Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Friday, March 30, 2007

April 2007 Edition

Dear Reader,

March did not bring much in the way of encouraging news. The Parole Board seems to be releasing less people than ever; Governor Spitzer issued two executive orders which do not sit well with most of us; Jalil Montaqim is about to be extradited to CA [see Article 5]; and the bad news keeps on coming. But we will not give up! In the words of Vaclav Havel, “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense no matter how it turns out.” And there are positive signs. The Think Tank meetings attracted energetic and positive people, ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work on producing Family Empowerment Day3. Our telephone bills are about to become lower, or so we’ve been led to expect. Now it’s April and we hope to find pleasure in this season of rebirth, as the flowers sprout up, and the drab landscape turns to color! May we find joy in the little things...


ARTICLES:

1. AD HOC PAROLE REFORM GROUP - practitioners, policy makers, people who have served long prison sentences, and other stakeholders met to discuss possible partnerships in promoting recommendations (included in the article) for parole reform in NYS.

2. EAST HARLEM INCARCERATION STATISTICS - one in every twenty men living on Lexington Ave between 119th St and 126th St will be sent to prison.

3. FED3 THINK TANKS MET IN MARCH - Feedback will guide the decisions of the Steering Committee as they plan the next step in the Family Empowerment Movement. NYC group decided to meet again on April 17, continuing on a monthly basis.

4. GEO MEETING CANCELED DUE TO “PROBLEMS” WITH GUEST’S REGISTRATION FORMS - GEO denied access to the goals stated in DOCS Dir. 4760, allegedly for insufficient information from the invited C.U.R.E. guests.

5. JALIL MUNTAQIM EXTRADITION ORDERED - Judge denies Jalil's writ of habeas corpus, and indicated that although Muntaqim may have defenses to the warrant such as the fact that he was already incarcerated at the time of the murder, they were outside his jurisdiction to rule upon.

6. LIFE IN A FEMALE FACILITY - “Most days I feel like just a game piece on the gameboard of something akin to “Correctional Pursuit” and the only beneficiaries are the policy makers who have no consideration for the lives they are playing with.”..

7. MERIT TIME --Feedback on the new bill introduced by Sen Montgomery is not all positive.

8. MODERN DAY SLAVERY - Incarcerated people are being used to replace migrant farm workers, at .60 a day.

9. OTISVILLE BROADBAND PAROLE SUPPORT INITIATIVE - The answers to your questions: Strategies, Accountability, and Goals; plus this month’s candidate, Ramon Gonzalez.

10. PRISON CLOSURE BACKLASH - Republicans say they won’t join effort to create a committee to propose prison closures, saying it is up to Spitzer to advance the idea himself.

11. PRISON RADIO - Independent radio productions are your only place to hear alternatives to the mainstream media propaganda

12. REQUIRED PROGRAMS: WHO BENEFITS? - Often facilitated by long termers who watch as their short term students are released while they themselves are being hit by the parole board over and over.

13. THE SQUARE FETTER - Part 3 in a serialized vignette. “Months after Jones’ strange day in court, he still . cringed from the tap, tap rapping of the judge’s time-sick gavel.”

14. SUPPORT MEETINGS - Albany, Buffalo, Poughkeepsie, Schenectady and NYC all have meetings for people dealing with the incarceration of loved ones.

15. TELEPHONE JUSTICE CAMPAIGN - Actions to take, and what to expect on April 1.

16. TRANSPORTATION TO PRISONS - from the Capitol District, Albany-Troy, and on the Ride Board

17. WHAT’S HAPPENING AROUND NEW YORK STATE - Encouraging and inspiring reports from Ithaca’s CAB, Buffalo’s PRP2!, NYC’s CPR, and No. Babylon’s PFA: “White, black, hispanic and 'other' now become the ‘green race’ that faces a similar shameful indifference.

18. WORK RELEASE UPDATE - Readers have sent 14 pages of Work Release petitions with 232 signatures to Gov. Spitzer so far; still he issued Executive Order #9, cutting back on eligibility for work release.


1. AD HOC PAROLE REFORM GROUP

On Wednesday, March 28, an ad hoc parole reform group, composed of practitioners, policy makers, people who have served long prison sentences, and other stakeholders met to discuss possible partnerships aimed at building momentum around parole reform issues in NYS. I don't have permission to reveal their names (I didn't think to ask) so let me just say that among those attending were two familiar parole board members; at least 2 lawyers, at least 7 formerly incarcerated individuals; and representatives from the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay, the Coalition for Parole Reform, the Osborne Assoc., ICARE, the American Bible Society, Successful Reentry, Inc. and 8 PAN members.

