Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Thursday, January 31, 2008

February 2008 Edition

Please scroll down to get to the Building Bridges monthly newsletter.

Following are latebreaking announcements posted as they arrive on our desk.


THURSDAY FEBRUARY 13-

The time for change is NOW! Now is the pivotal time for public defense reform in New York.

This Saturday as part of the NYS Black and Puerto Rican Legislators Conference, the Campaign for an Independent Public Defense Commission is holding a workshop on the status of defense services in NY. We really need your support at this event! We need to show the members of the legislature that their constituents do care about justice for people of low income.

Saturday, February 16th
2:00- 4:00 pm
Meeting Room 2, Legislative Office Building (Albany)

Katie Blackburn
Community Organizer
Campaign for an Independent Public Defense Commission
New York State Defenders Justice Fund
194 Washington Ave, Suite 500
Albany, NY 12210

Phone: 518-465-0519
Fax: 518-465-0520

----------------------

BEGUN IN 2001—IT’S TIME FOR ANOTHER----
CRIMINAL JUSTICE DINNER AND SOIREE

HOSTED BY Alison, Jay and Cecily Coleman; Jonathan Gradess; Tom Keefe;
Gavin Cook; Demi McGuire; Bill Reagan; Charles LaCourt; Ed Guider;
Amy and George Oliveras, David Kaczynski; Vera Michelson

Thursday, February 21, 2008, 6-9pm
40 North Main Avenue, The Pastoral Center
Albany NY

NO SPEECHES, NO AWARDS
JUST SCINTILLATING CONVERSATION ABOUT PROGRESSIVE CRIMINAL JUSTICE
(NO TALK ABOUT THE FLU, RECENT SURGERIES OR BAD WEATHER!!)

$22 PER PERSON FOR A WONDERFUL BUFFET

ADVANCE PAYMENT REQUIRED—SEND CHECK MADE OUT TO “PRISON FAMILIES OF NEW YORK” TO ALISON COLEMAN AT PRISON FAMILIES OF NEW YORK (PFNY), 40 NORTH MAIN AVENUE, ALBANY 12203—INCLUDE A SCHOLARSHIP FOR A PRISON FAMILY MEMBER TO ATTEND, IF YOU CAN.

OR CALL 518-453-6659 TO MAKE OTHER ARRANGEMENTS.
HEADCOUNT NEEDED BY 2/13/08

· MEET CRIMINAL JUSTICE MOVERS AND SHAKERS
· MAKE NEW CONNECTIONS USING THE TRIED AND TRUE “SCHMOOZE AND TABLE HOP METHOD"
· BEGIN NEW PROJECTS
· RELAX!!!!!!!!!




MONDAY FEBRUARY 11-

IMMEDIATE ACTION NEEDED - General Counsel for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the world's largest for-profit private prison corporation, being confirmed as a Federal judge‏ Tuesday February 12.

Sent to Building Bridges by ICARE

How do you like the idea of Gustavus A. Puryear IV, the General Counsel for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the world's largest for-profit private prison corporation, being confirmed as a Federal judge--in the very same judicial district in which CCA is headquartered, and in which over 400 cases against CCA or CCA employees have been filed?

You can help help stop this! Call today (202-224-7703) or send a fax (202-224-9516) to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will be holding confirmation hearings this Tuesday, February 12, and tell them you unconditionally oppose this profound judicial conflict of interest.

Information about Gustavus A. Puryear IV, including specifics about why this would be an egregious miscarriage of justice, is available at www.againstpuryear.org.

NEW YORK SENATOR ON THE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
Charles E. Schumer
D-NEW YORK

313 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510
(202) 224-6542
Web Form



FEBRUARY 5-

Date: 02/05/2008
Office: Bruno
Title: SENATE TAKES ACTION TO STOP SKYROCKETING INCREASE IN VIOLENT CRIMINAL PAROLE RELEASE RATES

We urge you to read this alarming article and then start calling and writing your representatives, giving them reasoned requests to oppose this legislation when it comes before them for a vote.

click here to read




BUILDING BRIDGES FEBRUARY 2008

Dear Reader,

We've been experiencing something new, the return home of many of PAN'S most politically awake incarcerated members. While in prison many complain about the lack of motivation among the population, and how only a few are fighting for the rights and betterment of all. And then when released we never hear from them again.

This is not a criticism; this is just a fact that we need to acknowledge. In the real world, which includes both sides of the wall, most people choose to lay back and let others do the hard work of trying to make life better for all of us. Only when conditions get so bad that people feel the choice is die or fight do we find mass demonstrations and actions against the forces that oppose our welfare. But by that stage of desperation, it often becomes a violent struggle, and many people get killed. And it's always our side that suffers the most casualties, and most times we lose the battle. I do not observe that violence ever solved anything. In fact, it is to prevent violence that I do this work.

All I am saying is that after a person comes home, the number of people on the outside who are fighting for change doesn't significantly increase. Yes! certainly there are men and women who stay involved and continue to struggle for the ones they left behind. But the difficulties of transition can be all-consuming. There is little time for involvement in causes other than finding a job, a home, and a way to put food in one's mouth. So I'm not sitting here judging the people who can't continue to work with us when they come home. But I am calling upon their families to get involved in more than just their personal battles. They are not the only one in prison who is needed in the community and it is in our joint interest here on the outside to bring everyone who truly deserves it, back home.

This is especially important if you come from upstate communities. NYC is represented at all levels by some of the best progressive thinkers in the State. It's upstate where we need more enlightened politicians, as I learned so well at the Nozzolio hearings on 1/15 (see report below). In order to create any significant changes in our welfare we need to change the makeup of our legislature; minds have to be changed, and politicians who can't change theirs have to be replaced. So readers who come from upstate: it is vitally important that you make sure you are registered to vote, and that you vote for those who support our issues. If you need support or help with that, please contact Prison Action Network


IN THIS ISSUE:

Fear of Appearing "Soft on Crime"

Report on the Nozzolio Hearing

Anti-Parole Backlash follows Nozzolio Hearing

How do We Respond to The Backlash?

Consider the Following Regarding our Response Options

Parole Releases in January

Prison Closings; Nozzolio holds 1/30 hearing, read Commissioner Brian Fischer’s written testimony

Prisons and Their Impact on the Rural NYS Economy

As Sonny Rudert Sees It

Entrepreneurship for the Formerly Incarcerated

Other Criminal Justice Publications: Justice:Denied

Prison Radio Interviews

100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, now on NYC live call in show

Telephone Justice Campaign Update

Support Meetings (so you don’t have do the time alone)

Transportation to Prisons (the options)

What's Happening Around New York State

Women in Prison


FEAR OF APPEARING "SOFT ON CRIME" WHY IS ELIOT SPITZER, ALONG WITH MANY OF OUR LEGISLATORS, SO AFRAID WHEN INDEED THE POLICIES AND PRACTICES LABELED AS "SOFT ON CRIME" ARE ACTUALLY STATISTICALLY SHOWN TO REDUCE CRIME?

Eliot Spitzer did not mention criminal justice issues in his State of the State address on Tuesday Jan 9, despite getting elected on a progressive platform with key criminal justice issues. Of what or whom is he afraid? Why is he, along with many of our legislators, so afraid to appear "soft on crime", when indeed the policies and practices labeled as "soft on crime" are actually statistically shown to reduce crime, and there is a growing recognition of this among the public? We imagine the answer can be found by following the money. I don't blame the governor; I think he's up against a power he thought he could overwhelm, but it's perhaps more difficult than he thought. If I'm right then we need to find out how best to give him support. J.B.



REPORT ON THE HEARING TO EXAMINE THE INCREASE IN PAROLE RELEASE RATES FOR VIOLENT FELONS IN THE NEW YORK CORRECTIONAL SYSTEM, CALLED BY SENATOR NOZZOLIO AND THE SENATE CRIME VICTIMS, CRIME AND CORRECTIONS COMMITTEE

Prison Action Members sat through this painful event, and found ourselves taking sides with the very bureaucrats we’ve been struggling against for so long. The primary questioners on the committee side were Senators Nozzolio, Alesi, Golden, Volker, and Winner, Jr.. Our ally, Senator Montgomery, arrived late and didn't address the topic but used the occasion to publicize her current focus, the reincarceration of her constituents for minor parole violations, and Sen. Eric Adams suggested parole commissioners be monitored for the recidivism rates of those people they had voted to release to see if there was a pattern of poor judgment on anyone's part. An idea we like. He also heroically suggested that parole release rates might have increased because the three people before them were doing a better job of following the law! However the bulk of the questions from the committee were an all out attack on the performance of the heads of the state criminal justice agencies, Denise O’Donnell of DCJS, George Alexander of Division of Parole, and Brian Fischer of DOCS. In several comments it was made clear that the attitudes and thinking of progressives from NYC and other large cities in NY were suspect, and not seen to reflect the needs of “our people” who were painted as vulnerable folks at the mercy of returning murderers bent on continued harmdoing. All in all it was a transparent attempt to influence the parole board to break the law and never release any violent A-1 offenders. After the hearing we heard Nozzolio telling a reporter the Committee would get to the bottom of this, and when they did, they would issue a corrective. Are they hoping to change the law?



ANTI-PAROLE BACKLASH - NEW YORK MEDIA MAKERS ARE HAVING A FEEDING FRENZY FOLLOWING THE NOZZOLIO HEARINGS. GOV. SPITZER, WHOM WE HAVE CRITICIZED FOR NOT DOING ENOUGH TO RELEASE COMMUNITY READY INDIVIDUALS, IS ACCUSED OF UNLATCHING THE PRISON DOORS!

Reporters are going to great lengths to fan the public’s disappointment with Spitzer into full-out rage. Peppering their sentences with emotion laden words like killer, cop-killer, and murderer these articles fuel the fears of the vulnerable. Marty Golden, a Brooklyn Republican State Senator and ex-police officer, is reported saying we're no longer safe in our homes because of the increased release rates! (Hello Brooklyn! Can you please get to the polls and elect someone else? Please?)

