Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

MAY 2009

Please scroll down to read the May edition of Building Bridges. The following are latebreaking notices received since the newsletter was last published:



POSTED MAY 26: by Prison Action Network
NY Times features PAN member, Joseph Hayden

Joseph "Jazz" Hayden is a vital resource to our cause. His news organization, Still Here Harlem Productions, filmed our 4th Family Empowerment Day last October 2008, and made it available on his website, http://allthingsharlem.com where you can view many other deeply moving stories not reported elsewhere.

On May 18th the NY Times featured Jazz and his work in their NY Region Section with a detailed story of his journey from a criminal past to a career in video journalism. Read it here.



POSTED MAY 22: From the Governor's website [http://www.state.ny.us/governor/press/press_0522096.html]
GOVERNOR PATERSON ANNOUNCES NOMINATION TO THE STATE BOARD OF PAROLE

Governor David A. Paterson today announced the nomination of Andrea D. Evans as Chair of the State Board of Parole. As Chair, Ms. Evans will also serve as Chief Executive Officer of the Division.

Ms. Evans is the current Director of the Division of Parole for Region II, an area encompassing Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. In this position, she oversees the operation of four Area Offices, including one located in the Queensboro Correctional Facility. Prior to this role, Ms. Evans served as Deputy Regional Director for Region I, where she managed the operation of five field offices in Bronx County.

From 2000 to 2006, Ms. Evans served as Special Assistant to the Downstate Director of Operations. From 1997-2000, she worked as an Investigator in the Division of Parole’s Office for Professional Responsibility, where she conducted investigations into allegations of professional misconduct. From 1994 to 1997, Ms. Evans was a Senior Parole Officer and served as Acting Supervisor in the Bronx Area Office. Additionally, she worked as a Parole Revocation Officer from 1990 to 1994. Ms. Evans began her career with the Division in 1986 as a Parole Officer.

Prior to joining the State Division of Parole, Ms. Evans worked for the Central Brooklyn Coordinating Council from 1979 to 1986, a community-based family services and support organization dedicated to foster care prevention.

Ms. Evans holds a B.A. in Psychology from the City College of New York.

As Chair of the State Board of Parole, Ms. Evans will receive an annual salary of $120,800. This position requires Senate confirmation.


POSTED MAY 14 by WNY Advocates for Robert Seth Hayes:

Political Prisoner, Robert Seth Hayes, is in need of support from the community. As many of you know, our friend Seth has been imprisoned since the early 1970s for his involvement in the Black Panther Party and the black liberation struggle. In spite of leading an exemplary life as a prisoner, earning himself honor block status at Wende Correctional, Seth was recently denied parole for the 5th time for the all-too-familiar excuse of the “serious nature of the crime.” As a result, Seth has decided to pursue more aggressive parole strategies, including obtaining the legal assistance of our friend Cheryl Kates who specializes in parole law. It is believed by many familiar with Seth’s case and the history of political prisoners in this state, that with a more aggressive parole team and strategy, Seth has a good chance of parole. Seth needs your help in the form of donations to secure his new legal strategy. Please give what you can to Seth’s Advocate, Nate Buckley, at 438 Massachusetts Ave., Buffalo, NY 14213, or at the next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too (5/18), and please spread the word.

For More Information on Seth, visit: http://www.sethhayes.org/
If you need to reach Nate Buckley via e-mail: buckleynate@yahoo.com.


POSTED MAY 14 by NEST
The NEST Gospel Concert: May 29th at 7:30 PM

Featuring Men's Gospel Choirs from Metropolitan NTM Mission Baptist Church, Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church and Duryee AME Zion Church, plus the Troy Larger Parish Choir

First United Presbyterian Church, 1915 Fifth Avenue, Troy
Suggested donation: $10. Dessert reception follows. Artwork on display.

NEST (Neighbors Establishing Support in Troy) is a church mission designed to help transport family members to local prisons at costs far below public transportation.



POSTED MAY 13 by the Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies:
Campaign to Reinstate George Alexander!

The Prison Action Network and the Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies support George B. Alexander's bid to be reinstated as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the NYS Division of Parole.

If you agree please write a letter to Governor Paterson. We invite you to send your letters of support to Prison Action Network, PO Box 6355, Albany, NY 12206, attn: Gov Paterson, by May 15, and we will hand deliver them to the Governor's office sometime during the next week.

Over the years we’d become accustomed to viewing both parole and corrections as our adversaries. Our perception changed when we saw officials from these two agencies stand up to baseless attacks from Senator Nozzolio and others at a November, 2007 Senate hearing that was clearly intended to stoke public fear around parole issues. Since then, we have become more inclined to view parole and corrections as colleagues in a common struggle—the struggle to restore our communities and families and loved ones to full and positive membership in society.  Thus the selection of the next person to serve as leader of the Board and Division of Parole is of vital concern to us.

We have met with George Alexander both before and after his resignation. He was the keynote speaker at our Family Empowerment Day event on October 25 2008, which was attended by more than 400 people, and at a meeting on April 25, 2009. Now that he has been exonerated of the felony charges that led to demands for his resignation - and on June 13 will have the misdemeanor charge against him expunged from the record - we believe fairness and practicality dictate his reinstatement.
 
It will take courage and strong leadership skills for the next Chairman and Executive Director to continue the momentum begun under Mr. Alexander's leadership. We are concerned that any other candidate might be tempted to retreat in view of what happened to him. He however, has passed that gauntlet and still supports his previous management goals. We therefore conclude that George Alexander is the best person for the job.



BUILDING BRIDGES MAY 2009

Dear Reader,

Prison Action Network has been working with the Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies to develop a strategy for changing parole laws so people can no longer be denied parole solely because of the type of crime they committed. We feel there are other much more important criteria to be considered. In our discussions with experienced policy makers, we've become familiar with the Reintegrative Sentencing Model developed by the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) and championed by ICARE. We recognize that the foundation for this concept was laid when Penal Law 1.05(6) was amended in 2006 to add a new goal, "the promotion of their (convicted person's) successful and productive reentry and reintegration into society.."  to the four traditional sentencing goals of deterrence, rehabilitation, retribution and incapacitation.

We envision this model being applied to create a documented Reintegration Plan upon arrest, which would subsequently be used at every step of the process through which the accused person passes, including the bail hearing, the court's sentencing decisions, and leading to a new role for the parole board.  The Reintegration Plan would be designed in partnership with the arrested person in analyzing the person's strengths and deficits to determine whether incarceration or an alternative would be most appropriate, and if incarceration, the programs deemed necessary for the person to earn release and eventual full reintegration into the community to which he or she is returned.

That of course, would require a radical restructuring of our current criminal justice process.

To encourage this shift we are suggesting that all of our proposals for improving the criminal justice system, including new Merit Time statutes and Parole Board policies be consistent with this model.

In the new paradigm, we visualize Merit Time becoming a tool to demonstrate the positive growth of a person throughout incarceration and during the reintegration process.  Revisions to 259-i, governing the Parole Board's authority, would be focused on reducing the Board's sanctioning role and expanding its role in monitoring and evaluating the person's behaviors and activities during incarceration. Upon release their role would be solely to monitor and provide support until such time as the person is fully reintegrated into all aspects of the community to which he or she returned.

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

IN THIS ISSUE:

1. A list of things you can do to help your incarcerated loved ones
2. Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies
3. ICARE reports
4. Legislation
5. Lifers and Longtermers Clearinghouse
6. Parole news
7. Prison Media
8. Prisoners of the census
9. Transportation to prisons
10. Warrentless vehicle searches curtailed


1. WHAT CAN YOU DO? HERE’S A LIST OF THINGS:

ALBANY
Tuesday May 5, 9:45am - 4:45pm Coalition for Women Prisoners’ 15th Annual ADVOCACY DAY

Join the Coalition for Women Prisoners Advocacy Day on May 5th to advocate for three bills that affect incarcerated women. You can read a description of them under Legislation, Article 5 below. A gender- specific approach to criminal justice policies and programs would provide critical support for women in prison and create a ripple effect of benefits for children, families and communities directly affected by incarceration. Please join us in this important struggle.
Meet at Emmanuel Baptist Church (275 State St., Albany) To get involved, contact Stacey Thompson, sthompson@correctionalassociation.org or 212-254-5700 x333.


Thursday, May 7th, 5:30 – 7:30pm The Center for Law & Justice

Please join with us in celebrating our new, community-based office and the opening of The Jeffrey Wood Reentry Ctr 153 S. Pearl St., “Coliseum Bldg” (just off Madison).. Light refreshments will be served.


BUFFALO:
Monday, May 18, 6:30pm - 8:30pm Prisoners Are People Too

Monthly meeting at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. This meeting will deal with a program that is new to Western New York: “Mentoring Children of Prisoners: Caregiver’s Choice.” This national initiative brings mentoring programs and children with incarcerated parents together to facilitate quality new mentoring relationships. Youth, ages 4 - 18, who have a parent in state or federal prison are eligible. In Buffalo, it is “Compeer of Greater Buffalo” which has recently received certification and final approval to lead this “Caregiver’s Choice” program in WNY. Caregivers will be able to choose from a menu of mentoring possibilities based on the child’s needs, knowing that their choice meets standards for safety and quality.
Our guest speaker will be Karen Bartkowiak who is the Director of “Compeer for Kids”  and the Coordinator of “Mentoring Children of Prisoners: Caregiver’s Choice” in Buffalo. With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology from Buffalo State College and SUNY Brockport respectively, she has 16 years experience as a family-based therapist, case manager, team leader, program coordinator, and project director in what she calls “offering opportunities for reducing risk and increasing assets” for children, adolescents, and adults.

