Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Monday, June 24, 2013

JUNE/JULY 2013


Welcome to the site of Building Bridges newsletter!  We post it on or near the 25th of every month.  If you would like to receive a copy in your email in-box every month, please send a note.

During the month we post late breaking news and announcements here, so please check back now and then. Scroll down to immediately read the June/July 2013 letter.
 To enlarge the text size, try clicking your cursor anywhere in the text, and then press the command key with the + key.


Posted July 15 by Nation Inside

The Nation Inside staff and team sends our love and care to the family of Trayvon Martin in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman. We are asking you to share your response and reaction to the acquittal by adding your voice to a special radio/podcast. What makes for a safe community where you live? What are you thinking today? Share a poem, sing a song, and speak from the heart.  Add your voice to a special Nation Inside podcast/radio broadcast. Call 877-410-4863. Our answering machine is on 24/7.  Don't worry if you mess up we edit all the calls.  The podcast will be posted on Nation Inside this Wednesday.  Join us on Facebook. 


Posted July 14 by Prison Action Network

Petition the Justice Department to open a Civil Rights Case Against George Zimmerman

A jury has acquitted George Zimmerman, but we are not done demanding justice for Trayvon Martin. Sign a petition to the Department of Justice today.  Click here.






Posted 7/11/13 

 The Merle Cooper Program is slated for closure on September 1st. 

"I have been incarcerated for my horrendous crime for twenty-three years.  I have put forth the effort to show that I can do right by receiving two college degrees, holding numerous facilitating jobs, but none of those things inspired me to take a brutally honest look at the impact of my crimes, to strip away all the excuses and to become a better person.  The one program that helped me do just that is Merle Cooper.  And they’re closing it down! "  Rashon Hughes
(For more, see Article 2 in the June/July letter below.)

If those words inspire you to take action, consider signing this petition to stop the closing of the program that many people credit for being the key to their transformation. 






Posted 7/11/13


National Action Network NYC Chapter Second Chance Program & The Brennan Center For Justice Hosts a Two-Hour Voting Rights Workshop.

Learn the voting rights of persons whom have been formerly incarcerated, on parole or probation and those who are currently incarcerated. Please join us for this informative and important workshop:

Wednesday July 17th 2-4pm                         

National Action Network Headquarters,  106 W. 145th Street bet. Lenox and 7th Avenues

For further info: Victor Pate (646)229-9869,  Selina Fulford(646)418-0957 
This workshop is free, Light Snacks will be served




Posted 7/2/13  

Baba Eng is home in Buffalo!

Click here  to watch and listen to Baba Eng's powerful and inspiring homecoming speech delivered on June 24th at the celebration of the 8th Anniversary of Prisoners Are People Too!




Posted 7/2/13  by Prison Families Anonymous

Prison Families Anonymous has organized a conference focused on the challenges of reentry and the role of family at the request of the Suffolk County Reentry Task Force,  Creating Positive Solutions to the Barriers of Reentry:  A Family Affair 

Thursday, July 25th 8:30am - 3:00pm at Touro Law School,  253 Eastview Dr. in Central Islip.  

The conference will include panelists from Herstory Writers Workshop, Molloy College's Family Support Long Island Initiative, Prison Families Anonymous members, Columbia University, Touro Law School, former New York State Parole Commissioners, Fortune Society, Osborne Association, Correctional Association of NY and most importantly those directly impacted by reentry.

KEYNOTE SPEAKER:
DAVID ROTHENBERG, FORTUNE SOCIETY FOUNDER

Topics
  THE IMPACT OF REENTRY ON FAMILIES
  ADDRESSING EMPLOYMENT & HOUSING BARRIERS
RESEARCH, NEW FINDINGS AND THE IMPACT OF REENTRY ON CHILDREN
  NAVIGATING PAROLE & PROBATION
  THE CRITICAL ROLE OF EDUCATION 
  

Admission is free but you must register by July 19.  
Prison Families Anonymous.  631-943-0441
Looking forward to seeing you there,  Barbara Allan




Posted June 27    Prison Action Network
Fathers and daughters dance together....  in prison!!  

Very moving TED talk:
"Just because a father is locked in does not mean he should be locked out of his daughter's life!"

See it here.



Posted June 25    Prison Action Network

 Lynne Stewart DENIED Compassionate Release by Federal Bureau
of Prisons Director Samuels

Lynne Stewart's husband Ralph Poynter was informed by
Lynne this morning that she received a three-paragraph letter from
Kathleen Kenney, General Counsel for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in
Washington, D.C. in which Compassionate Release has been denied on the
grounds that Lynne's "health is improving."

