Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012


From time to time during the month we post information that was too late for the last issue and will be out of date by the next. If you wish to go immediately to the February 2012 edition, please scroll down.


The "Removing the Bars: TAKE ACTION" conference:

For those affected by the criminal justice system, to help them advocate for positive change and ultimately create systemic sustainable transformation. We hope to provide a collaborative environment for service providers; community members; students and faculty to network and strategize around criminal justice related issues and enhance awareness and knowledge of systemic issues of oppression and their relationship to the criminal justice and prison systems.

All conference events are FREE and OPEN TO ALL.

Register Today. Space is Limited.

For conference updates, please visit the Criminal Justice Caucus blog

Questions? Email

Having trouble with the registration link above? Try clicking the following link: to register.


Speak Out on March 2, at the Center for Community Alternatives located at 39 West 19th Street, 10th Floor, New York, New York.

Time: 4:45PM - 6:30PM

Youth Generation, is a new youth group formed by youth and for youth. Youth Generation is holding monthly youth speak-outs to encourage youth to come together from across the city to discuss staying out of the criminal justice system, social awareness (racism, sexism, classism, etc.) and community organizing and leadership. Join youth as they discuss problems and propose solutions to create a better society. Adults will be admitted if accompanied by a youth (age 13-18). For more information please call 917.605.0625 or email
See flyer.

POSTED 2/24/12 by Prisoners Are People Too!

Old Behind Bars
Karima Amin

Many on the outside have certain stereotypical pictures in their heads when they think of prisoners. Some don’t ever think of mothers in prison. Some never consider blind or deaf people in prison. Many never consider those who are growing old behind bars. As I cruise toward age 65 with Medicare and other health-related info filling my mailbox daily, I think of my contemporaries who are aging in a place that was never designed to be a senior living facility. Further, we rarely think of those terminally ill prisoners who may require hospice care. What happens to them?

While some state prison systems are liberal about granting compassionate release, most are not. Some prisons have outside organizations that come into the facility to provide hospice care while others carefully select and train prisoners to take care of those confined who are terminally ill. According to Human Right Watch, “…aging men and women are the most rapidly growing group in US prisons.” In a recent 104-page report, “Old Behind bars: The Aging Prison Population in the US,” the following information is stated:
·Nearly 10% of state prisoners are serving a life sentence. 11.2% have sentences longer than 20 years.
·The number of state and federal prisoners, age 65 or older, grew at 94 times the rate of the overall prison population between 2007 and 2010.
·Long sentences today mean that many current prisoners will not leave prison until they become extremely old, if at all.
·Many older prisoners remain incarcerated even though they are too old and infirm to threaten public safety if released.

While some states are moving forward to change the rules about mandatory minimum sentences and parole, the need for special medical care and hospice care for the elderly in prison is rapidly growing.

The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too will screen the award-winning documentary film, “Serving Life,” which takes a look at prisoners caring for prisoners in the hospice unit of Angola State Prison (aka “The Farm”) in Louisiana, where the average sentence is more than 90 years. At Angola, the sentences are so long, 85% will never again live to see the outside world. Prisoners who volunteer in the hospice unit have said that this program provides the kind of bonding and empathy that leads to a clearer understanding of how fragile life is. It’s an opportunity that can be transformative. While hospice care is just one aspect of growing old in prison, prisons must also be prepared to provide for the medical needs of the elderly who frequently require special safety precautions, emotional feedback, special nutrition, or whatever may be needed to deal with diabetes, hepatitis C, or cancer …and the list goes on.

The next meeting of Prisoners Are People Too will be on Monday, February 27 at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo, at 6:30-8:30pm. The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersare


A New World is Possible!

Dear Reader, Please be well, keep the faith, share the news, and for everyone’s sake, get involved! The Editor


1. Pepsi Beverages Company has agreed to a $3.1 million settlement following federal charges that Pepsi committed racial discrimination in its hiring practices, specifically by eliminating approximately 300 African American applicants based on arrest records (but not necessarily convictions).

2. Threat to close Auburn Prison’s Hospitality Center alarms families who depend on this service to provide shelter while they wait from the time the bus drops them off until the beginning of visiting hours.

3. Today’s “Incarcerated Man” is vastly different from the representative specimen of yesteryear. For the first time in “incarcerated man’s” history there are more notable success stories than failures, as evidenced by a dwindling prison population and the success of the many women and men in leadership positions in re-entry programs throughout the state.