If you missed the articles, the titles tell all:
215 convicted killers were set free in Spitzer's first year as governor (the hard copy had the title, “Scum, Walk This Way”, but it doesn’t appear on the web editions; maybe it was too much even for some Daily News editors to live with) by Joe Mahoney and Thomas Zambito, Daily News staff writers

Jail 'Sickos' Go Free By Brendan Scott (about a proposal by the Spitzer administration to release seriously ill and incapacitated inmates, saving the taxpayers $5.4 million a year!)

Plan to Close Prisons Stirs Anxiety in Rural Towns - New York Times Sunday 1/27 issue - even though not vicious, and with legitimate concerns, this article too seems part of the stream of negative responses. Certainly justice loving people must feel concern for the people whose livelihoods depend on prisons, but that is not enough to justify denying deserving people their freedom, especially when there are economic responses to the anxiety which would benefit all.



HOW DO WE RESPOND?  READERS ARE ENCOURAGED TO ISSUE CALM APPEALS TO JUSTICE, SAFETY, AND THE LAW THROUGH LETTERS AND FACE TO FACE MEETINGS.

It’s worth responding to articles such as the above, as long as we avoid rising to their bait. We definitely need to write our newspapers. And our state representatives. But we need to elevate the current level of discourse and have our letters be calm, reasoned appeals to let the parole board do their job as defined by law. Even though we might like to see the law changed, so would our opponents, but in the opposite direction. They would like it to focus ONLY on the crime and not consider any of the other factors. The parole release decisions during Pataki’s administration were not made in accordance with the law, and this administration has at least declared its commitment to follow the law which states that other factors need to be taken into consideration. Every time you read an article about parole or closing prisons, it’s time to write a letter. Every time you’re asked to speak, bring up the issue. Week after week, month after month. Until everyone in New York State has heard our side of the issue.

Here’s an example of a good letter - short, and it makes points that we need everyone in NYS to be familiar with:

“The January 27, 2008 article, Scum, Walk This Way, inaccurately interprets Governor Spitzer’s lack of interference with the current parole board’s decision-making power as a ‘liberal mentality.’  While the cases cited in the article are heinous crimes, the fact remains that each person who reaches his or her minimum sentence is entitled to be considered for release based on a broad range of factors beyond the circumstances of the crime.   Our criminal justice system recognizes the need for both punishment and for the protection of public safety. But it also recognizes the prospect of rehabilitation and transformation, and the expectation of returning to society if the goals of public safety and rehabilitation are met.  Tough-on-crime may get votes, but being smart-on-crime saves taxpayer money, enhances public safety and promotes the fundamental American belief in second chances.” - Glenn E. Martin, Associate Vice President of Policy and Advocacy for the Fortune Society, in a letter yet to be accepted by the Daily News.



CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING
For community advocates and service providers who are politically astute and historically aware, these are interesting times. As a result of the recent hearing called by Senator Nozzolio and the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee, there is a mounting stream of critical response to the criminal justice policies carried out under the Spitzer administration. 

It hardly seems a coincidence that three widely read newspapers in New York City published articles in their Sunday Jan. 27 editions that were not supportive of recent state parole releases and the announced closing of state correctional facilities. Both the Daily News and the New York Post featured scathing pieces attacking the increase in parole rates, and the New York Times offered an analysis of the anxiety felt in upstate communities affected by the announced closing of facilities.   No in-depth investigative report of the economic, budgetary and management benefits prompting the current criminal justice policies in question have appeared. 

It should be quite clear that the attacks coming from the conservative right are not directed to Gov. Spitzer alone, but to the heads of the state criminal justice agencies as well.  The drubbing that Denise O’Donnell of DCJS, George Alexander of Division of Parole, and Brian Fischer of DOCS were handed at the Nozzolio hearing is indicative of the conservatives' intent to shut down and reverse what initial progressive criminal justice changes have taken place under the new Spitzer administration. 

The Nozzolio hearings were just the opening volley of what we expect to be an ongoing attack on current criminal policies that are a reversal of Pataki's. Now while we have not gotten all we want , we at least have a criminal justice hierarchy in place that has outwardly stated its willingness to collaborate with community based resource and advocacy organizations. 

And so we find ourselves in the awkward position of having to support a criminal justice hierarchy that for years we have recognized as “the opposition”.  This requires a rethinking of traditional positions and the development of strategic approaches.  If we take the “Open Re-entry Meeting” hosted last year by the Division of Criminal Justice Services involving relevant state agencies and community advocacy and service organizations "in a meeting on the critical issues facing New York as we formulate an integrated strategy for the successful reentry of  offenders back into the community”, as a clarion call by the State’s highest ranking criminal justice agency for ongoing collaboration between state agencies and community advocacy and service providers, then we must take advantage of every opportunity to keep the conversation alive. - Larry White.



PAROLE RELEASES: MAYBE IT'S BECAUSE THEY'RE SO DISCOURAGING, OR MAYBE BECAUSE OUR SOURCES DON'T WANT TO ALERT THE RABID PRESS, BUT WE'VE RECEIVED VERY LITTLE INFORMATION ON JANUARY’S PAROLE RELEASES.

At Otisville, only two of the 39 people seen were released and they were deportations. We understand the same situation applied at Mid-Orange. [For readers who might not know, if a person is not a citizen of the US and is convicted of a crime here, they are put in prison, at the taxpayer's expense and the prison industry's profit, until their sentence expires or the parole board releases them, at which point they are sent back to the country where they were born.]

Antonio Calderon, who was featured in our Parole Support section last month, postponed his appearance and is re-scheduled for March 2008.

Zayd Rashid was scheduled to see the board in January but his and 19 other hearings were adjourned because the sentencing minutes were missing. DOCs is not supposed to accept people into the system without sentencing minutes but for years and years this has not been practiced. In the meantime some stenographers may have disappeared or died and the minutes simply no longer exist. Due to the requirement for the sentencing minutes to be considered by the Board of Parole, many people are having their hearings postponed.

We also learned that Donald Ferrin was denied for the 10th time, despite being seriously ill. Our condolences to him and his wife Maria who’s been fighting for his freedom for years and years.

Have the parole commissioners chosen to bow down to political pressure instead of adhering to the law and carefully weighing all the facts to be considered in the parole release decision? This would be a shame and a tremendous waste, in every sense. Intelligent people of every walk need to carefully examine the issues at stake with an open mind.

[We get our reports from you; please send them to Building Bridges, Prison Action Network and we’ll publish.]



WHEN THE 20TH CENTURY USHERED IN A PERIOD OF AGRICULTURAL AND MANUFACTURING DECLINE, BUILDING PRISONS WAS VIEWED AS A WAY TO BOOST RURAL ECONOMIES

Prisons and Rural Economies by Karima Amin
Last month, “Prisoners Are People Too!” devoted its January program to examining the ways in which prisons impact the economies of small, rural communities, where there are no sustainable businesses. When the 20th century ushered in a period of agricultural and manufacturing decline, building prisons was viewed as a way to boost rural economies.

Who has actually benefitted from the prison building boom of the 1980’s and 1990’s in mostly upstate counties, which tend to be rural, white, and Republican? How has the presence of state prisons affected the social fabric of our state and local communities? Many of us in Western New York have loved ones in these upstate facilities. Do we understand how they are being exploited, both economically and politically, as they are counted in the census of the community where they are imprisoned?

Those who attended the January meeting considered these questions while viewing the film “Yes, In My Backyard,” a film that examines, “...the implications of prisons as an economic solution to rural decline,” produced by New York filmmaker Tracy Huling. The town of Coxsackie, NY is the specific focus.

Guest speaker, Brother Minister Abdul Halim Muhammad, Imam of Buffalo’s Nation of Islam Temple No. 23, lived in Attica from 1971-1974 and attended Attica Central School. Later, Brother Halim served as Chaplain for the Nation of Islam at several state prisons, including Attica, Coxsackie and Greene. His astute reflections revealed his well-versed understanding of the “keepers” (the community, outside and behind the walls) and the “kept” (the prisoners)..

The filmmaker, Tracy Huling, has written extensively on the economic impact of prisons in New York State. Send a request to PAN for a copy of her article BUILDING A PRISON ECONOMY IN RURAL AMERICA , From Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment. Marc Mauer and Meda Chesney-Lind, Editors. The New Press. 2002



AS SONNY RUDERT SEES IT: WITH THE EMERGENCE OF OUR NYS PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX, THOSE WHO REPRESENT ITS INTERESTS HAVE COME OUT SWINGING ON BEHALF OF THEIR CONSTITUENTS WHO STAND TO LOSE IF INTELLIGENT PENOLOGY WINS THE DAY.

It would seem to the thinking observer that any intelligent, cost effective correctional system must expand and contract in direct relationship to crime rates for serious offenses. Such a system, by its very nature, cannot be static. However, in New York State this has become a core problem because the primary role of corrections has shifted its goal from smart penology to economic sustenance for upstate correctional communities.

In New York, the business of corrections has become an economic engine for scores of upstate communities. Unfortunately, it is a false economy; it is tremendously wasteful, does not produce anything tangible, and sucks up our hard earned tax dollars (in NYS half of every tax dollar goes right off the top to prison operational costs). Additionally, there is a built in conflict of interest: an economically interested backlash occurs whenever intelligent, cost effective penology dictates that there should be a sensible downsizing of the prison system.

There has, in fact, been a serious over-investment in the prison portion of our state's correctional policy. Prison is only the middle third of the correctional equation. If corrections is to genuinely address public safety, it must primarily also play a role in crime prevention and, lastly, in the successful re-entry of the formerly incarcerated. Otherwise, you wind up with a sort of crime-and-prison fire that continuously stokes itself. Prison is, after all, a response to crime, not a true corrective (it does not make society any safer for the victim of the crime that has already taken place).