*This claim is at once cynical and false.* Lynne Stewart's cancer
continues to spread in her lungs. She remains in isolation as her
white blood cell count remains so low that she is at risk for
generalized infection. She weakens daily.


Please click here: http://www.iacenter.org/LynneStewartPetition/ to demand COMPASSIONATE RELEASE OF LYNNE STEWART NOW!!    





Building Bridges June 24, 2013

Dear Reader,  

Enjoy your summer as much as you can, but please find some time for advocacy work as well.  We have some suggestions for helping you advocate for issues that matter to you (Article 1);  the next push to pass the SAFE Parole Act (Article 3); and if you’re upset about the Merle Cooper Program closing, how to join efforts to stop it (Article 2).  

Be well, stay strong, and please do what you can.  No effort is too small.   ~ the Editor

SUMMARIES OF ARTICLES:

1.  The legislative session is over.  So unless the governor calls a special session before then, no more bills will be passed before January 2014.  That includes the SAFE Parole Act. The bills introduced in June include some that passed both houses.  Summer Strategies.  Viewpoint from Inside questions the motivation for sex offender bills.

2.  The Merle Cooper Program is slated for closure on September 1st.  Read a participant’s letter and if it inspires you to take action, consider signing this petition to stop the closing of the program that many people credit for being the key to their transformation. 

3.  The SAFE Parole Act ended the session with 14 sponsors in the Assembly and four in the Senate.  We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it can be done if you join us.   We have an easy letter writing initiative, and we’ll help you plan a visit to your representatives’ district offices this summer.

4.  Parole News: May release statistics. Bios of the new Parole Board Commissioners and notes from their confirmation hearing.  Another positive ruling in favor of the plaintiff in a parole board case was handed down in Manhattan Supreme Court.

5.  Corey Parks wants us to join him to “Accomplish Peace, Not Violence” and learn to build up our communities after being conditioned to destroy them.

6.  Eddie Ellis interviewed by the Sun Magazine.

7.  Baba Eng finally is back in New York State.  He was the guest speaker at the June 24th meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, which was also celebrating the organization’s 8th anniversary.


1.  Legislation: 

The Assembly’s Correction Committee considered these bills in June.

A.4198/S.1377
Reported to Codes

Aubry/Montgomery

Expands eligibility in the merit time allowance program.

A.4589-A/no same as
PASSED
O'Donnell 


Prohibits employment discrimination against persons whose criminal charges have been adjourned in contemplation of dismissal

A.4594/no same as
Reported to Codes

O'Donnell

Authorizes geriatric parole for prisoners over 60 years of age. 
A.4875-A/no same as
Reported to Codes
O'Donnell


Ensures that inmates who do not pose a threat to public safety will be eligible to participate in prison work release programs.

A.5008-B/ S.5426-A   
PASSED IN BOTH HOUSES  *
Ryan/Gallivan


Authorizes local correctional facilities to provide medical services to minor inmates in the absence of the consent of a parent or guardian when a definite sentence of imprisonment has been imposed. 

A.7385/S.4929 
PASSED IN BOTH HOUSES  *
Russell/Nozzolio

Authorizes any employee of DOCCS to visit correctional institutions as requested by member of the legislature if the member requests to be so accompanied.

A.7690/S.4248
PASSED IN BOTH HOUSES *

Weinstein/Golden


Gives employees of DOCCS and local jails the authority to access the statewide computerized registry of orders of protection and warrants

A.7695/S.4378
PASSED IN BOTH HOUSES *
O'Donnell/Gallivan


Authorizes attorneys employed by the State Commission of Correction to issue substitute jail designations when a jail becomes unfit or unsafe for the confinement of inmates.



The Senate Standing Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction, discussed the following bills in June 

S.1093/A.334
PASSED
Maziarz/Hawley
Requires the employment address of certain sex offenders to be reported to the division of criminal justice services.

S.1413/A.4606
Reported to Finance
Montgomery/Rosa
Directs the Commissioner of DOCCS to establish and maintain a public website that provides information concerning specific visitation rules, regulations, policies and procedures for all correctional facilities. 

S.2267/A.6288
Reported to Finance
Stavisky/Gabryzak
Authorizes court clerks to provide information to victims about obtaining orders of protection against the individual who committed the crime, once they are released.

S.3360/A.5916
Reported to Finance
Hassell-Thompson/
Ortiz
Defines necessary court appearance for purposes of determination of crime victim's award

S.4344/A.6900
PASSED BOTH HOUSES*

Gallivan/Englebright
Defines and establishes the extent of relocation expenses for crime victim awards. 

S.4378/A.7695
PASSED BOTH HOUSES*
Gallivan/O’Donnell
Authorizes COCS attorneys to issue substitute jail designations when a jail becomes unfit or unsafe for the confinement of inmates.

