Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

February 2014




Welcome to the site of Building Bridges, 
Prison Action Network's newsletter 

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During the month we post late breaking news and announcements here, so please check back now and then.  Scroll down to read the February newsletter.

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Dear Reader,  
                              We wish you a warm and reflective month.  While the political landscape looks grim we must use this time to build our movement for justice.  Talk to your families, friends, and strangers on the bus about the sad state of our criminal justice system.  Call us for materials to pass out if you wish  (see Art #5).
    
~The Editor


CONTENTS

1.  NetWORKS:  we are living in a moment in history when the most terrible oppression is being met with the brightest and boldest resistance 


2.  Parole News - December statistics, Year-to-Date statistics,  and more      

3.  Legislative Report - Assembly bills     

4.  I Am Not My Past - Submissions need to explain why and how you chose a new way of thinking and behaving that resulted in your not being your past.     

5.  Booklet describes parole practices as seen by someone considering his upcoming parole hearing.      

622 Albany area protesters against mass incarceration commit civil disobedience to bring attention to Police brutality.      

7.  Prisoners are People Too:  We have to say again, “Black lives matter.”      

8.  Raise the Age/NY  Campaign - Rumors of dramatic actions are not bolstered by the Governor’s State of the State speech.      

9.  Guest Column by Kerry Kotler advocates for electronic monitoring systems      

10.  Advocates believe that institutions of learning have a moral and social responsibility to extend access to education for all.  They want to hear about experiences of applying for admission to a SUNY school.      
11.  Sweden’s Remarkable Prison System:  Their prisons are really about rehabilitation. And it works far more effectively.      



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

The Struggle to Breathe Continues

Amazingly, in the face of police assaults, media and mainstream liberal indifference, political pretenses of change, and hundreds of years of racist history, the resistance movement against police violence led by young people of color has persisted in Ferguson, Missouri and all over the U.S. 

All the while, more police killings have piled on top of the ones that sparked the movement, and the names of many who were killed earlier and therefore went unnoticed are also being recalled. Liberal politicians are caught between the tidal wave of the protesters – how do you dispute BLACK LIVES MATTER? – and loyalty to the prevailing order of power. Ultimately, both our movement and its opponents recognize that a lot of things have to change profoundly for Black lives to matter in this country.
What do these protesters want? say the media and the pundits. Who are their leaders? What is their agenda? The movement refuses to be pinned down to someone else’s schedule or definition of what a movement should say and do. To the accusation that they are leaderless, they say they are “leaderful” – not one leader but many. They have refused to let high-profile public figures of any stripe speak for them, or co-opt their rage.

Although this movement does not speak with one single voice, leader, or set of demands, the following manifesto issued by Ferguson Action gives a clear sense of recognition of the deep connections among police violence, economic marginalization, mass incarceration and all forms of inequality, racism, and injustice. Read, rejoice, join in: we are living in a moment in history when the most terrible oppression is being met with the brightest and boldest resistance.

Ferguson Action: OUR VISION FOR A NEW AMERICA [edited for length]

WE WANT JUSTICE FOR MICHAEL BROWN. WE WANT FREEDOM FOR OUR COMMUNITIES
  • We Want an End to all Forms of Discrimination and the Full Recognition of our Human Rights. 
  • The United States Government must acknowledge and address the structural violence and institutional discrimination that continues to imprison our communities either in a life of poverty and/or one behind bars.
  • We Want An Immediate End To Police Brutality And the Murder Of Black, Brown & All Oppressed People.
  • We Want Full Employment For Our People. 
  • Every individual has the human right to employment and a living wage. Inability to access employment and fair pay continues to marginalize our communities, ready us for imprisonment, and deny us of our right to a life with dignity.
  • We Want Decent Housing Fit For The Shelter Of Human Beings.
  • We Want an End to the School to Prison Pipeline & Quality Education for All. 
  • We want an end to policies that criminalize our young people as well as discriminatory discipline practices that bar access to quality education. Furthermore, we want all children to be able to access free, quality education. Including free or affordable public university.
  • We Want Freedom from Mass Incarceration and an End to the Prison Industrial Complex.
    We want an end to the over policing and surveillance of our communities. This will hasten an end to the criminalization of black and brown people and hyper incarceration everywhere. Policing in the United States has historically helped to enforce racist laws, policies and norms. The result is a massive prison industrial complex built on the warehousing of black people. We call for the cessation of mass incarceration and the eradication of the prison industrial complex all together. In its place we will address harm and conflict in our communities through community based, restorative solutions.

