Sunday, October 14, 2012

October 2012

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POSTED 11/12/12  

NY Reentry Roundtable on Three-Quarter Housing  
The Community Service Society of New York Reentry Roundtable for November will feature guest speakers from the Three-Quarter House Tenant Project. Three-Quarter Houses are one- and two-family houses that rent shared rooms to homeless people for profit and seek to provide support and services - an issue that takes on special importance in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, as it is now estimated that
between 30-40,000 low-income New Yorkers are homeless following the storm devastation.  The Three-Quarter House Project, begun in September 2009, provides advice, counsel and representation to residents on housing and related legal matters and conducts workshops for residents on their rights.
November NY Reentry Roundtable
Wednesday November 14, 2012
1:00PM to 3:00PM

The Community Service Society of New York
105 East 22nd Street
New York, NY 10010

POSTED 11/11/12   by Prisoners are People Too, Inc.

A Panel Presentation
with Rod Watson (Buffalo News), moderator
                                      Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 7 P.M.
St. Joseph University Church Community Room
3269 Main Street, Buffalo
This event is free and open to the public
Sponsored by the Social Justice Committee of St. Joseph Parish

Panelists: Chuck Culhane (PRP2 Board Member and Chair of Prisoner Justice Task Force for WNY Peace Center); Terrence McKelvey, Esq. (Criminal Defense Attorney); James McLeod (Buffalo City Court Judge)

POSTED 11/7/12  by Prison Action Network

Hurray!!!!!!!  Obama won!!!!   The people are more powerful than money!!  But we must continue to give him the backup he needs to do what is right for all of us.  One way to do that might be to write President Obama once a week, explaining to him why criminal justice issues are so important to us. 

Here are a few simple things you can do to make sure your message gets to the White House as quickly as possible.

1. If possible, email us! This is the fastest way to get your message to President Obama.

2. If you write a letter, please consider typing it on an 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheet of paper. If you hand-write your letter, please consider using pen and writing as neatly as possible.

3. Please include your return address on your letter as well as your envelope. If you have an email address, please consider including that as well.

4. And finally, be sure to include the full address of the White House to make sure your message gets to us as quickly and directly as possible:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Victory for Jazz Hayden! 
By Brian Jones posting on Black Talk Radio website. View the victory video.

Facing up to 14 years in prison for 2 felony counts of weapon possession discovered during a traffic stop, Joseph "Jazz" Hayden emerged from court this morning with an ACD (Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal), a small fine, 5 days of community service.

Anyone who has followed this case knows that the charges were bogus. The "weapons" were a small pen knife and a miniature commemorative baseball bat. In reality, these charges were nothing but retaliation for Jazz's activism to expose the brutal reality of the NYPD's "Stop and Frisk" policy. The ACD and community service really only serve to allow the District Attorney to save face. The fact is every day is community service for Jazz, which is why so many people showed up time after time to these court appearances. Jazz is a 71 year old activist who has been doggedly documenting police behavior in Harlem. His case has been discussed widely in the media.

Outside the courtroom, Jazz smiled and thanked his supporters. "This victory is because of y'all," he said, "your protest, your phone calls, your petitions, and your presence here. I love you."

The feeling is mutual.

Building Bridges
October 2012
Dear Reader,

Approximately 94,000 people are under New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).  That’s a whole lot of people who can’t vote.  Enough to decide an election!  Some of those people are our loved ones.  We have to be their voices.  It’s the only way we have any hope of having laws that really protect and support all of us, not just the prison industrial complex.  So VOTE!  The ballot box is only one of the ways, but it’s a very important way, of changing things, because  worthwhile change needs to be codified. That’s how we've kept our lower prison telephone rates.  Gov. Spitzer issued an executive order to lower the cost of phone calls from prison, but without the law that was passed, any future governor could have rescinded that executive order.  

Election Day is November 6th.  The polls open at 6am and close at 9pm.  Click here if you have questions.  The State Senate and Assembly races are very important!  If you don’t know either of the candidates in your district, or can’t make up your mind, just remember the Republicans are opposed to the changes we are working for, and committed to making laws that would harm us, our families, and our incarcerated loved ones.
Be well, stay strong, and please, get involved,  ~The Editor     


1.  Join the movement to Raise the Age of Criminal Responsibility.  Russell Simmons and his brothers Danny and Joseph “Rev. Run” have created a foundation to provide inner city youth with exposure to the arts.  On Oct 17, you are invited to be the guest of CCA at the Simmons brothers’ Rush Art Gallery in Manhattan, where youth will express their daily experiences in the criminal and juvenile system and depict the need to raise the age of criminal responsibility in NYS.

2.  Certificates of Relief from Disabilities and for Good Conduct restore the right to vote and certain other rights regarding housing and employment to formerly incarcerated people still on parole.  The Board of Parole has the discretion to grant the certificates.  When George Alexander was Chair of the Board he encouraged commissioners to confer Certificates of Relief from Disabilities upon release from prison so the person could benefit from the support when it was most needed.