S.4994/A.7001
PASSED
Lanza/Lentol
Increases the in-person appearance requirements for level two sex offenders from every three years to every year. 

S.5342/A.5987-A
PASSED
Savino/Weprin
Prohibits persons required to maintain registration under the sex offender registration act from entering into a children's section of a public library

S.5423/no same as
PASSED
Ritchie
Establishes a two year pilot program in the counties of Jefferson, Oswego, and Saint Lawrence for parole violators to be transferred to a state correctional facility after 10 business days in a local correctional facility.

S.5424/no same as
Reported to Finance
Ritchie
Authorizes counties to impose fees for performing drug tests and utilizing electronic monitoring equipment

S.5542/no same as
Reported to Finance
Griffo
Requires that notice be given to the district attorney and crime victim 30 days before parole hearings and release of inmates



*While the Legislature is in session, the Governor has 10 days (not counting Sundays) to sign or veto bills passed by both houses. Signed bills become law; vetoed bills do not. However, the Governor's failure to sign or veto a bill within the 10-day period means that it becomes law automatically.

If a bill is sent to the Governor when the Legislature is out of session, the Governor has 30 days in which to make a decision, and failure to act ("pocket veto") has the same effect as a veto.

Bill S.4345/A.6899 which authorizes the Office of Victim Services (OVS) to make awards for crime scene clean-up to certain family members who resided with a homicide victim, does not appear on any of our lists, but was passed in both houses. All seven bills listed as ‘passed in both houses’ have yet to be sent to the governor as far as we know.

What to do now that the legislative session has ended?
Many of the legislators will be spending more time in their district offices during the summer.  Instead of coming to Albany for lobby days, it is time for us to visit them at their home offices.  If you would like help planning and making a visit in support of an issue that particularly concerns you, please call Prison Action Network at 518 253 7533.


Viewpoint from inside:
Why do NYS Senators keep voting on bills that target sex offenders?!  Don’t they know that SO’s have the lowest recidivism rate, except for murderers?  A Dept of Justice study put the rate at 5% (other conservative studies at a still impressive 15%, considering the many obstacles that SO’s face upon release).  Yet, NYS has a civil commitment procedure in place to warehouse “dangerous” SO’s to the tune of $300 a day.  The worst waste of money is in registry laws (really Senator Lanza, you want to restrict access to public libraries?!), which are counterproductive in integrating these people into society.  That’s why recently, C.U.R. E. International declared a stance against sex offender registries at their annual meeting.  We need to stop making people pay for their crime on an everyday basis for the rest of their lives, and address sexual abuse from a “public health perspective,” as John Hopkins University School of Medicine did in its first symposium on the issue.  Lawmakers need to stop playing up to people’s unwarranted fears of an imaginary threat, just to say they did something in Albany.  If you are looking for a bill to make law, pass the S.A.F.E. Parole Act!  Sex is an issue best left to doctors, psychologists, and in general people who know what they’re talking about.  Not politicians looking to score points with the public by making life a living hell for those already living in it.
~Jon T



2.  Merle Cooper Program slated to close

Prison Action Network has never received so many, and such articulate, letters as we recently have in protest of the closure of the Merle Cooper Program at Clinton Correctional Facility, a program that, to a man, the writers claim is the best program they've experienced in all their years of prison.  It's probably the most successful program in NYS, and they're closing it!  Why?!  We were told it’s so the psychologist who runs it can treat the mentally ill.  We’re not arguing about whose needs are greater, but hiring one more professional seems to us to be a more effective way of improving public safety, both for ORCs and for the communities to which both sets of men will return.  And what about the women?  They too should have a Merle Cooper Program.  Prison Action Network calls for more mental health professionals and more programs like Merle Cooper!   If you want to know why we are convinced, read on:

Ronald Hughes wrote:

"Becoming a victim of a violent crime is terrifying.  Your entire world changes in moments, and events throw you unwillingly into uncharted places that are unscripted, unimaginable and painful. Victims initially receive sympathy; over time, however, we tend to forget the impact of crime.  For victims, there is no closure for crime.  It is never over  - they are never healed.

I understand this today because for the past 28 months I have been a part of the Merle Cooper Program; a community that challenged me to look at how and when I chose to stop caring for others.  It is a community that challenged me to find a balance between surviving in a hostile environment (prison) and knowing there was a tremendous need for me to change.  But how?

I spent many years imagining how, within the range of opportunities available to me, I could redefine who I was.

And then Merle Cooper happened.

A place where my fate became instead a journey that is shared, shaped and remade by people (staff and peers) who have the courage and spirit to believe that, against all odds, they can create a space where there is very little hope and re-ignite in prisoners, who have chosen to live a life where they were justifiably cast off by society, a burning desire to rise above the poor choices of their  past.

