Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

NOVEMBER 2010

Latebreaking news and announcements are posted here in the days between issues. To go immediately to the November issue, please scroll down.


POSTED DEC 1 BY KAREN WOLF, INNOCENCE PROJECT  

CRIMINAL JUSTICE MEET-UP
December 9, 6pm to 8pm
The first gathering of a new quarterly meet-up for professionals working on criminal justice and reform innovation!

Featuring a 30-minute presentation from Danielle Sered, the Director of Common Justice at the Vera Institute.
Common Justice offers an alternative to the traditional court process for youth charged with felonies such as assault, robbery, and burglary. Project staff bring together people immediately affected by a crime to acknowledge the harm done, address the needs of the harmed party, and agree on sanctions other than incarceration to hold the responsible party accountable. The project, which is based in Brooklyn, seeks to repair harm, break cycles of violence, and decrease the system's heavy reliance on incarceration.
 
Drinks and snacks will be provided. Space is limited -- RSVP is essential. (I registered tonight; there were 13 spaces left. Ed.) You may register for this event here:http://nycjustice.eventbrite.com

Sponsored by the ACLU, the Vera Institute of Justice, The Innocence Project, and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The Vera Institute of Justice is pleased to host the first gathering. For more information, contact Alison Shames at
 ashames@vera.org

Location: Vera Institute of Justice 233 Broadway (Woolworth Building), 12th Floor

 

POSTED NOV 25 - BY THE PRISONER JUSTICE CLUB AT CITY COLLEGE
"Justice on Trial"
A Documentary on Mumia Abu-Jamal by Johanna Fernandez and Kouross Esmaeli.

Presented in affiliation with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

December 8th, 7PM
The City College of New York; NAC Building 1st floor; Hoffman Student Lounge
Special guest Speaker: Producer Johanna Fernandez

Tried and convicted of the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner, Mumia Abu-Jamal is the most recognized death row inmate in the world today.

His case is one of the most contested cases in modern American history, and one of the most important civil rights cases of our time.

Judicial Bias. Prosecutorial misconduct. Racial discrimination in jury selection. Police corruption. Tampering with evidence to obtain a conviction.

These are characteristics that affect the ENTIRE criminal justice system. Learn how these flaws have affected Mumia FOR THREE DECADES. New evidence is revealed in the documentary that the courts refuse to review. Learn why this is one of the most important cases of our generation!!





Dear Reader,

NYS family members have been calling us at the request of their incarcerated loved ones to find out how they can get involved. We appreciate that our readers in prison are asking their families to become active. Please keep up the good work! That's the only way justice will be attained. Right now we are concentrating on connecting supporters with their legislative representatives and providing information sheets to use in educating them. We are gathering a data base of those who call, so when the time comes for a rally or a Family Empowerment Day event, we'll be sure they know about it. For family members reading this for the first time, please be sure to read # 10 and # 11, and also check the first article for a list of actions and meetings in your area. Thank you.

Please be well, keep the faith, and share the news!


Index of Articles:

1. Activism: actions, meetings and events
2. Criminal history records present problems in college admissions
3. CPR Prison leadership training program
4. CA reports on abuses in juvenile system
5. FRPs and Free Bus application process
6. ICARE reports on expansion of program and invites input
7. Indigent Legal Services Board national search for director
8. Michigan increases parole releases to save money and reduce recidivism
9. The New Jim Crow, quotes from chapter 1
10. NYS Parole Reform Campaign solicits readers' responses
11. Parole News
12. VOCAL-NY announcement
13. Voting Rights granted to Gt. Britain’s prisoners

[For copies of any document, article or legislation referred to, or excerpted from, in this issue, please email PAN with a request clearly stating name of the document and the date of the Building Bridges in which it was seen. -Ed.]


1. ACTIVISM: ACTIONS, MEETINGS AND EVENTS HAPPENING AROUND THE STATE THIS MONTH:

ACTIONS

THROUGHOUT NEW YORK STATE:
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 11AM-3PM DROP THE ROCK EMPOWERMENT DAY
Invest in communities, not prisons! Join in the movement to reduce incarceration in New York!
Teams of community members, young people, formerly incarcerated people, and families will come together in neighborhoods across the city and state that are heavily impacted by incarceration to educate the public about Drop the Rock’s campaign to downsize New York’s prison system and reinvest in communities.

1. Petition for prison closures, criminal justice reform and community reinvestment.
2. Register New Yorkers to vote.
3. Educate New Yorkers on the prison industrial complex.

Volunteers will petition on street corners, public housing lobbies and supermarkets across the state.

Register now to spread the word and tell New York to invest in communities, not prisons.  Contact Drop the Rock at 212-254-5700 x 330 or dthomas@correctionalassociation.org


NATIONWIDE
TODAY! CALL-IN: TO SUPPORT THE NATIONAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE COMMISSION ACT.

