Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

February 2014


Welcome to the site of Building Bridges, Prison Action Network's newsletter!  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. 

To enlarge the text size, try clicking your cursor anywhere in the text, and then press the command key with the + key.

Happy Valentine's  Day!   Give someone in prison a perfect gift: a Commission on Parole!

Click here to sign a petition asking Gov. Cuomo to establish a Commission on Parole: 
http://chn.ge/1id9gMU




Dear Readers, 

A friend in prison says he’s showing his love to us on Valentine’s Day by sending a note to 5 of his friends on the outside urging them to go to the Change.org site: http://chn.ge/1id9gMU  to sign the petition for Parole Reform, asking Governor Cuomo to establish a commission on parole in NYS.  We appreciate his love!  Forget the chocolate and the diamonds this year!  Justice is what we’d rather have. 

Anyone who knows someone in prison, please show them some love by signing the petition and asking at least 5 of your friends to do the same.  Use Twitter, Facebook, your phone...a visit.  Whatever it takes. 

This edition of Building Bridges is all about change. How it’s happening and and how we all have a role in it.  Please read about the opportunities to get involved and then decide where you want to jump in. 

We’ve devoted lots of space to the comments that were spontaneously generated in response to the NYS Parole Board’s three years late and inadequate (to say the least) proposed “written procedures” mandated by the 2011 amendments to law.  We found the comments so interesting and so inspiring that we want to share them.  We don’t know where they will lead, but we know some of us are ready to follow up when we find out.  
 

The Editor    


Sister Mary's Celebration ~ Saturday, February 8th at 12:00 PM
Silberman School of Social Work, Hunter College,  2180 Third Ave (at 119th Street), New York, NY
(Take 6 train to 116th Street or 4/5/6 trains to 125th Street)
Please join the Family and Friends of Sr. Mary Nerney in a Celebration and Remembrance of her life.  RSVP to Maria Lopez  (There will be an opportunity for people to speak about Sr. Mary for a few minutes each. If you would like to share some words, please contact Lucia Rivieccio  as soon as possible.)




Articles

1.  Parole News:  December Releases and YTD rates;  Quotes from dozens of the many Comments made in response to the Parole Board’s proposed “procedures”.

2.  Campaign to overhaul NY’s parole system - A) Report on Ending Parole Abuse-Reunite Families campaign’s progress and opportunities to get involved;  the Parole Reform workshop on 2/15 during the annual Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus weekend.  B) Legislative progress, where the SAFE Parole Act stands and how to move it forward.

3.  What prisoners can do:  “First and most immediately we can do our best to foster a kinder, more loving culture in prison and specifically to mentor and nurture each other to give each of us the best chance to parole successfully.”

4.  Upcoming events:  Albany: Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration (CAAMI),  The Center for Law and Justice Black History Month Film Series,  Long Island: Doing Time Outside the Bars - A Mother's Experience.


1.  Parole News:
DECEMBER 2013 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONY OFFENSES - DIN #s through 2001  
unofficial research from parole database

Dec. ’13  Summaries 
Total Interviews
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
1/13- 12/13  YTD rates
12 Initials
6
6
50%
25%
53 Reappearances
19
34
36%
27%
65 total
25
40
38%
27%





December Age Summary
Total
Denied 
Released
Release Rate
60-69
10
8
2
20%
70-79
3
2
1
33%
80+
1
1
0
0%
60-80+ total
14
11
3
21%


Dec. ‘13 Initial Releases
Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
Fishkill
47
25-life
Mrd 2
Fishkill
44
25-life
Mrd 2 
Fishkill
41
20-life
Mrd 2
Orleans
35
15-life
Att Mrd 1
Woodbourne
47
22-life
Mrd 2
Woodbourne
42
15-life
Att Mrd 1