I came to prison as an immature, reckless, and violent twenty-two year old individual.  I did not care about myself, nor did I have any care and concern for others.  I made excuses as to why I committed crimes; blaming others, blaming the environment I grew up in, choosing to utilize the ridiculous “us against them” excuse as a reason to hurt people.  I refused to take accountability for my actions and ultimately , my behaviors escalated until I killed another human being, Carlos Guevara.  Taking the life of another person is something I could never forgive myself for, but because of Merle Cooper I do intend to live a life that is not only responsible, but one that uses my experiences to help others. 

I have been incarcerated for my horrendous crime for twenty-three years.  I have put forth the effort to show that I can do right by receiving two college degrees, holding numerous facilitating jobs, but none of those things inspired me to take a brutally honest look at the impact of my crimes, to strip away all the excuses and to become a better person.  The one program that helped me do just that is Merle Cooper.  And they’re closing it down!

For me, Merle Cooper helped me understand that there is no reason why life once set on its course cannot change.  Merle Cooper represents a series of actions and experiences that has freed me and countless other individuals from our own prison of low expectations.  Every community meeting, small group, each skill class, and every confrontation has made me recognize my flaws and also see my potential.  Merle Cooper has provided me with the mettle to look in my children’s eyes and speak to them about the importance of doing the right thing even when no one is looking, without sounding like a hypocrite.  Merle Cooper is a place where broken men can work on becoming whole, where staff (the psychologist, the CO’s and Offender Rehabilitation Coordinators) literally reinforce the decency of the human spirit.

Merle Cooper is the distance between the rhetoric and the reality, between what we as criminals say about ourselves and what we, in practice, actually do.  If it were up to me, Merle Cooper would be the litmus test for what rehabilitation is all about.  Merle Cooper is the benchmark of my responsibility toward being a positive good  for our community, it is a symbol that illustrates a commitment to honor my lifelong debt to my VICTIMS!  So I humbly ask for your HELP.

If we as a society really believe in such things as rehabilitation and redemption, and if these ideal are more than just words, then again, I ask you to get involved with helping us stop the irrational decision to close the Merle Cooper Program.

 Recently we were informed by staff that the powers that be in Albany made an uninformed decision to close down Merle Cooper immediately.  They did not visit to see the work that is unfolding in this program; there was to logical explanation given; simply it's closing. However, if we dare to see our society as a body politic, where all parts are working together for the common good, then our ideas of an enlightened form of rehabilitation demands that we enforce a ind of justice that restores rather than destroys.  Closing Merle Cooper is the kind of justice that destroys.  To close Merle Cooper would be a slap in the faces of our victims.

We cannot strengthen one segment of the population and ignore the other.  We must consider the victims’ and the prisoner when we make decisions to close programs that are actually changing the lives of men who once didn’t care about anything.

I thank you for your time and hope you care enough to get involved.*

* [You may sign this petition to save the Merle Cooper Program (there are 734 signatures as we go to press).  We're waiting to find out when the petition will be sent and will let you know when we find out, but do it now to be safe. ~Editor]



3.  The NYS Parole Reform Campaign

The sponsors of the SAFE Parole Act, S.1128/A4108 are, at the end of the session: Assembly: AUBRY, Arroyo, Brennan, Clark, Crespo, Fahy, Farrell, Gottfried, Hevesi, Mosley, O'Donnell, Scarborough, Skartados, Stevenson.  Senate:  PARKER, Kennedy, Montgomery, Perkins.  Some of them are the result of our legislative visits, so please consider a visit to your legislator during the summer.  Contact Prison Action Network if you would like some help planning a visit.

In addition to legislative visits we have been writing to the Albany papers.  The Empire Page is a weekly paper read by legislators and their aides:

June 3rd, 2013 Guest Editorial, the Empire Page
by Anne Marie Haber

The editorial included an impressive list of public coverage directly and indirectly related to parole reform:



Hank Morris Case:  the Times Union, April 21, 2013,  Parole Board that Thinks It’s Judge and Jury, by C. Churchill;
Kathy Boudin’s speech at New York University School of Law : Rose Sheinberg lecturer, March 4, 2013;

The Throwaways, a still-in-production film, produced by Ira McKinley and Bhawin Suchak;

Some Public Defenders Warn: "We Have Nothing Left to Cut," aired on Morning Edition on NPR April 10, 2013;

The radio segment, A Mother's Fight Against Three Strikes Law, aired on All Things Considered, NPR, April 10, 2013;

The documentary, The House I Live In , aired on Independent Lens, on WMHT, April 10, 2013;

In the Land of the Free (a documentary of the Angola Three);

Herman's House, a documentary about Herman Wallace, of the Angola Three, who has spent more than 40 years in solitary confinement in a Louisiana prison.  Premiering on PBS’ POV on July 8, 2013;

Mothers of Bedford, the documentary following five women who had past involvement in Bedford’s Parenting Program;

Michelle Alexander’s New York Times Bestseller, The New Jim Crow.
The list was followed by the reforms found in the SAFE Parole Act, ending with this declaration:  We need change: A4108/S1128.  It’s simple, it’s fair, it’s equitable, it’s reasonable. It’s time for a change.