4. Two Job Opportunities: 1) Full time Development Associate at the Correctional Association. 2) Combine your desire to sharpen your skills and your commitment to fair criminal justice policies by training to become a media volunteer with the NYS Parole Reform Campaign. Free training.

5. Standardize Marijuana Offenses: We need a permanent, statewide solution like the bipartisan version proposed by Assemblyman Jeffries and Senator Grisanti. Please support A.7620 (Jeffries)/S.5187 (Grisanti): legislation that would end the racially biased, costly, and unconstitutional marijuana arrests throughout New York State.

6. How is the merger of DOCCS going to be implemented, and when? Who is overseeing the process? In this vast system with all its tensions and conflicts - between agencies, between management and unions -who is monitoring this monolithic entity? Building Bridges attempted to find out by attending, and reading testimony from, the Public Hearing on the Merger of DOCS and the Division of Parole into the new Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Thursday, November 10, 2011 and a hearing on the Public Protection portion of the 2012-13 Executive Budget, held by the State Legislature's fiscal committees on January 30, 2012.

7. Family member B. Russo took matters into her own hands and posted a petition in support of Senator Montgomery’s Merit Time Bill, S338. If you want to make your voice heard, please sign the petition.

8. Last chance to decide to attend the Caucus weekend workshops. The NYS Parole Reform Campaign of the Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies has a room that holds 500. Think of the impression it would make if it was filled! But if you can’t get there, you can help to get your legislators to support the SAFE Parole Act. People are suffering in prison waiting for us to win this struggle. It won’t be easy, but it can be done if we ALL get involved!

9. Mass Incarceration and the NYS Prisoner Justice Movement: “Dear Prisoner Justice Network, I have been in prison for 27 years. My last parole hearing lasted 4 minutes.“ Mass incarceration is a false solution that gets in the way of real solutions. It does not interrupt violence -- it feeds the cycle of violence.

10. Parole News: No stats this month, check back in March. Updates on Thwaites decision, and Graziano’s. In a new decision, Judge Lawrence H. Ecker hands down an almost identical ruling in the case of Newlly Velazquez as he did for Douglas Thwaites’s, one month previously. He again quotes Professor Phillip Genty’s interpretation of the governor’s revisions to the Parole Statute, including: “[T]he most important change is the replacement of static, past focused "guidelines" with more dynamic present and future-focused risk assessment "procedures" to guide the Parole Board”.

11. Stop and Frisk policies are the scourge of a Black person’s life, particularly for males, and particularly for young males. But as this story reveals, even grey haired 70 year old Black men are not immune to being stopped and frisked.

12. Veterans in Prison, a report by Karima Amin in Buffalo, where the first Veteran’s Treatment Court in the nation was created by Judge Robert T. Russell, Jr.

13. Over 37,000 New Yorkers are denied their constitutional right to vote because they are on parole, even though they are living and working in their communities. Join the effort to change this!

[For copies of articles referred to in this issue, please send an email with request stating # and title of article and date.]

Posted by Sharon: Zaleski on  JANUARY 18, 2012 at

Well, it’s happened and it’s a big one. Pepsi Beverages Company has agreed to a $3.1 million settlement with the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This comes following federal charges that Pepsi committed racial discrimination in its hiring practices. At issue was the use of criminal background checks to screen job applicants, but more specifically, the elimination of approximately 300 African American applicants based on arrest records (but not necessarily convictions). After the findings surfaced back in 2006, Pepsi was cooperative, and to avoid a lawsuit worked with the EEOC to reach the agreement.

The EEOC says using arrest and conviction records to deny employment can be illegal if it’s irrelevant for the job. Along with the financial settlement, the 300 or so applicants that were denied employment will receive suitable job offers and share in the majority of the $3.1 million. In addition, Pepsi will provide the EEOC with regular reports on its hiring practices and conduct anti-discrimination to hiring personnel. Pepsi has also modified their hiring practices and process to check applicant backgrounds.

Based on what’s happened at Pepsi, it’s probably a very good idea for businesses to revisit or examine their hiring and background check policies to be in compliance with the EEOC and avoid against problems in the future.