Dec. ’13 Reappearance Releases
Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Bare hill
56
15-life
Mrd 2
6
Fishkill
74
15-life
Mrd 2
5
Fishkill
60
25-life
Mrd 2
7
Fishkill
60
25-life
Mrd 2
5
Fishkill  Deported
56
25-life
Mrd 2
4
Fishkill
52
20-life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill  Deported
51
15-life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
50
25-life
Mrd 2
4
Fishkill
45
22-life
 Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
44
20-life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
43
15-life
Mrd 2
6
Orleans
46
17-life
Mrd 2
5
Southport
50
20-life
Mrd 2
7
Sullivan
49
25-life
Mrd 2
3
Walsh Med Cntr
52
26-life
Mrd 2
5
Woodbourne
59
27-life
Mrd 2
3
Woodbourne
55
15-life
Mrd 2
12
Woodbourne
46
25-life
 Mrd 2
2
Wyoming
48
23-life
Mrd 2
2
“When they say the community doesn’t want them to release people, we have to remind them we are the community.”


Comments regarding the Parole Board’s written “procedures”

Whether the many well stated comments sent to the Parole Board will make a difference is not known.  The Board is not required to adopt the public’s comments, but it is required to respond to them.  Obviously the more comments, the more difficult it will be for the Board to ignore them.  If the Board does not make changes, advocates will continue to pressure the Board, the Governor, the legislature, and the court of public opinion to bring a fair parole system to New York – and use all those public comments to help make the case for change. 

It’s not possible to print all of the comments in this letter, so we’re publishing lines from some of them, and the authors’ names for those we haven’t quoted from.  A slightly abridged version of Prison Action Network’s submission is included since we wrote it on our members’ behalf.  There may be more comments that we haven’t seen.  Others will come in after our deadline. The complete texts are available at the Correctional Association’s website

“...the use of merit time credit as a means of rewarding {people in prison] for positive, in-prison behavior should be expanded, not ignored. ... What is the point of holding these people?  They can never undo what they did, so the nature of the crime should not be grounds for keeping them in prisons.  Isn’t that re-sentencing? “    ~  Annette Amtsen

“In my 2103 interview [a commissioner] acknowledged that I scored low in every category on [COMPAS], she also acknowledged that I had a lot of community and family support, that I have done well while in prison, and that I done a good job presenting myself during the hearing.  Yet, I was denied parole because of the nature of my crime.   To be honest with you, I am starting to be discouraged to the point where I don’t want to go before another parole board. “    
Patrick Austin

“For a risk and needs assessment instrument to give structure and guidance to decision-making by the Board of Parole it must be utilized in every case as the rule and not the exception.  [In order to] substitute its own judgement that there is a ‘reasonable probability’ that such person will or will not live and remain at liberty without violating the law, there must be rules to justify an ‘override’ of the risk and needs instrument,  [like DOCCS uses] for overriding the risk and needs assessment for supervision status levels (Directive No. 8500).    ~  Center for Community Alternatives, Alan Rosenthal and Patricia Warth

“The Board, by continuing to allow a focus on the static factors that the trial judge considered, is upsetting the separation of powers within the state criminal justice system and is effectively acting as another sentencing court. “  
New York City Bar

“We believe in parole, but we do not believe that the Board of parole now operates in a way designed to ensure that individuals at low risk of reoffending are released.”  “[Their] inordinate focus on static factors and consequent denial of release to scores of individuals annually has a deleterious effect on their eventual reintegration into society.”   
Community Service Society

“The proposed regulations do not accomplish the goal of requiring the Board to demonstrate the degree to which risk was considered, if it was indeed considered at all or to explain in the cases of those with low-risk assessments and denials of release, the reason for such deviation. “  “The Board’s proposed regulations do not include any mention of age and length of time incarcerated as factors particularly to be weighed in making release decisions and yet these and additional dynamic factors are predictive elements in lowering the risk of reoffending.”  ~  RAPP and the Correctional Association, joint submission

The rules should require ...that the risk and needs assessment (rehabilitation of the prisoner) be the starting point of the Parole Board’s work.  Only after [that] has been determined should the parole board consider any other factor, and to the extent that they do so the Board should be required to state specifically what relevance the other factors have to their decision so that a reviewing court can determine whether consideration was legal.   
Steven Downs, Selkirk

Community safety should not be buried within a list of factors to be considered.  Community safety should always be a PRIMARY consideration of the Parole Board.  Incredibly, the Parole Board’s proposed regulation does not emphasize or highlight the concerns of the hard‐working residents of our great State.  The people of New York deserve better.
Tom Grant, former parole commissioner

