Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

March 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. 

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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



Posted March 21 - NYS Prisoner Justice Network
New York Against Prison Injustice

Please feel free to copy and distribute the following flyer, front and back, for widespread distribution.  (click on it for a better view and to print)


New York Against Prison Injustice

The problem – the criminal justice system:
  • locks up  far too many people, for far too long – 86,000 in prisons and jails in New York State
  • cages people under harsh & inhumane conditions, including solitary confinement and staff abuse
  • fails to release people who demonstrate readiness to return home
  • is racially targeted against communities of color
  • imposes lifelong post-prison discrimination
  • prevents real solutions to social problems
  • breaks up families and harms communities
  • is not effective – does not keep communities safe 

There is a better way:

  • restorative, reintegrative, & community-based justice instead of punishment
  • public health solutions to addiction & mental illness
  • economic & social solutions: jobs, housing, food, healthcare, education, racial justice
  • community safety & healing rather than revenge
  • invest in strengthening communities instead of more law enforcement

Steps to get there:

  • reform parole: approve applicants based on fair evaluation; pass SAFE parole act
  • release elders: if the risk is low, let them go
  • ban solitary confinement and use more humane and effective alternatives
  • ban post-prison discrimination in education, jobs, housing, and voting
  • support people coming home; ensure access to medical, mental health, & substance abuse care
  • overhaul the public defense system statewide
  • create a truth, justice, and reconciliation commission for racial impacts of mass incarceration
  • raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 for all children to be treated as children
  • make higher education available to all, in and out of prison; stop the school to prison pipeline
  • end the war on drugs and use a public health approach to address addiction
  • pass domestic violence survivors justice act—support, not incarceration, for survivors
  • stop local jail expansion; stop stop and frisk; reform bail practices
  • end surveillance, infiltration, entrapment of members of Muslim, Arab, & S Asian communities
  • stop mass deportations & support immigrant families
  • invest in community-based mental health care and use crisis intervention teams
  • end all shackling of pregnant women; support family ties; bring back the buses
  • reduce draconian prison sentence lengths; use restorative justice & alternatives to incarceration
  • free all political prisoners

Who we are:people working to replace mass incarceration, punishment, abusive prison conditions, and racial targeting with humane, community-based, effective solutions for community safety & well-being.


-new york state prisoner justice network-riverside church prison ministry parole reform campaign- campaign for alternatives to isolated confinement-release aging people in prison-center for law and justice-prison action network-campaign to end the new jim crow- education from the inside out coalition-raise the age campaign-prisoners are people too-end the new jim crow action network-ithaca prisoner justice network-nys defenders justice fund-binghamton justice projects-capital area against mass incarceration-new york students rising-drug policy alliance-coalition for women prisoners-nyc jericho movement-muslim solidarity committee

For more information:nysprisonerjustice@gmail.com-nysprisonerjustice.org



Posted March 13 -  Prison Action Network

Ring the Bells for Justice!

Prison Action Network in colaboration with the NYS Council of Churches is coordinating an effort to have churches across the state ring their bells on April 16 at noon for one minute.  This activity will be coupled with distributing information to church members and the public.  Links appear below and in the NYS Council of Church’s letter to their members, for your use (information for congregations; bulletin/newsletter insert; possible news release)

From the letter:   “Not all of us have a bell or deliver a message from the pulpit, but all of us are united in our social justice mission.  During this Lenten season, may we all work to help the Christians within our reach focus on Hebrews 13:3 - "Remember the prisoners as if chained with them - those who are mistreated -since you yourselves are in the body also" and encourage thought, enlightenment, and prayer.   This can be an opportunity for your church to add a prison ministry to your outreach programs,  form a study group to read Michele Alexander's The New Jim Crow   http://newjimcrow.com/take-action/study-guides,  host a screening of the documentary Herman's House http://hermanshousethefilm.com/host-a-screening/, or organize a trip to Albany to join us at a rally and march for prisoner justice issues at the Capitol in Albany on May 5th with keynote speaker Dr. Cornel West.  