3.  Not everyone appreciates the Merle Cooper Program as much as Corey Parks does.  Here’s another point of view.

4.  The Drug War’s impact on African-American men in Albany will be reported on by the Center for Law and Justice on Oct. 25 in Albany.

5.  Family Empowerment Day 5 in Buffalo was a big success.  Rufus and Jenny Triplett, the keynote speakers and Ebony Magazine’s “2012 Couple of the Year”, shared the story of Jenny’s incarceration and how they managed to keep the marriage and the family intact and raise three sons during it.

6.  David Rothenberg, founder of the Fortune Society, speaking about the connection of Art and Criminal Justice at the Oct. 17th Reentry Roundtable, will tell how the Fortune Society was spawned by a play he produced in 1967. 

7Higher education in prison has been demonstrated to greatly reduce recidivism.  The Center for Community Alternatives is premiering a movie on barriers to college acceptance on Thursday, Oct 25th, followed by a panel discussion with some of the people in the film.  Education from the Inside Out Coalition (EIO) is seeking restoration of access to higher education by inviting readers to view a video and sign a petition at their website.  Some higher education programs which already exist are listed.

8.  Parole news: August release rates, a summary of the Duffy vs. Andrea Evans case, and some highlights from Tom Grant’s NY Law Journal interview.

9.  The Prisoner Justice Network quotes, at greater length than in last month’s column, from several of the speakers at the September 14th event at Riverside Church (Pam Africa, Soffiyah Elijah, Mumia Abu Jamal).

10.  Prison Voices Project, a radio program aired on WGXC 90.7 FM in Hudson N.Y. would like listeners' help with planning the programming.

11Solitary Confinement, SHU, the Box, Extreme Isolation, no matter what you call it, it’s a form of torture.  DOCCS Commissioner Fischer said in his article for the Times Union that its use in NYS was necessary for safety in prisons. A few days later, the NY Civil Liberties Union released a study which found it to be arbitrary, inhumane and unsafe.

12.  National Action Network, NYC Chapter of the Second Chance Program, will be discussing the empowerment of women on Friday October 26.  The “Women’s In-Powerment” forum is free and light refreshments will be served.

1.   Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) Annual Art Show 2012
       Join the Movement to Raise the Age!

Oct 17, 6-8pm,  Rush Art Gallery *
526 W 26 St, (betw 10th & 11th Ave in NYC) 

A public visual and video art display that expresses Youth's daily experiences in the criminal and juvenile system and depicts the need to Raise the Age of Criminal Responsibility in NYS.

Join the Movement to Raise the Age! 
Live Music, Food, Live DJ, Performances by Youth, Spoken Word

Free and open to the public; please RSVP:

* Founded in 1995 by brothers Russell, Danny and Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons, Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, a 501 (C) 3 organization, is dedicated to providing inner-city youth with significant arts exposure and access to the arts, and to offering exhibition opportunities for underrepresented artists and artists of color. Over the past 16 years, Rush has developed a broad base of friends, collaborators and supporters dedicated to supporting its mission. In addition to the 2,300 students served in its education programs, each year Rush exhibits the work of 40 to 50 emerging and community-based artists in its galleries; welcomes over 10,000 gallery visitors; and provides unique opportunities for young people interested in careers in the arts.  Rush currently operates galleries and art education programs in Chelsea, Manh. (Rush Arts Gallery) and Clinton Hill, Brooklyn (Corridor Gallery). Rush Education Programs are designed to inspire students, provide positive alternatives to high-risk behaviors, and support increases in academic performance.

2.   Certificates of Relief from Disabilities and Certificate of Good Conduct (See Articles 23 and 23-A of the Correction Law, §§700-706 and §§750-755)

We’ve been asked if the policies for granting these certificates have changed.  Not that we know.  The record still states:
Correction Law §703 gives the State Board of Parole the power to issue a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities to any eligible offender who is serving or has served time in a New York State correctional institution or who resides within this state and whose judgment of conviction was rendered by a court in any other jurisdiction (e.g. federal court or an out-of-state court). The Board of Parole typically entertains granting such certificates at the time an inmate is being considered for parole.

A Certificate of Good Conduct is available to those individuals convicted of more than one crime (see Correction Law §§703-a and 703-b), and is not granted until a period of time has elapsed post release without any infractions.

The State Board of Parole or any three members thereof, by unanimous vote, have the exclusive power to issue a certificate of good conduct to any person previously convicted of a crime either in this state or in any other jurisdiction. The minimum period of good conduct, which is based upon the most serious crime of which the individual has been convicted of, is as follows:  if a C, D or E felony, you must wait at least three years; if an A or B felony, you must wait at least five years.  Both certificates carry the same weight with regard to restoring the rights of individuals with criminal records.