Be that as it may, with the emergence of our NYS prison industrial complex, those who represent its interests have come out swinging on behalf of their constituents who stand to lose if intelligent penology wins the day. Make no mistake, this was the driving force behind Senator Nozzolio's hearing on January 15th. He and the upstate Republican senators who represent these correctional communities are concerned about the dramatic rise in the release of violent offenders--who have served their time! These same senators, of course, were not concerned about the dramatic decrease in these same release rates during the entire Pataki era, when this wasteful prison economy was allowed to expand exponentially.

And, in our state's congress, we now see the emergence of a sort of intrastate civil war between the lawmakers who represent these upstate correctional communities (who prosper as long as the system remains full) and the urban, New York City lawmakers whose youth provide most of the fodder for this system. And the unfair census loophole (which none of these senators has volunteered to help fix) that allows upstate communities to count non-voting prisoners as residents, thus granting these same upstate communities excessive representation while simultaneously robbing urban communities of their fair share. As in the Civil War, the same societal dynamic is at issue: the success of one segment of society is directly tied to the failure of another, characterized by blocked opportunity, lack of representation, and an exploitive relationship between the two.  So, whenever a kid from Crown Heights gets off that prison bus in Malone the guards who greet him ought to say, "Welcome to where your community's tax dollars have been spent."

At the turn of the previous century, Mark Twain observed that, "Whenever you close a school you have to open up a jail." At the turn of this century, I would add that whenever you operate too many prisons you unwittingly create a graduate program for your poorest schools. There has to be a better way!

I will tell you this: when Senator Nozzolio and the other concerned upstate senators were grilling Parole Chairman Alexander about the rise in parole release rates for violent offenders, to my knowledge, none of them asked the most sensible and obvious public safety questions: How are these recently released offenders adjusting to society? Have there been any problems? People need to understand that what is not being said is as important as what is being said.

Once again, those who are fully invested in the prison portion of the correctional portfolio are attempting to move the market in their direction. With no new tangible crime threat they have to convince us to hang onto the old ones: those who are incarcerated for crimes they committed many, many years ago. Yet, does it make sense? Surely, these same senators would have to begrudgingly agree that men and women in their youth do not always make the best decisions. They do things they later regret. And some grow up in prison and become productive human beings, with a changed view of life. Many of these same people today do not condone the very acts they once perpetrated. And if corrections is to truly correct don't we want this to happen? Progressive correctional policy encourages the phoenix to rise from the ashes. Over-investment in prison, however, simply encourages the phoenix to sit in its own ashes, stacking lost hope atop years of regret and remorse--all at our tax dollar expense! As in the Pataki years, the prison economic beneficiaries are, once again, ringing the public safety bell. And, once again, upon close inspection of the facts, it simply does not ring true.          Peace.



SUBMITTED TESTIMONY OF BRIAN FISCHER, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES BEFORE SENATE STANDING COMMITTEE ON CRIME VICTIMS, CRIME AND CORRECTION - JANUARY 30, 2008 - PRISON CLOSURES

[It came as a complete surprise to learn about this hearing after it had taken place. The announcement on Nozzolio’s website was dated Jan 24th. We missed it! In part, it read: New York State Senator Michael F. Nozzolio will be convening the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee to conduct a legislative oversight hearing to review Governor Spitzer’s budget proposal to close prisons in New York State. Brian Fischer, Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services, is expected to testify before the Committee to address the proposed prison closures. In addition, union officials from the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA), the Public Employees Federation (PEF), and Civil Service Employees Union (CSEA) have been invited to testify before the committee.]

Comm. Fischer’s written testimony: [this is a condensed version, the entire document is available at the DOCS website: www.docs.state.ny.us/PrisonClosure.html.]

Introduction: 
The decision to close correctional facilities was not made lightly, and as expected, it has raised many questions. The most obvious ones are:

Why these facilities? 
Could we not save money in other ways? 
Can we maintain the community crews that provide labor to municipalities and not-for-profit organizations? 
What will happen to the facilities after they are closed? 
What can the local communities expect in terms of assistance?

Before I address these issues, allow me to put the situation into context. I am responsible for approximately 95,000 employees and prisoners spread out over 70 facilities across the state, and the Department’s budget has reached the $3 billion mark to the taxpayers of New York. As the Commissioner, I must be concerned with the safety and security of everyone, while being a realistic fiscal manager. There are limits to our funding and limits to our staffing. Given the decrease of more than 9,000 inmates in the past eight years, the continued decline projected for the future, and the budget needed to cover what is mandated of the Department, along with the reality of the fiscal problems facing the State, I made the decisions I know are necessary, understanding that I could not avoid the hardships those decisions would bring.

Realities Facing the Department:
1. a 13 percent overall decrease in the number of inmates since 1999.
2. an 18 percent decrease in medium security inmates.
3. a 47 percent decrease in minimum security inmates.
4. an 18 percent increase in maximum security inmates.
I should stress that while original projections for this Fiscal Year estimated that there would be about 62,800 inmates under custody by March 31, 2008, we are already at 62,250 today, 550 fewer than expected. Our projected census as of March 31, 2009, was set at 62,200 and it is clear even today that we will be significantly lower than that.

Shifting Priorities: The Department has changed, both in the demographics of our inmates and in the responsibilities we must fulfill. We must:
1. provide 1,600 program slots for all 8,000+ mentally ill inmates, including highly structured and staff intensive units for mentally ill inmates who must be segregated from the general inmate population as required by a court settlement and the new SHU-Exclusion statute.
2. provide 1,200 program slots to deliver services to the 6,000 sex offenders as required by the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act of 2007.
3. add new re-entry programs at facilities that can be tied into County Re-Entry Task Force Committees to deal better with the 28,000+ inmates that will be released in the coming year.
4. add a new Parole re-entry program with the Division of Parole and the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services to keep Parolees in the community rather than returning them to long-term prison stays, thereby changing the pattern of recycling offenders through the judicial and correctional systems.

Why These Facilities: Two of the three correctional camps we selected were identified in past years for closure – Pharsalia and McGregor. We added the third camp, Gabriels, because the number of camp-eligible inmates has continued to decline and the decline is projected to continue. We arrived at the choice of Hudson, understanding the impact its closing would have on the local community, comparing it with other small medium correctional facilities. Hudson’s bed capacity (422) is lower than that of other medium security facilities, making the transfer of inmates easier from the agency’s point of view. Hudson’s need for capital improvements – nearly $21.8 million over the next five years - was also a major consideration, particularly in comparison to other facilities.



ENTREPRENEURSHIP REPRESENTS “A PATH TO FINANCIAL STABILITY AND ENGAGED CITIZENSHIP” FOR THE FORMERLY INCARCERATED WHO ARE REENTERING SOCIETY, CONCLUDES A STUDY BY THE PRISONER REENTRY INSTITUTE

According to a recent study by the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, entrepreneurship represents “a path to financial stability and engaged citizenship” for the formerly incarcerated who are reentering society.  The study “Venturing Beyond the Gates: Facilitating Successful Reentry with Entrepreneurship” presents entrepreneurship as an option worthy of serious exploration and  one that can give men and women leaving prison a realistic second chance.  [for a copy send your request to PAN]

For step-by-step guidance on how to embrace this option, build successful lives and break the cycle of recidivism, read the newly released book, “Think Outside the Cell: An Entrepreneur’s Guide for the Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated,” by Joseph Robinson. It is available from: Resilience Multimedia, 511 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 525, New York, NY 10011, 877-267-2303 (toll free). Discount available if you mention you’re a reader of Building Bridges.



CRIMINAL JUSTICE PUBLICATIONS - WE REPORT ON NEW ONES EACH MONTH; SEE PAST ISSUES FOR OTHERS.

Justice: Denied Magazine; P.O. Box 68911; Seattle, WA 98168, publicizes cases of wrongful conviction, and exposes how and why they occur.
Building Bridges receives quite a few letters from people who convincingly report their innocence. We know innocent people are in prison, and we also know how difficult it is to prove, and even then to get released. When we learned of this magazine, we thought about all those letters and hoped this might be a place where they could serve a purpose. So we're providing the information we found on the internet.
Justice:Denied magazine publicizes cases of wrongful conviction, and exposes how and why they occur. Justice:Denied is produced by volunteer writers, editors and other persons located throughout the United States and other countries.
If you want to submit a story of wrongful conviction to Justice:Denied, the guidelines are posted on-line at justicedenied.org but you can also write and ask for them to be sent to you at the above address, with an SASE. After reading the guidelines, you can either send a completed story to jdstory@justicedenied.org, or by regular mail to:Justice Denied Magazine; P.O. Box 68911; Seattle, WA 98168. You can do the same to receive an information packet that includes the submission guidelines, JD’s informational brochure, subscription info, and other information.



PRISON RADIO LETS YOU HEAR PEOPLE RARELY HEARD IN SUCH DEPTH ANYWHERE ELSE. INTERVIEWS WITH CHERYL KATES, SHEILA RULE, SAFIYA BANDELE, KATIE BLACKBURN, JONATHAN GRADESS, ROBERT DENNISON AND BRIAN FISCHER ARE AVAILABLE NOW AND IN THE NEAR FUTURE.

Al Lewis Lives, hosted by Karen Lewis, broadcasts on Saturdays from noon to 1:30 pm on WBAI, 99.5 FM, NYC. Visit the archives at archive.wbai.org, choose "See ALL Shows, Sorted by show name" on the top left, and scroll down to hear a January 5 interview with Sheila Rule about entrepreneurship and the book her incarcerated husband Joe Robinson wrote on the subject, and on January 26 an interview with Safiya Bandele on the trauma of reentry.

The Fancy Broccoli Show: Fancy Broccoli airs on WVKR, 91.3FM, Poughkeepsie NY on Sundays from 3 - 6 pm, Eastern Time, and streams online - go to www.WVKR.org and click on (or near) the word 'LISTEN'. Coming up on February 3 an interview with Katie Blackburn and Jonathan Gradess from the Campaign for an Independent Public Defense Commission Association. On Mar 16 Julie will be interviewing Current DOCS Commissioner Brian Fischer. In their archives available at www.fancybroccoli.org you will find a Jan.6 interview with former Parole Board Chair Robert Dennison, and soon the Cheryl Kates interview will be as well.

