LATE BREAKING ANNOUNCEMENTS [Scroll down to go directly to January's Building Bridges]:
POSTED JANUARY 29
JUSTICE FOR ALL Speaker’s Forum
"The Reality of Wrongful Incarceration And Other Prison Stories"
Sunday January 31, 4:00pm
Poughkeepsie United Methodist Church
2381 New Hackensack Road
Poughkeepsie, NY 12603
An afternoon featuring speakers who will share their prison experience, including a resident of Poughkeepsie who was incarcerated for 27 years – until his sentence was recently overturned when it was acknowledged that he was wrongfully convicted.
The panel will be moderated by the Rev. Ed Muller, long time Chaplain in the New York State Prisons system and Chairman of the Commission on Chaplains.
Prison Action Network wishes you a new year that surpasses all expectations. From the ashes of past disappointments may hope arise, and may we together increase the amount of justice in the world!
In love and peace, Judith
In this Issue:
1. Activities around the state
2. Billboard to help ex-prisoners
3. Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies
4. ICARE column on parole denials
5. Lifers and Longtermers Clearinghouse
6. NYS Prisoner Justice Conference
7. Parole News
8. Prison Media
9. PRP2! calls press conference
10. Prisoners of the Census
11. Re-entry grants to implement drug law reforms
12. Rockefeller drug law reforms explained
13. Transportation to prisons
[For a copy of a document referred to in any of these articles, please email PAN with a request clearly stating name of the document and in which issue of Building Bridges it was mentioned.]
1. WHAT CAN YOU DO? HERE’S A LIST OF ACTIVITIES
MONDAY, JANUARY 25, 2010, 6:30-8:30pm Prisoners Are People Too will hold a press conference to update the community on our stance regarding mismanagement of our Erie County jails. Following the press conference, there will be a screening of the documentary film, “America’s Toughest Sheriff: Sheriff Joe Arpaio.” [see article # 9 for details of the situation at the jails]
Location: Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo.
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; email@example.com.
SAVE THE DATE! SATURDAY MARCH 27, 2010, New York State Prisoner Justice Conference: “Connecting Regions, Issues, and Strategies” [see article # 6]
Join the 38 other NYS advocacy organizations already participating in the planning by contacting us at: New York State Prisoner Justice Conference, 33 Central Avenue, Albany, NY 12210, 518-434-4037, firstname.lastname@example.org
SECOND AND LAST THURSDAYS from 6-8 at Christ United Methodist, 35 State Street, at 4th Avenue, Troy, NY 12180.
3RD THURSDAYS from 6-8 at Trinity Institution, 15 Trinity Place, Albany NY 12202
ROOTS "Re-Entry Resources Orientations" for Men and Women
Call ROOTS at 518 434 1026 for more details.
THURSDAY JANUARY 7TH, 5 - 7 pm Full Coalition for Women Prisoners Meeting (New Members Meeting: 4 pm)
TUESDAY, JANUARY 12TH, 10:30 am. Incarcerated Mothers meeting
TUESDAY, JANUARY 19TH Coalition for Women Prisoners Lobby Day in Albany
The Coalition for Women Prisoners will be focusing their 2010 advocacy efforts on two bills that will greatly impact women and their families:
1) ASFA Expanded Discretion Bill, A.5462-A/S.2233-A, which would give caseworkers expanded discretion to examine the bond between parents and children before terminating parental rights forever.
2) Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, a new bill we are working on which would lower sentences for those who have committed crimes as a result of abuse, allow currently incarcerated survivors to apply for resentencing and require the parole board to take abuse into consideration when making release decisions.
How You Can Get Involved:
•Speak Out: If you have been impacted directly by ASFA or domestic violence it is very important that lawmakers hear your experience to understand how the bill affects the lives of individuals. Share your story at our Lobby Day, or if you can't make it, write it down and we will make sure legislators get a copy.
•Get Trained and Join Us at Lobby Day: Advocate for families separated by incarceration and domestic violence survivors. Please come to our January Coalition meeting (see above) to learn more about the two bills and prepare to meet with lawmakers. You can also find out more by attending our Incarcerated Mothers mtg. [see above].
Serena Alfieri, Assoc Dir of Policy,Women in Prison Project, 2090 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., Suite 200, N Y, NY 10027,
212-254-5700 x.311 email@example.com
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 20, from 6-8pm WORTH - Women on the Rise Telling Her Story - a policy advocacy organization that changes public perception of, and policies for, women who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. The meeting will be focusing on NYCHA housing guidelines and their effect on reentry plans.