3.   Another View of the Merle Cooper Program:  “Theatre or Therapy?” 

Touted as an innovative therapeutic program that purports to address an offender’s criminal thinking and anti social behaviors, MCP is actually a counseling program that falls short of the difficult task of truly addressing criminogenic thinking and behavior.  The idea that 2 therapists can tend to the specific needs of over 160 prison inmates is an illusion, further complicated by staffs’ unwillingness to abandon the outdated model of “one size fits all’.  Thieves and druggists, murderers and sex offenders are all diagnosed with identical symptoms and discouraged from viewing the genesis of their offenses as basically sociological.  Many participants have developed negative, narrow ideas about themselves based upon what they were able to see, read and hear in their past.  To dismiss this notion is to do nothing about the problem.

In spite of my deep seated belief that prison officials would look at my struggle as evidence of black pathology, I volunteered in the Merle Cooper Program.  Having been assured of skilled and competent staff, I decided opening up my psyche to a general examination was not as foolish as I initially believed.  I had already completed aggression and substance abuse programs, obtained a vocational trade, and benefitted tremendously from higher education programs.  Yet I was interested in therapeutic counseling as it related to my own criminality.  My previous discovery that the only solution to a crime free life for a criminal is the reawakening of values, made me eager to learn what techniques a therapist would offer. 

Through a series of small and large group counseling sessions, participants were encouraged to be honest and openly evaluate their life experiences, most of which focused on destructive and violent behaviors. Though present to facilitate the session, one therapist often resorted to humiliating participants by referring to them as predators and monsters. Obviously the therapist felt more comfortable in the role of a verbally abusive prison official than a compassionate and non-judgmental therapist.  While it is understandable that many in society may be unable to forgive prison inmates for their transgressions, for a treating clinician to harbor those sentiments is counterproductive.
Discussions often centered on insignificant character defects, such as trust issues, that are merely symptoms.  Treating symptoms rather than the disease is what the MCP staff did. Notoriously famous for parroting the antics of a MCP psychologist are the peer counselors. These peer counselors are selected to be the eyes and ears of program staff.  Many were ill equipped to distinguish the actual illness from symptoms, confusing meaningful counseling with informing on participants’ symptoms and unrelated behaviors.

The most tragic aspect of Merle Cooper Program is that clinicians and other corrections staff benefit far more than the participants the program was designed to help.   ~ by Da’ud Nashid

4.   Drug War’s impact on Albany -  6pm Thurs, Oct 25th   FUUSA’s Channing Hall, 605 Washington Ave

Albany’s Center for Law and Justice joins with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and other local groups to report on the disparate impact of the drug war on African-American men in Albany. The Center will release its new report on the drug war’s targeting of African-American men in Albany by Federal, State, and Local authorities.  It highlights the lengthy sentences imposed on young men in Albany for non-violent crimes. 

The Center for Law and Justice will call for the government to address the impact of mass incarceration on communities of color, and rally commun-ities in Albany and NYC to oppose "The New Jim Crow." The event brings together communities targeted in the war on drugs with those targeted for their religious and political beliefs, and starts a dialogue about collaborative solutions to resolve these pressing problems.

Speakers at the Albany event include:
Dr. Alice Green, Executive Director, The Center for Law and Justice
Michael Figura, Legal Fellow, The Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Lynne Jackson, Project SALAM
Invited Family Members of the unjustly incarcerated. 

Co-Sponsors: NYCLU of the Capital Region, Project SALAM, 
Masjid As-Salam, Prison Action Network

5.   Family Empowerment Day 5:  A Big Success
by Karima Amin

Incarceration affects everybody, from families and communities to employers and society in general. If you think that incarceration has nothing to do with you, then you need to think again and take a second look. Do you realize that your tax dollars are used to support a broken system that does not keep communities safe nor reduce crime?

Family Empowerment Day was the brainchild of some proactive prisoners in 2005, the Otisville Lifers and Long-termers Group in Otisville Correctional Facility in Otisville, NY.  They believed that men and women on the inside, working with committed and compassionate folks on the outside, could move forward better with changes that could reform the prison system. FED1, FED2, FED3 and FED4 in NYC were all created by the collaborative effort of Prison Action Network and the Otisville Lifers. Another FED3 (in 2007) was held in Buffalo, NY.  Hosted by Prisoners Are People Too, this conference was amazingly successful with 150 attendees from across the state participating.  A third FED3, focusing on prison health care, took place in Albany NY.  FED4 in NYC resulted in a commitment to change the parole statute so that the Parole Board can no longer base a denial solely on the nature of the crime.  A second FED4, held in Albany, focused on mental health care. 

This year, FED5 was hosted in Buffalo on October 5-6, with Karima Amin, founder/director of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., collaborating with Claudia Racine (PRP2-Niagara County Chapter) and Judith Brink (Prison Action Network).