In a letter sent to Prison Action Network from a man incarcerated at Auburn Correctional Facility we learned that the Hospitality Center there was scheduled to close for good on Dec. 31, 2011. We have since learned from a visitor that it is still open, which is a relief to know.

The Hospitality Center provides a very important service for those family members visiting loved ones at the facility. After what is in most cases a long ride, it offers a place for them to step in and rest awhile, provides refuge from the elements and a place to refresh themselves. The vans and buses traveling from the NYC area typically arrive at around 7 am. This cannot be avoided because these same transportation services also go to Five Points and Cayuga Correctional Facilities. Even though they arrive at Auburn at 7 am, visiting hours do not commence until 9am. In the case of a Family Reunification Program visit, the wait is even longer. Visitors are not brought over to the FRP units until 1 pm. There are also frequent visitors traveling from out of state. If the Hospitality Center had closed, these visitors would be left out in the elements for this time. There is no indoor waiting area, and the guards do not allow people to wait inside. Among the visitors are the elderly, children, or others who are just plain unable to withstand this. Family visits are known to reduce recidivism rates of those who maintain close family ties.


In the January 15 edition of Building Bridges, I noted that my daughter Ariel was mentioned as a panel member on an upcoming Criminal Justice Series workshop presented by the the Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies, scheduled for Feb 18 in Albany. [see Article 8 for details]

I was surprised to note a reference to me as “incarcerated man”. I enjoyed a laugh as I realized that I had suddenly joined the ranks of such historical stalwarts as “Peking Man, Cave Man, Renaissance Man” and others. These unnamed representatives of the rest of us serve as placeholders in time. I wonder if Ariel appreciates the significance of being living offspring of such a legendary figure - “Incarcerated Man.”

“Incarcerated Man” provides a useful link in this time and place and within the criminal justice issues of our day. Particularly issues regarding community reintegration and parole preparedness. These issues hold a greater significance today than at any other time in the last fifty years. Incarcerated Man is undergoing a transformation; he has reached the nadir of his misfortunes and a new paradigm is being created out of the hard work and sacrifice of the formerly incarcerated. Today’s “incarcerated man” is vastly different from the representative specimen of yesteryear. For the first time in “incarcerated man’s” history there are more notable success stories than failures, as evidenced by a dwindling prison population and the success of the many women and men in leadership positions in re-entry programs throughout the state.

Incarcerated Man remains tethered to the past however, through institutional indifference, fear, and misconceptions about community supervision. (This is incarceration by other means). New ideas about community reintegration, and efforts at rehabilitation while on the inside, represent progress, evolution, and hope for a better day to come for thousands. More is needed to heal and to create trust. For each step forward we must be prepared occasionally to take a step back.

The recent changes in legislation regarding parole and the merger of Corrections with Parole are positive steps toward a more realistic approach to public safety. However, as recent parole decisions have shown, there are still sharp differences between the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government regarding implementation. The courts rule one way, and the parole board pushes back in the form of negative parole decisions which seemingly fly in the face of both legislative intent and legal decisions. Perhaps the parole board sees such judicial decisions as an encroachment upon the parole board’s authority and relevance.

Enter the SAFE Parole Act, which offers a rational approach to public safety, community reintegration and parole readiness. The SAFE Parole Act offers transparency of process and accountability for both parole candidates and parole boards. It is cost effective, and focused on tangible results with respect to rehabilitation; the potential benefits outweigh any negatives.

The prospects for the future of Incarcerated Man and society are for the moment, potentially great. But there remains much work to be done. Change is almost always a slow process.

Ismail Igartua, 88A5099, Fishkill Correctional Facility

Ismail is a 50-year old New Yorker from Spanish Harlem. He has been incarcerated for 25 years. He earned a BA from Skidmore College in 1995 and a Masters in Professional Studies -MPS - from the NY Theological Seminary. His next parole board appearance is November 2013. He is appealing his most recent parole denial.


1) The Correctional Association currently has a position open for a full-time Development Associate. 
Responsibilities will include: managing the departmental database; planning and executing special events; developing fundraising materials in collaboration with program and communications staff; coordinating donor mailings; and managing the direct mail program. Persons interested in applying for this position should submit a résumé, cover letter and one writing sample by email only to Marci McLendon at Résumés without cover letters and a writing sample will not be accepted.  No phone calls please. 