The author is a medical-legal consultant and a member of the New York State Parole Reform Campaign.
There currently are 7 Responses to the editorial.  Readers will find the editorial at http://www.empirepage.com/2013/6/3/parole-reform  and are encouraged to leave their own comments.   

Between May 7-31 four letters to the Times Union Editor supported the reforms of the SAFE Parole Act.
How about writing YOUR state senators and assembly-members?  
Their district offices are the best place to direct your letters from now through January, when a new session begins. To find out who they are, visit these websites and enter your address, then visit their websites to find out how to write them (most have forms for that purpose on their individual websites):  http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/?sh=search  ,     http://www.nysenate.gov  )

Or you can join our Weekly Letter Writing Initiative.  We’ve made it easy for you.  We send you pre-written letters, which if you agree with them you can send by following easy instructions.  Just send us a note asking to be put on the list.


4.  Parole News: 

MAY 2013 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONY OFFENSES - DIN #s through 2001   
unofficial research from parole database

Total Interviews
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
17 Initials
2
15
12%
68 Reappearances
22
46
32%
85 total
24
61
28%

May Initial Releases 

Facility
Born
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Coxsackie
1962
22-life
Murder 2
1   **  deportation
Sing Sing
1973
18-life
Murder 2
1

May Reappearances

Facility
Born
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Livingston
1955
20-life
Murder 2
2
Great Meadow
1942
25-life
74 Murder
11
Otisville
1955
25-life
74 Murder
8
Clinton
1962
15-LIFE
Murder 2
10
Franklin
1952
15-LIFE
Murder 2
9
Fishkill
1933
15-LIFE
Murder 2
8
Otisville
1960
15-LIFE
Murder 2
4
Attica
1976
15-LIFE
Murder 2
4
Franklin
1967
15-LIFE
Murder 2
3
Mohawk
1967
17-life
Murder 2
5
Greenhaven
1976
17-life
Murder 2
2
Marcy
1962
20-life
Murder 2
8
Woodbourne
1955
20-life
Murder 2
2
Mt. McGregor
1961
20-life
Murder 2
6
Otisville
1967
20-life
Murder 2
5
Otisville
1963
20-life
Murder 2
4
Mohawk
1958
20-life
Murder 2
2    **  deportation
Fishkill
1930
25-life
Murder 2
5
Marcy
1940
25-life
Murder 2
6
Otisville
1967
25-life
Murder 2
2
Mohawk
1980
7-LIFE
YO Murder 2
2
Wende
1934
15-LIFE
Murder 2
7

New Parole Board Commissioner Appointments and Bios
On June 19, the Senate’s Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee (CVCCC) considered and
unanimously approved Governor Cuomo’s seven nominations to the NYS Board of parole.  All seven were subsequently approved by Finance and then by the full Senate.  Tina Stanford is the new Chairwoman.  Lisa Elovich, Walter Smith, and Sally Thompson were reappointed and Gail Hallerdin, Milton Johnson, III, and Julie Smith were newly appointed.  
  
The following information comes from the CVCCC hearing, from the internet, and from Governor Cuomo’s announcement later in the day. 
Tina Marie Stanford, native of Buffalo, NY.  Graduated from Fordham University’s Honors Program, got her law degree from SUNY Buffalo’s Law School, and has been admitted to the NYS Bar.  Served as an Erie County Asst. DA for 14 years, in 2007 appointed Chair, New York State Crime Victims Board. She’s been a member of the Bar Foundation of Erie County, the NYS Commission on Sentencing Reform, the NYS Domestic Violence Advisory Council, the Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking, and the Violence against Women Act Advisory Committee.   She worked in the Buffalo City Court, on grand jury, domestic violence/sexual assault, felony trial and appeals bureaus. As a trial prosecutor, she worked directly with thousands of crime victims and their family members seeking justice for crimes ranging from theft to murder.

