Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

July 2017


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


During the month we post late breaking news and announcements here, so please check back now and then.  Scroll down now to go directly to the June 2017 newsletter.

Due to technical difficulties we are unable, at this time, to post all of the parole board decisions.  Send an email to prisonactionnetwork@gmail and we will send them to you that way.

In it's place we invite you to read this article by Victoria Law about the Parole Board, which appeared in the Village Voice


Building Bridges July 2017

Dear Reader,  
Our movement for Parole/Prison reform is growing faster than ever before in the 18 years Prison Action Network has been around.  It’s actually looking like things are changing for the better.  This issue presents the progress that’s taken place recently from different perspectives.  There are new ways to get involved so please read on to see where you want to be part of future efforts.  
We are changing NYS!   Your Editor 


Table of Contents 
  1. Article 1. Parole News, 34% release rate for A1VOs; 5  6 new commissioners .   Due to technical difficulties we are unable, at this time, to post the May parole stats. Please send us an email if you want to get it that way.

    In it's place we invite you to read this article by Victoria Law about the Parole Board, which appeared in the Village Voice
     
  1. Article 2.  Update on advocacy campaign; victories; work left to do, what can you do? Thanks!!
  1. Article 3. Parole Preparation Project.
  1. Article 4. Legislation;  The SAFE Parole Act attracts more legislative sponsors, Weprin’s assembly bills, Ugly bill vetoed, wrongly convicted bill needs support.
  1. Article 5.  NetWORKS asks what’s the score?
  1.   Article 6.The facts about sex offenses.
  1. Article 7.  Sign up now for the March for Justice from NYC to Albany starting  Aug. 26.



  1. Parole News -MAY 2017  Release Rates.     PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONIES DIN #s through 2001  unofficial research from parole database


Due to technical difficulties we are unable, at this time, to post all of the parole board decisions.  Send an email to prisonactionnetwork@gmail and we will send them to you that way.
  1. PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS DIN #s through 2001  
unofficial research from parole database
Facility
Age at Hearing
Age at Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Altona
40
18
9-Life
Jo-Mrd
10
Attica
48
21
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Bedford hills
50
26
20-Life
Mrd 2
2
Collins
72
46
15-Life
Mrd 2
2
Elmira
61
23
25-Life
Att Mrd1
8
Fishkill
49
25
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
50
29
25-Life
Kid-1
2
Fishkill
54
31
20-Life
Mrd 2
            4  Deport
Fishkill
56
20
25-Life
Mrd 2
7
Fishkill
65
30
25-Life
  2
7
Gouverneur
41
25
15-Life
Mrd 2
3
Green haven
52
25
26-Life
Mrd 2
2
Green haven
74
32
15-Life
Mrd 2
15
Mohawk
59
29
20-Life
Mrd 2
6
Otisville
78
58
25-Life
Mrd 2
11
Sing sing
68
47
25-Life
Mrd 2
5
Washington
46
24
20-Life
Mrd 2
3
Woodbourne
39
23
15-Life
Mrd 2
2
Woodbourne
52
25
27-Life
Mrd 2
2
Woodbourne
61
23
25-Life
Mrd 2
9
Woodbourne
71
47
15-Life
Mrd pre 74
14



Five, No, Six! new Parole Board Commissioners and two reappointments, and more….. 
(things are happening at such a rate it’s hard to keep up!)  Six new parole Commissioners have been appointed to the parole board.  Building Bridges was there for the first 5; the sixth Commissioner, Charles Davis, was confirmed at the very last minute of the legislative session and in a rushed process. 
We were inspired by the positive vibe in the room and the politeness with which the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction members interviewed the candidates -the members who were present, that is, - There was a down -side however.  William Smith with a 20 year history on the Board, and Otis Cruze who has only been there 2 years, were both re-appointed.  

Sen. Gustavo Rivera did not hold back his disappointment with the Governor’s decision to reappoint W.Smith, whose record, Rivera pointed out, indicates that he does not believe in rehabilitation.  He referred to John MacKenzie as an example.  Rivera made a similar statement every time he was given the floor, including at the Finance hearing and I’ve heard also when the vote was taken on the Senate floor.  Nineteen Senators voted against Smith at the floor vote.  Gustavo won a lot of fans by taking this stand!   

[These are very abbreviated bios put together from several sources by more than one advocate.  If you want more detailed information please send a SASE and the date of this issue for a copy.]

CARYNE DEMOSTHENES ([dih-mos-thuh-neez]
61 years old, from New York, NY 
Job: Retired parole officer as of October 2015, after 31 years: she belonged to New York State Public Employees Federation. Division 236 union shop 

CAROL SHAPIRO (Sha-pie-roe)
Former assistant commissioner at NYC DOC in charge of Alternatives to Incarceration and Correctional Options policies
A founder of La Bodega de la Familia/Family Justice, Inc. 

