POSTED 5/11 by Prison Action Network
This little zine captures the essence of the criminal justice well, we think.
click here to see
POSTED 4/28 by Prison Action Network
from the DOCCS website
MERGER OF DEPT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES AND DIVISION OF PAROLE
Mission Statement: To improve public safety by providing a continuity of appropriate treatment services in safe and secure facilities where offenders’ needs are addressed and they are prepared for release, followed by supportive services under community supervision to facilitate a successful completion of their sentence.
Overview: Enacted by the State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) and the Division of Parole (DOP) have been merged to form the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).
As envisioned by Governor Cuomo, this merger will streamline departmental functions, eliminate duplication of effort, achieve better outcomes for more offenders and enhance public safety, while simultaneously reducing expenditures and saving taxpayer dollars.
A primary goal of the new agency will be to create a more seamless, more comprehensive operation through a continuum of care from the moment an offender enters the correctional system until he or she successfully completes the required period of community supervision.
The Parole Board will continue as an independent body, with Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and the Board’s Counsel’s Office answering directly to the Parole Board.
The Parole Board will maintain its existing functions (e.g., release decisions, set conditions, etc).
The Parole Board, with a membership of up to 19 members will continue to be appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate; they will not be hired by the Commissioner of DOCCS and will continue to be led by an appointed Chairperson.
Changing Role of Parole and Corrections:Starting in 1995, the Legislature authorized determinate sentences for repeat violent felons and later for all violent offenders. In 2005, the use of determinate sentences was further expanded to include drug offenders and in 2007 was expanded again to include most sex offenders. Beginning in 1998, Community Supervision (Field Parole) was made a mandatory requirement of all offenders released under a determinate sentence.
DOCS and Parole have historically worked collaboratively on many fronts, such as the Willard Drug Treatment Campus, the Edgecombe Residential Treatment Facility, working with county re-entry taskforces, assisting offenders with Medicaid applications upon release, providing voter information to released offenders, and assisting in post release placement in treatment programs as appropriate.
More details will be found on the DOCCS website
BUILDING BRIDGES APRIL 2011
Events are happening at such a rapid speed I can barely keep up. Let me tell you about just one. On March 28, the day before I left for a 10 day vacation (the longest I can remember), I had the privilege of meeting with Liz Glazer, the Deputy Secretary for Public Safety (the position Denise O'Donnell held under Spitzer and Paterson), Mary Kavaney, her Assistant, and Robin Forshaw, Assistant Counsel to the Governor. It was the day after the budget was passed and I doubt they had had any sleep, but they gave their complete attention to our conversation. Though we did not agree on everything, notably whether the nature of the crime could be ignored in Parole decisions, I left feeling I had met allies and not adversaries. I was told that the best this administration felt it could do in the current political climate was merge the two agencies, Parole and DOCS. They feel the merger will maximize the possibility of lower recidivism rates and more successful reintegration. They were optimistic about the use of risk assessment tools and TAP (see article 9 for more on those). I told them about a typical parole denial based on documents sent by many of our members, and left Ms. Glazer - who assured me she would read them - an impressive parole packet, and a parole denial plus a paper about Redemption written by another. I also provided two decisions handed down by Judge Frank J. LaBuda which support our arguments. I hope these documents convince the Deputy Secretary and her colleagues of the failure of the current system to rehabilitate and promote successful and productive reentry and reintegration into society upon release. Time will tell.
So now we have to mobilize our members to convince the people who represent them in the State Senate and Assembly to support the SAFE Parole Act. In the first article below you will see two major May advocacy events which have put the SAFE Parole Act on their agendas. If you want a chance at a fair parole hearing for yourself or an incarcerated loved one, please make sure members of your family register for at least one of them. We CANNOT do this without support from the people who are most directly affected!
Please be well, keep the faith, share the news, and for everyone's sake, get involved!
SUMMARIES OF ARTICLES
1. Actions, events, and meetings are listed geographically and chronologically, so you can easily check for those in your area at times you are free. Two important Advocacy Days are featured.
2. The Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement understands and declares very clearly: the criminal justice system does NOT work. It is no more than a destructive force in our communities now and for future generations. As activists, the participants at an Alabama gathering have been to their share of conferences and rallies, yet before many of them left home, they knew this one was different.
3. Help prisoners with disabilities. A pro bono project is preparing a pamphlet for prisoners on how to apply for modifications and accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
4. The Hudson Link documentary " Zero Percent," just won the first ever Silver Heart Award at the Dallas International Film Festival “for their dedication to fighting injustices and creating social change for the improvement of humanity."
5. Senator Betty Little has filed suit to bring back prison-based gerrymandering. Senator Little's attempt to inflate the population of her district with more than 10,000 incarcerated, non-voting residents from other parts of the state will dilute the votes cast in all other districts.