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:
Tuesday May 5, 6-8pm Mass Incarceration and Democracy:

Considering the Evidence on Long Term Sentences
Moderator, Michelle Fine, Ph.D. Presenters: Kathy Boudin and Eric Waters; Mika'il DeVeaux, Carla Marquez, Felipe Vargas. Discussion led by Craig Haney, Ph.D.

CUNY Graduate Center, 365 5th Avenue, Room 9100


Thursday May 7th, at 1pm Rally to Protest the Criminalization of People with Psychiatric Disabilities

Rally at Governor Paterson's NYC Office, 633 3rd Ave. (between 40th and 41st St.s.)
People with mental illness are marginalized and punished for their disabilities and are being locked up in jails and prisons at an alarming rate. The media and the government portray people with mental illness as crazed, violent serial killers, a stigma that is damaging, untrue, and furthers the government’s justification for prisons. The reality is that people with mental illness are no more violent than anyone else and in fact, people with mental illness are more often targets of violence. People with mental illness generally serve time because of this stigma and because of the government’s unwillingness to support community based treatment options.
Come let your voices be heard!!! Can you join us to say NO to the criminalization of disabled people? This is an issue that affects all of our communities. Please spread the word to help us turn out as many people as possible. Contact: Alex Smith asmith@urbanjustice.org, 646-602-5683


Tuesday, May 12, all day R.T. trip to Albany: Community Service Society Lobby Day.

Let’s have a large Prison Action Network contingent this year. That includes you, so consider making arrangements to take the day off. Lunch and transportation provided from NYC. A good way to start learning to lobby. Busses Departing at 6:30am sharp, Returning: 7pm
For the bus departing at: Community Service Society, 105 E. 22nd Street, corner of Park Ave. South, New York, contact Gabrielle Torres-Rivera or 212-614-5306 to reserve your seat.
For the bus departing NY Fortune Academy Castle, Corner of 140th Street and Riverside Drive, New York, NY, contact Larry White or 212-691-7554 ext. 320 to reserve your seat.


Saturday June 6, 10:30am -1pm Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies-NYC Chapter Meeting

At our April 25th meeting George Alexander presented his bid for reinstatement and answered our questions. A subsequent email poll showed an overwhelming number of the people present were in favor of endorsing his reinstatement to his former position. In the coming days we will be having on-line discussions to plan a strategy and a campaign. On June 6 all interested people are invited to join us as we discuss the actions we’ve taken and plan how to move forward. Location: Fortune Society’s Castle, 630 Riverside Drive at W.140th St. 137th St. stop on the #1 train. More info on the Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies meeting appears below in Article #2, or email us.


TROY:
Friday, May 29th at 7:30pm NEST prison shuttle project benefit Gospel Community Concert

Featuring Men’s Gospel Choirs from: Metropolitan NTM Mission Baptist Church, Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, Bethel Baptist Church. Duryee AME Zion Church and The Troy Larger Parish Community Choir

Suggested donation: $10. (no one will be turned away)
Dessert reception will follow.
First United Presbyterian Church, 1915 Fifth Avenue, Troy, NY
For more information. call Linda at 273-5199



2. COALITION FOR FAIR CRIMINAL JUSTICE POLICIES: POLICY COMMITTEE MEETS WITH LEGISLATORS, GEORGE ALEXANDER ADDRESSES APRIL 25 GENERAL MEETING

Policy Committee Report:
On April 7 we met with key people on the staffs of Sen. Montgomery, Sen. Hassell-Thompson, and A.M. Aubry regarding the Merit Time Bills currently in the Senate Committee of Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections. We had in depth and productive discussions with each of them. We expressed our desire for legislation that is more inclusive and consistent with language used in certain sections of the Governor's Public Safety budget and the final report of the Sentencing Reform Commission. Specifically, those sections pertaining to Medical Parole (Part J of the budget) and Shock Eligibility Expansion and Six-Month Limited Time Credit (Part L), which include eligibility for the categories of crime not included in S2932/A6487. Those sections set a precedent which we believe should be used in creating a new Merit Time bill.

We proposed that the justification statement emphasize the public safety aspect of the bill.  For example, the justification could highlight the fact that Merit Time is an evaluative tool to determine the level of rehabilitation a person has achieved from the beginning of his or her incarceration to the time of parole eligibility.  We recognize that Merit Time also has value as a management tool, but its primary use should be to identify those who have made the life changes necessary to ensure society’s safety and the individual's successful reintegration when they return home.

We noted that the process of six-month reviews for Merit Time, to be accrued in two-month vested increments, is not included in the bills currently being considered.  We view the six-month reviews as an excellent way to support the concept of focusing on rehabilitation throughout a person's incarceration.  While the vesting of Merit Time could present opposition, the six-month periodic reviews are a very worthy component, particularly for those who do not have Conditional Release (which is the only group of offenders whose release dates would actually be affected by such vestment).

In general, these offices expressed a willingness to give serious consideration to our suggestions. We are hopeful another Merit Time Bill will be drafted, and that it will include all violent offenses.

Discovered in the Budget Bill:
We’ve been advocating for a risk assessment tool to predict which parole applicants offer the least risk of recidivism, and then we discovered the following has been added to Executive Law 259 A. 4 a. Here it is in context: 

§ 259-A. Division of parole; functions, powers and duties. Subject to the authority of the chairman: 

1. The division shall cause to be obtained and filed as soon as practicable, information as complete as may be obtainable with regard to each inmate who is received in an institution under the jurisdiction of the state department of correctional services.  Such information shall include a complete statement of the crime  for which the inmate has been sentenced, the circumstances of such crime, all presentence memoranda, the nature of the sentence, any orders of protection or temporary orders of protection issued against the inmate at the time of sentencing, the court in which he was sentenced, the name of the judge and district attorney and copies of such probation reports as may have been made as well as reports as to the inmate's social, physical,  mental and psychiatric condition and history.

2.  The division shall cause complete records to be kept of every person on presumptive release, parole, conditional release or post-release supervision.  Such records shall contain the aliases and photograph of each such person, and the other information referred to in subdivision one of this section, as well as all reports  of parole officers in relation to such persons. Such records shall be maintained by the division and may be made available as deemed appropriate by the chairman for use by the department of correctional services, the commissioner of mental health, the commissioner of mental retardation and developmental disabilities, the case review panel, and the attorney general pursuant to section 10.05 of the mental hygiene law, the division,  and the board of parole. Such records shall be organized in  accordance with methods of filing and indexing designed to insure  the immediate availability of complete information about such persons.

3.  The division shall have responsibility for the preparation of  reports and other data required by the state board of parole in  the exercise of its functions.

4.  In accordance with the provisions of this chapter, the division  shall supervise inmates released on parole or conditional release, or to post-release supervision, except that the division may consent to the supervision of a released inmate by the United States parole commission pursuant to the witness security act of nineteen hundred eighty-four.   

4-a. To facilitate the supervision of all inmates released on parole or conditional release, or to post-release supervision, the chairman of the state board of parole shall consider the implementation of a program of graduated sanctions, including but not limited to the utilization of a risk and needs assessment instrument that would be administered to all inmates eligible for parole supervision. Such a program would include various components including approaches that concentrate supervision on new releases, alternatives to incarceration for technical parole violators and the use of enhanced technologies.


April 25th Meeting with George Alexander

There were 35 people who attended. Mr. Alexander began by giving a detailed explanation of "the computer incident" (my words). He then talked about hoping to be reinstated. He spoke of his vision for the department, and what he felt he had accomplished during his abbreviated term of office. When he finished we threw it open to questions from the audience and he spent a good amount of time responding to each question. Although our reason for being there was to determine if we would support his bid for reinstatement, many of the questions were personal, understandably, since the main reason most of us are involved in this struggle is because we want our loved ones home. I can only speak for myself, but I found his talk and his answers to be very much in line with my vision for a parole system whose purpose is to identify and support those people who have shown by their behaviors and their accomplishments that they are ready to return to their communities. Mr. Alexander sees the job of parole officers to be one of support and encouragement, rather than punishment. He believes in looking for the best in everyone, including his employees, and supporting and encouraging the best in each person he works with. He treats his staff the way he hopes they will in turn treat their clients. At the conclusion of the meeting there were many smiling faces in the room, and a line of people wanting to have their pictures taken with him.

So what now? Well, we are waiting for everyone who attended to respond to our email query about whether to endorse his bid for reinstatement. So far only 2 people have voted no. In a few days we will report on the vote, and then, if the final numbers are in favor of supporting him, we will begin a letter writing campaign. We will be reaching out to all our members and to other organizations, hoping to engage every single person in taking action. So stay tuned, and if you're not on our list, please email us.



3. ICARE REPORTS

We are pleased to report that a part of ICARE's proposed A5330 Conditional Offer of Employment Bill has been made into a stand alone bill.  The bill - S.4369 -  clarifies the grounds upon which an employer can deny a job to a formerly incarcerated person.  It has sponsorship from Senator Hassell-Thompson and Assembly Member Aubry.   The new bill, S4369 (a "same-as" Assembly bill number is forthcoming) defines ‘direct relationship’ as an immediate and substantial connection between the crime for which the person was convicted and the duties or responsibilities necessarily related to the license, opportunity, or job in question and such connection would create an unreasonable risk to property or to the safety or welfare of specific individuals or the general public upon the issuance or continuation of a license or the granting or continuation of employment of such person.