Information regarding the rally will be posted at 

The complete text of the letter is available by clicking here:




Building Bridges, March 2014

Dear Readers, 

Many of our long-time members have been calling for another Family Empowerment Day, but wre moved on because many of us have become empowered and now are looking for how to get involved in solving the problems.  An event called New York against Prison Injustice: Stop Solitary, Reform Parole, Release Elders is coming up in Albany on May 5 and everyone reading this should be there!  The all day event will include a massive rally and march, with theologian Cornel West giving the keynote address.

The day will include advocating for a new anti-solitary bill and other actions by participating anti-incarceration and justice groups. There will be free buses from New York City and upstate locations.  

We hope it will be a FED reunion as well as a celebration of all the new allies who’ve joined us since then.  The lead organization is the NYS Prisoner Justice Network, responding  to the people who attended their NYC Convergence on September 21, 2013, where representatives from 40 organizations decided on the issues and called for an action day.  (see more in Articles 2 and 10)

 Family Empowerment Days were events where families of incarcerated community-ready individuals joined together in a loud cry for justice.  That led to the drafting of the SAFE Parole Act, and now families have another step they can take to pursue the changes they want. 

Isn’t it clear to all of us that the Parole Board is operating with no oversight?  The closest to having oversight power is the Governor, who appoints the commissioners and can limit them to one term or keep reappointing them for his entire time in office.  Are you ready to come to Albany to tell the governor how you feel about the parole board’s cruel and family fracturing practices, and what you would like him to do?  

The Editor 

 Articles*
1.  Parole News:  January releases;  Parole Regs Commenters;  Judge rules on Parole Board practices;  Reformed offenders are community asset

2.  Campaign to overhaul NY’s parole system reports on progress

3.  Legislative report:  Assembly Correction Committee and Senate Crime Committee pass legislation

4.  College to be made available in 10 NYS prisons

5.  “Elders Behind Bars Divide Families” presentation at Columbia Univ.

6.  Steven Banks from Legal Aid Society appointed as head of NYC Human Resources Administration

7.  Head of Colorado prisons spends 20 hours in Ag Seg; NYS makes deal to limit use of Solitary

8.  Holder supports voting by people in prison

9.  Schneiderman files legislation allowing wrongfully convicted to sue

10.  NYSPJN announces May 5 mass demonstration against prison injustice

11.  Words of wisdom from the Inside

*Many of the articles above reference documents that are available to readers who contact us with the name, number, and month of the article.


1.  Parole News: 
JANUARY 2014 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS - DIN #s through 2001            Unofficial research from parole database

Total Jan. '14 Interviews
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
YTD rate
16 Initials
6
10
38%
38%
93 Reappearances
26
67
28%
28%
109 total
32
77
29%
29%





Jan. Age Summary
Total
Denied 
Released
Release Rate 
60-69
25
22
3
12%
70-79
5
4
1
20%
80+
2
1
1
50%
60-80+
32
27
5
16%


Jan. Initial Releases

Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Attica
34
16-Life
Mrd 2
1
Collins
40
19-Life
Mrd 2
1
Fishkill
47
29.6-Life
Mrd 2
1
Gouverneur
36
15-Life
Mrd  2
1
Otisville
56
20-Life
Mrd 2
1
Woodbourne
63
18-Life
Mrd 2
1

Jan. Reappearance Releases




Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Attica
67
25-Life
Att Mrd 1
8
Auburn
52
21-Life
Att Mrd 1
7
Auburn     Deported
65
25-Life
Mrd 2
4
Bedford Hills
48
22-Life
Mrd 2
2
Bedford Hills
53
18-Life
Mrd 2
2
Cayuga
48
2-Life
JO Mrd
12
Clinton
50
15-Life
Mrd 2
4
Fishkill
50
28.3-Life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
58
20-Life
Att Md 1
5
Fishkill
46
20-Life
Mrd 2
5
Fishkill
34
2-Life
JO Mrd
3
Franklin
43
15-Life
Mrd 2
6
Franklin
38
9-Life
JO Mrd
6
Gowanda
55
15- Life
Mrd 2
5
Green Haven
44
21-Life
 Mrd 2
4
Otisville
49
20-Life
Mrd 2
2
Otisville
51
15-Life
Mrd 2
7
Otisville
42
23-Life
Mrd 2
2
Otisville
41
22-Life
Mrd 2
2
Otisville
40
20-Life
Mrd 2
2
Otisville
42
15-Life
Mrd 2
4
Sing sing
59
15-Life
Mrd 2
4
Wende
73
28-Life
Mrd  2
4
Wende
81
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Woodbourne   Deported
59
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Wyoming
52
22-Life
Mrd 2
6

