Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Monday, May 11, 2015

May 2015


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 April newsletter.

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Scroll down to read the May newsletter.


Posted May 18: by Prison Action Network

The Nature of the Crime premieres in NYS today!  Share the news!

Today, Monday, May 18th, The statewide Parole Justice Now! coalition is releasing our new film, "The Nature of the Crime," online in conjunction with its premiere in the state Capitol to pressure the legislature to pass the Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act.

You are invited to view the premiere here and then share it with everyone you know!  We need more New Yorkers to understand the problem that affects us so painfully. 

Please share the link to the video on your website, in your newsletter, and through all your social media outlets in order to ensure that this documentary make the largest media impact possible.  

Please share the video and website with your contacts today, so that we can create a buzz about it altogether on the same day!

"The Nature of the Crime" is available now on the www.parolejustice.org homepage. Please let your members, allies, friends, and family know and urge them to share this important documentary about an incredibly important issue.

This short documentary tells the story of how fourteen people in New York State control the freedom of tens of thousands of men and women. They are called the Parole Board and they determine whether people in prison with indefinite sentences are ready to be released.  Every year 10,000 people are denied parole. Many people are denied repeatedly – for some, this can mean up to 20+ extra years in prison - due to the "nature of their crime," something they can never change. 
  
Prison Action Network is a proud member of Parole Justice Now!



Posted May 12: Absolutely Innocent and Wrongfully Convicted

The group, Absolutely Innocent & Wrongfully Convicted!  Invites you to join them at the second annual Puerto Rican day parade. Last year we had a great turn out and this year we are looking to make it even more successful. Some minor details are still in the works to be figured out, such as shirts, but either way the mission is the same to spread awareness for those wrongfully convicted and shine light on issues not many think of. 


Keeping the mission in mind, the other main goal is to just enjoy yourself in the parade as we will be surrounded by the great crowd and music. Make sure you bring your walking shoes! Also prepare your banners and posters for your loved ones.

What is new this year:
We have our own contingent. We are looking to make a new banner since the one last year was heavy and cumbersome. A list of those currently on the old banner will be made available in the upcoming weeks with information on how to access the supportive links to support the individual. Possible press conference before the start of the parade. A photographer has been hired to document the event and accompany us along the way so be prepared to be photographed. We are hoping to find someone willing to lead us in chants and motivate us along our route.
Designated meet up area will be posted about a week prior to parade.

House keeping information:
Wristbands are required. In order to obtain wristbands to be in the parade you must RSVP by calling and leaving a message at the following number: 646-820-8284 to confirm so we can set you up with an assigned person in your borough to pick up the bands.

Please note that there will be a three band restriction per person and priority will be given to family members that are currently in the struggle, exonerees, and supporting organizations.

Barricades are placed around the parade so it is difficult to find people to hand out wristbands on the day of the parade. Therefore if you wish to join you must get a wristband beforehand.  As soon as you confirm we will try to get you connected with a wristband as quickly and conveniently as possible.  The number is 646 820 8284.  Ask for Elizabeth.


BE SURE TO CALL TO SCHEDULE THE 2015 FAMILY EMPOWERMENT TOUR FOR YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD
SEE ARTICLE  6 FOR DETAILS


Building Bridges
May 2015

Dear Reader,
  
We moved into new quarters on May 1, after 16 years in the former space.  We’re not fully unpacked, so it’s hard to locate anything and slows us down significantly.  

While we were packing up and cleaning outdated papers from our files, letters from our readers kept arriving.  We read them all, but we didn’t have time to respond.  

If you sent us a request for something in the past 8 weeks and haven’t received it, the best thing to do would be to send it again, since on moving day a lot of things - possibly your letter - ended up being misplaced.  Because we weren’t keeping good records during those days, we won’t know, when your letter finally surfaces, whether we answered it or not.  Please keep your reminder brief, so that we can take care of as many requests as possible in the shortest time.  Be sure to identify any articles by the date they were published in Building Bridges, and the title.

While we were packing our stuff, the movement to pass the SAFE Parole Act continued building.  Read on to see what is in the works.  The 2015 Family Empowerment Tour has plans for Syracuse and Utica in the next few weeks, and we hope you’ll invite us to your town or neighborhood soon.  See a flyer for the Tour (on P. 6)  which you can post or hand out wherever you go.  And on the last page is a two-sided petition for your signature.