BACKGROUND INFO:

In 2009, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) and 15 bipartisan cosponsors introduced the National Criminal Justice Commission Act, legislation that would create a bipartisan Commission to review and identify effective criminal justice policies and make recommendations for reform. We hope and believe the Commission will recommend that certain barriers that prevent individuals from obtaining employment, housing, education, and public benefits because of arrests or convictions should be eliminated or reduced in scope and severity because they hinder successful reentry, contribute to instability in our communities, and reduce public safety.

The House of Representatives and Senate Judiciary Committee have reviewed and favorably passed the bill, which now has 39 Senate co-sponsors. Currently, the bill is awaiting final passage by the Senate during these last few weeks of the Congressional session. If the National Criminal Justice Commission Act does not pass this year, the legislation must be reintroduced and advance through both chambers of Congress again in 2011. Please help us urge the Senate to prioritize and pass this important legislation as soon as possible!

ACTION NEEDED:

Please call the following Senators today to ask them to prioritize and support Senate passage of the House-passed National Criminal Justice Commission Act, H.R. 5143/S. 714, as soon as possible during this session of Congress:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), 202-224-3542
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), 202-224-3135

MESSAGE:

I am calling to ask the Senator to prioritize and support immediate Senate passage of the House-passed National Criminal Justice Commission Act, H.R. 5143/S. 714, because:
Having a transparent and bipartisan Commission review and identify effective criminal justice policies would increase public safety.
Public policies that create barriers that prevent people with arrest or conviction records from participating fully in society are counterproductive, overly severe, and inconsistent with evidence about best practices to promote public safety, and these policies warrant examination and reconsideration.
The increase in incarceration over the past twenty years has stretched the system beyond its limits. These high costs to taxpayers are unsustainable, especially during these tough economic times.
The proposed commission would conduct a comprehensive national review – not audits of individual state systems – and would issue recommendations – not mandates – for consideration.

If you have any questions, please contact Mark O’Brien,
mobrien@lac.org, at (202) 544-5478.



EVENTS:
MANHATTAN:
SATURDAY DECEMBER 11, 2-6 PM THE IN YOUR FACE MOVEMENT PRESENTS THE NYC AWARENESS RALLY PART 2!

THE 1ST ONE WAS UNDERESTIMATED. THE 2ND ONE IS SURE TO BE UNFORGETTABLE!

Register Here!

The Division of Parole whose mission statement is “To Promote Public Safety by preparing inmates for release and supervising parolees to successful completion of their sentence.”  Take notice of the key words prepare and release. Where does it say ‘retry’?  We have here a huge problem dealing with role confusion and role reversal!  If after 10, 15, 20, 25 years a person has yet to be rehabilitated, then do we not have a broken system??!! Hence what is the purpose of the system?!! A parole board who seemingly spends more time hindering one's freedom vs. assisting one in regaining access to their freedom! So the question is: What then is the purpose of the parole board?

Location: 500 Eighth Avenue betw 35 - 36 St.
Manhattan 10018


MEETINGS:
ALBANY:
EVERY MONDAY 7-8:30 PM PRISON FAMILIES OF NY SUPPORT GROUP MEETINGS
We Help Each Other! Location: 373 Central Avenue Albany
For information contact Alison 518-453-6659

EVERY TUESDAY AT 6PM P-MOTIONS (PROGRESSIVE MEN OPERATING TOWARDS INITIATING OPPORTUNITIES NOW)
A men's support group which meets weekly at the SEFCU building, 388 Clinton Ave (look for the bright red roof). Facilitation shared by Sam Wiggins, Monroe Parrott and Malik Rivera.  For information call Malik at 518 445-5487.


BROOKLYN:
EVERY WEDNESDAY AT 5:30PM VOCAL PAROLEES ORGANIZING PROJECT

Join us to build power among people who are formerly incarcerated to reduce mass incarceration and fight discrimination against people with criminal records. For more info call 917 676-8041, or write
jeremy@nycahn.org
Location: 80A 4th Ave. in Brooklyn

BUFFALO:
EVERY WEDNESDAY FROM 5-6 PM ERIE COUNTY PRISONERS RIGHTS COALITION
Demonstration in front of the Erie County Holding Center, corner of Delaware and Church, in Buffalo.

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 6:30-8:30PM PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO! MONTHLY MEETING
This month's meeting will afford us an opportunity to assess what has developed since the NYS Prisoner Justice Conference, which took place on March 29, 2010 in Albany. A small contingent of Western New Yorkers traveled to this conference, which delivered well on its promise “…to bring together, under one roof, a wide range of New York State organizations, working on a diversity of prisoner justice issues, to share ideas, information, energy, strategies, hope, and inspiration.” PRP2’s November meeting will provide an update on all that has developed since this highly successful event.