Comments:
Last month we published the names of those who submitted comments on the Parole Board’s proposed procedures.  Since then we have learned of more, but since it appears there were 100’s, we are only publishing those who sent copies to us:  Kevin Moss, Michael Haug,, Steven Brown, Dabney Hall, Rafael Robles, the Solidarity Committee of the Capital District, Woodbourne Long Termers Organization.  (see more about Comments in Article 2)
Parole Board ordered to explain why the crime outweighed the evidence of rehabilitation.
In an unpublished decision (2013 Docket # 100990/13) handed down on Feb 13 2014 by the Supreme Court, NY County, Judge Peter Moulton ruled on an Article 78 by Keila Pulinario against DOCCS, Anthony Annucci, NYS Board of Parole, and Tina Stanford.  The decision says:  In sum, the Parole Board gave great weight to the seriousness of Pulinario's crime without any explanation of why the seventeen year old crime outweighed the voluminous evidence that indicates that she would presently be able to live a quiet and crime-free life in society. Accordingly, the petitioner is entitled to a· new determination.   Judge Moulton ordered the decision be annulled and another hearing be held within 45 days.
(Perfetto v Evans, 112 AD3d 640; Rabenbauer v New York State Dep't of Corrections, 41 Misc3d  1235 [A] . }
The Reformed Offender: A Valuable Community Asset
by Karima Amin

I am frequently asked why I work with people who have been convicted of committing crimes. Why do I find them and their families worthy of my time and concern? Why do I support people who have “served time” and who are now re-entering society? I suppose the simple answer is my understanding that I could just as easily be in their shoes. The criminal justice system touches all of us, some more than others, and the repercussions can be long lasting and life altering. Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. has established a Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders. We believe in redemption and we believe in second chances.

Our Program Director, George BaBa Eng, once said:  “The reformed offender is no longer a threat to public safety. As reformed offenders, we realize that we will always owe a debt of atonement to our families and communities, because the history of crime and ignorance, that we once helped to perpetuate, requires our commitment to eradicate. We have shown remorse, obtained college degrees, organized and coordinated prison programs aimed at reforming others. We have enormous resources of skills, knowledge, and experience to offer. We ask that you hold us accountable…”

There are scores of reformed offenders right here in Western New York who are hard working, law-abiding citizens who have embraced their second chances with the kind of commitment and positive energy that should inspire all of us to do a better job of treating people in a manner that is more humane and non-judgmental.

At the Feb 24 meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., several reformed offenders described what it has meant for them to get a second chance in Western New York. Chuck Culhane was one of the featured "reformed offenders."  He is still on parole since 1992. The person who spoke on his behalf was Mike Kuzma, a lawyer and good friend. Two others spoke very briefly.... fellow lawyers Daire Irwin and Kamali Liange. They all had good things to say about Chuck's being a good man and a hard worker. They spoke of his links to U.B., Legal Aid, and the Defenders Association. They lauded him for his death penalty work.

BaBa Eng talked about what a blessing and an honor it has been to have been so well-received in WNY.  Those who spoke on his behalf were his employer, Rev. James Giles, director of Back to Basics Outreach Ministries and PRP2 board member, Rev. Eugene Pierce. BaBa Eng serves as a reentry mentor and as a court advocate for juveniles. His work makes him very happy. He was described as being honest, diligent, resourceful, and tenacious. He is PRP2's Program Director.