6. Milk Not Jails has been hard at work this winter, and needs your help to build a vision into a real model for change.
7. The NYS Parole Campaign has attracted 4 more organizations who support the SAFE Parole Act.: Center for Nuleadership on Urban Solutions, Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives, Greenhope Services for Women, Inc., and the Morningside Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Legislative Advocacy efforts will start in earnest in May.
8. NYS Prisoner Justice Network tells us what’s wrong with New York’s prison system...and what we can do about it: New York’s prison system is spending $3 billion on “corrections” – that don’t correct anything – while cutting education, health care, and other social programs to the bone. This system of mass incarceration is inhumane, unnecessary, uneconomical, and ineffective. Read the article to find out what you can do!
9. Parole News - Of the 84 parole hearings in February, 2 applicants were released at their initial hearings and 14 were released at a reappearance. DOCS and Parole have been merged into one Department, while the Parole Board remains independent. Two tools have been added for Parole Commissioners to use in making their determinations.
10. Poetry, Prisons & Power: a mixed media event highlighting the prison industrial complex, the on-going struggle of america’s political prisoners and related current events took place in Ithaca NY on April 9.
11. Think Outside the Cell - In “Prisons, Crime and Budgets: Time for a New Paradigm” posted on the Huffington Post, March 10, by author and publisher Sheila R. Rule, she writes, “The hard-line tough-on-crime positions that were instrumental in bringing on the current fiscal woes in state after state are now being replaced by talk that is more nuanced, and even smart, on crime.”
[For copies of any document, article or legislation referred to, or condensed, in this issue, please email us with a request clearly stating number of the article and the date it appeared -Ed.]
1. ACTIVISM: ADVOCACY, EVENTS AND MEETINGS HAPPENING AROUND THE STATE THIS MONTH
ADVOCACY DAYS (2)
ALBANY WITH TRANSPORTATION FROM WHEREVER YOU LIVE
TUESDAY MAY 3, 9:00AM TO 5:00PM NYS PRISONER JUSTICE NETWORK
LEGISLATIVE AWARENESS DAY FOR PRISONER JUSTICE: MORE JUSTICE, LESS PRISONS
100 Swan Street, Albany. Please register online.
Prisoner justice activists from around the state will talk with legislators and their staffs about issues including parole reform, the implementation of the SHU bill, prison closures, and others. Participants will network with each other, be briefed on the issues, and go in delegations to pre-arranged meetings with legislators.
Join in this effort to show legislators and all New Yorkers that there is an alternative to the current culture of punishment and vengeance which keeps more than 57,000 people behind bars. It will demonstrate that there is a statewide constituency to change New York's harsh and unjust criminal justice policies. It will strengthen the statewide movement for prisoner justice by giving participants information about each others' issues and a chance to learn about and support each others' campaigns.
THE DAY IS FREE and everyone concerned about New York's prison system is invited to attend. Buses will be leaving from NYC. We need your reservation before we can plan the pick up locations so please go to www.nysprisonerjustice.org right now to register and reserve your seat. Call the Albany Social Justice Center at 518-434-4037, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to NYSPJN, 33 Central Ave, Albany NY 12210 for more info. (see article #8 for more)
TUESDAY MAY 10 COMMUNITY SERVICE SOCIETY (CSS-NY) ALBANY ADVOCACY DAY.
The SAFE Parole Act will be on the legislative agenda, so members of Prison Action Network, the Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies, and the NYS Parole Reform Campaign can take advantage of this wonderful opportunity organized by CSS-NY. If you can't make the May 3 date, this is your 2nd chance. BETTER STILL YOU CAN DO BOTH. Practice makes perfect, and maybe will drive the message home more strongly.
The Correctional Association will be traveling to Albany for Advocacy Day and if you would like to leave on their bus, please contact Jaya Vasandani by clicking here.
The Fortune Society will also. To travel on their bus, contact Barry Campbell at email@example.com.
It is important that those of you who are planning to travel with CSS-NY attend the Roundtable on April 20th at which they will present a draft of the legislative agenda and respond to your questions and comments. Please send the name of your district representative or your address and CSS will do their best to set up appropriate meetings in Albany. Kindly RSVP to Gabriel Torres-Rivera at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212.614.5306
BUFFALO VIGIL: Every Wed 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. Stand for ending abuse.
Wednesday, April 20th from 1:30pm-3pm MILK NOT JAILS Ice Cream Social
Join us for our ice cream social at CUNY School of Law. We need your help with set-up, so please call Sam at 718.783.8443 if you are available to come early (as early as 10am) to help with the event.