NATIONAL DEMANDS

  • The De-militarization of Local Law Enforcement across the country
  • A Comprehensive Review of systemic abuses by local police departments, including the publication of data relating to racially biased policing, and the development of best practices.
  • Repurposing of law enforcement funds to support community based alternatives to incarceration and the conditioning of DOJ funding on the ending of discriminatory policing and the adoption of DOJ best practices
  • A Congressional Hearing investigating the criminalization of communities of color, racial profiling, police abuses and torture by law enforcement
  • Support the Passage of the End Racial Profiling Act
 

2.  Parole News - December Release Rates, Year to Date Summaries and more....
DECEMBER 2014 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES OF A1 VIOLENT FELONS, DIN’s through 2001
Unofficial research from parole database
December 2014 Summaries

Total Interviews
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year to date release rate
Initials 
14
5
9
36%
25%
Reappearances *
58
22
36
38%
29%
Total 
72
27
45
38%
28%


December Releases by Age
Total Seen
#Released
#Denied 
Percent Released
60-69
16
4
12
25%
70-79
6
2
4
33%
80+
0
0
0
0%
Total
22
6
16
27%


December ’14 Initial Releases by Facility

Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Bedford Hills
44
15-Life
Mrd 2
1
Fishkill
31
15-Life
Mrd 2
1
Fishkill
58
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Fishkill
44
20-Life
Mrd 2
1
Sing Sing
37
20-Life
Mrd 2
1


December ’14 Reappearance Releases by Facility

Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Bare Hill
56
15-Life
Mrd 2
7
Coxsackie
52
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Elmira
53
16-Life
Att Mrd 1
2
Fishkill
63
15-Life
Mrd Pre 74
15*
Fishkill
68
15-Life
Mrd 2
10
Fishkill
66
25-Life
Mrd 2
4
Fishkill
44
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
44
21-Life
Kidnap1
2
Fishkill
41
9-Life
JO Mrd 2
5
Fishkill
38
11-Life
JO Mrd 2
7
Fishkill
37
18-Life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
49
15-Life
Mrd 2
2
Franklin
71
15-Life
Mrd 2
10
Greene
70
15-Life
Kidnap1
8
Marcy
37
15-Life
Mrd 2
3
Mohawk
41
15-Life
Mrd 2
5
Sing sing
40
24-Life
Mrd 2
?
Sullivan
54
25-Life
Mrd 2
5
Taconic-female
46
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Woodbourne
59
15-Life
Mrd 2
8
Woodbourne
54
22-Life
Mrd 2
2
Woodbourne
65
15-Life
Mrd 2
2

prior to 1974 some sentences were shorter than they are now.  So this man - with a 15 yr minimum - was given 26 extra years apparently because the Parole Board wanted him to do 25 - Life plus some, because?   ...it’s your guess.  Think of it, when he went to prison in 1973 he thought he would be coming home in 1988!  That didn’t happen, and then he watched 1998 go by, and then 2008, and then 2018 approaching, wondering if he would ever be released.  There was nothing more he could do to demonstrate his readiness.  He doesn’t know why 2014 was his year, but he’s very, very glad.