2) NYS Parole Reform Campaign offers free training in media communications technology and methodology for a volunteer job with the Campaign. Learn to use communication platforms; build new skills in technology and culture; audience engagement online and on-site; and strategies for campaigns. We are looking for a highly motivated volunteer to help with media outreach, messaging and video interviewing, etc. Personal enthusiasm for the SAFE Parole Act is essential. You must be able to travel to Detroit in June for training (travel, registration and accommodations will be paid for). We are asking for at least a 6 month commitment of 3 volunteer hours a week working to pass the SAFE Parole Act. For more information or to apply, please write us at: Deadline for applications is March 13.


Please support A.7620 (Jeffries)/S.5187 (Grisanti): legislation that would standardize marijuana offenses in the Penal Law. Visit this website and send a letter to your legislators.

Excerpts from the letter:

...This legislation was re-introduced this year by Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and Senator Mark Grisanti in order to help end the racially biased, costly, and unconstitutional marijuana arrests throughout New York State.
...These arrests are racially biased and target young people. Almost 70% of those arrested are 16-29 years old. Over 84% of all those arrested are Black and Latino -- even though government studies of high school seniors show whites use marijuana at higher rates. These arrests create a criminal record that can stay with someone for the rest of their life, severely limiting their opportunities.

....NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly recently issued an internal directive to officers, reminding them of the 1977 law. The order also directed officers not to charge people for a criminal misdemeanor when in fact the individual only committed a non-criminal violation. This operations order is a tacit admission that for years officers have not followed the law, leading to the civil rights violations of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. ...We need a permanent, statewide solution like the bipartisan version proposed by Assemblyman Jeffries and Senator Grisanti.


[Compiled from written testimony and a transcript of the Public Hearing on the Merger of DOCS and the Division of Parole into the new Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Thursday, November 10, 2011, and the hearing on the Public Protection portion of the 2012-13 Executive Budget, held by the State Legislature's fiscal committees on January 30, 2012.]

Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry, Chair, Committee on Correction asked the questions and DOCCS Commissioner Brian Fischer and Parole Board Chair Andrea Evans gave the answers. [B.B. combined all three into this report, with exceptions where it seemed particularly important to know the exact source. ]

The merger is expected to save $6.5 million in 2011-2012, and $8 M. a year after that.
DOCCS is now responsible for supervising a population of 95,000 people between those in prison and those on parole; 56,000 in prison, 38,000 on community supervision. The new agency has close to 30,000 employees, 29,000 inside prison, and 1,700 in community supervision. The Parole Board has 72 employees.
Their combined 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.

A new Deputy Commissioner and an Assistant Commissioner for Community Supervision are part of the new agency’s Executive Team. In addition, DOCCS established 7 Regional Directors within Community Supervision, seen as equal to the 9 Supervising HUB Superintendents within Corrections. The Parole Board will function as a separate entity within DOCCS, retaining independence in its decisions. The Commissioner of DOCCS is mandated to provide the Board and its staff with the information and resources necessary to perform their role.

The goal is to better plan, provide and document treatment from day one through release and community supervision. These tools will provide a better understanding of what the treatment needs of our inmates are, and what programs have the greatest likelihood of reducing recidivism for those released. DOCCS is continuing to assess prison programs to determine which have the greatest impact on providing needed skills to inmates. Academic education and enhanced computer literacy are of primary importance. With facility parole staff working in unison with correction counselors, and field parole staff picking up on work done inside, information sharing has become easier and more informative for everyone. The goal is clear; meet the needs of the offender upon his/her arrival in the system, as he/she gets ready to be released, and while in the community. [Fischer]

TAP will be started upon an inmate’s first facility assignment, updated by both counselors and parole staff throughout his/her incarceration, used to provide the Parole Board or Community Supervision staff with identified needs and plans for providing a fuller assessment of each offender’s strengths, weakness and accomplishments and documenting them over time.