Buffalo was honored to welcome Rufus and Jenny Triplett of Powder Springs, GA, “Ebony Magazine’s 2012 “Couple of the Year,” who delivered the keynote address. They were present at a press conference and reception, held on October 5 at the Golden Cup on Jefferson Avenue. On the next day, October 6,  they set the tone at the day-long conference at SS Columba-Brigid Church when they shared the story of Jenny’s incarceration and how they managed to keep the marriage and the family intact and raise three sons. Their testimony moved some in the audience to give them a standing ovation. 

        The Tripletts moved above and beyond their negative circumstances to create Dawah International, LLC, a multimedia company that publishes “Prisonworld Magazine” and produces “Prisonworld Radio Network” online. The couple received high praise for sharing their inspiring story. (As a side note, the Tripletts were happy to see Niagara Falls and to get an early start on celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary.)

Chair Betty Jean Grant provided two proclamations from the Erie County Legislature:  one acknowledging the work of Rufus and Jenny Triplett and another designating October 6, 2012 as Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. and Family Empowerment Day.

We thank all of our generous supporters and facilitators who valued the importance of sharing information about voting, women’s issues, employment, kinship caregivers, family issues, mental health, reentry and parole.  While families with incarcerated loved ones may have benefited most, this conference provided a wealth of information for formerly incarcerated people, professionals working with these populations, and anyone having an interest in community betterment.

Family Empowerment Day5 was a major success and another step on the journey toward fairness, justice and increased understanding. 

6.   Fortune Society’s founder David Rothenberg to be guest speaker at the Oct. 17 Reentry Roundtable

David Rothenberg, founder of the Fortune Society, will be the guest speaker at the October 17 Reentry Roundtable, hosted by the Community Service Society of NY.  The topic will be Arts and the Criminal Justice System.

At 140th Street and Riverside Drive, there is a huge old building called the Fortune Academy. There, some 70 people recently released from prison have their own small apartments thanks to a playwright named John Herbert, a publicist/producer/political activist named David Rothenberg, and the audiences who took in the breakthrough 1967 Off-Broadway run of Herbert’s Fortune and Men’s Eye’s.

Fortune and Men’s Eyes, produced on the $15,000 that Dave Rothenberg had somehow raised, opened at the Actor’s Playhouse, just below Sheridan Square, on Feb. 23, 1967, in the face of withering disdain from the press. To keep Herbert’s drama alive before it died in the cradle, Rothenberg hit on the idea of dialogues between cast and audience after the show. “One night,” Rothenberg recalls, “a voice from the audience shouted: ‘This play is full of shit!’ From the back of the house came another: ‘Not if my 20 years count for anything, and I’ve been in Rikers Island, Dannemora, San Quentin, and on a Florida chain gang.’

“I stood up and said: ‘Come on down,’ and down to the stage came this New York Irish street kid, Pat McGarry, who mesmerized us for an hour. He said: ‘You need a black guy. I did white time. There’s white time and black time.’ The next week he brought along Clarence Cooper, who’d done time in Michigan.” These three men, Pat McGarry, Clarence Cooper, David Rothenberg—soon joined by ex-convicts Kenny Jackson and Mel Rivers—would form the founding/sustaining nucleus of the Fortune Society, the now 45-year-old convict-support organization that opened that Fortune Academy up there on 140th Street.

Please RSVP to Gabriel Torres Rivera,  212-614-5306,
Lunch will be served.
CSS, 105 E. 22 St, cr Park Ave So.  [6 or N/R train to 23 St. Stop]

7.   Higher Education in Prison

The Center for Community Alternatives invites you to the premier of the film, "Passport to the Future: Accessing Higher Education in the Era of Mass Incarceration" on October 25th, 2012, at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Blvd., betw. 135th and 136th St.   It is free and open to the public.  A wine and cheese reception will follow.

This film is a natural follow-up to the report that the Center for Community Alternatives  released last year identifying and discussing the growing trend of colleges and universities in screening out applicants with criminal histories.  (This report, entitled "The Use of Criminal History Records in College Admissions Reconsidered"  can be found on our website at  

The film explores this issue further, focusing on the perspective of people who have been incarcerated and are seeking to transform their lives through higher education.  It is a very powerful film.  After the premier, there will be a panel discussion; the panelists will include formerly incarcerated students and experts, some of whom appear in the film.

Education from the Inside Out Coalition (EIO). Through increased education access for the imprisoned, EIO is working to help diminish the system of mass incarceration. They seek the restoration of Pell grants, Tapp grants (in NY), and the proliferation of all educational experiences to provide the greatest opportunity for successful reentry as well as promoting more humane carceral conditions. Please take a moment to watch their campaign video and consider signing their petition

There are some college programs in NYS prisons:
If you already have a GED or high school diploma and have some time before your release from prison, you might consider earning college courses while incarcerated.  Here’s a short list:
Bard Prison Initiative at Eastern, Woodbourne, Elmira, Green Haven, and Bayview (for women) Correctional Facilities.
The Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) creates the opportunity for incarcerated men and women to earn a Bard College associate or bachelor degree while serving their sentences. The academic standards and workload are rigorous, based on an unusual mix of attention to developmental skills and ambitious college study. The rate of post-release employment among the program’s participants is high and recidivism is stunningly low. By challenging incarcerated men and women with a liberal education, BPI works to redefine the relationship between educational opportunity and criminal justice.