YEAR-TO-DATE RATE OF RELEASE   (JAN. 2014 through DEC 2014)


TOTAL 2014 INTERVIEWS
Total 
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Initials 
231
58
173
25%
Reappearances *
922
263
659
29%
Total 
1153
321
832
28%


TOTAL OVER 60
Total 
# Released
# Denied 
Year to Date Rate of Release
60-69
211
53
158
25%
70-79
59
11
48
19%
80+
11
5
6
45%
Total
281
69
212
25%


Sounds Familiar.  (Except NYS has no such bill...)
Today, January 20, 2015, the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative (MRJI) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland released a new report, "Still Blocking the Exit," which tells the stories of many individuals given parole-eligible life sentences who have been denied release despite being recommended for it. The report was presented at a press conference in Annapolis, where advocates were joined by legislators sponsoring a bill to depoliticize the parole process for lifers. Also on hand were individuals released under the decision in Unger v. State of Maryland, which held that flawed jury instructions given by judges prior to 1980 denied defendants the right to a fair trial. Many of the individuals recently released - who often had parole-eligible life sentences - were sentenced as juveniles and are now successfully reintegrating into their communities.
"Real justice is restorative justice," said Walter Lomax, Founder and Director of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative. "These men's and women's lives, and their freedom, should not rely on who is in political office, or elected officials' philosophical or ideological beliefs, but rather on whether they have rehabilitated themselves."
The report includes stories from many of the 2,100 people are serving parole-eligible life sentences in Maryland, more than 340 of them for crimes committed when they were 17 or younger. These men and women were sentenced with the understanding that if they proved themselves genuinely rehabilitated they would be paroled. But, in fact, they are now more likely to die in prison, often after serving many more decades than anyone expected, than they are to be paroled. This is because Maryland's system is one of only three in the country where the Governor must approve parole for lifers, a process that has become highly politicized.
The result is that among this group of lifers are individuals who have been rehabilitated, who have done everything asked of them, who have sometimes even earned forgiveness and support of victims' family members and the Maryland Parole Commission, but who continue to languish in prison, at taxpayers' expense, until they die.
"Because of politics, Maryland is spending millions of dollars every year incarcerating people who can safely return to their communities, at great human and financial cost to us all," said Sonia Kumar, Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Maryland.  "It is time to change that."
At the press conference, Senator Nathaniel McFadden and Delegate Curt Anderson (both D-Baltimore City) discussed legislation this session that would depoliticize the process governing what happens to those individuals given parole-eligible sentences and who are recommended for release. Senator Lisa Gladden and Delegate Jill Carter (both D-Baltimore City) are also lead sponsors.
"The legislation will restore faith in the system, giving those incarcerated incentive to change, and remove politics that unnecessarily waste taxpayers dollars that could be used other places, such as schools, recreation centers, and treatment programs," added Lomax.
Contacts: Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland, 443-310-9946, curtis@aclu-md.org    Walter Lomax, Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative, 443-413-6076, waltermandalalomax@hotmail.com

3.  Legislative report
Explanation:   In bill numbers, 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 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.
Assembly Bills Considered on February 3 2015 by the Corrections Committee (O’Donnell, chair)
Bill Number
Primary Sponsor/s
Purpose
A.0858/S.1513
Referred to Rules
Ordered to 3rd reading
Kavanagh/Parker
DOCCS shall  provide  inmates  with information  on programs in their home community designed to promote the successful  and  productive reentry and reintegration of an inmate into society, including medical and mental health services, HIV/AIDS services,  educational,  vocational  and employment services, alcohol or substance abuse treatment and housing services.
A.1346a/no same as in Senate
Referred to Codes
O’Donnell
To adopt recommendations made by the United Nations Committee against Torture in the use of solitary confinement in New York prisons and jails.
A.1347/no same as
Referred to Codes
Rozic
Restricts the segregated confinement of pregnant inmates to situations where there are exceptional circumstances which would create an unacceptable risk to other inmates or staff.