Meetings take place on the 3rd Wednesday of every month at the Correctional Association, 2090 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. NY, 2nd floor. Call Tina Reynolds at 917 626 8168 for details.
2. BILLBOARD TO HELP EX-PRISONERS - DISPLAYED DEC-JAN 2010 IN TIMES SQUARE, THIS BILLBOARD, CREATED BY THE FORTUNE SOCIETY TO HELP EX-PRISONERS, SITS ON TOP OF THE WESTIN HOTEL AT EIGHTH AVENUE, BETWEEN 42ND AND 43RD STREETS. LOOK UP!
It’s an unusual addition to the Times Square landscape; a billboard that encourages employers to hire people with criminal records. Under state law, it is illegal in most cases for employers, with the exception of law enforcement agencies, to discriminate against hiring someone solely because of a criminal record.
Though the law has been in place for about three decades, it is weakly enforced, said Glenn Martin, a vice president at the Fortune Society, which helps people who have been incarcerated re-enter mainstream society. The Fortune Society drafted a measure, which has since become law, requiring employers to post notices banning discrimination against inmates and requiring that the subject of a criminal background check receive a copy of records obtained by a prospective employer.
3. COALITION FOR FAIR CRIMINAL JUSTICE POLICIES
We had a good turnout for the Dec 12 meeting where we received much valuable feedback on our proposed bill to bring Cor. Law §259-i into compliance with Penal Law §1.05. We are meeting weekly - despite the holidays which have made that difficult! - to finalize our bill. [see # 5 for Larry White’s report on the justification for the changes we are proposing]
4. ICARE COMMUNITY EDUCATOR JAFAR ABBAS WRITES ABOUT PAROLE DENIALS; HOW THEY IMPACT FAMILIES EXPECTING AND ANTICIPATING THE RELEASE OF A LOVED ONE:
One cannot describe the joy my family and I felt after hearing the news that my brother (incarcerated for the past twenty-eight years) was coming home. We immediately began preparing for his homecoming by fixing his room, buying clothes and sharing the good news with friends. Several weeks had gone by when we received the collect call from my brother informing us that he had been denied parole again. Our joy came to a crashing halt! We were devastated and confused. The questions we were trying to answer were, “Why did the parole officer tell us he was coming home?”, and “How could the parole board keep denying a person parole for the same reason?”
My family has been waiting a life time to have my brother and me back and end this sad chapter in our family’s history. In August of 2007 I was granted parole at my first parole hearing and came home in October of the same year. My release gave our family something wonderful to gather for and we celebrated like it was a family reunion.
What did I do so differently from others that I was granted parole at my first board and others are repeatedly denied? I really had not done anything different then those before me; in fact it was their patterns I followed.
When I was granted parole many were surprised by it, but others saw it as a possible turning point from business as usual by the parole board. I believe people found it surprising because it was rare during the Pataki era for a violent felony offender to be granted parole at his first hearing. A trend of repeated parole denials had been established to such an extent that violent felony offenders went into their hearings expecting to be denied, this in spite of the positive changes they had made in their lives and all they had achieved while incarcerated.
However, when I was granted parole I was not at all surprised by it. The reason I was not surprised was because I had been preparing twenty-five years for this moment, for the time when I would get another chance to speak for my freedom. When I got that chance, I spoke from the heart with clarity and honesty.
My freedom preparations had started by focusing on myself, something many aren’t ready to do, and neither was I, but it was necessary. I was incarcerated for participating in a crime which resulted in the loss of life. My actions brought unimaginable pain to the family of the victim and shame and disappointment to mine. It took a long time for me to come to terms with the crime and my role in it. At first I just tried to understand what happened, why it happened and whose fault it was. For years I pointed the blame at the shooter for shooting, and away from me for being there. I had refused to accept responsibility and getting to that place was extremely difficult for me. It meant I had to now carry my portion of the burden, and the truth of the matter is that I was responsible; had I said, “No, I am not going,” perhaps the shooter would not have gone and a life saved.
I do not know what role, if any, my accepting responsibility played in my being granted parole. I do know I had gathered all the information I could from people who had already gone to the board and been denied a number of times. I listened to the hurt and disappointment their denials brought them, and prayed two prayers. My first prayer was that if I am denied parole that I not give in to it and change who I was or what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I pray this same prayer for all deserving men and women denied parole. I pray they will not allow the repeated denial of parole to rob them of their dreams.
