DURING THE MONTH WE POST LATE BREAKING ANNOUNCEMENTS OR NEWS HERE. TO GO IMMEDIATELY TO THE NOV 15TH ISSUE OF BUILDING BRIDGES PLEASE SCROLL DOWN.
POSTED DEC 7, NYCLU
PROLONGED ISOLATED CONFINEMENT:
The NYCLU is convening a meeting on December 14th from 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM to discuss prolonged isolated confinement in New York. We welcome everyone working on these issues in New York to attend. If you would like to attend, please email me and we can send you additional information on attending in person or by phone as well as an agenda.
Scarlet Kim | Legal Fellow
New York Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street | 19th Floor | New York, NY | 10004
212-607-3343 | firstname.lastname@example.org
POSTED DEC 5 - Thousand Kites (www.callsfromhome.org)
CALLS FROM HOME
Thousand Kites needs your help to produce “Calls from Home,” a special radio project that connects prisoners to their families. With your support we are going to send voices through prison walls and over barbed-wire to the millions of our neighbors behind bars this holiday season.
Sing a song, read a prayer, speak from the heart and let those inside know you are thinking about them. Call in a holiday wish now at 877-410-4863 to our toll-free 24/7 answering machine.
POSTED DEC 2 - www.Prisonersofthecensus.org
NEW LAW ENDING PRSION-BASED GERRYMANDERING UPHELD IN NY SUPREME COURT
Albany, NY – New York Supreme Court Justice Eugene Devine today [12/2/11] upheld New York’s law ending prison-based gerrymandering in the Little v. LATFOR lawsuit. His decision squarely rejects the plaintiffs’ claim that the New York law violated various provisions of the New York State Constitution.
Attorneys for the fifteen voters from around New York State who joined the suit as intervenor-defendants issued the following joint statement:
By eliminating the political distortion caused by prison-based gerrymandering, the new law upheld by today’s decision will ensure fairer representation for all New Yorkers, starting with this year’s redistricting.
Judge Devine’s decision affirms what we have known from the beginning: the law ending prison-based gerrymandering advances fairness in redistricting and is in complete agreement with New York’s state constitution. Now that Justice Devine has made his decision, we look forward to seeing LATFOR implement the new law in the coming months.
The organizations representing the fifteen voters in court were the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Law & Social Justice, Dēmos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund , the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Prison Policy Initiative. In today's ruling rejecting Plaintiffs' legal challenge, the Court repeatedly cited the organizations' arguments explaining the policies and legal precedent supporting New York’s law.
On Aug. 4, Judge Devine granted the fifteen voters permission to intervene and defend the law. The defendants in the lawsuit were government bodies charged with carrying out the new law: the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). The New York State Attorney General’s office is representing DOCCS.
The new law, known as “Part XX,” requires that incarcerated persons be allocated to their home communities for state and local redistricting and reapportionment but does not affect funding distributions. This tracks with the New York State Constitution’s explicit provision that incarceration does not change one’s residence.
New York State Senator Elizabeth Little and a group of co-plaintiffs sought to restore New York’s former practice, which artificially inflated the voting strength of select communities at the expense of all others by allocating incarcerated persons to the districts where prisons are located, rather than to their home addresses.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll reported that public opinion is against prison-based gerrymandering, with a majority of New York State voters agreeing that “prison inmates should be counted as residents of their home districts, not of where they’re imprisoned.” The poll found that majorities of voters from both parties, and majorities of both upstate and downstate voters, favored “counting inmates in their homes, not their prisons.”
BRIDGES, NOVEMBER 15
Despite all that needs fixing, there is definitely change in the air. The movement to end the New Jim Crow, the Occupy movement, and the Reintegrative Justice movement are all bringing more public awareness to the issues of systemic racism, corporate abuse, and the failure of punishment to change people. This Thanksgiving I'm going to appreciate the positive things that are happening. I’m also grateful for the many wonderful people who are reading these words in Building Bridges. I’m glad you’re in my life. A special welcome and thank you to all our new members from Mid-Orange’s Governmental Education Organization (GEO), which donated a generous amount of their organization’s remaining funds to Prison Action Network when the prison closed.
There’s a lot of news to report this month; so please be sure to read the Summaries to find out which articles interest you the most. [There's a surprise in Article 10, so make sure you at least check that article out.]
Please be well, keep the faith, share the news, and for everyone’s sake, get involved!
SUMMARIES OF ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE:
1. Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be appointing quite a few judges to the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals, particularly if he serves two terms. We hope it will lead to more reintegrative sentencing in NYS
2. Calls From Home is a radio program where you can send a message of hope and encouragement to those behind bars in our nation’s prisons, read a short poem, sing a song or send a blessing, speak from your heart to the over 2 million people behind bars this holiday season.
