Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

January 2018

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 whenever you want to go directly to the January 2018 newsletter.


Dear Reader,  

As long as we have love and hope, our spirits cannot be broken.  Justice will prevail.  We love you and we hope we’ll all experience a big portion of goodness in 2018.


Table of Contents. 

  1. Parole News October 2017   Some Parole releases are at 43%!
  2. NetWORKS;  Can it get any worse?  The new package program.     
  3. The Alliance of Families for Justice has great plans for 2018;  your family might want to join.
  4. Lets talk about the New York Civil Liberties Union 
  5. NYS Criminal Justice Reform shares criminal justice reform efforts from around the state. 
  6. The Safe and Fair Evaluations  (SAFE) Parole Act.  Gettin’ old but still kickin’!
  7. Will the Gov be able to keep his New Years resolutions?
  8. Save the Date!   March 1-4, 2018. Beyond the Bars conference
  9. Clarification:  Last month, in an article about Parole Watch ….we misunderstood.


  1. Parole News October 2017   Some Parole releases are at 43%!
Due to technical difficulties we are unable to post all of the parole board decisions.  Send an email to prisonactionnetwork@gmail and we will send them all to you.  

In the meantime this is a chart of every parole interview by location and # of releases and denials at each.  Scroll way down to get to the rest of the letter.   

Facility
Released
Denied
Adirondack
5
3
Albion W-R
1
0
Albion-female
13
12
Altona
7
5
Attica
1
11
Auburn
3
2
Bare Hill
15
23
Bedford Hills
12
10
Cape Vincent
13
17
Cayuga
4
7
Clinton
2
11
Collins
7
18
Coxsackie
4
2
Downstate
5
17
Eastern NY
0
2
Edgecombe
5
0
Elmira
5
9
Fishkill
8
23
Franklin
16
17
Gouverneur
6
12
Gowanda
34
21
Gowanda - SOP
2
2
Gt Meadow
3
15
Green Haven
5
7
Greene
12
17
Groveland
12
16
Hale Creek ASAC
4
8
Hudson
3
2
Lakeview
4
4
Lincoln
12
4
Livingston
10
5
Marcy
11
14
Midstate
9
17
Mohawk
8
13
Ogdensburg
2
6
Orleans
4
8
Other Agency
0
1
Otisville
15
17
Riverview
3
13
Rochester
2
0
Shawangunk
0
3
Sing Sing
3
10
Southport
0
3
Sullivan
4
4
Taconic - female
8
3
Ulster
15
13
Upstate
4
8
Wallkill
11
2
Walsh Medical Ctr
2
0
Washington
5
6
Watertown
14
8
Wende
2
14
Woodbourne
6
6
Wyoming
7
14
Total Released
371

Total Denied

494
RATE OF RELEASE
43%












2.  NetWORKS: The monthly column of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network
Can it get any worse? Meet the new package program.

Starvation of the body and soul would seem to be the goal of DOCCS’ new package program. Already in use at three pilot facilities, the new system will go into effect statewide in the fall of 2018, when all 52,000+ human beings incarcerated in NYS prisons will be limited to just eight prison-specialty contract vendors offering an inadequate, unappealing, limited selection of overpriced products. 

As our loved ones struggle to satisfy their most basic needs for nutrition, health, hygiene, and mental stimulation, these vendors offer junk food, poor quality necessities, and barely a scrap of mindless reading matter.

“NYSDOCCS will begin a pilot Secure Vendor Program at Greene, Green Haven and Taconic Correctional Facilities on December 04, 2017. The goals of the Department’s Secure Vendor Program are to offer, through approved vendors E-Ford Commissary, www.efordcommissary.com, Access Securepak, www.nypackages.com, Union Supply group, www.NYinmatepackage.com , JL Marcus, https://jlmarcuscatalog.com, Walkenhorst, https://walkenhorsts.com, a variety of food and articles at competitive pricing for inmates, their families and friends; while maintaining security, and providing an efficient operation. The remaining three approved vendor links will be added as they become available.
“…In accordance with Directive #4911A, family and friends of inmates may order three packages per month and an additional three packages may be ordered by the inmate for a total of six packages per month with the following restrictions: The total weight of a package (including packaging) may not exceed 30 pounds as calculated by the vendor. The total weight of food items may not exceed 8 pounds per package as calculated by the vendor.”  – DOCCS website

Each incarcerated person and family member will be harmed differently by this program, but two features stand out as particularly shocking: (1) the total prohibition of fresh fruits and vegetables, and (2) the complete absence of any intelligent reading material. At this writing, some advocates believe the directive may not be intended to apply to books when it says there are no exceptions to exclusive ordering from the contract companies; but so far there has been no clarification from DOCCS that would allow books to be ordered differently from other products.