Location: CUNY School of Law Garden
65-21 Main Street (Flushing, NY)
FRIDAY, MAY 6, 9:00AM – 10:30AM* OCCASIONAL SERIES ON REENTRY RESEARCH
THE USE OF CRIMINAL RECORDS IN COLLEGE ADMISSIONS RECONSIDERED
Marsha Weissman, PhD, Executive Director, Center for Community Alternatives
Discussants representing the worlds of policy and practice to be announced. RSVP to email@example.com
*Event will also be webcast live via the National Reentry Resource Center website.
“Generating conversation between researchers, policymakers, and practitioners in an effort to improve policy and practice.”
Location: Prisoner Reentry Institute, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
899 Tenth Avenue (b/w W. 58th and 59th Streets), Room 630.
SAVE THE DATE SATURDAY MAY 21, 12:30 - 2 PM
THE COALITION TO END THE NEW JIM CROW
PRESENTING MICHELLE ALEXANDER, AUTHOR
"The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness"
Round table panel discussion with Ms. Alexander to follow, with panelists Glenn Ford (Black Agenda Report), Annette Dickerson (Center for Constitutional Rights), Gabriel Sayegh (Drug Policy Alliance), Neil Franklin (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), and Tina Reynolds (WORTH). Moderated by Glenn Martin (David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy) . This half day conference will feature an art exhibit, film, resource information tables, Q & A, book signing
Location: Riverside Church
490 Riverside Drive (enter between 120th and 122nd St. on Claremont Ave)
Free and Open to the Public
Reception for Donors and Supporters: 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Admission: $50 donation, 50% off The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness Food, Drink & Guest Speakers
Visit our website to reserve a free seat.
SAVE THE DATE: SAT. SEPT. 24 AT THE RIVERSIDE CHURCH: THE REV. AL SHARPTON, NEWARK MAYOR CORY BOOKER, AND CNN JOURNALIST SOLEDAD O’BRIEN will be among the participants at the upcoming national Think Outside the Cell symposium on issues affecting the incarcerated, the formerly incarcerated and their loved ones.
MONDAY, APRIL 25, 6:30-8:30PM. PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO
It’s amazing that some people fail to see the value of performing arts and literary arts in the prison environment. Writing in particular has been a vehicle for instilling hope, pride, and self-esteem. At this meeting our special guest speakers will be three women who were participants in a writing project several years ago in a Buffalo, NY halfway house. Paradise House, on Buffalo’s Eastside, promoted a writing project that has had a lasting, positive impact for several women who found themselves in “paradise” as an alternative to incarceration. Joining us will be: Rev. Anne Paris, founder/director of Paradise House; Dr. Sharon Amos, Professor of English at the University of Buffalo’s Educational Opportunity Center; and Ms. Raquel Fairfax. They will be reflecting on the project’s effectiveness.
The documentary film being screened will be “Freedom Road” by filmmaker Lorna Ann Johnson. It takes a look at a highly successful writing project at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for women (Women Make Movies, 2004), in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.
Location: Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street, Buffalo
The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of PRP2 programs. For further information, contact Karima Amin: 716-834-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
FRIDAY, APRIL 15, 10:00AM-12 NOON. WOMEN IN PRISON PROJECT MEETING
Come and learn about our new legislation, “The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act,” as we prepare for our Advocacy Day on June 7, 2011.
Location: Correctional Association of NY.
2090 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., between 124th and 125th streets, Suite 200.
Take the 2/3/A/C/B/D to 125th St.
For more information: Stacey Thompson, Coalition Associate, Women In Prison Project
Correctional Association of New York (P) 212.254-5700 Ext. 333 or email@example.com
TUESDAY, APRIL 26TH FROM 6:30PM-8:30PM MILK NOT JAILS CAMPAIGN PLANNING MEETING
Location: 666 Broadway 7th Floor (New York, NY)
[Not in NYC? Join the meeting by phone! Dial (712) 775-7200; The Access Code is 257779#.]
SUPPORT GROUP MEETINGS:
ALBANY: EVERY MONDAY 7-8:30 PM PRISON FAMILIES OF NY SUPPORT GROUP MEETINGS Alison 518-453-6659
EVERY TUESDAY AT 6PM P-MOTIONS (PROGRESSIVE MEN OPERATING TOWARDS INITIATING OPPORTUNITIES NOW) For information call Malik at 518 445-5487.
EVERY WEDNESDAY AT 5:30PM VOCAL PAROLEES ORGANIZING PROJECT
For more info call 917 676-8041
TUESDAYS APRIL 26, MAY 10 AND MAY 24 7:30PM PRISON FAMILIES ANONYMOUS SUPPORT GROUP. For information, please contact: Barbara: 631-943-0441 or Sue: 631-806-3903
Location: Community Presbyterian Church 1843 Deer Park Ave. Deer Park, NY.