We hope you’re enjoying the early summer weather.   
The Editor      


CONTENTS

1. NetWORKS announces a new petition for the SAFE Parole Act     

2. Parole News: March release rates     

3. Legislative report for March and April Senate bills     

4.  Roundtable on Sex Offender Residency Restrictions
  
5.  SAFE Parole Act in the Spotlight in Buffalo     

6.  Flyer for the 2015 Family Empowerment Tour   

7. Prison Violence as seen from the Inside     

8.  Revisiting Jan 4, 2014 Hearing on Parole     




1.  NetWORKS announces NYS Prisoner Justice Network petition
Sign the petition - and see a chart explaining the ways the Safe And Fair evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act results in fair and safe (for our communities) decisions by the NYS Parole Board:

Visit ParoleJustice.org to sign The NYS Prisoner Justice Network petition in support of the SAFE Parole Act.   Please encourage your family and friends to do so also



2.  Parole News - March Release Rates
March  2015 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS DIN #s through 2001
unofficial research from parole database

March 2015 Interview Summaries

Interviews
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year to Date Release Rate
Initials 
17
5
12
29%
41%
Reappearances
88
13
75
15%
25%
Total 
105
18
87
17%
28%


March 2015 Age Summaries
Age Range
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied 
Percent Released
Year To Date Percent
60-69
19
3
16
16%
24%
70-79
9
0
9
0%
18%
80+
0


0%
0%
Total
28
3
25
11%
23%


March 2015 Initial Release Rates

Facility
Age
Sentence
Conviction
# of Board
Fishkill
46
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Sing sing
44
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Woodbourne
35
15-Life
Mrd 2
1
Woodbourne
40
22-Life
Mrd 2
1
Woodbourne
44
20-Life
Mrd 2
1

Facility
Age
Sentence 
Conviction
# of Board
Cayuga
69
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Cayuga
46
18-Life
Mrd 2
4
Cayuga
55
20-Life
Mrd 2
3
Elmira
62
25-Life
Mrd 2
7
Elmira
54
30-Life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
57
20-Life
Mrd 2
6
Fishkill
40
17-Life
Mrd 2
4
Fishkill
54
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Gouverneur
36
15-Life
Mrd 2
2
Riverview
58
30-Life
Mrd 2
3
Woodbourne
61
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Woodbourne
41
18-Life
Mrd 2
3
Woodbourne
52
17-Life
Mrd 2
3



3.  Legislative report -From New York State Senate (http://www.nysenate.gov)

Explanation W/R (1)  means 1 person voted Yes With Reservations. The Cal # indicates the order of bills waiting to be introduced to the house.  A Bill gets a Calendar number when it’s reported from committee. When it reaches the order of Third Reading, it is ready for a final vote in the house. Up until then it can be amended by the sponsor or any other Legislator.  The Governor has the final say; he has to sign it before it can become the law.

Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction  - March 4, 2015 
Bill Number
Primary Sponsor/s
Purpose
S. 449 , no same as
Refer to Finance
Yes: 12
Yes with reservations: 1 ( Montgomery)
Marcellino

Notifies certain survivors upon the conditional release of an inmate convicted of a crime against a member of the same family or household.

S. 2058,  same as A.1128
Refer to Finance
Yes: 12
Yes, with reservations: 1 (Montgomery.)

Flanagan/Levine

Makes it illegal for defendant to profit from his or her crime
S. 2883, same as A.2799
Refer to Finance
Yes: 11
Yes with reservations: 2 (Montgomery, Rivera)
Ranzenhofer/Sepulveda
Develops and Implements automated payment detection, prevention and recovery solutions to reduce correctional healthcare overpayments, and to require that private health insurance providers and Medicaid are billed for eligible inpatient hospital and professional services
S. 2885, same as A.4254
Passed in Senate, sent to Assembly
Yes: 9
Yes with reservations:  2
(Montgomery, Perkins)
No: 2  (Hassell-T, Rivera)
Ranzenhofer/Kearns
An act to amend the correction law, in relation to prohibiting sex offenders from residing in community homes
S. 3094,  same as A.5269
Refer to Finance,  13 yes
Marchione/McDonald
DOCCS has to pay for an ignition interlock device when required for release.
S. 3667, same as A.4065 Passed Senate, sent to Assembly
Yes: 10
Yes with reservations:  2 ( DeFrancisco, Mont)
No: 1 (Perkins)
Savino/ DenDekker
Enables victims to view parole hearings via closed circuit television or a secure online website
S.3818, same as A.2424
Passed Senate, sent to Assembly
13 yes
Hassell-Thompson/O’Donnell
Requires notice be provided to any officer or employee of the department of correctional services whose personal information is the subject of a subpoena duces tecum


Senate Standing Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction - April 23, 2015
Bill Number
Primary Sponsor/s
Purpose
S. 356,  same as A.2934
Advanced to 3
rd reading , Cal 189
Diaz/Sepulveda
Directs the Board of Parole to add to their annual report the
demographic data of persons considered for release.