The following activists, representing a variety of organizations that are members of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network, will be on hand to provide information about new developments and gather information about prisoner justice issues that concern Western New Yorkers: Naomi Jaffe, Judith Brink, Shoshana Brown, Taina Asili, Victor Reyes and Laura Travison.

The documentary film being screened is “Life Sentence” by Lisa Gray, which details the inside and outside experiences of six formerly incarcerated men and women.

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.

Location: Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, Buffalo


LONG ISLAND:
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 23, AT 7:30PM PRISON FAMILIES ANONYMOUS (PFA) SUPPORT GROUP
(AND ON THE 2ND AND 4TH TUESDAY EVENINGS OF EVERY MONTH)

Life becomes more difficult and stressful for family and friends when a loved one becomes incarcerated. Relationships and responsibilities can become strained, and the dynamics within the family often change dramatically.

The PFA Support Group provides a safe, nonjudgmental place where those in similar situations can connect with each another. It provides compassion, support and information to family members during their very difficult times. For more information, please contact: Barbara: 631- 943-0441 or Sue; 631-806-3903

Location: Community Presbyterian Church
1843 Deer Park Ave., Deer Park, NY


MANHATTAN:
WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 17, 1:00PM-3:00PM PRESENTED BY COMMUNITY SERVICE SOCIETY (CSS)
George T. McDonald, Founder and President of The Doe Fund will present the evolution of The Doe Fund's Ready, Willing, and Able program into an evidence-based, working model for prisoner reentry. Lunch will be provided. Please RSVP to Gabriel Torres-Rivera at grivera@cssny.org or call 212.614.5306

Location: Community Service Society - Conference Room 4A,
105 East 22nd Street, #6 or W/R train to 23rd St.


THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 18, RECEPTION BEGINS AT 6:00 PM THE BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE AT NYU SCHOOL OF LAW AND THE ALLIANCE FOR JUSTICE
A reception and discussion celebrating publication of Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion moderated by Jeffrey Toobin, Senior Legal Analyst for CNN Worldwide and legal affairs writer at The New Yorker. "Scrupulously honest and consistently fair-minded, Justice Brennan is a supremely impressive work that will long be prized as perhaps the best judicial biography ever written." -- The Washington Post

Featuring:
Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel, Co-authors of Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion
Burt Neuborne, Professor of Civil Liberties at NYU School of Law and Founding Legal Director, Brennan Center for Justice,
Lawrence Pedowitz, Partner at Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz and Clerk to Justice Brennan (1973-74)

RSVP to Deborah Francois (Deborah.Francois@nyu.edu or 646-292-8371).

Location: Kimmel Center @ New York University
60 Washington Square South, 10th Floor


THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 5PM-7PM (NEW MEMBERS' ORIENTATION AT 4PM) COALITION FOR WOMEN PRISONERS GENERAL MEETING
A special presentation from the Incarcerated Mothers Committee on “Mothers, Families and Implementation of the New ASFA Expanded Discretion Law” that was passed this year. If you know of families impacted by these issues, please extend to them the invitation to come to listen and perhaps speak out.
•    In honor of Thanksgiving, we would like to have a pot luck meeting. Please all those that can, bring a dish!
•    We are coming up to the end of the year so heads up for a survey to get feedback for the upcoming year.

Contact: Stacey Thompson, Coalition Associate, Women in Prison Project, 212-254-5700 ext. 333, www.correctionalassociation.org 

Location: 2090 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., Suite 200 (betw 124th and 125th Sts)


EVERY FRIDAY 6-9PM - RIVERSIDE CHURCH BOOK STUDY GROUP - THE NEW JIM CROW, MASS INCARCERATION IN THE AGE OF COLORBLINDNESS, BY MICHELLE WASHINGTON (SEE ARTICLE #9)

For information on the study group contact Rev.Alison Alpert (abalpert@gmail.com); Jazz Hayden (jhayden512@aol.com), 917-753-3771; Larry White (lw77a3272@yahoo.com), 646-796-4203.

Location: Riverside Church, 91 Claremont Ave
(north of 120th St , one blk west of Bdwy.)
Ask at the front desk for directions to Room 10T in the MLK Building


NIAGARA FALLS:
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 6-7:30PM NIAGARA PRISON FAMILY SUPPORT GROUP
Guest Speaker: – Karima Amin, Executive Director, Prisoners Are People Too

For further information and to leave a confidential message: Claudia 236-0257 or
e-mail niagarafamilies@aol.com

Location: Niagara Falls Public Library 1425 Main St. 2nd fl.



2. A STUDY BY THE CENTER FOR COMMUNITY ALTERNATIVES SHOWS HIGHER EDUCATION ADMISSION POLICIES CONTAIN HURDLES FOR PEOPLE WITH CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS.