The third speaker was a young woman who talked about having been a drug addict, a prostitute, and a "lost soul." It was the first time that she had talked about herself to a large group. There were 42 people present. She also talked about trying to be a mother to her 5 children while serving time in prison. Currently, she works for Spectrum Human Services, after having successfully completed course work at Bryant and Stratton Business Institute. A close friend spoke on her behalf. Jennifer talked about wanting and needing a mentor and a new PRP2 member stepped up to the plate to be that mentor.

Reformed offenders are teachers, mentors, laborers, artists, entrepreneurs, counselors, medical assistants, restaurant workers, mechanics, barbers, religious leaders, office workers, and more. Their work weaves important threads into the fabric of a community that needs honest and enthusiastic men and women who believe that it is their responsibility to be contributors, even in a place where people may have nothing but fear and disdain for their return. 

All monthly programs are sponsored by the Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: 716-834-8438; Karima Amin (karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org); BaBa Eng (g.babaeng@yahoo.com).



2.  Campaign to overhaul NY’s parole system 

Riverside Church Prison Ministry's  Ending Parole Abuse -Reuniting Families Campaign
The Statewide Parole Reform Campaign—Ending Parole Abuses-Reuniting Families—is enjoying a huge wave of momentum, thanks to your efforts and support.  Since the last issue of Building Bridges, there have been more encouraging developments.  On February 15, parole reform coalition members held a highly successful workshop on parole at the Caucus Weekend in Albany.  Panelists included Andrea Evans and Edward Hammock, both of whom are former parole board chairs; Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry,  State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Mujahid Farid of Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP, Alan Rosenthal of the Center for Community Alternatives, and Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York. 
Two days after the workshop, The New York Times published a major editorial in support of our cause. Under the headline “New York’s Broken Parole System,” the editorial said, "Lasting reform of New York’s parole system will require a fundamental reworking of both the board’s process and its culture. For low-risk inmates, early release into parole should be the default, and the board should have to articulate a good reason to keep them locked up.”  A few days later, The Times published our statewide parole campaign’s letter in response to that editorial—in which we called on Governor Cuomo to establish a Commission on Parole to bring transparency, accountability and public confidence to the parole board. 
We saw the large numbers of comments on the Parole Board’s proposed regulations by parole reform allies creating quite a stir in the halls of power.  Anywhere from 250 to 400 comments regarding parole were submitted; the average number of comments on proposed regulations ranges from 30 to 60. 
Next on the agenda, the campaign has scheduled for late March an important meeting of allies to coordinate and sharpen next steps. And in April, on the 16th, Milk Not Jails and allies in the Ending Parole Abuses-Reuniting Families Campaign will stage events, rallies or demonstrations throughout New York State in support of parole reform and SAFE Parole.  This day of action will help us keep the pressure growing for change, as we approach NYSPJN’s powerful demonstration in May in Albany. (See more in the Dear Reader message on p.1.)
We are on the move and headed to victory, and we need your continuing involvement to get there.  In the months and weeks ahead, we’ll need your donations to keep putting fuel in the parole reform engine—money that will be used to cover a range of needs, from travel expenses, bus rental, technology support and educational forums to copying, printing and postage. No gift is too small. It’s the act of giving that counts.  Please send your checks and money orders, made out to Riverside Church Prison Ministry, to:
Parole Reform Campaign,  Think Outside the Cell,  511 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 525,  New York, NY 10011

We thank the following supporters for their financial donations to Ending Parole Abuses – Reuniting Families:
Derek Adam
Judith Anne Ackerman
Mark Bedford
Peter Chin
Kamal Fardan and Sherisse Fardan
Cheryl Kates
Gregory McCloud 
Jacqueline D. McLeod
Prison Action Network
Rajendra Paltoo
Sheila Rule and Joe Robinson
Brian Steele
Carolyn O.F. Watford




3.  Legislative report
On February 11, the Assembly’s Correction Committee met for the first time this year and considered 5 bills.  It was the first meeting chaired by Daniel O’Donnell.  Former chair AM Aubry has been promoted to Speaker Pro Tempore of the Assembly.