S. 633, same as A836
Referred to Finance
Yes: 11
Yes with reservations: 2 (Griffo/Rivera)

Carlucci/Gunther
To reduce the number of prison suicides in prison by providing additional training to corrections officers and staff.
S. 1834,  same as A.1112
Referred to Finance
Yes: 8

Ritchie/Gunther
Requires parole violators to be transferred to state correctional facilities after 10 days in a local correctional facility

S. 2064, no same as
Referred to Finance
Yes: 8
Yes w/reservations: 1 (Peralta)
No: 4 (Hassell-T, Mont, Perkins, Rivera)

Young
Limits temporary detention of defendants in violation of their release in a local correctional facility to 72 hours before transfer to state custody  

S. 3388, no same as
Referred to Finance
Yes: 9
Yes with reservations: 2 (Mont, Rivera)
No:  2 (Hassell-T, Perkins)

Lanza
Enacts "Cesar's Law" to require the retaking of parolees, with a class A or violent felony conviction, who abscond from the supervision of the State Board of Parole.

S. 4153 same as A5636
1
st report Cal. 422
Yes: 10
Yes w/reservations: 1 (Little)
No: 2 (Hassell-Thompson, Perkins)
LaValle/Thiele
Prevents any person required to register under the sex offender registration act from serving as a trustee, principal, officer, or member of a board of education of any public school in any BOCES, city, union free, common or central school district or any charter school.

S. 4518 ,same as A.6527
1st report  Cal 423
Yes: 13

Amedore/Steck
Authorizes the Schenectady County Correctional Facility to also be used for the detention of persons under arrest being held for arraignment in any court located in the county of Schenectady

S. 4780,  no same as
1st report Cal 424
Yes:  9
Yes w/ reservations: 3 (Griffo, Perkins, Rivera
No:  Hassell-Thompson

Gallivan
Provides a stay in a parole revocation proceeding when an alleged violator contends they are an incapacitated person until such determination is made by a criminal court.




4.  The Assembly Committee on Correction is holding a Roundtable on the subject of Sex Offender Residency Restrictions on Wednesday, May 20th at 11:00 a.m.
Legislative Office Building Room 711-A, 7th floor   Albany, New York 12248
PARTICIPATION BY INVITATION ONLY
The purpose of the roundtable is to examine the efficacy of sex offender residency restrictions and identify best practices to promote public safety and prevent recidivism of sex offenders.

The Court of Appeals recently held that local residency restrictions imposed on convicted sex offenders are unconstitutional because the state has an extensive set of measures meant to restrict sex offenders and therefore has preempted the field in this area of the law. The Assembly Correction Committee is holding this roundtable to examine the effects of the existing state sex offender residency restrictions on public safety. Further, the roundtable will identify best practices and examine the empirical evidence to determine policies that work to keep our communities safe and reduce recidivism by the sex offenders.


5.  SAFE Parole Reform Act in the Spotlight
by Karima Amin

For several years, we have stood on the side of those who advocate for the SAFE Parole Reform Act.  SAFE stands for “Safe and Fair Evaluations.” Several of our monthly programs have focused on sharing information about parole in New York State. Formerly incarcerated people have shared their stories; former parole commissioners have expressed their views; parole officers have explained their stance; people with incarcerated loved ones have shared their concerns; and our friends from prisoner justice organizations across the State have encouraged us to be proactive in advocating for parole reform.

The fight for parole reform continues as New York State’s broken parole system continues to ignore the accomplishments of prisoners who have worked very hard to prepare themselves for eventual release and return to family and community. Every parole denial adds two more years to a prisoner’s sentence, two more years of heartache for a family, and two more years of denying a community the benefits of a citizen’s potential. To this end, the Parole Board never gives any clear message to parole applicants about what they need to do to cause a different result.

