Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

MARCH 2009

Please scroll down to get to this month's edition of Building Bridges.




The following are announcements that arrived after publication:

POSTED 3/24: NYCLU: Jennifer Carnig, 212.607.3363 / jcarnig@nyclu.org
Correctional Association: Caitlin Dunklee: 646-269-7344, Bob Gangi: 917-327-7648
Drug Policy Alliance: Tony Newman: 646-335-5384

Tomorrow: Russell Simmons, Hundreds of New Yorkers to Rally at Gov’s Office to End Rockefeller Drug Laws

On Wednesday, hundreds of people -- including Russell Simmons and Meile Rockefeller and the families of those in prison for drug offenses, people who were formerly incarcerated, doctors, lawyers and advocates -- will rally at Governor Paterson’s Manhattan office to urge him and legislative leaders to end the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

The Rockefeller Drug Laws mandate extremely harsh sentences for sale or possession of small amounts of drugs. Most of the thousands of people incarcerated under Rockefeller are low-level drug offenders, and most come from just a handful of low-income New York City neighborhoods. Ninety percent are black or Latino even though most people who use and sell drugs are white.

In 2002, Paterson, then a state senator, was arrested in an act of civil disobedience promoting a proposed overhaul of the Rockefeller Drug Laws outside of the New York City offices of then-Governor George Pataki. Now hundreds of people will gather outside his office to demand an end to the outdated, discriminatory laws.


What:
Rally to end New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws

When:
Wednesday, March 25, 1 p.m.

Where:
Governor Paterson’s office, 633 3rd Ave., between 40th and 41st

Who:
Russell Simmons
Meile Rockefeller, Nelson Rockefeller’s granddaughter
Drop the Rock
New York Civil Liberties Union
Correctional Association of New York
Drug Policy Alliance
The Fortune Society
Exponents
Mothers of the Disappeared
Center for Community Alternatives
Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers (ASAP)
The Bronx Defenders
Women’s Prison Association
Families Rally for Emancipation and Empowerment (FREE)
JusticeWorks Community



POSTED 3/24: Sent by Serena Alfieri, Women in Prison Project Associate Director of Policy

Below is some information on our DV Merit Time Bill, S.3438/A.4516A, which would allow incarcerated survivors of domestic violence to become eligible to apply for merit time and earn up to 1/3 off their often very long sentences. This bill is at a critical juncture. Within the next couple days the Senate and Assembly will work together to submit a budget to Governor Paterson. The DV Merit Time Bill has a good chance of being included in this budget and in the budget negotiations the legislature has with the Governor.

We need you to help reach out to members of the Public Protection Budget Committees in the Senate and the Assembly (listed below) to ask them to include the DV Merit Time bill in the budget and support it during the negotiations:

Senator Hassell-Thompson, Chair, Crime, Crime Victims & Corr. Cmte.
518-455-2061
Senator Eric Schneiderman, Chair, Codes Committee
518-455-2041
Senator John Sampson, Chair, Judiciary Committee
518-455-2788
Senator Eric Adams, Chair, Veterans Affairs
518-455-2431
Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry, Chair, Corrections Committee
518-455-4561
Assemblymember Joseph Lentol Chair, Codes Committee
518-455-4477
Assemblymember RoAnn Destito, Chair, Gov. Operations Cmte.
518-455-5454
Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, Chair, Judiciary
518-455-5462
Governor Paterson
518-474-8390

Here is a sample call dialogue:

"Hello, my name is _____. May I speak to Senator/Assemblymember _____ or his/her Counsel please? (If no one is there, leave a message using the language below).

I am calling to ask you to include the DV Merit Time Bill in this year's budget. This bill allows incarcerated domestic violence survivors to earn Merit Time and be eligible for early release.

Moving this bill forward with the budget is critical: it would help New York begin to address years of injustice for incarcerated survivors and it would save the state nearly $3 million during the first year and over $6 million annually. Thank you for your consideration."

Click here to view the Coalition's DV Merit Time Bill Support Memo. If the elected official wants more information or has any questions you cannot answer, you can tell them to contact Serena Alfieri directly at 212-254-5700 x311.

Please take a moment to call!

__________________

Below is an excerpt from a woman serving time at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility:

"I am 42 years old and the mother of two children. In 1997, I was convicted of murder in the 2nd degree. At my trial, none of the information about my abuse was presented to the judge or jury. I was convicted and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. I am not a violent person but my actions contributed to a violent crime. I am reaching out to lawmakers and elected officials on behalf of all the domestic violence survivors. As a survivor I am asking [legislators] to please consider the merit time proposal when it is presented. The merit time will contribute to an early release and give women the opportunity to resume their roles as productive mothers, sisters, aunts and citizens in society."

Serena Alfieri
Women in Prison Project Associate Director of Policy
The Correctional Association of New York
2090 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. Suite 200
New York, NY 10027
Tel. 212-254-5700 x. 311
Fax. 212-473-2807
salfieri@correctionalassociation.org
www.correctionalassociation.org




POSTED 3/24: RALLY TO END THE ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAWS

Wednesday, March 25 at 1:00pm
Governor Paterson's NYC Office
633 3rd Ave. (between 40th and 41st sts.)