CCA announces their new publication, “The Use of Criminal History Records in College Admissions Reconsidered” that shows that a majority of colleges and universities now collect criminal history information as part of the college admissions procedures. The survey was done in collaboration with the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers.   The survey found that a broad array of convictions, including convictions for relatively minor offenses, are viewed as negative factors in the context of admissions decision-making.

Among the study’s key findings are:
• 66% of the responding colleges collect criminal justice information, although not all of them consider it in their admissions process.
• A sizable minority (38%) of the responding schools does not collect or use criminal justice information and those schools do not report that their campuses are less safe as a result.
• Most schools that collect and use criminal justice information require additional information and procedures before admitting an applicant with a past criminal record including consultation with academic deans and campus security personnel. 
• Less than half of the schools that collect and use criminal justice information have written policies in place, and only 40 percent train staff on how to interpret such information.
The use of criminal history records in admissions decision making is problematic for a number of reasons: there is no empirical evidence that shows a link between having a criminal record and posing a risk to campus safety; criminal record information is often inaccurate or misleading; and racial disparities in the criminal justice system means that young people of color are more likely to be affected by admissions practices that screen for criminal records.
In light of the findings, CCA offers a series of recommendations designed to make admissions processes fairer and more evidence-based.  A college education is one of society’s most potent and effective crime prevention tools.  It opens doors of opportunity, enhances critical thinking, and leads to better and more stable employment.  If past criminal convictions are preventing qualified young people from going to college, society as a whole is the loser.    

[A full copy of the report is available here].



3. COALITION FOR PAROLE RESTORATION (CPR) IS CONDUCTING A PRISON LEADERSHIP TRAINING PROGRAM FOR MEN AND WOMEN WHO HAVE PAROLE ELIGIBLE FAMILY MEMBERS OR OTHER LOVED ONES IN PRISON. CPR IS ALSO SEEKING A FUNDRAISER/DEVELOPER.

This Coalition for Parole Restoration program will provide participants with an opportunity to gain leadership and problem-solving skills that will enable them to work in leadership positions in CPR and their communities. The family member of each individual that participates in the program will be assisted with their parole preparation and will be considered for our internship program when they are released. Pursuant to our affirmative action policy, CPR members will be give preference for the program but CPR membership is not a criterion for eligibility.

Guidelines:
Individuals must have a family member or other loved one currently incarcerated within the New York State Prison system
The person in prison must have at been denied two or more times and be scheduled for the next parole hearing no sooner than September 2011.
Individuals must complete an application process and be screened for selection.
Applicants must live in New York City or the surrounding suburbs and be available to attend meetings in New York City.

Anyone who is interested in the program should request an application from CPR by mail at PO Box 1379, New York, NY 10013-0877, email at parolecpr@yahoo.com, or telephone at 718-786-4174. You can also visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Coalition-for-Parole-Restoration-CPR..

Deadline for submission of applications is December 31, 2010

JOB OPPORTUNITY: CPR IS SEEKING A FUNDRAISER/DEVELOPER ON A PART TIME BASIS. If you know of anyone who has experience in this area, please ask them to contact James Rivers at 718-786-4174 or email us: parolecpr@yahoo.com


4. CORRECTIONAL ASSOCIATION SPEAKS OUT AGAINST ABUSES IN THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM.

Some very troubling news has come to our attention. A young man, Alexis Cirino-Rodriguez, recently died at the William George Agency after a "physical incident" involving "intervention” by staff.  The William George Agency contracts with New York State's Office of Children and Family Services—the state agency that operates juvenile prisons. Daily News journalist Errol Lewis recently wrote a powerful column that focused on this tragic incident and proposed reforms to the juvenile justice system.

We cannot—and will not—be silent in the face of Alexis's death. We will keep you informed about our investigation and subsequent advocacy efforts related to this incident. Your dedication and interest enable us to speak out against these instances of grave injustice and brutality and to be ongoing, vocal advocates for constructive change in the criminal justice system. We greatly appreciate that support.

Contact: gprisco@correctionalassociation.org, 2090 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., Suite 200, New York, NY 10027 | ph: (212) 254-5700



5. FAMILY REUNIFICATION VISITS AND FREE BUS TICKETS - THE (NEW) PROCESS FOR APPLYING

Free bus tickets - limited to one trip every 3 months
(NYC buses were suspended during contract negotiations; they are expected to be back at end of November.)

1. Person in prison applies to his or her counselor or chaplain for a free bus ticket.
2. Counselor or chaplain sends application to DOCS Dept of Ministerial and Family Services.
3. Ministerial Services sends the ticket to the person in prison, who then sends it to the person who will be visiting.
4. Person who will be visiting calls the official named on the ticket to make a reservation.