Cornell Prison Education Program at Auburn and Cayuga

Cornell faculty and graduate students teach a free college-level liberal arts curriculum to a select group of inmates at Auburn Correctional Facility and Cayuga Correctional Facility. The credits can be applied toward an associates degree from Cayuga Community College. To build a sense of academic community among the Auburn student body, instructors have introduced a monthly lecture series featuring prominent Cornell faculty and administrators, visiting scholars, and notable speakers representing various professional fields.

Hudson Link at Fishkill, Sing-Sing, Sullivan and Taconic
In partnership with Mercy, Nyack, SUNY Sullivan and Vassar Colleges, Hudson Link sponsors associate and bachelor degree programs in Liberal Arts, Behavioral Science, and Organizational Management.  Hudson Link students have a 0% rate of recidivism.  Hudson Link’s college programs are rigorous - the curriculum is identical to the one used on the college campus; students work full-time while attending school in the evening; they do not have access to the internet, they perform all of their research in the prison library or by using encyclopedia software in our computer lab; and they study in extremely adverse conditions. Yet, many of the professors have stated that our students are “more
dedicated and better prepared than the students on the traditional college campus".
Marymount Manhattan College at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility
The Bedford Hills College Program (BHCP) offers college-preparatory courses in writing and mathematics, as well as courses leading to Associate of Arts degrees in the Social Sciences, and Bachelor of Arts degrees in Sociology. As with all Marymount students, Bedford students are required to take general education courses across the curriculum along with required courses for the major. Approximately 14 – 16 courses of all levels are offered each semester. Women take two, sometimes three, courses per semester. The College provides the students with textbooks, which are loaned to students for the semester, and school supplies. The College Learning Center has a networked computer lab, a library, and an area for students to meet with professors and tutors.  The College offers a rich slate of academic and extracurricular activities to enhance the students' college experience: guest speakers, including authors, poets, and filmmakers; skills enhancement workshops; Read Arounds (students read highlights from their semester's work); poetry workshops and poetry slams.

The New York Theological Seminary’s Masters in Professional Studies at Sing Sing
The program in Sing Sing Prison called the “Master in Professional Studies.” is a two year program of graduate level academic studies taught by the New York Theological Seminary at Sing Sing, followed by a one year commitment to carry out a self-designed program or activity. Prisoners must have a Bachelors Degree, and meet placement requirement for Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

Rising Hope, Inc. at Sing Sing, Green Haven, Fishkill, and Woodbourne Correctional Facilities.
One year of college-level courses taught by volunteers, often distinguished in their fields, who freely give their time and expertise to help the incarcerated person find a path to living a positive life through education and service.  The courses are offered without cost to the students.  The curriculum studies Christianity from a scholarly perspective; nevertheless students of all faith traditions are welcome to participate in this program.  It claims to be the only undergraduate interfaith program in the New York State prison system. As a joint sponsor, Nyack College will accept Rising Hope course credits and apply them toward a bachelors degree in Christian Ministry or in General Education.
Correspondence Courses:
If you are housed at a prison that does not provide college courses, your only option for earning college credit is through correspondence courses. Resources to turn to if you are interested in enrolling in correspondence courses include  The Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the United States and Canada by Jon Marc Taylor which is a comprehensive handbook on correspondence courses that are available to people in prison.  If your correctional facility library or education department does not have a copy, you can find out more about ordering a copy by writing to the following address: Biddle Publishing Company and Audenreed Press, P.B.M. 103, Box 1305, Brunswick, ME 04011.

If a college or university is accredited, this means it meets certain standards for the quality of education and services it provides. Accredited institutions must be approved by an organization (called “an accrediting organization”) recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Some schools may say they are accredited, but they don’t meet this standard. Many institutions offer a degree or certificate, but not all are of high quality. Some institutions are really scams pretending to be schools and just graduate as many people as possible to increase their profits. Some even offer degrees without requiring you to take any courses!  Accreditation is important because employers generally respect credentials from an accredited institution with a good reputation and view job-seekers with such credentials more favorably; if you earn credits from a non-accredited school, you won’t be able to transfer those credits to an accredited school; you must attend an accredited school to be eligible for government financial aid. 