Explanation:   S stands for Senate, A stands for Assembly.   If a bill has a sponsor in both chambers we identify it with a slash mark between their two numbers (A.1234 / S.5678) and the primary sponsors like this: (Kavanagh/Parker).  For Assembly bills, the first name is the Assembly Member and for Senate bills the Senate sponsor is listed first.  We don't list the co-sponsors.  You may write us for that information or look it up on-line.

All of the following bills were “reported” or “referred”, meaning they passed out of the Corrections Committee to another committee (from where they may go to the entire Assembly for a floor vote).  The majority party (Dems) voted in favor, and the minority voted against, in all cases.  All but 2 have “same as” bills in the Senate.  Before any of these bills become law they have to be passed in both houses, where changes can be made from the floor before a final vote.  If passed, the Governor has to sign them before they can become the law.

Bill number
Primary Sponsor(s)
Description
A00231/S01353 
Reported

Kavanagh/ Parker
Provides for notice of availability of of medical, educational and other services, including alcohol and substance abuse treatment services to prisoners upon their release from state prison and for making  arrangements for such services.
A04887/S03357 
Reported



Sepulveda/Hassell-Thompson
Provides that in order to deny a person employment or a license based on a criminal record, there must be a connection between the specific duties or responsibilities of the job or license and the nature of the criminal
conviction and such connection must create an unreasonable risk to property or public safety.
A05173/S03358
Reported

Mosley/Hassell-Thompson
Ensures that persons illegally discriminated against by a public employer due to a prior criminal conviction unrelated to the employment sought is able to seek redress with the Division of Human Rights.
A07593
No same as
Reported
Rozic
Makes it an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer to require a job applicant to disclose his or her criminal history record as a requirement for consideration of employment.
A08564
No same as
Reported
Mosley 
To make the statutes governing the issuance of certificates of relief from disabilities and certificates of good conduct consistent.




Bills are introduced prior to the meetings and committee members can look them over and decide how they will vote, and hand in their votes if they aren’t able to attend.  Thus there is little to no discussion during these meetings. 


Twelve bills were voted on by Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction on  Feb 27, 2014.  Sen. Patrick Gallivan Chair.  All but the last 2 passed in the Senate last year.

Printed No.
Sponsor
 Sponsor
S.1020, / A3318
Reported

Robach/Miller
Prohibits level three sex offenders from living in college housing
In 2013 this bill passed in the Senate by a 61-2  vote.
S.1191 /A.6975
Referred to Finance
Flanagan/Lavine
Prevents a defendant who was found to not be responsible, due to mental disease or defect, from profiting from his or her crime

Reported.  Hassell-Thompson, Rivera and Hoylman against.

Ranzenhofer
Anyone who knowingly harbors a sex offender who has failed to register or verify his/her address is guilty of a Class A mis-demeanor.

S.1481 /
No same as
Referred to Finance

Marcellino
Requires survivors of a crime be notified upon the conditional release of the person convicted of the crime.
S.3305/
No same as
Reported.  Hassell-Thompson and
Rivera against.

Nozzolio
Permits correction officers to be color blind
LaValle/Theile
Prohibits persons convicted under article six-C of the correction law from serving as a trustee, principal, officer, or member of a board of education of any public school in any BOCES, city, union free, common or central school district or any charter school

S.3338/A.4870
Reported

Hassell-Thompson/O’Donnell
Requires notice be provided to any officer or employee of DOCCS who is the subject of a subpena duces tecum.
S.4341 
No same as
Referred to Finance
Program bill.*

Gallivan
Authorizes awards by the office of victim services for loss or earnings and loss of support by victim.
In 2013 this bill passed in the Senate with 61 votes
S.4343
No same as
Reported
Program bill*

Gallivan
Updates the membership of Citizen’s Policy and Complaint Review Council (CPCRC) to include a war veteran and a lic.health care professional.