Family Reunification Progam (FRPs) - frequency depends on facility
(Note: Home visits by a DOCs staff member prior to approval will no longer be part of the process.)

1. Person in prison applies to his or her counselor or chaplain for participation in the FRP.
2. The application goes through the facility’s process, then is sent to Central Office to approve or not.
4. Application is sent back to the facility.
5. If it was approved, the facility contacts the family members to arrange the date.



6. ICARE’S INITIATIVE IN MULTIFAITH EDUCATION AND PRISON JUSTICE INVITES YOUR REFLECTIONS ON SOME QUESTIONS THEY ARE EXPLORING.

by Rima Vesely-Flad
This fall, as the founder of ICARE, I am working intensively with five women of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths. (As a practitioner of Buddhist teachings in the Vipassana tradition, I also add my voice). The group, which is based at Stony Point Conference Center in Rockland County, meets weekly to visit people in prison and to discuss the nexus between faith and activism, specifically the divide between ministers who pray with incarcerated people and activists who reject spiritual practice as a means of transformation.

The “prison practicum” has started with the premise that faith has always been a central component to systemic change. Faith is, after all, a way of taking ownership of one’s self and one’s life. In the practice of reflection and cultivating wisdom, a person is able to step out of institutional discourse, and realize that he or she is not defined by systemic oppression. Furthermore, spiritual practices allow a person or group the inner ability to reflect on the process of change while actually engaging in it. Thus faith enhances or grounds the ability to sustain energy and vision in the midst of difficult, slow, discouraging work.

The group is asking questions such as:
How does one’s faith shape one’s relationship to community-based work for systemic change of the penal system?
As a person committed to family and community, why is faith important?
How does the multifaith nature of prison community shape one’s spiritual experiences, the way faith communities are created, and the way community work is done?
How are one’s spiritual needs met during incarceration?
How does spiritual practice engage larger questions of the penal system?
How do the resources that have been available during incarceration foster faith and working for empowerment or change?

We are interested in reflections from people who are incarcerated or who have been released. If you are interested in sending a reflection on one or more of the aforementioned questions, please mail your submission of up to 500 words by January 1, 2011, to Rima Vesely-Flad, Stony Point Center, 17 Cricketown Road, Stony Point 10980



7. AN INDIGENT LEGAL SERVICES BOARD WAS CREATED BY STATUTE EARLIER THIS YEAR AND FINALLY ALL POSITIONS ON THE BOARD HAVE BEEN FILLED. IT IS NOW EMBARKING ON A NATIONAL SEARCH TO FILL THE POSITION OF DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF INDIGENT LEGAL SERVICES.

While this Board is not the Independent Public Defense Commission we still believe New York State needs, its creation holds great promise for improving public defense services.
 
The members of the Board are: ·    Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman ·    Michael G. Breslin (Albany County Executive) ·    Judge Sheila DiTullio (Erie County Court Judge) ·    John R. Dunne (former member of the Kaye Commission) ·    Gail Gray (NYC criminal defense attorney) ·    Susan V. John (currently, Assemblywoman from Rochester) ·   Joseph C. Mareane (Tompkins County Administrator) ·    Leonard Noisette (former director of the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem) ·   Susan Sovie (Watertown Family Court attorney)
 
The New York State Defenders Justice Fund will keep you abreast of developments relevant to this first step in much-needed reform in how New York State addresses its public defense responsibility. Our efforts to see widespread meaningful change in the form of an Independent Public Defense Commission will continue.

Jonathan E. Gradess, Campaign Manager jgradess@newyorkjusticefund.org (518) 465-0519 New York State Defenders Justice Fund, 194 Washington Ave., Suite 500, Albany, NY 12210



8. “HOW MICHIGAN MANAGED TO EMPTY ITS PENITENTIARIES WHILE LOWERING ITS CRIME RATE", BY LUKE MOGELSON. ONE OF THE WAYS WAS TO INCREASE THE NUMBER OF PAROLE RELEASES. WORTH READING IN ITS ENTIRETY FOR ALL OUR READERS
[Available Here]

Highlights from Washington Monthly, November/December 2010:

In 2003, [Michigan] launched the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative (MPRI), which amounts to the most comprehensive program in the country for helping parolees transition from prison back into society. The premise of the MPRI is familiar: that it’s both cheaper and safer to invest in preventing ex-cons from reoffending than it is to repeatedly incarcerate them. The methods, however, are new.

A few months ago, I sat in on an MPRI employment readiness seminar at the Oakland County parole office in Pontiac, the former hub of Automation Alley, where over half of the workforce is still employed by General Motors.