3. Certain Days is a 42-page informational calendar that honors political prisoners.
4. Videos of Senator Perkins and Joseph Jazz Hayden speaking at the Fifth Annual Citizen’s Award Events are available on YouTube.
5. The Coalition for Women Prisoners invites you to visit their new Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act Campaign interactive website where you can take action and view several advocacy pieces which powerfully reveal the ravages of domestic violence.
6. Decision Fatigue is blamed for conservative parole board decisions in a NY Times Magazine article.
7. Decreased drug crime prison sentences have lowered incarceration numbers by 22 percent in NYS, reports Mary Beth Pfeiffer.
8. Legislation: a report on the progress of the Domestic Violence Survivors’ Justice Act.
9. Minimum Sentences are called “often excessively severe” by the US Sentencing Commission.
10. NYS Parole Reform Campaign continues to gain support; PAN delivered 333 letters from family members and advocates to Gov. Cuomo; Part 2 of “Setting the Record Straight”, The Success of the the Dept. of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) Merger Depends on the Implementation of the SAFE Parole Act.
11. NYS Prisoner Justice Network premieres the first of its monthly Building Bridges columns.
12. Parole News: Sept. stats around 16%; Merger confusion; "One size fits all" parole decisions continue; Does long incarceration increase public safety?
13. STEPS program gives women hope for life after jail.
14. Ways to get involved: a list of statewide events for a variety of criminal justice causes.
[For copies of any document, article or legislation referred to, or condensed, in this issue, please send an email to PAN with a request clearly stating the number and title of the article and the date it appeared. -Ed.]
1. APPOINTMENTS TO NEW YORK'S HIGHEST COURTS. IN HIS ARTICLE, "SURGE OF OPENINGS WILL ALLOW CUOMO TO SHAPE JUDICIARY", NEW YORK LAW JOURNAL, NOVEMBER 9, 2011, JOHN CAHER REPORTS ON THE DECISIONS THAT GOV. CUOMO WILL BE MAKING IN THE NEAR FUTURE. [John Caher can be contacted at email@example.com.]
Justice A. Gail Prudenti, who presides over the Appellate Division, Second Dept will become the state’s chief administrative judge on Dec 1, thus creating an opening for her current position. A month later Justice Anthony v. Cardona will retire from the Third Dept. The governor can fill two other Appellate Division positions in the First Department, one in the Second Department and another in the Fourth. There is a Supreme Court vacancy in the Tenth Judicial District—Nassau and Suffolk counties—and three Court of Claims posts are available for gubernatorial appointment.
Only elected Supreme Court justices, not acting justices, are eligible for appointment to the Appellate Division.
Court of Appeals Bench:
Mr. Cuomo will have the opportunity to appoint two Court of Appeals Judges his first term, and if he serves a second term he could become the second governor to appoint all seven judges of the high court. The first was his father. Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick faces mandatory retirement at the end of 2012. In November 2014, as Mr. Cuomo's first term comes to an end, Judge Victoria A. Graffeo's term expires. On the first day of what could be Mr. Cuomo's second term, two more Court of Appeals seats, those held by Robert S. Smith and Theodore T. Jones, will open due to mandatory retirement. Also in a second term, Mr. Cuomo would appoint a new chief judge at the end of 2015 when Judge Lippman turns 70, the mandatory retirement age. Eugene F. Pigott Jr., turns 70 in 2016 and Susan Phillips Read’s 14-year-term expires at the end of 2017.
2. CALLS FROM HOME: Thousand Kites invites you to participate in a special holiday radio program for prisoners.
Send a message of hope and encouragement to those behind bars in our nation’s prisons. Read a short poem, sing a song or send a blessing. Speak from your heart to the over 2 million people behind bars this holiday season. Your messages will be broadcast on radio stations around the country sending radio waves of hope through prison walls. Call in your message toll free number at (877) 410-4863, or check out www.callsfromhome.org for more information. If you need information about this broadcast contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org
Poets & Spoken Word Artists: We are calling on our poet, writer and creative friends to submit a work to Thousand Kites for our national radio broadcast Calls from Home. Call your poem into our 24/7 answering machine today. Don't worry if you mess up, we edit all the calls. Toll-free at (877) 410-4863 or upload your song directly to our website. We are asking you to submit a work on the themes of incarceration, family, the power to endure and anything that would lift the spirits and spark creativity in our thousands of prisoner listeners. Speak from the heart. You can submit your poem, or read a prisoners poem if you have permission, by calling it into our toll-free line and recording it on our answering machine at toll-free at (877) 410-4863.