My second prayer was made before I walked into my parole hearing. I prayed that God touch the hearts of those who had the power to free me, and that if it was His will for me to be released that He make of me an instrument of help in the lives of others. Perhaps it was the power of this prayer that made the difference in my being released?
This was my brother’s third parole board appearance and each denial took a piece of his and our family’s dreams. My niece had been postponing her wedding hoping her father would be the one to walk her down the aisle, however, after his second denial she gave up on this dream and married without him being a part of her wedding. My father’s deteriorating health is causing his dream of living to see his son come home fade.
I am seeing first hand how parole denials can reek havoc on a family’s morale. Being the ones expecting and anticipating the release of a loved one is equally as frustrating as being denied!
When a crime is committed, especially one that ends in the loss of life, it quickly changes everyone touched by it. It puts us all in new and different places with new and different responsibilities. I remember the words of my mother when I was going to trial - she looked me in the eyes and said, “No matter what happens you are still my son.” She said this because she wanted me to know that in spite of the shame and disappointment I brought to her life, she still loved me.
To all incarcerated men and women struggling to make sense of repeated parole denials, know that your families struggle with you. They struggle with you because they want you to know that no matter what happens you are still loved! They share in your hurt, disappointment and powerlessness, and as this New Year begins they too will begin their waiting, preparing and praying that this will be the year of your homecoming celebration.
5. LIFERS AND LONGTERMERS CLEARINGHOUSE: THE CASE FOR PAROLE REFORM, PART TWO: JUSTIFICATION FOR A BILL TO BRING §259-I INTO COMPLIANCE WITH PENAL LAW §1.05
In 2006, Penal Law §1.05 was amended to add a fifth sentencing goal to these existing four: 1. Punishment (retribution), 2. Deterrence, 3. Incapacitation, 4. Rehabilitation. The fifth goal is the promotion of successful and productive reentry and reintegration into society.
The bill proposed by the Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies brings the parole statute into alignment with the fifth goal.
Under New York State's sentencing scheme, three components (Judiciary, Department of Corrections, Division of Parole) play a key role in carrying out the sentencing goals outlined in Penal Law §1.05. Each component plays a different and distinct role in either imposing or carrying out the penal sentence. Each component also plays a different and distinct role in efforts to achieve the five sentencing goals outlined in Penal Law §1.05
The Judiciary: the sentencing judge considers all of the sentencing goals contained in Penal Law §1.05 when imposing sentence. In order to determine what emphasis to place on each goal and thus arrive at an appropriate sentence the judge should consider such criteria as the nature of the offense, the social history and criminal history of the defendant, social deficits, likelihood of rehabilitation, danger to the community, remorse, insight, ability to control behavior, ability to live in the future without loss of freedom, whether alternatives to incarceration are sufficient to change behavior, and any aggravating or mitigating circumstances.
The Department of Correctional Services: along with the Parole Board, DOCS performs post-conviction functions. The Department of Correctional Services implements the penal sentence, and in doing so, only three sentencing goals (Incapacitation, Rehabilitation, Reentry and Reintegration) fall within it's purview. Corrections should provide the means for the incarcerated person to address his or her social deficits and opportunities for rehabilitation. Corrections should also prepare the person in ways that will make successful reentry and reintegration possible.
The Parole Board: in carrying out its post conviction functions, only two sentencing goals outlined in Penal Law §1.05 fall within the purview of the Board: Rehabilitation, Reentry and Reintegration. The primary function of the Parole Board should be to evaluate the sentenced person's progress while incarcerated. Has the person addressed his or her social deficits? To what extent have they made progress in their rehabilitation (behavioral change)? Based upon their conduct and performance in prison is the individual ready for reentry and reintegration into society? If they re not ready, it is for the Parole Board to specify in detail what is expected of the parole applicant in the future.
In conclusion: With the advent of determinate sentencing and criticism of the Parole Board from many quarters on the rise, the future of the Parole Board may be in doubt. Although the Parole Board's implementation of discretionary parole release is not without shortcomings, it can be an effective and necessary complement to our new awareness of the importance of promoting successful reentry and reintegration into society. In order to modernize and revitalize the functioning of the Parole Board, reform of the procedures to be followed by the Parole Board are in order. At the core of this reform is a need to redefine the role of the Parole Board as an evaluative one. The critical focus is on the question of whether the parole applicant is ready for reintegration. The Parole Board should not play a punitive role since it is no longer authorized to set the minimum sentence as it did in years past. Under the present sentencing scheme the sentencing goals of punishment (retribution) and deterrence are the sole purview of the judiciary.