There have been no meetings of the Senate’s Crime Victim’s Crime and Correction Committee so far as we know.  They apparently are tied up with hearings on how to protect police from being held accountable and other unjust and unkind things.  See video coverage at their website:  http://www.nysenate.gov/committee/crime-victims-crime-and-correction

The Safe and Fair (S.A.F.E.) Parole Act has new legislative numbers; in the Assembly it’s Bill A.2930 and the Senate bill is S.1728.  
The same legislators as last year are supporting the bill.
Unfortunately, the Speaker of the Assembly, Shelly Silver, has resigned from his position due to his indictment for public fraud.  The Speaker appoints the Committee heads, so we are waiting to find out if there will be any changes in leadership.  Sen. Skelos, Speaker of the Senate, is under investigation, and if that becomes an indictment, we’ll have the same situation in both houses.  When will our lawmakers stop being law breakers?  It certainly doesn’t encourage respect for the law. 


4.  I Am Not My Past

The Statewide Parole Reform Campaign has received some heartfelt narratives for possible inclusion in the upcoming book, “I Am Not My Past.” We thank you.
But we’ve concluded that we were not clear enough in our instructions about the kinds of pieces we’re seeking. Many pieces, while listing important and praiseworthy accomplishments, failed to describe what caused the change in thinking that ultimately led to those accomplishments. In other words, the pieces need to explain why and how you chose a new way of thinking and behaving that resulted in your not being your past.
Here’s a 250-word example of what we’re seeking, from Joe Robinson at Fishkill Correctional Facility:

When I entered Auburn Prison in 1992, I was a mess—unfocused, immature, impulsive. I lacked a sense of purpose and responsibility, and I clung to self-destructive attitudes. Confronted with endless lonely hours, I was also confronted with myself. Try as I might, I could not run from myself. I had to take a hard look at the man I was. I concluded that I was not the man I’d hoped to become, or the kind of man I wanted my son, Joseph, to look up to.
As I began experiencing the heartache of watching Joseph grow up in photographs, the weight of how I’d lived my life and the toll it had taken on others compelled me to make a commitment to work to become a better man and father, and to live in a way that would honor the young man whose life I regrettably took in 1991.  I began a long journey of deep reflection, which led to self-discovery. 
To shore up my innate business skills, I read everything I could on personal finance and business.   I began teaching personal finance classes and, in 2004, co-founded Inmates Teaching Entrepreneurship and Mentoring. In 2007, I wrote the book “Think Outside the Cell: An Entrepreneur’s Guide for the Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated.”  I later helped to launch Civic Duty Initiative, which helps people who are or were in prison give back to their communities.  These efforts reflect my hard-won, ongoing journey to becoming the best possible version of myself.

We will be following up with those of you who’ve already submitted narratives. For others, here is the call for submissions:  Are you an incarcerated or formerly incarcerated person who committed a violent crime but are now leading a productive life?  If you are, the Statewide Parole Reform Campaign wants you to submit photos and narratives for possible publication in its upcoming book, “I Am Not My Past.” The book will put a human face on men and women like you and dispel myths and fears about the so-called violent felony offender.    

Having your photos and story appear in the book could be helpful if you have to appear before the parole board. Submissions that are accepted will also be used for a social media project intended to reach people throughout the state, the nation and the world.  Here’s what you need to submit to be considered:
1.       Two photos:  If you are incarcerated, we need a photo of you that was taken early in your bid, as well as a recent photo.  If you are formerly incarcerated, we need a photo of you that was taken early in your bid and a recent photo that speaks to the life you live now. (For example, a photo of you taken in a work setting or at school, etc. )  Older photos should  preferably be in Black and White, but no worries if you can’t provide that.
2.       A 250-word piece about your life that speaks to the theme, “I Am Not My Past.”  If you were ever denied parole, we’d like you to include that information—and tell us how many times.