4. LEGISLATION: UPDATES ON MERIT TIME, STATUS OF SIX MONTH CREDIT ALLOWANCE; ROCKEFELLER RETROACTIVITY, AND EIGHT NEW BILLS. [To read the text of the bills visit http://public.leginfo.state.ny.us, and put the number of the bill including the letter preceding it in the search window.]

Introduction: Unless it specifically says otherwise, the following are bills that have sponsorship in both houses of the legislature and are in committee awaiting a decision whether to move them to a vote.

MERIT TIME BILLS S49/A172 and S2932/A6487 Update:
S49/A172 grants eligibility to all people in prison, except those who have Life without parole, and allows up to 1/3 off of the minimum and maximum sentence.  It is not expected that S49/A172 would be able to achieve enough support from other legislators to pass. S2932/A6487 expands the existing merit time (1/7)  to more people with a violent offense (including manslaughter)  but it excludes A1 Violent offenses.  These exclusions are not acceptable to many of us because they deny merit time to a class of people who statistically offer the lowest threat to public safety.  If Merit Time is not to serve as an evaluative tool to determine who presents the best chance of a successful reintegration into society, of what use is it to protect the safety of our communities?  [Another Merit Time Bill (A7564) is described later in this column.]


PENAL LAW § 803-B. SIX MONTH CREDIT TIME ALLOWANCE
Limited credit time allowances for people serving indeterminate or determinate sentences for other than murder in the first degree.

In the case of an eligible person who is subject to an indeterminate sentence with a maximum term of life imprisonment, such person shall be eligible for release six months before the completion of the minimum.

In the case of an eligible offender who is not subject to an indeterminate sentence, such offender shall be eligible for conditional release six months earlier than their maximum. The department must determine that those people have earned the full amount of good time authorized; the withholding of any good behavior time credit by the department shall render them ineligible for the credit.

In either case, the individual must also have participated in no less than two years of college programming; or obtained a masters of professional studies degree; or successfully participated as an inmate program associate for no less than two years; or received a certification from the state department of labor for his or her successful participation in an apprenticeship program; or successfully worked as an inmate hospice aid for a period of no less than two years.

No person shall have the right to demand or require the credit described above.


ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAW REFORMS; HOW DO THEY AFFECT THOSE SENTENCED UNDER THE OLD LAWS?
The Rockefeller Drug law reforms authorize discretionary resentencing of incarcerated men and women who were convicted of Class B drug offenses committed prior to January 13, 2005, and sentenced to indeterminate terms under the old sentencing law.  Eligible persons (must be serving maximum terms of more than 3 years) are able to apply to the sentencing court for resentencing under the new determinate sentencing scheme. They have the right to appointed counsel and to appeal negative decisions.  Some people who have a past history (within 10 years) of a violent felony, or other offense not currently eligible for Merit Time, are ineligible.  For instance, someone convicted as a second violent felony offender or a persistent violent felony offender is not eligible for resentencing.

A903 / S3842 DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH OVERSIGHT
Sponsored by A.M. Richard Gottfried and Senator Thomas Duane
Would require the NYS Dept of Health to oversee and monitor HIV and Hepatitis C care in prison.

A4516-C / S3438-C  DOMESTIC VIOLENCE MERIT TIME
Sponsored by A.M. Helene Weinstein and Senator Velmanette Montgomery
Serena Alfieri of the Coalition for Women Prisoners (CWP) at CCR reports that the DV Merit Time Bill didn’t make it into the budget, despite all our efforts. Currently it’s being introduced as a stand alone bill in the Senate and the Assembly with the new number noted above. It lists the eligibility criteria and allows eligible survivors of domestic violence incarcerated for crimes they committed as a result of abuse to receive merit time and early release from prison. In cases where the person has earned a certificate of earned eligibility, he or she shall be entitled to presumptive release after serving their minimum sentence.


A5462 / S2233 ADOPTION POLICIES
Sponsored by A.M. Jeffrion Aubry and Senator Velmanette Montgomery
Would give incarcerated parents and their children in foster care a more fair opportunity to work toward safe permanency options that do no involve severing family bonds forever.

A7564: MERIT TIME AND PRESUMPTIVE RELEASE FOR NON-VIOLENT INMATES
sponsored by A.M. Aubry
AN ACT to amend correction law, § 803(1)(d)(iv) to include an overall poor institutional record as a disqualification for earning a merit time allowance or presumptive release at the expiration of his or her minimum term of imprisonment. Correction Law § 803(1)(d)(iv) presently specifies that the merit time benefit will be withheld if the inmate commits a serious disciplinary infraction or was found to have filed a frivolous lawsuit. This new bill revises it so that, for example, an inmate with many different disciplinary infractions that resulted in a combined confinement total of 60 keeplock days would be ineligible for merit time, regardless of whether or not any one of the individual infractions was also separately identified as a serious disciplinary infraction.

S4365 / A3492 ACCESS TO PRESENTENCE REPORTS
Sponsored by Sen.Hassell-Thompson and A.M. Aubry
A state or local correctional facility shall provide, upon thirty days of a written request made by an individual committed to such facility, a copy of any pre-sentence investigation reports to the individual that have been prepared pursuant to section 390.20 of the criminal procedure law and are a part of its records for that individual.

S4643 / A2445 VOTING RIGHTS FOR PAROLEES
Sponsored by Sen.Hassell-Thompson and A.M. Daniel J.O'Donnell
This bill would restore voting rights to parolees, to facilitate community reintegration and participation in the civic process, rather than requiring a parolee to wait until he or she has been discharged from parole or reached the maximum expiration date of the sentence.

S4684: CHILD SUPPORT MODIFICATION
Sponsored by Sen. Hassell-Thompson
Amends the domestic relations law and the family court act, in relation to allowing modification of child support orders or judgments for persons whose income has been reduced due to incarceration.

S4687: REDRESS FROM EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION
Sponsored by Sen. Hassell-Thompson
Ensures that persons illegally discriminated against by a public employer due to a prior criminal conviction unrelated to the employment sought is able to seek redress with the Division of Human Rights.



5. LIFERS AND LONGTERMERS CLEARINGHOUSE:

I was able to accept an invitation to meet with the Exodus Study Group at Eastern Correctional Facility on Friday April 10th.  I've been invited to attend the Community Minded Organization event at Fishkill Correctional Facility on Saturday May 2, and I'm scheduled to attend the Lifers and Long-termers event on Saturday, May 16 at Sullivan Correctional Facility. Paperwork has been submitted to attend the Project Build Event at Green Haven Correctional Facility on Saturday May 23rd.  These initial visits are for the purpose of establishing contact with approved prison organizations to determine their needs and to identify specific community-based organizations willing to provide the services.

In collaboration with Tyrone Larkins, I will be serving in the capacity of an inreach worker to make contact with approved prison organizations to determine their needs and to then identify community -based organizations willing to provide the needed services.  As in-reach workers we will arrange the establishment and facilitation of the specific programs and services to the prisoner organizations (primarily lifer and long-termer organizations).
 
All this is a work in progress and will be discussed at my future meetings with various prisoner organizations. 

-- Larry White



6. PAROLE NEWS: PART 5 OF PAROLE HANDBOOK; MARCH AND APRIL PAROLE STATISTICS; GRAZIANO MOTION TO DEPOSE PATAKI IS DENIED.

PART 5 ON THE STRUCTURE OF PAROLE, FROM THE NYS PAROLE HANDBOOK
[available online at http://parole.state.ny.us/Handbook.pdf]

WHAT DOES “MAX-OUT” MEAN? “Max-out” means that you are released from prison after serving the maximum term. This can occur in the following instances:
• You are not paroled and lose all good time;
• You are returned to prison for violating the conditions of your release with less than one year remaining on your sentence and a Parole Board decision that you be held to the maximum expiration (ME) of your sentence; or
• You refuse conditional release.

CAN ANYTHING ELSE AFFECT MY MAXIMUM EXPIRATION DATE ONCE I AM RELEASED TO PAROLE SUPERVISION?
Yes. If while under parole supervision, you are declared delinquent and your release status is revoked, your sentence time stops running and the time during which you were delinquent up to the time you were returned to a state correctional facility, is added to your current maximum expiration date. If the Board of Parole cancels delinquency, your original maximum expiration date is restored. Immediately upon being apprehended and incarcerated solely on a parole violation warrant, your time resumes running and is credited as parole jail time.


MARCH 2009 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES – A1 VIOLENT FELONS – unofficial research from parole database

[As usual, we apologize for the appearance of this report.]

Total Interviews # Released # Denied Rate of Release

15 initials 2 13 13%
91 reappearances 13 78 14%
106 total 15 91 14%


March Initial Release
Facility Sentence Offense # of Board

Arthurkill 15-Life Kidnap 1 initial
Otisville 20-Life Murder 2 Initial – deported


March Reappearances
Facility Sentence Offense # of Board Eligibility Date

Bare Hill 1?-3 Murder 2 2nd 8/8/07
Bare Hill 20-Life Murder pre 74 ?? Released 4/14
Cayuga 22-Life Murder 2 3rd 5/15/05
Collins 17-Life Murder 2 2nd 7/23/07-deported
Collins 17-Life Murder 2 5th 7/27/01
Coxsackie 15-Life Murder 2 8th 9/3/95-de novo
Fishkill 15-Life Murder 2 8th 7/24/95
Gouverneur 15-Life Murder 2 4th 7/18/03 1
Gowanda 25-Life Murder 2 2nd 7/9/07
Great Meadow 7 ?-Life Murder 2 5th 1/29/00
Great Meadow 20-Life Murder 2 7th 7/2/97
Orleans 25-Life Murder 2 2nd 7/27/07
Wende 25-Life M2 2x 4th 7/1/03



APRIL 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
April - Ferguson, Thompson
22 appearances (3 were A1VO)
2 were paroled (1 died the next day, sadly)
17 denials
3 were postponed
All denials were for 2 years

SULLIVAN ANNEX
April - Hernandez, the other 2 not reported
4 appearances (all non-violent)
3 were paroled: 1 initial, 2 Merit
1 denial on initial appearance, 2 year hold, CR’s next yr.