- Larry Luqman White
6. THE NEW YORK STATE PRISONER JUSTICE CONFERENCE: CONNECTING REGIONS, ISSUES, AND STRATEGIES, ALBANY, NY - MARCH 27, 2010 IS LOOKING FOR INPUT FROM PEOPLE INCARCERATED IN NYS.
Since the goal of the conference is to bring together under one roof a wide range of New York State organizations working on a diversity of prisoner justice issues to share ideas, information, energy, strategies, hope, and inspiration, the views of prisoners are vitally important to our efforts. So if you know someone incarcerated in NYS, please ask them to send us their opinion on the following questions: What would be the most important positive changes you would like to see in New York’s criminal justice system? How do you think they can best be achieved? What might it have taken to keep you out of prison? They can send their responses to New York State Prisoner Justice Conference, 33 Central Avenue, Albany, NY 12210.
The issues already identified include public defense, sentencing, racial disparities, Rockefeller drug laws, parole, disenfranchisement, juvenile justice, targeted and vulnerable prison populations (immigrants, Muslims, trans people, political prisoners, mentally ill, elderly, long termers, youth, women), re-entry, prison families, and prison abuse. The conference will be an opportunity to network, to model successful practices, to coordinate strategies for change, and to create ongoing communication among organizations and movements working for prisoner justice in New York State.
The process of planning for the conference is part of building this statewide communication and collaboration. All prisoner justice organizations and activists are invited to join the NYS Prisoner Justice Coalition formed to plan the conference. 38 have joined so far! There are statewide conference calls for all participating organizations and individuals, with updates on the progress of the conference and an opportunity to have input into the planning. An e-list, listserv, and facebook page facilitate statewide planning, and a website is coming soon.
To become involved please call 518-434-4037 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
7. PAROLE NEWS: PAROLE HANDBOOK ON RELEASE ASSISTANCE; PAROLE BOARD TRAINING, PAROLE STATISTICS, RULING IN COMFORT VS. PAROLE
WILL I RECEIVE ASSISTANCE IN PLANNING MY RELEASE IF I HAVE SPECIAL NEEDS?
Your Parole Officer at the facility you are being released from will assist you in applying for vocational and educational services if you require them. In addition, if you have special medical needs and disabilities, applications will be filed on your behalf to secure required benefits and services. If you qualify for special needs housing, applications will be filed on your behalf. Additionally, you will receive assistance in claiming veteran benefits if you have served in the Armed Forces of the United States and were honorably discharged. The New York State Office of Mental Health, along with Parole, will also assist you in securing services if you are severely mentally ill.
PAROLE BOARD TRAINING [reported on the NYS Parole website]
NYS Board of Parole Commissioners-Members James Ferguson and Christina Hernandez were part of a select group of 19 parole board members from across the country to participate in the National Institute of Corrections, US Department of Justice pilot training, "Integrating Evidence-Based Principles into Parole Board Practices."
The 36-hour comprehensive training, paid for through grant funding, took place in Norman, OK during the month of August and provided the board members with information about motivational interviewing, risk assessment tools, and current research on evidence-based practices utilized in parole decision making.
Upon their return, Fernandez and Ferguson participated in a ride-along with local parole staff.
NOVEMBER 2009 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES – A1 VIOLENT FELONS WHO'VE SERVED 15 YEARS OR MORE – unofficial research from parole database
Total Interviews......# Released.....# Denied......Rate of Release
Nov Initial Releases
Facility....................Sentence........Offense.........# of Board
Great Meadow........25-Life ..........Murder 2.......Initial
Mid Orange............25-Life...........Murder 2.......Initial
Facility..................Sentence.......Offense.........# of Board
Mid Orange...........20-Life.........M pre-74.......9th
Otisville.................15-Life.........Murder 2.......4th**** Released for Deportation Only
DECEMBER RELEASES FROM PRISON REPORTS. (Please note that the following statistics are not limited to people convicted of A1 Violent felonies - but they all are people with indeterminate sentences)
Dec - Lemon, Ross
Scheduled:.......................... 37 (16 A1VO)
Releases:........................... 16 (7 A1VO)
APPELLATE DIVISION DISMISSES COMFORT'S APPEAL OF HIS PAROLE DENIAL. IT WAS NOT A UNANIMOUS DECISION, AND A DISSENTING OPINION WAS ALSO ISSUED.
Mr. Comfort's December 2007 appearance before the Board of Parole resulted in a denial, and a 24 month hit. He appealed, but when he got no response he filed a CPLR article 78 proceeding challenging the Board's denial. NYS Supreme Court dismissed his petition. He then appealed to the Appellate Division, Third Department, in the matter of Comfort v. New York State Division of Parole.