“Here in Sing Sing Correctional Facility if ten people have a parole hearing, one and maybe two are released.  The general reasoning is the nature of the crime...  What does it say if so few people are “rehabilitated” at $50,000 per year?  Many people already agree it says the system is broken and is in need of reform.  So why is it being allowed to continue wasting taxpayer money?”   ~  George Hill
”NYS is currently employing criminal justice policies that are unfair, not within the constraints of the law and in violation of due process.  Something needs to be done to allow a check of this unbridled discretion, wherein this state has enjoined a modern day implementation of slavery where the law doesn’t apply to all people, only the chosen ones.”    
Cheryl L. Kates BC, attorney at law

“In 2006, NY Penal Law § 1.05(6) was amended to provide that one of the purposes of punishment  ..... was the promotion of the successful and productive reentry and reintegration [of the incarcerated person] into society.  This focus is not only practical but necessary, as approximately 22,000 people are released to parole and post-release supervision in New York each year.”   ~  Legal Action Center
“I have a good friend who has twice been denied parole based on his original crime now 27 years in the past, with NO consideration of his excellent rehabilitation and fine ties with family and community”’     ~ Marianne Makman, M.D.
“The proposed regulations extend outdated policies that commit vital resources to the harmful imprisonment of people who are aging and present minimal risk.”          ~  Lana Dee Povitz New York University
To modernize the state's approach to justice and adequately respond to the distressing realities of New York prisons, guidelines must adopt stronger language that prioritizes risk assessment in decision-making while clarifying assessment criteria and requiring the Board to provide evidence that demonstrates the degree to which actual risk is a consideration. ~  M. Bryan Welton,  Brooklyn, NY
As the most extreme examples, the Board often denies parole to applicants who participate in temporary release programs and/or those who have obtained master’s degrees.”    ~ Barbara C. Zeller, M.D.,  NYC
“The purpose of incorporating ‘risk and needs’ principles was ‘to measure the rehabilitation of  inmates’. If the measurement of significant number of inmates shows significant rehabilitation scores, and these inmates (hundreds of them) are being denied release, then the parole commissioners are attempting to repeal the law and abrogating the Legislative intent of the 2011 Amendment to 259-(c)(4).” “ ...there is a clear miscarriage of justice when the law is not being adhered to by those who are charged with upholding the law.”  
~   the Woodbourne C.F. Long Termers Organization.

“I knew of one man at Sing Sing who had done outstanding things during his twenty-five years of incarceration but was hit at his first board.  Meanwhile, his co-defendant, who had received the same sentence but had been in and out of SHU for numerous offenses and had done nothing worthwhile in prison throughout his entire incarceration, was released by a different board at a different facility.  That doesn’t make any sense!  The one who has been transformed is still in; while the unrepentant sinner is being inflicted on the neighborhood!    Fr. Lemmert, former DOCCS chaplain

When an individual appearing before the Parole Board has an evaluation that indicates a low risk of reoffending and has participated in programs and treatment as directed, in accordance with a plan developed starting at reception, they should have a presumption of release.  Protection of society and advancing respect for the law are roles of the Parole Board that can be best achieved by following clear and predictable guidelines. 
NYS Catholic Conference Criminal Justice Committee

Those who have ...demonstrated that they have changed, that they are not a danger to the community, and are ready to make a new start on their lives, should be given the chance and the support to do so. To do otherwise is the mark of an uncivilized society. We need to be better than that.  ~   Margaret E. Hendrickson,  Albany, NY

Continuing to punish individuals who are no danger does not keep communities safe. After release, rehabilitated people will provide valuable support to their families and communities.    ~  Jessica R. Semon, Albany, NY

If the new procedures were meant to be factors simply tacked on to the old Statutory Factors ,the legislature would have simply amended the law inserting the new factors it wanted to be considered into Executive Law §259-i (c)(A) . Also, why would the legislature draft language requiring the establishment of new procedures if the OldSystem's procedures, and specifically §259-i (c) (A)were already sufficient? ~ Sharyn Kerrigan, Upstate NY