COMPAS: The use of COMPAS by both facility and field parole staff will help them assess risk factors, make better caseload assignments and maximize the use of graduated sanctions when called for. [Fischer] In Sept of 2011 all Board members received training in the use of the risk and needs instrument known as COMPAS. Come January 2012, everyone coming out will have a COMPAS done. [Fischer]

COMPAS will be used to assign caseloads, based on research and reality. High risk will require more intensive supervision: 1 officer per 25 people. Medium high supervision: 1-40. Regular supervision 1-80. Low risk at 1-160. A 1-10 will remain for SIST (Strict and Intensive Supervision) which is mostly given to sex offenders and can also be given to some violent offenders; 1-25 for regular sex offenders and those who are designated as SMI (Seriously Mentally Ill). In Fiscal Year 2012/13 we will begin to use a new risk instrument on all sex offenders under community supervision designed to highlight potentially negative changes in thinking and behavior. Such a tool will enable the Parole Officer to more quickly respond to changes in order to modify the offender’s supervision needs. [Fischer]

Together the Board of Parole and DOCCS have been developing the Transitional Accountability Plan (TAP) to be used by DOCCS staff to determine institutional programming and community supervision plans, and to measure the rehabilitation of persons appearing before the Board as well as their likelihood of success in the community when released. At the time of reception, a comparable risk/needs assessment tool, followed by a data-based treatment initiative for in-prison programming will be applied.

In July 2011 each Board member, and 700 counselors and parole officers received training in the use of the TAP instrument. Both facility staff and correction counselors have also trained in TAP and in COMPAS. The TAP is begun by a C.O. and a Correction Counselor, and is input by a Parole Officer. COMPAS is administered by Parole but can also be done by a Correction Counselor. 

The use of these instruments (TAP and COMPAS) was to begin by Nov. 19, 2011 as a pilot project in 3 DOCCS facilities for the purposes of determining appropriate conditions of supervision. In the meantime, whenever and wherever a TAP has been prepared, the Parole Board has been instructed to use it. 

When the pilot phase is over, TAPs will be used for all parole applicants to assess the appropriateness of their release to community supervision. Because the TAP indicates an inmate’s overall effort toward effecting his or her rehabilitation while incarcerated and draws upon information closely associated with the risk of reoffending and identifies what they need to successfully reintegrate, the Board’s written procedures will call for the use and careful consideration of these documents. In the interim the Board will use the TAP when and where it has been prepared. [Evans] TAP was ready to go but because it was not as quantitative as thought necessary, it was revamped, which set back the implementation date to July 1, 2011. By October 2011 it was expected to be in full use.

TAP was designed initially to be a motivational kind of open-ended discussion with the offender. What does this person need? What does this person want to do? What does this person need to be rehabilitated? Did this person succeed in his/her rehabilitation? 

TAP will do away with the quarterly report. It will show the Parole Board member the entire progress from beginning to end. Added documentation and quantitative data on things like housing, education, employment, substance abuse, family, financial needs, leisure time activity, medical and mental health will be part of it. It designed to create a picture “based on what the offender talks about, not what we believe his needs are. “ [Fisher]

Commissioner of DOCCS is to provide the Parole Board and its staff with the information and resources necessary to perform their independent decision making role. Board members will receive reports that have been prepared by former Div. of Parole staff (newly titled Rehabilitation Coordinators) , including information of criminal history, crime of conviction, institutional adjustment, programming and release plans. [Evans] Facility Parole Officers and Correction Counselors are now under the Deputy Superintendent for Programs..

The Board of Parole has created a Bureaus of Adjudication, comprised of administrative law judges and preliminary hearing officers under the immediate supervision of the Board’s chief administrative law judge, creating a closer working relationship between the Board and those who adjudicate alleged violations in the area of community supervision.

Parole Council’s office now serves as exclusive legal advisors to the board, and continues in its efforts to process appeals in a timely and most independent manner. [Evans]

Granted by DOCCS; drafted in the facility, signed by the superintendent and given to the person when they leave. [Fischer and Evans]

Both DOCCS and the Parole Board will work together to grant medical parole and will be using a new Parole Board Criminal History Report being developed with the Division of Criminal Justice for a more comprehensive review of an offender’s criminal and previous Parole supervision. In our joint opinion, there are some cases where we think a person should be on medical parole, but the problem is, where do you place them? Who will sign for Medicaid? And when a person is no longer competent to make health care decisions who becomes their guardian? There’s a review even before the Board gets the case. There’s a medical review. “I personally review the case,” said Fischer. Then it goes to the Parole Board.