TANA AGOSTINI
Senior legislative analyst for NYS Assembly Committee on Correction


ERIK BERLINER
12 years with the New York City Department of Correction.   

TYECE DRAKE
 Conducted risk/needs assessments utilizing the LSI-R (Level of Service Inventory-Revised) assessment tool in developing a comprehensive behavior change plan.


CHARLES DAVIS
Charles Davis has over 20 years of experience working in the field of human services. He has worked in various facets of child welfare, juvenile justice, and criminal justice systems. 


The NYS Parole Reform Campaign is eager to hear what changes, if any, readers experience with the new people.  Please send your comments to the campaign at PO Box 6355, Albany NY 12206. 
On paper, at least,  there is more diversity of age, gender, background and skill sets than we ever dreamed of seeing on a NYS Parole Board.  Could it be that NYS is setting the standard and making us proud?  We are allowing ourselves to hope fair parole hearings are in our future. 

But we cannot up let up on our efforts to get rid of those remaining.  We continue to demand that Kevin Ludlow, James Ferguson and Julie Smith be let go immediately.  Will you add calling the Governor to your daily schedule?  Demand he get rid of them.  Tell your families and friends to also make daily calls to Governor Cuomo at 518 474 8390 and demand he NOT REAPPOINT Ludlow, Ferguson and Julie Smith. Your freedom, and/or your family, depend on it!

2.  Update on what has  happened since the beginning of our recent advocacy campaign. 
From two of the organizers:  THANK YOU for your incredible work these past few weeks. You made calls, wrote letters, and even visited your legislators on behalf of the movement for parole justice. The message we heard from many in Albany is that your voices were loud, clear and persistent.

We write with exciting news and an update on everything that has happened since the beginning of our recent advocacy campaign. Building off of the activism that so many people in prison and on the outside have done for years, we have accomplished so much together in the past couple of months, and we are so honored to be in this struggle with you!

BIG VICTORIES AND UPDATES!:
Out of the five Commissioners whose terms expired this year only two Commissioners were reappointed!: Otis Cruse and William Smith. While we celebrate the fact that only two Commissioners were reappointed, it is unacceptable that the Governor and Senate re-appointed William Smith. Appointed by Gov Pataki, Smith has been on the Board for over 20 years, and has a record of humiliating people and denying release to those who have served decades in prison, transformed their lives, and pose no risk to society. 
Three Commissioners were NOT reappointed!: Ferguson, Ludlow and Julie Smith. Ferguson and Ludlow were both Pataki appointees, and all three frequently disregarded the humanity of people in prison and violated the law. 
Additionally, Parole Commissioner Lisa Elovich resigned from the Board, despite the fact that her term does not expire until 2019. Elovich was also a Pataki-era appointee. We believe as a result of your advocacy efforts and continued calls to the Governor's office and legislature, she felt pressure to leave the Board. Now, only one Pataki-era appointee will remain on the Board by the end of the year! 

Five new Parole Commissioners were appointed for the first time!: Caryne Demosthenes, Carol Shapiro, Tana Agostini, Erik Berliner and Tyece Drake. While only time will tell whether these new appointees are our allies, many of these five Commissioners more closely reflect the identities and experiences of people in prison, and come from a broader range of professional backgrounds. 

OTHER VICTORIES AND UPDATES!
We defeated Lorraine's Law: As many of you know, a devastating bill that increased the time between Parole Board hearings from 2 years to up to 5 years for people convicted of the most serious crimes had a lot of support in the legislature. However, as a result of your efforts, it was narrowly defeated. {See Art # 5 for details]
Most importantly, we profoundly shaped the confirmation process of new Commissioners, exposed the many injustices and cronyism inherent in the process, educated our legislators about the impact of parole on our loved ones, and for the first time, garnered serious opposition on the Senate floor. In an unprecedented moment, Senators on the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee that confirms the appointments, voiced strong opposition to the reappointment of William Smith. The opposition continued onto the larger Senate floor, where Senators dissented and 19 people ultimately voted NO on Smith's reappointment! Although not enough to defeat his reappointment, such a public rejection of a long-standing Commissioner suggests a new and dramatic shift in parole policy. (See herehere and here for footage of the hearings).