8.   Parole News:
August 2012 Parole Board Releases – A1 Violent Felons – DIN #s through 1999
unofficial research from parole database

Total Interviews
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release

20 Initials
93 Reappearances
113 Total

AUGUST Initial Releases

# of Board
Murder 2
Murder 2

AUGUST Reappearances

# of Board
4 ½-Life
Murder 2
Bare Hill
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
26 1/3-L
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
Murder 2
Kidnap 1

Duffy v. Andrea Evans, Chairperson, New York State Division of Parole, 11 Civ 7605 (S.D.N.Y., September 14, 2012), a case recently decided in New York’s Southern District.
Much like Thwaites v. New York State Bd. of Parole, Duffy is significant.  On compelling factual grounds, Plaintiff Mr. Duffy, a parole applicant, had concrete evidence that his parole board had pre-determined the outcome of his parole hearing.  (Mr. Duffy had a copy of the Commissioner’s Worksheet that was completed by the Board before the parole hearing.)  
Notably, the court held: (i) the Board of Parole predetermined Duffy’s parole decision, thereby violating his right to due process; (ii) the Board of Parole denied Duffy a fair and impartial parole hearing in retaliation for his having filed an Article 78 proceeding in state court, thereby stating a First Amendment retaliation claim; (iii) Mr. Duffy sufficiently stated a “class of one” equal protection claim on the ground that he was denied parole when other similarly situated incarcerated persons (who did not file Article 78 petitions against the Board of Parole) were granted parole due to the Board’s retaliatory animus.

Tom Grant interview by John Caher, New York Law Journal, 09-21-2012  John Caher can be contacted at
Most readers have probably already seen it.  But for those who haven’t, here are some of the highlights:

Grant was working as the top assistant to the chairman of the parole board when Pataki put him on the panel, and for 19 years before that he had worked intimately with Ronald Stafford, R-Plattsburgh, the state senator who chaired the powerful Codes Committee and later the Judiciary Committee. Grant, 55, retired from the state after his six-year term on the parole board expired in 2010 and now serves as a mediator, with a special interest in restorative and parallel justice. He is a member of the Restorative Justice Commission of the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese and is active with the Family and Friends of Homicide Victims. Grant is also mediating family disputes that could lead to a parolee's recidivism and is working with the Rensselaer County Reentry Task Force.

“There are opportunities to review the inmate files the day before the interviews begin by arrangement with correctional facility staff. However, that certainly wasn't the norm during my tenure on the board. Generally, board commissioners would first review the case files immediately prior to the appearance of the inmates. The post-interview discussions were perhaps the most interesting part of the parole board process. Strong differences of opinion between the commissioners would often be forcefully argued after the inmate left the interview room. These deliberations would occasionally result in a lack of consensus decision or the submission of a written dissent by a commissioner.”

“A thinking parole commissioner should always be preoccupied with making fair and equitable decisions, based on the law. The board's job is not to judge the guilt or innocence of the inmate. A parole commissioner is required to decide whether the inmate should be returned to the same community (usually) where he was previously found unsuitable, to be associated with law-abiding individuals.  Understandably, public officials and the general public are reluctant to advocate for the release of someone who has already violated the public trust. At the same time, statutes passed by these same public officials, who were elected by these same members of the general public, direct the parole board to consider these same inmates for release. Talk about cognitive dissonance.”

Parole decisions elicit strong reactions, and the First Amendment gives every citizen the right to speak out about parole board decisions, as well as the right to express their opinion about the wisdom of the commissioners who make them. After confirmation by the state Senate, parole commissioners sign an oath of office that states (among other things) that they will uphold to the best of their abilities the laws of the state of New York. In some cases, that oath requires board members to make unpopular lawful decisions, for or against release, that result in public scrutiny and criticism.”

“Two reforms [he recommends]: There should be a one-term limitation for parole board commissioners. This would reduce, if not eliminate, any perceived "outside influences" on the parole decision making process.  The second reform would offer the inmate an option to have a hearing, rather than just an interview, between the inmate and the commissioners for A1 felony (non-drug) cases. The inmate would be able to call witnesses on his behalf, perhaps relatives, employers, corrections counselors, someone from the Fortune Society or the Osborne Association. On the other side, if there was opposition to the release, the district attorney could participate, victims or their representatives, if they chose, could talk about how they and their families have been affected. The hearing system for the A1's would ensure that the Parole Board had enough information to make an informed and reasoned decision based on the governing statutes.”

“In order to advocate effectively for release, an inmate must demonstrate to the parole board that he has been actively involved in developing the skills that will provide a realistic opportunity for success in the community.”

9.   From the New York State Prisoner Justice Network

In this column last month, we reported on the remarkable event that took place in Riverside Church in New York City on September 14th: End Mass Incarceration, Close Attica, End Solitary Confinement, Free Mumia and All Political Prisoners! Over 2000 people were energized and inspired by speakers and panelists including Soffiyah Elijah, Pam Africa, Mumia Abu-Jamal (calling in from prison), Angela Davis, Jazz Hayden, Michelle Alexander, Marc Lamont Hill, and Cornel West. That brief report fell far short of doing justice to this historic moment in the life of our anti-incarceration movement. So this month, we bring you a sampling of the words of just a few of the speakers, to share a small part of their inspiration and wisdom, especially for those who were not able to be there. 