The Appeals Court ruled that
1. the Board appropriately considered the seriousness of his crimes, prior criminal history, positive program achievements while incarcerated and post release plans.
2. the Board was not required to specifically mention all of those factors in its decision, nor was it obliged to give equal weight to each factor.
3. the Board could reach its conclusion after weighing the petitioner's accomplishments in prison against the level of violence associated with the crimes of which he was convicted.
The Court further stated
1. that the Court's role is not to assess whether the Board gave the proper weight to the relevant factors, but only whether the Board followed the statutory guidelines and rendered a determination that is supported, and not contradicted, by the facts in the record.
2. the Court cannot effectively review the Board's weighing process, given that it is not required to state each factor that it considers, weigh each factor equally or grant parole as a reward for exemplary institutional behavior.
Accordingly, as the Board's determination does not display "'irrationality bordering on impropriety,'" the Court declined to rule against it. Petitioner's remaining contention, that the Board's decision amounted to resentencing, is without merit.
The Court was not unanimous in its opinion; and those who were not in agreement (2 judges) stated the following reasons for their dissent:
Petitioner, now age 59, is currently serving the 28th year of an aggregate sentence of 21 years to life arising out of his convictions for one count of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the first degree, one count of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first degree, and one count of attempted escape in the first degree.
Prior to these convictions in 1982, petitioner's criminal history consisted of convictions for resisting arrest, attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance in the fourth degree (fireworks), and attempted aggravated harassment. Petitioner has been denied parole release six times, each time based on the seriousness of his offenses.
The Board is required to consider the factors set out in Executive Law §259-i (2) (c) (A). When denying parole, the Board is statutorily required to give its reasons "in detail and not in conclusory terms" We disagree with the majority's view that this requirement was met here, so as to permit this Court to adequately fulfill its responsibility of reviewing the determination.
The Board noted that the 1980 incident involved a large amount of cocaine. However, petitioner's crimes were neither violent nor accompanied by a history of other serious or violent crimes. The record further reveals that while incarcerated, petitioner has maintained a perfect disciplinary record for at least 15 years, has completed all of the recommended programs required by the Department of Correctional Services, overcome drug and alcohol addictions, participated in Alcoholics Anonymous for over 20 years and acted as its chair, worked in a youth assistance program to help others avoid substance abuse issues, been active in ministerial services, and participated in numerous vocational and educational programs. Petitioner's post release plans include participation in a veterans' transitional employment program and volunteering in programs for substance abusers. There was no inquiry during petitioner's interview regarding his remorse, but when he was given an opportunity to speak, he stated, in part, "I would like you to know that I'm sorry for everybody that I've hurt. I know that my drug dealing has caused a lot of pain and a lot of suffering." He explained that, although his drug involvement began while he was serving in the Vietnam War, he did not blame the war for his actions and understood the seriousness of his offenses.
While parole release is not to "be granted merely as a reward for good conduct or efficient performance of duties while confined" the Board has now denied parole release to petitioner six times based on the "unchangeable factor" of the nature of his crimes.
Note: the Board has twice been directed to conduct a de novo hearing, as it was established that the Board had improperly considered and relied upon convictions that had been subsequently reversed upon appeal by the Appellate Division, Fourth Department. While the current explanation of denial includes no direct reference to the reversed convictions, in light of the lack of detail provided, the history of petitioner's prior appearances, the extensive evidence of his rehabilitation and remorse, the cursory nature of the Board's acknowledgment of these factors, and the absence of record support for its conclusion that petitioner is likely to reoffend cumulatively render the decision "so irrational under the circumstances as to border on impropriety".
Despite this opinion, the majority of the Court ruled that the judgment be affirmed.
8. PRISON MEDIA: ALL THINGS HARLEM, FANCY BROCCOLI, ON THE COUNT, SOUL SPECTRUM WITH LIBERTY GREEN
ALL THINGS HARLEM - www.allthingsharlem.com, community reporting at it’s best. Joseph Jazz Hayden, CEO Still Here Harlem Productions, Inc. 201 West 138th St. Suite 1 New York, NY 10030, email@example.com, and at firstname.lastname@example.org
FANCY BROCCOLI RADIO SHOW, WVKR 91.3 FM - Sundays - Jazz & Prison Talk, 3:00-6:00 pm
Box 726, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie NY 12604-0726
Fancy Broccoli streams online - go to www.WVKR.org and click on (or near) the word 'LISTEN'.