In 2002, Senator David Paterson was arrested in an act of civil disobedience promoting the sweeping overhaul of the Rockefeller Drug Laws outside of the New York City offices of then-Governor George Pataki.

On Wednesday, March 25, hundreds of family members, formerly incarcerated persons, doctors, lawyers, and advocates will return to that site to urge him and legislative leaders to end the Rockefeller Drug Laws this year.

The Rockefeller Drug Laws are mandatory minimum sentencing laws that require judges to lock up for years people caught with small amounts of drugs. Most of the thousands of people in prison are from just a handful of low-income NYC neighborhoods and more than 90 percent are black or Latino. Join us as we say no to this discrimination, no to destruction of families, and yes to justice, treatment and a new approach

Please join us as we say NO to over 35 years of injustice. Please spread the word in your communities and help turn out as many people as possible.

For more information contact Caitlin Dunklee at cdunklee@correctionalassociation.org or (212) 254-5700 ext. 339 or Ari Rosmarin at arosmarin@nyclu.org or (212) 607-3358.




POSTED 3/20: MERIT TIME BILL SURVEY:

Prison Action Network is conducting a survey, the results of which we will take to the sponsors of the Merit Time Bills currently in the NY State Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections. We need your opinion. Please help us help you. Click Here to take survey




BUILDING BRIDGES, MARCH 2009

Dear Reader,

Many of you are aware of Mary Beth Pfeiffer's book, Crazy in America, The Hidden Tragedy of Our Criminalized Mentally Ill, which is a moving expose of the cruel and harmful treatment many people with mental illness suffer at the hands of the criminal justice system.

I'm reading another great book on mental illness, The Center Cannot Hold, by Elyn Saks, a woman from an affluent family who has battled severe psychosis for most of her life yet has managed to become a leading educator in the field of psychology. In the book she describes her treatment throughout the years. While her options were boundless - she could afford to self pay if necessary - she nevertheless runs into her share of insensitive and callous professionals, one of whom, not knowing her mental history, actually told her that the mentally ill do not experience 4 point restraints and isolation the same way "we" would. She knew differently. I'm telling you this because it has helped me understand the deep pain and fear our families with incarcerated mentally ill loved ones face every day. If a free affluent highly educated and highly motivated woman was not able to escape insensitive and dangerous treatment, what hope is there for someone in prison, who has no input into the decisions being made about his or her care?

It is that precise issue which has inspired the Albany Chapter of the Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies to present the second in their series of Prison Health Care seminars on the issue of Mental Health Care. We have invited our speakers, who are in one way or another responsible for that care, to tell us what they are doing to ensure our loved ones are safe, so that we can determine whether they are our allies or our adversaries in the endeavor to obtain optimal care for our mentally ill loved ones. If you are interested in joining us, please see the details in the first article of this issue.

Be well, have hope, and please, get involved!

IN THIS ISSUE:

1. Activities to educate, motivate and mobilize
2. Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies Update
3. ICARE Reports
4. Legislative updates
5. Lifers and Longtermers Clearinghouse Bulletin
6. Parole News
7. Reentry tips
8. Rockefeller Drug Laws
9. Transportation
10. Addendum: HOW A BILL BECOMES A LAW



1. ACTIVITIES TO EDUCATE, MOTIVATE AND MOBILIZE: PRISON MENTAL HEALTH CARE EVENT; ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAW LOBBY DAY; GIDEON DAY PROMOTES PUBLIC DEFENSE REFORM

ALBANY: 
SATURDAY, MARCH 7, 10am - 3pm Prison Health Care, focus on Mental Health, with speakers Nancy Ling, Director of DOCS Health Services, Operations and Management; Dr. Timothy Whalen, DOCS Regional Medical Director, NE Region; Richard Miraglia, Assoc. Commissioner of Forensic Services, NY Office of Mental Health; and Doris Ramirez-Romero, DOCS Director of Mental Health Services. After brief self introductions, the panel will take questions suggested by the audience. Following lunch (provided) there will be a time for all to share their personal experiences of prison health care. This event is free and open to the public, donations will be gratefully accepted. RSVP here or at 518 253 7533,

TUESDAY, MARCH 10, 9:30am - 4pm Drop the Rock Advocacy Day 2009
You can help repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
The Rockefeller Drug Laws are RACIST, INEFFECTIVE, WASTEFUL, UNJUST
It is especially important for more upstate people to get involved with changing these laws, especially in Albany County where we elected David Soares as DA based on his call to reform them. So find out how you can get involved by calling Prison Action Network 518 253 7533 or Caitlin Dunklee at 212 254 5700, cdunklee@correctionalassociation.org.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 18: Come to Gideon Day and demand JUSTICE NOW!
On the 46th anniversary of the landmark right-to-counsel Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, the Campaign for an Independent Public Defense Commission will host an annual lobby day in Albany. Supporters are needed to represent every region of the state -- from Long Island and Buffalo, from the North Country and the Southern Tier, and from the City. You can register online at www.newyorkjusticefund.org/gideon.htm. Free transportation is being provided from different parts of the state, as well as free lunch and free t-shirts.  This is an all day event full of advocacy and fun! For details please contact: Katie Blackburn, Upstate Community Organizer, kblackburn@newyorkjusticefund.org, (518) 465-0519 


BUFFALO:
MONDAY, MARCH 23, 6:30pm - 8:30pm Prisoners Are People Too will meet at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo to deal with the issue of gainful employment for formerly incarcerated people.