2. ALABAMA – ANSWERING A CLARION CALL, BY THE FORMERLY INCARCERATED & CONVICTED PEOPLE’S MOVEMENT STEERING COMMITTEE (excerpts, part 1):
This is a call that speaks to us in our own voice; clear, loud and urgent. A voice that speaks to our identity and emanates from the soul, ringing true both in the head and the heart, as we gathered fifty people from across the nation to engage in a conversation about the need to build a Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement. We understand and declare very clearly: the criminal justice system does NOT work. It is no more than a destructive force in our communities now and for future generations.
... As activists, we have been to our share of conferences and rallies, yet before many of us left our homes, we knew this invitation was different.
The first exercise was to introduce ourselves to each other not simply by our names or the many great struggles that we were currently engaged in, but by who we embraced as our heroes. We wrote our names and the name of our hero on a piece of paper and we taped those to the front of the table where we sat. We were quickly able to see the right people were in the room. ... Knowing where we came from made it easier to find our vision which we agreed was “The Fight for the Full Restoration of Our Civil and Human Rights.”
... Agreeing on a vision was an essential and amazing accomplishment in light of the fact that time was short, and with so many leaders in the room egos could easily have gotten in the way. ... Twenty people volunteered to join the steering committee, providing us greater diversity in both geography and gender. We decided we would do regular conference calls to move forward with the agenda and coordinate the Los Angeles convening.
The Steering Committee planned to kick off the beginning of this Movement by walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma. Days before any of us hopped in a plane, bus, train, or car, we were informed that we would have stay on the sidewalk if we were going to march across the bridge. Over 247 people called the mayor of Selma and let him know we were coming to march over the bridge, and not on the sidewalk. Some of us consciously considered going to jail again, and some of us even emptied our bank accounts just in case we needed bail. We didn’t anticipate Mayor George Evans of Selma would ask to speak with us after our march, or agree to read our statement at the 46-year Jubilee marking Bloody Sunday. Nor did we anticipate that our march across the bridge would be headlines on one of the largest papers in Alabama, with over twenty photos online. Our own Tina Reynolds was photographed carrying a sign proclaiming that “Democracy Starts At Home.” We should be allowed to vote and exercise our civil rights regardless of where we live in the United States.
[to be continued next month]
3. HELP PRISONERS WITH DISABILITIES
Kayleigh Gekakis, an Albany Law Student, is conducting a pro bono project to prepare a pamphlet for prisoners on how to apply for modifications and accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. She is currently making a list of advocacy groups that can help these individuals. If you have any information or know of any organizations that can contribute please contact her at KGekakis@albanylaw.edu.
4 THE HUDSON LINK DOCUMENTARY " ZERO PERCENT," WHICH FOCUSES ON HUDSON LINK’S COLLEGE PROGRAM INSIDE THE SING SING CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, JUST WON THE FIRST EVER SILVER HEART AWARD AT THE DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL.
The award, which is a tremendous honor, was granted by the Embrey Family Foundation and rewards "a film for their dedication to fighting injustices and creating social change for the improvement of humanity." Prior to announcing the award, the presenter gave " Zero Percent" high praise and talked about the resonating themes of redemption and the power of education throughout the film. It was an amazing evening.
Hudson Link will be scheduling screenings of " Zero Percent" in New York City and Westchester this summer. Building Bridges will keep you informed about the scheduled dates.
Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison, PO BOx 862, Ossining NY 10562
Here's a review of "Zero Percent" from: blog.bestoftexas.com
...Zero Percent proved to be the best kind of film. Balanced, heartbreaking, hopeful, and best of all, real.
Director Tim Skousen takes the viewer inside the Hudson Link program - a privately funded, educational outlet for inmates in New York’s Sing Sing maximum security prison to receive a valuable college degree. From the beginning of the film, we learn that these inmate students are not white-collar criminals simply biding their short sentence time, but violent offenders who indeed recognize the impact of their life-destroying crimes. And even though they understand they may never see life outside of their prison walls, the handful of inmates we get to know understand that their only hope for a redemptive, productive life is through dedication to improving themselves, inwardly and then outwardly.
Creating an even more impressive picture of the Hudson Link program, we learn that the driving forces behind the program’s creation are in fact men who were once inmates themselves, and who were able to experience first-hand, the impact that true, mental and emotional rehabilitation can have on themselves, and society at-large.
Thanks to choosing relateable and likeable principals, Skousen was able to simply let the cameras roll, and seemingly wasn’t forced to sculpt the film into a message that would veer to the politically left, or the to the right. The film does tend to offer a somewhat sympathetic look into the lives of the featured inmates. But that’s the result of the seeming depth of the individual inmates and their families likeability and real table story-lines, and not Skousin’s manipulation of the narrative. When, near the end of the film, a warm, fuzzy vibe that had the sunny glow of a “feel-good story” began to envelope things, brutal, abrupt reality took hold in the form of the inmates being separated from their loved ones at the end of the graduation ceremony by a blaring, abrasive bullhorn-enhanced command from the prison guards. Yes, at this point, the students are indeed more than mere criminals, but as the film allows, they occupy those roles (artists, poets, leaders, etc…) inside of the guarded walls that they themselves will admit, rightfully belong in.
