room close to the recording camera.  Commissioners in attendance:  Caryne Demonstenes; Erik Berliner; Carol Shapiro; Ellen Evans Alexander;  Tana Agostini; Tyece Drake; William Smith; Kevin Ludlow; and   Counsel, Kathy Kiley; Administrative Assistant to the Board, Lorraine Morse;  Executive Assistance to the Board, Ms. Villa.       Initially, there were concerns about a quorum until Ludlow arrived and later Otis Cruz joined the group.  
A report, difficult to hear, was offered while waiting for a quorum:  Commissioner Smith talked about some scheduling challenges which Commissioner Crangle has taken the lead on addressing.  Mentioned were Albion, Orleans, Lakeview, Gowanda and Coxsackie.  Commissioner Stanford talked about Ms. Villa who recently represented the Parole Board at a conference hosted by the Office of Victim Services.  Ms. Villa had created a brochure about the Parole Board which she handed out at the conference.   Commissioner Stanford noted that conference fees for Parole Board members are paid from offender fees and thus do not cost the taxpayers.  
When the quorum was reached and the meeting called to order, Stanford announced that Ludlow is retiring and that this would be his last Board Business Meeting.  She asked him to talk about his tenure as a parole commissioner which he did at some length, ending with that it’s been a “great ride” and “a great privilege and honor.”  He was gifted with a plaque honoring his time on the Board.    Standford also announced two trainings that will be happening in 2018:  January 18th, there will be an orientation by the Program Services Department which prepares all the documents that the Board reviews at each hearing.  On February 1st  the Downstate Coalition of Victims will be presenting to the Board about victims’ issues and needs.  Commissioner Stanford thanked everyone for doing the online training and encouraged them to renew their membership in the Association of Paroling Authorities International.  Commissioner Demostenes announced that she was available to collect money for the Sunshine Fund.   Commissioner Smith mentioned year-end mileage forms that need to be submitted before end of the year.
Then, Commissioner Shapiro spoke, expressing concern about inmates with mental health  issues and inmates who are sex offenders.  She said that these two groups present special challenges for re-entry because of the difficulties in securing safe places to live upon release.  She has colleagues who are doing research on this topic and cited Florida as a state where those who have committed sexual offenses are often forced to live under bridges.  She believes that in some cases people, many elderly, are languishing in prison rather than being released when it is appropriate  because the system has failed to address their reentry needs—which she sees as an ethical issue.    She is especially concerned with those who were young when sent to prison and pointed out that not all sex offenses are at the same level of heinousness (she has worked with both the mentally ill and with sexual offenders in a professional capacity).  Shapiro has colleagues at Stanford and at Rutgers who might be able to supervise the work of interns to look into what other states are doing in order to develop policy or programmatic recommendations for NYS.  
Commissioner  Stanford asked if Commissioner Shapiro wanted an analysis of what other states are doing or just NYS and she stated that she would want both.  She said that this would be something that would likely happen  in the spring semester, if intern interest could be found.  Commissioner Stanford stated that all research projects have procedures and protocols that need to be followed.     She asked if there was any interest in entertaining a motion supporting Shapiro’s idea.  Commissioner Drake made the motion and it was seconded by Commissioner Demostenes.  A voice vote was taken, which carried; Cruz and Smith abstained.    
Finally, minutes from the last meeting were accepted with one correction from Agostini and with Ludlow and Alexander abstaining.    Commissioner Stanford then announced that the Board would go into executive session, citing the discussion of employment of particular individuals, litigation, and informal training.   The “Public” was then excused (meaning us) at 1:48p and we all trooped out.  
---Jean E. Poppei, Parole Watch member


4.  Governor passes bill to require parole appeal decisions to be posted on a website

APPROVAL MEMORANDUM - No. 17 Chapter 412, MEMORANDUM filed with Assembly Bill Number 3053, entitled   "AN  ACT to amend the executive law, in relation to requiring parole decisions to be published on a website"
APPROVED

 This bill would require the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to publish a redacted version of Parole Board appeal decisions on a searchable, publicly accessible website within 60 days of the decision being issued. This website would contain  a  word  searchable database  and a cumulative subject matter index of appeal decisions. The
bill would also require that the subject matter index be published annually in print form and  be  distributed  to  all  correctional  facility libraries.  Lastly,  copies  of  individual appeal decisions and subject matter indices would be made  available  upon  written  request  to  the Parole Board.

