Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Monday, May 14, 2012

MAY 2012




















LATE-BREAKING NEWS AND ANNOUNCEMENTS
[PLEASE SCROLL DOWN TO GO DIRECTLY TO THE MAY 15 PUBLICATION OF BUILDING BRIDGES]




POSTED June 5 by Drug Policy Alliance



Today, our coalition is launching a major video and action campaign to finally end the racially biased, unlawful, costly marijuana arrests in New York. Can you take two minutes to help end these unlawful arrests?

Yesterday, Governor Cuomo stepped out in support of ending racially biased, unlawful marijuana possession arrests in New York. The State Assembly, Mayor Bloomberg, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, district attorneys from around the state, and others also came out in support of reform. But the Senate has to act – and time is running out.

To urge the Senate – and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos – to take action, we’re launching a series of videos featuring powerful video testimonials from people who have been illegally searched and falsely charged for marijuana possession in New York City. And we’re asking folks to sign a petition that we’ll hand-deliver in Albany on Tuesday June 12.

You can help:

 Watch the video and sign the petition, here: http://bit.ly/LmzqGl







POSTED June 4 by NYS Prisoner Justice Network


Are you the next prisoner? Be careful how you answer that question, warns conservative Laissez Faire Today in the provocative must-read article that asks the same question. Referring to the American prison system as a "massive human rights violation," the article walks the reader through the nightmare of entering the criminal justice system, and gives examples of just how easy it is to 'trip over the wire" and land in prison.

http://lfb.org/today/are-you-the-next-prisoner/







POSTED May 29 by National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT)


Thursday May 31, 7-9pm
Presentation & Panel Discussion plus screening of NRCAT Documentary

"SOLITARY CONFINEMENT: TORTURE IN YOUR BACKYARD”
It’s time for New York to put an end to prolonged solitary confinement.
St. Francis College, Founders Hall, 182 Remsen St., Bklyn NY 11202


POSTED MAY 25  by Jaya at The Women in Prison Project


Wednesday, May 30th, 11am - 1:30pm


The NY State Senate Democratic Caucus is sponsoring a public forum on several pieces of proposed domestic violence legislation. The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (A.7874-A/S.5436) is one of the bills being highlighted. If you are in the Albany area, we encourage you to attend this important event:
Where:        Hearing Room C, Legislative Office Building, Albany, New York 12247
When:          Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Time:           11:00 AM to 1:30 PM
If you would like to testify at this forum, or are unable to attend but would like to submit written testimony, please fill out this form and send it back to:
Gerard Savage, Counsel and Chief of Staff for Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson
Room 707 Legislative Office Building
Albany, New York 12247 TEL.: (518) 455-2061
POSTED MAY 25  by the Bronx Defenders
Thursday, June 7, 6 - 8pm
 NYC Jails Action Coalition Meeting
Do you have experience with the NYC Jails?
Are you concerned by the conditions there?
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!

The Bronx Defenders,  860 Courtlandt Avenue (b/n 160th & 161st streets),  Bronx, NY 

Dear Reader, 
We hope to see you, or your family if you’re incarcerated, at two Legislative Advocacy Days taking place in May;  both will be advocating for the passage of the Safe And Fair Evaluations (S.A.F..E) Parole Act.  
Remember we knew this would not be an easy struggle, but it’s a righteous struggle.  We don't have to fight dirty, we just have to fight long and hard, be really good organizers and build a strong movement.  With everyone sacrificing some comfort, or a visit to our loved one in prison, we have a chance.  But if we all sit back and wait for someone else to do the work, it’s not going to happen!  And we’re a fun group to be with!  Where else can you be in a crowd and know that everyone else has a loved one in prison and wants the same changes as you?  If you’ve never joined in a Legislative Advocacy Day, we urge you to make the effort this year.
  • TUESDAY, MAY 15TH CSS ADVOCACY DAY.  Building Bridges will be there, but you won’t read this until afterward, so it’s too late now.  Hopefully you were there.  But if not, you have another opportunity:
  • TUESDAY, MAY 22ND NYS PRISONER JUSTICE NETWORK’S PRISON AND PAROLE JUSTICE DAY will feature a MEETING with legislators who have expressed support for the SAFE Parole Act and other worthwhile bills, followed by a MARCH AND RALLY to demand parole policy changes. Participants will be able to network with other activists, advocates, and people affected by the criminal justice system;  hear about all the dynamic work for prisoner justice going on in New York State; urge legislators to support basic changes in the criminal justice system and rally and march to demand fairer parole decisions. There will be free transportation from New York City and other gathering points around the state. To sign up, contact the NYS Prisoner Justice Network by mail, phone, or email: NYSPJN, 33 Central Avenue, Albany NY 12210. 518-434-4037; nysprisonerjustice@gmail.com   [Please download the flyer at http://www.nysprisonerjustice.org/ and distribute it widely.
                       Please be well, keep the faith, share the news, and for everyone’s sake, get involved!  -The Editor