It’s taking about 30 minutes to review a file. The Board gets access to them the day before. Some commissioners look at them the day before and some do it in the morning, in either case they have adequate time for review. One of the benefits of videoconferencing is that it gives them more time to sit with the files. They see an average of 23 cases in a given day. [Evans]
The TAP and the COMPAS should allow all of us, particularly the Parole Board to get a better, quicker review of the case. [Fisher}

The Parole Board is mandated to develop written procedures to be used when making release decisions. Because the TAP instrument indicates an inmate’s overall effort toward effecting his or her rehabilitation while incarcerated and draws upon information closely associated with their risk of reoffending (COMPAS) and what they need in order to become successful, the Board’s written procedures will call for the use and careful consideration of these documents. [Evans}

“The Parole Board, when they’re sitting in panels, continue to be allowed to make independent decisions ...we need to consider the type of inmates that we have, and as a result of sentencing restructuring and the focus on reentry, thousands and thousands of inmates have been released. We were left with violent felony offenders.” [Evans]
(Editor’s note: We hope Commissioner Evans is referring to the fact that violent felony offenders are the group least likely to recommit a crime. They are among the most educated, remorseful and rehabilitated of NYS prisoners. Therefore it makes sense to be releasing more of them. Do parole commissioners know that of the 368 people convicted of murder who were granted parole in NY between 1999 and 2003, only 6, or less than 2% returned to prison within 3 years for a new felony conviction, and none of these for a violent offense, according to a 2011 NYS Parole Board study?)


The Merit Time Bill S338/A154, sponsored by Senator Velmanette Montgomery and co-sponsored by Senator Dilan is sitting in the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee and in the Assembly’s Correction Committee, as is the SAFE Parole Act.

A family member has posted a petition online for those who would like to indicate their support for passage of this bill which extends Merit Time to people convicted of violent felony crimes:
Click here to sign. 

Questions? Contact B Russo


It’s not too late to plan a trip to Albany on Sat. Feb. 18 to attend the Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice’s workshop at the BLACK, PUERTO RICAN, HISPANIC & ASIAN LEGISLATIVE CAUCUS WEEKEND. We need to convince these legislators it would be good for everyone if they supported the SAFE Parole Act. We have a room that holds 500. Think of the impression we would make if it was filled! 10:15 am, Hearing Room B. Ask for directions at the Capitol’s Security check-in. There may still be room on the bus, or put yourself on a waiting list, call Larry White: 646-796-4203

If it’s impossible for you to attend, please call your legislators to tell them you want them to attend the workshop. The panel will offer a critique of current parole policies that disproportionately affect communities of color, and their suggestions for reforms. The actual title is CRIMINAL JUSTICE SERIES, Parole Release Decisions in the Era of Reintegration. 10:15am, Hearing Room B. Topic/Issue(s) to be discussed:   Deficits in current Parole Board release policies and a proposal to correct them.

Moderator: Glenn E. Martin, The Fortune Society, Vice President of Development and Public Affairs

Incarcerated members of the Second Look Org. at Sullivan Correctional Facility (on video, or through a written statement)
Julia Long, The Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies’ Policy Committee, former legislative aide
Larry White,  Prison Action Network,  Ending The New Jim Crow,  Fortune Society Community Organizer
Jeffrion Aubry, Assembly sponsor of the Safe and Fair Evaluations (S.A.F.E.) Parole Act, A7939/S5374 
Christina Hernandez, NYS Parole Board Commissioner 
Ariel Igartua,  High School student whose father was recently denied parole release 

If you haven’t visited us yet, or it’s been a while, please stop in and check it out! Click on Take Action and in a few minutes you will have sent a (or another) letter to your state legislators and the governor. You can always delete the form letter that’s there and write your own. It will display their names and phone numbers so you can follow up with them later.

Some background to help you advocate for the SAFE Parole Act:

What’s REALLY important is for New Yorkers to convince the legislators in whose district they live that it’s important to you that they support The SAFE Parole Act, S5374/A7939, because when it comes time for a vote every possible one of them needs to vote for it.

There are a lot of legislators: 61 State Senators (there’s 1 vacancy) and 146 State Assembly Members (there’s 4 vacancies). That’s 207 people, and at least 104 have to vote yes for the bill to pass. (And then the governor has to approve it...)

But that’s the second step.

The first step:
It has to be passed by a majority of the Committee where it now sits. If they pass it, it goes before the full body for a vote. That’s when we need those 31 votes in the Senate, and 74 in the Assembly. If the Committee vetoes it, we have to wait until 2013 to start all over again -finding sponsors who will reintroduce it.