 I  vetoed  a similar bill last year because compliance with the bill’s mandated time frame was not attainable. (Veto No. 231  of  2016).  While this year's bill remedied several of my concerns, it did not address the remaining technical and administrative hurdles that would have continued to delay implementation. The Executive has secured an agreement with the Legislature to pass legislation in the upcoming session to address these remaining concerns. On that basis, I am signing this bill.


5.  New York's complex of 54 state prison facilities is struggling to hire nurses, doctors and other health-care providers.

Filling those vacancies and dealing with an aging prison population at facilities across the state have become among the tallest challenges for the $3 billion correctional system, top administrators concede.
Annucci also said he has been working to expedite so-called medical-parole release for terminally ill inmates.
DOCCS has also been working with community organizations to ease the transition for older convicts when they are released from their prison stays, he said.
Meanwhile, providing health care to inmates costs the state some $381 million annually, an increase of more than $64 million in three years, according to the State Comptroller's Office.
Approximately 20 percent of prison nursing jobs are vacant, and the department is trying to fill them by sweetening pay through regional pay differentials approved through the Civil Service system, Annucci and other officials said.
Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Health Committee, said he would like to see the health-care programs at state prisons get expanded oversight from the State Department of Health.
Another, Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Queens), chairman of the Correction Committee, is sponsoring bills that would expand eligibility for medical parole and create a new program for "geriatric parole."
"We have some prisoners in their 70s and 80s who are not a danger to society, and they're costing the state a lot of money," Weprin said in an interview. "They would be better off somewhere outside the correctional institutions."
He noted that Annucci's agency is committed to "doing what they can to release as many older prisoners who are not a danger" but is limited by current law.
Weprin’s legislation would allow older inmates convicted of some violent offenses — though not for first-degree murder — to be considered eligible for parole if they have been incarcerated for at least 10 years."They are not the same individuals they were when they were young men," Weprin said. "I think they should be considered for parole regardless of the crime."
While state officials said they are focused on delivering high-quality care to state prison inmates, Michael Cassidy, the managing attorney at Prisoners Legal Services office in Plattsburgh, said they presented lawmakers with a "rosy picture" that failed to acknowledge ongoing problems behind prison walls.
Cassidy agreed with Gottfried's contention that expanded external oversight of prison medical care programs would yield improvements.The aging of New York's prison population, which now stands at about 51,000 inmates, has been most pronounced with males, who account for more than 95 percent of those being confined, said Jack Beck, director of the Correctional Association's Prison Visiting Project.

He noted the number of men who are at least 50 years old in prison has gone from 6,945 in January 2007 to 10,140 in January 2016, a period in which the total population declined, with the prisons now housing more inmates suffering from chronic illnesses.
And while security staff was trimmed by 2.4 percent from 2012 to now, there has been a reduction of 21 percent in medical staffing, leaving the prisons in "major trouble" in the quality of care provided to inmates.
 Joe Mahoney:  mahoney@cnhi.com