Democracy Now!, with Amy Goodman airs around the country, check Democracy Now! to find the station nearest you or to read the transcripts. While not solely devoted to prison issues, she provides in-depth coverage of some of the most serious prison and criminal justice issues.

On The Count: The Prison and Criminal Justice Report, on WBAI, 99.5 FM, NYC, broadcasting every Saturday morning 10:30 am until noon. It is the only regularly broadcast program in America whose host and entire production staff is composed of people who were formerly incarcerated.

Thousand Kites: http://thousandkites.pbwiki.com. Listen to the newly launched Thousand Kites Radio Station, a twenty-four hour online webcast dedicated to the Thousand Kites project, a national dialogue project addressing the prison system and human rights in the United States through theater, video, web, community radio, and grassroots strategies.

Voices from the Prison Action Network bids farewell: After more than 4 years of broadcasting, featuring interviews with members of our network family, we’re saying goodbye to the airwaves and cyberspace. Our lack of technical skill was making the endeavor nonproductive. Thanks to all our listeners and interviewees for making it a rewarding experience while it lasted. We may be back someday. Archives available at radio4all.net and hmimc.swapspace.com.


100 BLACKS IN LAW ENFORCEMENT WHO CARE - EVERY TUESDAY FROM 5-6PM WATCH THEIR LIVE CALL IN SHOW "COMMUNITY COP". MANHATTAN NEIGHBORHOOD NETWORK (CH. 34) AND BROOKLYN COMMUNITY ACCESS TELEVISION (CH 56/69).

"100 Blacks" was founded in 1995 by a core group of concerned African Americans representing a variety of professions within the field of law enforcement. The number of those men and women who wanted to participate in being part of a social solution instead of a passive problem quickly grew to 100 and beyond. These individuals all shared a sense of community, cultural and professional pride. This pride was accompanied by an unfulfilled desire to "give back" in some meaningful way. Through skillful organization and administration, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care was born. In that first year, $10,000 in grant monies was collected from the membership and distributed to needy individuals and organizations all over the City of New York.

MISSION
1) To fulfill our moral mandate to our creator, to enhance and cultivate the blessings that have been bestowed upon us.
2) To serve as a model organization for individuals and other professionals in our communities so that we can again take our rightful place on the stage of history as a free, proud, and productive people.
3) To offer (via non repayable grants) a minimum of $1,000 a month to a worthy cause in the African American community
4) To be the vanguard for justice on the behalf of those who traditionally have no voice in society
5) To vigorously challenge racism, sexism and all of the debilitating ism's that retard the growth of today's global community
6) To economically empower our people by pooling our resources
7)To uplift our people through education

WE VOW TO NEVER STOP UNTIL VICTORY IS WON!



TELEPHONE JUSTICE CAMPAIGN STILL FIGHTING FOR A FAIR AND JUST WAY TO COMMUNICATE WITH LOVED ONES WHO ARE LOCKED UP

Walton v. NYSDOCS:  While the New York Court of Appeals allowed the case to move forward on constitutional grounds last year, Judge Ceresia of the New York Supreme Court recently dismissed the case in December 2007.  We will appeal his decision to the Court of Appeals and we are still very hopeful about our chances of an ultimate victory; however, the case is going to take more time and hard work to win! 

The one good thing we can tell you about the opinion is that the court considered, and rejected, each of our constitutional claims; the Judge did not rely on a procedural ground (the way he did last time, with the statute of limitations) to dismiss us.  This is important because it means that if we get the Appellate Division or the Court of Appeals to reverse him, he will not have the opportunity to dismiss the case again, and will have to allow us to move forward with a trial or hearing.  It is also important because it means that we have the right to appeal to the Court of Appeals if we lose in the Appellate Division.  Last time, we had to ask permission for that appeal. 
 
Customer Service: While we have made some improvements in our communication with DOCS and GTL and many families have been able to get their problems remedied quicker, there are still customer service, billing and call quality issues that families face on a daily basis. 

If you ever have problems that a GTL customer service rep cannot resolve for you (like a charge for a disconnected call, a call block that cannot be lifted, an incorrect limitation placed on your call amount, etc.), contact Margaret Phillips, Executive Director of Billing Services at GTL.  Her direct number is (251)375-8026. 

If you ever experience technical difficulties (can’t hear, phone disconnected, etc.), call Tom Herzog at the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) at (518)457-2540.  He will get GTL or his own staff out to resolve the problem immediately.  You should also contact him whenever Margaret Phillips is unable or unwilling to remedy your problem.



SUPPORT MEETINGS: IT’S NOT EASY RETURNING FROM PRISON OR HAVING A LOVED ONE IN PRISON. BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT ALONE; THERE’S A COMMUNITY OF FAMILY MEMBERS AND FORMERLY INCARCERATED PEOPLE AROUND THE STATE AND ON THE WEB WHO WILL WELCOME YOU.

ALBANY:
PFNY meeting at 7:00 pm every Monday at the Women’s Bldg, 79 Central Avenue. Please call ahead: Alison 518 453 6659
ROOTS: Re-entry Monthly Orientation Sessions (on the last Thursdays) - for parolees being released from NYC correctional facilities and returning to Albany - these offer support, hope and proven suggestions from ROOTS (Re-entry Opportunities and Orientations Towards Success) members (ex-offenders and supporters).
ROOTS Bi-Weekly "Re-entry Peer Support Groups" every other Sat from 11am-1pm. Dec. 8 and 22. Both meetings at Trinity Institute, 15 Trinity Place, Albany; For info: ROOTS: 518 434 1026; Corey Ellis 518 4499-5155m x131

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.

WORLD WIDE WEB: New Online Support and Resource Forum www.newyorkinmatefamilies.org). New York Inmate Families is an online support and resource forum. Unlike Prison Talk Online or Prisoner Family Chat, this site is specifically designed for friends and family of New York State prisoners. You may be familiar with the .com site, so what is new? The .org site, which launched in mid-January, includes a Discussion Forum where you can post Issues and Problems and find Suggestions and Solutions. The site also has a Chat Room and a Photo Gallery. The new NYIF site is donated to the friends and families of New York prisoners by Neaner Web Design. Heidi, the original founder of NYIF says, “You will never be alone again. We are thrilled to have you. I promise you’ll love it here.”



TRANSPORTATION TO PRISONS: THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO GET THERE. DRIVING YOUR OWN CAR OFFERS THE MOST FLEXIBILITY AND CONVENIENCE BUT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE. TAKING THE DOCS FREE BUS CAN BE INCONVENIENT AND UNCOMFORTABLE BUT IT DOESN’T COST ANYTHING. RIDES FROM VOLUNTEERS ARE CONVENIENT AND FREE, BUT DON’T GO EVERYWHERE.

From the Capital District:
NEST Prison Shuttle schedule: Mt. McGregor, Washington, and Great Meadow CFs on Sat, Feb 2 ($30 adults, $20 children), Coxsackie, Greene, and Hudson on Sun, Feb 10 ($15  adults, $10 children) from Oakwood Ave Presbyt. Church parking lot, Troy at 7 AM, then to Albany Greyhound bus station at 7:15. Trip to Utica (Midstate, Marcy, Mohawk, Oneida) on Sat, Feb 16 leaving Troy at 5 AM. Sullivan trip (Ulster, Eastern, Woodbourne, Sullivan) on Sat, Feb 23 leaving at 6 AM ($40 adults, $25 children). Reservations: Linda O'Malley 518- 273-5199.

Door to door, free rides are offered from Albany to prisons within 150 miles by volunteers of FUUSA’s Justice Committee on weekdays only. Please contact us at 518 253-7533 if you need a ride.

CarPooling: Please call 518 253 7533 if you would be willing to take a passenger or if you want a ride.

Statewide: DOCS Free Bus - to find out how to sign up, from NYC area: Deacon Mason on Tues &
Fri, 212 961 4026 and from Albany: on Wed & Thurs, 518 485 9212; from Buffalo area: Rev. Roberson 716 532 0177, x4805; from Syracuse: Sister Patricia: 315 428 4258



WHAT’S HAPPENING AROUND NEW YORK STATE

BUFFALO: Prisoners Are People Too!

The documentary film for this month’s meeting, at Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street from 6:30-8:30pm on Monday, February 24, is “Framing an Execution: The Media and Mumia Abu-Jamal,” narrated by actor Danny Glover (2001). This film describes the extent to which ABC’s “20/20” news magazine program ignored fairness, balance, and accuracy in describing the controversial case of a man who is one of the world’s most well known political prisoners.
The guest speaker will be Al-Nisa Barbara Banks, Editor-in-Chief of Western New York’s “Challenger” newspaper. She will express her views about media and judicial ethics.
The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too! is scheduled for March 24. Film and guest speaker(s) TBA.
PRP2! programs are sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of Baba Eng. For further information, contact Karima Amin at 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.


ALBANY: The Justice Committee of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany

Presenting the Sunday Service on Feb. 24 at 10am. Special music will be provided by the Peace and Justice Choir and by Matt Edwards. Guest Speakers will be David Howard and Nathan Hamlin, two Capital District residents who were once incarcerated but have never gone back, telling the story of their journey to prison and back home. Following the service there will be a screening of Perversion of Justice, a documentary produced by UU chaplain Melissa Mummert, about a tragic example of what is wrong with mandatory minimum sentences. Everyone is invited! The church is located at 405 Washington Ave. in Albany.



WOMEN IN PRISON HAVE A STRONG ADVOCATE IN THE CORRECTIONAL ASSOCIATION'S COALITION FOR WOMEN PRISONERS. FOR 14 YEARS THE COALITION HAS ORGANIZED ADVOCACY DAYS IN ALBANY. ONE IS COMING UP ON MARCH 4.