Yearly, thousands of people in prison prepare to appear before Parole Boards. Most have worked diligently to prepare themselves for release. Sadly, release is often denied due to the “nature of the crime.”  While this person’s rehabilitation may be obvious, the crime of conviction, which may have been committed several decades ago, is the deciding factor and this person’s changed thinking and behavior are ignored.  If the SAFE Parole Reform Act becomes a reality, parole applicants will be given the benefit of an opportunity to show themselves worthy of parole, families will be reunited and the Parole Board will have abided by the law.

You can get involved in this fight for justice by learning more about the campaign to reform parole and by gaining the tools that are necessary for having a conversation with your State representatives, demanding passage of the SAFE Parole Reform Act. As an alternative to the retribution and punishment that comes from the criminal justice system as it now functions, Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. stands as a proponent of restorative justice that serves to promote the understanding that punishment alone is not effective in changing behavior and is disruptive to community harmony and good relationships.

Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. joins other organizations across the State, demanding passage of the SAFE Parole Reform Act. One of these organizations, “Milk Not Jails,” has produced a documentary, “Nature of the Crime,” which was screened at our meeting on Monday, April 27 

Mr. Cale Layton, from “Milk Not Jails,” was present to answer questions. As members of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network, we work together “to challenge and change New York’s criminal justice system.” Join us in this effort.

 Meetings are at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, in Buffalo, NY.
For more information: 716-834-8438; Karima Amin (karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org); BaBa Eng (georgebaba_eng@yahoo.com). 




6.  2015 Family Empowerment Tour

featuring:  

The Nature of the Crime, a new documentary directed by Josh Swartz
about NY's broken parole system.

Family Empowerment Training; the Family Empowerment Training will give you and your family the tools and confidence to demand the justice you deserve.

Contact Parole Justice Now! to Set Up a  Tour Stop
Join our statewide tour to see the film, hear from families and other experts who are working to reunite with their loved ones behind bars, and find out how you can help fight for justice!

Take Action at ParoleJustice.org
Contact us at action@milknotjails.org
or call 917 719 6455

Touring New York in 2015-2016


THE TOUR IS COMING TO UTICA 
June 6th at 2 pm
Plymouth Bethesda Church
500 Plant Street
Co-sponsors: Incarcerated Flavors, Having Hope Ministries, St James AME Church

AND TO SYRACUSE!
June 7th at 4 pm
ArtRage
505 Hawley Avenue

Sponsored by Center for Community Alternatives





7.  Inside The Box: The Other Side Of The Story
Written by Matthew Hattley, and published in the Shawangunk Journal on January 29, 2015

After reading "Correction Officers Want Better Safety Inside Prisons," by Heather Yakin in the Times Herald Record of October 30th, 2014, I felt the need to respond.

I have been housed in several state facilities over the past twenty plus years. I have firsthand experience of exactly what occurs within prisons and why.  First, and very important, if there is in fact a rise in violence, which I personally have not witnessed over the past ten years, it would have absolutely nothing to do with prison closures. The prisons were closed because the prison population declined from 71,500 in 1999 to the current 54,000.

Also, when a prison is closed, the entire population and staff are transferred to other prisons throughout the state. New York currently has fifty four. Employees do not lose their jobs unless they specifically choose to retire or quit due to a longer commute. Facilities usually become overstaffed during closures since the unions are extremely powerful.

Second, being that the Department of Corrections no long double bunk, that is put two people in a single cell, to even suggest there's overcrowding is just blatantly untrue. Today, most facilities operate at 90-95 percent capacity and the prison population continues to decline by at least a thousand inmates every year.

Third, you also cannot blame "more gangs, more drugs and more violent inmates in the prison now than in the past" for a perceived problem of violence. This is bigger than the prison population or the Department of Corrections.

Put things in perspective...
1. Prisons are unnatural environments.
2. Prison population is growing young with more 15-21 year olds.
3. There's a higher rate of individuals that require mental health treatment.
4. The security staff are not trained adequately to deal with today's population.

Can the prison environment become hostile and extremely violent? Absolutely, but not without warning or provocation. Understand: the dynamic of any facility is determined by the security staff who directly interact with us on a regular basis, not by the prison population.