... why are NY State tax payers continuing to pay for programming that the Board places no emphasis on?  If nothing is achieved by continued incarceration other than jobs at DOCCS/Parole,  then inmates should be released to reintegrate into society and reunite with their families.   ~  Orlee Goldfeld, Attorney

…the proposed regulations fall short because they are only an attempt to justify and defend the Board's past actions  What is needed are regulations that require the Board to embrace the legislative changes and implement them.  {New regulations] must curb the Board's limitless discretion and mandate that the Board change its ways. 
National Lawyers Guild, NYC Chapter

The amended statutes of 2011 do not authorize or suggest additional factors but instead require a change of procedure and a change of perspective on the part of the Board.   ...We request that the Board redraft the proposed rules in an effort to reflect both the Content and the spirit of the amended statutes.   ~  Daniel O’Donnell, Chair Assembly Committee on Correction and Kenneth Zebrowski, Assembly Chair, Administrative Regulations Review Commission

Parole Boards are still denying parole citing that due to the serious nature of the crime the applicant still poses a risk to society.  How is the Board considering the COMPAS and yet reach[ing] a different conclusion without an explanation?  In other words, how can the Board find that a parole applicant is not a risk to society and is a risk to society at the same time?        ~  Otisville C.F. Lifers and Longtermers Organization

 [Parole Boards have routinely] focused solely on the crime of conviction.   ....Nothing in the proposed regulatory changes addresses this issue.  The crime of conviction and other static factors, by definition, cannot change.  The Board’s improper focus on these factors does a grave injustice to the hundreds of staff and volunteers who run life-skills, educational, therapeutic, religious and support group programs in our prisons.   
Karen Murtagh, Prisoners’ Legal Services

...the notice of this rule making contends that the Parole Board had already established written procedures via an October 5, 2011 memorandum issued by former Parole Board Chairwoman Andrea W. Evans and [that] this proposed rule making memorializes in regulation [the said procedures].  This is inaccurate.  The Evans memo does not constitute the procedural rule-making contemplated by the 2011 law, and every court taking up the issue has found such.        ~  Martha Rayner, Lincoln Square Legal Services, Inc.

[At 4 of my 5 boards] I was told, “We commend you on your disciplinary and good programming and we note your great deal of remorse”.  Then they go on to say that to release me would undermine the law because of the serious nature of the crime.  ...I am not the same person that committed that crime so many years ago, nor am I the crime that I committed!  I have goals and plans along with a great support system.  According to the risk assessment, I was not considered a threat to the community but what is the point in having an assessment, if you are not going to use it as intended.  ...I hope that you can enlighten me  ...as to why I keep getting hit  
 ~  Stacy Jackson, Comstock NY

Rather than identify and enable fundamental changes that are necessary to successfully move the state away from wasteful spending, and toward policies that invest in the current and anticipated needs of New York communities, the proposed regulations extend out-dated policies that commit vital resources to the harmful imprisonment of people who are aging and otherwise present minimal risk.   ~  M. Bryan Welton, Brooklyn, NY
Risk and needs assessments used in parole decision making must be tailored to and validated for use to assess individuals with mental illness.  The requirement that the Parole Board base its decisions on actual evidence of a “reasonable probability” of criminal conduct is not satisfied by the use of the invalid and unverified COMPAS on individuals with mental disabilities.  New York should modify the proposed procedures to ensure parole decisions incorporate risk and needs based inquiries in accordance with the 2011 Amendments.   
Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement Coalition,  c/o Urban Justice Center
[Under the proposed regulations the] Board members are seemingly free to give the risk and needs assessment as much - or as little - weight as they see fit. How does this “assist members of the state board of parole in determining which inmates may be released to parole supervision.”?  How does this promote consistency and fairness?   ~  Alfred O’Connor, NYS Defenders Association

I was fortunate; despite a disciplinary record riddled with Tier III infractions and multiple stints in solitary confinement, I was granted parole at my initial Board hearing.  This is illogical when plenty of women with no disciplinary record or even a previous arrest, are denied release.   ...The demoralizing truth was this: Winning release at a parole hearing is a crapshoot.  The broken parole system and its inherent lack of fairness disrupts the inmate population.  When due process is paid lip service on a grand scale, no one is fooled.  ...there is no incentive to follow rules if [one’s] willingness to reform doesn’t earn a fair shot at gaining freedom.           