S.5542
No same as
Referred to Finance
Hassell-Thompson against
Griffo
Provides notice to crime survivors and the office of the district attorney prior to the conduct of a parole hearing or the release of the offender from the custody of the department of corrections and community supervision

S.6231/A.6074
Reported
Hassell-Thompson against

Maziarz/Gunther
Multiple sex offenses which require the offender to register must all appear on the registry.

S.6256/A.8449
Referred to Finance
Ball/Weisenberg
Requires DOCCS to maintain the responsibility and costs of monitoring any person released on parole with the mandatory requirement of installation of an ignition interlock device on their motor vehicle.

* A program bill is one the Governor requests for consideration.


4.  College is coming to 10 prisons
On February 16, the last day of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus Weekend,  Governor Cuomo announced his plans to provide college classes for incarcerated individuals.  The Wall Street Journal reported on it in an article entitled New Gov. Cuomo Initiative Will Fund College Classes in Prisons by Erica Orden, and the speech is posted on the governor’s website where it can still be found:  (http://www.governor.ny.gov)

The college programs - offering associate and bachelor’s degrees -  will be available at 10 prisons, one in each region of the State.  The program is predicted to cost the state $5000 per year per student and save $60,000 a year for every one who consequently does not return to prison.

In his announcement, Governor Cuomo said, “New York State’s recidivism rate stands at 40%, according to state data.  An existing program called the Bard Prison Initiative—which provides college education and a Bard College degree to incarcerated individuals at six prisons in New York state—has a recidivism rate of 4% for the people who have participated in the program since 1999.
“You have to ask yourself, are we really correcting anything?,” Mr. Cuomo said, referring to the title of the Department of Corrections. “And what are we accomplishing for all that money?”   “We’re imprisoning, we’re isolating. But we’re not rehabilitating the way we should,” he said.
The announcement was followed by criticism from students struggling to pay their tuition and CO’s who resent not being able to afford college for their children.  One incarcerated person said,  “What would you rather see us with, a book in our hand, or a gun?”  A formerly incarcerated friend observed, “ It's a very, very sad commentary on a society, when people have to go to prison to get.........  education, health care, saved from addiction, treatment for mental illness, or protection from their abuser.”
Prison Action Network calls for free education for EVERYONE who wants it. Poorer countries around the globe provide not only education but also health care to all their citizens, while our country, the supposedly richest nation in the world, provides neither. We support all efforts to reduce crime, reduce incarceration, treat people in prison with respect and dignity and release people who have shown themselves ready to live a crime-free life, thereby promoting more safety in our neighborhoods.  An educated citizenry is essential to a better world.




5.  Our Elders Behind Bars, Our Families Divided

The number of incarcerated elders in New York and nationally continues to rise as people with long sentences age. Yet incarcerated elders pose the lowest risk to public safety and could contribute mightily to bettering our communities.How does continued incarceration and perpetual punishment affect elders, their families, friends and communities? 
How can we win their release and heal our families and communities? 

Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP will present their panel at Columbia’s Beyond the Bars: Breaking Through Conference   on Sat, March 8
th   The panel will take place from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m.

Moderator: Laura Whitehorn, formerly incarcerated; RAPP organizer
Speakers include:  Larry White, formerly incarcerated, Barbara Inniss, family member, Dequi Kioni-Sadiki, family member, Tyrrell Muhammad, formerly incarcerated, Ariane Davisson, Columbia grad student
ADMISSION IS FREE but please register .  For more information: RAPPCampaign.com • Mujahid Farid, 212-254-5700 ext. 317 • mfarid@correctionalassociation.org 
Location: Columbia University School of Social Work, 1255 Amsterdam Ave, Manhattan (between120th and 121st Streets)


6.  Steven Banks named commissioner of NY City’s Human Resources Administration

Banks, long time staff lawyer with New York City Legal Aid Society said he has "waited my entire life" to find a mayor whose attitudes toward low-income New Yorkers are in line with his.  "This is an opportunity of a lifetime to work under a mayor who has the values that I share and the values that are going to make a real difference for the clients that I have represented for so many years," Banks said at a news conference at City Hall.  
[Reported in the NY Law Journal ]



7.  Solitary, SHU, Isolated Confinement, the Box.  Call it what you will but it’ll always be Torture.
COLORADO SPRINGS — AT 6:45 p.m. on Jan. 23, I was delivered to a Colorado state penitentiary, where I was issued an inmate uniform and a mesh bag with my toiletries and bedding. My arms were handcuffed behind my back, my legs were shackled and I was deposited in Administrative Segregation — solitary confinement.