Articles/Summaries
  1. Carl Berk Remembered. A friend remembers that “He normally submitted a poem to one of the Jewish Newsletters or Lifers’ notes. We didn’t receive one for February.“ We share a prose poem, inspired by Hemingway, that Carl sent us shortly before his death.
  2. Building a Better Criminal Justice System.  Five experts, Vanita Gupta,American Civil Liberties Union, Glenn E. Martin,  The Fortune Society, Leonard E. Noisette, Open Society Foundations, Lance Ogiste, District Attorney’s Office of Kings County and Susan B. Tucker, NYC Department of Probation share their strategic vision for the next 25 years of criminal justice reform at a gathering on June 4 at Castle Gardens.
  3. Clemency: “Among its benign if too-often ignored objects, the clemency power can correct injustices that the ordinary criminal justice process seems unable or unwilling to consider.” 
  4. The Merit Time Bill falls victim to questionable tactics, while ill-advised bills continue to be scheduled for voting at the Senate’s Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee on May 15.  We also report on the fate of bills presented to the Committee on April 18.
  5. Parole News: March releases (reappearance rates are up),  excerpts from two articles by John Caher, and a report from the NYS Parole Reform Campaign.
  6. Prisoners Are People Too!  Broken on All Sides! This important film draws little attention on Facebook.  Come to meeting. 
  7. The NYS Prisoner Justice Network reviews the bad news and the good news and invites us to join them in a day of taking actions to increase the amount of good news.
  8. In Our Name: Restoring Justice in America, a retreat in beautiful upstate NY, is open to families and friends of incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated persons.  This August weekend gathering of academics, activists, and advocates will work together to formulate proposals for reform of the criminal justice and penal systems. We need to share our input.
  9. The Yale Law Journal welcomes submissions for their first prison law writing contest.
  10. A call for stories from adult children of incarcerated, or formerly incarcerated, parents.
  11. Justus Support Group forms in Troy NY.      
[Please send your requests to prisonactionnetwork@gmail.com for any article or bill not printed in its entirety.]