You can join the Coalition to call on New York's elected officials to stop using prison as a response to the social ills that drive crime and to start allocating more resources to community-based, gender-specific alternative programs that save money and rebuild lives and families. Help advocate for policies that protect the rights of incarcerated women, that address the true needs of individuals and families, and that allow women to make a healthy, safe, and productive return to their communities after prison.

To get involved, contact Serena Alfieri, Women in Prison Project Associates: 212 254-5700 or salfieri@correctionalassociation.org.


Read now!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

JANUARY 2008

Please scroll down to get to the Building Bridges monthly newsletter.

Following are latebreaking announcements posted as they arrive on our desk.



JAN 16: SEVERAL ARTICLES ON THE NOZZOLIO HEARINGS [transcripts of the hearings will become available through Sen. Nozzolio's office]:

MORE VIOLENT FELONS PAROLED
Senate panel questions rise in release of state's most dangerous felons
By IRENE JAY LIU, Capitol bureau
First published: Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Click here to read the article


PAROLE TREND DRAWS QUESTIONS
More violent felons are being released
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
By Bob Conner 
Gazette Reporter
to read this article on Senator Nozzolio's Public Hearings in Albany on 1/15, click here


January 16

LAWMAKERS OK BAN ON SOLITARY FOR MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS By Jay Gallagher and Cara Matthews
Journal Albany bureau

January 15, 2008
ALBANY — The state Legislature Tuesday passed a bill that would prohibit solitary confinement for severely mentally ill state-prison inmates in most cases. Gov. Eliot Spitzer has said he supports the plan.

“This landmark legislation will improve safety conditions for both mentally disabled prisoners and correctional officers alike,” said Jack Beck of the Prison Visiting Project at the Correctional Association of New York.

The measure passed 55-0 in the Senate and 134-3 in the Assembly. It now goes to Spitzer, who is expected to sign it into law.

There was a deal to approve the measure last year, but final passage was delayed until Tuesday because the Assembly never returned to the Capitol after the regular legislative session adjourned last June.

“It is a win-win measure that will also save taxpayers by reducing unnecessarily extended prison sentences, avoidable prison inpatient mental health care stays and reduced injuries to correctional personnel,” said Robert Corliss of the Mental Health Association of New York State.

The measure would require the state Department of Correctional Services to set up residential-treatment units for inmates with serious psychiatric illnesses.

The inmates would get at least four hours of therapeutic programming and/or treatment out of their cell a day, five days a week. The original legislation would have banned solitary confinement for those with mental illness.

Such confinement in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell and lack of treatment worsen psychiatric conditions and punish inmates for behaviors connected with their illnesses, critics say.

“The Assembly is mindful of the detrimental effects of segregated housing units on inmates suffering from acute mental illness,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan. “This bill is a better alternative to the current practice and will help to create a safer environment for both inmates and staff in our state facilities.”

Serious mental illness affects about 12 percent of the prison population in the state, or some 8,000 inmates, according to the bill’s sponsors.

Many of the changes required by the bill wouldn’t take effect for two years from when the first residential mental-health unit built by the prison system was completed, but no later than July 1, 2011.

This year’s budget includes more than $50 million for construction and $2 million each to the state Office of Mental Health and the Department of Correctional Services for staffing.

Next year’s budget will include $12 million more, with $19 million added the following year and $29 million in 2010-11 to implement the program, Spitzer spokesman Matt Anderson said.


Jay Gallagher can be reached at Jgallagh@gannett.com. Cara Matthews can be reached at Clmatthe@gannett.com.


January 16

Thanks to Susan and Rima at ICARE for sending this announcement:

THREE NEW YORK STATE PRISONS CLOSING

On Friday, January 11, 2008, Governor Spitzer announced plans to close Camp Pharsalia, Gabriels and Mc Gregor, along with medium-security Hudson in January 2009. Citing the role of Alternative to Incarceration in reducing crime and the number of people being incarcerated in NYS over the past few years, the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP), along with other criminal justice advocates, have long been advocating for prison closings, reentry services and the expansion of Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI).

JoAnne Page, President and CEO of the Fortune Society said, “The prison closings announced last Friday present a real opportunity for New York to make some smart investments in programs that really work. Long recognized as a national leader in the use of ATI programs, New York must now increase their use and expand them to include parole violators who do not pose a risk to public safety. The Fortune Society estimates that for every $10,000 we invest in ATI programs, we save the State $30,000 in yearly incarceration costs.”

In spite of the reduction in crime, the number of people being sent to prison, and the clear cost-savings associated with this measure, some groups continue to oppose the closing of prisons in NYS for economic reasons. To learn more, go to -www.empirestatenews.net.


January 13

JOB OPPORTUNITY:

Criminal Justice Advocate
Mental Health Project

The Mental Health Project of the Urban Justice Center (MHP) seeks an Advocate to advance the work of our criminal justice advocacy program. The Criminal Justice Advocate will support our litigation efforts to ensure that people receiving mental health treatment in New York jails and prisons are provided with appropriate discharge planning services before they are released from custody and will also be actively involved in our work to fight the criminalization of mental illness through legislative advocacy and community education.

If you have the following qualifications, you might want to check out their website (linked below) for information on how to apply:
Have personal or professional experience with mental illness and/or the criminal justice system;
Have at least two years of relevant work experience; and
Speak Spanish fluently.

www.urbanjustice.org


January 7, 2008



There has never been a more urgent need to preserve fundamental privacy protections and our system of checks and balances than the need we face today, as illegal government spying, provisions of the Patriot Act and government-sponsored torture programs transcend the bounds of law and our most treasured values in the name of national security.
  • Please click here to sign the the ACLU's petition to close Guantanamo.






  • January 5, 2008

    OPEN LETTER TO SENATOR NOZZOLIO AND THE SENATE CRIME VICTIMS, CRIME AND CORRECTIONS COMMITTEE:

    Greetings Senator Nozzolio and Members of the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee, and thank you for this opportunity to contribute to the discussion of an issue of extreme importance to thousands of people in New York State: the rate of parole releases for community ready, parole eligible people with violent felony convictions.

    Violence is wrong. As a species with thousands of years to learn better, it is past time we all realized that. However, we haven't and so the challenge is how to diminish the frequency with which violence is used.

    On January 15 you will gather to discuss what to do with people who committed serious violent crimes, will live the rest of their lives regretting that fact, and who have done everything in their power to transform their lives and be given the opportunity to contribute something positive to the society they betrayed. We truly don't know what motivates you to hold these hearings, but it isn't our welfare. Keeping these people incarcerated is costing a lot of taxpayer dollars, and is keeping valuable people isolated from our communities which need them.

    Zero tolerance for violence is the responsibility of the police, the prosecutors, the juries and sentencing judges. That's their role. Victims have the right and the opportunity to be part of that process. Sentences are given with the victims' recommendations in mind.

    Prisons punish, hopefully rehabilitate, and isolate until such time as the sentencing judge deemed sufficient. If at the conclusion of their minimum sentence, a person is not seen by the Parole Board to be be ready to return to society, the Board has the discretion to hold them until they are ready. We observe that the decisions of the Parole Board lack consistency and need some better guidelines, but nevertheless they are mandated to make the best possible decision for all concerned, using the law as their guide.

    Releasing someone who is community ready and parole eligible is not the same as releasing violent murderers into our midst. People are capable of change. The Parole Board is charged with the responsibility of discerning the difference. Of course they will occasionally make an error in judgment, but that error can go both ways. We cannot be 100% safe from violence. Life is filled with tragedies. We do our best to avoid them. But keeping someone locked up in a cage who is no threat to anyone, is of itself an act of violence, and of no benefit to any of us.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Judith Brink
    Director Prison Action Network


    UPDATES:

    1. HEARING SET ON RELEASE OF VIOLENT FELONS
    A new article in the NY Law Journal by Joel Stashenko. posted January 3, 2008, goes into more detail than the announcement in the following article #8. If you'd like to read it, you may visit the Journal's website, or contact PAN for a copy.

    2. MAYOR BLOOMBERG SIGNED THE LEGISLATION ALLOWING FREE BIRTH CERTIFICATES FOR CITY RESIDENTS IN STATE CORRECTIONAL FACILITIES on December 31, 2007 [see article #1]


    BUILDING BRIDGES
    JANUARY 2008 

    Dear Reader,

    By the time you read this, the holidays will have passed. A new year has begun, and we wonder what the future will bring. We get a hint from some of reports we’ve received; some, like this: “Senator Nozzolio to Hold Senate Hearing to Examine the Increase in Parole Release Rates for Violent Felons”[#8] and Tony Papa’s “Call for Clemency for Rockefeller Drug Law Prisoners”[#2] which was answered by NO clemencies and one pardon, do not bode well. On a better note, we read about “Birth Certificate Legislation Passed in NYC Council”[#1], Judge Brieant’s denial of the State’s motion to dismiss the Graziano, et.al. vs Pataki case on mootness grounds and granting of the plaintiffs’ cross motion for class certification [#7] (please consider joining PAN’s Action Project in response to that development), and the Supreme Court ruling on mandatory sentencing [#5], all of which give us hope

    To help more people receive Building Bridges in 2008, Prison Action Network has applied for funding to supplement the cost of subscriptions, and also to help pay travel expenses to visit prisons. We rarely apply for funding because it’s so time consuming and because we are so unorthodox that we don’t fit into most funders’ criteria. For instance, we’re not incorporated; originally because we couldn’t afford the filing fees, but after operating in a sea of organizations who couldn’t do certain things because of the limitations of their non-profit status, we made a decision to remain as we are. We invite you to write the Ethelwyn Doolittle Committee at Community Church of New York, 40 East 35th Street, NY NY 10016 in support of our funding request. (I don’t know if that will annoy them or impress them, but I think it would give them a good sense of who we represent.)

    We hear about so much injustice from our readers that although we know there has been a dramatic shift in our relationships with DOCS and Parole, we also know there is still a lot of suffering being endured by people at the hands of those two bureaucracies. We will not stop our efforts until full justice for all is achieved. This is our 2008 New Year’s promise to you.