The SAFE Parole Act is now in the Assembly’s Corrections Committee and the Senate’s Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee.There are 14 members on the Corrections Committee and 10 on the Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee. We need a majority in each of those committees to vote for it.

To see the members of the Corrections Committee: To see members of the Senate Committee: If one of them represents you, you are VERY important to this campaign. Our bill depends on your ability to persuade that person to support the bill, Senate Bill S5374 same as Assembly Bill A7939.

Explore It has all the tools you’ll need. You can always email us or call 518 253 7533.


This month’s New York State Prisoner Justice Network column is an article by NYSPJN that appeared in the February issue of the Syracuse Peace News. It was written to promote a panel and community discussion presented by members of the Prisoner Justice Network, hosted by the Syracuse Peace Council and the Center for Community Alternatives. The program was entitled, “What’s Wrong with New York’s Prison System, and What Can We Do About It?” The extraordinary turnout of over 70 people was an indication of the growing public concern about mass incarceration, and a sign that Syracuse can play a strong role in building a statewide voice for prisoner justice.


Dear Prisoner Justice Network, I have been in prison for 27 years. My last parole hearing lasted 4 minutes.

Dear New York State Prisoner Justice: We, New York’s incarcerated prisoners have gone 70 years without a pay wage increase. Our pay is about $4 a week...

Dear Brothers and Sisters, My reason for writing this letter is what the black and latino prisoners are going through which is a series of staff assaults, sexual harassment and racialism. It would be appreciated if this is published. Maybe someone would do something to help us.

Dear Prisoner Justice, I was convicted for a burglary. No weapon was involved, nobody was home, and nobody was hurt. I was sentenced to 12 years to life.

Dear Friend: Injustice can make a person insane, when a person feels that nobody is listening to them and they have no court for the redress of their grievance.

These are a tiny sampling of the dozens of letters received by the New York State Prisoner Justice Network. Who are these incarcerated women and men, why are they in prison, what happens to them while they are there, and what happens when (and if) they get out?

New York’s 56,000 prisoners: 75% are people of color; 96% are male; the great majority have never had a trial (they were convicted on plea bargains); around 2/3 are poor; about half are from New York City. Some are innocent, some have committed serious crimes, and many are somewhere in between. Very few have done anything as terrible as what is being done to them in the name of justice.

Mass incarceration clearly does not do what its backers say it does – it does not keep our communities safe. It does not protect our kids from gun violence or police abuse. It does not protect women from sexual assault. It does not heal mental illness; it does not create paths to dignity and economic sustenance. It does not interrupt violence -- it feeds the cycle of violence. Mass incarceration is a false solution that gets in the way of real solutions.

Instead, the real agenda behind mass incarceration is repression, racism, power, and greed. The prison boom of the 1970s and 1980s followed the mass social justice movements boom of the 60s and 70s.

Today, careers are made out of the bloated prison system: prosecutors, police, right-wing media, prison guards, politicians, pundits, legislators, governors.

And yet this is a moment of possibility for prisoner justice. The U.S. prison system is being challenged from many sides. The anti-death penalty and innocence movements have raised fundamental questions; Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow provided definitive evidence that mass incarceration is the leading form of racial oppression in our time; major prison strikes in California and Georgia in 2011 called attention to intolerable conditions.

In New York, modest reforms have been won in alternative and reduced sentencing for drug offenders, limiting solitary confinement for people with diagnosed mental illness, and counting prisoners in their home communities rather than their place of confinement for legislative districting. There is a strong campaign challenging the parole policies that can keep people behind bars forever with no way out.

The prisoner justice movement has a large and bold vision: a society that directs resources at the causes of social problems, including economic injustice, racism, and inequality; that implements community-based accountability; that treats violence, addiction, and mental illness as serious public health issues; that addresses the crimes and violence of the most powerful members of society as well as the least powerful. Re-thinking mass incarceration challenges us to work toward a prisonless society that would liberate not only prisoners, but all of us.


Note: It’s February and as we warned you in January, there are no parole release statistics published in this issue. They are not released to the parole website until too close to our deadline to complete the work involved. December was an exception. In March we will publish January’s releases.