~  Stacy Lyn Burnett
In spite of his over 3.5 decades of imprisonment and clear demonstration of rehabilitation, the Parole Board continues to say [my husband] is a serious threat to the community. …In effect, [people like my husband] who have worked so hard for so many decades to improve their lives - much more hard work and dedication than could be shown by the average citizen to improve his or her life - these prisoners are being de facto re-sentenced by the Parole Board to life without the possibility of parole.  This de facto re-sentencing is both unlawful and immoral.      ~  Nancy Jacot-Bell

CCR believes it is especially timely that the Board revise its guidelines to be in accordance with human rights principles, as the United States will be reviewed for its compliance under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty to which it is party, in March 2014. The ICCPR affirms that arbitrary parole denials that do not take into account prisoners’ rehabilitative histories and other dynamic factors constitute human rights violations.  Parole practices must comply with Article 9 of the ICCPR, which states, “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.”  Arbitrary detention has been determined to include “elements of inappropriateness, injustice, lack of predictability.”   
Center for Constitutional Rights
“Members of this Network have experienced the failure of the Parole Board to fairly consider the record of the parole applicants who come before it, and the contribution of that failure to unjust and unnecessary incarceration which damages our communities and the state as a whole. There is a widespread perception, fueled by direct experience, that the Board does not respect the spirit of the law, the letter of the law, or the well-being of the communities most impacted by both crime and over-incarceration. The Board is seen, instead, to be responsive to tabloid hysteria and other special interests.   ... Many of NYSPJN’s members are survivors/victims of crime who find that the voices of victims who call for restorative solutions to violence are not heard, while the voices of victims who call for more punishment are used as justification for an agenda of endless incarceration. Survivors of violence from the communities most negatively impacted by mass incarceration need community-based preventive and rehabilitative solutions, which are short-circuited by the reliance on incarceration.  A fair parole system would help to make those alternatives possible, while restoring community stability by returning our elders and other family members to their roles as mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters, wage-earners, and contributing members of our communities.”
 ~ New York State Prisoner Justice Network.

Prison Action Network (PAN) is an all volunteer organization created by and for people who are directly affected by the abuses of our adversarial criminal justice system.  Our members are victims of crime, incarcerated people, formerly incarcerated people, their families, friends and advocates – all of whom are interested in a safer and more just society.
We are part of a campaign to pass the Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act, S.1128/A.4108, which amends Executive Law §259-i  to change the role of the Parole Board from a punitive body to one which evaluates the readiness of a person to return to society.  We believe that the SAFE Parole Act has a better chance than these written procedures do, of ensuring that deserving people are reunited with their families.
These comments come from a position of moral outrage at the Board’s shameless disregard for the intent and the letter of the laws passed in 2011. 
The parole board’s proposed procedures are seen by us to be an unequivocal statement of the intention of the NYS Parole Board to continue disregarding the law that instructs them to “measure the rehabilitation of persons appearing before them, the likelihood of success of such persons upon release, and help in determining which inmate may be released to parole supervision.”
Frankly, we are appalled by their flagrant disdain for the law, the courts, and for law abiding, justice loving and safety seeking citizens of New York State! 
The suggested "procedures" allow retribution and revenge to trump community safety and trust. They do nothing to alter the Parole Board's practice of telling parole applicants that, despite all their demonstrations of rehabilitation and readiness for release, releasing them would deprecate the seriousness of the law.  We contend that it is the Parole Board itself who demeans the law by overriding sentences determined by the court.  Such disrespect for the law must not be allowed to become part of the Rules and Regulations of New York State.
Others who submitted comments:
Isa Kohler-Hausmann,Esq.,  Jenelle R. Guarnieri, Juan Saldana, Kristen Ruby, James A. Pileggi and Justo Richards, Marcy NY (his comment was unique, but too complex for us to condense), Shazzia Hines.  We apologize to anyone who wrote a comment and is not on this list.  If you contact us we will correct the omission in the March edition.
The Prison Action office has enjoyed reading such well thought out comments, each one reinforcing our faith in humankind and our hope for a just society.  It's encouraging to be surrounded by such strong advocates.  We hope readers will agree the comments were worth the space. 