I hadn’t committed a crime. Instead, as the new head of the state’s corrections department, I wanted to learn more about what we call Ad Seg.  I would spend a total of 20 hours in that cell. Which, compared with the typical stay, is practically a blink. On average, inmates who are sent to solitary in Colorado spend an average of 23 months there. Some spend 20 years.

Eventually, I broke a promise to myself and asked an officer what time it was.  11:10 a.m.  I felt as if I’d been there for days.  I sat with my mind.  How long would it take before Ad Seg chipped that away?  I don’t know, but I’m confident that it would be a battle I would lose

If an inmate acts up, we slam a steel door on him.  Ad Seg allows a prison to run more efficiently for a period of time, but by placing a difficult offender in isolation you have not solved the problem — only delayed or more likely exacerbated it, not only for the prison, but ultimately for the public.  Our job in corrections is to protect the community, not to release people who are worse than they were when they came in.

Most states now agree that solitary confinement is overused, and many — like New York, which just agreed to a powerful set of reforms this week — are beginning to act. 
[From the New York Times, Feb 20, 2014,  The Opinion Pages;  My Night in Solitary, by Rick Raemisch]  

Length of Solitary Confinement is limited by agreement between Leroy Peoples and DOCCS
In response to a law suit [Peoples vs Fischer-Complaint-11 Civ. 2694 (SAS)] brought by Leroy Peoples, represented by the ACLU, DOCCS has agreed to end the use of solitary confinement for disciplining prisoners under 18.  Sixteen and 17-year-olds will get at least five hours a day of outdoor exercise and programming outside of their cells.  Solitary confinement will be prohibited for inmates who are pregnant. People who are developmentally disabled will be limited to no more than 30 days in Solitary.

The agreement also specifies the length of punishment allowed for different infractions and, for the first time in all cases, a maximum length that such sentences may run.  If at the end of two years DOCCS has not lived up to its word, the suit will move forward.
Cited in the facts presented as part of the complaint, DOCCS records show that between 2007-2011 there were:

Over 200 SHU sentences for “untidy cell or person”
 Over 300 SHU sentences for “smoking in an unauthorized area”;
Nearly 200 SHU sentences for “no ID card”
Over 200 SHU sentences for “delaying cell count”
Over 2,100 SHU sentences for “facility correspondence violations”
 Over 100 SHU sentences for “littering”
Over 170 SHU sentences for “excessive tobacco”
Nearly 100 SHU sentences for “unauthorized jewelry”
Over 50 SHU sentences for “unauthorized literature”
Over 1,000 SHU sentences for “refusing double celling” assignments
Over 600 SHU sentences for “unreported illness”
Over 500 SHU sentences for “tattooing”
Over 480 SHU sentences for “messhall serving/seating violations;”  
Over 100 SHU sentences for “unauthorized legal assistance.”  
DOCCS records show that SHU has also been imposed as a sanction for infractions including “unfastened long hair”; “fire drill violation”; “family reunion violation”; “unauthorized use of phone”; and “unreported ID card loss.”



8.  Voting rights for people in prison

US Attorney General Eric Holder is calling to restore voting rights to people in prison.  He claims that denying them the vote is a holdover from the days after slavery when states used the criminal justice system to keep blacks from fully participating in society.  Unfortunately he has no power to restore that right, since only state governments have that authority.


9.  Legislation would allow wrongfully convicted to sue
Attorney  General  Eric  Schneiderman said Wednesday he will file legislation allowing people who were wrongfully convicted of a crime to sue New York State, even if they confessed or otherwise helped "bring about" their own convictions.  [Copy of announcement available from PAN ]



10.  Moment of opportunity, moment of danger

by NYS Prisoner Justice Network

The terrain of public dialogue and activity in relation to the criminal justice system is changing so fast that there is not enough room in this column to mention even a fraction of what has sprung up just in the past month. But will our readers behind bars respond, “The more things change, the more they stay the same?” 