Sen. Gallivan, chair of the CVCCC, referred to Gail Hallerdin’s “pages and pages and pages’ of experience. During the questioning she mentioned her experiences as an Assistant Attorney General in the Buffalo Regional Office, where she dealt with litigation and complaints submitted by prisoners, including those against parole, and then about her work in jails where she viewed them from another aspect.  NYS Office of Children and Family Services helped her to see the connection of offenders to the whole community, including the conditions of children and families. Working as a Hearing Officer for the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance she saw what the offender’s family goes through and and what offenders themselves may go through upon release, including seeking gainful employment.  She is a native of Queens and received her Juris Doctor degree from University of Buffalo, School of Law.

Milton Johnson, who interestingly replaces Sen Gallivan on the Parole Board, served as a Special agent with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration and also as Assistant to the Special Agent in Charge for the United States Secret Service.  He was “born and raised in Queens, in an urban  environment”.  He was case manager to undercover agents on domestic and international cases.   When asked by Gallivan how it prepared him for this work, he said when he worked on investigations of cases, where he worked closely with a lot of criminal minds, persons who would do harm to society, there were some cases that were presented to the agency as a threat but which turned out not to be.  From that he gained the ability to assess things - to make sure a case is what it appears to be.  He believes in giving things a fair look, not just accepting them as presented --  “going through things to make sure what we’re talking about here is fair and equitable and that our actions are the same.” He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia State University.

Julie Smith worked as the Probation Director for the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services Genesee County Office of Probation and Correctional Alternatives monitoring offenders’ needs and what the victims expect.  Ms. Smith oversaw a department that provided supervision to approximately 700 adults and juvenile offenders.  In addition to her knowledge and experience in felony offender supervision and treatment, she previously served as a caseworker for Genesee County Department of Social Services.  Smith, of Batavia, will serve a six-year term. She has an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Genesee Community College, a bachelor’s degree in community and human services from Empire State College and a master’s degree in management from Keuka College.  The Genesee county manager said Smith’s appointment to the Parole Board was the conclusion of a “long and drawn-out process” that began about two years ago.

Walter William Smith Jr., from Clarence NY, has been with the New York State Board of Parole since 1996. Prior to his current position, he served as a senior investigator for the New York State Crime Victims Board.  Because of his seniority he was asked many questions by the Senators.  Gallivan wanted to know what changes he’s seen, and specifically about the new tools and teleconferencing.  Smith said one of the new tools was the COMPAS A, which helped not only in making release decisions but also in setting conditions of parole supervision.  When asked what other criteria was considered, he identified prison behavior, the amount of community support from organizations such as Fortune Society and Osborne Association, program participation, employment possibilities, family support.  About the standards used in making decisions, Smith referred to Exec. Law §259-i Sec. 2 (c) (A): reasonable probability that offender will live and remain at liberty without violating the law, that release is not incompatible with the welfare of society, and will not so deprecate the seriousness of the crime as to undermine respect for the law,  and for those with more than 8 year sentences, the seriousness of the crime.  He was also asked about teleconferencing, were there advantages, and could they be increased.  He explained there were 4 Boards a week, for a total of 16 a month, and all but 2 were teleconferences.  The advantages are that it offers less security problems for the facility and less travel for the Commissioners.  Both of those are also cost saving.  The advantages could be increased by increasing the use of medical parole (which sounded like a non-sequitur to this reporter, but nevertheless like a good plan for other reasons).  Senator Hoylman asked if Smith missed the personal experience of the in-person hearings.  Smith replied that the technology has improved so as to improve the immediacy of the experience and therefore the net effect is a plus. To which Holyman [who replaced Tom Duane when he retired] replied: “I do a lot of Face Time with my daughter, when I’m up here... “;  he added that it’s “not the same”.  Sen. Richie was concerned about Sex Offenders;  wondering, “since their behaviors are impossible to correct”, does the Board have different standards for them?  Does the Board get Psych evaluations for them?  Smith said it’s really a matter of following the law, but that there have been amazing advances in the technology; with more accurate polygraphs, and GPS’s for monitoring.  He told the story of a person who was suspected of a rape but his GPS showed conclusively that he was innocent.  In fact, later when his parole officer felt it was safe to remove him from GPS monitoring, his lawyer argued against it.  The man feared he’d be picked up for every sex crime in the community and he wanted the protection provided by a GPS.  And yes, the Board does get psychological reports from the Office of Mental Help. 

Sally Velasquez-Thompson has been a Parole Board Commissioner since 2007. Her prior experience includes 20 years with the New York City Police Department as Detective and narcotics investigator.  She was asked how she thought the  merger was working; how were staff formerly known as Facility Parole Officers, who have to prepare objective reports for the Board, handling the potential conflict with their new responsibilities as teacher, mentor and counselor as Offender Rehabilitation Counselors.  Commissioner Thompson responded that it’s a work in progress (repeated the phrase at 4 different times)  and that a lot more training was needed before it was perfected.  The O.R.C.’s have more contact with the offenders which seems a good thing.  In the beginning there was conflict but now they appear to be more comfortable with the change.  