2.  Campaign to overhaul NY’s parole system


A)  Riverside Church Prison Ministry's  Ending Parole Abuse -Reuniting Families Campaign

You may be wondering what happened after the big kick-off event in November.  The answer is: lots of things have happened since then!  And lots more are in the works.

First there was the Assembly’s Correction Committee Dec. 4th Public Hearing on Parole Board practices, which was covered in January's Building Bridges.  [A recording is available at http://tinyurl.com/oohgf6e and can be heard on Vassar's radio program, Voices from beyond the Wall: Prison talk, where hosts Ernest and Kathy Henry have been broadcasting the 5 hour long recording in short segments.  The show airs on alternating Sundays from 3 - 6pm.  The next show is on Sunday, February 9th, and from 3:30-4:00pm will feature Sheila Rule and Mujahid Farid, talking about the Feb 15th Caucus weekend workshop on parole (see announcement below).   WVKR 91.3FM or listen online: www.wvkr.org

Starting on Dec. 18, more than 40 individuals and organizations were busy writing comments about the Parole Board’s proposed “procedures” (reported in Parole News, Art. 1).   Most of the letters (the ones we know about)  are available to those with internet service at http://tinyurl.com/lms6oep.  John Caher published an article in the NY Law Journal on Feb. 3, titled Parole Board's Plan to Enact Risk Analysis Criticized.  It begins: “Nearly three years after the Legislature directed the Board of Parole to use a risk/needs analysis to determine if an inmate is ready for release, a plan to implement that directive is drawing fire from, among others, lawmakers who say the agency has missed the mark.  He goes on to quote a few of the comments and ends with a quote from Thomas Mailey, spokes[person] for the Parole Board, [who] said the comment period remains open, but declined further comment.  [To our knowledge, the Comment Period has since closed.]

Although the Campaign seemed quiet for awhile, its Coordinating Committee was drafting a statement of its goals, its infrastructure, and its budget.  By the end of February we hope to have all our sub-committees staffed and ready to move forward toward our goals.  Please consider joining a sub-committee that interests you: Coalition Building, Judith Brink/Naomi Jaffe; Communication/PR/Media – We invite skilled media professionals and other media-savvy volunteers to chair, co-chair and serve as members of this subcommittee;  Data/Metrics, Nikki Zeichner, Jim Murphy; Budget/Finance, Jackie McLeod—We invite volunteers with knowledge of finance and development to serve as co-chair, members of this subcommittee;  Education/Awareness, Sheila Rule/Judith Brink—We invite volunteers to serve as co-chair, members of this subcommittee.  To get connected please call Sheila at  thinkoutsidethecell@verizon.net 

Behind the scenes, the Campaign’s Media/Communication/PR/Media Sub-Committee has great plans and is looking for skilled media professionals and other volunteers who are willing to consult/collaborate/work with us to implement them.  Anyone who has skills in video, blogging, SEO(Search Engine Optimization), social networking, press releases, etc., and a desire to change parole board practices, is encouraged to contact Sheila at thinkoutsidethecell@verizon.net   The Data/Metrics committee has been hard at work producing some groundbreaking statistical reports .  

At the same time, members of the coalition were out and about.  On January 21 Milk Not Jails, with collaboration from other organizations in the Campaign installed a display in the Capitol of letters from men and women in prison and their loved ones, recounting the process of preparing for release and being refused by a parole system that is more punitive than rehabilitative.  The installation drew attention and resulted in meaningful dialogue with legislators and others passing through the Capitol.

Next on the agenda, today - Feb 5 - in Albany, there’s a Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on Public Protection.  Will the legislators use our money for improving services or will they spend it on keeping people in prison who no longer need to be?

On February 15 (the day after Valentine’s Day when we each get AT LEAST 5 people to sign the Campaign’s petition - see ‘Dear Reader’ message) we are invited to skip our prison visit and attend a workshop on Parole Reform instead.  (Could be another Valentine gift to our loved ones inside, desperate to come home...)