WORK LEFT TO DO!:
While Ferguson, Ludlow and Julie Smith were not reappointed, the Governor is entitled to put them into an indefinite holdover period. This means that they can continue practicing as Commissioners and making decisions that impact the lives of thousands, without ever being reappointed. We've received word from the Governor's office that these Commissioners will not be on the Board past December 2017, but we will need to keep the pressure on in order to ensure they are fired.  Call the Governor:   

Gathering support from the media. While several powerful pieces were written by our allies throughout this campaign, we are still hoping for more pieces that will cement our story and further expose the injustices of the Board.  [If you have a connection, let us know.  [RAPP @ address, email

Resuming our fight during the next legislative session. Unfortunately, Lorraine's Law and other devastating bills will be on the agenda for the next legislative session, which begins in January 2018. We will spend the fall strategizing for how to prevent the passage of these bills.  [Contact Prison Action Network to get on the list for information.}
Continuing to grow our grassroots base and expanding the movement for parole justice. In addition to our loved ones inside, we know there are thousands of people in our communities across the state whose lives are directly impacted by parole and incarceration. We must continue to grow our movement, connect with all those who are impacted across issues, and mobilize to end these racists and inhumane practices of the state. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO!
Educate and advocate in your community! Continue to educate others, including your elected officials, about the parole system in New York State. Hold workshops, trainings or teach-ins on parole. We have training curriculums available that we would love to share.

Connect with the media! If you know journalists or reporters, please reach out to them and encourage them to cover this story. We have lots of materials for you to distribute. 

Come to our meetings and get involved! Email us to learn more about joining our campaign and attending meetings in your area. 

NYC: Parole Justice NY has quarterly meetings in the city and monthly phone calls. Email mlewin12@gmail.com for more info.
Attend RAPP monthly coalition meetings (first Wednesday of every month)

Attend Challenging Incarceration's next meeting July 29, 12-2:30 pm at the Castle (625 W. 140th St.); call-in: 712-432-1212, id: 318838798.
Capitol Region: CAAMI (Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration) has a Parole Watch team who attend every public Parole Board meeting. CAAMI's work also extends far beyond parole. Email nycaami@gmail.com for more info. 

THANK YOU!
Again, we want to thank you all for your powerful and persistent efforts these past few weeks. We are entering a new moment in the movement for parole justice. We have the attention of our legislators and Governor and we have each other!       

Warmly,   Parole Justice New York and RAPP


3..THE PAROLE PREPARATION PROJECT
NEW ADDRESS:
Parole Preparation Project
c/o The Law Office of Michelle L. Lewin
168 Canal Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10013

Parole Preparation Project works in collaboration with parole-eligible people serving life sentences in New York State prisons as they prepare for their interviews with the Board. Since 2013, we have trained over 150 community volunteers* to work alongside and in solidarity with almost 80 parole applicants to develop solid release plans, create compelling advocacy packets, and practice necessary interviewing skills.

The Project is founded on the idea that the transformation of the system must be guided and led by those most impacted by it. Therefore, by advocating for the release of parole eligible people from prisons, we are advocating for the release of those who are ultimately at the forefront of this movement to end incarceration.

After three wonderful years, we are saying goodbye to our dear friends at the Law Office of Rankin & Taylor, and moving into a shared office on Canal Street. We're very excited about this transition and everything it brings--new community, more space and a place to host events!



4.  Legislation;  
The Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act adds signatures
We have CAPITALIZED the new signers (5 in Senate, 7 in Assembly):
SENATE   S. 3095  Sponsor is Kevin Parker   
Parker, Alcantara, Bailey, BRESLIN, Comrie, HAMILTON, HOYLMAN, Kennedy, KRUEGER,  Montgomery, G.Rivera, Sanders, SAVINO, Serrano
ASSEMBLY   A.4353  Sponsor is Jeffrion Aubry (MS)  
Aubry, Arroyo, Barrett, Barron, BLAKE, COOK, Crespo, DAVILA, DIPIETRO, Fahy, Farrell, Gottfried, Hevesi, Mcdonald, Montesano, Mosley,  O’Donnell, Ortiz, PEOPLES-STOKES, Perry, PICHARDO, Rodriguez, ROSENTHAL, Sepulveda, Simon, Skartados