As an example of the first problem, take the Healthy/Nutritious category listing in the E-Ford Commissary catalogue. There are a total of three items in this category: Fiber One 90 Calorie Bar Cinnamon Coffee Cake;  Fiber One Streusel Bar; and Fiber One 90 Calorie Brownies. All three are highly processed, loaded with sugar, and have close to zero nutritional value. If these are the healthy foods, it is a bit difficult to imagine the unhealthy foods.

As for books, the five approved vendors offer a total of the following masterpieces of educational uplift: 5 junk sex novels,  14 bibles & other religious books, 24 coloring & drawing books,  21 puzzle books, 11 guitar/chess/how-to books, 1 dictionary, and 1 thesaurus. For additional reading, there are 17 popular and  11 girlie magazines, all single issues (not subscriptions). Used books are explicitly banned in the new directive, eliminating a widespread grassroots campaign, Books Through Bars, which sends free, current, diverse, thoughtful reading materials to people in prison.

Education is right at the top of the list of programs proven to prevent recidivism and foster rehabilitation. Since post-high school formal education programs are limited to a tiny fraction of NYS prisoners, self-education is a precious path pursued intensely by many, especially long-termers looking to make a meaningful contribution with their lives. Cutting off that  path is both cruel and counterproductive.
Family members and advocates are distraught at the prospect of further limitations on the already capricious, inconsistent, and unreasonable package regulations. Even before this new program, package regulations and practices varied from prison to prison in unpredictable ways that had no visible relationship to security and were unduly harsh and restrictive. The new program makes a bad set of inconsistent practices into a worse set of consistent ones. 

Justice organizations, prison families, and members of the public on the outside are calling for DOCCS to rescind the new package program. 









3.  Tell your families!

The past year was an amazing one for Alliance of Families for Justice. We made thousands of new friends and connected with hundreds of new organizations. The March for Justice was a huge success and affirmed for us that our theory of change was correct and that our mission was sound. In 2018, we will be bringing on a limited number of staff so that we can start to build a solid infrastructure. In this way, we will increase our effectiveness in advocacy, organizing and serving the people. 

In addition to our satellite office in Albany, we have plans to further realize our intention of being a statewide organization.

On December 14th we held our holiday dinner/party where we celebrated families and their loved ones. We gave out “welcome home gifts” to several people who recently returned to our community and together we enjoyed a delicious meal.

We oppose the New Package Policy
Working with other organizations, we are engaged in a campaign to resist this short-sighted policy. We are mobilizing thousands of New Yorkers to express their outrage at this exploitative policy by sending postcards to Governor Cuomo and Acting Commissioner Annucci. Anyone interested in getting postcards signed, or signing one themselves, should contact us right away at 347-973-0580 or info@afj-ny.org.

Save the date! 
On Sunday, March 25th at 2 pm we are having a March for Justice Reunion at the Brooklyn Museum located at 200 Eastern Parkway. We’ll have a panel discussion, video showing and testimonial reflections from marchers and supporters. We are thrilled to be kicking off the 2018 States of Denial series at the Museum hosted and sponsored by the Elizabeth a. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.

January Community Organizing Meeting
 Our next community organizing meeting will take place on Thursday, January 25th from 6 to 8 pm at the National Black Theatre located at 2031 5th Avenue, between 125th and 126th Streets in Harlem. We’ll be discussing our policy and legislative priorities for 2018 and reviewing the Governor’s State of the State address as it relates to criminal justice. There are a host of issues to cover including bail reform, speedy trial, expungement, the DOCCS package policy, human rights abuses in prisons and jails, jail expansion, drug reform, discovery, solitary confinement, the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, closing Rikers and shutting down Attica - just to name a few. So come on the 25th - get updated and share updates. Get involved.