Let’s show that NEW YORK STATE WANTS PAROLE REFORM NOW!
Come and fill the room on SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 15th 1:00-2:30 p.m.
Roosevelt Hearing Room C,  Legislative Office Building, Empire State Plaza, Albany

“Making Parole Reform Real To Make Our Communities Safe”
a workshop at the Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Conference (free, no registration required)

Panelists and attendees will discuss the problems with current parole policies, how to fix them, and how our communities would benefit from parole reform. 

After the panel: free pizza networking reception for parole reform advocates, 3:00 p.m., location TBA

Confirmed speakers: Sheila Rule, facilitator (Riverside Church Prison Ministry and Statewide Parole Reform Coalition); Edward Hammock (former parole board chair); Mujahid Farid (Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP); Vanda Seward (Director of Statewide Reentry Services); Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry ; Alan Rosenthal (Center for Community Alternatives, Syracuse); Soffiyah Elijah (Executive Director, Correctional Association of New York)

FROM NYC: Reserve your seat on a FREE BUS leaving NYC at 6:00 a.m. Departing from 125th St. and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.: Email or call Mujahid Farid, mfarid@correctionalassociation.org, 212-254-5700 x 317

This is a key moment to tell the Parole Board, the legislature and the community: 
The parole system in New York State must be changed. No more unfair denials!
IF THE RISK IS LOW, LET THEM GO!

Panel presented by Correctional Association of NY, Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP, the New York State Prisoner Justice Network, Prison Action Network, and the Riverside Church Prison Ministry Parole Reform Initiative
Sponsored by Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Jeffrion L. Aubry and Senators Kevin Parker and Bill Perkins


B.   Legislative progress
       Prison Action Network

The testimony at the Dec 4 Hearing on the Parole Board may have inspired some legislators to sign on the SAFE Parole Act.  Both AM Felix Ortiz and AM Luis R. Sepulveda were there to ask questions of the people testifying, and the next time we looked, they had both signed A4108!  AM Michael Montesano has recently become a multi-sponsor.  Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson has signed on to the Senate version, S1128.  Thank you to our former and new allies in the legislature!  Readers who live in their districts are encouraged to call or send them a note of appreciation.

The following legislators are currently signed onto the SAFE Parole Act:
S1128  PARKER, HASSELL-THOMPSON, KENNEDY, MONTGOMERY, PERKINS 

A4108  AUBRY, HEVESI, CLARK, MOSLEY, ORTIZ, SEPULVEDA; Multi Sponsors: Arroyo, Brennan, Crespo, Fahy, Farrell, Gottfried, Montesano, O'Donnell, Scarborough, Skartados.

In order to get more support, constituents can play a big role. Not all of our representatives in the State Legislature know much about the SAFE Parole Act.  Those who live in their districts will have much more influence with them than someone who doesn’t vote in their district.  You could make the difference in how long it takes to pass this bill!  So here’s a way to  help:  Please send your ZIP+4 code to parolereform@gmail.com.  (Any bill or advertisement that comes in an envelope will have that 9 digit number on the address label.)  That will enable the campaign to quickly bring constituents together to talk, write or visit with their representative.  It’s an easy way for people to help!  If we had that information now, we could alert all the people in the districts of the new sponsors mentioned above.




3. What prisoners can do   
by our guest columnist, who is a long-termer incarcerated in a New York State maximum security prison

The New York State Prisoner Justice Network 

On the inside we know that mass incarceration, long sentences, harsh conditions, and perpetual parole hits are unfair and harmful. That’s so obvious that we lose sight of what our outside advocates are up against. For some 40 years now the politicians and media have been screaming “Get tough on crime!” Those precious few who have stood up for us have shown great courage and determination. As a prisoner, I want to start with a giant, heartfelt thank you to all those out there who are fighting for us. That big salute goes to all the organizations we read about in
Building Bridges and more. Thank You.