Past meetings of what is referred to as the John Jay group - although it has never been exclusively made up of John Jay students, teachers, or administration - have focused on several suggestions for parole reform, and we were asked to evaluate them and, if we felt they are compatible with our missions, to both sign on and include them in the agendas of our organizations. PAN has signed on, since we are already working in support of such reforms.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PAROLE REFORM IN NEW YORK STATE:

NYS has an opportunity to affect significant policy changes in the way the parole release and supervision system is administered in NY. Under the Pataki Administration, persons who are serving sentences for violent crimes have been routinely denied parole release solely on the basis of the underlying crime, without regard to their institutional record of rehabilitation or their potential for successful reintegration into the community. For these individuals, as well as their families, the resulting uncertainty about when, and under what circumstances, release may be expected to occur has bred despair and cynicism. In addition the policies are expensive. The per person cost of parole supervision is estimated to be one-tenth the cost of incarceration ($3,000 v. $30,000). The Pataki administration policies have resulted in a sharp decline in annual parole releases. Given that each person who is kept in prison, rather than being released on parole, costs the State $27,000, the annual cost to the State of these parole policies is substantial.

1. Restore predictability and rationality to parole release determinations.

A. Board of Parole release guidelines should be updated and modified to require the Board to give appropriate weight to the extent of an individual's rehabilitation and the lack of risk to public safety if the individual is released. In particular, the guidelines should reflect the research showing that persons who have served sentences for many categories of violent crimes - and particularly women - have low rates of recidivism. For example, according to available date, the average return rate for individuals released for murder (21.5%) was drastically lower than the overall average return rate (42.2 %) between 1985 and 2000. Moreover among the 2000 releases with murder convictions, only 3.6 % were returned for a new commitment. Most of the returns were for technical parole violations.

B. Merit-based criteria for Board of Parole membership and a screening panel should be established. Such criteria should include a demonstrated background in criminal justice issues. In addition, Board members should be provided with access to professional development programs in which information, current research, penological theory, and parole practices are presented and discussed.

2. Expand eligibility to programs that facilitate successful rehabilitation and release on parole.

Persons convicted of violent felony offenses are barred from participating in programs that would facilitate their successful, timely reintegration into the community. To remedy this, we suggest the following:

A. Persons convicted of violent felonies should be eligible to participate in work release programs. Work release can serve as an effective tool to demonstrate readiness to transition to the community. An individual who is successful on work release has established that he or she is able to be released into the community without being a threat to public safety.

B. The eligibility criteria for the issuance of a certificate of earned eligibility should be expanded to include all persons, regardless of the length of their minimum sentence. The NYS Correction Law provides that individuals who are scheduled to appear for parole release consideration and who have satisfactorily completed their assigned rehabilitative programs may be granted a Certificate of Earned Eligibility (NYS Corr.Law 805). The issuance of the Certificate creates a presumption of parole release. However, eligibility for the Certificate is limited to individuals whose minimum sentence is 8 years or less. This restriction excludes the majority of persons who are serving sentences for violent felonies. The law should be amended to allow all persons serving an indeterminate sentence of any length the opportunity to earn the certificate.

3. Eliminate unnecessary parole supervision and revocation.

Post-release resources are best used to protect the public from those individuals who pose an actual risk to the community. Under the Pataki administration, resources have instead been diverted to re-incarcerating individuals on technical violations and on precluding persons with a maximum sentence of life from ever obtaining discharge from post-release parole supervision. We recommend the following changes to address these problems:

A. Guidelines for technical violations should be established. The increase in the number of individuals returning to prison over the past decade on technical parole violations, i.e. violations that do not involve any criminal conduct, has been staggering. The unchecked exercise of discretion by parole officers is a significant concern in cases where parole violations are alleged. More specific, concrete, uniform guidelines for parole revocation - particularly for technical violations - should be established to help reduce the number of people being sent back to prison for minor violations.

B. The Division of parole should have the discretion to grant any suitable person a merit termination of parole supervision. There should be no exception for persons who were sentenced to a maximum sentence of life.


In addition, subcommittees will be forming to take part in a research project, a pilot service project, and a promotional project.

The research project will study the recidivism rates of 100 incarcerated men and women who have sentences of 15 years (for males) or 12 years (for women) with at least 2 years to go before possible release. In addition to gathering factual information on them, their stories will become part of the data, for it's apparent that personal stories have more of an impact than dry statistics, no matter who the audience. This project is already underway - 48 of 100 interviews have been conducted. They ask for referrals of people who meet the criteria.

The service project will select 3 men and 3 women from the above group and provide them with support as they prepare for their parole hearing. This support will consist of a lawyer, for the obvious reasons; a 'case manager' who will line up support on the outside; and a mentor who will help them develop a narrative, reflecting the amount of responsibility they accept for their crime, to present at their hearing.

The promotional project will develop strategies to counter the dominant media message that all incarcerated people are subhuman and incapable of transformation, This group will work to put another face on it, using formerly incarcerated people's stories as their primary tool.

Additional comments which I can't categorize were:
Politicians need to know our proposals have the support of a diverse population, not just current and formerly incarcerated people, their loved ones, and advocacy groups. For instance, crime victims would be a powerful voice to have speaking in support.

Parole board members have discretion and use it. The only way to change the kind of decisions that come out of the boards is to influence who gets appointed to the 8 vacancies that will be opening up. Suggestions were solicited. [None were forthcoming, although I mumbled to myself that anyone in the room had better credentials than those currently on the board. I would add here that the board needs to include more people of color and more women.]