Of course, there’s the issue of the film’s title. “Zero Percent” refers to the amount of recidivism that inmates who have completed the Hudson Link program, and later released, have experienced. With a national recidivism rate of 60%, such a low percentage is sterling proof that the Hudson Link program has far reaching, positive effects.
Redemption, the gray areas of life’s moral code and how to handle those who violate such a code, heartbreak and reality that simply can not be scripted were the real stars of this film. As was stated earlier: Zero Percent is the best kind of documentary – honest.
Some additional information: www.hudsonlink.org
46 Hudson Link graduates have been released: zero (0) have returned to prison. 32 men graduated at Sing Sing; 18 men received their Bachelor of Science degree and 14 men earned Associate degrees. The New York Times published an article about the graduation titled "After Graduation, Back to Sing Sing Cellblock, With Hope".
Hudson Link now offers college credit courses at Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, NY and 61 women are enrolled [more on that in May], and through a partnership with NYACK College, is now offering a Bachelor's Degree in Organizational Leadership at Fishkill Correctional Facility in Fishkill, NY.
5. LITIGATION FILED IN NY TO BRING BACK PRISON-BASED GERRYMANDERING
EXCERPT: April 6, 2011--Demos and the Prison Policy Initiative, two national pro-democracy groups, expressed serious objections today to a lawsuit filed in state court that seeks to reinstate the discredited policy of miscounting incarcerated New Yorkers when state and local legislative districts are redrawn this year.
Landmark legislation, signed into law by Governor Paterson last August, corrected a long-standing miscount of incarcerated populations and directed that these individuals be counted as residents of their home communities for redistricting purposes.
The prior practice of padding legislative districts with prison populations artificially enhanced the weight of a vote cast in those districts at the expense of all districts that did not contain a prison. The lead plaintiff, Senator Betty Little, has 12 prisons in her district.
"Senator Betty Little filed suit this week to revive a legal fiction, claiming that individuals imprisoned in her district are members of the local community and should be counted there when it comes to drawing state and local legislative districts. Senator Little's attempt to inflate the population of her district with more than 10,000 incarcerated, non-voting residents from other parts of the state will dilute the votes cast in all other districts." said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative.
"The senator's action also flies in the face of local practice. For many years, all of the counties represented by Senator Little, and most of the counties represented by her co-plaintiffs, have removed the prison population when drawing local legislative districts. This lawsuit threatens to overturn this common sense practice and force local county governments to draw incredibility distorted districts."
"The arguments in this lawsuit are clearly wrong. Incarcerated persons do not make their 'home' in the prison town in any meaningful sense; they are not permitted to interact with the prison town and they almost always return to their pre-incarceration community upon completion of sentence, on average within 34 months," said Brenda Wright, Director of the Democracy Program at Demos.
"The miscount of incarcerated individuals called for in the lawsuit violates the fundamental one-person, one vote principle of our democracy and contradicts the New York Constitution, which clearly states that a prison is not a residence," said Wright. "The plaintiffs here are wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. Their suit should be dismissed.
Peter Wagner, Prison Policy Initiative, (413) 527-0845, (413) 923-8478
Tim Rusch, Demos, 212 389-1307
Anna Pycior, Demos, (212) 389-1408
6. MILK NOT JAILS HAS BEEN HARD AT WORK THIS WINTER, AND NEEDS YOUR HELP TO BUILD A VISION INTO A REAL MODEL FOR CHANGE.
We have spent the last couple of months researching the complicated dairy industry in hopes of finding a clear way criminal justice activists can forge a new alliance with these dairy farmers. Today, we ask you to help us in two specific ways:
1. Help us map dairy products statewide. We are trying to sort out which brands you see on your supermarket shelves and what dairy farms those products come from. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know what brand labels you find on the dairy products in your fridge and/or local supermarket, farmers market, and/or food cooperative.
2. Join us for an upcoming event/activity. We have a lot going on this month, so join us! (See Article 1, Events)
7. THE NEW YORK STATE PAROLE CAMPAIGN
Four more names have been added to the list of organizations who support the SAFE Parole Act: Center for Nuleadership on Urban Solutions, Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives, Greenhope Services for Women, Inc., and the Morningside Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. We are pleased to have their support! Advocacy efforts will start in earnest in May. We will be joining with a team from ICARE on 3 Tuesdays between May first and the end of June to target specific legislators for sponsorship, and hope to be joined by dozens of PAN members for the two Advocacy days mentioned in article 1.