It will focus on The Outsource Center (TOC) in Buffalo, NY, established in 2007, which provides training in the building and construction skilled trades. This ten-week intensive program provides hands-on classes which give students experience and practice in identifying and using basic tools, power tools and other equipment in chosen trade areas which include: blueprint reading, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, drywall, masonry, painting, wall framing, concrete, finish carpentry, and more. This pre-apprenticeship program, with its strict attendance policy and pre- and post-drug testing, provides exemplary training for men and women with an interest in the construction trades. Most importantly, individuals with a criminal history are not barred from this training which prepares them for jobs in the construction industry.

Guest speakers will include Mr. Spencer Gaskin (CEO of TOC), Mr. Dorian Gaskin (TOC Associate), and Rev. Frank Williams (Public Relations Director of TOC).

PRP2 programs are sponsored by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For further information, contact Karima Amin: 716-834-8438; karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.


NEW YORK CITY:

MONDAY, MARCH 2, 12:00 - 2:00pm Rights for Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities (RIPPD) Monthly Meeting

Urban Justice Center, 123 William Street 16th Floor, New York
by Train: J,M,Z,2,3 Trains to Fulton Street. A, C Trains to Broadway and Nassau

Where current issues and campaigns being waged by our organization individually and as part of the coalitions we are involved in are to be discussed, base building and networking. This meeting is for everyone who is concerned with the present situation those with a psychiatric diagnosis are facing with homelessness and incarceration, Mental Health Consumers, Family Members, Friends, as well as those concerned about this issue and want positive change. 646-260-6575 Lisa Ortega, www,rippd.org


SAT., MARCH. 28, 10:30am -1pm Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies-NYC Chapter

We will meet at the Fortune Society’s Offices, 29-76 Northern Blvd.(Rte 25A) between 40th Ave and 41st Ave in Long Island City. It’s the door on left side of building. If you drive, make sure your parking space is legal. At past meetings people have been locked into parking lots or ticketed for parking illegally. We advise subway: Queens Plaza stop on the R, E, V trains; Queensboro Plaza stop on 7, N, W trains; 39th Avenue stop on N, W trains. (It's only 1 stop after the train leaves Manhattan). For more details see next article.



2. COALITION FOR FAIR CRIMINAL JUSTICE POLICIES: RESPONSIBILITIES OF MEN AND WOMEN IN PRISON, THEIR FAMILIES, AND STRATEGISTS; OUR GOALS; AND A QUESTION FOR YOU

The Coalition currently includes all individuals and organizations who are working to change Parole Board Release policies. In the future when we choose other goals the membership may change. Our members are people in prison,
their family members and other advocates, and policy strategists.

Each incarcerated person needs to send a representative to every one of our Saturday Meetings. The next meeting: March 28 from 10:30am - 1pm, LIC offices of the Fortune Society, 29-76 Northern Blvd [see last item above for more detailed directions].

Family members and other advocates attend Saturday Meetings to present ideas they’ve arrived at in discussions with their loved ones between meetings. They will share with them the material handed out at our meetings.

The Wednesday Meeting will gather together strategists who have already committed to the issue and have experience changing criminal justice policies or laws which are not fair or just. Relevant information generated by them will be distributed to all Coalition members. Individuals from the Wednesday Meeting will be invited to lead educational discussions at future Saturday meetings.

At our February Saturday Meeting several points were agreed upon by all:
a) this will be a long process - perhaps as long as three years. The harder we work and the more energy we put into the assignments between meetings the faster our progress will be.
b) the language used must be very precise. We must examine it from both sides. Would it give us what we want? Would the opposition be able to use its language against us? Does it contain loopholes? All language must contain shall or will in order to make it legally binding. Use positive language rather than negative. What the Board shall or will do, as opposed to what they can't or may not do.
c) we may have to leave nature of the crime in the law, but find a way to prevent the Board from using it as the Sole Reason for Denial.
* by creating a point system for all of the conditions considered. A certain number of points could be required for release.
* use of a risk assessment tool seems necessary. There are many out there. Let's collect them, so we can consider which is best, or combine them.

Assignments for the 3/28 Meeting: 1. Bring a summary of discussions with your loved ones. 2. Bring the names and addresses, phone #'s and website locations of your legislative representatives. [If you don't have them we'll have computers set up and we'll find them for you.] We'll form affinity groups based on shared representatives. 3. Make a list of Lifer's Groups or similar organizations at the facility you visit. 4. Several people will bring results of a web search for media outlet information for a Directory of Resources.

Contact us for more information.

What do YOU think?
As part of our efforts to change parole policies and procedures, some of our members believe strongly that we should call for the Division of Parole to make all parole decisions available on its website, including the names and crimes of the parole applicants and the names of the parole board commissioners who participated in each decision. Other members believe just as strongly that that’s a bad idea.