3. CERTAIN DAYS: FREEDOM FOR POLITICAL PRISONERS CALENDAR
Today’s struggles against war, capitalism, imperialism and colonialism are rooted in the history of earlier struggles for justice, including the mass movements of the 1960s and 70s. Many political prisoners and prisoners of war of today were organizers during that period, and many of them have been in prison since that time - 30 years or more. Yet these prisoners are not relics of past movements. They are still active in their political work, and despite the hardships of organizing in prison, they continue to organize for justice in the present day: justice behind bars and justice on the streets. The Certain Days: Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar is our tribute to them.
Certain Days is a joint fundraising and educational project between outside organizers in Montreal and Toronto and three political prisoners being held in maximum-security prisons in New York State: Herman Bell, David Gilbert and Robert Seth Hayes. The initial project was suggested by Herman in 2001. It has since evolved into a full color 42 page calendar featuring art and writing on a range of social and political issues, and is sold as a fundraiser to support political prisoners in Canada, the USA and Palestine. For more information or to get a copy of the calendar ($5 + $3.50 shipping for prisoners) contact us at Certain Days, c/o QPIRG Concordia, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. O., Montreal, QC H3G 1M8, Canada or www.certaindays.org. [All cheques should be made payable to QPIRG Concordia]
4. FIFTH ANNUAL CITIZENS' AWARDS EVENT - SPEECHES AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE
Readers can click here to view the keynote speech by Senator Perkins and Joseph “Jazz” Hayden’s acceptance speech for his Lifetime Achievement Award.
5. THE COALITION FOR WOMEN PRISONERS (CWP): MEDIA IS THE FOCUS OF THIS MONTHS' UPDATES - A WEBSITE, SEVERAL MOVIES AND A DAILY NEWS ARTICLE INCREASE PUBLIC AWARENESS OF THE DEVASTATING IMPACT OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.
FILM: CWP partnered with the filmmaker of Crime After Crime to co-host two screenings of the film with STEPS to End Family Violence in NYC on November 2nd. It also was screened in Albany under the sponsorship of Prisoners Legal Services. [Building Bridges was in the audience - at a commercial Albany movie theatre - and found it heart breaking and heart warming at the same time. A must-see, if you ever have the opportunity.] Strength of a Woman is a 20-minute documentary created by the Violence Against Women Committee of the Coalition For Women Prisoners and filmmaker Allison Caviness about the experiences, resilience, and strength of formerly incarcerated domestic violence survivors and the devastating impact that the criminal justice system can have on women’s lives. Strength of a Woman is a unique and powerful advocacy tool, which can be used to educate policymakers and the public about these critical issues. You can view the film on the website www.dvsurvivorsjusticeact.org.
WEBSITE: The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act Campaign Website, which was built by Allison Schwartz, DVSJA Campaign Fellow with the Women in Prison Project, provides an opportunity to learn about the bill, share your comments, submit testimony, write your legislator, view multimedia advocacy pieces, follow their blog, and stay abreast of national news about survivor-defendants, and much more! [see more about the Act in Article 8.]
We look forward to seeing you at the next Coalition meeting on Thursday, November 17th from 5:00-7:00pm, at the Correctional Association, 2090 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., between 124th & 125th Sts, Suite 200. For more information contact Stacey Thompson, Coalition Associate at: (212)254-5700 ext. 333 or via email at: email@example.com
6. DECISION FATIGUE: THE BEST TIME TO SEE THE PAROLE BOARD IS EARLY IN THE DAY ACCORDING TO AN ARTICLE IN THE AUGUST 21, 2011 NY TIMES SUNDAY MAGAZINE.
In an article titled “Do You Suffer from Decision Fatigue” author John Tierney reports that “Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70% of the time while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10% of the times. The mental work of [deciding] case after case, whatever the individual merits, wore them down (the Parole Board).” “No matter how rational and high minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price....eventually your brain looks for shortcuts.” One [shortcut] is “you start to resist any change and potentially risky move - like releasing a prisoner who might commit a crime.” Even the wisest people won’t make good choices when they’re not rested and their glucose is low”. After a snack break the odds of being released increased by about 45 % but dropped again to about 10% just before lunch. Right after lunch it soared again.
7. NYS PRISON POPULATION DROPS BY 22% ACCORDING TO JOURNALIST MARY BETH PFEIFFER IN HER ARTICLE PUBLISHED ON OCT 16 IN THE POUGHKEEPSIE JOURNAL.
Nearly 16,000 fewer minorities serve state time today than in 2000, groups that were hardest hit by the so-called war on drugs. Overall, the prison population declined 22 percent. Among the 50 states, New York charted the biggest drop in its prison rolls in a decade when 37 state prison systems had double-digit population hikes. While pointing out that Hispanics and blacks are still vastly overrepresented in prisons, incarceration experts said the overall figures were impressive.
Nearly 7,700 fewer people of color are incarcerated in state prison in 2011 compared with 2000, the Journal study found. In addition, 35 percent fewer female inmates serve time, and 77 percent fewer women serve drug sentences as their top crime. Inmates were also older by three years on average, according to the analysis, which used databases of the inmate population on one day each in February 2000 and March 2011.