1.  CARL BERK REMEMBERED
In response to our query about Carl Berk, we received this note from a friend of his:

He was my friend, and it was a sad day when I learned of his passing.  I didn’t find out until the second week of February.  He normally submitted a poem to one of the Jewish Newsletters or Lifers’ notes. We didn’t receive one for February.  
Carl regretted not having kept his avenues of contact open, not having plans for disposing of all his stuff when he did pass on.  He was a tremendous writer, many times he wrote his thoughts out, and just kept the letters.  He was like that, not wanting to burden others with his thoughts and memories.
His poetry was phenomenal, truly thought provoking, and in many cases, inspirational.
Why Carl chose Clinton to be his home is a weird story, but it came down to the fact that they let him alone!  They didn’t care what he wrote, who he wrote to, or who wrote back to him.  More recently he had a problem being Jewish there, not because of the administration, but because of differences with the Rabbi!
He will be missed.
Shortly before he died Building Bridges received this prose poem from Carl Berk- the only one he ever sent us :
1/11/11,  Clinton C.F.
OTHER BLOSSOMS, OTHER LEAVES
I was reading Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast,” and for him the title referred to Paris in the 20’s.  For me it stood for him, Joyce, Gertrude; all of them gone but still with us because they too move through time, across continents and into hearts where they lodge, just as Hemingway did at 74 Rue Cardinal Lemoine.  A poor location but a rich heritage.
He was young after all and could stand both sides of the formidable Miss Stein. Then many of the best faded, became jaded, drank too much, became depressed, and despaired at seeing and knowing life too well.  They had all made love in the dark.  Their feast moved and was never the same.  The tragedy was that they could see that.
The breezes that blew through the narrow streets of Paris, that brought so suddenly, color and scent in Spring, and the killing winds of Winter, became seasons that had come and gone, like vintage wine consumed.  
Carl Berk     Feb 23, 1939 - Jan 6, 2012
2.  BUILDING A BETTER CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
The Fortune Society and The Sentencing Project are collaborating on a panel discussion about The Sentencing Project’s recent publication, “To Build a Better Criminal Justice System: 25 Experts Envision the Next 25 Years of Reform.” In the new publication, 25 leading scholars and practitioners have contributed essays on their strategic vision for the next 25 years of criminal justice reform. Issues addressed in the collection include racial justice strategies, linking public health and criminal justice reform, challenging the war on drugs, and the viability of fiscal pressures as a focus for reform.
The panel includes the following New York City based essay contributors:
-  Vanita Gupta, Deputy Legal Director, American Civil Liberties Union
-  Glenn E. Martin, Vice President of Development and Public Affairs, The Fortune Society
-  Leonard E. Noisette, Director, Criminal Justice Fund, US Programs, Open Society Foundations
-  Lance Ogiste, Counsel to District Attorney of Kings County, New York
-  Susan B. Tucker, Director of Justice Reinvestment Initiatives, NYC Department of Probation
The panel will be moderated by the Sentencing Project’s Executive Director Marc Mauer, and we will open up the conversation to hear audience members’ thoughts on the next 25 years of reform.
JUNE 4th, 6:00-8:00PM at Castle Gardens, The Fortune Society’s mixed-use, green affordable housing development, located at  625 West 140th Street NYC
Space is limited, so please RSVP to Josh Ramos at jramos@fortunesociety.org if you are able to attend.  
3.  CLEMENCY 
A few quotes from an article published in the 4/20/12 NY Law Journal by Ken Strutin, director of legal information services at the NYS Defenders Association.
“Among its benign if too-often ignored objects, the clemency power can correct injustices that the ordinary criminal process seems unable or unwilling to consider.”
“Clemency can focus on the uniqueness of each petitioner in a way that criminal law and procedure cannot.  And such a remedy requires attention to assure its fair administration.”
“Evolution in moral intuition and general knowledge demand revisiting the policies underlying punishment and imprisonment by all quarters of the justice system.”
Justice Kennedy: “Prisoners retain the essence of human dignity inherent in all persons.  Respect for that dignity animates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.” 
The author concludes: ”Prison is not society’s safety net, dignity and fairness are. “
4.  LEGISLATION 
The Merit Time Bill S338/A154, sponsored by Senator Velmanette Montgomery and co-sponsored by Senator Dilan no longer is sitting in the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee.  Due to a troubling turn of events, it has been reported to the Rules Committee, headed by Majority Leader Dean Skelos, where it will sit probably forever, or at least til the end of this session.
As readers may recall, Senator Montgomery used a Motion for Committee Consideration to force a vote on the Merit Time Bill and some others, at the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee on March 7. 
Motion for Committee Consideration has been possible since Senate Rule VII, §3(e) was passed in 2009 to prevent committee chairs from simply bottling up bills they personally oppose.  It states that if no action has been taken within 45 days of its introduction, any senator can force a vote.
Sen. Skelos apparently doesn’t want that to happen, so as Temporary President of the Majority Conference he has ordered the Merit Time Bill S.338, along with over 300 others presented under that rule in all Senate Committees, moved to the Rules Committee, of which he is the Chair. The Times Union reports that many Democrats say this is “censoring” the legislative process but Republicans argue is a response to “abuse” of the chamber’s rules by Democrats.
“They were taken from a place where they could have seen the light of day and put into a very dark vault where the Senate majority hopes they’re never seen or heard from again,” said Sen. Daniel Squadron, D- Brooklyn.
Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, said the move has “stifled” the committee process and will provide cover to Republicans, who will be able to say that they never voted against the bills. 
Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said the impact of “censoring” legislation proposed by Democrats goes beyond the lawmakers. “We are here not representing ourselves. We’re not here representing our biggest heart’s desires. We’re here actually representing people. We are representing people who have sent us here to put forward measures, legislation, ideas that they want discussed in the public square of ideas,” she said.
A letter from Diane X. Burman, Counsel to the Majority Conference sent to all NYS Senate Committee Chairs, said in part: “Under Senate rules the Temporary President [Skelos] may at any time refer bills to the Rules Committee.  At the request of the Temporary President any pending motions for committee consideration have been discharged from the respective committee and committed to the Rules Committee. If you had any pending motions for committee consideration before your Committee they are no longer under your Committee’s jurisdiction and no further actions should be taken on them by your Committee.  You must hold them.   [emphasis added]
[To sign a petition in support of Merit Time, please visit www.change.org/petitions/all-of-new-york-pass-the-merit-time-law-in-new-york  or Twitter.com/MeritNY]