Submissions must be postmarked by April 1. Photos will not be returned. 
Please send submissions to: I Am Not My Past,  c/o Think Outside the Cell,  511 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 525,
New York, NY 10011   If you have questions. Please write to Think Outside the Cell, call 877-267-2303  or email thinkoutsidethecell@verizon.net.       

Thanks!



5.  NYS Parole Board practices as I see them
The NYS Parole Reform Campaign has published a 20 page illustrated booklet that uses everyday, informal language to describe the need for Parole Board reform.  We hope to reach 1000’s of people with this little booklet.  
Sample the first two paragraphs: 
I’m in a New York State prison.  I’ve been in one for the past 21 years, and over my years, I’ve seen a lot and been through a lot.
I’ve witnessed some of the men around me change from Bad to Good and some from Bad to Evil.  Prison is supposed to be about “Corrections" but when you have a system such as Parole, and witness its Arbitrary Decisions to not release Parole Applicants who’ve done everything in their power to change themselves, despite the Oppressiveness of the Prison environment, it comes as no surprise that some of the Convicted feel so apathetic about making an effort toward changing themselves. 
Copies are available if you would like to spread the word about Parole Reform.  Contact the NYS Parole Reform Campaign at Box 6355, Albany NY 12206 or call 518 253 7533.



6.  Albany area protesters against mass incarceration commit civil disobedience to bring attention to Police brutality 
Out of a group of thousands who had come to the State’s Capitol prior to the Governor’s State of the State address on January 21st to thank him for banning Fracking in NYS, and to celebrate their victory, a group of around 200 protesters emerged from the crowd carrying signs against Police Brutality.  Twenty-two of the protesters sat down and locked arms in front of the Concourse entrance to the Albany Convention Center where the speech was taking place and were arrested after “refusing a lawful order to cease doing so.”  The arrested individuals were charged with disorderly conduct and were issued appearance tickets to appear in Albany City Court.  Supporters, including children from the Albany Free School (for a lesson in civic engagement?) sang and shouted encouragement to them as they were being processed behind closed doors.


7.  Black Lives Matter
By Karima Amin

With the beginning of a new year, I am tempted to do what so many writers have done recently, that is to ruminate on what has happened to so many Black men (and a few women and children), murdered by law enforcement in recent months. Their words have been illuminating and shocking and frequently well-reasoned but only a few have offered solutions that might help to change the current status of race relations, as they impact and are impacted by systems that frame our daily lives.  The criminal justice system, the education system, the economic system are only three that operate to maintain a society of haves and have-nots. All to frequently the have-nots are African Americans who have always had to fight against injustice in America.
Recent articles, like so many over the years before them, have talked about this history of injustice and the struggles we have waged against slavery, discrimination, segregation, desegregation, affirmative action and the relentless racism that denies our humanity. Recent murders, perpetrated by law enforcement, are modern-day examples of the lynchings that have taken place in this country for hundreds of years. Millions of Black lives have been lost because those in power put profits above people.
Historians have documented over 500 incidents of African insurrections on board slave ships (1650--1860). In the struggle to be free, we have always resisted the inhumanity that brought us to the Western Hemisphere. When we rebelled against slavery in the 1800s’ (see Nat Turner, Denmark, Vesey, Gabriel Prosser), we were saying, “Black lives matter.”  When we rebelled against the Black Codes, after slavery, and built strong, self-sufficient Black communities (see Tulsa, OK and Rosewood, FL), we were saying, “Black lives matter.”  When the Black Panther Party and the Deacons for Defense and Justice emerged in the 1960’s, we were saying. “Black lives matter.” The Black Power Movement and the Civil Rights Movement both proclaimed, “Black lives matter!” While we understand that all lives matter, the history of the African in America is special. In spite of the gains we have made, racism keeps holding us back and pushing us back, often erasing our contributions and relegating our lives to that of second-class citizens. Today is simply a repeat of yesterday when we have to say again, “Black lives matter.”
A decade has passed since John V. Elmore wrote Fighting for Your Life: The African-American Justice Survival Guide. Specifically written for African Americans, this book clearly explains how to navigate the criminal justice system and survive “the long arm of the law.”  Mr. Elmore is a well-respected attorney, practicing for more than 25 years with offices in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, NY. Often recognized for his professional, civic, and philanthropic work, he is a lawyer with a special concern for social issues affecting African Americans, especially the youth.  He has been cited as a Citizen of the Year by the Buffalo News; a Phenomenal Father by Ebony Magazine; a Civil Rights Champion by the N. A. A. C. P.; and a Good Neighbor by Parents Magazine. His book is as timely now as it was in 2004 when it was first published. Our relationship with law enforcement has always been tenuous. When we consider solutions for making relationships better, education is the key. The information that Mr. Elmore brings to the table is life-saving and it ties in with Prisoners Are People Too’s push for establishing a city-wide recognition and acceptance of restorative practices with restorative justice hubs throughout Buffalo.
Mr. Elmore was our guest speaker at the December meeting of Prisoners Are People Too. We meet on the last Monday of every month, at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo from 7:00-9:00pm. Adults are encouraged to bring a youth.  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 “like” us on Facebook.