The five boroughs charted a 42 percent decline in sentenced inmates in 2011 compared with 2000; inmates from the rest of the state actually increased 17 percent. Both the city and upstate saw big declines in drug commitments, but the city's decline, 76 percent, was three times that of upstate.
Today, the No. 1 most serious crime of sentenced inmates is second-degree murder, with just over 8,000 convicts -- about the same as in 2000. In 2000, the most common top crime for which inmates were incarcerated was third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance -- with almost 10,000 people sentenced. That's now down to about 3,000. With the population shrinking, the state closed three of its then 69 prisons in 2009 and six more as of Oct. 1, with Arthur Kill prison on Staten Island set to close by Dec. 1. Portions of eight other prisons have also been closed since 2009.
The downsizing doesn't impress some reform advocates, who still see the system as hugely bloated, especially with blacks and Hispanics, now 77 percent of inmates, down from 84 percent in 2000. "The disparities have diminished somewhat and that's good news, but that does not put us as a state in a place that we can be proud of," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has opposed city frisking policies as discriminatory. "We were starting at a pretty horrific place from which to decline." "The prosecution of drug offenses is still tremendously racially biased," said Jack Beck, a project director for the Correctional Association of New York, which monitors state prisons. Although more whites serve time, he said the proportion "is still grossly out of line with drug use in society." "In a time of economic recession it causes a rethinking," said Alan Rosenthal, director of justice strategies for the Center for Community Alternatives, a Manhattan-based sentencing reform group. "We had a shift from tough on crime to smart on crime," an acknowledgement, he added, that high prison rolls did not equate with lower crime. [You can reach Mary Beth Pfeiffer at firstname.lastname@example.org].
8. LEGISLATION: THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SURVIVORS JUSTICE ACT (A.7874-A/S.5436)
This bill expands upon the existing provisions of alternative sentencing for domestic violence cases and allows judges the opportunity to re-sentence currently incarcerated persons for offenses in which certain domestic violence criteria was a significant element of the offense. Sponsored by Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry and Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, DVSJA was introduced on May 20, 2011. The legislation is sitting in the codes committee of both houses, and currently has 13 Assembly and 13 Senate co-sponsors. At an advocacy day in Albany on June 7, 140 Coalition for Women Prisoners (CWP) members met with 69 legislators about this bill. Letters in support have been signed by 89 domestic violence and other social justice advocacy groups. [See more about CWP in article 5]
9. MINIMUM SENTENCES ARE OFTEN “EXCESSIVELY SEVERE” SAYS THE U.S. SENTENCING COMMISSION IN ITS LATEST REPORT [read the whole report.]
A 645-page report from the United States Sentencing Commission found that federal mandatory minimum sentences are often “excessively severe,” not “narrowly tailored to apply only to those offenders who warrant such punishment,” and not “applied consistently.” That is especially so for sentences of people convicted of drug-trafficking offenses, who make up more than 75 percent of those given federal mandatory minimum sentences. This is a powerful indictment from the commission, which has three Republicans and three Democrats and operates by consensus. The report shows that harsh mandatory minimums have contributed to the near tripling of federal prisoners in the last 20 years, reaching 208,000 in 2009 and putting federal prisons 37 percent over capacity. The effects of mandatory minimums on repeat offenders are perhaps the harshest. In the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, Congress established five-year minimum terms for “serious” traffickers and 10-year minimums for “major” traffickers, as defined by different quantities for different drugs. But those sentences are often lengthened in any number of ways. A prior conviction for any “felony drug offense”punishable by more than a year, including for simple possession, doubles those terms. Two prior convictions raise the presumption to a mandatory life term. At the same time, there can be great disparity in punishment. Committing the same drug crime can lead to a felony conviction in one state but a misdemeanor in another, which can then lead to widely differing federal sentences. The racial disparities in sentencing are also stark. In some cases, mandatory minimums can be reduced for offenders if the crime did not involve violence or a gun. But most African-American drug offenders convicted of a crime carrying a mandatory minimum sentence could not meet these and other requirements: only 39 percent qualified for a reduction compared with 64 percent of whites. The report notes that inequitable sentencing policies “may foster disrespect for and lack of confidence in the federal criminal justice system.” Not “may.” Given the well-documented unfairness, Congress needs to rescind all mandatory minimum sentences. [New York Times op-ed]
10. NYS PAROLE REFORM CAMPAIGN:
SIXTY-SECOND ORGANIZATION SIGNS IN SUPPORT OF THE SAFE PAROLE ACT
At its meeting on October 23, 2011, New York Quarterly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) endorsed the S.A.F.E. Parole Act. In Friendship, Nancy B. Black, Clerk, New York Quarterly Meeting
PRISON ACTION MEMBERS DELIVER 333 LETTERS TO THE GOVERNOR
On November 8, four members of Prison Action Network delivered 333 letters signed by friends, families, and advocates of our incarcerated members to the governor in support of the SAFE Parole Act. In the photo Mary Kavaney, Assistant Secretary for Public Safety, is accepting the letters on behalf of the governor from Judith Brink, Dir. of PAN. They were joined by Linda King, Joan Card, and a friend of PAN, each of whom told a personal story of how she is affected by the current policy of denying parole based on the nature of the crime. We asked Ms. Kavaney to take our message to Gov. Cuomo: “Making parole release decisions based on the nature of the crime too frequently results in violent offenders being denied time after time, often resulting in adding 4 to 24 years to their minimum sentences. These are the people who have the lowest rates of recidivism. What rational explanation could account for all those denials? The crime has already been dealt with in the courts. All we are asking is that the Parole Board base its decisions on the readiness of the individual for reintegration, and if she or he is not deemed ready, letting the parole applicant know how to become so."