Lisa Beth Elovich has served on the New York State Board of Parole since 2007. She served as an Administrative Law Judge for the New York State Office of Children and Family Services and as a Deputy Attorney General for the New York State Attorney General’s Office with a focus on juvenile justice and crime prevention programs.  [As an interesting side-note, Commissioner Elovich is also the state's only licensed female professional boxing promoter and the owner of Pugnacious Promotions, a promotional company based in New York's Capital Region.]  She felt the merger has been positive learning experience.  She thinks it has created a spirit of working together, but needs work to streamline the process from incarceration to community supervision.  She added that “we must remember the Board is independent when it comes to making release decisions”.  When asked by Sen. Hoylman if she had ever followed up on past decisions; how are those she voted to release doing?,  she mentioned how inspirational her visits to the Fortune Society had been in terms of seeing parolees who are making successful reentries.  Although not the purview of the Board, she believes we as a society need to put more focus on crime prevention by early interventions, working to change negative behaviors before they become habitual, being aware of the challenges facing the children of an incarcerated parent.  

Most of the members present for this interview expressed their approval of the extremely qualified nominations presented to them by Gov Cuomo.  Senator Hassell-Thompson, who last year had expressed her disappointment at the lack of diversity among the candidates, said that given given the proportion of prisoners who come from black and latino communities, she is very pleased by the diversity not only in ethnicity but in gender and experience of the people presented to them.  It shows the governor has listened and responded totally appropriately in making this year’s choices.  It’s the best array of candidates she’s seen in her 13 years of service on the Committee.

[Those with computer access can click here to watch a video of the June 19th proceedings.]

Judge Huff cites appellate court decisions in ruling that the crime cannot be the sole criteria in parole release decisions
Dennis Kozlowski is serving a sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years for stealing more than $100 million from Tyco.  He has made restitution and has earned work release and merit time while incarcerated.  He lives in a halfway house while working part time at software company as part of the work release program.  Yet the parole board claims that releasing him would compromise public safety and encourage others to commit a similar crime.

A lower court ruled this year that when the State Parole Board denied Kozlowski’s release after a merit time interview in April 2012, their decision was irrational.  “Does he ever get parole under that standard?” Justice David Saxe asked a state lawyer.

In June 2013, Judge Carol Huff, of the Manhattan Supreme Court, said the parole board failed to comply with its own guidelines and that the decision was "conclusory" and provided no justification for its decision.  “(It) requires the court to rely on speculation to attempt to understand how it was decided that the granting of parole would deprecate the seriousness of the offense and undermine respect for law,” said Huff.  She also noted that appellate courts have ruled that a person’s crime cannot be the sole criteria in making parole decisions.  Judge Huff ordered the parole board to conduct a new hearing.  It’s set for September 2013, according to the DOCCS website.
[The case is Kozlowski v. New York State Board of Parole, 104097/2012, New York State Supreme Court, NY County (Manhattan)]

 5.  Accomplish Peace, Not Violence 

                    Envision the world without violence.  How peaceful would it be?  How many men or woman would still be alive?  It’s great to imagine this happening.  However, reality turns this dream into a nightmare.  For most of us who have grown up in the urban community, we have been conditioned by violence.  Although none of us was born violent, we learn violence through our parents, peers and social interactions.  We emulate what we see and in turn we face great destruction as a people.  Think about it.  How many self-made images have been created off violence?  Our images are fueled by pride and violence, and we protect them at all cost.  This is one of the reasons why the number of crimes, incarcerations and deaths is high.  When I was a young teenager, maintaining violent behavior was one of the most important things in my life.  I had no interest in school, family or building my dreams.  Something is seriously wrong with this picture, especially since we have millions of young people across the globe who think the same way.  I once heard a story about two men.  The first man asked the second man ...''what did your mother teach you?"  The man responded, ''my mother taught me if someone hit me, I should pick up something and bust them upside the head.''  He said this with great pride and then asked the other man the very same question. The first man responded, ''my mother taught me how to support and pick up another person...''  In this tale it’s clear that one child was taught how to destroy his community, while the other was taught how to build his community.  Today after my years of encouraging violence, I now practice building my community.  It makes sense to stop hurting others.  Accomplish Peace, Not Violence.  A motto to be remembered.  In the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King ..''We shall overcome.''....
~ Corey Parks  [c/o  SNUG, NYC MISSION SOCIETY, 653 Lenox Ave,  NY, NY 10037]