After the class, a reentry coordinator named Sherry Carter pulled a man with a goatee and shaved head into her office. He was hoping to get a job at the Silverdome, but he knew his prison tattoos would disqualify him. “SCORPIO” was inked on one side of his neck, “BETTY” on the other, and “D-A-R-K-N-E-S-S” across his knuckles. The Pontiac parole office has an agreement with American Pride, a local parlor that performs laser removals. In David’s case, the procedure would likely take two sessions, each costing $100, but the Michigan Department of Corrections, with MPRI funds, was willing to pay for it. Later, David told me that when he was released from prison the MPRI set him up with an apartment, provided him with bus passes, gave him vouchers for clothes, and helped him create a resume and apply for jobs. MPRI officials also got him enrolled in Oakland Community College, where he will be pursuing a degree in automotive technology. [Without their help], David told me, he probably wouldn’t have made it. “A guy like me, I did ten years in the joint. You get out and you got nothing. I had one outfit when I got out. That’s the only thing I had in my entire possession. If it wasn’t for the MPRI program, I’d be on the street right now.”

With the state hitting hard times (Michigan’s recession predates the economic downturn by a decade), Gov. Granholm and other officials were finally ready, if warily so, to listen to new ideas. What they heard from prison reformers was that Michigan’s sentencing policies, along with the rest of the country’s, were based on two flawed assumptions: one, that heavier sentences meaningfully deter crime; and two, that fewer grants of parole decrease recidivism. In fact, reformers had long argued, research shows that factors such as police per capita correlate far more closely with crime rates than do prison sentences, and longer lengths of stay do nothing to increase the likelihood of success on parole. [emphasis added]

[Dennis Schrantz is Gov. Granholm’s newly appointed deputy director for corrections.] Schrantz’s strategy for persuading the board to release more inmates from prison on parole was so straightforward it seems incredible that it hadn’t been tried before. “I asked them, ‘What do you need? Under what conditions would you consider paroling these individuals?’” Schrantz recounts. Members of the board say they were thrilled to be asked this simple question. They first brought up the problem of the mentally ill, who make up roughly a sixth of Michigan’s total prison population (7,100 out of 44,500).... Today, when mentally ill prisoners appear before the board, they bring packets detailing individually tailored, long-term master care plans. Parole approvals have spiked, and now only 28 percent of mentally ill parolees return to prison, compared with 50 percent prior to the initiative.

Schrantz also introduced into the decision making processes new academic research to which board members and corrections officials had never been exposed. “It was a whole new language,” says Patricia Caruso, Michigan’s director of corrections and a former prison warden. Often, the research had produced remarkably counterintuitive findings, calling into question long-held assumptions. Caruso recalls one especially memorable example of this. “Very early on [Schrantz] said to me that there is not a correlation between misconduct in prison and success on parole,” she says. “When Dennis first said this to me, I was absolutely aghast.” But Caruso says she eventually accepted the logic when Schrantz explained how, for women, unruliness in prison can actually be tied to success on parole. “So many women come to prison because they don’t have a voice. They’re often victims of men abusively guiding their actions,” says Caruso. “So getting a voice, and being able to tell the correction officer to go F himself, may not be the preferred way of conducting yourself in prison. But it does mean that when you get out you’re going to stand on your own two feet … Those types of things—within the first year, I really got it. I really embraced it.”

Meanwhile, Granholm and Caruso gradually replaced every member of the Engler parole board save one. In 2007, after winning reelection and implementing the MPRI statewide, Granholm appointed a former corrections officer named Barbara Sampson as chair of the parole board. “When Barb took over, everything changed,” Schrantz says. Sampson, who previously worked at a nonprofit for battered women, believed strongly in the MPRI and welcomed the new criminal justice research that Schrantz was recommending.

While the spike in paroled sex offenders has been a particularly hard sell, even with the governor (“She’s no big fan of releasing sex offenders,” Schrantz says. “She had her way, we’d castrate them”), the approach has so far been allowed to continue, without any obviously adverse effects to public safety. Since 2005, reported rapes in Michigan are down 13 percent.

Despite the success of the MPRI, there are, unsurprisingly, many opponents of Michigan’s new parole practices. In January, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan held a series of coordinated press conferences across the state, enlisting victims and their families to warn against the danger of paroling violent offenders. One attorney likened the spike in paroles to “a fire sale.”

The press has reinforced such sentiments. “They’re scaring the hell out of everybody,” Payne said of the local news station. People in Bay City “were totally under the impression that we were putting pedophiles on the bus stop to snatch their kids.”

Such stories of parolees who return to crime—and there will always be a proportion of parolees (as well as ordinary ex-prisoners) who return to crime—pose an immense challenge to the MPRI. “When you see someone you paroled go out and kill innocent people, you question every decision you make.” For a while, the board cut down dramatically on parole approvals, and Michigan’s prison population subsequently increased by more than 2,000.