It can be arranged for a group of model parolees and representatives of diverse organizations to meet with the parole board, to help dispel board members' prejudices about those who appear before them.

Certificates of Relief can be issued to persons with one felony conviction or less at the time of their Board. All it would take is for the new Commissioner to tell the Board to do it.

When we suggest parole changes, we must remind the public that no policy is perfect. Some people will re-offend, no matter what policy is followed. But good policies can reduce the percentages, as well as help us become a more forgiving society.

DOCs has said, off the record, that they want to expand the use of work release, and will go as far as they can within the law. But if we want them to be able to do more, WE must work to change the law. It must come from the public. Voters must prevail upon their representatives to expand eligibility for work release.


2. EAST HARLEM INCARCERATION STATISTICS

Convict alley in Harlem nabe

BY ROBERT F. MOORE
DAILY NEWS POLICE BUREAU
Posted Sunday, March 18th 2007, 4:00 AM
www.nydailynews.com/news/2007/03/18/2007-03-18_convict_alley_in_harlem_nabe-2.htm.

The seven blocks along Lexington Ave. from 119th to 126th Sts. [contain] the highest concentration of convicted criminals in the city. One in every 20 men in the area is sent to prison. More than half will return within four years of their arrest. They will be largely unemployed and addicted to drugs. Roughly a third of them were arrested for alleged drug crimes and seven were charged with murder or manslaughter.

It is among the poorest neighborhoods in the city, marked by high unemployment rates and a soaring number of diabetes cases. Taxpayers spent more than $3.5 million, in 2003, to keep criminals[sic} from the East Harlem neighborhood behind bars, according to the Brooklyn-based Justice Mapping Center [www.justicemapping.org]

"I would spend some of that money on housing, education, drug treatment and AIDS prevention," said a minister in the area.

The findings raise questions about how the city and state spend crime prevention and correction dollars. "If you had $1 million and 23 criminals on one block, what would you do?" asked Eric Cadora, director of the Justice Mapping Center. "Would you spend it all on sending them away for three or four years and have them come back? Or would you think about other ways of diversifying your investment?"

Correction Commissioner Martin Horn told the Daily News that the city, along with private organizations, should invest money in East Harlem, as well as other communities with high incarceration rates, to help break the cycle of poverty and crime.

City Councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito, who represents the East Harlem area said prisoners' relatives routinely ask her for help. "They're concerned about them being able to get jobs when they get out," Mark Viverito said. She is hopeful Mayor Bloomberg's $150 million commitment to attack poverty in the city will have a tangible impact on her district. She also supports a recent City Council resolution to offer tax credits to employers who hire ex-cons.

"We have to find alternative ways to attack this problem," Mark Viverito said. "Otherwise, this will repeat itself from generation to generation."

rmoore@nydailynews.com
With Kerry Burke


3. FED3 THINK TANKS MET IN MARCH
NYC Group decides to meet monthly

Albany, Buffalo and NYC groups met to discuss ideas for the next Family Empowerment Day event. A total of 34 people attended, half had not attended FED2. In general the participants were excited about moving ahead to plan another event, or events. All watched the FED2 documentary and then took part in a brainstorming session. Summaries of each meeting have been forwarded to the FED3 Steering Committee, who will meet in April and report back to readers in May.

The NYC group will meet monthly to continue working on strategies for Family Empowerment. The next meeting is on April 17 from 6 -8pm at Fordham University in the Bronx. For details please call 518 253 7533, or email prisonaction@hotmail.com.


4. GEO MEETING CANCELED DUE TO “PROBLEMS” WITH GUEST’S REGISTRATION FORMS

The Governmental Education Organization (GEO) is a court mandated inmate organization at Mid-Orange C.F. Its focus includes, but is not limited to, the three branches of government, sentencing, and parole. Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (C.U.R.E.) is an organization whose concern is reforming sentencing and parole practices through the Legislative and Executive process, and they are interested in becoming GEO’s outside sponsor.

GEO and C.U.R.E. scheduled a February 8, 2007 meeting. Six C.U.R.E. guests were expected. Three of those guests are from the International community, and three from the NY chapter who have previously participated in a GEO activity. DOCS volunteer registration forms were sent to C.U.R.E. and returned in a timely manner. In spite of full compliance by both GEO and C.U.R.E., GEO was informed that the meeting was canceled because the volunteers did not provide enough information. If this was a concern, additional information could have been provided via phone, FAX or e-mail. Moreover, DOCS volunteer forms require explicit information. Is DOCS saying their forms are inadequate?