6.  Meeting our friends in unexpected places

Each month The Sun magazine publishes an interview with some outstanding person, and this month the subject was Eddie Ellis, a friend of many of our readers.  The interviewer, Katti Gray, did an excellent job of capturing Eddie’s thoughts and personality.  More than 8 pages long, the interview touched on many topics including transition back into society, the experience of being locked in a cell, the lasting effects of the prison experience, its effect on romantic relationships and parenting, and why everyone should care about the fate of formerly incarcerated people.  This is some of what Mr. Ellis said on the latter:

“Because of the large numbers of people returning from prison, it is in the community’s best interest to dispense with the reflexive hostility toward them.  ”Our number-one goal is ensuring that some transformation takes place among these returning people who, prior to prison, were relegated to the margins of our society.  If you weren’t habilitated to start with, how can you be rehabilitated during your incarceration?”   “I and most of my peers in the 1960’s came from two-parent households.  We had good social training, even if we strayed from it.  I never fully realized how significant the cost of growing up in a home without a father or proper parental guidance was until I got to prison and met men who’d come from opposite circumstances.”  “Given the number of people leaving prison in this society - which is increasingly comprised of people of color - we cannot afford to have them languish forever on the sidelines.  They are capable of being good, contributing citizens.”

Are there some released prisoners who can’t be rehabilitated? Gray asked.  Ellis replied, “The hard-core, violent, antisocial criminal element comprises anywhere from 5-10 percent of the prison population.  They’ve decided that a life of crime is the best way to go.  Some have a psychopathic love of violence.  A lot of them have mental-health issues.  Prisons are necessary to contain that sort of menace to society”.

[For a copy of the complete interview, send an email request with the title and the month published, to PAN.  The Sun Magazine is available at most book stores and information is available at their website: www.thesunmagazine.org]



7.  Yes, BaBa is Here!
 by Karima Amin

June is a big month for celebrations…graduations, weddings, Fathers Day, Juneteenth and more. In June, Prisoners Are People Too will celebrate two milestones. First, we will celebrate the organization’s 8th anniversary.  For 8 years, we have provided critical information about  issues defined by criminal injustice.  Prison issues, that affect all of us, whether we realize it or not, have been the subject of several programs that have enlightened and inspired our community work.

If you’re wondering about the title of this article, wonder no more.  On June 24, when we celebrate our 8th anniversary, we will also celebrate the homecoming of George BaBa Eng, following 36 years of imprisonment.  BaBa, who is PRP2’s Program Director, will be our honored guest speaker.  BaBa says: “I believe in the ethic of working, always towards the greatest good, for our people, to repair, rebuild and restore our community.  I know that God will open doors and allow us to get what we need to get the work done.  I look forward to sharing my mind, my spirit and my labor with you.  May God continue to bless and secure the people of Buffalo in all that is right and good.  Thank you so much for all your thoughts, prayers, and work in my behalf.”

This past year, we were honored to have Mr. Arthur O. Eve as a guest speaker. He was the former Deputy Speaker of the NYS Assembly who served as an observer and negotiator in the wake of the 1971 Attica Prison Rebellion.  Mr. Eve inspired a full house at our meeting last August, when we took time to remember, as we do every year, “Attica is all of us!” The challenges of reentry, domestic violence, aging in prison, veterans as prisoners, children of incarcerated parents, voting rights, and stigma, are just a few of the subjects that have been highlighted. We are exceedingly grateful to the wonderful speakers who have volunteered their time to inform and inspire.  We have had a good year with two successful conferences: Family Empowerment Day (October 2012) and Supporting Children of Incarcerated Parents (March 2013). Also, we were participants on several major panels hosted by the Social Justice Committee of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, the NYS Drug Policy Alliance, and the McMillan Empowerment Enterprise at Buffalo State College’s Burchfield Penny Art Center. In addition, we are growing. We now have two chapters in Erie and Niagara counties.  Claudia Racine is the Niagara County facilitator.  

(Need more info? Karima Amin, 716-834-8438; karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org.)


Building Bridges is Prison Action Network’s way to communicate with our members



[We don’t usually post help wanted appeals but we know the cats and want to save their lives.  The Ed.]

Two elderly, but youthful appearing felines need a home.  All their expenses - for LIFE - will be paid.

Two 11-year-old cats (brothers) living in lower Manhattan are up for adoption because an ailing family member can’t tolerate cat dander.  The loving and desperate owner will continue to pay for their food and litter on an ongoing basis., will pay for Nip’s medication and any vet visits on an ongoing basis (he can be anxious/aggressive, and the vet is prescribing medication that will keep him calm and loveable!) and whatever else is called for, whenever.  Please contact: Sheilato demand