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT, a series of articles presented by the Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies to explain and support the SAFE Parole Act.
Part 2: The Success of the Merger Depends on the Implementation of the SAFE Parole Act, by Larry White (delivered at the NYS Assembly’s Nov. 10 Public Hearing on the DOCCS Merger)
I believe with great conviction that incarcerated individuals are stakeholders in every aspect of the correctional and parole process, and therefore should have meaningful involvement in the operation of the processes that affect their lives and liberties.
The recent legislative changes that were enacted in conjunction with the merger of Dept. of Corrections and Community Supervision and the Division of Parole, including the development of Transitional Accountability Plans and the implementation of Risk and Need Assessment Instrument(s) provide tools that are potentially helpful to refocus the roles of Corrections and Parole in preparation for successful reentry, but completely fail to address the need for those under custody to have direct involvement and input in the very processes that directly affect their release from incarceration.
Although the Transitional Accountability Plan in theory does allow for participation by inmates in the construction of their individualized plan, there is no general policy or directive that requires this. There is also nothing that categorically provides that at every stage of the correctional process the individual inmate shall be informed of exactly what he/she must accomplish or achieve in order to be released on parole. It is this involvement that creates buy in and empowers personal transformation. Without such information the inmate cannot chart a course of involvement in the correctional process that he/she feels certain will lead to successful parole release.
Both the TAP and the Risk and Need Assessment Instrument have the potential to make clear to a person in prison what is expected of him or her and why. Under the TAP, IF the original model is followed, each inmate will participate in the development of their treatment plan, and thus will have a clearer understanding of what they must achieve. That is a very big “if.” The challenge will be whether New York follows the original model, and if line staff can accept a model in which people in prison participate in their own plan.
The Risk and Needs Assessment Instrument and the Transitional Accountability Plan together have the potential to provide each inmate with a clear indication of what is required for successful release to parole and community supervision. Inmates could be informed of these requirements at each stage in the correctional process when the TAP and the Risk and Needs Assessment are updated. Inmate participation in the rehabilitation process is increased when they are informed of what is required for their release from imprisonment and when they have an opportunity to take part in setting those goals. At this stage of the merger it is entirely unclear whether this is how the Tap and Risk and Needs Assessment will be utilized and implemented. I feel compelled to express my doubts and concerns.
Perhaps we need to follow the path of places like Norway and other European countries that have decreased the primacy of punishment and increased the use of proven programmatic approaches to behavioral and cognitive change that lead to law-abiding conduct. The prevailing primacy of punishment that guides our correctional system fails to provide an environment that encourages a personal, stakeholder approach to inmate involvement in the rehabilitative process.
I would like to address the use of Risk and Need Assessment Instruments in the parole release process. Risk assessments are essentially predictions of future behavior and are subject to error. There are no 'laws' of behavior that can be applied to a set of circumstances to determine the behavioral outcome that will follow. Criminal behavior, in particular, is motivated and supported by an unquantifiable number of factors; therefore to assess an individual as 'high risk' is not to say that he or she will indeed recidivate. Despite its shortcomings, risk assessment can, to a certain extent, differentiate offenders who pose a significant risk for re-offending in the future from those who are likely to refrain from committing future offenses. It can also help identify needed support services.
It appears that the risk assessment instrument that DOCCS intends to use will contain “seriousness of the offense” as a factor to determine current dangerousness. From my perspective, the nature of the offense is not a useful tool in determining who should be released and if in fact they are ready for reintegration. The seriousness of the crime has no relevance as a predictor of whether the person will commit that crime again. In addition, the process for utilizing the risk and needs assessment instrument should be transparent. A person appearing before the parole board should be provided with a copy of the scored instrument in advance and the decision should include an explanation of how the instrument was used to make the release decision.