It is curious why, after demanding that GEO acquire sponsorship in order to have guests at the monthly meetings, Mid Orange C.F. would stymie the effort with bureaucratic roadblocks. DOCS approves inmate organizations with the intention to “improve the attitude and personality, stimulate growth and understanding and responsibility, promote constructive utilization of leisure time, and provide additional educational and social experiences for inmates” (DOCS Dir. 4760). To deny these goals due to claims of insufficient information appears to be in opposition to their stated objectives. -- Santiago Ramirez


5. JALIL MUNTAQIM’S EXTRADITION ORDERED

On March 22, 2007, Jalil Muntaqim argued a habeas corpus objecting to a Governor's warrant that was served for his extradition to California where he is being charged with Murder and Conspiracy to Commit Murder in regards to the 1971 killing of a police officer in San Francisco. 7 other former members of the Black Liberation Army have also been charged and 6 of the men are already in custody in San Francisco. The Judge in Auburn denied Jalil's writ of habeas corpus ruling that he would be extradited in the next 30 days. He indicated that although Muntaqim may have defenses to the warrant such as the fact that he was already incarcerated at the time of the murder they were outside his jurisdiction to rule upon. Jalil argued his habeas corpus pro se. Jalil was also denied parole for the third time in 2006. He recently filed an Article 78. Cheryl Kates, Esq. has taken over defending his Article 78 due to his pending extradition


6. LIFE IN A FEMALE FACILITY

“B” has been imprisoned for almost 10 years for a fatality DWI. She is 67; all of her retirement “golden” years have been spent in prison. Is 10 years enough for the life of a young man? Probably not. Should she pay with the rest of her life? The victim’s family thinks so. Regardless of their wishes she will go home in 8 months. But that’s not why I share her story.

“B” has osteoarthritis, walks (difficultly) with a cane; both her vision and hearing are failing. Six weeks ago her sister, her only sibling, died. The weather is very hard for her since she is obligated to go to other buildings for her meals, medication, job assignments. She has had the same room for 6 years, the longest of anyone here. She has a wonderful network of support to help with her chores, her everyday responsibilities, friends who watch out for her. (Which relieves the staff of considerable responsibility, I might add.) When the heating system was renovated last year several rooms, including hers, were left out of the heat loop. (What genius engineer was responsible for that?) She never complained because she feared the consequences. But one person in one of the rooms did complain and now the feared consequences have been realized. “B” was relocated to one of the barn-like dorms down the hill (a trek for even the healthy) where she shares a cubicle with a 20 year old drug addict who just arrived. She is a deeply religious and spiritual woman who feels this is part of God’s plan. I, on the other hand, am incensed and outraged. As is everyone, including the staff, who hears about what happened. But no one does anything about it. When confronted, those in authority share their concern and then say they can’t do anything because “the system” said she had to be relocated. Who is running this show? Does anyone stop and look at the people that get shuffled around? Of course not. Most days I feel like just a game piece on the gameboard of something akin to “Correctional Pursuit” and the only beneficiaries are the policy makers who have no consideration for the lives they are playing with. -

Anon.


7. MERIT TIME

New bill introduced by Senator Velmanette Montgomery: S3578, 03/09/07, REFERRED TO CRIME VICTIMS, CRIME AND CORRECTION. SUMMARY: Provides for vesting of merit time allowance and release for prisoners with good behavior with certain limitations; provides commissioner of correctional services shall promulgate rules and regulations for merit time allowance to determine which inmates are good candidates for release. [Entire text of bill is posted elsewhere on this site]

Comments we’ve received about the bill:
For people serving life who have already gone to the parole board, this bill (S3578), if it became law, would have no practical value.  The value in it though is that people serving life who have not yet gone to the parole board would see a parole board sooner, but would still be at the mercy of the parole board, and if parole trends don't change, people will simply go to more parole boards. Parole board practices have to change for any of this or other proposed legislation to mean anything, so people should be supporting efforts and legislation to change parole board practices. --Eric Waters

The bill also includes those with determinate sentences which the previous law does not cover.  This is a big improvement even if it will have no practical value if they've already served what they would have needed to if this bill were in place.  It will still mean a lot for those whom it will affect. --Lorraine Barde


8. MODERN DAY SLAVERY

The Thirteenth Amendment reads: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

A New York Times March 4, 2007 article titled ‘Inmates Will Replace Migrants in Colorado Fields’, by DAN FROSCH, readers learned that because Colorado has tough new immigration restrictions, migrant workers are fleeing to other states, and farmers are looking to hire prisoners to fill their places in the fields. Under the program farmers would pay a fee to the state, and the State would pay the inmates about 60 cents a day.


9. OTISVILLE BROADBAND PAROLE SUPPORT INITIATIVE

Many people responded to the FED2 Survey by asking about the Otisville Lifers Broadband Parole Support Initiative: What is it? How do I get involved?, they asked. Here is the response from Otisville:

Strategy:
Long termers: 1. identify suitable community-ready candidates; 2. assemble profile; one page, two sides. Photo optional. Side 1 presents the candidate's biography and commentary on his readiness to reenter society. Side 2 lists accomplishments and plans for life on the outside; 3. profile will provide the following info: the parole appearance date, the timeline for support efforts (letters of support, emails/faxes, phone calls - to Parole Board); 4. will provide addresses, phone #s, email addresses and fax numbers of the Parole Board.