Warm regards from Soffiyah and the AFJ Team






4.  Ten Years Later: Reform of Public Defense Services in New York

The New York Civil Liberties Union is not mentioned very often in these pages.  An article in the Winter 2018 edition of NYCLU NEWS seems to be a good way to introduce them if you don’t already know about this important organization. The article also illustrates the time it can take to get legislation passed.
This is a condensed version:
In 2007 NYCLU filed a lawsuit {Hurrell-Harring et al. vs. State of NY} that charged the state with failing its constitutional duty to provide a lawyer to persons facing criminal charges who could not afford a private attorney.  
In October 2014 they reached a settlement agreement that only reached the five counties named as defendants in the lawsuit.  
In 2015 Assembly Member Patricia Fahy introduced legislation obligating the state to fund public defense services in all counties.
In the closing days of the 2016 legislative session, lawmakers passed the Assembly bill without a single “no” vote.  After sitting on the Governor’s desk for 6 months, he vetoed the bill.  In response NYCLU staff did their best to shame Cuomo’s counsel, and Cuomo, for the veto. 
Soon after, the Assembly introduced budget legislation mandating that the state provide all 62 counties the funding required to meet the standards for pubic defense services required by Hurrell-Harring.  Now, tucked away in a 370-page bill adopted as part of the 2017 budget are several pages that guarantee the right to legal counsel for criminal defendants.

Editorial Comment:  We take that as inspiration to never give up when you know you’re doing the right thing.  We know that some of our readers would not be in prison if this law had been passed earlier, but we are happy to know that it will enable countless others to have a better chance at fair trial.







5.  NYS Criminal Justice Reform - 

The first call of this kind was convened in January 2018 when rumblings began about the Governor putting forward a slew of criminal justice reforms in his budget. 
The purpose of these calls is to share information across the state around existing efforts to push for CJ reform; to highlight issues, campaigns, and projects that we are working on; and to find ways to align, coordinate, and support each other in our work to end mass incarceration in NY state. The calls are not meant to be strategy or planning sessions, though we will hear updates from groups that are planning actions. 
One of the topics discussed:
US Tax Policy and Its Potential Impact on the NYS Budget 
Ron Deutsch, Fiscal Policy Institute 
Overview: what does current US tax policy mean for criminal justice reform and the social safety net in New York State. 
• Tax reform would be terrible for NY and other states like it because of SALT (State and Local Tax Deductions). In the past, NYers have been able to deduct local taxes from federal taxes to decrease taxable income 
SALT would impact local property taxes and lower home value. The bill limits the deductibility of mortgage interest, which people rely on, and would potentially lower home value 
• The bill would double the standard deduction amount, but what they don’t say is they eliminate the other exemptions: student loans interest, children, mortgage interest, etc. 
Impact on NYS and NYS budget: 
The proposed tax plan will cause a $1.4 -1.5 trillion budget gap at the federal level  A third of NY’s $160 billion budget comes from federal government. However, NY gives $48 billion per year to the federal government - so in reality NY subsidizes the rest of the country.  NYS is already in the hole $4-5 billion.  This all will likely cause a drop in social services, which are imperative for those impacted by the criminal justice system.  Overall, major budget shortfalls will create a challenge to supporting programs and services that are vital to the social safety net. 
Current Political Context in Albany. Artie Malkin, Malkin & Ross 
•The analysis of the Governor has changed since the 2016 election. Before Hillary Clinton lost the last presidential election, Cuomo was poised to run for Governor in 2018. Now that she is not the President, Gov. Cuomo has to ask himself: What does he have to do to win the democratic primary in a presidential campaign?  What margin does he have to win the governor seat by to be a serious candidate for presidency? He has to win by a 55-65% range in order to be considered a serious candidate.
•What that means for us: He needs communities of color because he gets the bump from NYC, especially from POCs
The Governor has moved to the left on some issues (e.g. passed the Justice Equality Act, Raise the Age)
•This could potentially mean a good year on policy. But he has to decide what else he can do, or if he has to do anything else at all. 
•Senate   61 members currently- likely to call special elections in April to fill two open seats• How/when will Cuomo unite the mainline Democrats with the IDC?   This is important for any national aspirations because Democrats will want to know, if you can’t unify in your own state, how can you do it for the country? 
•If Democrats get back together that will be the single biggest thing to happen for criminal justice reform initiatives.
•Looking forward, the question is - when we see the budget, how do we view the article 7 stuff on criminal justice? Do we accept it, or think of a world with a Democratic Senate? 
•Assembly. Over 100 Dems in body of 150   Usually where bad bills die and good bills get better  Carl Heastie - criminal justice reform is personal for him. Feels strongly about criminal justice. Will likely lead the fight again this year. 
Comment: Valesky, who represents Syracuse, was recently quoted as being unenthusiastic about realigning IDC with the mainline Democrats. 
It’s going to be up to the Governor to get this back together, and it is going to be in his best interest to do so.