8.  Raise the Age/NY Campaign

Raising the age of criminal responsibility has been on many minds, especially our readers’ whose crimes were committed at age 16, 17, 18 or 19 when they were treated like adults and sentenced as adults. They all have served horribly long sentences for things they did when they were too young to understand the full consequences of their actions.  They spent their entire youth in prison and many are now middle aged or older and still receiving multiple hits by parole commissioners who obviously don’t understand the full consequence of what they are doing.  Because their reluctance to evaluate the person’s rehabilitation instead of piling on more punishment is harming not only the parole applicant, but his or her family and community.  The Parole Board doesn’t get it.  Or do they?
All last month rumors were circulating in prison that the Governor was going to do something that would remedy the situation.  All ears were tuned into the Governor’s State of the State speech, where it was rumored he would unveil a plan to raise the age to 19 (even 21, some people heard) and make it retroactive, so sentences could be adjusted, much like the Rockefeller reforms allow.
To his credit, Governor Cuomo did announce a plan to raise the age in NY, so we won’t remain as one of only two states - N. Carolina is the other - in the US where 16 and 17 year olds are prosecuted as adults.  

Sadly his announcement only promised raising the age to 18, and the rest was vague, mentioning only that he stands behind the recommendations of the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice.  The recommendations of the Commission are too many to publish here, but none of them apply to youth convicted for violent crimes, and the only reference to retroactivity is this:   “Allow any person whose conviction occurred prior to the effective date of the law passed to implement these reforms...” 

Prison Action Network will send you the 3-page list of their recommendations if you email us with the words “raise the age suggestions”in the subject line.  We can also send the whole report which is almost 200 pages long if you ask.

Raise the Age New York is a public awareness campaign that includes national and local advocates, youth, parents, law enforcement and legal representative groups, faith leaders, and unions that have come together to increase public awareness of the need to implement a comprehensive approach to raise the age of criminal responsibility in NYS so that the legal process responds to all children as children and services and placement options better meet their rehabilitative needs. Raise the Age NY supports raising the age of criminal responsibility for children in New York to improve outcomes for children and public safety.

Lead group members:
Center for Community Alternatives
Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York
Correctional Association of New York
Families Together in NYS
Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
NAACP
Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy
The Children’s Agenda
The Children’s Defense Fund – New York
The Fund for Modern Courts
Westchester Children’s Association
Youth Represent

Contact the Raise the Age Campaign:

Email: NYRaiseTheAge@gmail.com Twitter: @RaisetheAgeNY Facebook:RaisetheAgeNY Phone:646-820-5645


9.  Guest Column, by Kerry Kotler
Electronic Monitoring Systems

They’re in the news these days, with cries for police to wear cameras on their bodies so we can see who pointed a gun and who didn’t.  Nowhere is the need for security more pronounced then in a prison setting.  Prison officials have a pivotal interest in watching, preserving, and reviewing what goes on.  It seems highly logical that camera equipment would play an important role as both a deterrent and an investigative resource in maintaining the safety, security, and order of a prison.  State prisoners have been lobbying for years to have cameras installed in areas where they claim high levels of physical and psychological abuse and regular theft and destruction of their property takes place.