8. NEW YORK STATE PRISONER JUSTICE NETWORK What’s Wrong with New York’s Prison System...and what we can do about it. (see article 1 for details of our Legislative Awareness Day for Prisoner Justice: More Justice, Less Prisons)
New York’s prison system is a vast, harsh, expensive, race-based gulag. New York has more than 90,000 people behind bars in prisons and jails. 80% are people of color. It is spending $3 billion on “corrections” – that don’t correct anything – while cutting education, health care, and other social programs to the bone. This system of mass incarceration is inhumane, unnecessary, uneconomical, and ineffective.
The system is fundamentally wrong. It throws away the lives of thousands of people. Some are innocent, some are punished way beyond what their crime deserves, some have mental health and substance abuse problems that require public health support, some did one stupid thing and are paying with their lives, and some could change and benefit society with a different kind of intervention. The communities that most prisoners come from, predominantly poor, urban, and of color, need services, education, and jobs. Astronomical rates of imprisonment marginalize, impoverish, and disenfranchise the whole community. And prison doesn’t protect our communities from crime because prison itself is part of the cycle of violence.
THE CHANGE STARTS HERE:
(1) Implement Parole Reform
How does the parole system work now? If a person is sentenced to an indeterminate sentence (for example, 5 to 10, or 25 to life) instead of a determinate sentence (a specific number of years), he or she has a parole hearing after serving the minimum term. A small group of parole commissioners (usually 3), appointed by the governor, decides whether to release the person on parole, or to deny parole and set another hearing date, usually in two years. The board can keep giving these 2-year “hits” until the person’s maximum term is up, or for life if the sentence ends with “life.”
What’s wrong with the parole system? The parole system keeps thousands of people behind bars unnecessarily and arbitrarily, in sync with the “get tough on crime” hysteria generated by ambitious politicians, over-powerful law enforcement, and hate-mongering media. The parole board operates as prosecutor, judge, and jury, but is not bound by any of the rules of the judicial system. A parole board can and does spend only minutes on each case. The commissioners may barely glance at the person’s prison record of accomplishments, behavior, and re-entry readiness, and deny parole (impose a 2-year sentence) based on the original crime.
The popular stereotype, riddled with racist undertones, is of violent predators panting to get out to kill again. The stereotype is wrong: people convicted for murder have the lowest recidivism rate of all parolees. In a 1999-2003 study, 0% of 368 people convicted of murder and paroled in New York State were returned to prison for a new violent felony within three years.
What changes would help? The New York State Parole Reform Campaign, a member organization of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network, has developed a proposal called the SAFE Parole Act to change the job of the parole board from sentencing to evaluation. Under this proposal, the board would be mandated to base its decision on the person’s post-conviction prison record and other criteria of readiness for re-entry; to explain its decision in detail; and to give the incarcerated person steps he or she can take to gain parole.
(2) Challenge abusive prison conditions.
Abusive treatment in prison. Abusive treatment is rampant in New York’s prisons: beatings (including to death), years of solitary confinement, denial of medical care, food deprivation, humiliation, arbitrary punishment, and more.
Solitary confinement is a form of torture. There is a growing movement recognizing that solitary confinement for anyone is a form of torture. New York State has several levels of 23-hour-a-day lockdown, the most common being Special Housing Units (SHUs). They are called 23-hour lockdowns because the 24th hour is for legally mandated exercise outside of the cell. In practice, the 24th hour is merely a different cage. There is no limit to the amount of time a person can spend in SHU, usually for prison disciplinary infractions. New York has one of the highest SHU confinement rates in the nation.
Solitary confinement of people with mental illness is an example of the abusive treatment of people in prison. A coalition of organizations including formerly imprisoned people with mental illness and their families successfully campaigned for and won a law mandating alternatives to SHU (solitary) for prisoners with serious mental illness. The law was enacted in 2008 and is supposed to be fully implemented by July, 2011. Under the new law, only people with serious mental illness are eligible for removal from SHU, and even a prisoner who meets these criteria can be held in SHU under “exceptional circumstances.” For this law to result in meaningful reform, oversight of the implementing agencies to ensure the provision of adequate mental health assessment and treatment is key. One of the demands of the New York State Prisoner Justice Legislative Awareness Day is full implementation of this hard-won, limited victory. It is a first step toward demanding fairer and more humane treatment, and an end to abuse, for all people in prison.
(3) Close prisons by reducing the incarceration rate and promoting successful re-entry.
There are short-term and long-term ways to reduce incarceration. Short term: a better public defender system would put fewer innocent people behind bars; parole reform would let people out who are ready for re-entry; changes in sentencing law would reduce disproportionately harsh sentences. Long term: investment in social programs, education, jobs, communities would prevent crime; community based alternatives, public health responses, and restorative justice models would be a healthier way to deal with social problems.