Supporters: 1. Write letters, petitions, make phone calls and send emails to Parole board. 2. Make duplicates of support recommendation letters (one for candidate, one for facility parole officer, and one for Division of Parole in Albany); 3. encourage other people to do the same.

Accountability: 1. Each candidate is committed to positively represent our cause, by becoming an asset to society. 2. Supporters must commit to supporting a candidate for the duration, as nothing would be worse than a large initial show of support and then having it disappear; and to keep candidate updated on their efforts.

Two fold Goal: 1. Demonstrate overwhelming support for candidate's return to society 2. Serve notice: many on outside are watching.

Supporters can come from family; friends; defense attorney; judge; D.A./victim/victim's kin; Lifer's Group, their families and friends; Prison Action Network, Voices from PAN (internet); Building Bridges, by mail and on internet; On the Count, WBAI and website; Al Lewis Lives, WBAI and website; Fancy Broccoli, WVKR and website; Liberty Green Show, listeners; FUUSA congregation; Quaker Groups; Rye Presbyterian congregation; Other organizations, members, newsletter; Family Empowerment Day participants; and of course the "X" factor: Exponential Growth due to sites, shows, newsletters and word of mouth, that are unforeseeable. The trick is dissemination and interest.

This month’s candidate: Ramon Gonzalez, president of the Otisville Lifer’s Group. Oldest of 4 siblings, intelligent and independent youth, left home and attended Art and Design H.S., worked at Museum of Natural History and JFK airport, while living in private home in Queens. Married and became heavily in debt due to wife’s bout with cancer. This debt became the subject of endless arguments and he began to avoid his family, which led to negative associations and his first crime, a robbery in which a man lost his life. For his role, Ramon was given 12.5 to 25. He is deeply remorseful and accepts full responsibility for the loss of his victim’s life. He has consistently sought to better himself and those around him, in an attempt to redeem himself and earn the right to rejoin society. For more information, contact Mr. Gonzalez 92A7663, Otisville C.F., PO Box 8, Otisville NY, 10963.


10. PRISON CLOSURE BACKLASH
 
N.Y. Republicans want no part of prison closure panel
By Yancey Roy
Journal Albany bureau
[URL:http://www.nyjournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070315/NEWS05/703150390/1035]

March 13, 2007
ALBANY Senate Republicans said Tuesday they won't join an effort to create a committee to propose prison closures, saying it is up to Gov. Eliot Spitzer to advance the idea himself.

Spitzer has called for a new commission to study whether the state should close some prisons and youth detention facilities. Inmate population has dipped about 7,000 over the last seven years, to roughly 63,000 currently. Last year, the Legislature created a panel that eventually produced a plan to close or merge some underused hospitals, an initiative that received bipartisan, if grudging, support.

But the Republican-run Senate omitted the prison proposal from a package of budget bills it passed Tuesday. The Democrat-led Assembly included it in its budget.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said Spitzer would have to shoulder the load with his colleagues this time.

"That is an executive initiative," said Bruno, R-Brunswick, Rensselaer County, "and if he wants to do it, he ought to set (the panel) up and name the prisons he wants closed. ... We're leaving it up to him."

Asked why Republicans could support a hospital-closing commission but not one to shutter or change the purpose of penitentiaries, Bruno said those were two different issues. One, hospitals, dealt with "public institutions" while the other, prisons, dealt with state-run facilities, he contended.

Left unsaid, perhaps, is Bruno's political calculus. Senate Republicans are dominated by upstate and Hudson Valley members and most of the prisons and detention centers are situated upstate "providing some of the best paying jobs in some areas.

But one upstate senator with two prisons in his district said perhaps it was Spitzer who was trying to "politically insulate" himself from criticism.

"A governor doesn't have the power to close hospitals. He does have the power to close prisons," said Sen. George Winner, R-Elmira. "He wants to change the process to take some of the heat off himself."

Similar to Bruno, Winner said Spitzer should make closure recommendations himself.
Spitzer refrained from criticizing the Republicans on this topic ,unlike more contentious budget issues such as health care. But he said he won't necessarily drop the issue.

"There are a number of things that were not in (the Senate's) budget" package, Spitzer said. "We'll work with them. I think they understand it's an important issue. We'll move forward on it. We will just have to work it out."
Reach Yancey Roy at yroy@gannett.com


11. PRISON RADIO

Al Lewis Lives, hosted by Karen Lewis, broadcasts on Saturdays from noon to 1:30 pm on WBAI, 99.5 FM, NYC.
The Fancy Broccoli Show airs on WVKR, 91.3FM, Poughkeepsie NY on somewhat alternate Sundays from 3 - 6 pm, Eastern Time. WVKR streams online - go to WVKR.org and click on (or near) the word 'LISTEN'.