DOCCS has been slow at adding electronic monitoring systems to these areas.  The department is well behind the times; and the presence of cameras is highly limited, with the only significant exception being the old and obsolete coverage installed, upon construction, into all the Pataki-built disciplinary units.  At the time, this was touted as a large step forward, providing, it was claimed, protection against false accusations for both the staff and prisoners.  However, in practice it is only staff who, for the most part, have enjoyed that benefit.  This is because the video footage being used is stored on antiquated video tapes, and it is the policy of DOCCS to recycle those tapes every seven days.  Consequently, when inmates request copies of recorded footage to controvert false accusations, administrations regularly claim either the requests were not received in time, or equipment malfunctions.

There is no good excuse for the failure to integrate modern digital visual and audio monitoring based systems into the State’s prisons.  Such action would serve to limit theft and other misconduct by inmates and state employees alike.  It could also quickly resolve false claims by both.  This would reduce the cost of expending time and resources to resolving conflicts both administratively, and as they currently flood state and federal courts.  It would also allow, by secure link, the governor’s office, legislators, and other approved agencies, easy access to see anywhere it wanted behind the veil of razor wire fences and tall concrete walls.

All current systems using old video tapes to store data should be immediately upgraded with digital technology to provide significantly greater storage capacity and extended longevity of the data collected, so as to protect prisoners and staff from false accusations.

10.  Ban the Educational Box
The Education from the Inside Out Coalition is a staunch advocate for access to higher education for all individuals who have been involved in the criminal justice system. We want the people who have been impacted by discriminatory criminal background screening to lead this charge.
Many public and private colleges and universities inquire about an applicant’s criminal history. The information gleaned from background checks is used to determine whether an academically qualified candidate will be granted admission. Applicants who have been convicted of a felony are burdened by a myriad of barriers that have the effect of pushing otherwise qualified applicants away from institutions of higher learning.
The Education from the Inside Out Coalition and our allies recognize that higher education is one of the most powerful tools to curb the cycle of recidivism. We believe that institutions of learning a have moral and social responsibility to extend access to education for all.
If you applied to a State University of New York school and were asked to submit supplemental information regarding your criminal history we want to hear about your experience.  Please respond to the following survey:   https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/C2G6VBH

If you want to become active in the work to make education a human right and not a privilege please join the Education from the Inside Out Coalition.      Individual member sign up