Bill Number
Primary Sponsors
Purpose
A.2385/ No same as
Reported to Codes
Weprin
Relates to confidential hearing records; authorizes attorney representing inmate in certain proceedings to obtain a copy of hearing record; prohibits redisclosure.
 A.2386 no same as
Weprin
Creates geriatric parole release for inmates over 60.
A.3053/ S.3982
05/24/2017.   PASSED ASSEMBLY
06/13/2017  PASSED SENATE
Waiting for Governor to sign
Weprin/ Montgomery
Requires that parole decisions be published on a publicly accessible website within 60 days of such decision.
A.4047 no same as
hasn’t moved out of Correction Committee
Weprin
Provides that the Board of Parole shall grant parole to an inmate who successfully completes two or more years of a temporary release program.
A.4034. no same as
hasn’t moved out of Correction Committee
Weprin
Sections one through three remove from consideration of discretionary release by the board of parole the currently required consideration as to whether or not such release would so deprecate the offense as to undermine respect for the law.
A7546    No Same as 
Reported to Codes
Weprin
This bill would require the board to release people to community supervision when their minimum period of incarceration has been served unless there is a clearly articulated current public safety reason to keep them in prison. On subsequent board appearances, there would be a presumption of release unless the board determines by a preponderance of evidence that an inmate is unlikely to live without violating the law and that his or her release poses an unreasonable public safety risk.

"Lorraine's Law AKA the “Ugly Bill” A2350-A  Thiele (MS)  Same as S 2997-A  DID NOT PASS out of committee.
Readers may also be relieved to learn the bill that would allow 5 year hits between parole reappearances did not pass out of committee..  However, it was very close.  We suggest all readers who will see the parole board during their incarceration write a letter of appreciation for the great efforts some legislators made to keep the bill from passing.  We don’t know who was working behind the scenes but it appears to  us that thanks should be given to Senators Montgomery and G.Rivera, and Assemblyman Weprin.  Be sure to urge your families and friends to do the same.  We need to keep our opposition building so that next year it will not be so close.  
These people signed theUgly Bill but it has not moved out of the Corrections Committee.  We will notify you if it does.  You might think twice about voting for the following people in the future, or persuading them to come to their senses:

Thiele, Palmesano, Magnarelli, Stirpe, Graf, Finch, Kolb, Woerner, Raia, Brabenec, Ra, Lupinacci, Walter, Oaks, Giglio, Garbarino, McKevitte, Crouch,Lalor, Murray, Lawrence, Palumbo, Hawley, Fitzpatrick, Castorina, Blankenbush, Stec, Goodell, Dipietro, Ryan, Kearns, Dilan, Colton, Jones, Mosley, Sepulveda;  M-S: Barclay, Butler, Byrne, Curran, Errigo, Fiend, Johns, Lopez, Malliotakis, McDonough, Mclaughlin, B. Miller, M.L. Miller, Montesano, Morinello, Morris, Schimminger, Walsh.  
On the other hand there is a bill many of our readers will want to see pass.  It’s new, so it won’t happen right away, but it’s time to get familiar with it and get your families and friends familiar with it.  The wrongfully convicted recovery act,: A5306 is sponsored by AM Aubry, and would provide compensation and other benefits in the Court of Claims for people who have been wrongfully convicted and incarcerated in New York State.


5.  NetWORKS, the monthly column of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network
Parole Justice: What’s the Score?

Many of us who fight to change New York’s prison system know its hard realities first hand, and many more of us know them second hand, through years of exhausting trips to visit our loved ones in distant prisons. We have felt the pain of hopes dashed for years and decades by a parole board that seemingly does not see us as fellow humans but only as examples of badness that can never change. We have seen parole board decisions that make no sense on the level of community safety, morality, compassion, or respect for the law – decisions that can only be understood as coming from a philosophy of revenge and accountability to forces with a stake in increasing mass incarceration.

But even some of us who have watched this process close up for years were horrified by recent research into the workings of the parole board, collected by advocates to pressure the governor and the legislature to make changes in the composition of the board. We found out that most or all of the parole commissioners, who earn more than $100,000 a year, make substantial contributions to the reelection campaigns of the members of the Senate committee that confirms their appointments. The racial disparities that we suspected were clearly demonstrated in the outcomes for applicants with similar records. And our worst fears were confirmed in the deadly final number: only 20% of the people who come before the parole board are released.

Quotes gathered from actual parole hearings confirmed what we already knew: arrogance, cruelty, and incompetence. Here the commissioners, with no legal process and allowing no defense, were retrying the original crime, acting as judge, jury, accuser, prosecutor, and sentencing court.  

Parole Commissioner: How many burgs have you done that you haven’t been nailed for? There are others out there. What do you figure? Five, six? How many?
Applicant: No sir, this is the only one.

Parole Commissioner: How many days in advance had you been planning to kill her?
Applicant: I didn’t plan it. There was so much bad energy that developed over the years that… we didn’t know how to deal with it.
Parole Commissioner: You are not answering my questions. I am asking very specific directed questions and you cannot articulate to me how you elevated your bad relationship into this murder…

Parole Commissioner: She had a bike chain around her neck also?
Applicant: A what? Oh sir, I don’t know where that [misinformation] came from.