What is sorely missing from the legislation under discussion that accompanies this merger is the requirement that the Board of Parole provide the parole applicant with specific requirements for actions to be taken, programs or accomplishments to be completed, or changes in performance or conduct to be made, or corrective action or actions to be taken, in order to qualify for parole release. As soon as the requirements have been successfully completed and the parole applicant's institutional record has been satisfactory during the time between the previous and current parole board hearing, release shall be granted.
11. NYS PRISONER JUSTICE NETWORK (NYSPJN) AND PRISON ACTION NETWORK (PAN) HAVE JOINED IN A COLLABORATION BY WHICH NYSPJN WILL USE BUILDING BRIDGES AS THEIR WAY OF COMMUNICATING IN PRINT WITH OUR COMBINED MEMBERSHIPS.
Dear Building Bridges Reader,
The New York State Prisoner Justice Network is honored to be invited to write a regular column for Building Bridges. This is column #1.
The Prisoner Justice Network was formed out of the first-ever statewide prisoner justice conference in March of 2010. The conference brought together dozens of organizations and individuals from around the state doing various kinds of prisoner justice work. The participants agreed that mass incarceration is racist and repressive and makes social problems worse, not better. We agreed to form a network to stay in touch with each other, support each other’s work, and share information and inspiration, with the goal of strengthening overall the movement to challenge and change mass incarceration in New York.
Since then, the NYS Prisoner Justice Network has created a number of forms of communication among people challenging New York’s Criminal INjustice System – listserv, website, directory, mailing list, facebook, twitter, regional meetings, regular statewide phone calls. A central part of that communication is with prisoners and their families. They are the experts at the center of the conversation about what needs to change. Many of us NYS Prisoner Justice activists are formerly incarcerated or prison families.
NYS Prisoner Justice is also emerging as an action organization. The largest action to date was the May 2011 Legislative Awareness Day. People came together from all over the state and talked with each other. Then they went in teams to meet with legislators to promote an agenda of change: parole reform, an end to long-term solitary confinement, especially for prisoners with mental illness, and prison closures leading to less incarceration. The focus on parole reform was chosen because it is the issue mentioned most often, and most passionately, by the prisoners who write to NYS Prisoner Justice. The specific issues were framed in the context of a critique of the whole model: mass incarceration is not a solution to social problems. Community healing, not revenge, should be the model. The Legislative Awareness Day helped to get the SAFE Parole Act, for real parole reform, introduced into both houses of the New York State Legislature (though it will still take a lot of work to get it passed). In working toward parole reform, NYS Prisoner Justice is cooperating closely with the NYS Parole Reform Campaign, which developed the SAFE Parole Act and is leading the strategy to get it passed.
Two other important partnerships that NYS Prisoner Justice has been involved in are the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, a study-group-to-action movement initiated in response to the book, The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander, demonstrating that mass incarceration is the main form of racial oppression in our time; and the Occupy Wall Street movement, where NYSPJN members have started teach-ins on prison issues.
We hope that this column in Building Bridges will give us the opportunity to bring forward issues that are raised by our member organizations and prisoners; will help us communicate better with those who are incarcerated; and will strengthen the movement to end imprisonment and bring about true justice. Contact us at NYSPJN, 33 Central Avenue, Albany NY 12210; email@example.com; and www.nysprisonerjustice.org.
12. PAROLE NEWS: SEPTEMBER STATS; MERGER CONFUSION; SAME OLD PAROLE BOARD ONE SIZE FITS ALL RELEASE DECISIONS; DOES A LENGTHY INCARCERATION INCREASE PUBLIC SAFETY?