What do YOU think? And WHY? Please send your thoughts by March 23 to:
Doing Justice Coalition, c/o Fortune Society, 29-76 Northern Boulevard, Long Island City, N.Y. 11101 or prisonactionnetwork@gmail.com



3. ICARE REPORTS THEIR PROPOSED “RESTORATION OF RIGHTS” BILLS HAVE GAINED MULTIPLE SPONSORSHIP IN THE ASSEMBLY. THE BILLS ARE DESCRIBED IN MORE DETAIL IN ARTICLE 4 BELOW.

Three members of the ICARE policy committee, Demi McGuire, Judith Brink, and Rima Vesely-Flad, have been making the rounds in Albany to members of the Senate's Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee to garner support for two "Restoration of Rights" bills.  These bills, conceived and vetted by the ICARE policy committee are sponsored by Assembly member Jeffrion Aubry and co-sponsored by a plethora of additional members of the Assembly.  The bills have received enthusiastic responses from Democrats in the Senate.  ICARE hopes to gain Senate sponsorship for "same as" bills during this legislative session. Please highlight these bill numbers when speaking to your state representatives: 

BILL A5330 “Conditional Offer of Employment Bill”
Sponsor:  Aubry;  Co-Sponsors:  Wright, Benjamin, Greene, Gottfried, Camara, Boyland, Lopez V, Millman, Jaffee, Kavanagh, O`Donnell   Multi-Sponsors:  Dinowitz, Glick, Heastie, Hevesi, John, Maisel, McEneny, Pretlow, Reilly, Schimel, Weisenberg

BILL A4923 “Certificate of Restoration Bill”
Sponsor:  Aubry ;  Co-Sponsors:  Lentol, Wright, Benjamin, Glick, Lopez V, Camara, Jaffee;  Multi-Sponsors:  Cahill, Gottfried, Heastie, Hikind, Maisel, Markey, McEneny, Nolan, Reilly, Titone, Weisenberg



4. LEGISLATION: CONDITIONAL OFFER OF EMPLOYMENT BILL, CERTIFICATE OF RESTORATION BILL; MERIT TIME BILL. THIS IS AN ELECTION YEAR (WITH THE DEMOCRATS IN CONTROL OF BOTH HOUSES), SO ALL BILLS MUST BE REINTRODUCED AND GO THROUGH THE PROCESS DESCRIBED AT THE END OF THIS LETTER (HOW A BILL BECOMES A LAW IN NYS)

A5330 CONDITIONAL OFFER OF EMPLOYMENT BILL - Sponsored by Assembly Member Aubry. Establishes it shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice for any prospective employer to make an inquiry about, or to act adversely upon the individual involved, based upon any criminal conviction of such individual unless such employer first makes a conditional offer of employment to such individual. Needs sponsorship in the Senate.

A4923 CERTIFICATE OF RESTORATION BILL - Sponsored by Assembly Member Aubry. Creates a “Certificate of Restoration” (COR) to take the place of a “Certificate of Relief from Disabilities” (CRD) and a “Certificate of Good Conduct” (CGC).  Streamlines the process of obtaining a Certificate and removes unnecessary obstacles to licensing, employment, and housing. Needs sponsorship in the Senate.

S49/A172 MERIT TIME BILL - Many readers have asked about Senator Montgomery's Merit Time Bill. Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry is sponsoring it in the Assembly. Right now it's in the Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee of the Senate, where they will decide whether to "report" it to the full Senate for a vote or amend the bill first. As it reads currently it says that every person except someone serving a sentence of life imprisonment without parole, under the custody of DOCS or confined in a facility in the department of mental hygiene, serving an indeterminate or determinate sentence of one year or more may earn a merit time allowance of 1/3 off of their sentence. As you can see in HOW A BILL BECOMES A LAW there is still a long way to go after this committee releases it.

A bill you love when it first is written, you may be very unhappy with when it finally becomes law. That's why we need to be vigilant; watch the progress of bills we care about, and make sure the sponsors and our state representatives know how we feel about it at every stage.

Bills give a date when the law becomes effective. Some bills contain a date very soon after passage. Others, like the SHU bill, which was scheduled for implementation in 2011, are scheduled for the distant future. (Governor Paterson postponed implementing the SHU bill even longer, til 2013, justifying it by saying it was to save money in the current economic crisis.)

Speaking of economic crisis, THE BUDGET PROCESS is a little different. New York State’s budget process uses an executive budget model in which the Executive is responsible for developing and preparing a comprehensive, balanced budget proposal, which the Legislature modifies and enacts into law. The Governor is required by the State Constitution to seek and coordinate requests from agencies of State government (which is what Comm. Fischer addressed in his budget speech), develop a “complete” plan of proposed expenditures and the revenues available to support them (a “balanced budget”), and submit a budget to the Legislature along with the appropriation bills and other legislation required to carry out budgetary recommendations. The Governor is also required by the State Finance Law to manage the budget through administrative actions during the fiscal year.

The fiscal year begins in April. According to the State's website:
The Budge process: 1. June-Sept/Oct: Agencies prepare their budgets, 2. Sept/Oct-Dec: The Budget Division reviews their budgets, 3. Nov-Jan: Governor makes budget decisions, 4. Jan-March: Legislative Action, 5. April: Budget goes into effect.