Democracy Now!, with Amy Goodman, also airs on WBAI - from 8AM-9AM weekdays, on WVKR every weekday from 5PM-6PM, and on WRPI Troy, 91.5 FM from 9AM-10AM. [For an excellent program on prison, listen to the Friday 3/30/07 program archived at www.DemocracyNow.org]

Voices from the Prison Action Network is taking a break for a few weeks. The program will be changing it’s broadcast location to the internet, where anyone with a computer can listen to any program at any time, from anywhere in the world. We'll let you know the details in the May issue.

If you don’t have a computer we encourage you to use your public library to access the internet for all of these programs. Any readers who can offer low cost computers and a tutorial in using email and the internet is invited to offer your services in these pages. We think it is becoming urgent that people have access to the largest independent source of news available. Invest in a computer, and stop watching TV!


12. REQUIRED PROGRAMS: WHO BENEFITS?

“Required” programs are programs that have to be taken by a prisoner in order to satisfy their needs for rehabilitation. CASAT, RSAT, ART, Phase I, II, III, etc. These programs are meant to earn “short term - non violent offenders” merit time and early release at the parole board. Civilian staff are paid to facilitate these programs. In my 18 years in prison I have yet to see one civilian facilitate these programs. These programs are always facilitated by prisoners, long-term violent offenders. In some cases a prisoner has been the facilitator for one or more of these programs for 10 years; years in which all of the non-violent short term offenders that have graduated from the program under the long termer’s instruction have been released by the parole board simply because they satisfactorily completed the program, while time and again, when the instructors/facilitators of these programs appear before the parole board, they are denied parole because their “release is incompatible with the safety and welfare of society “, or their “release will deprecate the seriousness of the offense as to undermine respect for the law”, etc., etc. In other words, these men are not ready to return to society while all of the men that have taken instruction from them over the years are released. I know a man who spent years facilitating programs who finally got tired of getting hit at the parole board time and time again while his students were released, so he requested a program change. His spirit was broken. He was not allowed to change his program. He received a letter from the Dep. Supt. of Programs in the facility which said the facility needed him to continue to facilitate the program. Some of us wonder if these men are denied parole because to release them would not be in the best interest of society, as the parole decisions claim, or are they denied parole because releasing them is not in the best interest of the DOCS and the civilians who are paid to facilitate programs?

To many of us who have not only spent many years changing our own lives, but also helping others change theirs, this is a true Horror Story. Every time we appear before the parole Board and are denied parole once again, it kills another little piece of us. Luckily there are a lot of good men in here that rally around a fallen soldier who is once again wounded by the parole board and they breathe life back into him and help him get his mind, heart and soul ready to go to war for another 24 months, but how long can this go on before our soldiers can’t fight to stay positive anymore? -- Pedro Alicea


13. THE SQUARE FETTER © Copyright by James E. Morse 2005. This is part 3 in the serialization.
[A hand crafted, illustrated edition of the book is available for $4 through Prison Action Network]

Strange things proliferate in the vacuum of time

THE SQUARE FETTER

Months after Jones’ strange day in court, he still cringed from the tap, tap rapping of the judge’s time-sick gavel; the tap, tap sounding that foretold Jones’ sentence to the living death; the crazed tapping that accompanied his transport to the nonpenitential congregate fetter—the ruinous social organism that is called the “Beast” by the captives who languish there.

Tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap.

Once deposited in the institution, Jones was left in the charge of a prison guard wearing a blue rumpled uniform and black leather gloves. The nameplate read Momus. The guard, blond hair severely shorn into a law enforcement crew cut, talked around a plug of oozing tobacco. Now and then, he spat brown slime into a clear plastic cup. Holding the portable spittoon like a microphone, Momus delivered a red-faced welcoming address—the gist of which was that stupid behavior resulted in corporeal punishment. “END OF STORY!” Momus blurted.

Tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap.

“We’ll kick that hip-hop ass”—hip-hop ass, hip-hop ass, the threat re-echoed. When Momus abruptly snatched his sacred pole from the metal ring on his belt, Jones flinched. Grinning maliciously, the guard lifted the wooden baton and signaled Jones to proceed in the direction of the square fetter.

An electric gate whirred open and Jones, with Momus at his heels, slinked through. He ascended a flight of metal stairs, passed through another whirring gate, then shuffled the length of the musty building called A Block. The shoes that they gave him made a crunching noise; the crunch-crunch played counterpoint to the tap, tap refrain of the time-sick gavel. Jones’ former gait—the freewheeling swagger, with sweeping arm motions—had long since collapsed into a listless shamble; arms pinioned tightly to his sides. The dark eyes—once points of flashing defiance—were now subdued, timid. [To be continued]


14. SUPPORT MEETINGS

Albany: PFNY meeting at 7:00 pm every Monday at the Women’s Bldg, 79 Central Avenue. Please call ahead: Alison 518 453 6659

Buffalo: Groups for men and women meet separately on Thursdays, from 5:30-6:30pm at GROUP Ministries, Inc., 1333 Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo. These programs are FREE and confidential. For more information, call 716-539-1844.