6.  The Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act
It’s still alive and kickin’!  3095 / A.4353 
We see it being passed in little pieces.  Which means we have to keep after our legislative reps, demanding that they pass it because it’s vital to your welfare..  Let them know what part of it is most important to you.  

Hope to see you in the halls of the Capital! …….this year!









7.  Every year the Governor gives a State of the State speech.

There’s also a State of the State Book, from which his speech is taken.  In both he brags about his previous year’s accomplishments and presents his proposals for the new year.  His website says he will release details about how he’s implementing them later in the year..

Below the list of proposals we’ve summarized the ones that apply directly to the majority of our readers.  Of course everything is connected, so many of his proposals will have impact on us.

[Clicking on a proposal will take you to a full description of it.]
The governor’s proposals:

All of the following actions can be found in Proposal 22:
  • Presumption that people facing misdemeanor and non- violent felony charges must be released from jail, and they must be released without cash bail. 
  • Legislation to remove mandatory suspensions of driver’s licenses for people convicted of drug crimes, which keeps people from going to work and attending drug treatment, as long as the crimes did not involve driving. 
  • Remove outdated statutory bans on occupational licensing for professions outside of law enforcement and instead require agencies to assess applicants on an individualized basis. 
  • Expand opportunities for release from prison for deserving individuals through geriatric release consideration for people over the age of 55 with debilitating conditions exacerbated by age.
  • Conduct a study on whether people eligible for limited credit time allowances can safely take part in educational and work release. 
  • Removes the parole supervision fee 
  • Have local child support enforcement offices review child support orders of people incarcerated for over six months, and, if warranted, adjust the orders downward so that unpayable child support debt does not accumulate during a person’s incarceration. 
  • Determine appropriate alternatives to incarceration for those who violate technical parole conditions but pose no risk to public safety
  • Eliminate the need to file a notice of claim with a public entity before being able to bring a lawsuit against that entity. Under New York law, victims are required to file notices of claim before they file a lawsuit against a public entity. These notices are barriers to the proper administration of justice and should not prevent a victim from having access to the courts. 
  • Direct the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to close more than 1,200 SHU beds throughout New York State’s correctional facilities. 
  • A corrective action plan to either improve jail facilities—or close them in an expedited manner—to ensure the safety for both staff and incarcerated individuals. 








8.  Beyond the Bars: Closing Jails and Prisons
Save the Date!    March 1-4, 2018

The 8th annual Beyond the Bars Conference of the Center for Justice at Columbia University will focus on elevating the efforts led by grassroots organizers that include formerly incarcerated and directly impacted people to put forth a more transformative vision of how to close jails and prisons and what comes in their place. Momentum for lasting change is building. 
  





9.  Clarification:  Last month, in an article about Parole Watch, it was reported that conference fees for a Parole Commissioner were paid from offender fees.  The correct story is that an Administrative Assistant from the Board attended a conference hosted by the Office of Victim Services, which is a different agency. The victims [sic] and their advocates who attend the conference may have their fee paid or supported by the fees charged to inmates for the office of Victim Assistance.  No conference fees for Parole Commissioners are paid by inmate fees.   
Building Bridges apologies for the misunderstanding.


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