Furthermore, to set the record straight there are real consequences if any incarcerated individuals physically assault the staff, whether civilian or security. An unusual incident report is generated and the individual(s) in question are arrested and charged for the crime. The new sentence usually runs consecutively with the current one, adding more time to what was already there.

The root of about 80 percent of all violent situations in here is a lack of respect. You can't verbally abuse, disrespect and humiliate any group of people on a daily basis for an extended period of time and not expect those people to react badly at some point. This applies out there in society as well.

Until we are viewed and treated as human beings, not vicious animals, there will continue to be a problem of assaults. The bias and racism must be removed from the equation.

A rational solution to this problem doesn't require rocket science, just some common sense. Treat us the way you wish to be treated. Period. Yes, it really is this simple.

The security staff must be educated and retrained on how to appropriately deal with the prison population and their various needs. All state employees are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner every day.

To be fair, I am only referring to a very small percentage of the security staff. Unfortunately in situations like this, everyone is affected. Take us for example. We are not saints. But the majority of us have shown progressive changes over the years, yet we are still viewed collectively, not as individuals.

So, to close, here's a thought. If State Senator John Bonacic, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, Assemblyman James Skoufis, and the president of the state correctional officers and Police Benevolent Association, Michael Power, are genuinely concerned about creating a safer prison environment, for everyone, then I've just given them enough of an insight to actually do what's both morally correct, and effective, for a change. Not just what the bureaucracy dictates.



8.  Revisiting the NYS Assembly’s Corrections Committee Hearing on Parole on Dec.4, 2013

Scott Paltrowitz, Associate Director of the Prison Visiting Project at the Correctional Association of New York, testified before the NYS Assembly’s Corrections Committee Hearing on Parole on December 4 2013.  These comments are taken from his 46 page written testimony.  We last quoted from his testimony in January 2015.

The BOP (Board of Parole) fails to provide due consideration to all statutory factors and too often focuses primarily on the nature of the Applicants’ crimes of convictions or criminal history.  ...the current law has inappropriately led the Board to take on a role other than evaluating a person’s readiness for reentry.  Still, under the current law, although the Board is not required to give equal weight to each factor, it is required to give due consideration to all factors.  ... More than 90% of survey respondents reported the nature of their crime as the reason given for their denial.  ...Even where people have been convicted of less serious crimes, it is reported that the seriousness of the crime and past criminal history are major reasons for denial.
A survey respondent at Woodbourne reported:  “I am an example that despite doing everything required and going above and beyond what is asked of me, I’m still denied parole.  Despite recommendations of DOCS staff that deal personally with me on a daily basis, I am denied release on parole due to my instant offense and criminal history.  I’ve been referred to as a model candidate for parole release by DOCS staff but Parole does not care.  Because of this reality, men are discouraged feeling that no matter what improvements they’ve made in their lives, parole will never recognize it above the things they cannot change, (such as their past) enough to warrant release back to society.”

...Parole applicants have complained that they are not provided an adequate opportunity to present the information they wish to provide during parole hearings.  People have described having only 10 minutes to present information about many years of incarcerations or even that may have taken place decades earlier.

... The BOP is increasingly conducting hearings by video-conferencing.  ...At one prison, staff indicated that 10 applicants are brought down at a time to what used to be a visiting room, and then one by one go in for interviews that on average last about 10 minutes.  The Board members then talk among themselves after an interview to make a decision before moving on to the next applicant.  [At another facility} parole hearings take place via videoconferencing in the infirmary; and 15 or more parole applicants are placed in the hearing room at one time and have to listen to every other applicant’s hearing.  

Such procedures raise concerns about whether parole applicants are provided a meaningful opportunity to receive a fair assessment. 
[There are concerns] about the ways in which the implementation [of COMPAS, a risk and needs assessment tool] and whether staff may be undermining its objectivity, and again, most importantly, [there are] questions about whether COMPAS has any meaningful positive impact in practice since the Board appears to be ignoring it for purposes of release decisions.  ...staff at Greene and Cayuga expressed their subjective opinions that COMPAS underestimates the risk of people convicted of the most serious crimes, including murder.  Such statements indicate that individual staff persons could, without objective bases, view a person to be a high risk simply based on the nature of the crime, when objective evidence-based factors indicate a low risk. 
...Information provided by staff indicates that many staff - particularly former parole officers - do not understand or accept the empirical validity of the COMPAS, which in turn raises questions about whether staff could be undermining its objectivity.        [To be continued sometime in the future.]




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