Douglas Thwaites reports that the Asst Attorney General is appealing Judge Ecker’s ruling in which the Judge ordered the Parole Board to hold a new hearing for Mr. Thwaites with a different panel within 30 days of the decision dated 12/21/11. Thwaites is challenging the appeal. He thanks all who have written in support and asks us to keep faith alive. His next parole hearing is scheduled for March 2012.

On January 26, 2012, Judge Lawrence H. Ecker issued a similar ruling in the matter of Newlley Velasquez v. NYS Board of Parole, citing the same arguments, drawing the same conclusions, and ordering the Board to take the same actions as in Douglas Thwaites’s case.

Graziano does not give up!

It is not the end of the road yet.  Lawyers are waiting for a date to argue their federal case to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  They also plan to request leave to appeal the state case to the New York Court of Appeals. 

Graham Rayman, Wednesday, Feb 8 2012 the Village Voice

Jazz Hayden might be the most unlikely character in the long-running controversy over the NYPD's stop-and-frisk campaign, which has affected more than 4 million New Yorkers since 2004.

Jazz Hayden alleges police illegally searched his car in December 2011. After the search yielded a penknife, Hayden was arrested on a felony weapons charge.

 Hayden, a longtime Harlem community activist, films stop-and-frisks and then posts the videos to the Internet as part of his Copwatch program. Hayden plans to sue the NYPD for improper stop and arrest after he was pulled over by police in December.

The 70-year-old Hayden, whose given name is Joseph, is a longtime community activist in Harlem. In a past life, he was a street hustler who served three years in prison in the late 1950s for drugs, was falsely accused in the late 1960s in a high-profile shooting of two police officers in the politically turbulent year of 1968, was convicted of money laundering in the 1970s, and served 13 years in prison from 1986 to 2000 for manslaughter after a traffic dispute turned fatal

“We are trying to build a movement to end these racist/fascist practices and we need your ‘intelligent and informed’ support”’ says Jazz. 

[Read more of the Village Voice newspaper article.]

12. 140,000 VETERANS IN PRISON, by Karima Amin

This was the title of a 2009 article published by Change.Org on Veterans’ Day. I read the article with interest, thinking of my father, a World War II veteran, who had died earlier that year at the age of 93. He was very proud of having served this country and his red, white ‘n’ blue flag was always on view on the front porch on Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day. My father was also a staunch proponent of Prisoners Are People Too. I read that article and wondered about what he might have had to say about so many veterans incarcerated in our state and federal prisons. That number above, “140,000,” does not include the tens of thousands more in our county jails. It is often said that veterans deserve our respect and support, but what about the veterans who find themselves behind bars?

In 2009, the Drug Policy Alliance issued a report entitled, “Healing a Broken System: Veterans Battling Addiction and Incarceration.” This report details the results of a study that was done to examine the drug addiction and mental health issues, faced by veterans, which could contribute to that person’s violations of the law. While substance abuse and mental illness among U.S. veterans are major problems, they tend to lead to other issues that may be inadequately addressed. Among these issues are:  PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), homelessness, poor overall health, death by overdose, and susceptibility to suicide. The report also states that incarcerated veterans face “…a wide range of punitive policies that limit their access to social services necessary for their reentry to civilian life.”

Buffalo activists are involved in learning more about 
Buffalo’s Veterans’ Treatment Court, which is the first such court in the nation, created by the Honorable Judge Robert T. Russell, Jr. in 2008. In January PRP2! watched “When I Came Home,” a film about homeless veterans in America who face a failing system while struggling to survive.

The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. 
For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or email her.


Over 37,000 New Yorkers are denied their constitutional right to vote because they are on parole, even though they are living and working in their communities. Nationwide, more than 5 million people are barred from voting because of incarceration or a past criminal record. VOCAL-NY invites you to help restore parolee voting rights today by:

1.    Adding your organization onto a statewide sign-on letter calling on the Governor to use his Executive Order power to restore parolees’ right to vote. To do so contact Jeremy Saunders at

2.    Call Assembly Member Jeffries (518-455-5325) and Assembly Member Camara ( 518-455-5262) and leave a message thanking them for their leadership in addressing the issue of voting rights for people on parole. Ask them to share your message with all the members in the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus.

Building Bridges is Prison Action Network’s way to stay in contact with its members. 
Email or call 518 253 7533 if you want to become a member.

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