It also says this:
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES
1. Spending Reduction Target
• The Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) current-year savings target is $249 million, reflecting the Governor’s order for a 10.35 percent reduction in projected agency spending.
• DOCS is currently expected to achieve $84.1 million of its $249 million spending reduction target. In order to ensure the health and safety of both staff and inmates, the agency will be exempted from achieving their full savings target. DOCS, however, will continue to work toward implementing additional savings actions to achieve a portion of their remaining target.

2. Major Savings Initiatives
• DOCS is already in the process of implementing the following actions to achieve their savings target:
• Dormitory consolidations at 17 medium and minimum security correctional facilities and a reduction of inmate community crews ($7.8 million)
• Accessing previously unavailable federal funds for incarcerating illegal aliens ($23.6 million)
• Shifting construction security costs to capital financing ($24 million)
• Reducing the number of inmate work crews that conduct community service projects ($2.4 million)
• Reducing technology expansions ($5.6 million)
• Delaying centralized pharmacy automation ($1.8 million)
• These actions, plus others, will result in the reduction of approximately 200 correction officer positions through attrition and redeployment. The savings achieved by DOCS will be done through the efficiency of its operations without impacting public safety or security.



5. LIFERS AND LONGTERMERS CLEARINGHOUSE BULLETIN. INFORMS ABOUT RECENT EVENTS THAT DIRECTLY IMPACT ON THOSE SERVING LIFE, LONG-TERM, AND LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE SENTENCES.  IT IS SPECIFICALLY ADDRESSED TO THE LIFER AND LONG-TERMER ORGANIZATIONS

The long struggle to develop community-based organizations committed specifically to address the problems of long-term prisoners is finally bearing fruit.   Prison Action Network, the Lifers and Long-termer Committee of the Doing Justice Coalition, and the Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies are three community-based organizations whose primary mission is to make linkage with and address the needs of those serving long-term sentences.

The ability of these organizations to function and effectively address your problems depends upon their membership and the involvement of the families, loved-ones and supporters of the incarcerated.   I am referring to your families and loved-ones and those community groups, organizations and individuals who support you.  It is crucial that you inform your families and loved-ones that they can directly help you in your efforts to obtain fair and just parole and prison policies by registering with the three organizations listed above.

It will not be required that they attend each and every meeting of all the organizations, but they should at least register their name, address and telephone/email address with all three organizations so that when the organizations need to call on voters to mount a campaign they can reach out to your people for help.  You cannot expect to influence and move the policy makers to take action in your behalf without pressure from those that vote!!!  You don’t vote so your voice carries little impact, but your families, loved-ones and supporters can vote and will be listened to by those in public office.

So this is a direct call to all those in the struggle for change to start directing your families and supporters to get involved with the organizations listed below:
 
PRISON ACTION NETWORK, prisonactionnetwork@gmail.com
Judith Brink, Director 518-253-7533  

COALITION FOR FAIR CRIMINAL JUSTICE POLICIES
Judith Brink, Coordinator: 518-253-7533, or email:CFFCJP

DOING JUSTICE COALITION
Larry White, Coordinator 212-691-7554, ext. 320, or email:Doing Justice

On the Merit Time front:  Senator Montgomery is the new chairperson of the Children and Families Committee in the Senate. Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson has replaced Nozzolio as chairperson of the Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee, a sister who most believe is allied with Montgomery.  Montgomery is still a member of the committee and Sen. Tom Duane and Sen. Serrano have been added.  This is reason for optimism, but it will take a lot of community support. While the time is not yet ready to start pushing, we have to start work putting our machinery in place.

By putting our machinery in place I mean to start spreading the word that passage of Merit Time for all is a great possibility because of recent changes in the political climate.  Approved organizations in each facility need to inform their members that all prisoners, short-timers as well as long-termers must unify in their efforts to get their families, loved-ones and supporters to make contact with one of the three organizations listed above to register as someone willing to add their support to get the bill passed.  The actions required will involve, primarily, phone calls and/or visits to local legislator’s offices.  Urge them to learn who their representatives are and how to contact them.  The Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies will help them with this if they ask.

We must remember that we will need to start building support for the Merit Time Bill in the upstate communities, from which most of the opposition is expected to come.  This will require a well thought-out plan of action.  There should be planning meetings called by approved organizations so that communications between the outside and the inside can be coordinated.

There needs to be a Lifer and Long-termer Organization in every maximum prison and if you are having difficulty contact the Doing Justice Coalition for assistance.

About parole:  Although there seems to be a lot of confusion in finding a Chairman of the State Division of Parole [see article #6], we are pushing ahead with a campaign to change 259-I, specifically sections that form the basis for parole denials based on the nature of the crime. 

The Doing Justice Coalition will be compiling a list of the Lifer and Long-termer organizations including their administrative officers, and the staff adviser and other information that will assist in scheduling visits to your facility to hold meetings. Please send ASAP.

Larry White



6. PAROLE NEWS: PAROLE CRISIS? PAROLE OPPORTUNITY! BY KARIMA AMIN; TODAY’S HEAD OF PAROLE; THE STRUCTURE OF PAROLE-PART 4; JANUARY/FEBRUARY PAROLE STATISTICS; GRAZIANO UPDATE

At the Feb meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, we discussed the fact that we are still without a Chairman of Parole. At our Jan meeting the former Chairman of parole, Mr. George Alexander, had an opportunity to tell his story regarding his resignation and the criminal charges he now faces. Attendees chose to support Mr. Alexander in his quest for justice. We learned that Governor Paterson had nominated Mr. Felix Rosa to replace Mr. Alexander. Since our last meeting, Rosa, now facing sexual harassment charges, has withdrawn his application for the position.