Visit archives to find lots of other good interviews.
ON THE COUNT, WBAI, 99.5FM. - Criminal Justice & Prison Report, a radio program produced by formerly incarcerated people. Airs Saturdays 10:30am-noon. To listen live on your computer, visit www.wbai.org. To listen later, visit their archives.
SOUL SPECTRUM WITH LIBERTY GREEN, WJFF Radio Catskill 90.5FM - Thursday evenings from 10pm to 1:30am. PO Box 546, Jeffersonville, NY 12748 Voice Box Call-in Comment Line: 845 431 6500 To listen on your computer, live, click here: www.wjffradio.org. Send an email.
9. PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO CALLS A PRESS CONFERENCE TO UPDATE THE COMMUNITY ON THEIR STANCE REGARDING MISMANAGEMENT OF ERIE COUNTY JAILS
Several members of Prisoners Are People Too and the Buffalo Prison Abuse Project who have been advocating for people confined in these correctional facilities, will speak out about a recent suicide at the Erie County Holding Center which highlighted a disturbing trend; the general lack of concern for the rights and well-being of incarcerated people at these facilities; BPAP’s efforts toward the creation of a Citizens Advisory Board; and the content of BPAP’s presentation to the Public Safety Committee of the Erie County Legislature.
In a December 16, 2009 Buffalo News article entitled, “County Hires D.C. Firm to Help in Suit Over Jails,” it was stated that Erie County’s Executive Chris Collins had hired the law firm of Alston and Bird “for guidance” in Erie County’s fight against the Department of Justice, which is seeking to improve conditions at the jails. Taxpayers will be paying these lawyers $425 per hour. It was noted in this article that the law firm of Alston and Bird also represents Sheriff Joseph Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. Sheriff Arpaio is well known for his often controversial “tough on crime approach” to law enforcement.
For further information, contact Karima Amin: 716-834-8438; email@example.com.
10. PRISONERS OF THE CENSUS - A COALITION OF AFRICAN AMERICAN LEADERS CONCERNED ABOUT MINORITIES BEING UNDERCOUNTED IN THE 2010 CENSUS CALL FOR INMATES AT FEDERAL AND STATE PRISONS TO BE TALLIED IN THEIR HOME COMMUNITIES INSTEAD OF THE TOWNS WHERE THEY ARE INCARCERATED.
The Washington Post reports:
Commerce Department Secretary Gary Locke met with a dozen African-American leaders including the National Urban League, the NAACP, and the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. At a press conference afterwards, Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League and chairman of a census advisory committee, raised prison-based gerrymandering as one of the issues of Census Bureau policy affecting African-Americans that should be changed.
He said that crediting incarcerated people to the prison where they are incarcerated but do not legally reside distorts fair representation:
Noting that about 1.2 million of the nation’s 40 million African Americans are in prison, Morial said, “What we have in the prison population issue is a built-in undercount.”
Morial and about a dozen other black leaders brought up the prison count during a meeting with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to discuss how to make the census more accurate, a perennial problem.
[From articles: Black leaders urge census to change how it counts inmates by Carol Morello, Washington Post and Blacks urge more efforts to improve census count by Hope Yen, Associated Press, December 17, 2009].
11. RE-ENTRY GRANTS TO HELP IMPLEMENT DRUG LAW REFORMS: $14 MILLION IN FEDERAL STIMULUS FUNDS TO SUPPORT RE-ENTRY INITIATIVES CRUCIAL TO THE IMPLEMENTATION OF ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAW REFORM WERE AWARDED TO FOUR NEW YORK CITY-BASED ORGANIZATIONS – THE CENTER FOR EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES; DOE FUND; FORTUNE SOCIETY; AND OSBORNE ASSOCIATION – AND THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES.
Governor David A. Paterson and Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Denise E O’Donnell announced the grants at an event held at the Fortune Society in NYC on September 17.
Four New York City-based organizations – the Center for Employment Opportunities; Doe Fund; Fortune Society; and Osborne Association – and the New York State Department of Correctional Services, received the grants.
“Eliminating the failed Rockefeller Drug Laws and focusing on treatment and rehabilitation rather than incarceration has been a major goal of my administration, a goal we achieved through Legislation I signed on April 24,” Governor Paterson said. “However, to successfully transition from an incarceration-based system to a treatment-based system we must have the infrastructure to assist former offenders and to prepare them for a drug-free and crime-free life.”