The existing proposals to close prisons are a drop in the bucket. The governor’s proposal to eliminate 3700 prison beds does not even match existing over-capacity; it doesn’t even reduce the corrections budget by the 10% hit of every other sector; it does nothing at all to reduce incarceration. Worse, upstate legislators are proposing to close downstate and upstate prisons equally, when the overwhelming majority of New York’s prisons are upstate, far away from the friends and family members of the majority of prisoners.
WHAT WE ARE DOING ABOUT IT:
Uniting the voices for change. The New York State Prisoner Justice Network bridges organizations and individuals working for change across different regions, strategies, issues, and ideologies. It unites activists and organizations campaigning for prevention, restorative justice, and reintegration instead of prison. We are challenging specific injustices in the system, in the context of exposing its fundamentally wrong assumptions.
Creating a vision of a world without prisons. When the New York State Prisoner Justice Network comes to Albany on May 3, 2011 to bring this message to legislators and the wider public, we will advocate for specific changes, and above and beyond these, we will present a vision for a different, community-based approach to social problems in place of reliance on incarceration.
The New York State Prisoner Justice Network 33 Central Ave., Albany NY 12210
9. PAROLE NEWS: FEBRUARY STATS, REPORT ON CHANGES IN THE LAW,
Building Bridges would like to publish the names of the commissioners who appear at each facility each month. Anyone with that information, please send it to email@example.com
FEBRUARY 2011 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES – A1 VIOLENT FELONS – DIN #s through 1999 unofficial research from parole database
(As usual we cannot format the following any better than the following. If anyone can help us with this, please contact us at .
TOTAL INTERVIEWS..... # RELEASED..# DENIED....RATE OF RELEASE
Fishkill........... 20-Life...................Murder 2
Otisville.......... 15-Life..................Murder 2 *
FACILITY........... SENTENCE.........OFFENSE.....# OF BOARD
Auburn............... 15-Life..........Murder 2........9th?
Bare Hill............. 15-Life...........Murder 2........6th
Cape Vincent.........6 ?-Life.........Murder 2........8th
Clinton............... 25-Life..........Murder 2........3rd
Fishkill............... 17 ?-Life........Murder 2........3rd
Great Meadow.....25-Life..........Murder 2........6th
Mid Orange.........25-Life..........Murder 2........3rd
Mid Orange.........26 ?-Life........Murder 2........2nd
Otisville.............. 15-Life..........Murder 2........2nd
Otisville.............. 25-Life..........Murder 2........2nd
Orleans............... 15-Life..........Murder 2........6th
Sing Sing............. 25-Life..........Att Murder 1....2nd **
*for deportation only
**special consideration hearing
THE GOVERNOR’S BUDGET BILL CONTAINED SOME CHANGES IN THE PAROLE STATUTE. THE IMPACT ON PAROLE DECISIONS REMAINS TO BE SEEN.
A major change was the merging of DOCS and Parole into one agency headed by one person. In theory it could be a benefit. A seamless process from incarceration through reentry is certainly something to be desired, especially when the goal is successful reintegration. Of course, as with most laws, everything depends on the nature of those implementing them. We have faith that Commissioner Brian Fischer will do his best to promote successful reintegration, but under future administrations who knows? In extreme times, as we can see by Sen. Little’s suit against the new Gerrymandering law (see article 5), when people don’t like a law, they can try to overturn it and often do. In fact that is what we hope to do with Gov. Cuomo’s rewrite of the parole board statute, formerly known as 259-i and now broken up and placed in new locations in NYS laws.
Changes include the removal of section 1 of 259-i more than 20 years after the Board lost the authority to set minimum sentences. Other changes require the Parole Board to use risk and needs assessment principles in the parole release decision, and the use of a Transitional Accountability Plan (TAP) by the newly created Department “to be a comprehensive, dynamic and individualized case management plan based on the programming and treatment needs of the inmate. The purpose of such plan shall be to promote the rehabilitation of the inmate and their successful and productive reentry and reintegration into society upon release.” [To request a copy of the sections of legislation which contain the above changes please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your request.]
10. POETRY, PRISONS & POWER: A MIXED MEDIA EVENT HIGHLIGHTING THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX, THE ON-GOING STRUGGLE OF AMERICA’S POLITICAL PRISONERS AND RELATED CURRENT EVENTS.
May 9, Ithaca NY- Speakers included local musician Jhakeem Holtom of Thousands of One, business owner Eldred Harris, Mayoral Candidate Anthony Gallucci, and local activists Jim Murphy, Brooke Reynolds, Chango B and Nate Buckley gave presentations on the Prison Industrial Complex, the struggle and mission of influential political prisoners and the effects these concepts have on individuals, families, our local community and our nation.