WOODBOURNE
April - Loomis, Ross, Hernandez
24 Appearances: 9 granted parole; 12 denied, 3 postponements
A1VO: 12 seen, 4 granted, 6 denied, 2 postponed
Of the 4 A1VOs granted, one was 15-Life, 7th board; one 15-Life, 4th board; one 17.5-Life 4th board; one 25-Life, 2nd board

GRAZIANO VS PATAKI: The Judge has denied the Plaintiffs’ (Graziano et.al) motion to compel the deposition of the Defendant, former NYS governor George E. Pataki, citing immunity for high ranking officials, which protects them from “unnecessary probing of the officials’ thought processes”, and such depositions would “likely discourage individuals from public service positions”. Justice Sabel also stated in her decision that “Pataki has offered to answer written interrogatories, and such a procedure is a reasonable middle ground.” Case 7:06-cv-00480-CS Document 121 Filed 4/27/2009



7. PRISON MEDIA: RADIO’S FANCY BROCCOLI HAS NEW HOSTS AND NEW FORMAT

FANCY BROCCOLI RADIO SHOW, WVKR  91.3 FM - Sundays - Jazz & Prison Talk, 3:00-6:00 pm
May Schedule (subject to change)
Sunday, May 3  - Eric Mayo, Motivational Speaker & Author of 'From Jail to A Job'
Sunday, May 17 - Bonnie Allen, Family Partnership Center, Discusses Re-Entry & Transition
Sunday, May 24 - Memorial Day Weekend - Committed Relationships while Incarcerated
Sunday, June 7 - Sean Pica (Formerly Incarcerated) Discusses Committed Relationships - After Prison - You Come Home... 'then what!?'

RELATIONSHIPS SERIES:
Airing on Sunday May 24 and Sunday June 7 this series will feature responses from the listening audience to the questions below or on issues not listed that they are attempting to solve themselves. The hosts will speak to the issues from the perspective of a formerly incarcerated husband (Ernest) and the wife who was with him (Kathy) for many years during that time.

RELATIONSHIP QUESTIONS:
(please respond ASAP--no later than May 19)
You may also address an issue not listed below.
1.  What is the biggest obstacle you face as a married or committed couple, trying to hold your relationship together while incarcerated?
2.  What are some specific issues you and your partner seem to have disagreements about frequently (from both perspectives).
3.  What advice do you have for other men and women to keep their relationships and/or marriages strong?
4.  What is your biggest joy of having a committed relationship with an incarcerated person?
5.  Other than not being with your loved one in person, what is your biggest struggle being in a committed relationship with an incarcerated person?
6.  Do you feel you will be with your loved one after he or she is released?
7.  If yes, do you have an actual 'plan' for your relationship after release?  Do you imagine it will change substantially from what it is now?  If so, how to you think it may change?

“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'.
Visit archives to find lots of other good interviews.



8. PRISONERS OF THE CENSUS - "IT'S SYSTEMIC DISTORTION, YOU HAVE A DISPROPORTIONATELY BLACK AND HISPANIC MALE POPULATION THAT IS COUNTED IN THE WRONG SPOT."
[This is a condensed version. For the complete article, send a request and mention the name of the article and the month of the issue]

For Prison Policy Initiative, which has analyzed the last census numbers, counting inmates in prisons distorts population numbers in New York and several other states. States and counties rely on population numbers from the census to draw their legislative districts. In New York and some other states, Republicans continue to have clout in legislatures because they are elected from safely conservative, rural districts even as those areas lose people. The exception to that population decline: inmates, whose numbers have grown because of tough mandatory sentencing laws. "It's systemic distortion," said Peter Wagner, executive director of the Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative. "You have a disproportionately black and Hispanic male population that is counted in the wrong spot."

In Albany, Alice Green, founder and executive director of the Center for Law and Justice, which works on criminal justice issues, said that "when I saw the huge number of African Americans in some of these counties, I was shocked." "In Upstate New York in some of the counties, the [black] people in prison outnumber the free African Americans," said Green, who is from an Adirondack mining town and earned her doctorate in criminal justice in Albany. Because the prisoners cannot vote but are counted as constituents, she said, "they are not represented, and they are totally exploited."

"The people elected in those districts with high prison populations are more conservative and support more mass incarcerations and the existence of prisons," Green said. "They use the numbers to get elected, but they don't represent [the prisoners'] interests."

The question of how to properly count prisoners has been a long-standing concern for the NAACP. "It's been troubling us for quite some time," said Hilary O. Shelton, a vice-president and director of the Washington office. "Over 40 percent of America's prison population is African American, and we make up 13 percent of the American population," he said. "Virtually all of these prisons are outside the inner cities where most African Americans live."

The Census Bureau has no plans to change the way it counts prisoners in 2010. Spokesman Robert Bernstein said, "We're following the concept of 'usual residence' -- where the person lives and sleeps most of the time." Under the concept, as explained on the bureau's Web site, people who are temporarily away from their usual residence on Census Day -- vacationers or business travelers, for example -- will be counted as residents wherever they live "most of the time." People "without a usual residence . . . will be counted where they are staying on Census Day."

An alternative would be to count prisoners at their last known address -- an approach favored by the NAACP and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I).

Whether temporary residents "are in a dormitory, a nursing home, student housing or a prison, they are using the infrastructure," says Elizabeth O'C. Little, a Republican state senator in a rural Upstate district containing 13 prisons -- 12 state and one federal. Besides, she said, the reason her district has so many prisons is "because no one else wanted them."

Wagner, of the Prison Policy Initiative, found in a recent analysis that seven Upstate districts would not meet the population requirement without including inmates. At a minimum, he said, the Census Bureau should disclose where the prisons are located in their tally. "This is one of the things that gives that region extra influence," he said.

Contributions to Peter Wagner's project can be made by sending a paper check to PPI, PO Box 127 Northampton MA 01061. For other communications: www.PrisonersoftheCensus.org, pwagner@prisonpolicy.org, www.prisonpolicy.org



9. TRANSPORTATION: CAPITAL DISTRICT
NEST Prison Shuttle schedule: Mt. McGregor, Washington, and Great Meadow CFs on Sat, May 2 ($35 adults, $25 children), Coxsackie, Greene, and Hudson on Sat, May 9  ($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, May 16 leaving Troy at 5 AM. Sullivan trip (Ulster, Eastern, Woodbourne, Sullivan) on May 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 3 volunteer drivers, so your chances of finding a ride just got better! If you have a loved one in prison and you have no other way of getting to see him or her, maybe we can help. Call us to find out: 518 253 7533



10. WARRENTLESS VEHICLE SEARCHES CURTAILED BY US SUPREME COURT, WITH COMMENTARY BY JAZZ HAYDEN.

Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Vehicle Searches, Mark Sherman
04-22-2009

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police need a warrant to search the vehicle of someone they have arrested if the person is locked up in a patrol cruiser and poses no safety threat to officers.

The Court's 5-4 decision in a case from Arizona [ Arizona v. Gant, 07-542] puts new limits on the ability of police to search a vehicle immediately after the arrest of a suspect, particularly when the alleged offense is nothing more serious than a traffic violation. Justice John Paul Stevens said in the majority opinion that warrantless searches still may be conducted if a car's passenger compartment is within reach of a suspect who has been removed from the vehicle or there is reason to believe evidence will be found of the crime that led to the arrest.

"When these justifications are absent, a search of an arrestee's vehicle will be unreasonable unless police obtain a warrant," Stevens said.

Staff writers Robert Jablon in Los Angeles and Arthur H. Rotstein in Tucson, Ariz., contributed to the report from which the above was taken. [To request a copy of the complete article, please send us the name of this article and the month of this newsletter.]

Joseph Jazz Hayden, who sent this article to us, weighs in:
"The Supreme Court's decision on warrantless searches is major for poor communities of color.  Everyday in Harlem I watch and film these warrantless searches take place twenty four hours a day.  Our young men and women are stopped on traffic violations, which are only a pretext for the search, and then their bodies and vehicles are searched in public without probable cause or reasonable suspicion and, even more, in violation of the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.  It's amazing that in the 5-4 decision, the majority consisted of Clarence Thomas and Anthony Scalia, two of the most conservative judges on the Supreme Court.  Our so called liberal judges voted against the majority.  This decision should have a major impact on the stop frisk practices of police all across this nation.  Prisoners should be filing appeals on their convictions if they were a result of the so-called "stop and frisk" policy.  The practice of stopping our community members and searching their vehicles to look for contraband under the pretext of a traffic violation is no longer legal.  Get the word out!  Contact your political representatives and find out what is being done to insure that these unlawful stop and frisks brought to an end."