Deputy Secretary O’Donnell added: “These grants, which will help provide transitional employment for former offenders statewide, both upstate and downstate, represent a major step forward in our efforts to transform individuals’ lives and protect the public. Each of these providers has a proven record in securing jobs for people with criminal records. Each has agreed to target resources toward offenders who will be judicially diverted or resentenced as part of the Rockefeller Drug reform.”
Additionally, the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) is in line for $2 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding over the next two years to teach inmates nearing release how to search for jobs using modern computer programs upon release. Additionally, a separate, $800,000 two-year stimulus grant will help DOCS train prison instructors in proven techniques for teaching inmate-students of widely varying abilities.
Correctional Services Commissioner Brian Fischer said: “The effort to help ex-offenders find productive jobs begins long before they leave prison. Education and computer literacy are the keys to success in today’s information society, but many inmates lack a basic education and many haven’t used computers in years -- if ever. These stimulus funds will help prepare inmates – more than 95 percent of whom will return home -- for the real world, and will benefit society by giving offenders the tools they need to become productive citizens.”
Andrea W. Evans, chairwoman of the New York State Board of Parole and Chief Executive Officer of the Division of Parole, added: “Earning a paycheck through legitimate means is one of the keys to success for those leaving prison. By providing transitional employment to ex-offenders, today’s grant recipients have the potential to change and improve the lives of many people.”
12. ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAWS: EXPLAINING THE NYS REFORMS OF 2009
In April 2009, Governor David Paterson signed legislation enacting real reform of the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws. The changes include eliminating mandatory minimums and returning judicial discretion in most (but not all) drug cases; reforming sentences; expanding drug treatment and alternatives to incarceration; and allowing resentencing of some currently incarcerated people who are serving sentences under the old laws. With these reforms, New York begins its shift away from the Rockefeller Drug Law regime, and toward an approach to drug policy based on public health and safety.
THE 2009 REFORM LEGISLATION:
ELIMINATES MANDATORY PRISON SENTENCES FOR MOST DRUG OFFENSES
• Prison terms are no longer mandatory for those convicted of first time Class B, C, D and E drug felonies. Judges can sentence to probation, treatment or other alternatives to incarceration, or prison.
• Prison terms are no longer mandatory for those convicted of second time Class C, D, and E drug felonies and certain non-violent property offenses. Judges can sentence to probation, treatment or other alternatives to incarceration, or prison.
• Prison terms are no longer mandatory for those convicted of second time Class B drug felonies who are deemed by the court as drug dependent or to have abused drugs or alcohol. Judges can sentence to treatment or other alternatives to incarceration, or prison.
• Mandatory prison terms are still required for second time Class B drug felonies if the defendant was convicted of, or had pending, a violent felony in the prior 10 years. In this case there is no judicial discretion.
• Mandatory prison sentences remain for those convicted of Class A-I and A-II felonies – there is no judicial discretion. Penalties for these offenses were reduced in 2004/2005, but remain unduly harsh.
EXPANDS DRUG COURTS AND OTHER ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION, AND REDUCES PENALTIES
• Expands drug treatment, alternatives to incarceration, and re-entry services by investing nearly $71 million into those programs.
• Allows the court to conditionally seal records of drug and some non-drug, nonviolent offenses upon a defendant’s successful completion of treatment or other alternative programs. Police and prosecutors will continue to have access to these records as needed for criminal investigations.
• Reduces the minimum penalty for those convicted of a second time Class B drug offense with a prior nonviolent felony conviction from 3 1⁄2 years to 2 years.
• Reduces the minimum penalty for those convicted of a second time Class C drug offense with a prior nonviolent felony conviction from 2 years to 1 1⁄2 years.
ALLOWS RETROACTIVE RESENTENCING FOR ABOUT 1,500 CURRENTLY INCARCERATED PEOPLE
• Allows those convicted of a Class B drug felony before 2005, now serving an indeterminate sentence with a maximum term of more than 3 years, to petition the court to be re-sentenced under new sentencing provisions. Judges then make a decision on re-sentencing – it is not automatic.
• Allows those eligible for re-sentencing for Class B indeterminate drug sentences to petition the court for re- sentencing for Class C, D or E felonies “which were imposed by the sentencing court at the same time or were included in the same order of commitment” as the Class B felony.
• Excludes from resentencing those serving Class B indeterminate sentences if they have a violent felony conviction in the preceding 10 years (excluding time in custody); are incarcerated for a merit-time ineligible offense; or were convicted as a “second violent felony offender” or “persistent violent felony offender”.