Original music, selected writings of Jalil Muntiqim and Robert Seth Hayes, original poetry, first hand (prison) experience accounts, local resources for currently incarcerated individuals and their families, and ways in which interested community members could learn more about the subjects discussed, were presented. Attica Uprising was screened silently.
The largest prisoner strike in US history took place in Georgia last December, and went largely unreported by US media corporations and therefore went mostly unnoticed by the American public. The purpose of this event was to shed light on this chronically ignored and strategically sheltered segment of the US population and to learn from each other how the power of unity and collaboration can break down walls and move mountains.
11. THINK OUTSIDE THE CELL FOUNDATION - CO-FOUNDER SHEILA RULE WRITES ABOUT A SHIFT IN THE CONVERSATION ABOUT PRISON, CRIME AND BUDGETS.
Sheila R. Rule
Posted on the Huffington Post, March 10, 2011
Prisons, Crime and Budgets: Time for a New Paradigm
The volume of tough talk has been ratcheted way up. Governors are talking tough on budget cuts. State workers are protesting threatened rollbacks of their rights and benefits. Ironically, the tough talk dial has been turned way down -- on crime. The hard-line tough-on-crime positions that were instrumental in bringing on the current fiscal woes in state after state are now being replaced by talk that is more nuanced, and even smart, on crime.
In many respects, the states have little choice. In New York, for example, it costs roughly $50,000-$55,000 a year to house each of the state's 56,000 prisoners, almost as much as a year's tuition at Harvard University. It's no wonder that spending on prisons has been a primary cause of many states' fiscal hemorrhaging.
Lock-'em-all-up sentencing and prison policies have resulted in criminal correction spending gobbling up 1 in every 15 state general fund dollars. Spending on prisons has risen by 674 percent in the last 25 years, outstripping the pace of budget expansion in essential areas like education and transportation.
Only Medicaid spending has grown faster. These tough-on-crime policies have led to mass incarceration of such magnitude that instead of being the home of the free, America has become the land of the imprisoned, with more people behind bars -- more than 2 million -- than any other nation in the world.
But with their fiscal futures against the wall, state lawmakers across the country are re-shifting priorities. And they are not stopping at timeworn cost-cutting measures like reducing staff, cutting programs and closing correctional facilities. As prison populations decline in some states and crime rates drop, legislators are turning to such good-sense reforms as alternatives to incarceration, more flexible sentencing guidelines, individual reentry plans, and so-called "earned time" measures that accelerate the release of prisoners who complete programs intended to improve their chances of having successful lives after they are released.
Want more evidence that this nation is pulling away from the unconscionable waste of money wrought by United States prison policies? Listen to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, whose Contract with America in the 1990s pushed for tougher crime laws. Today, Gingrich leads the Right on Crime Campaign, a national movement of conservative leaders who are spreading the message that it is time for states to make sensible criminal justice reforms and stop the revolving doors of recidivism.
It is time, too, for America to turn its attention to another price tag attached to its shortsighted criminal justice policies -- the incalculable human cost. The impact of these policies has reached far beyond prison walls and balance sheets, creating collateral damage in poor neighborhoods of color -- from whence a disproportionate percentage of prisoners come and to which they will return. These policies have conspired with long-held negative attitudes to create the building blocks of modern-day inequality.
The incarcerated -- sometimes when alternatives to incarceration would have been smarter and cheaper -- are crippled when they return home, as 700,000 do each year. The long and uncompromising shadow of their incarceration follows them as they search for necessities like housing and employment, making it hard to get a job even in a good economy. And while they've been away, their families have suffered and sometimes fallen apart; too many of their sons and daughters have become ensnared in the criminal justice system; the communities they call home have been bereft of husbands, wives, parents, tax-paying citizens, potential leaders.
In short, poor neighborhoods have become poorer, in so many ways. And yet, the long shadow of prison continues to so dramatically obscure the humanity of those who have spent time behind walls that the kind of support they need in order to realize their plans of reintegrating into society and building meaningful lives is tantamount to wishful thinking.
Members of this huge population are largely forgotten by society. When society considers them at all, it is as the faceless statistics or frightening stereotypes. They are defined solely by their mistakes and bad choices. But if this nation doesn't develop smart policies for them, there will be another high price to pay.
Sheila R. Rule spent more than 30 years as a journalist at The New York Times. After retiring, she founded Resilience Multimedia to present fairer images of the incarcerated, the formerly incarcerated and their loved ones. You can contact Sheila Rule at email@example.com, 877-267-2303 or the Think Outside the Cell Foundation, 511 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 525, New York, NY 10011. The website is www.thinkoutsidethecell.com.
Building Bridges is published by Prison Action Network as our way of communicating with our members.
If you would like to join, please give us a call 518 253 7533 or send a note.