Ms. Susan Wright, President of the Coalition for Parole Restoration, was on hand to discuss the Parole Commissioners’ faulty (illegal) application of Executive Law 259-I, especially as it relates to lifers and long-termers. A consensus supported our securing an audience with the Governor to discuss this issue.

For the last several weeks, Governor Paterson has been holding town hall meetings across the state. Unconfirmed reports say a Buffalo meeting will be held on February 18. The meeting time and site appear to be “top secret.” Nevertheless, phone calls can be made and letters can be written, supporting the reinstatement of Mr. George Alexander and urging the Governor to take a look at the plight of men and women who have been held in prison for more than 20 and 30 years while Parole Commissioners ignore the decision of the sentencing judge.

You can contact the Governor by writing to: David A. Paterson, State Capitol, Albany, NY 12224 or by calling 518-474-8390. The following link will take you to a page online where you may send an e-mail message: www.ny.gov/governor/contact/index.html.


WHO'S THE PAROLE BOARD CHAIRMAN TODAY? IT'S NOT EASY TO KEEP TRACK

On or near Feb 5: FELIX ROSA WITHDRAWS HIS NOMINATION FOR PAROLE BOARD CHAIRMAN. Shortly after, it was revealed that the real reason for withdrawing his nomination was that fourteen years ago a female employee accused Mr. Rosa of sexually harassing her. Rosa calls the allegations "absolutely false." (Note that in 14 years he was never charged with this offense.) It is reported that soon after Paterson nominated Rosa, an anonymous letter making the charges was sent to the governor, union and media. (That's two anonymous letters that have resulted in first, George Alexander's forced resignation, and now Felix Rosa's. Neither charge has been proven at this time. I wonder who would want them removed? First Spitzer, then Alexander, now Rosa are removed after anonymous tips triggered investigations. Will Paterson be next, or will he simply self-destruct? Ed.)

On Feb 9 GOV. DAVID PATERSON APPOINTS HENRY "HANK" LEMONS, JR AS INTERIM PAROLE CHAIR. Salary: $120,800. Lemons, who has served as a member of the Board of Parole since 2007, will fill the vacancy until a new chair and CEO is confirmed by the New York State Senate. He served from 2004 to 2007 as deputy chief investigator for the New York State Attorney General. Prior to that post, he was the assistant chief investigator for the Kings County District Attorney. Lemons is a former sergeant and detective with the New York City Police Department. He also served for four years of active duty with the U.S. Air Force. Lemons earned his bachelor’s in criminal justice and planning from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and his master’s in organizational leadership from Mercy College. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He was raised in the Bedford – Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn and Queens, where he still resides.

On Feb 17: TIMOTHY O'BRIEN NAMED INTERIM EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF DIVISION OF PAROLE [This is the job that Felix Rosa held when he was nominated for Parole Board Chairman. He's been demoted after withdrawing his nomination and while under investigation for the alleged sex harassment.] Salary: $123,446. Mr. O'Brien, who most recently served as Director of Upstate Parole Operations, has worked in the Division for nearly 20 years. He began his career as a parole officer in 1989 and later served as Assistant to the Director of Parole Operations. Mr. O'Brien, of Lake George, was appointed Director of Upstate Parole Operations in 2007. Mr. O'Brien will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Division of Parole pending an Inspector General's inquiry involving Felix M. Rosa Jr., who had served as Executive Director since April 2007. Mr. Rosa has returned to his civil service position of Area Supervisor and will be assigned to the Central Office to work on the Division's re-entry program pending the outcome of the inquiry. Salary $104,080.


PART 4 ON THE STRUCTURE OF PAROLE, FROM THE NYS PAROLE HANDBOOK, Click on Programs and Resourses on menu on left, choose publications from the heading.]

Last month we ended with a list of four ways a person can be released: Board Release; Presumptive Release; Mandatory Conditional Release (CR); or Completion of the Maximum Sentence (max-out). Due to so many other pressing reports there’s not room for all of these in this issue, but we’ll mention the first. The second (presumptive releases) is conspicuously missing from the following descriptions in the Handbook. (strange....) But here’s what it says about Board Release: A Board release occurs when a panel of Parole Board members, as a matter of discretion, grants your release to parole after you have served a portion of your sentence. [The Editor would take issue with that definition. It would be more accurate to say, “after you’ve served your minimum sentence” in our opinion.]