BILLS CONSIDERED ON APRIL 18, 2012 by the Senate Standing Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction 
Senator Michael F. Nozzolio, Chair.   [An audio-visual recording is available on line at the Committee’s website: www.nysenate.gov/event/2012/apr/18/crime-victims-crime-and-correction-meeting.]  
Reminder: bills must pass in both houses in order to become laws.
Ten bills were considered. Seven of them related specifically to convicted sex offenders.  All but one of the seven appeared to make life on the outside impossible for anyone with that status, and thus insure they would spend their lives in prison.  We’ll spare you the details and pray that the Assembly has the wisdom not to pass them.
“Report” or “Refer” means the bill is moving forward toward a Senate vote.  “Held” means either the sponsor or the committee has requested it not be considered until after some more work on it.  “Same as” means the bill has a sponsor in the Assembly as well.  Where there is a “same as” bill, the primary Assembly sponsor is listed plus the number of co-sponsors.  We don’t have room to list them all by name.
Following are three bills that have significance.  One of them was voted on, so we included it to show you the process.  “Ayes W/R” means, “Yes, with reservations,” which gives the senator an opportunity to voice his or her concerns when/if it is presented to the entire Senate for a vote.
S3537B Sponsor: Nozzolio  [No Same As]  Referred to Finance
Prohibits parole for any inmates convicted of homicide unless five or at least thirty percent of the members of the parole board are present at the hearing
S5221 Sponsor: Fuschillo   [Same as A7669 - Weisenberg]  Referred to Finance 
Requires the parole office to maintain the responsibility and costs of monitoring any person released on parole with the mandatory requirement of installation of an ignition interlock device
 [We looked it up, that’s a mechanism like a breathalyzer. Before the vehicle's motor can be started, the driver must exhale into the device; if the resultant breath-alcohol concentration result is greater than the acceptable level the device prevents the engine from being started. At random times after the engine has been started, the IID will require another breath sample. The purpose of this is to prevent a friend from breathing into the device, enabling the intoxicated person to get behind the wheel and drive away. If the breath sample isn't provided, or the sample exceeds the acceptable level, the device will log the event, warn the driver and then start up an alarm (e.g., lights flashing, horn honking, etc.) until the ignition is turned off, or a clean breath sample has been provided.]
S. 6785  Sponsor:  Griffo,  Co-sponsor(s): Kennedy  [Same as A.8917 - Brindisi +1]   Referred to Finance
This bill will ensure that all records of parole interviews for sex offenders are transmitted to the Office of Mental Health (OMH) for review by the civil commitment case review panel.
Vote: Committee Vote: - Crime Victims, Crime and Correction - Apr 18, 2012
Vote:  Committee Vote: - Finance - May 8, 2012
Ayes W/R (3): Duane, Montgomery, Perkins
Nays (1): Parker
[A list of members of the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee appeared in the April edition of Building Bridges, should you wish to contact them.]





5.  PAROLE NEWS:  MARCH RELEASES;  TWO ARTICLES BY JOHN CAHER,  UPDATE ON SAFE PAROLE ACT  
MARCH 2012 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES – A1 VIOLENT FELONS – DIN #s through 1999 
unofficial research from parole database

Total Interviews
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
15 Initials
1
14
7%
63 reappearances
21
42
33%
78 Total
22
56
28%

Facility
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Woodbourne
25-Life
Murder 2
initial   *