SEPTEMBER 2011 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES – A1 VIOLENT FELONS – DIN #s through 1999 unofficial research from parole database
Total Interviews............... # Released....... # Denied.......... Rate of Release
20 Initials ..........................3.................... 17............ 15%
102 reappearances.......... 17.................... 85............ 16%
122 interviews................. 20.................... 102.......... 16%
September Initial Releases
Clinton............ 16 ½-Life......... Murder 2
Clinton............ 15-Life............ Murder 2
Sing Sing......... 25-Life............ Murder 2
September Reappearance Releases
Facility............ Sentence...........Offense..........# of Board
Arthurkill......... 18-Life............ Murder 2......... 6th
Bare Hill........... 15-Life............ Murder 2......... 9th
Bare Hill........... 20-Life............ Murder 2......... 2nd
Bare Hill........... 15-Life............ Murder 2......... 5th
Clinton............ 1 ½-Life........... Murder 2......... 4th
Fishkill............. 22-Life............ Murder 2......... 4th
Fishkill............. 15-Life............ Murder 2......... 5th
Fishkill............. 15-Life............ Murder 2......... 6th
Fishkill............. 15-Life............ Murder 2......... 3rd
Gouverneur...... 20-Life............ Murder 2......... 2nd
Marcy.............. 25-Life............ Murder 2......... 4th
Midstate.......... 25-Life............ Murder 2......... 9th
Midstate.......... 20-Life............ Murder 2......... 2nd
Mt McGregor.... 20-Life............ Murder 2......... 3rd*for deportation
Taconic............ 20-Life............ Murder 2......... 6th
Woodbourne.... 15-Life............ Murder 2......... 4th
Now that DOCS and the Div. of Parole have merged, at least one ILC has complained about the brief - 10-15 minute - and only, meetings with their facility parole officer 2-3 months prior to their parole board hearings. They complain that the brief interview is not enough time to create a comprehensive parole summary, and too far removed from their interview date. In response they were told that Parole is currently under staffed and they should make sure the information in their quarterly reports is accurate. (These reports can be accessed by a FOIL, we’ve been told.) When we consulted the NYS Parole Handbook on the Parole website for information concerning the role of the Facility Parole Officer, we discovered that the current version was last updated a year ago, before the Merger was even announced. At that time, it said that the “Facility Parole Officer has the responsibility for preparing the status report for your Parole Board appearance, which evaluates your criminal history, as well as all of your accomplishments and adjustments while in prison. The other function of a facility Parole Officer is to counsel and help you prepare for successful reentry into the community.” That information, however, is no longer applicable to the current situation because we don’t know who is responsible for what. Titles have been changed presumably. Or maybe just responsibilities. Maybe guidance counselors are now doing some or all of what facility parole officers used to do. Or maybe the role has been divided up. I suspect the response that was given to the ILC was the best that was possible based on the lack of information available to anyone. Somehow we don’t think we’re the only ones in the dark. [Please let us know if you have anything more definitive to report.]
MR. WINSTON MOSELEY - THE FIRST APPLICANT TO BE EVALUATED UNDER THE CHANGES BY GOV. CUOMO - WAS DENIED PAROLE AND GIVEN A 2 YEAR HIT. ADVOCATES WERE WATCHING CLOSELY TO SEE HOW THE NEW CRITERIA WOULD BE IMPLEMENTED.
Considering the extreme seriousness of his crime and his criminal history, we were interested in what new criteria, if any, the expected denial would be based. On November 1, 2011 the Parole Board was true to form, and issued yet again one of their boiler plate decisions, saying that there is reasonable probability that he would not live and remain at liberty without violating the law and that his release was incompatible with the public safety and welfare the community. They describe the crime in detail, and then note (and commend) his good institutional conduct and his many programs and institutional accomplishments. They also mention the letters of support. Yet they gave no clues as to whether Mr. Moseley will ever be released, or what steps he can take to get out of prison someday. So one size really does fit all in the Board’s opinion, since I have dozens of letters from readers containing parole decisions that are word for word the same as this, with only the details of the crime being different. We must continue to work to get the SAFE Parole Act passed, so parole decisions will have some real connection with the individual being interviewed.
IS PUBLIC SAFETY SERVED BY LONGER INCARCERATIONS?
If more prisons was the solution, we should be the safest country in the world. We’re not. The trouble is, there is little evidence that prison has much of a deterrent effect especially for young people who come from poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods with little hope for the future. Prisons have another disadvantage---they are a heavy financial burden. But there are better, more effective, and probably less expensive solutions than just building more prisons and handing out longer sentences.
Everything that criminologists have learned about crime in recent research is that most adolescents who become delinquents, and the overwhelming majority of adults who commit violent crimes, started very young. What researchers have found is that parenting is not a natural instinct. We are losing parenting skills as mobility and divorce sunder families and fifteen-year-olds who did not have proper childhoods of their own have babies. Inadequate parents make children who are more at risk. With modern weaponry in the hands of increasingly younger and more desperate children, the rituals of insult and vengeance are a lethal luxury we can no longer afford.
What is needed is not expensive, and is not necessarily liberal or conservative. It is a shift in thinking that begins at home, that teaches that respect comes from within, not from worrying about the opinions of others.
-from the prologue to All God’s Children, by Fox Butterfield
13. 'STEPS' PROGRAM HELPS FREED PRISONERS "RE-ENTER" WORLD, GIVES WOMEN HOPE FOR LIFE AFTER JAIL.
After two decades behind bars, Sharon Richardson is returning to prison – this time without shackles. Richardson is a “reentry specialist” who uses her own experience with incarceration to help former inmates adapt to life on the outside. She’ll be taking her work one step further this fall by counseling women still in jail – some who may even be former jail-mates. “I want to help save lives,” said Richardson, 52, who lives in southeast Queens and works for a nonprofit group called STEPS to End Family Violence. “I’m giving back – I have to.” For more, readers can access the article by Sam Levin, Daily News if they click here.