JANUARY 2009 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES – A1 VIOLENT FELONS DINs 97 & earlier – unofficial research using parole database
[We apologize for our inability to line these figures up in the blogspot.com format]

Total Interviews # Released # Denied Rate of Release
27 initials 4 23 15%
72 reappearances 6 66 8%
99 total 10 89 10%

Initial Releases
Facility Sentence Conviction Board #
Arthurkill 25-Life Arson 1 Initial
Arthurkill 15-Life Murder 2 Initial
Collins 15-Life Murder 2 Initial
Otisville 25-Life Murder 2 Initial

Reappearances
Arthurkill 20-Life Murder 2 3rd
Bayview 20-Life Murder 2 4th
Bayview 15-Life Murder 2 5th
Fishkill 25-Life Murder 2 3rd
Green Haven 20-Life Murder 11th*
Mid Orange 20-Life Murder 2 7th

* 11th board was a Special Consideration hearing


FEBRUARY RELEASES BASED ON PRISONERS' REPORTS. (Please note that the following statistics are not all limited to people convicted of A1 Violent felonies - some include all parole hearings):

MID-ORANGE
February: names of commissioners not supplied
20 appearances
16 were paroled !!!! 11 were Lifers
2 were postponed
2 were denied

SULLIVAN ANNEX
February: Grant, Ross, Casey
11 appearances
6 were paroled: 3 initials, 3 reapp [3 on 1st board, 2 on 2nd merit boards, 1 on 3rd board]
5 denials: [1 on 1st, 3 on 2nd, 1 on 4th]

WOODBOURNE
February: Casey, Ross, &?
17 Appearances: 5 granted parole; 11 denied, 1 postponement
A1VO: 2 seen, 2 granted, one on 2nd board, other on 6th.

WYOMING
February: Loomis, Ludlow, Crangle
40 appearances; 7 granted parole.
16 initials; 3 granted
11 reappearances; 2 granted
13 merit time; 2 granted


UPDATE ON GRAZIANO VS PATAKI: The judge has been presented with Graziano’s motion to compel Pataki’s deposition, and Pataki's opposition argument. We await her decision.



7. RE-ENTRY TIP: RETURNING HOME SOON?  FINDING A JOB IS TOP PRIORITY!  IT WILL SATISFY PAROLE'S EXPECTATION, BUT ALSO CREATE A SENSE OF ASSIMILATION WHEN YOU CAN SUPPORT YOURSELF. 

Check out your local Dept. of Labor.  Their Workforce programs are extremely useful.  They provide computers in a resource room, where you can search, on-line, for employment in your specific field, for jobs in your local area.  Workforce will even teach you how to operate a computer in basic computer labs.  Workforce will help you to create a cover-letter, a resume, and even fax it to an employer.  Phones are provided should you need to make follow-up calls to prospective employers.  Workforce also provides free bus passes for transportation and clothing vouchers.

The Dept. of Labor is authorized to provide a Federal Bonding Program (FBP), offering between $5,000 and $10,000 coverage to employers taking a chance on ex-felons.  Even better, Workforce will refund 50% of your salary for up to six months to an employer through their On The Job Training program (OJT).  These are considerable incentives for employers to hire us.  And remind your employer of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit which allows a $10,000 tax credit deduction for hiring an ex-felon on parole. 

Raymond Roe, Parolee.



8. ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAWS - SENTENCING COMMISSION CALLS FOR REFORMS, ASSEMBLY SPEAKER SHELDON SILVER SAYS THEY DON'T GO FAR ENOUGH.[the full text of Silver’s criticism is available by contacting Building Bridges]

[Excerpts:] The New York Legislature finally seems poised to overturn the infamous Rockefeller drug laws. The law has been especially disastrous for black and Latino offenders, who represent the overwhelming majority of those held in state prison for drug offenses.

The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, made just that point last week when he criticized a state commission that had been appointed to study the reform issue. The commission, which appears to have been dominated by prosecutors, called for more rational sentencing guidelines and allowing judges to send more offenders to treatment instead of prison. But it failed to call for a full restoration of judicial discretion. Mr. Silver, who has favored reform for many years, described the panel's report as "a missed opportunity" and signaled his intent to push for legislation that would eliminate mandatory sentencing for low-level, nonviolent drug crimes and expand judicial authority. Real reform "means untying the hands of our judiciary," he noted, "and placing emphasis on probation, alternatives to incarceration and treatment."

See Art. 1, Albany, Drop the Rock, to help get real reform of the RDLs.



9. TRANSPORTATION: CAPITAL DISTRICT

NEST Prison Shuttle schedule: Mt. McGregor, Washington, and Great Meadow CFs on Sat, Mar 7 ($35 adults, $25 children), Coxsackie, Greene, and Hudson on Sat, Mar 14  ($20  adults, $15 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, Mar 21  leaving Troy at 5 AM. Sullivan trip (Ulster, Eastern, Woodbourne, Sullivan) on Mar 28  leaving at 6:30 AM ($45 adults, $30 children). Reservations: Linda O'Malley 518- 273-5199.



10. HOW A BILL BECOMES A LAW IN NEW YORK STATE

Here is the process in a simplified progression from "Idea" to "Law." At any step in the process, participation by a citizen or group of citizens is as easy as making a call, writing a letter, or signing a petition being sent to your Senator, any other legislator or the Governor.

THE IDEA
This is the starting point in the process, and the first point at which the citizen has a chance to have a say in the writing or rewriting of law.

Ideas for legislation come from many sources. A Senator may have an idea. One of his or her constituents may point out a need. A State official may propose a change. An organization may espouse a cause that requires a change in the law.

BILL DRAFTING
Once an idea for a new law has been settled on, it must be put into bill form before it can be considered by the Senate. The actual drafting of legislation requires a specialized type of legal training and is usually done by the staff of the Legislative Bill Drafting Commission.