    ARTICLES

    1. BIRTH CERTIFICATE LEGISLATION PASSES NYC COUNCIL - bill grants free birth certificates to all residents coming home from City jails (after serving 90 days) or New York State prisons.

    2. CALL FOR CLEMENCY FOR ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAW PRISONERS FAILS - Anthony Papa recommend[s] “that Gov. Spitzer go on a personal rescue mission and grant executive clemency to the large number of Rockefeller Drug Law prisoners who have fully rehabilitated themselves.”

    3. FAMILY EMPOWERMENT DAY 3 REPORTS - The Albany FED3 event succeeded on some levels and failed in others. 156 of the 250 NYC participants said they had a loved one in prison, and 121 identified the facility. 27 NYS prisons were mentioned.

    4. IN MEMORY OF ST. CLAIR BOURNE - Among his other great accomplishments as a filmmaker, St. Clair was the executive director of Melis Birder’s “The Visitors” before his untimely death.

    5. MANDATORY SENTENCING - Supreme Court rules federal judges may use discretion in handing out lower sentences for drug offenses than are stipulated in federal sentencing guidelines.

    6. NYS COALITION FOR REHABILITATION AND REENTRY (NYS CORR) - a project of C.U.R.E.-NY which offers a five-area platform (with twelve planks) for increased restorative practice in our NYS criminal justice system.

    7. OTHER NYS CRIMINAL JUSTICE PUBLICATIONS - C.U.R.E.-NY and CPR.

    8. PAROLE NEWS - Judge Brieant ruled on the motions in Graziano, et.al. vs. Pataki; Actions: you might write the judge, the lawyers, and the Daily News; History; What’s Next; and “Illusions of Justice”, a different view; Senate Hearing to Examine the Increase in Parole Release Rates; Statistics; Support for Antonio Calderon and Zayd Rashid; Releases and Statistics from Wyoming C.F..

    9. PRISON RADIO - No schedules received, you’ll have to check on line.

    10. SENTENCING COMMISSION HEARING TRANSCRIPTS AVAILABLE - posted at the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services website.

    11. SMOKING - “We are given frivolous tickets when nothing is done about enforcing the no-smoking laws. Why?”

    12. SONNY RUDERT’S FIELD REPORT - “So much of life involves trading one set of headaches for another. This is, after all, the wilderness and not the promised land.”

    13. SUPPORT MEETINGS - It’s not easy having a loved one in prison. Join the community of family members and know you’re not alone....

    14. TRANSPORTATION TO PRISONS - Why do van services go out of business, why do people cancel their free rides, and why is there so little interest in the Ride Board?

    15. WHAT’S HAPPENING AROUND NEW YORK STATE - Tuesday, January 15, 2008, 1:00pm Hearing Room A, Legislative Office Building, Albany. You need to be there. Buffalo’s PRP2! continues film series with Tracy Huling’s, “Yes, In My Backyard”


    1. BIRTH CERTIFICATE LEGISLATION PASSES NYC COUNCIL
    ICARE sent this report:: Today, Tuesday, December 11, 2007, Intro. No. 574, a bill granting free birth certificates to all residents coming home from City jails (after serving 90 days) or New York State prisons, was passed by the full Council of the City of New York (39-6 vote). The Bloomberg Administration stated their support and the mayor is expected to sign it into law within 30 days.

    The intention and effect will be to rescind one more barrier to people successfully reentering their communities and attempting to rebuild their lives after incarceration. It is exactly the kind of gesture of hope that ICARE was founded to advocate for. Birth certificates are needed for many aspects of making a new life - from employment to housing to official ID’s, applications to educational institutions, healthcare, other benefits and social services.


    2. CALL FOR CLEMENCY FOR RDL PRISONERS
    In his article "Rescue Mission for Governor Spitzer", posted December 18, 2007 at Huffingtonpost.com, ANTHONY PAPA gave Governor Spitzer some good advice:
    “With the coming holiday season in mind, I recommend that Gov. Spitzer go on a personal rescue mission and grant executive clemency to the large number of Rockefeller Drug Law prisoners who have fully rehabilitated themselves and already served enormous amounts of time behind bars under the draconian provisions of mandatory-minimum sentencing.”
    A few days later, after Spitzer had failed to take his advice, The New York Times printed his letter:

    A LONE PARDON THIS YEAR, By Anthony Papa, published December 29, 2007
    To the Editor: Re “Spitzer Pardons Ex-Convict to Spare Him Deportation” (news article, Dec. 22):

    Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s attempt to show compassion this holiday season fell way off the mark. Mr. Spitzer’s single pardon to an individual set free 10 years ago, coupled with the fact that he did not grant one clemency, was nothing more than a safe political move.

    There are many nonviolent Rockefeller drug law offenders who have already served lengthy sentences but are stuck in prison because of a continuing political quagmire. Traditionally, these offenders have been granted clemency at Christmastime. Former Gov. George Pataki, who was known for his toughness on crime, granted clemencies to 28 of them, including me. To give none of those offenders who applied for clemency a chance to be united with their families is a crying shame. [For a copy of either of Papa’s articles in its entirety, send your specific request to PAN


    3. FAMILY EMPOWERMENT DAY 3 REPORTS

    ALBANY REPORT
    The Albany FED3 event succeeded on some levels and failed in others. The success was in the enthusiasm of those who attended and in the valuable feedback Melis Birder got after showing the rough cut of her documentary “The Visitors” about people who travel all night on buses to upstate prisons for a 5 hour visit with their loved ones. Keynote Speakers Rev. Peter Young and DA David Soares were inspiring and blew us away with how much they thought alike and how much they both agreed with the rest of us on problems and solutions.

    Our disappointment was in the size of attendance, and the fact that there were only 3 people among the 30 who attended who were family members. The rest were advocates or curious people. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s FAMILY Empowerment Day! We didn’t design it to be a networking session for advocates, but that’s what it excelled at. The service providers, many of whom, shockingly, did not know each other, had a great time talking to each other and presumably planning ways to work together.


    NYC REPORT
    It took awhile but on December 5 all the data from FED3/NYC was finally organized! As reported in November's edition of Building Bridges, over 250 people attended. Of those, 218 were helpful in providing more information than just their name so here's what we learned from them:

    156 said they had a loved one in prison. 121 identified the facility. Some people said they had loved ones all over the state, so we can't include them in the account that follows. 27 NYS prisons were mentioned. (3 others were out of state). Here they are, with the number of people who named them: Arthur Kill (4), Attica (5), Auburn (5) Clinton (5), Collins (1), Coxsackie (3), Eastern (3), Elmira (1), Fishkill (13), Franklin (3), Gouverneur (1), Green Haven (5), Gt Meadow (3), Hudson (2), Kirby Psych (2), Mid-Orange (5), Ogdensburg (1), Oneida (1), Orleans (1), Otisville (22), pretrial (1), Rikers (2), Riverhead (1), Shawangunk (1), Sullivan (7), Taconic (1), Upstate (1).

    These figures raise SOME QUESTIONS: do some prisons need to be more active in persuading their representatives to attend? Some worked hard with little return - maybe they need to spend the coming months planning how to improve the return on their investment of time and money. Some family members found out about it on the street, not from their incarcerated loved one. Why was that?

    Our goal for next year is 500 people. That means doubling our efforts at the very least. Are you willing to work toward that? This is your event. We won’t be able to do it without your support, so LET US KNOW IF YOU HAVE THE ENERGY FOR IT.


    4. IN MEMORY OF ST. CLAIR BOURNE     
    Born February 16, 1943, St. Clair Bourne had a tremendous influence on the film industry.  In his career St. Clair directed and/or produced more than 40 films, and was at the time of his death the Executive Producer of Director Melis Birder's documentary "The Visitors". St. Clair founded Chamba Media in 1971, after leaving Black Journal where he had been a producer.  Notable films included: "In Motion: Amiri Baraka", "The Black and the Green", "Making 'Do the Right Thing'", "John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk", and  "Half Past Autumn, The Life and Works of Gordon Parks".  St. Clair died on Saturday, December 15, 2007.  He will be missed by many in the Liberation movement and the film industry.


    5. MANDATORY SENTENCING
    On December 20, the US Supreme Court ruled that judges could use their discretion and hand out lower sentences for drug offenses than those stipulated by federal sentencing guidelines. Following on the heels of that announcement, the US Sentencing Commission, which set those guidelines, came out for reducing some drug sentences and making the change retroactive. We certainly hope these decisions on the federal level will have an impact on New York’s drug laws, which were the first, and possibly the worst, of these racist and classist laws. Many New Yorkers have been working hard to change these laws, and indeed some reforms have been made, but not many of those sentenced unfairly have received any relief. More is needed. There is a strong call for repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, and even the New York Times is calling for restoring judicial discretion.


    6. NYS COALITION FOR REHABILITATION AND REENTRY (NYS CoRR)
    NYS CoRR is a project of C.U.R.E.-NY which offers a five-area platform (with twelve planks) for increased restorative practice in our NYS criminal justice system.

    A. EQUAL JUSTICE FOR ALL;
    • 1. Expanded Pre-Trial Services
    • 2. Fair Representation
    a) Independent Public Defense Commission
    b) Fair Legislative Representation

    B. KNOWLEDGE
    •  3. Job Oriented Education

    C. HEALTH and TRANSFORMATION
    •  4. Repeal NYS drug laws
    • 5. Treatment / Transformative Programs
    •  6. Improved prison health services.

    D. REHABILITATION INCENTIVES·       
    7. Merit time

    E. TRANSITIONAL SERVICES;·       
    8. Work release for most incarcerated persons
    ·        9. Fair parole policies and practice ·       
    10. Transitional reentry-support ·       
    11. Family support
    12. The LifeLine program, using formerly incarcerated lifers to aid those incarcerated

    The ultimate objectives of this strategy are fourfold: 1. more  productive and satisfying lives,
    2. less future crime,  3. less future taxpayer expense, and 4. a more productive society.