Facility
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Bare Hill
15-Life
Murder 2
12th
Cape Vincent
25-Life
Murder 2
4th
Clinton
20-Life
Murder 2
3rd
Fishkill
20-Life
Murder2
2nd
Fishkill
18-Life
Murder 2
7th
Franklin
25-Life
Murder 2
2nd
Franklin
23-Life
Murder 2
2nd   *
Gowanda
15-Life
Murder-pre74
1st PV
Hudson
7-Life
YO Murder 2
5th
Hudson
20-Life
Murder2
6th
Livingston
15-Life
Murder 2
2nd  **
Otisville
21-life
Murder 2
2nd
Otisville
15-Life
Murder 2
4th
Otisville
15-Life
Murder 2
2nd
Otisville
20-Life
Murder 2
3rd    *
Otisville
15-Life
Murder 2
2nd
Sullivan
25-Life
Murder 2
6th
Taconic
15-Life
Murder 2
2nd
Washington
25-Life
Murder2
2nd
Wyoming
25-Life
Kidnap 1
4th
Wyoming
20-Life
Murder 2
5th
*for deportation only **had LCTA release, was rescinded, released at what would have been initial
HAMILTON LOSES PAROLE BID DESPITE HIS "INCREDIBLE PRISON RECORD"
by John Caher, 04-24-2012 New York Law Journal
Excerpts [because we know many of our readers are familiar with the article, and since we have limited space, only some of the article is quoted here.]:
An inmate with what the parole board called an "incredible prison record" is not entitled to reconsideration for release under a new directive requiring the panel to consider an offender's rehabilitation, a judge in Albany has held.
Acting Supreme Court Justice Richard Platkin declined to follow the lead of a judge in Orange County and held that a recent revision to the Executive Law is not retroactively applicable, and even if it were the parole board retains the discretion to "accord greater weight and emphasis to the gravity of the instant offenses and the compatibility of petitioner's release with the welfare of society" than to the inmate's reform. [Editor’s Note: That’s why we must pass the Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act!]
The parole board made note of Hamilton's "incredible prison record of good conduct, program achievements and other accomplishments," as well as letters of support from prison staff, family, support groups and community members. But it denied parole to Hamilton, who had no prior criminal record, solely because of the seriousness of the offense.
Shortly before his last parole interview, Hamilton was accused by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association of attempting to manipulate the process. In response, Andrea Evans, chair of the parole board, said in a letter to the editor published in The Chief, a union newsletter, that Hamilton's initial interview was not postponed at his request. Rather, Evans said, Hamilton was hospitalized and the parole board rescheduled the interview because he was unable to attend.
Hamilton was represented by Moira Kim Penza of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.  Assistant Attorney General Kevin Hickey defended the parole board.
EFFECT OF RISK ASSESSMENT RULE ON PAROLE DECISIONS IS UNCLEAR 
by John Caher, 04-30-2012 New York Law Journal
Excerpts  [because we know many of our readers are familiar with the article, and since we have limited space, only some of the article is quoted here.]:

ALBANY - A new law requiring the state parole board to consider inmates' rehabilitation and use a "risk assessment" procedure to gauge whether parole-eligible inmates have reformed appears to be having little effect as release rates are largely unchanged and the board is routinely basing its denials on boilerplate statutory language emphasizing the offense, records suggest.
"My experience has been it doesn't matter because most of the guys are scoring the lowest risk assessment level and they are still hitting them and saying they are a threat to society," said Cheryl Kates, an attorney near Rochester whose practice consists of advocating for inmates seeking parole. "It doesn't make any sense. They've added an evidence-based procedure but still cite the statute the same way they did previously. It is just a façade. It is status quo."
Similarly, Edward Hammock, a former parole board chairman who now practices criminal law, much of it post-conviction, said he has not seen any change.  "It is my impression that nothing is really happening," Hammock said. "Why do a risk assessment if you are not going to deal with it when considering someone for release?"
Part of the problem is that there is uncertainty about why the statute was changed and what the revision was supposed to achieve. It is not clear if the revision represents a sea change in the operations of the parole board, a tweak of one of the existing factors it takes into consideration, or something in between.
In any case, parole addressed the new provision by adopting the widely used, evidence-based COMPAS . It replaced outdated "guidelines" that had been used since the late 1970s to help the board determine if an inmate is ready for release.
According to DOCCS the Board was trained in the use of the risk assessment instrument last summer and will undergo "intensive training" on June 22.
But [Peter Cutler, the DOCCS public information director] said the risk instrument is only "one of many informative documents" that the board considers, and was never intended to be the "controlling factor."
Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, D-Queens, who was largely responsible for getting the provision into a budget bill, disagrees.  "We have had lots of conversations with the [parole] department, to make sure they understand the intent of the legislation, and ultimately we are looking for hearings to really get to the heart of what is going on and not fulfilling our mandates," Aubry said.
Aubry said part of the rationale for the revision was to provide the board with political cover if it releases someone with a violent past, or someone whose crime resulted in the death of a police officer.
"We know that parole board decisions are both administrative and political," Aubry said. "We passed legislation that ought to anesthetize them from that and give them the freedom to look at the inmate and determine whether or not they are a danger, as opposed to simply looking at the instant crime. That is the job they have, and they will have to bend to that."
Aubry said he is monitoring trends and expects to see change, noting that there are a number of vacancies and soon-to-open positions on the parole board.
"The governor has appointments available, and maybe he needs to use them," Aubry said.
Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon, said the revised provision was designed to provide the parole board with a reasonably objective measure of an offender's progress, a means of redirecting focus away from the underlying crime. "But societal biases get in the way and good people make bad decisions, sometimes because they are afraid of the political environment and implications if one parolee commits a violent act while on parole."
The meaning of the revision and its effect on the parole board will eventually be determined by the courts. But with a law that has been in effect for only six months, there is little guidance to date and lower court rulings are in conflict.
[Most] recently, Acting Supreme Court Justice Richard Platkin in Albany held in Matter of Hamilton, 6463-11, that the provision is not retroactive and that the parole board retains the discretion "to accord greater weight and emphasis to the gravity of the instant offenses and the compatibility of petitioner's release with the welfare of society" (NYLJ, April 24). Platkin's holding follows the reasoning and current approach of the board. His decision is under appeal to the Appellate Division, Third Department. 
John Caher can be contacted at jcaher@alm.com.
NYS PAROLE REFORM CAMPAIGN 
The Campaign has been working with the organizations who have put the SAFE Parole Act on the agenda for their legislative advocacy days.  We’re very grateful for the support we’ve received from these and other organizations!  We’ve come a long way since last year at this time when our bill was just a proposal and removing nature of the crime from what the parole board could consider was believed to be too radical and so controversial that no one would touch it.  We now have legislative sponsors, and many people are seeing that without this bill violent offenders with “incredible prison records” and the lowest risk scores on COMPAS, will continue to be denied parole.  
Please visit www.parolereform.org and tell your story and write more letters!   We can’t sit back.  We have to keep the pressure on.  It’s your voices that got us this far!  No one on the outside was talking about removing the nature of the crime before participants at Family Empowerment Day 4 demanded it.