Joseph Jazz Hayden
  • info@allthingsharlem.com

  • WWW.ALLTHINGSHARLEM.COM



  • 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.

    You can reach us at 518 253 7533 or PrisonActionNetwork@gmail.com

    Read now!

    Wednesday, April 01, 2009

    APRIL 2009

    Please scroll down to read the April edition, following these late breaking announcements.

    POSTED APRIL 3: From Prison Action Network
    NYS State Voted to Drop the Rock!!!

    Victory!!!! At 10:15pm last night the Senate passed the Rockefeller
    Drug Law reforms, after 6 hours of discussion!! It had already
    passed in the Assembly, which means judicial discretion in many drug
    cases has been restored, and sentencing minimums have become more
    reasonable in New York State. It was a huge step forward!! It's time
    to thank some of the heros of last night's debates! I'll start by
    thanking you, who in all likelihood took some action in the past to
    support the Drop the Rock campaign. We can use this momentum to
    energize our campaign for parole reform and other causes we support.

    Senator Schneiderman, as Senate sponsor of the bill, had to answer
    all the sometimes infuriating questions from opposing senators, and
    he never lost his cool, and calmly but firmly stuck to his ground,
    that this legislation was smart and would benefit all New Yorkers.
    His email address appears below. Please, if you do nothing more than
    just send the words, 'Thank you for a job well done!", it would go a
    long way to let him know we're watching and we appreciate his hard
    work on our behalf.

    Senator Montgomery also deserves a note of thanks. She spent her
    precious 2 minutes in explaining her vote by thanking, among others,
    Bob Gangi, dir of the Correctional Association who spearheaded the
    Drop the Rock Campaign, Charles "Chill" Hamilton, who while
    incarcerated led the inside movement for justice, and other formerly
    and currently incarcerated people, whose names I did not recognize.
    She deserves an email hug for her humanity. Please send her your
    thanks too.

    When you send your message, be sure and mention your membership in
    the Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies. In our numbers
    lies our strength.

    Email Sen Schneiderman
    Email Sen Montgomery





    POSTED APRIL 2:
    The Visitors premiers at international film festivals

    The Visitors, a film that was screened in it's rough cut version at Family Empowerment Day 3 in Albany, and FED4 in NYC, is finally complete and having its world premier at Full Frame Film Festival on April 3rd, where it is up for 6 awards.

    www.fullframefest.org

    Then it will be at Istanbul Film Festival on April 15th
    www.iksv.org/film/english/program

    Congratulations to Melis Birder, the filmmaker!



    BUILDING BRIDGES APRIL EDITION
    Dear Reader,

    It is very important to us that those in prison continue to work on preparing themselves for rejoining the communities to which they will return. We want them to be as well prepared as possible, because it’s difficult even for us to survive in today’s world. We welcome your suggestions for how we can support their efforts to do that. For you, it’s important that you join us in working to advocate for policies that will provide a fair evaluation of your incarcerated loved one’s readiness to come home. Please read these pages thoroughly. There is a lot of information here. Overwhelming at times, we know. But take it slow; one article at a time, and if you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. After all, you have a whole month before the next one arrives. Share your opinions with your family or friends. And take advantage of all the opportunities to make a difference announced in these pages. This is new territory for many of us, but together we can create change!

    Be well, have hope, and please, tell people about this website.


    ARTICLES:
    1. Activities to educate, motivate, and mobilize
    2. Budget speech by Commissioner Brian Fischer
    3. Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies - NYC
    4. ICARE Reports
    5. Legislation
    6. Lifers and longtermers clearinghouse
    7. Parole news
    8. Prison health care report
    9. Prison libraries research project
    10. Prison media
    11. Prisoners of the Census
    12. Reentry unit opens
    13. Reentry speech by Commissioner Fischer
    14. SHU Bill commentary by Sol Wachtler
    15. Transportation to prisons

    1. ACTIVITIES TO EDUCATE, MOTIVATE AND MOBILIZE: OPPORTUNITIES FOR WORKING FOR JUSTICE APPEAR BELOW. GEORGE ALEXANDER WILL ATTEND THE COALITION FOR FAIR CRIMINAL JUSTICE POLICIES MEETING ON 4/25. PLEASE GET INVOLVED!

    TROY
    Friday, April 10, 2009 at 7 PM 30 Years in Solitary Confinement and Found Innocent

    Robert Hillary King, who spent almost 30 years in solitary confinement at the notorious Angola State Prison in Louisiana before the state admitted his innocence and released him, will speak at The Sanctuary for Independent Media (3361 6th Avenue in North Troy).

    Admission to the talk is by donation ($10 suggested, $5 student/low income). Call (518) 272-2390, email MediaSanctuary, or visit www.MediaSanctuary.org for directions and more information. In his recently published autobiography, "From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King”, King tells of his attempts to break out of this system, and his persistent pursuit of justice where there is none.


    BUFFALO:
    Monday, April 27, 6:30pm - 8:30pm Prisoners Are People Too, Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo.

    This meeting will deal with Buffalo N.Y.’s Drug Treatment Court, created in December 1995 by Hon. Robert T. Russell, Jr. who continues to serve as its Presiding Judge. Like other Drug Courts around the country, it works to stop the abuse of alcohol and other drugs and related criminal activity. Part of its mission is building a closer relationship between criminal justice and drug treatment professionals who maintain a critical balance of authority, supervision, support, and encouragement for Drug Court participants. Guest speakers will include Hon. Robert T. Russell, Jr. and Donna Lewis, a mother, Youth Development professional, and formerly incarcerated person who has benefitted greatly from the level of supervision and therapeutic sanctions provided by Drug Court in her past.

    The documentary film being screened is “Drug Mules.” Although it focuses on the lives of poor, foreign-born women who end up incarcerated for lengthy periods for bringing drugs into the US, it also highlights the lives of all women whose lives are negatively impacted by the Rockefeller Drug Law.

    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:

    Wednesday, April 22nd, 1 to 3pm The New York Reentry Roundtable
    105 East 22nd street, Room 4A. We’ll discuss Advocacy Day which is scheduled for Tuesday, May 12th. We provide lunch. For more info, email Gabriel Torres-Rivera


    Sat., April 25, 10:30am -1pm Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies-NYC Chapter Meeting

    Special guest George Alexander, former Chairman of Parole, will discuss his situation and his desire to return to his former position now that he’s been exonerated.

    Meeting will be at 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. Parking is difficult, 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). Are readers are invited to attend and bring friends and family. More info below in Article #3.


    Tues., May 12, all day Community Service Society Lobby Day.

    Let’s have a large Prison Action Network contingent this year. Please consider making arrangements to take the day off so you can join us. Breakfast, lunch and transportation from NYC provided . A good way to start learning to lobby. Buses will depart from Community Service Society, 105 East 22nd Street, corner of Park Ave South, and from the Fortune Society Castle, corner of 140th Street and Riverside Drive. Departure Time: 6:30am SHARP. Returning Time: 7:00pm
    For more info, email Gabriel Torres-Rivera


    TODAY, all day, statewide Women in Prison Project Call-in Action.

    Take action on supporting the Domestic Violence Merit Time BillS S3438 [see details in article #4 on legislation]:

    This bill allows certain people convicted of a violent crime that was the result of domestic violence to be eligible for merit time. The 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."

    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!



    2. BUDGET NEWS: COMMISSIONER FISCHER SPEAKS TO THE CITIZENS CRIME COMMISSION ABOUT SAVING MONEY WHILE ALSO IMPROVING THE STATE PRISON SYSTEM

    In his speech to the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City on February 18, 2009 Commissioner Fischer talked about the decrease in numbers of people incarcerated in NYS, the decrease in crime, the 7,000 beds currently unused, and outlined proposals to improve the State prison system.

    He countered the opposition's claim that closing prisons puts citizens in danger by citing the statistic that every year since 1999, fewer than 11 percent of ex-offenders have returned to prison for a new crime within three years of release. He credits this success to the current focus on reentry.

    DOCS employs more than 31,000 people at a cost of $2.5 billion per year, making it the costliest executive agency in State government in terms of state operations. Fischer supports Governor Paterson's proposal to close four correctional camps and some prison annexes, saving taxpayers nearly $30 million a year with virtually no layoffs, since more than 40 COs leave the payroll every two weeks, mainly to retire.

    He mentioned the Governor's endorsement of three key recommendations of the New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform, of which Commissioner Fischer was one of 11 voting members:
    • Graduated sanctions for minor and technical parole violations as an alternative to a costly and inappropriate return to prison;
    • A six-month credit time allowance for offenders – including some violent offenders but no first-degree murderers or sex offenders – who behave themselves and complete enhanced program requirements during incarceration, and;
    • Expanded eligibility for our Shock Incarceration program.

    The Governor has also endorsed expanding medical parole from terminally ill offenders to certain incapacitated offenders who pose no reasonable threat to society.

    These proposals will not only free up more prison space, but will also provide incentives for offenders to improve themselves and, in the process, keep our prisons safer.

    Regarding the cuts in State contracts with private, not-for-profit substance abuse treatment programs he stated "you may not know that more than 8,500 inmates are currently receiving treatment through DOCS, mostly within prison walls. Last year, more than 30,000 inmates participated in Department substance abuse programs." He implies DOCS programs are as successful as those that are no longer available.