11.  Sweden's Remarkable Prison System Has Done What the U.S. Won't Even Consider
By Zeeshan Aleem ,  January 27, 2015   Published by MIC
The darkest manifestation of American exceptionalism may be its prison system. 
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world: It has only 5% of the world's population, but one-quarter of its prisoners. U.S. prisons are dangerously overcrowded, house 10 times as many mentally ill individuals as state hospitals, keep people locked up for unfathomably long periods of time, are plagued by inmate abuse and hold a far greater percentage of the country's black population than South Africa did under apartheid. Nearly two-thirds of the inmates released every year return to prison; crippling discrimination in employment and housing encumbers the ones who manage to function. This is all to say that if you are convicted of an imprisonable crime in the U.S., you generally get shown little mercy.  [emphasis added]
After decades of bipartisan consensus on criminal justice policy, there are some signs that the federal government thinks that the highly punitive system of mass incarceration seems to have gotten out of hand, and some states are making gestures toward making prisons less crowded. But in order to understand how best to fix these problems, one must look beyond policy tweaks and consider the underlying moral philosophy that explains why a society sends people to prison in the manner that they do. In the U.S., that philosophy is one of inflicting punishment and pain.  [emphasis added]
In Nordic countries like Sweden, which have far lower incarceration and crime rates, prison is about rehabilitation. And it works far more effectively. 
They have been deprived of their freedom. The punishment is that they are with us," Nils Öberg, director-general of Sweden's prison and probation service, told the Guardian in 2014. 
Sweden's prison system boasts impressive numbers. As the Guardian notes, in the past decade, the number of Swedish prisoners has dropped from 5,722 to 4,500 out of a population of 9.5 million. The country has closed a number of prisons, and the recidivism rate is around 40%, which is far less than in the U.S. and most European countries.  Öberg believes that the way Sweden treats its prisoners is partly responsible for keeping incarceration and recidivism rates so low.  
"It has to do with whether you decide to use prison as your first option or as a last resort, and what you want your probation system to achieve," he told the Guardian. "Some people have to be incarcerated, but it has to be a goal to get them back out into society in better shape than they were when they came in.   Nordic countries in general have an illustrative track record when it comes to minimizing the number of people who enter and re-enter their prisons. There are many factors that contribute to the effectiveness of their prison systems compared to many other countries in the West. They are relatively inclusive societies with widely shared prosperity and a low degree of corrosive racial tension (mainly due to racial homogeneity). But the low rates of return to prisons in particular hints at an alternative model for how to treat prisoners.   
In an insightful article in the Atlantic, Doran Larson explains how his research on prisons revealed that Nordic countries' rehabilitative ethos produces tangible results for those countries. Even in the high-security prisons he visited in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, he observed some remarkable things:
Common areas included table tennis, pool tables, steel darts and aquariums. Prisoner art ornamented walls painted in mild greens and browns and blues. But the most profound difference is that correctional officers fill both rehabilitative and security roles. Each prisoner has a "contact officer" who monitors and helps advance progress toward return to the world outside — a practice introduced to help officers avoid the damage experienced by performing purely punitive functions.

While high-security prisons in the U.S. often involve caging and dehumanizing a prisoner, prisons in Nordic countries are designed to treat them as people with psychosocial needs that are to be carefully attended to. Prison workers fulfill a dual role of enforcer and social worker, balancing behavioral regulation with preparation for re-entry into society.
Even more remarkable than this is the use of "open prisons" in the region. Prisoners at open prisons stay in housing that often resembles college dorms, have access to accessories such as televisions and sound systems and are able to commute to a job and visit families while electronically monitored. Prisoners and staff eat together in the community spaces built throughout the prison. None are expected to wear uniforms. Larson contends that open prison punishments can be more effective than closed prison punishments in that they don't distract the prisoner from the misdeeds that brought them there, as harsh American prisons often do: 
... knowing every minute of every day, that this is not your home, these people are not your family, your friends, your children, and you are always one misstep from a cell in a closed prison. You have strict curfews. In town you carry an electronic anklet. Yet nothing here feels unfair or unreasonable. You have, after all, committed a crime serious enough to make a range of other remedies untenable. Nothing you can see or touch or smell or taste, and no interaction with staff gives you anything to blame or resent about the system that brought you here.  
Larson's depiction of open prisons as carving out space for purer reflection and remorse is fascinating — and undoubtedly alarming to supporters of the American model of incarceration.  Defenders of the highly punitive American prison would argue that the Nordic attitude toward prisons in general is naive in its assumption that prisoners can be treated as normal humans who can improve. Yet Nordic countries remain quite safe after allowing people who have committed the most severe crimes to spend time in them, generally for far shorter sentences than in the U.S. 
It seems that there's a self-fulfilling dimension to the way a society chooses to imprison those that it deems criminal: If you tell someone they cannot get better, they won't; if you tell someone they can, they might just have a decent shot.

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