6.   BROKEN ON ALL SIDES, by Karima Amin
 Recently, I reviewed a new film entitled “Broken On All Sides: Race, Mass Incarceration and New Visions for Criminal Justice in the US,” which does a good job of describing the US prison system as being broken and perhaps beyond repair. I posted the film’s 5-minute trailer on Facebook about two weeks ago. Only two people have taken a look at it and responded. I have more than 2,500 Facebook “friends” and I really expected more of them to click “like” and “share.” It’s an important film and it will be screened at the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc..

I know that prison issues are of great importance to many people and some are working very hard to reform or dismantle what currently exists but there seems to be far too many others who are simply not interested or who would rather live with misinformation, stereotypes, and the kind of ignorance that gives them comfort. This apathy is frightening to me since I know that everyone is affected by this system whether they know it or not. Certainly, for some, the impact is obvious; prisoners, their close friends and families, and formerly incarcerated people see and feel this impact everyday. Children are affected too. Some even believe that incarceration is a normal part of adult male life. Incarcerated parents feel the impact as far too many of them rarely, if ever, see their children.  Women struggling to raise children alone, feel the harsh impact of a system that is not family-friendly. Formerly incarcerated people, struggling to re-enter society, are affected daily as they strive to build new lives despite the detrimental collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. People who express no interest in prison issues, live and work day-to-day, not realizing that their tax dollars support a failed system that basically does very little to rehabilitate men and women who will one day come home.


In a few days, activists, advocates, and organizations from across the state will meet in Albany to share their working strategies and to talk to lawmakers about reforms requiring legislative support and the Governor’s approval. The work is hard. The laws are unfair. Progress is slow. Even the most stalwart are showing signs of fatigue and a desire to abandon the battlefield. But the fight for the rights of prisoners is a necessary fight and one that more must join.  Last May, 15 delegates from Western New York went to Albany. This year, only 9 have registered to go. This is a disappointment but I am not discouraged. 


[If you live near Buffalo and are interested in participating in the upcoming “Day of Action” (May 22), get in touch with Karima Amin: 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.]