Is this a time when, finally, the voices of people in prison, formerly incarcerated, families, and advocates are being heard in the halls of power, and changes are beginning to happen? Or is it smoke and mirrors, all talk no action, a pretense of change in order to strengthen the status quo?  Your NYSPJN columnist thinks it is both, with the outcome dependent on our movement’s ability to keep growing, not be fooled, and stay ahead of the curve. New York State Prisoner Justice Network, together with other activist organizations, have a plan to do just that:

NEW YORK AGAINST PRISON INJUSTICE: STOP SOLITARY, REFORM PAROLE, RELEASE ELDERS -- a rally and march at the Capitol in Albany on May 5th, with keynote speaker passionate public intellectual Cornel West. The day will include lobbying for a new anti-solitary bill and other actions by participating anti-incarceration and justice groups. There will be free buses from New York City and upstate locations. More details will follow in next month’s issue; and for those with internet access, information will be available soon at nysprisonerjustice.org. This action belongs to all of us who have a stake in challenging and changing the prison system – come all who can, to show the strength of our movement!  

A few of the happenings in the past month: Governor Cuomo announced a plan to introduce college programs into 10 New York State prisons. There was immediately an enraged backlash demanding, “How can you give prisoners a free education when kids outside prison can’t afford to pay for college?” Lots of noise, with neither side mentioning the fact that this is an extremely limited program which will be available to only a small fraction of the state’s prisoners. Smoke and mirrors, or a tiny victory? A bit of both, pointing to the need for our movement to push for full restoration of funding for prison higher education programs, and to challenge the “fighting over crumbs” setup by the 1% who own the whole cake.

Following the rapid growth and visibility of the anti-solitary movement in New York and around the country, the New York Civil Liberties Union announced an agreement with the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to limit the use of solitary confinement. NYCLU agreed to put a two-year hold on its anti-solitary lawsuit against DOCCS, and DOCCS agreed to allow independent expert study of the system and to implement some immediate reforms, including diverting juveniles, disabled adults, and pregnant women from solitary. Changing in order to stay the same? Maybe not, if we have a movement strong enough to build on our successes and insist that this is only the beginning of what needs to change.

On the national level, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled “Reassessing Solitary Confinement II: The Human Rights, Fiscal and Public Safety Consequences,” which included testimony by experts, advocates, and – remarkably! people who have actually endured solitary confinement.

Practically every mainstream publication, including the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and even the Smithsonian, has had something to say about prisons in the past month. The New York Times has run a series of editorials, op-eds, and comments, including an editorial on parole that lifted its wording direct from the mouths of our movement advocates: “The fact of a crime never changes, but the person who commits it can, and often does. This is the basic principle of parole...” 

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen reviewed a new book by Columbia Professor Robert Ferguson titled Inferno, an Anatomy of American Punishment, which includes this quote: “America doesn't just punish its criminals. It demonizes them. It turns them from men [and women! –ed.] into monsters so that it then may feel justified in treating them so.”

The backstory to why the media and politicians have finally been forced to pay lip service  to the horrors of the U.S. system of mass incarceration: years of relentless organizing, by hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals. It will take much more of that organizing to bring about the deep and permanent changes that real justice demands. Whether you are inside the walls or outside, the movement for prison justice needs you to be part of that work.



11.  Fighting a struggle that is worthwhile

When problems make themselves known or suggestions are sought, we must always be ready to offer sound solutions.  If we don’t, solutions offered by others will almost always displease us, and future generations will suffer.  We are engaged in a struggle that is worthwhile.”


By Anthony,  who drafted a bill which he sent to AM O’Donnell in response to his statement at the Dec. 4 Assembly Parole Hearing, regarding reentry or transitional facilities for individuals who have served long sentences, to help them prepare for their Parole Board hearings. 




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