By the end of 2007, however, the parole board had resumed its earlier pace of approvals. “You had Dennis [Schrantz] and you had the director and everybody doing all of this evidence-based, data-driven work,” Sampson remembers. “And steadily dangling that work, saying, ‘Board, take a look at this information. This is a study that came out of Kansas. Look at the Pew report.’”

Ultimately, aside from concerns over reoffending parolees, a different problem may pose the greatest threat to the MPRI: Michigan’s severe recession. ...what most [parolees] had in common was employment. Michigan’s unemployment rate has reached almost 13 percent, 3 points above the national average. Ironically, the same dire economic straits that spurred Michigan to reduce its prison population in the first place might also endanger the MPRI’s long-term success.

In Kalamazoo, Michael Brown, a Korean War veteran with a graying flattop, grayer mustache, and several missing teeth, told me he had been in and out of prison six times. Five of those times it was the same parole agent who sent him back on technical violations. This December, he was released through the MPRI. Now Brown has a new parole agent who couldn’t be more different, and Brown has changed, too. “Anything I do, if I’m the slightest bit worried about getting in trouble, I talk to him first,” Brown told me. “In the past, you didn’t have that. They were there to monitor you and they didn’t really care about you. They didn’t care if you had problems. They didn’t care if you wanted to reconcile with your family. The best you could get out of a parole officer was, ‘See you next month.’” I asked what things might have been like if he’d had the MPRI during any of his previous paroles. Brown shook his head. “I probably would’ve never come back. I think things would’ve been a lot different. I’d probably still be married to the same woman and been able to raise my kids instead of not being there for her or them. It’s a world of difference.”

Luke Mogelson is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.



9. THE NEW JIM CROW. MICHELLE WASHINGTON’S BOOK, THE NEW JIM CROW, INCARCERATION IN THE AGE OF COLORBLINDNESS, IS A MUST-READ FOR ANYONE INVOLVED IN SOCIAL JUSTICE. WE HOPE TO ENCOURAGE YOU TO READ IT BY PRINTING QUOTATIONS FROM EACH OF THE SIX CHAPTERS IN THIS AND FUTURE EDITIONS.

Chapter 1: The Rebirth of Caste
[After Jim Crow died, and they were] barred by law from invoking race explicitly.... proponents of racial hierarchy found they could install a new racial caste system without violating the law or the new limits of acceptable political discourse, by demanding “law and order” rather than “segregation forever.” P.40
[Millions of people were] behind bars .....[or labeled felons and] relegated to the margins of mainstream society, banished to a political and social space not unlike Jim Crow, where discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education was perfectly legal, and where they could be denied the right to vote.... Ninety percent of those admitted to prison for drug offenses in many states were black or Latino, yet the mass incarceration of communities of color was explained in race-neutral terms, an adaptation to the needs and demands of the current political clime. The New Jim Crow was born. P 56-57 [Next month: The Lockdown]



10. NYS PAROLE REFORM CAMPAIGN - STRATEGY AND REQUEST FOR INPUT

The Campaign's strategy team meets every two weeks. We are in the process of composing a sign-on support letter for organizations who support our proposal for reforming parole board policies. As soon as it is complete we will use it to show other organizations and legislators the extent of support for these changes. At the same time we are gathering names and addresses of our members across the state (so we can identify their state legislators).

It was noted that prison is an agency, and like any agency needs to have the trust of its clients, the people incarcerated in its facilities, who must believe that the agency has their interests at heart in order to invest fully in the process of rehabilitation. We ask incarcerated readers to send us their responses to the following questions: Do you trust that DOCS and Parole have your interests at heart? If so, what is that trust based on? If not, why not?



11. PAROLE NEWS: RELEASES IN OCTOBER

OCTOBER 2010 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS – DIN #s through 1999
unofficial research from parole database

TOTAL INTERVIEWS...# RELEASED......# DENIED...RATE OF RELEASE
23 initials............................6.....................17.............26%
76 reappearances..............14.....................62.............18%
99 Total.............................20....................79..............20%

INITIAL RELEASES
FACILITY........... SENTENCE......... OFFENSE
Fishkill........... 15-Life............ Murder 2
Fishkill........... 25-Life............ Murder 2
Fishkill........... 25 ?-Life.......... Att M 1
Gt Meadow..... 20-Life............ Murder 2
Hudson........... 25-Life............ Murder 2
Otisville.......... 15-Life............ Murder 2

REAPPEARANCES
FACILITY........... SENTENCE.........OFFENSE..........# OF BOARD
Arthurkill....... 25-Life............Murder 2........ 4th
Arthurkill....... 20-Life............Murder 2........ 5th
Bare Hill......... 15-Life............Att M1............ 10th
Coxsackie........ 20-Life............Murder 2........ 2nd
Fishkill........... 20-Life............Murder 2........ 5th
Fishkill........... 25-Life............M pre74.......... 7th
Fishkill........... 15-Life............Murder 2........ 9th
Fishkill........... 25-Life............Murder 2........ 5th *for deportation only
Greene........... 15-Life............Murder 2........ 4th
Greenhaven.... 15-Life............Murder 2........ 2nd
Hudson........... 15-Life............Murder 2........ 8th
Mid Orange.... 15-Life............M pre74.......... 11th
Otisville.......... 20-Life............Murder 2........ 7th
Wende............ 20-Life............Murder 2......... 4th