North Babylon LI: Prison Families Anonymous meets on the 2nd and 4th Wed of each month at 7:30 pm at the Babylon Town Hall Annex. You are welcome if you have a family member in prison. For more info you may call Barbara: Ph: 631-630-9118, Cell: 631-943-0441

Poughkeepsie: PFNY Support Group Room 306 of the Main Building of Family Partnership at 29 North Hamilton St. Poughkeepsie, NY. Meetings will be held on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of the month at 7pm. The Citizens for Restorative Justice meet the first Monday of the month, 6:30 to 8:00PM. The location changes so call ahead of time, 845-464-4736.

Schenectady: PFNY meeting at 7pm on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of every month at First United Methodist Church - 603 State Street - entrance on Chapel Street - behind MVP Building.  Jeanette: 518 280 0354 anytime after 6pm.


15. TELEPHONE JUSTICE CAMPAIGN

TAKE ACTION - Tell Sen. Nozzolio to move the Family Connections bill out of Committee
We've come close the past two years in passing the Family Connections bill, but this is the year we're going to make it happen. Senator Nozzolio must follow the leadership of Governor Spitzer and the New York State Assembly and move the Family Connections bill (S.705, which provides inmates with telephone services utilizing a debit card system and reasonable collect call system rates) out of Committee immediately. Write or call him today:

Michael F. Nozzolio, Chairman, Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee, Room 409, Legislative Office Building, Albany, NY 12247, (518)455-2366, Fax (518)426-6953

CONTRACT UPDATE - What to expect on April 1, 2007
Spitzer's decision to end the state commission provision of the contract will take effect on April 1, 2007. Because there are so many problems with the contract, Spitzer's administration has decided to give MCI/Verizon a one-year extension but with the 50% rate reduction. He and his staff are currently researching prison telephone contracts, and they will draft a new Request for Proposal in late summer 2007 for a completely new contract to go into effect in 2008.


16. TRANSPORTATION TO PRISONS

From Albany/Troy: The NEST prison shuttle schedule: Mt. McGregor, Washington, and Great Meadow Facilities on Sat, Apr 7 ($30 adults, $20 children), and the Coxsackie, Greene, and Hudson Correctional Facilities on Sat, Apr 14, and SUN, Apr 29 ($15  adults and $10 children), leaving Oakwood Ave Presbyt. Church parking lot, Troy at 7 AM, and Albany Greyhound Bus station at 7:15. Trip to the Utica Hub (Midstate, Marcy, Mohawk, Oneida) Sat, Apr 21 leaving shortly after 5 AM ($40 adults, $25 children). Call for reservations and information: Linda O'Malley 518- 273-5199.

From the Capital District:
Rides are offered by volunteers of the First Unitarian Universalist Society’s Justice Committee on weekdays only. Please contact us at 518 253-7533 if you need a ride.


17. WHAT’S HAPPENING AROUND NEW YORK STATE

Buffalo Area:
Prisoners Are People Too! is a justice advocacy program that meets on selected Mondays in Buffalo at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street from 6:30-8:30pm. Each meeting features a documentary film, related to some prison issue, and one or more guest speakers who address that issue. At its March 23 meeting on “parole reform,” PRP2! screened Melis Birder’s “Family Empowerment Day 2,” and the speaker was Frank Williams, an ordained minister and case manager for Operation H.O.P.E., Inc., who spent 28 years in prison. Also present were Eugenio Russi, a Regional Director of the NYS Division of Parole and George Alexander, the new Chairmen of the Parole Board. At its next meeting on Monday, April 23, PRP2! will screen “Legacy of Torture: The War Against the Black Liberation Movement” and the speaker will be Mrs. Eva M. Doyle, educator and journalist, who will share her thoughts on Criminalizing a Race by Charshee McIntyre. Prisoners Are People Too! will meet the following month on May 21. Film and guest speaker(s) TBA.

Ithaca Area:
Community Advisory Board (CAB) to MacCormick Maximum Security Center was organized by Ithaca Drug Treatment Court Judge Marjorie Olds and Lynn Andersen, Director of the Alternatives Library at Cornell Univ., who insisted on having a citizen presence connected to this nearby (Caroline, NY---17 miles) facility which has a capacity for 52 male residents, 14 – 20 years old. The CAB meets monthly, alternating between an off-campus location and at MacCormick. The meetings at Mac are attended by our Board members (usually about 10 – 12 show up) as well as the Mac administration, i.e., the director, assistant director, and volunteer coordinator---and, at times, some honor residents. The alternate off-campus mtgs. usually have 6 – 10 Board members. We volunteer and provide tutoring and a wide range of programs and courses, including for high school diplomas, GED, and college credit, as well as for personal growth and such special experiences as with pets, gardening, writing and newsletter, and music (including cello!)--- all of which the administration welcomes and makes good use of.  We also attend Mac functions and, in general, see as part of our contribution, providing interested, caring contact for the residents with actual citizens and the outside world. We have connections with both Ithaca College and Cornell and, thus, college students are up there every week for one program or another.  -- Monty Berman  CAB co-chair   Ithaca, NY. [Membership is open, contact Monty at mberman116@hotmail.com, Monty Berman, Empire State College, 118 N. Tioga St., Ithaca, NY 14850-4354, 607 272-1809]