Parole Commissioner: In support of your claim of serious abuse, you offered little more than your own testimony and the opinion of an expert… You didn’t offer a single credible witness… We’ll have to take your version of events and the official version and we’ll have to try to determine which is more credible.

The parole justice movement that gathered this information and made it public is a window into the contradictions of our time: terrible injustice, and a vibrant movement fighting hard against it.

The last few months have been an amazing time for the struggle for parole justice and against mass incarceration. The May 10th statewide day of advocacy and action in Albany kicked off a month of intensive lobbying as the legislative session came to a close. The statewide multi-issue collaborative movement for prisoner justice achieved a level of visibility and credibility that could scarcely have been imagined even five years ago. There were media exposés of the profound racial disparities in the system; political officials mouthing the phrase “mass incarceration” like they invented it; “respectable” non-profits that wouldn’t give our grassroots groups the time of day jumping on the “criminal justice reform” bandwagon now that it’s rolling.

All this hullaballoo is frustratingly slow to translate into actual changes behind the bars. But there were a few significant anti-incarceration victories. 

  • Through letters, petitions, faxes, phone calls, press conferences and more, we beat back an initiative by Governor Cuomo to reduce visiting days in New York’s maximum security prisons.

  • The HALT (Humane Alternatives to Long-Term) Solitary Confinement bill generated a lot of visibility to the massive use of solitary in New York State. The bill picked up an impressive roster of legislative sponsors and has a reasonable chance of passage in 2018. 

  • In New York City, the Close Rikers campaign won a promise from Mayor DiBlasio to move toward closure within ten years. 

  • A flawed but better than nothing Raise the Age bill was passed and will significantly affect the fates of children and youth caught up in the criminal Injustice system.

  • The SAFE Parole Act picked up additional sponsors, media coverage, and public recognition. A bill sponsored by Assembly Member Weprin, Chair of the Corrections Committee, would introduce one of SAFE’s measures: DOCCS must prioritize programs for parole applicants denied because needed programming was not available.

  • A terrible bill to extend parole hits from 2 years to 5 years for certain crimes was defeated. 

  • And the most exciting, though limited, victory: through coordinated pressure on the governor and the legislature, we won some changes in the composition of the parole board! Advocates pressed the governor not to reappoint the five board members whose terms expired – Otis Cruse, James Ferguson, Kevin Ludlow, Julie Smith, and William Smith. Documentation was sent to the governor and the legislature showing that these parole commissioners consistently act with disregard for the laws they are supposed to be implementing, refuse to be guided by risk and needs principles, and see themselves as above the judiciary, the legislature, and scientific penal practices. The result was that the governor renominated only two, O. Cruse and W. Smith. It is not clear how long the others will be held over without being reappointed. In addition, the governor sent five new candidates to the Senate Crime Victims Committee for confirmation, representing considerably more regional, racial, and professional diversity than the board has seen in many a year. The two old and five new appointees were all confirmed by the Senate. 

The final score for the 2017 legislative session: we haven’t won yet – but we haven’t lost yet either! 



6.  The Facts about sex offenses

There are many limitations in recidivism data for sex offenders, so it’s difficult to use rearrest rates to accurately measure their threat to public safety. Many sex offenses are not reported to police, so there are problems of underreporting. Rearrests are not the same as re-convictions or reincarceration, and researchers are inconsistent in their method of calculating recidivism. (This Department of Justice report offers a detailed look at limitations in sex offender recidivism data.)
Sex offenders have a relatively low rate of committing the same sex crime after being released from prison. Yet policymakers often base policies on rearrest rates or the fear that sex offenders are more likely than other convicted criminals to commit the same crime after release.
Alito’s claim in this opinion reflects a common misrepresentation of sex offender recidivism.
Alito quotes a sentence from an opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the 2002 case McKune v. Lile: “When convicted sex offenders reenter society, they are much more likely than any other type of offender to be rearrested for a new rape or sexual assault.”
There are two citations. The first is a reference in McKune to a 1997 Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report on recidivism among prisoners released in 11 states in 1983. The report found: “Released rapists were 10.5 times more likely than nonrapists to have a subsequent arrest for rape. Prisoners who had served time for other sexual assaults were 7.5 times more likely than those who had not served time for sexual assault to be arrested for a new sexual assault.”


7. .Sign Up for the March for Justice!
On August 26th we’ll begin our March For Justice from NYC to Albany to call for the elimination of all human rights abuses in NY’s prisons and jails. Have you signed up to march or help in other ways?   Get in touch with us so you can be included.  Call us at 347-973-0580 or go to our website at www.afj-ny.org for more information. 
Warm regards,   Soffiyah




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