    Details and Sample letters (or emails) in support of each plank are available, as is a Petition. Contact at C.U.R.E.’s website.


    7. OTHER NYS CRIMINAL JUSTICE PUBLICATIONS
    CURE-NY Newsletter
    CURE-NY’s Fall 2007 issue is available online at www.bestweb.net/~cureny, or by mail when you become a member. Send an email to C.U.R.E. or write to PO Box 1314, Wappingers Falls, NY 12590. Include your name, mailing address or email address if you wish to join or just receive the newsletter. Basic membership is $10, newsletter only is $5, and membership for incarcerated persons is $2.

    THE DEUCE CLUB
    CPR’s newsletter, The Deuce Club, mailed out a bulletin packed with information. It’s available online at www.parolecpr.org, or by mail when you become a member. Send an email to membership@parolecpr.org or write to PO Box 1379, New York, New York 10013. Include your name, mailing address or email address if you wish to join, membership is $10 per year for families and $2 for people in prison.


    8. PAROLE

    GRAZIANO, ET.AL. VS. PATAKI UPDATE:
    When Gov. Spitzer withdrew the agreement that had been made between the Attorney General (the State’s lawyer) and the plaintiffs, the case was then returned to the Court. On 12/6/07 we received news that Judge Brieant had ruled on the motions in Graziano v. Pataki. In brief, Judge Brieant denied the defendants' motion to dismiss on mootness grounds and granted plaintiffs' cross-motion for class certification. [If you would like a copy of the decision, please send specific request to prisonaction@hotmail.com.]

    ACTION: Write letters of appreciation to Judge Charles Brieant, United States Federal District Court, 300 Quarropas Street, White Plains, New York 10601-4150, and to the lead attorney, Robert Isseks, 6 North St., Middletown NY 10940. Also to the NY Daily News, who seem to have an interest in this lawsuit, or 450 W. 33 Street, New York, NY 10001. Please include your full name, address and phone number.

    AN OVERVIEW: When the plaintiffs filed the complaint originally, they had the choice to file in any federal district court in New York (Northern, Western, Eastern, or Southern) because plaintiffs live in all districts of New York and plaintiffs are given the first choice for venue of the case. They chose to file in the Southern District and Judge Brieant, who sits in the Southern District, was randomly assigned to preside. (This, in the opinion of your editor, was an incredibly lucky break because he appears to be a very fair judge.)

    Judge Brieant asked the parties to see if they could negotiate a settlement and they did. It was in the process of being written when Gov. Spitzer withdrew the agreement and said he would litigate. Perhaps this series of events had something to do with his decision: The Daily News and the NY Law Journal (and perhaps other media as well) reported on the agreement, and around the same time the Parole Board granted parole to a man who was convicted of a crime in which a policeman was killed. This too was reported in the press with an angry response by Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association in New York City, who said, “Violent felons should not be eligible for parole, and cop killers should stay incarcerated for life.” Shortly thereafter the governor (whose ratings were plummeting), rejected the settlement. Without an official explanation, we are left to draw our own conclusions.

    WHAT’S NEXT?
    The case remains in Judge Brieant’s courtroom and he makes all rulings (except under certain circumstances not relevant here) through trial, including issuing a judgment after hearing all of the evidence in the trial. There is some reason for hope that he will hand down a ruling in 2008. The case went back to Judge Brieant's court in White Plains on December 20 (the judge decides when the parties must appear next in court). This court appearance probably only involved scheduling the case for trial.

    The class will be notified about the case and class members will be given the opportunity to opt out of the class (which is only done where the individual believes he/she could get a more favorable ruling than the one reached by the attorneys).

    A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE:
    “Illusions of Justice”
    I am a longterm prisoner who was saddened and somewhat perplexed upon hearing the broad raves from prisoners and their supporters when the news spread about the proposed settlement in the Graziano class action lawsuit. Thereafter, I experienced a sigh of relief when Gov Spitzer announced that he would not accept the settlement as offered.

    My sadness was compounded by the fact that I neither heard nor read of any contrary views to the proposed settlement. From our side just glee. I recalled the morbid reasoning expressed by prisoners in the mid-1990's as it became imminent that Pataki would assume the Governor's office. The sentiments were, "even though he'll reenact the death penalty, at least we'll get a good time bill." Some prisoners were willing and expecting the great tradeoff: Death for good time! We all know what happened with that.

    As I read about the proposed settlement the similarities were witnessed in the limited application of the proposal That is, those who would reap the supposed "benefit" would be those who appeared before a parole panel prior to April 16, 2007. And as for those who appeared April 17 and thereafter -- well, they got their just due.

    The reasoning behind this being that once the new Parole Commissioner, George Alexander, issued his edict to the other board members, everything would be hunky-dory. But whence came the notion that Alexander could, by the stroke of a pen, correct the wrongs of more than a decade of entrenched planning by Gov Pataki and his minions? Nothing could be more wrong. The abuses continue and are chronicled regularly.

    Perhaps I was misled into believing that prisoners and their supporters were acutely aware of the continued arbitrariness of parole decisions long after the April 16th memorandum. And I suppose it is not yet well-known, even today, that the Board has systematically instituted measures to "moot" prisoners' legitimate claims and challenges by refusing to respond to administrative appeals and employing delaying tactics with court challenges until it is time for the prisoner to reappear before the board. Ask around.

    Another important consideration for those prisoners who think they missed a windfall with Spitzer's refusal to settle is the likely nature of the hearings they would have received. Former Parole Commissioner Vernon Manley admitted that the system itself constrained him from conducting fair hearings. Many long-termers are familiar with the 5-minute cursory parole hearings that the board is apt to offer, with clearly predetermined results. With 1000 or more new hearings being provided and practically all the beneficiaries requesting the four Spitzer appointees, can you expect anything fairer than what the Pataki crew would offer? Do the math.

    What prisoners and their supporters need to realize is that we are engaged in more than a legal battle; we are engaged in a colossal war against injustice and immorality. Therefore, capitulation should never be in our equation. When the spirit and resolve of the people is weak or tepid, it is the policymakers' unscrupulous views and programs that will always prevail We deserve and should demand more. Our attitude should be that even if we lose or draw the battle, the war will go on.

    As I see it, this attitude in no way diminishes a prisoner's true feelings of repentance for the harm his or her crimes inflicted upon the community. If a prisoner has done all that could be expected to re-create self and becomes an asset to the community, then he or she should reap the full benefits of parole law. This attitude does, however, empower a prisoner to broaden his reflections from the personal to a systemic level.

    Considering all the suffering that has been inflicted--by both the prisoners and the unscrupulous policy makers, any settlement agreement should include justice--even if only a small measure. We should not grapple at an illusion. -

    --Mujahid Farid

    HEARING ON PAROLE DENIALS:
    New York State Senator Michael F. Nozzolio will be convening the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee to conduct a legislative oversight hearing to examine the increase in parole release rates for violent felons in the New York correctional system on Tuesday, January 15, 2008 1:00pm, Hearing Room A, Legislative Office Building, Albany, NY

    Denise O’Donnell, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice Services; George Alexander, Chairman of the New York State Parole Board; and Brian Fischer, Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services, are expected to testify before the Committee to address the increased release rates.

    “It has been widely reported that the Board of Parole is releasing a substantially higher number of violent felons from custody this year. As Chairman of the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee, I will be conducting a legislative oversight hearing in January to review the matter and to take testimony from the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Chairman of the New York State Parole Board, and the Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services,” said Senator Nozzolio.
    *[There will be no public comment period, but written statements to the invited speakers and other legislators are urgently needed.]

    PAROLE SUPPORT: We haven’t received an update on the Otisville Broadband Support candidates, which are men judged by their peers to be community ready. The selected candidates are representing all the others, so that their success at reentry will advance the chances of the men left behind, and their failure will harm them. Everyone involved has a vested interest in their success. We hesitate to present people without that kind of backing, for unless we know them as well as their peers we have no way of judging whether they are indeed community ready. However, we are publishing Antonio Calderon’s appeal for support this month because we know of him through a mutually beloved and respected friend.

    Antonio Calderon (78A3717) writes on his own behalf: “As a young adult in the East New York section of Bklyn informally known as ‘Gunsmoke”, I fell in with the wrong crowd and had early encounters with the law. Now 63 years old, I have been in prison for 29 years for my role in a codefendant’s shooting of a man at a party in 1977. I got 20 years to life; my codefendant who fired the deadly shot, got 25 to life yet was released after his first parole appearance in 2002. I will see my 6th board in January 2008. I have made great strides to improve myself and become a productive member of society. My release plans are to live initially at Dismas House. The program there will assist me in obtaining employment and addressing any treatment requirements directed by parole. I plan to reside in this program for as long as necessary and then move back to my parents’ home in Queens, NY. I would like to work as a bilingual peer counselor, and be there for my family.” Antonio is incarcerated at Otisville C.F. Letters of support for him may be sent to Mr. George Alexander, Chairman of the NYS Division of Parole, 97 Central Ave., Albany NY 12206, with a copy to Mr. Calderon at Otisville C.F.

    Zayd Rashid (DIN 83A4615) is also scheduled to see the board in January. Zayd graduated from the New York Theological Seminary master’s program magna cum laude. In 24 years of incarceration he was only cited once for disciplinary reasons and the charges were overturned. He has become one of NY’s most successful jailhouse lawyers, and many readers have probably received the benefit of his legal skills. He and Sonny Rudert, while at Otisville C.F., originated the idea for Family Empowerment Day. His family is eagerly awaiting his return, in particular his 8 year old daughter Nisa, with whom he has maintained a close relationship. Support letters can be sent to George Alexander (see address above) with a copy to Mr. Rashid at Fishkill C.F.