Metropolitan NYC:
Manhattan: The Coalition for Parole Restoration (CPR) met on 3/26/07 at 6PM to discuss their expansion plans relating to a new Website, renting office space, hiring Summer Youth Interns, as well as their upcoming "Parole Workshop" on Saturday (3/31) in Poughkeepsie, NY. Those applying for the Summer Youth Internship must have a presently or formerly incarcerated parent and be between the ages of 14-18 yrs. The work week will be Monday -Thursday, 5 hours a day. The pay will be $10.00 an hour. Preference will be given to the children of current members of CPR. Complete details will appear in the next issue of their newsletter, The Deuce Club.
NEXT MEETING: April 16th from 6-8PM at 520 8th Ave., (btwn 36/37th Streets, on the 22nd Flr., Travel Suggestions: "A" or "D" Train to 34th Street....(Families/Public are invited)

North Babylon: Prison Families Anonymous met on March 28. The following report was filed by someone attending for the first time:
Parole support for my husband brings me to rooms I don't always make time for in between work and visits upstate. Tonight I met a variety of people representing a wide gamut of prison nightmares. It was friendly open and informational. Where else can you go for such myriad of raw emotion? Brokenhearted mothers, fathers' previous conception of their strength visibly shattered because here in the life of the NYS prison system we are all trampled on without mercy. White, black, hispanic and 'other' now become the ‘green race’ that faces a similar shameful indifference.
I heard numbers like 3-6, flat 15, and 10 months to go. I saw people writhing in new pain, old pain, twisted warped pain; good people spun into the world of the dark evil beast known as 'docs'; and in my own pain a new meaning of 'life' is born. I secretly wished for the pain of a flat 15 or 20, for today 'life' at the end of your sentence might as well say 'death' to the board of parole who decides with no soul.
The parole system was based on the belief that persons can be rehabilitated. Lifers have the lowest recidivism rate. Often they're old and dying as they wait on their parole to come through.  All the evil 'corrections' wants to dish out cannot change right from wrong. Their denials cannot kill the love and dedication of we the people that await the arrival of justice. ---Nellie, Lifer Wife.

[Building Bridges would like to know what other things are happening in NYS.]


18. WORK RELEASE UPDATE

By now you may have heard the news: Gov Spitzer issued an executive order (#9) which not only does not grant work release to violent offenders but has actually banned more categories than before.

Key phrases from the order:

WHEREAS, there are certain classes of inmates who have committed crimes of particular violence, depravity or victimization, and who are less likely to succeed in temporary release programs; and
WHEREAS, the temporary release of such inmates likely would cause alarm and concern in the surrounding community, and thereby would diminish the acceptance of temporary release programs generally; [I, Gov Eliot Spitzer] do hereby order the Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services to promulgate, modify, adopt, or rescind any rules, regulations, directives, policies or procedures as may be necessary to prevent the future transfer of any inmate to any program of temporary release, when the inmate is convicted of any of the following crimes, or is convicted of an attempt or a conspiracy to commit any of the following crimes:

(1) an act of terrorism as defined in Article 490 of the Penal Law;
(2) a homicide offense as defined in Article 125 of the Penal Law;
(3) a sex offense as defined in Article 130 of the Penal Law;
(4) an offense involving the sexual performance of a child as defined in Article 263 of the Penal Law;
(5) incest as defined in Article 255 of the Penal Law; or
(6) a violent felony offense that includes as an element: (i) being armed with, the use of, the threatened use of, or the possession with the intent to use unlawfully against another of, a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument; or (ii) the infliction of serious physical injury.

While some of the above categories may seem acceptable to some, #6 certainly is in opposition to our request for inclusion of reformed violent felons in work release eligibility. Therefore we suggest continuing to gather signatures on the petition circulated in Building Bridges. You’ve sent 232 signatures so far; keep them coming! And we can also urge people to write a letter to Gov Spitzer, State Capitol, Albany NY 12224, stating their objections to executive order #9. He needs to hear how many people do NOT support this move, and our reasons. It is our suggestion that the tone of our letters NOT be accusatory, but polite and educational.

Some good points were made by Bryce Rudert who sent the following irate response:

If we have another "steward of the people" in this state who refuses to consider the social science data when making an executive decision (but instead panders to the uneducated illogic of uninformed public sentiment) we will have to REALLY educate the public as to WHY 50 cents of every tax dollar goes to 70 prisons in upstate NY while the remaining 50 is supposed to cover health, education, highways, infrastructure and every other damn thing (is it any wonder why our infirm are neglected, our kids are ignorant, and our roadways have potholes that swallow cars if you manage to swerve out of the way of the falling bridges--while men and women in their sixties and seventies are deemed too "dangerous" for society-at-large due to things they did in their teens and twenties?? Maybe if we let out a handful of them we could pave a road or two, shore up a bridge, educate a cohort of high school kids--and even make it possible for old folks to buy their pharmaceuticals in NY instead of Canada!!   

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