Pam Africa: Standing in this church makes me think of a strong Black political prisoner, one of the most well known political prisoners, I’m not talking about Mumia Abu Jamal this time, I’m talking about Jesus Christ– and about Sundiati Acoli, another political prisoner, and Jalil el-Amin, Merle Africa, Janet Africa... we can not forget political prisoners. That brother Jesus Christ was a political prisoner who spent his last days on death row and was murdered by a government who framed people for standing up and fighting the government. That’s what happened to Sundiata and all these political prisoners. These brothers and sisters are in jail because they have a love for us and they have an understanding that from the cradle to the grave you have to stand up and fight. You must never give in. Just because Mumia is no longer on death row does not mean our fight has stopped. It is our job to go out and educate other people. Do you feel energized tonight? That’s what the purpose of this meeting was,  to bring people together, to understand we’ve got some work to do. Rise up and fight! 

Soffiyah Elijah: If Attica was only a symbolic relic, perhaps it would fade into the past and only be noted in history books. Attica today is what keeps the memory of Attica’s past in our present. 41 years ago the men of Attica stood up and demanded their basic human rights. Today, inhumane treatment, sexual misconduct by staff, physical brutality, harassment, racist attitudes, inadequate programming and an atmosphere of violence shape the profile of that institution just as they did 41 years ago. It is time that Governor Cuomo take the first courageous step and shut down that facility for good so we can put that ugly past behind us and move forward. Shut it down!

Mumia Abu-Jamal: Brothers, sisters, you may think you know something about solitary, but in truth you don’t.  You know the word, and between the word and the reality a world exists. You don’t know that world, but the closest we may come is to say it must be like life on another planet. For as you know the word torture, you don’t know how it feels, the pain, the loss, the humiliations, all elude you. For solitary is torture, official torture, state torture, government sanctioned torture. I’ve lived in solitary longer than many, perhaps most, Americans have been alive. I’ve seen men driven mad as a hatter by soul-crushing loneliness, men who have sliced their arms until they look like railroad tracks, or sliced their necks or burned themselves alive.  Why? Because humans are social creatures, and solitary confinement kills that which is human within us.
  As America embarks on its second century of mass incarceration, breaking every record, its also breaking every record for solitary confinement.  By some estimates there are over 100,000 people in solitary across the country. But no matter the number, under international law, solitary confinement is torture, period, and if it happens to one man, one woman, one child it is torture nonetheless and a crime under international law.
...The biggest bounce in Black imprisonment came in the aftermath of the civil rights and Black liberation movements, when Black people en masse opposed the system of white supremacy, police brutality, and racist injustice. Never in the history of the modern world have we seen such a vast machinery of repression. But people have the power to transform these grim realities. When people get together and fight for change they can make it happen. Movements make change. So let us build such a movement so that it shakes the very earth!

10.   Prison Voices Project

Hello from the Prison Voices Project- a monthly radio program- on Columbia & Greene Counties’ new community radio station, WGXC 90.7-FM.  Do you get it at your prison?  For the last year, I’ve been airing content about the prison system and highlighting the voices of those impacted by it.  I have produced and aired content about the death penalty, youth who are being tried as adults, the intersections between the criminal justice and immigrant detention system; as well as voices of those working to change the prison system.  Radio is so exciting because it can go through walls, and connect voices, stories, and people.  I have a dream to grow this program with more collaboration from those on the inside, and those getting out of prison.  I would like to open up the phone lines for family members to call into the station to send greetings to their loved ones, which would also be broadcast.  This is just one idea of how to use the power of radio to communicate across walls, and I would like you to be a part of this dream.  Please tell me what you would like to hear on the radio.  Send stories, poems, requests and let’s build the programming together.  If you write, make sure to tell me if you would or would not like your words to be read on the radio, and if I should use your name. For now, the Prison Voices Project is a monthly radio program airing on WGXC 90.7 FM on the first Wednesdays of the month from 2-3pm but there is room to change this.  What time would be ideal for you to listen to the radio?

Join me in building media that moves through walls!  Write: The Prison Voices Project, WGXC,  704 Columbia Street, 2nd floor, Hudson, NY 12534

Tune in to WGXC 90.7 FM, first Wednesday of the month from 2-3pm.  Your family can listen to the live-stream, available on the website, where it’s also archived for their listening convenience.

11.   Solitary Confinement

On August 20, 2012, the Albany Times Union published a piece titled Safety has to come first in NY’s prisons by Brian Fischer, the Commissioner of DOCCS, in which he defended his agency’s use of Extreme Isolation.  The Commissioner claims that 90% of NYS’s prison population do their time without a serious incident, but 10% create safety issues for the entire system.  He goes on to say that when a person assaults someone on the outside, we call for their removal from society, and asks why we question sending someone to solitary confinement for doing the same inside of prison.  