    Commissioner Fischer supports determinate sentencing, claiming that "while fixed sentencing was originally called “Truth in Sentencing,” it might be better defined as “Fairness in Sentencing.”" He believes that determinate sentencing addresses the problem of disparity of sentences and also "provides offenders with a clear understanding that to earn time off their court-imposed sentence, they must complete mandated treatment programs as well as avoid serious disciplinary problems." He believes it will encourage accepting personal responsibility for the outcome of their incarceration.

    [The speech is available on the DOCS website:www.docs.state.ny.us/.]



    3. COALITION FOR FAIR CRIMINAL JUSTICE POLICIES: MOMENTUM IS GROWING; WE ARE IN THE MEETING AND DISCUSSION PHASE OF OUR CAMPAIGN TO CHANGE PAROLE POLICIES. GEORGE ALEXANDER WILL BE OUR GUEST AT THE APRIL 25 MEETING.

    In the month of March we were busy researching ways to work on reforming the laws governing the Parole Board. We met with members of the advocacy community who have previously been involved in writing or supporting legislative changes to parole law. We also had a meeting with several of our favorite thinkers on legislative matters to discuss a proposal from our executive committee. The ideas generated from these two meetings were presented to members who attended our March 28th meeting. In April we will meet again with those interested in continuing as an ad hoc Policy Committee.

    Former head of Parole George Alexander will be a guest at our general meeting on April 25, in his first public appearance in NYC since his ouster. Please spread the word! Saturday April 25 from 10:30 to 1 at the Fortune Society Offices, 29-76 Northern Blvd.(Rte 25A) between 40th Ave and 41st Ave in Long Island City. See article 1, under NYC, for more travel directions.



    4. ICARE REPORTS ON LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY EFFORTS AND CIRCLES OF CARE MINISTRY PROGRAM

    During budget season, much of the conversation in Albany has been focused on the Rockefeller Drug Laws and ways to reduce wasteful spending that does nothing to improve the lives of people in prison or in communities.   ICARE is continuing to educate members of the new Senate majority about issues of reentry and incarceration by asserting the importance of amending or proposing legislation that strengthens employment opportunities for people with criminal convictions.  Reducing discrimination is a key factor for gaining employment and for the long-term work of stabilizing communities disproportionately impacted by incarceration.  

    We have also continued to build our small "Circles of Care" ministry program, recognizing that community support is essential in the reentry process.  In mid-March we hosted a New York City gathering for the volunteers who correspond with participants in our "Circles of Care" program, and we are now working to establish an ongoing network of communities of faith around the state who are involved in supporting incarcerated people and their families. 



    5. LEGISLATION: CENSUS BILL HAS JOINT SPONSORSHIP; NEW MERIT TIME BILL LIMITS THOSE WHO ARE ELIGIBLE AND DOES NOT INCREASE THE TIME CUTS; DOMESTIC VIOLENCE MERIT TIME BILL INCLUDES PEOPLE WITH CRIMES RESULTING FROM ABUSE . [Copies of all bills mentioned are available at public.leginfo.state.ny.us/menuf.cgi. Call PAN if you need help using that site. 518 253 7533.]

    S1633/A5946 CENSUS BILL
    February 3, 2009 Introduced by Sens. SCHNEIDERMAN, BRESLIN, DIAZ, DILAN, DUANE, HASSELL-
    THOMPSON, KRUEGER, MONTGOMERY, ONORATO, OPPENHEIMER, PARKER, SAMPSON, SAVINO, SERRANO, STAVISKY, THOMPSON -- read twice and ordered printed,and when printed to be committed to the Committee on Elections. Introduced February 23, 2009 by Members of the Assembly A. ESPAILLAT, BENJAMIN, PEOPLES, BOYLAND, LAVINE -- Multi-Sponsored by -- M. of A. CLARK, DIAZ, GREENE, HEASTIE, HOOPER, PERRY, ROSENTHAL -- read once and referred to the Committee on Election Law

    It states that each facility for the incarceration of persons convicted of a criminal offense, including a mental health institution for those persons, shall submit a report to the state board of elections, which includes, along with other information, the last address at which the person resided before the person's current incarceration. That information will be used in creating Congressional, Assembly, Senate and County Legislative Districts. If passed it would go into effect immediately.


    S2932/A6487  MERIT TIME BILL #2
    (S49, same as A172 - reported last month - is before the Committee also)
    MONTGOMERY, AUBREY
    Correction Law
    TITLE....Relates to the expansion of merit time
    STATUS: 03/06/09 REFERRED TO CRIME VICTIMS, CRIME AND CORRECTION

    Section 1 of the bill amends section 803 of the correction law to allow all inmates to earn merit time allowance except those serving a sentence of life imprisonment without parole, those convicted of an A-1 felony offense (other than those A-1 felony offenses which are defined in Penal Law Section 220), and those convicted of a sex offense or convicted of an act of terrorism. (Thus it includes some who have convictions for violent crimes not currently eligible for Merit Time.)
    The merit time allowance would be one-sixth of an indeterminate and one-seventh of a determinate sentence. This section of the bill also expands the criteria that a person in the custody of the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) may meet in order to earn merit time.
     
    Justification: Merit time affords inmates with the ability to earn a reduction of their sentence after completing significant programming and maintaining a positive disciplinary record. Current law only allows inmates with certain nonviolent convictions to earn merit time. However, the availability of merit time allowance motivates inmates to complete necessary programming and maintain a good disciplinary record. The program has been shown to reduce violence in prisons and studies show that inmates granted merit time and released early have lower recidivism rates. This bill facilitate those positive outcomes by expanding the eligibility for the merit time program.


    S3438/A4516-A  DOMESTIC VIOLENCE MERIT TIME BILL
    MONTGOMERY, HASSELL-THOMPSON, WEINSTEIN (MS) 
    Correction Law
    TITLE....Relates to the accrual of merit time by certain inmates
    STATUS: 03/19/09 REFERRED TO CRIME VICTIMS, CRIME AND CORRECTION
    Amd Ss803, 805, 806 & 851, Cor L

    Allows certain inmates to be granted a merit time allowance; allows inmates who are able to prove that they were subjected to substantial physical, sexual or psychological abuse, that the abuse was inflicted by a member of their same family or household or a member of the person's immediate family, and that the abuse was a substantial factor in causing them to commit the crime, to be eligible to earn merit time in the amount of one-third off either their minimum sentence (if inmate has an indeterminate sentence) or their flat sentence; allows such inmates to be eligible for presumptive release; expands the criteria that a person in custody of the department of correctional services may meet in order to earn merit time. [For an action you can take in support of this bill please see Article 1]



    6. LIFERS AND LONGTERMERS CLEARINGHOUSE - NEW SENTENCING MODEL CALLS INTO QUESTION THE TRADITIONAL ROLE OF PAROLE; ESSENTIALLY STRIPPING IT OF ANY SANCTIONING FUNCTIONS

    I want to give recognition to those who responded with their ideas how to make discretionary release on parole more just and equitable. John Mackenzie, Lynn Rudolph and Kenneth Bazil, Joseph Conyers and Raymond Roe, to name only a few, put forth well researched ideas on the laws, policies and procedures governing parole release in New York State.

    It must be remembered that the parole laws, policies and procedures currently complained of were proposed and legislated during a period when parole was the dominant release scheme in New York State. However, given the declining relevancy of parole in an era of determinate sentencing, the time has come to seriously question the role of parole and the parole board. 

    This is especially true in light of the legislative changes enacted on June 7, 2006 affecting sentencing in New York. Penal Law #1.05(6) was amended to add a new goal "the promotion of their (convicted person's) successful and productive reentry and reintegration into society.." to the four traditional sentencing goals of deterrence, rehabilitation, retribution and incapacitation.
    This legislative change in the sentencing goals in New York is consistent with the reintegrative sentencing model that was developed by the Center for Community Alternatives and championed by an alliance of interfaith, direct service providers  and policy organizations. 

    All Lifer and Long-termer organizations, as well as prison legal researchers and legislative committees should ask for a copy of "Unlocking the Potential of Reentry and Reintegration" from Center For Community Alternatives,115 East Jefferson Street, Syracuse, New York 13202, or 39 West 19th Street, New York 10011

    The proposed Reintegrative Sentencing Model is gaining acceptance in legal and judicial circles and aspects are being applied.  Perhaps the most important aspect of the new sentencing model is that it calls into question the traditional role of parole.  For those who paid attention to the NYS Sentencing Commission Hearings held in 2007, the declining relevancy of parole in an era of Determinate Sentencing was clearly made public.  The notion of parole as having both an evaluating and sanctioning function is seriously being called into question especially in light of the reintegrative sentencing model that requires a more substantive role in pre-sentence reporting as well as individual career planning during incarceration.  Parole would be required to play a more evaluative role for those sentenced to indeterminate sentences when determining their release potential.  There would no longer be a need for parole to serve a sanctioning role as they now attempt to do. Under the reintegrative sentencing model sanctions would be determined at the sentencing stage.

    The new role for parole is reduced to two primary functions: (1) to evaluate the release potential during the incarceration stage, and (2) to provide post release supervision (monitoring and program participation) for those released on determinate sentences, and monitoring and reintegrative services for those released on indeterminate sentences. Parole would be stripped of any sanctioning functions.

    Larry White



    7. PAROLE NEWS: ALEXANDER’S CHARGES DISMISSED; PART 5 OF PAROLE HANDBOOK;
    FEBRUARY and MARCH PAROLE STATISTICS

    Parole Board chief gets dismissal George B. Alexander, forced to resign as head of the state Parole Board after he was accused of stealing a laptop computer, was granted a six-month adjournment in contemplation of dismissal on March 13. [The two felony charges were dismissed outright and the misdemeanor put on reserve calendar for final dismissal on June 23rd. ED.]