While there are many such groups in NYS, most are very small. They’re understaffed, operate on a shoestring, and feel isolated. Now, finally, the bitter cold of society’s scapegoating and hatred of prisoners is beginning to thaw a bit. Government budget shortfalls created an opening to discuss reduction of prison population. And then Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow drew attention to the rank racism of the criminal justice system. Nonetheless, as the Prisoner Justice Network explained in the January Building Bridges, we are a long way from being able to achieve the needed changes. We still face powerful interests and prevailing prejudices. To make headway, we need much bigger campaigns that are part of an overall movement for social justice in society as a whole. The last time we saw major positive reforms, they grew out of the context and momentum of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements that were sweeping the nation in the 1970’s. 

Prison can breed passivity, so we need to make a conscious effort to do everything we can to contribute to these crucial efforts. That’s also the sincerest way to say thank you to those who work so hard on our behalf. Here are a few suggestions.

First and most immediately we can do our best to foster a kinder, more loving culture in prison and specifically to mentor and nurture each other to give each of us the best chance to parole successfully. Also, when outside advocates ask for feedback from us to help build their work, for example, to write up our parole board experiences, we can do our best to respond. When we read about events in Building Bridges, for example the recent legislative hearing on parole reform, we can encourage our family and friends to make their voices heard. We can pass on information about such activities to our fellow prisoners and ask them to notify their loved ones. And we can express, loudly and clearly, our thanks and encouragement to all who fight for justice.

Even more importantly, it’s not all about just us. The same trends that promoted the “war on crime” have torn up the communities most of us are from. Poor neighborhoods are ravaged because many potential wage-earners and parents are gone, which takes a major toll on the children. Good jobs are scarce; drugs and violence are prevalent; too few elders are around as positive mentors for the youth; poor education and inadequate health care are the norm. And violence against women and abuse of children are far too common throughout society. 
Mass incarceration hurts our communities in ways that don’t stop crime but rather generate it. As prisoners we need to be conscious not to make things worse by playing out the negative stereotypes that the system has laid out for us. As limiting as our circumstances are, we can make a meaningful effort to contribute to constructive change. That can include emotional support and understanding for our loved ones on the outside, making financial support and/or childcare for our families and communities part of our release plans, taking time to think about and develop useful initiatives and creative programs to mentor youth and to promote stronger, healthier, safer communities. Prisoners reading this will have many other good ideas. On the broadest level we can help build the movements that bend the universe’s long arc toward justice a lot closer to all of us. 

4.   Upcoming Events
 Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration (CAAMI)
If you are in the Capital District, please come to the February meeting of Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration (CAAMI), Tuesday, February 11th, at 7:00 p.m. at the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Avenue, Albany. This month's agenda includes planning for the March visit of the Coalition Against Isolated Confinement; support for the February 15th Black and Puerto Rican Caucus workshop on parole justice; discussion of mass incarceration's disproportionate impacts on young people of color in the Capital District; and participation in a May statewide demonstration against mass incarceration.


The Center for Law and Justice Black History Month Film Series 
When:  every Thursday starting Feb 6 through March 13   Time: 5:30 pm  
Location 200 South Pearl St. Albany NY,  Albany Housing Community Room

Schedule: 
Feb 6: Twelve Years a Slave- Solomon Northup's Odyssey
February 13: Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012)
February 20: Discussion of Twelve Years a Slave & Django,  Discussant -Dr. Timothy Sams, RPI
February 27: Rosewood (John Singleton, 1997) 
March 6: Get on the Bus (Spike Lee, 1996)
March 13: Discussion of Rosewood & Get on the Bus,  Discussant- D.Ekow King, SUNY Albany

Program is free and open to the public for youths 14 and over & adults of all ages. Free food & refreshments will be served. For additional Information contact the Center for Law & Justice at 427-8361.  Sponsored by: The Center for Law & Justice (CFLJ), The African American Cultural Center of the Capital District (AACC) & The Albany Housing Authority (AHA).


Doing Time Outside the Bars - A Mother's Experience
Mon. Feb. 10, 2014  8:00 pm

Linda King is finally coming out of the closet about her son's incarceration.  For over 20 years she hasn’t spoken about this in public.  She’d welcome your attendance. 

Long Beach Martin Luther King, Jr. Center,  615 Riverside Blvd., Long Beach NY 11561  For more info: (516) 889-6300


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