    RELEASED: “Jumping” Joe Rudd, Michael “Heavy” Spearman, and John “Mojo” Flynn all are back in society. We welcome them back and wish them the greatest success!
    Building Bridges didn’t receive any reports on December’s parole board decisions. We did, however, receive an impressive report distributed by Wyoming Correctional Facility. Called PAROLE BOARD STATISTICS 2007, it lists by month the numbers denied and granted (and the %’s) for Merit Time releases, Initial Releases, Reappearance Releases, and the total denials and releases. The year-to-date totals are then compared with the last two years. It also lists the commissioners at each hearing for the year. For example, in the last month listed, November 2007, 4 people were denied merit time. 0 were released. On their initial appearances 13 were denied, 4 were granted, on reappearances 2 denied, 3 granted; for an overall total of 26 appearances, 19 denials, and 7 parole releases. I have no idea how many people are held at Wyoming - the DOCS webpage does not have those numbers that I can discover. The November board consisted of Gerald Greenan and Sally Thompson. Through August there were 3 on each board, since then only 2. [*We are in great need of the names of the Parole Board members who were at Collins in November. Does anyone know who we can find out? [We get our reports from you; send word to Building Bridges, c/o PAN]


    9. 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: Fancy Broccoli airs on WVKR, 91.3FM, Poughkeepsie NY on Sundays from 3 - 6 pm, Eastern Time, and streams online - go to www.WVKR.org and click on (or near) the word 'LISTEN'.
    Democracy Now!, with Amy Goodman, airs around the country, check www.democracynow.org to find the station nearest you or to read the transcripts. While not solely devoted to prison issues, she provides in-depth coverage of some of the most serious prison and criminal justice issues.
    On The Count: The Prison and Criminal Justice Report, WBAI, 99.5 FM, NYC, broadcasting every Saturday morning 10:30 am until noon. It is the only regularly broadcast program in America whose host and entire production staff is composed of people who were formerly incarcerated.
    Thousand Kites: http://thousandkites.pbwiki.com. Listen to the newly launched Thousand Kites Radio Station, a twenty-four hour online webcast dedicated to the Thousand Kites project, a national dialogue project addressing the prison system and human rights in the United States through theater, video, web, community radio, and grassroots strategies.
    Voices from the Prison Action Network: If you’d like to be interviewed by telephone (or in person) please call me to set up something for the future. 518 253 7533. Archives available at radio4all.net and hmimc.swapspace.com.


    10. SENTENCING COMMISSION HEARING TRANSCRIPTS AVAILABLE
    For those of you who wished you could attend the Sentencing Commission hearings but couldn't, or even if you did and would like to read the testimony to refresh your memory, the transcripts are now posted at the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services website. They’re hundreds of pages long, so I doubt they are available any other way. We are checking to see if there is any way people without access to computers can read them.


    11. SMOKING
    I'm perplexed by one of the biggest health issues of the 21st century and that it's being ignored by many NY prisons. We are given frivolous tickets when nothing is done about enforcing the no smoking laws. Why?

    I grieved this issue and took it all the way to Albany and all they did was give me the politically correct answer, "COs make rounds every hour on the hour" (which is a fallacy at my prison). Officers look the other way when they pass the prisoners’ bathroom, but there are ashes and butts in there. Where do they suppose they come from? We have to compete with the smokers for bathroom stall time. If they don't want to enforce the state law against smoking, then why not just stop selling tobacco products? Could it be about the money? - Non Smoker


    12. SONNY RUDERT’S FIELD REPORT
    More and more lifers and long-termers are starting to return home after decades in prison. This is, no doubt, due in large part to the increased pressure on parole boards to follow parole statute and abandon the unfair policies of the Pataki era. This pressure comes from within and without. Even as Graziano v. Pataki proceeds ever forward in the federal courts, George Alexander, the new Chairman of the Division of Parole, has made it clear to his parole commissioners that in their hearing decisions he expects them to stop trumping all other criteria with that former Pataki wild card, "the seriousness of the offense."

    I believe we can therefore expect more fair parole hearings in the future. This of course means even more people will be returning from prison. Subsequently, the term "re-entry" has now become the hot button issue of the day. It has become a buzzword. But if we want it to be more than that, let's keep in mind that for re-entry to occur three basic things must happen. In fact, re-entry is these three things: parole (the person must be released); housing (they must have an adequate roof over their head); and, jobs--one needs a steady source of income in order to survive in this society. Those of us on the provider side of this equation must think of ways to trim the fat while helping to make decent jobs and affordable housing available to formerly incarcerated persons (money spent on bureaucracies purporting to make these things happen can, I believe, be better allocated by individuals and small groups of friends simply making them happen).

    This all brings to mind my own, ever present Big Picture which I will leave you with: So much of life involves trading one set of headaches for another. This is, after all, the wilderness and not the promised land. So, for many of us, our last big headache was worrying about the prospect of continually being judged for our worst acts of many years ago. Today, those of us on the outside worry about what everyone else worries about: rent, mortgages, credit card debt, etc. Yes, they are still headaches--but I don't have to tell you which are the "better" of the two!  The art of life, I have learned, lies in discovering and opening your heart to true joy and beauty in those precious (and few) moments in between the headaches. My joy and beauty has a name: Nanette Ramos. And I am proud to announce that on Saturday, December 15th, we became engaged to marry. Please wish us well as we also continue to wish you all the best. May 2008 hold forth new promise and hope for us all. Somehow, I know it will.      Peace.


    13. 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
    ROOTS: Re-entry Monthly Orientation Sessions (on the last Thursdays) - for parolees being released from NYC correctional facilities and returning to Albany - these offer support, hope and proven suggestions from ROOTS (Re-entry Opportunities and Orientations Towards Success) members (ex-offenders and supporters).
    ROOTS Bi-Weekly "Re-entry Peer Support Groups" every other Sat from 11am-1pm. Dec. 8 and 22. Both meetings at Trinity Institute, 15 Trinity Place, Albany; For info: ROOTS: 518 434 1026; Corey Ellis 518 4499-5155m x131

    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 in flux. Call Jeanette for info: 518 374 0627.


    14. TRANSPORTATION TO PRISONS

    Let’s talk about transportation. It’s a common perception that getting to prison to visit their loved one is a huge problem for many people. Yet one transportation company after another has gone out of business because they couldn’t fill their vans or cars and thus lost money on the venture. Even with volunteer drivers the cost of gas, insurance, and maintenance often outstrips the amount of income received. Understandably some people cannot even afford the rates of these small companies, even though they are less than large public transportation companies. So the Albany Justice Committee got volunteers to drive people to certain prisons for no charge at all. People have called up very excited to get a free ride, and then failed to be there when the driver came to pick them up. Once a passenger failed to return to the car waiting for her after her visit. This is demoralizing and can cost us drivers. We started a ride board, but I’ve learned that some people are afraid to use it for fear the other person may be smuggling contraband into the facility and they will somehow get in trouble for it, by association. There is no way to screen people against smuggling contraband. Some otherwise good people do it, out of a very misplaced, in my opinion, loyalty to their loved one. No one is going to admit it. As always, poor decisions affect people way beyond the few directly affected. Many deserving people have no way to get to see their loved ones because others have ruined their chances. Please let us know what you think can be done about this situation, or if you agree or not with these theories. Meanwhile we will keep on offering rides.

    FROM THE CAPITAL DISTRICT:
    The NEST Prison Shuttle schedule: Mt. McGregor, Washington, and Great Meadow CFs on Sat, Jan 5 ($30 adults, $20 children), Coxsackie, Greene, and Hudson CFs on Sun, Jan 13 ($15  adults and $10 children), from Oakwood Ave Presbyt. Church parking lot, Troy at 7 AM, and Albany Greyhound bus station at 7:15. Trip to Utica (Midstate, Marcy, Mohawk, Oneida CFs) on Sat, Jan 19 leaving Troy at 5 AM and Albany bus Station at 5:15. Sullivan (Ulster, Eastern, Woodbourne, Sullivan CFs) on Sat Jan 26 leaving at 6 AM ($40 adults, $25 children). Reservations: Linda O'Malley 518- 273-5199.T

    DOOR TO DOOR, FREE RIDES ARE OFFERED FROM ALBANY to prisons within 150 miles by volunteers of FUUSA’s Justice Committee on weekdays only. Please contact us at 518 253-7533 if you need a ride.

    CARPOOLING: Please call 518 253 7533 if you would like to take a passenger or if you want a ride.

    STATEWIDE:
    DOCS Free Bus - to find out how to sign up, from NYC area: Deacon Mason on Tues &
    Fri, 212 961 4026 and from Albany: on Wed & Thurs, 518 485 9212; from Buffalo area: Rev. Roberson 716 532 0177, x4805; from Syracuse: Sister Patricia: 315 428 4258


    15. WHAT’S HAPPENING AROUND NEW YORK STATE

    ALBANY: Senator Nozzolio to hold senate hearing to examine the increase in parole release rates for violent felons, Tuesday, January 15, 2008, 1:00pm Hearing Room A, Legislative Office Building. You need to be there.

    BUFFALO: PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO! will be meeting on January 28. PRP2! programs are sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of Baba Eng. Call Karima for details: 716-834-8438 or email karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.
    The documentary film for this month’s meeting is “Yes, In My Backyard,” produced and directed by New York filmmaker and author Tracy Huling of Galloping Girls Productions, Inc. (1998). It describes the extent to which prisons are central to the existence of small, rural towns where most families depend upon them for their livelihood. Huling takes a look at Coxsackie whose local economy is based on two state prisons, Coxsackie and Greene.
    The guest speaker will be Minister Abdul Halim Muhammad who is the Imam of the Nation of Islam’s Temple No. 23 in Buffalo, NY. Minister Halim grew up in Attica, another small, rural, prison town at a time when he believes that his family was probably the only Black family in Wyoming County. He attended Attica Central Schools where he came to know children who benefitted from Attica Prison’s being the backbone of the town economy. Later, Minister Halim became the Imam at Attica Prison for seven years. He is well-acquainted with the “keeper” and the “kept.”
    The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too! is scheduled for February 25. Film and guest speaker(s) TBA.


    Maintain hope, for despair is deadly.
    While we may not win the battle for justice this year,
    we can continue to add our weight to the moral side of the scale.

    Read now!