14. PLACES TO GO: ACTIONS, EVENTS AND MEETINGS
Friday November 18, 12 Noon-4PM Southern Tier Social Justice Project and the Broome County Reentry ABLE Program
Making Connections, Restoring Hope, Changing Lives
REENTRY RESOURCE DAY FOR FORMERLY-INCARCERATED INDIVIDUALS, THEIR FAMILIES & ALLIES
Food & Drinks will be available.
Questions? Contact Cheryl DeRosa (607) 727-0438 or Jeff Pryor (607) 778-1364
Location: Broome County Library, Exhibit Room, 2nd Floor 59 Court Street, Binghamton
WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 16, 1-3PM NY Reentry roundtable “policing the police: the need for sweeping reform now!” Guest Speaker Robert Gangi, Dir. Police Reform Organizing Project, Senior Policy Advocate, Urban Justice Center. Please RSVP to Gabriel Torres Rivera, J.D. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Location: Community Service Society of NY (CSS)
105 East 22nd St., cnr Park Ave So. Conf. Rm 4A Take 6 or W/R to 23rd St.
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 1 (9AM - 5PM) COMMUNITY SERVICE SOCIETY POLCY FORUM
Whatever it Takes; Strategies for Preventing Youth Disconnection Speaker: Bryan Samuels, Commissioner, Administration for Children Youth and Families, US Dept of Health and Human Services. For more information please contact email@example.com Location: the NYC Bar Association, 42 W. 44th St.
SATURDAY DECEMBER 3, 1PM THE NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK DEATH PENALTY FORUM
“WE ARE ALL STILL TROY DAVIS!”
presented by the Political Action Committee/Second Chance Committee.
For more information: Dawn 917 557 0109, Brenda 917 723 4378, Victor, 646 229 9869
Location: House of Justice, 106 W. 145th St., #3 train or 19 Bus to 145th St.
DECEMBER 12 & EVERY SECOND MONDAY, 6PM THE UPSTATE CAMPAIGN TO END THE NEW JIM CROW
“NO TO PRISONS, YES TO CARING COMMUNITIES”
Call 518 427 8361 for details
Location: The Book Club, 153 S. Pearl St.
MONDAY NOVEMBER 28, 6:30-8:30PM PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC.
Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. is a justice advocacy initiative that meets on the last Monday of every month. Most meetings feature a documentary film, related to some criminal justice issue, prison issue or reentry challenge and one or more guest speakers.
At the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., we will meet some formerly incarcerated people who have established successful businesses in Western New York. They will discuss the hardships of imprisonment, the challenges of reintegration, and the obstacles they faced in seeking to establish a legitimate business while dealing with the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. Mr. Alfonzo Carter will tell his story and introduce us to “Electronic Outlet” which is located in Buffalo’s Elmwood Village. Mr. Guy Lane will introduce us to his restaurant, named after his baby daughter, “Nadia’s Taste of Soul.” A third speaker is unconfirmed at this printing.
The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of PRP2, Inc. programs. For further information, contact Karima Amin: 716-834-8438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Location:Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 17, 5-7PM COALITION FOR WOMEN PRISONERS MEETING
Updates by the Conditions/Reentry Committee on our efforts to monitor implementation of the Dept. of Health oversight law and our work on the housing booklet for women returning home.
Discussion with Kathy Boudin on issues facing long-termers and ways to ensure justice for all.
More info: Jaya Vasandani, 212.254.5700, x334, email@example.com
Location: Correctional Association of NY, 2090 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd.
THURSDAY DECEMBER 1, 6:30PM THE LEGAL AID SOCIETY
What is happening at the jails on Rikers Island and other city jails?
*23-Hour Confinement in “The Box”,
*Inadequate Mental Health Treatment,
Are you concerned about the NYC jails? Do you have ideas about how to organize to stop the abuse and trauma? Let’s get together to talk about it, organize around it, and change it!
Contact Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646.602.5644, or Randi at 718.508.3413
SUPPORT GROUP MEETINGS
ALBANY: Every Monday 7-8:30PM Prison Families of NY Support Group Meetings Alison 518-453-6659
Every Tuesday at 6PM P-MOTIONS (Progressive Men Operating Towards Initiating Opportunities Now)
Malik at 518-445-5487.
Every Wednesday 5:30PM VOCAL Parolees Organizing Project.
For more info call 917 676-8041
2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month: November 22 and December 13, 7:30PM Prison Families Anonymous meetings The Community Presbyterian Church 1843 Deer Park Avenue, Deer Park, NY
First Tuesday of the month, December 6, 7:30PM at St Brigids Catholic Church, 75 Post Ave, Westbury, NY.
For information, please contact: Barbara: 631-943-0441 or Sue: 631-806-3903
Building Bridges is published by Prison Action Network as a way of communicating with our members.
If you would like to join, please give us a call or send an email