6.  Justice. 
I can remember demanding fairness at a very young age.  Despite our culture’s worship of “things”,  as a little child my first complaint was“that’s not fair”!,  not that I wanted more toys.  That’s probably why I’m so interested in Parole appeals and article 78’s and 440’s, etc.  I’m not wanting to be a lawyer but I sure admire people who value justice as much as I do, and then devote themselves to getting some for themselves using the very tools that convicted them.  Building Bridges tries to help by sharing information on how litigation can and is used to achieve justice.  That’s why I want to share part of an article I found online about one of my heroes.
Mr. Derrick Hamilton spent more than 20 years in prison. As a man who claimed innocence despite his conviction, in order to stay sane Hamilton had no other option than to learn how to use the legal system with all its complications and torturous language to try to overturn his conviction.  It turned out to also be a daily distraction from the many painful aspects of prison life, as well as the only possible avenue to freedom “
He began by earning his GED, then enrolled in a class on legal research, followed by studying in the prison’s law library where while working on his own case he learned enough criminal law that today he is known throughout the country for his skills.  Like many Jailhouse lawyers, he soon was helping others: “I would show the guy how to go to the point that relates to his case, so he didn’t have to read the whole thing,” he explains. “This way, he could get his answer and keep it moving.”
Hamilton always maintained that he had been framed by notorious former NYPD detective Louis Scarcella.who finally, thanks in part to Mr. Hamilton’s own legal advocacy, was found to have been involved in more than 50 cases of alleged malpractice, including Hamilton’s.
Prisoners seeking parole are typically expected to show remorse, but Hamilton argued that the parole board should consider his evidence of innocence before making its decision.

One of the 2 parole commissioners who interviewed him at his next parole board told him. “If, in fact, you’re incarcerated for something that you did not commit, I hope that you’re successful in your appeal.” 
In January 2014 for the first time in New York history, the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, in People v. Hamilton, decided that a defendant convicted of a crime who has a plausible claim of innocence is entitled to a hearing to present his evidence. The People v. Hamilton decision went even further by adding that if a defendant can show “clear and convincing” evidence of his innocence, his conviction will be overturned. Hamilton v. People is often cited to bolster other claims of innocence cases. 
Derrick Hamilton was paroled and his case has since been vacated and dismissed after he was determined to be innocent of all charges. Today, he has taken up work as a paralegal and continues to help out in wrongful conviction cases.
From an article in the June 20, 2016 New Yorker. By Jennifer Gonnerman



7.  It’s Just Around the Corner
By Karima Amin
November 2017

We are approaching year’s end and we will have our last monthly meeting on November 27. By now, everyone knows that we have our regular meetings once a month on the last Monday. We do not meet in December, as the winter holidays tend to make regular meetings difficult.

There is no doubt that local issues are inextricably linked to state issues, and they are massive. When we take time to think about criminal INjustice issues, the list of concerns can be daunting. Feeling that these issues are insurmountable leaves us feeling that we can do nothing to make right what is wrong. We encourage you to believe in hope and victory. We were nearly victorious in advocating for Bernie Tolbert to be our next Sheriff. He did well in the recent election and he might have won if we had started our efforts sooner. During 2017, we have engaged our readers and attendees with monthly programs that centered on:  parole reform (Lobby Day in Albany); political prisoners (Jalil Muntaqim, Robert Seth Hayes, and Herman Bell); organizing for liberation (Black Panthers, Attica Rebellion 1971, and Black August); and reentry (Fonz Carter, Entrepreneur, Thearthur Duncan, Lawyer and Wayne Oates, Social Worker); and restorative justice (“Life Stories: Restoring Justice” and continuing RJ training in schools and with neighborhood youth in conjunction with My Brothers’ Keeper).

 During 2018, we anticipate continuing to highlight the above-mentioned subjects. They will be further illuminated by our membership in the NYS Prisoner Justice Network,  #FREEnewyork, and the Alliance of Families for Justice. We will move forward with information regarding Y.E.S.T…Youth Education for Social Transformation, mental health treatment in prison, and a recently organized campaign demanding bail reform. Our next regular meeting will feature a film about Kalief Browder, an African American male who went to prison at age 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack. He was held at Rikers Island for almost 3 years, awaiting trial. Most of that time was spent in solitary confinement. He committed suicide 3 years after his release at the age of 22. Kalief’s story is important and it relates to three of our 2018 initiatives: juvenile justice, bail reform, and mental health.

As always, the public is welcomed to join us on the 3rd Monday of the Month at 7:00 – 9:00pm at the Rafi Greene CAO Community Center, 1423 Fillmore @ Glenwood. For more information: Karima, 716-834-8438, karima@prp2.org;  BaBa, 716-491-5319, g.babaeng@yahoo.com.



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