    Buffalo City Judge Jeffrey F. Voelkl issued the ruling for Alexander, 56, who had faced stolen property charges. The state attorney general also agreed to the sentence. Alexander’s lawyer, John V. Elmore, said Alexander, who had previously served as Erie County probation commissioner, handed over a $500 check to Erie County for having the laptop for a year. Elmore said Alexander “just forgot” he left the laptop in his Buffalo home in the swirl of activity that sent him to Albany for his job on weekdays, his attorney said.

    Under the arrangement, Alexander’s adjournment will expire June 23 — six months after he was arraigned in Buffalo City Court on felony grand larceny and stolen property charges — “and he’ll have a clean slate,” Elmore said. Alexander currently is a part-time criminal justice instructor at Buffalo State College.

    Alexander, who returned to Buffalo on weekends, oversaw a parole operation with an annual $279 million budget and 2,300 employees. However, he neglected to surrender to the county the $1,700 Gateway laptop, which he brought home so his computer-savvy son could check out its bells and whistles, Elmore said. Elmore said Alexander admitted in writing that he had the laptop from January 2007 to April 2008, when he returned it to the county, and admitted he “deprived” the Erie County Probation Department of its use. Assistant State Attorney General Michael McCabe, who handled the court proceeding, could not be reached to comment.

    Alexander resigned from his state job in late December after state Inspector General Joseph Fisch found that he had kept the laptop— property of Erie County but purchased through a grant from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. The computer, which was used by the county Department of Probation and Youth Detention Services for work on trying to reduce juvenile violence, was traced to Alexander’s home through anti-theft software operated by the state. --By Matt Gryta, Buffalo News Staff Reporter


    PART 5 ON THE STRUCTURE OF PAROLE, FROM THE NYS PAROLE HANDBOOK [available online at http://parole.state.ny.us/Handbook.pdf ]

    Last month we were at the part which explains four ways a person can be released: Board Release; Presumptive Release; Mandatory Conditional Release (CR); or Completion of the Maximum Sentence (max-out). We presented Board Release, so we’re now at Conditional Release (CR):

    CONDITIONAL RELEASE (CR): All inmates, except those serving life sentences, are eligible to have their sentences reduced for good time served. Conditional Release (CR) must be granted when your total good behavior time is equal to the unserved portion of your maximum term. For indeterminate sentences, this occurs when you have not been granted release by the Board of Parole, but have served two-thirds of your maximum sentence and there has been no loss of good time. For example, if serving an indeterminate sentence of one to three years, you could be released by the Parole Board after serving the minimum of one year. If not, you are eligible for conditional release after serving two years.

    For determinate sentences, created by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1995 (modified in 1998 to include post-release supervision), there is no parole eligibility, and conditional release occurs when you have served six-sevenths of your sentence and there has been no loss of good time.

    Conditional release is a statutory type of release that the Board of Parole does not have discretion to grant or deny. However, no matter what kind of sentence you are serving, you must meet two conditions to be eligible for conditional release:
    • You must request conditional release; and
    • You must agree in writing to abide by the conditions of parole for conditional release until the expiration of your maximum term, or the expiration of your term of post-release supervision, if applicable. The conditions are essentially the same as those imposed upon other parolees.


    FEBRUARY 2009 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES – A1 VIOLENT FELONS – DIN #s through 1997
    unofficial research from parole database

    [the editor apologizes for being unable to present these in an easier to read manner]

    Total Interviews # Released # Denied Rate of Release
    19 initials 6 13 32%
    66 reappearances 16 50 24%
    85 Total 22 63 26%


    February Initial Release

    Facility Sentence Offense # of Board
    Fishkill 16-Life Murder 2 Initial
    Mid Orange 15-Life Murder 2 Initial
    Mid Orange 15-Life Kidnap1 Initial
    Mid Orange 18-Life Murder 2 Initial
    Mid Orange 25-Life Murder 2 Initial
    Otisville 20-Life Murder 2 Initial

    February Reappearances

    Facility Sentence Offense # of Board Eligibility Date Arthurkill 18-Life Murder 2 3rd 7/1/05 Butler 17 ?-Life Murder 2 2nd 6/24/07
    Fishkill 1 ?-3 Murder 2 2nd 6/17/07
    Fishkill 20-Life Murder 2 4th 3/4/03
    Mid Orange 25-Life Murder 2 3rd 6/15/05
    Mid Orange 25-Life Murder 2 7th 5/16/97
    Mid Orange 25-Life Murder 2 2nd 6/6/07
    Mid Orange 16 ?-Life Murder 2 2nd 6/11/07
    Otisville 20-Life Murder 2 6th 6/24/99
    Otisville 25-Life Murder 2 4th 6/11/03
    Otisville 20-Life Murder 2 3rd* 10/18/05
    Otisville 18-Life Murder 2 2nd 6/5/07
    Otisville 25-Life Murder 2 2nd 6/13/07
    Sullivan 25-Life M2 2x 2nd 6/5/07
    Woodbourne 25-Life Murder 6th 6/26/99
    Woodbourne 20-Life Murder 2 2nd 6/14/07


    FEBRUARY (and MARCH ) 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):

    ARTHUR KILL
    March/April Ferguson, Casey, Thompson
    46 appearances, 3 were paroled.
    28 were initial appearances, 2 were paroled, 7 were postponed
    17 were reappearances, 1 was paroled, 1 was postponed
    1 Merit Time interview, 1 postponed

    MID-ORANGE
    March Ferguson, Ross, Hagler
    23 appearances (4 were A1VO),
    3 were paroled (1 for deportation, none were A1’s),
    4 were postponed
    All denials were for 2 years

    SULLIVAN ANNEX
    March Ferguson, Casey
    6 appearances (1 Lifer)
    0 were paroled: 2 initials, 3 reapp 1 Merit
    Merit got an 18 mo. hold, others were 24 mo.


    WOODBOURNE
    March Ferguson, Ludlow, Crangle
    13 Appearances: 2 granted parole; 8 denied, 3 postponements
    A1VO: 7 seen, 0 granted.


    GRAZIANO VS PATAKI: The parties are still waiting for a decision on the motion to compel the Pataki deposition.



    8. PRISON HEALTH CARE REPORT RECENTLY RELEASED BY THE CORRECTIONAL ASSOCIATION'S PRISON VISITING PROJECT REPRESENTS THE MOST COMPREHENSIVE ANALYSIS OF MEDICAL SERVICES IN A SINGLE STATE'S PRISON SYSTEM EVER PREPARED.

    Undertaken at the request of the New York State Assembly's Health and Correction Committees, Healthcare in New York Prisons, the report is based on observations and information gathered at 19 prisons visited by the CA over the course of three years. It concludes that despite some recent progress in the delivery of healthcare in New York's prisons, significant problems persist. Among these are: (1) staff shortages; (2) inadequate routine healthcare; (3) gaps in chronic diseases care; (4) inconsistencies with specialty care services; and (5) inadequate access to medications.

    The study makes concrete recommendations on how Governor Paterson, the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) and the Legislature could improve the quality of healthcare in the state's prisons, including requiring Department of Health oversight of care, promptly filling medical staff vacancies, and enhancing salaries for positions that are not currently competitive with community rates.

    The CA has released the report to DOCS, DOH, and key legislators in the New York State Assembly and Senate.

    The nearly 100 page report is available for $10 from the The Correctional Association of New York, 2090 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd., Suite 200 New York, New York 10027, (212) 254-5700



    9. PRISON LIBRARIES: RESEARCHER WOULD LIKE TO HEAR FROM YOU IF YOU ARE, OR EVER HAVE BEEN, A USER OF A PRISON LIBRARY.

    Devra Schor, a second-year student at Sarah Lawrence College, is writing a conference paper about prison libraries and basic access to knowledge while incarcerated in state penitentiaries.

    She is looking for information about what the libraries and librarians are like; if they are adequate, helpful, sufficient, or not.  Is it easy to get books, both from the libraries and in the mail, from friends and family and books to prisoners programs? Anything and everything that you think is relevant.
     
    Letters should be sent to: Devra Schor, Sarah Lawrence College, 1 Mead Way, Bronxville, NY 10708



    10. PRISON MEDIA: RADIO’S FANCY BROCCOLI SCHEDULES GUEST JERRY BALONE FOR 4/5; NEW BLOG; NEW NETWORKING SITE,

    April 5th at 3:30 P.M.  Fancy Broccoli’s guest will be Gerald T. Balone, MS, MPS, author of  A Former Insider's Guide to Parole: A Manual for Anyone Trying to Get Out of Prison. 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'. Visit archives at www.fancybroccoli.org to find lots of other good interviews.

    NEW BLOG: www.thinkoutsidethecell.com features Joe “Donkor” Robinson, author of the highly praised book, “Think Outside the Cell: An Entrepreneur’s Guide for the Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated,” in a twice-weekly blog column. Visit the site to find his incisive commentary on prison life, prisoner reentry, entrepreneurship, current events and politics.
     
    A NEW SOCIAL NETWORKING SITE:  www.justicetroops.com. Join the community of advocates for fair criminal justice policies on their new social networking site. It’s an effective way for members of the community to raise awareness, share news and information, tell their stories, gain support for letter-writing and other campaigns, quickly spread the word about their organizations and events—and so much more.  By becoming active members of www.justicetroops.com you can flex your personal and collective power, speak your truths and make sure that your voices are heard.