7.  UPDATE FROM THE NEW YORK STATE PRISONER JUSTICE NETWORK
Dear Building Bridges Readers,
As always, there’s bad news and good news. You already know the bad news – ongoing and worsening injustice: continued parole denials based on the nature of the crime, humiliating searches and photos for visitors, punishment for tickets by taking away visits (there’s nothing like denying children the right to see their parents to improve everyone’s behavior!), solitary confinement (regardless of what the state chooses to call it) for the most petty offenses, using the term “offenders” instead of “inmates” to make it easier to dehumanize us and our loved ones... and the list goes on. As one of our prison correspondents puts it, “Once again DOCCS undermines programs proven to reduce recidivism and damage, to promote ones known to foster negative behavior. I guess they want to guarantee they’ll be in business at full capacity for generations to come.” 
And yet there is LOTS of good news: nationally and in New York there is a vigorous and growing movement made up of hundreds of groups confronting these injustices. Several of these initiatives will be featured at NYS Prisoner Justice Network’s Prison and Parole Justice Day in Albany on May 22nd – visit our website: www.nysprisonerjustice.org, download our flyer and register if you can, or encourage family and friends to register if you are inside!
Solitary Confinement: New York says it doesn’t have any. Advocates say SHU, keeplock, and ad seg are all forms of isolation, and New York has one of the highest rates in the U.S.  A coalition of advocates succeeded in getting the SHU exclusion law passed to mandate alternatives to isolation for prisoners with diagnoses of severe mental illness – a very limited but significant victory. Advocates are now trying to put some teeth into the implementation. A new statewide coalition initiated by the New York Civil Liberties Union is identifying long-term solitary confinement as fundamentally cruel, inhuman, and degrading and developing strategies to oppose it.
The NYS Parole Reform Campaign continues to build support among legislators for the Safe and Fair Evaluations (S.A.F.E.) Parole Act, and to educate the public on the injustice of repeated denials based on the original crime. During May 22nd Justice Day, there will be a march and rally at the Parole Board, called LET MY PEOPLE GO, to put a spotlight on parole injustice and demand fair parole policies. 
Some of the other dynamic campaigns participating in Justice Day on May 22nd are: Campaign to End the New Jim Crow (against racially targeted mass incarceration), Milk Not Jails (agriculture instead of prisons for economic development), the Occupy Movement’s anti-prison demonstrations, Liberation Summer (young people organizing against incarceration and prison abuse), Stop Stop and Frisk, Erie County Prisoners’ Rights Coalition (exposing and opposing abuses in local jails), Close Attica (event planned for next September) – and more!
The May 22nd Justice Day will also feature a meeting with reform-minded legislators from the Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus, whose constituents are disproportionately affected by the prison system. At this meeting, representatives of justice-seeking organizations will propose the formation of a Legislative Work Group on Criminal Justice Reform, for progressive legislators who are willing to work closely with and be accountable to advocates, family members, and formerly and currently incarcerated people to challenge mass incarceration and prison abuse, and to develop alternatives that genuinely serve the interests of community safety.
To learn more about Prison and Parole Justice Day on May 22, visit www.nysprisonerjustice.org

8.  IN OUR NAME: RESTORING JUSTICE IN AMERICA
A Weekend Retreat in Beautiful Upstate NY  Friday-Sunday, August 24-26, 2012
Hosted by Christ the King Spiritual Life Center of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, 575 Burton Road Greenwich, New York 12834 (518) 692-9550 with participation by Skidmore College and Siena College. Gathering together concerned professionals, advocates and members of the academic and general community, to discuss the state of our criminal justice system; and a call to action for reform.
There are scholarships for families and friends of incarcerated people and the formerly incarcerated who do not have the resources to pay for the weekend.  Please apply through Prison Action Network.  PO Box 6355   Albany, NY  12206,  518.253.7533,    prisonactionnetwork@gmail.com, where you can also request a program brochure. 

For registration and on site lodging information, contact Gordon Boyd, Gordon@energynext.com.  Send your reservation form to: In Our Name, P.O. Box 173, Greenwich, New York 12834, by August 10, 2012.
Participants:

David Karp - Dean, Skidmore College, who will speak on Restorative Justice
Edward Hammock - former NYS Parole Chairman, who will speak on Parole reform
Jeffrey Deskovic - the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation and Peter Fiorillo, former investigator for the Manhattan District Attorneys Office, who will speak on Wrongful Convictions
Richard Langone Esq., Levittown, NY, who will speak on his experiences as a state prisoner, his release and ensuing career as a prominent NYS appellate lawyer
Gordon Boyd, a Saratoga, NY businessman, who will speak on prisoner mentoring and re-entry
Linda Richardson, Dean, Sienna College, who will speak on Education in Prison
David Kaczinsky, who will speak on the death penalty
Michael Corriero, former judge, the Michael Corriero Juvenile Justice Foundation, will speak on children and justice
Steven Downs Esq., of the New York Civil Liberties Union
Mardi Crawford, Esq., of the New York Defenders Association, will speak on the state or our indigent defense system
Cara Benson, poet and prisoner advocate will be joined by former inmates in reciting poetry from prison
Rv’d J. Lewis, President of the Association of Protestant Chaplains
Rev. Cannon Peter Sabuni, Africa Office of the Episcopal Church
The setting will be in the Great Hall at the Spiritual Life Center, with meals and lodging provided to participants on the SLC campus. Our objective is to gather academics, practitioners, officials and community activists from the criminal justice and civil rights advocacy movements. We aim to spend the weekend thinking, speaking and hopefully formulating proposals and vehicles for reform of the criminal justice and penal systems, with the hope of promoting public awareness by opening the conference to the general public.
9.  THE YALE LAW JOURNAL WELCOMES SUBMISSIONS FOR OUR FIRST PRISON LAW WRITING CONTEST
If you are or recently have been in jail or prison, we invite you to write a short essay about your experiences with the law. The three top submissions will win cash prizes, and we hope to publish the best work. The Journal is one of the world’s most respected and widely read scholarly publications about the law. Our authors and readers include law professors and students, practicing attorneys, and judges. The Contest offers people in prison the chance to share their stories with people who shape the law and to explain how the law affects their lives.
Please do not discuss your innocence or guilt or ask for legal assistance with your case. Submissions are not confidential. Whatever you write will not be protected by attorney-client privilege. If you have an attorney, please speak with your attorney before submitting your work.
Topics
You are limited to specific topics. Please write an essay addressing one of the following 7 questions:
  • What does fair treatment look like in prison?
  • How does your institution deal with inmates who are violent or disruptive? Are people sent to solitary confinement? Is the disciplinary system fair, and does it help to maintain order?
  • Tell us about a notable or surprising experience you’ve had with another person in the legal system—whether a judge, a lawyer, a guard, or anyone else. What did you learn from it?
  • The goals of criminal punishment include retribution (giving people what they deserve), deterrence (discouraging future crimes), and rehabilitation (improving behavior). What purpose, if any, has your time in prison served? Should one of these purposes be emphasized more?
  • Have you ever filed a grievance with jail or prison authorities to complain about conditions? Tell us about it, and explain how the grievance process works. Are grievances effective? How do prison authorities respond to them? How do you feel about federal law’s requirement that prisoners file grievances before suing about prison conditions in court?
  • If you have been released from prison, what challenges did you face in reentering society?
  • How, if at all, do you maintain relationships with your family while in prison? Describe the prison rules that govern how much contact you can have with your family. How has being in prison affected your family relationships? 
Rules
You may submit an essay if you have been an inmate in a prison or jail at any point from January 1, 2010 through September 30, 2012. We welcome essays of about 1000-5000 words, or roughly 4-20 pages. Please type your submission if possible. If you must write by hand, please be sure your writing is readable. Feel free to work together with others, but your essay should be in your own voice. 
Essays must be received by October 1, 2012. Email your submission to YLJprisonlaw@gmail.com if possible. If you do not have email access, please mail your work to: The Yale Law Journal, ATTN: Prison Law, P.O. Box 208215, New Haven, CT 06520-8215. Please include your name and the name of the institution where you are or were imprisoned, and tell us the best way to reach you now.

10.  CALL FOR STORIES FROM ADULT CHILDREN OF INCARCERATED PARENTS

Are you an adult who experienced the incarceration of your parent as a child?  Are you interested in sharing your story, in your own words, with others?

Do you have an adult child who experienced your incarceration?  Would your adult child be interested in sharing his/her story with others?
We are editing a book of life stories by adults who had a parent in jail and/or prison when they were growing up.   The book will describe adult perspectives on parental incarceration.  This will not be a book ABOUT children of incarcerated parents, it will be a book BY adults who experienced the incarceration of a parent as children.
There is no requirement that contributors have ever lived with their incarcerated parent.  There is no requirement that contributors have ever had an active relationship with their parent who has been in jail or prison.  We are particularly interested in stories from individuals who have been involved in the juvenile or criminal justice systems themselves.  
We will provide editorial assistance to help contributors write the story they want to tell.  Contributors can send us their written work electronically or by mail.  
Individuals who are interested in sharing their stories and participating in this important project can email or write to us at: cipstories@gmail.com, or Denise Johnston & Megan Sullivan,  c/o Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents, Box 41-286 Eagle Rock, California 90041

Please contact us by June 30, 2012.  We look forward to hearing from you!
11.   NEW: For those in the Capital District:
JUSTUS SUPPORT GROUP FOR PEOPLE WITH AN INCARCERATED LOVED ONE
2nd & 4th Tuesday of each month,  6:30pm at Oakwood Community Center
            Corner of 10th and Hoosick Streets (side entrance)  Troy, NY     Contact: Pam Booker, MSW  518-487-0935
Building Bridges is Prison Action Network’s way to stay in contact with our members.
Write, call or email if you want to join.