Prison Action Network had a strong reaction to his statements.  We don’t believe that all of the people sentenced to SHU are there for violent behavior.  In fact, we believe it’s a very small percentage.  Secondly we don’t see how a mind-destroying experience such as extreme isolation makes anyone less violent.  We could suggest better alternatives.

Commissioner Fischer referred to an Aug. 15 Times Union editorial that claimed the Department of Corrections had 8 percent of its inmate population housed in "the box" today compared to 5 percent in 2003. He says the numbers are approximately correct but adds that of the 4,300 inmates in disciplinary segregation, 1,400 live in two-man cells or that the average stay in disciplinary segregation for the rather typical offense of possessing or using of drugs is 123 days.  As if two-person cells are so much better than one-person, or that 123 days is no big deal.  He should try to remain in his bathroom - probably larger than a cell and has a window - for 123 hours, or even 123 minutes!  With someone who hates him.

On October 4,
the NYCLU published a report on solitary confinement in NY's prisons.  [see the report; a documentary video featuring family members of the incarcerated; prisoners' letters; a library of data obtained from NY corrections officials; and more, at:]  Their report was the result of an intensive year-long investigation to shed light on the use and consequences of extreme isolation in New York prisons. They found that New York’s use of extreme isolation is arbitrary, inhumane and unsafe. 

The following information comes from their report:  

DOCCS characterizes prisoners in extreme isolation as “disruptive, dangerous or violent,” whose isolated confinement prevents their “assaulting inmates, attacking staff or endangering prison operations. [DOCCS, Prison Safety in New York (Albany: Department of Correctional Services, 2006) at 19].  But in New York, people can be placed in extreme isolation for non-violent misbehavior or a single violent altercation – such as a fistfight in the recreation yard – despite no indication they are a serious threat to prison safety and security.  Even Commissioner Brian Fischer, [prior to his Times Union article. Ed.] has acknowledged extreme isolation’s potential overuse. [Jean Casella and James Ridgeway, New York’s Black Sites, The Nation 30 July 2012 : at a forum in January held by the New York State Bar Association, Corrections Department Commissioner Brian Fischer insisted that some segregation was necessary, but “I’ll be the first to admit—we overuse it.” Even modest reductions, he said, would require that they “change the culture” of corrections, including the stance of the correctional officers union.”]]

The overwhelming majority of separated prisoners are placed in extreme isolation for breaking prison rules (disciplinary segregation). From 2007 to 2011 DOCCS placed prisoners in SHU cells more than 75,000 times; more than 68,100 – roughly 90 percent – of those placements were for disciplinary reasons.  [“DOCCS Summary of Inmates Newly Placed into SHU Cells – 01/01/07-12/31/11” and “DOCCS Dispositions with SHU Sentences – 01/01/2007-12/31/2011: Number of SHU Sentences by Year and Original Length of Sentence,” obtained through FOIL and on file with the NYCLU.]

Thus, infractions assigned either a tier II or III rating may ultimately result in a punishment of extreme isolation. Since every rule has multiple tier ratings, any rule infraction may potentially rcontact usesult in a punishment of extreme isolation – whether a prisoner is housed in a minimum-, medium- or maximum-security facility.

While DOCCS is quick to impose extreme isolation in response to misbehavior in the general prison population, additional punishment for misbehavior once a prisoner is in the SHU is even more swift and severe.  Prisoners in extreme isolation can earn additional disciplinary sentences that keep them in the SHU far beyond their initial SHU sentence. DOCCS places no upper limit on the ultimate length of time that a prisoner may spend in extreme isolation.

Prison Action Network takes a strong stand against Extreme Isolation.  While there may be justifications for isolating some people to that extent, we can’t think of any.

12.   “Women’s In-Powerment” Forum

Hosted by the National Action Network, NYC Chapter Second Chance Program
Join us for a night of In-spiration and In-couragement to discuss the following topics:Challenges of re-entering the community; How to stop procrastination and take action; Preparing for success; Utilizing resources; Preparing for re-entry; Entrepreneurship and more 
Speakers include: Christine Carter, Founder of Against All Odds;  Mrs. Lucinda Cross, co-host and author;
Carole Eady, Co-Chair-WORTH;  Selina Fulford, College of CommunityFellowship;  Tamika Mallory, National Executive Director of the National Action Network;  Andrew Morrison, Small Business Camp Min.;  Kim E. Underwood, Kim E. Underwood Ministries.
Friday October 26th, 5pm.   Free event; light refreshments will be served.
Place: National Action Network Headquarters, 106 W. 145th Street and Malcolm X Blvd 


Building Bridges is Prison Action Network’s way to communicate with our members.  
Please contact us if you'd like to join.