Sometimes, however, an interest group may have its own attorneys draft a bill., and lawyers working in various state agencies and the executive branch often submit their ideas for legislation in bill form.

INTRODUCTION
No law may be enacted in New York State unless it has been adopted by the Legislature in bill form. And to be adopted, it must first be introduced. With a single exception, bills can be introduced only by legislators by standing committees of the Senate and Assembly. That exception is the Executive Budget, which is submitted directly by the Governor.

On introduction in the Senate, a bill goes to the Introduction and Revision Office, where it is examined and corrected, given a number, sent to the appropriate standing committee, entered into the Senate computer, deemed to have had its first and second readings and printed.

(Incidentally, "first reading", "second reading" and "third reading" are terms which linger in the legislative vocabulary from the days when each bill was read aloud in full in public session three times before final action could be taken.)

COMMITTEE ACTION
The Senate engages specialists to study legislation. These specialists are members of Standing Committees who evaluate bills and decide whether to "report" them (send them) to the Senate floor for a final decision by the full membership. A committee agenda is issued each week listing the bills and issues each Senate committee will handle the following week. Committees often hold public hearings on bills to gather the widest possible range of opinion.

The committee stage is the second point at which the citizen's contribution is important. An expression of opinion on a proposed bill can be sent directly to the committee chairman, or it can be sent to your local Senator for relay to the committee members.

The committee system acts as a funnel through which the large number of bills introduced each session must pass before they can be considered. The system also acts as a sieve to sift out undesirable or unworkable ideas.

After consideration, the committee may report the bill to the full Senate for consideration, it may amend the bill, or it may reject it.

THE CALENDAR
The Daily Calendar is the agenda for Senate sessions and contains those measures which have come through the committee process. Bills take their place in order as they are reported from committee, and at this point are referred by their Calendar Number. This process allows additional time for your reaction against or for a bill.

Each bill has to be on the Senators' desks for three days before it can be voted on, unless the Governor authorizes and the Senate accepts a Message of Necessity for a certain bill. When bills reach the Order of Third Reading, they become ready for a final vote.

If the sponsor of a bill realizes at this point that his bill may not have enough support for passage, or has a defect which may require an amendment, he may ask that it be laid aside, returned to committee for further study, or "starred" (placed in an inactive file).

The Majority Leader also may ask that a bill be starred. Once starred, it cannot be acted on until one day after removal of the star. When the bill comes up for consideration on the Order of Third Reading, it is subject to debate, discussion or explanation.

By communicating your views on a particular issue to your Senator, you have another opportunity at this point to participate in the lawmaking process.

FLOOR AMENDMENTS
Once a bill has been introduced, reported out by a committee and is on the calendar for consideration by the full Senate, it can still be amended. The sponsor of the bill, for example, can submit the changes to the Bill Drafting Commission; the bill, now in its amended form, retains its original number, but amended versions are denoted by a letter suffix A, B, C, D and so on for each time the bill is altered.

However, beyond this, any Senator may amend a given bill by offering amendments to it on the Senate floor, even if he or she is not one of the bill's sponsors.

This method allows all members access to a bill's language, opening it to the suggestions and opinions of members who may like the essential ideas of the bill, but disagree with the sponsor on one or more of the legislation's details. Moreover, since the amendments are offered in open session, all members can ask questions and discuss the merits of the proposed amendments.

PASSING A BILL
After explanation, discussion or debate, a vote is taken. If a majority of the Senators approves, the bill is sent to the Assembly.

In the Assembly, you again have a chance to influence the bill as it moves through a process basically the same as that in the Senate. It is referred to a committee for discussion, and if approved there, it goes to the full membership for a vote. If the bill is approved in the Assembly without amendment, it goes on to the Governor. However, if it is changed, it is returned to the Senate for concurrence in the amendments.

(The reverse procedure is followed if the Assembly first passes a bill identical to a Senate measure or if the Senate amends an Assembly bill.)

CONFERENCE COMMITTEES
Sometimes the Senate and Assembly pass similar bills, but cannot easily reconcile the differences between them in a reasonable time frame. In such cases, a procedural device called a conference committee can be used to iron out the differences. The Senate Majority Leader and Assembly Speaker each appoint five members from their respective houses to serve on this committee. After agreement is reached, a bill is printed and processed like any other bill.

THE GOVERNOR
While the Legislature is in session, the Governor has 10 days (not counting Sundays) to sign or veto bills passed by both houses. Signed bills become law; vetoed bills do not. However, the Governor's failure to sign or veto a bill within the 10-day period means that it becomes law automatically.

Vetoed bills are returned to the house that first passed them, together with a statement of the reason for their disapproval. A vetoed bill can become law if two-thirds of the members of each house vote to override the Governor's veto.

If a bill is sent to the Governor when the Legislature is out of session, the rules are a bit different. At such times, the Governor has 30 days in which to make a decision, and failure to act ("pocket veto") has the same effect as a veto.

Citizen comment is an important part of the legislative process. Public opinion often affects the shape of a bill as well as its eventual success or failure. Remember, your input can play a crucial role in determining how a bill becomes a law.


Building Bridges is a joint effort of Prison Action Network and the FUUSA Justice Committee
We thank the Community Church of NY, Unitarian Universalist, for their support.