12. VOCAL NEW YORK -  THE NYC AIDS HOUSING NETWORK (NYCAHN) WILL NOW BE KNOWN AS VOCAL NEW YORK (VOICES OF COMMUNITY ACTIVISTS & LEADERS) TO REFLECT THEIR NEW FOCUS ON STATEWIDE GRASSROOTS ORGANIZING TO BUILD POWER AMONG LOW-INCOME PEOPLE WHILE CONTINUING THEIR MISSION TO EXPAND HOUSING ASSISTANCE FOR PEOPLE LIVING WITH HIV/AIDS. [Find out more on our new website www.VOCAL-NY.org.]

VOCAL New York will be the umbrella organization for all of our community organizing, leadership development, civic engagement, strategic advocacy and direct services programs. The idea for VOCAL New York originated during a leadership retreat with our low-income members about two years ago in an effort to create a better organizational identity that encompassed all of our work. Our new identity was also driven by significant growth.  

Our program areas will remain the same:
• Community Organizing & Base Building, New York AIDS Housing Network, Civic Engagement, Training and Leadership Development, Direct Services  Everyone who accesses services is encouraged to become involved in our community organizing.

Highlights of recent victories include:
• Expanded Syringe Access To Prevent HIV and Hepatitis C: We passed a state law that strengthened legal protections for syringe exchange participants by reconciling the Penal Code with the Public Health Law nearly 20 years after syringe exchange first became legal.
• Affordable Housing & Homelessness Prevention: After a four year legislative campaign, we passed a major state bill that set a 30% rent cap affordable housing protection. Although Governor Paterson vetoed it, we're working to enact it before he leaves office and at the same time educating Governor-Elect Cuomo’s staff about it. 
Incarceration - Ending 'Prison-Based Gerrymandering:'  This will restore voting power to poor communities most impacted by incarceration, HIV/AIDS and the drug war.
• Protecting access to HIV/AIDS services and preserving supportive housing.  

PLEASE SAVE THE DATE for our first membership assembly as VOCAL New York -- Friday, December 10th (time and location in NYC TBA). For more info call 917 676-8041, or write jeremy@nycahn.org or alfredo@nycahn.org



13. VOTING RIGHTS - IN GREAT BRITAIN. IN A NOV 3, 2010 LEADING ARTICLE, THE INDEPENDENT REPORTS THAT THE ENGLISH GOVERNMENT MAY BE ON THE VERGE OF ALLOWING INCARCERATED PEOPLE TO VOTE.

The case for democracy behind bars
Wednesday, 3 November 2010, The Independent

The 140-year blanket disenfranchisement of British prisoners is about to expire. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2004 that Britain's exclusion of prison inmates from the democratic process was unlawful. And the Coalition is understood to be on the verge of acquiescing in that ruling.

A backlash from the populist press, the perennial cheerleader for Britain's punitive culture, is inevitable. Right wing Conservative backbenchers are also likely to create a fuss. And the verbal attacks on the Strasbourg-based ECHR have already begun. But lifting the ban is the right decision. And the previous Labour government should have enacted the reform when the ECHR delivered its original verdict six years ago rather than looking for a way around it.

There are three primary objectives for incarceration in a democracy: to safeguard the public, to rehabilitate the offender and to punish the criminal. The question is whether stripping a convict of their right to vote is a legitimate aspect of the punishment function. The answer is that it is not.

The right to vote is one of the pillars on which the superstructure of our democracy rests. All citizens should enjoy it. It is a strange sort of democracy in which civic rights are contingent on good behaviour. A supplementary, but also compelling, argument for reform outlined by the Howard League for Penal Reform is that barring prisoners from voting conflicts with the goal of rehabilitating them. One of the objectives of prison should be to re-socialise inmates. This is made more difficult while they lose the right to one of the fundamental aspects of civic participation upon passing through the prison gates.

It has been suggested that the Government might try to maintain the ban for those guilty of particularly notorious crimes, such as serial killers and child murderers. But if the principle that prisoners should be able to vote is right, it makes no sense to create special arrangements for public hate figures.

The Government appears to be moving in the right direction on prison voting. It would be unfortunate if it tarnished its record of good behaviour so close to the day of release.




Building Bridges is published by Prison Action Network as a way of communicating with our members.

To join, please send an email to prisonactionnetwork@gmail.com,
or call 518 253 7533.


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