UNFORTUNATELY, THE REFORMS ALSO CREATE NEW, HARSHER DRUG CRIME STATUTES
• Establishes a “kingpin” provision as a Class A-I felony requiring a mandatory prison term of 15 years to life. This restores life sentences for drug offenses, initially eliminated in 2004, and is a step in the wrong direction.
• Establishes a new Class B drug felony of “Criminal sale of a controlled substance to a child” which is committed when an adult over 21 years of age sells a controlled substance to a minor under 17 years of age. This new crime is not probation eligible but those deemed by a court to be drug dependent or to have a history of substance abuse can be diverted to judicially supervised treatment as an alternative to prison.
BACKGROUND ON NEW YORK’S ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAWS
Using prison to address drug abuse:
The Rockefeller Drug Laws, enacted in 1973 under then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller, mandated extremely harsh mandatory minimum prison terms for possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Although intended to target “kingpins”, most of the people incarcerated under these laws were convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses, and many had no prior criminal records. The laws marked an unprecedented shift towards addressing drug use and abuse through the criminal justice system instead of through the medical and public health systems. It was a shift that New Yorkers would soon discover didn’t work and come to regret.
Waste of taxpayer dollars:
Approximately 12,000 people remain locked up for drug offenses in New York State prisons, representing nearly 21% of the prison population. The state spends over $525 million per year to incarcerate people for
drug offenses – 66% have previously never been to prison, and 80% have never been convicted of a violent felony. It costs approximately $45,000 to incarcerate a person for one year in New York, while treatment costs an average of $15,000 per year, and is proven to be 15 times more effective at reducing crime and recidivism.
Extreme racial disparities:
The laws have led to extraordinary racial disparities in the state’s criminal justice system. Studies show that rates of addiction, illicit drug use and illicit drug sales are approximately equal between racial groups. But while Black and Latino people make up only 34% of New York State’s population, they comprise nearly 90% of those currently incarcerated for drug felonies. This is one of the highest levels of racial disparities in the nation, and is widely considered a human rights disgrace.
Limited changes in 2004 and 2005:
After years of vigorous advocacy, in December 2004 the NY State
Legislature passed limited reforms of the laws, including some sentence reductions, increases in merit time, and improvements to parole. These reforms were a small step forward, but did not constitute real reform – for instance, the changes did not restore judicial discretion or provide funds for community-based drug treatment. As then-Republican Senate Leader Joseph Bruno admitted, “This is only a small step, and we need to do more.”
Toward a Public Health and Safety Approach to Drug Policy in New York
Real reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws sets the stage for the development of a public health and safety approach to drug policy in New York City and State – policies that can successfully reduce the death, disease, crime, and suffering associated with drug dependency and abuse. New Yorkers are prepared and have already begun outlining the best practices of this new approach. In January 2009, DPA and The New York Academy of Medicine convened New Directions for New York, a historic assembly of hundreds of stakeholders from the community, NY City and State government, and the fields of public health, treatment, and criminal justice, gathered to explore a coordinated public health and safety approach to drugs. Lessons from that gathering will help shape the future of drug policy in New York.
Join us to develop a New Direction for New York. Drug Policy Alliance| 70 West 36th St., 16th fl.| NY, NY 10018 www.drugpolicy.org | firstname.lastname@example.org | phone: (212) 613-8020
13. TRANSPORTATION TO PRISONS: RELIABLE VAN SERVICE, FREE DOOR TO DOOR CAR SERVICE WHEN AVAILABLE.
NEST Prison Shuttle schedule: Mt McGregor, Washington, Grt Meadow CFs on Sat, Jan 2 ($35 adults, $25 children), Coxsackie, Greene, Hudson on BOTH Sat, Jan 9 & 16 ($20 adults, $15 children) leaving Oakwood Ave Presbyt. Church parking lot, Troy at 7 AM, then Albany Greyhound bus station at 7:15. Sullivan trip (Ulster, Eastern, Woodbourne, Sullivan) on Jan 23 leaving at 6:30 AM ($45 adults, $30 children).
Reservations: Linda O'Malley 518- 273-5199.
Free door to door rides from the Capital District: The Justice Committee at the Unitarian Church now has 6 volunteer drivers. If you have a loved one in prison and you have no other way of getting there, call us at 518 253 7533. Our drivers are ready to take you to prisons within 150-200 miles of Albany to visit your loved one, but you need to call well in advance to assure their availability.
Building Bridges is the monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network.
For information on joining, please call 518 253 7533, or email us.