    11. PRISONERS OF THE CENSUS - THE PRISON POLICY INITIATIVE’S WORK HAS LED TO LEGISLATION GAINING SUPPORT IN NYS

    In New York in the 1990s, two out of every three people to move to upstate New York were prisoners. This has created districts that would otherwise be illegal under federal law. As a result of this information discovered by Peter Wagner, two bills (S1633/A5946) are now in committee in the NYS legislature (see article #5 on Legislation).

    This project relies on the generosity of people and organizations to support our work. Despite great progress and the rapid approach of the 2010 Census, funding remains our biggest challenge. Can you make a contribution to help us continue this work? Contributions can be made by sending a check to PPI, PO Box 127 Northampton MA 01061. Please contact Peter Wagner if you have any questions about supporting this work.



    12. REENTRY UNIT AT HUDSON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY OPENED ON MARCH 1 2009 FOR MALE OFFENDERS RETURNING TO CAPITAL DISTRICT

    The Hudson unit is the Department’s third specialized reentry unit, following units that opened at Orleans Correctional Facility in Western New York in August 2007 and October 2008 for Erie and Monroe County releases, respectively. DOCS plans a fourth reentry unit - and the first for female offenders - at Bayview Correctional Facility in Manhattan this spring for women due to be released back to New York City. These efforts follow an ongoing reentry program that began in 2001 at Queensboro Correctional Facility in Queens, which releases about 4,500 male offenders per year to the New York City area. The Hudson unit is reserved for inmates due to be released to Albany, Rensselaer, Columbia and Schenectady counties.

    Community agencies or organizations that wish to assist the Hudson reentry project should contact Hudson’s Supervising Correction Counselor, Roberto Belmonte, at (518) 828-4311, extension 4300.



    13. COMMISSIONER BRIAN FISCHER GAVE OPENING REMARKS AT THE NEW YORK MINORITIES IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REENTRY AND COMMUNITY SERVICES' WORKSHOP, PART OF THE NEW YORK STATE BLACK, PUERTO RICAN, HISPANIC & ASIAN LEGISLATIVE CAUCUS’S ANNUAL LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE WEEKEND ON FEBRUARY 14, 2009. THE FOLLOWING ARE SOME EXCERPTS:

    Re-entry really means assisting any offender to be better prepared to meet the challenges of making it in the community. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, we all have a stake in offenders’ success upon release; it means the difference between the offender respecting the law, working, paying taxes and contributing to public safety vs. reverting to crime, returning to prison, consuming taxes and making our neighborhoods unsafe.

    Re-entry should mean providing assistance and programs that help individuals before they come to prison, while in prison, upon their release and for as long as the person needs assistance after release. Re-entry must be a holistic concept.

    Family support is critical for any offender’s ability to deal effectively both with incarceration and life after prison. To encourage this we offer programs in prison that deal with family dynamics as well as Family Reunion, family visiting and special family event days. Community and legislative support are essential to remove obstacles ex-offenders face in securing housing, employment and even education and training.
    Other suggested programs/services:

    Internet literacy program to ensure offenders preparing to leave know how to access the Internet upon their return.
    Bank cards rather than checks or cash upon their release.
    An avenue for offenders in prison to deal with court-ordered child support requirements so they do not leave prison owing amounts that often place an unreasonable financial burden upon them while they seek employment.
    A program called Thinking For a Change, which offers help in improving social skills and morale development - often referred to as “soft skills.”
    An agreement to move Parole Board hearings back four months prior to an offender’s earliest possible release date, rather than two months as had been the case, allowing the Department to transfer the offender into a re-entry program like Orleans with enough time to more fully assist him in getting ready for his return home.
    The Edgecombe Residential Treatment Facility, where Parolees having difficulty in the community, primarily with drug abuse, are provided short-term intervention treatment and returned to their home rather than be sent to an upstate prison. While we call this program part of a graduated sanction initiative, it is really all about assisting in the successful re-entry of offenders.

    Lastly, the Department fully supports many of the recommendations put forward by community advocates and our State legislators. Proposals such as an offender’s right to vote upon release, dropping a non-sex offender from our website after some period of time or court resolution, requiring local social service agencies to assist with timely Medicaid assistance and access to TAP funding for prison college courses are all critical to the success of everyone – both the offenders and the community alike - in re-entry.
    [The complete speech is available on the DOCS website: www.docs.state.ny.us/.]



    14. SHU BILL: DON'T DELAY HUMANITY ANY FURTHER; EFFORT TO PUSH OFF NEW BILL TO PREVENT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT OF MENTALLY ILL IN PRISON IS UNCONSCIONABLE, BY SOL WACHTLER, A FORMER CHIEF JUDGE OF THE NEW YORK COURT OF APPEALS, NEWSDAY OP ED  MARCH 5, 2009


    Sol Wachtler, a former chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, teaches constitutional law at Touro Law School and is the author of "After the Madness: A Judge's Own Prison Memoir."

    After an enormous effort by individuals and organizations, last year the New York State Legislature passed, and then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer signed into law, the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) bill, which provides that seriously mentally ill inmates cannot be placed in solitary confinement.

    It took a law suit, the weathering of a veto by former Gov. George Pataki, and the commitment of dozens of individuals and organizations over a period of many years to have the legislature, with almost unanimity, provide more appropriate and humane in-prison residential and treatment services for these seriously mentally ill prisoners. The SHU (pronounced "shoe") bill also ensured that correctional officers would be provided with adequate mental health training.

    Although the law is not scheduled to take effect until 2011, Gov. David Paterson has proposed in this year's executive budget to diminish and delay the protections afforded by the SHU legislation, putting off implementation of the law until 2014. Accompanying legislation also calls for the elimination of about half of the correctional beds from the requirements of the SHU law, and cuts the training requirements for correctional officers.

    The bill was already a carefully constructed compromise, and it will have no fiscal impact on this year's budget. So the administration's effort to significantly alter and scale back its scope, by way of the budget process, is not only inexplicable, it is shameful. The governor is simply and arbitrarily walking away from the state's commitment to provide humane treatment to those with psychiatric disabilities who are most vulnerable.

    Locking up seriously mentally ill people in solitary, claustrophobic 8-foot by 10-foot (or even smaller) cells for 23 hours a day - with only one hour in an outdoor, zoo-like cage - isolated and idle, only exacerbates their symptoms and leads to greater mental dysfunction.

    I have seen and been with mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement. They are mostly untreated or under-treated and as a consequence of neglect, they deteriorate. Their behavior becomes unpredictable - they may react violently to the goading of other inmates, or they may rant or engage in incoherent babble. This infuriates their guards. They may not respond to direction and, instead, cower silently. They may respond to voices only they can hear, or talk to invisible people in a world constructed from their own hallucinations. They may self-mutilate and riddle their bodies with scars. Many try suicide.

    This acting out, this aberrational behavior, constitutes infractions that are punished by their keepers - most often by continuous and protracted interment in the SHU.

    This explains why a disproportionate number of the 8,000 seriously mentally ill in our New York State prisons end up serving an average of three years in the SHU. The closing of mental hospitals has resulted in a dramatic increase of prisoners diagnosed with serious mental illness. Placing these persons in the SHU is uncivilized - and considering that most of these inmates will be back in our communities far more disabled by their confinement, it is also dangerous.

    When the linear thinking of a seriously mentally ill inmate in the SHU does not allow him to understand that his misbehavior is the reason for his punishment, he continues to act out. To further punish him, he is fed the loaf - a brick-like mixture of vegetables and flour served with a dish of raw cabbage and water. As a spokesman for the Department of Correctional Services once told The New York Times, the loaf is given when "there's nothing left to take away."

    Bread and cabbage given for punishment has been condemned by the American Correctional Association, and was eliminated from the federal prisons and most states - but not in New York. In fact, during the Pataki years, use of the loaf diet was increased by 100 percent, and too many of those put on the diet were seriously mentally ill. It wasn't until passage of the SHU bill that any kind of outright ban on the use of the loaf for people with a psychiatric disability was enacted.

    The protections of the bill should not be further stalled. It is unconscionable for Gov. Paterson, based on a nonexistent budgetary pretext, to postpone the implementation of this law for an additional three years.

    It is now up to the legislature to allow the bill to go into effect as scheduled in 2011 - that's three years after it was signed into law. It will cost nothing this year to do it, and the cost over the next couple of years is probably far less than the sum of all the SHU and mental health-related prison lawsuits and settlements the state has been compelled to pay out in recent years. And the return, in terms of basic humanity to New York State, is incalculable.



    15. TRANSPORTATION: CAPITAL DISTRICT
    NEST Prison Shuttle schedule: Mt. McGregor, Washington, and Great Meadow CFs on Sat, Apr 4 ($35 adults, $25 children), Coxsackie, Greene, and Hudson on Sat, Apr 11  ($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, Apr 18 leaving Troy at 5 AM. Sullivan trip (Ulster, Eastern, Woodbourne, Sullivan) on Apr 25 leaving at 6:30 AM ($45 adults, $30 children). Reservations: Linda O'Malley 518- 273-5199.




    Building Bridges is the newsletter of Prison Action Network: prisonactionnetwork@gmail.com, 518 253 7533, PO Box 6355, Albany NY 12206, and is aided in distribution by the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany's Justice Committee

    We are deeply grateful to the Community Church of NY, Unitarian Universalist, for their support.

    Read now!