Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Wednesday, June 04, 2014

June 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.

Give someone in prison a gift of love: a Commission on Parole!
Click here to sign our petition asking Gov. Cuomo to establish a Commission on Parole

Too late for inclusion in this month's edition (scroll down to find):

Posted June 5 - from the National Lawyers Guild
The National Lawyers Guild-NYC Mass Incarceration Committee (MIC) seeks volunteers for our Parole Preparation Project. 

This project, in a nutshell, involves volunteers working with long-termers in New York State prisons who have previously been denied parole and who would benefit from counseling and assistance in preparing to go before the Parole Board.  We gather documents and letters in support of our client, and counsel the individual before the Board appearance. 

We are looking for new volunteers! You don't need to have attended a MIC meeting before to participate, and you don't have to be an attorney to volunteer!  This is a great opportunity for students, especially law students (you may even be able to receive credit depending on what school you attend).  We are very excited that this project is moving out of the pilot phase and expanding to include as many parole applicants as we have volunteers to work with them!  
pastedGraphic.pdf

The MIC will hold a training/workshop for new volunteers on Wed. June 11, 2014 at 6:30pm at NYU School of Law's Vanderbilt Hall (Room 220).  Dinner (pizza) will be provided.  Please RSVP via eventbrite.

Email carroll.nora@gmail.com with any questions you may have.  (Sorry no CLE.)


Building Bridges, June 2014

Dear Reader,  

I learned that numbers aren’t everything!  Even though we didn’t have the 1000 people I hoped for at the May 5 Rally and March in Albany, our numbers were enough to show our strength and determination and our love and energy was more than sufficient to unite us for the long journey ahead.  Some people even called it a “love fest”.  As Cornel West noted, we were all there because of our love for the sisters and brothers in prison.    "I would not want to be in any other place than this spot to stand with you and let the world know that we're going to stand with the humanity of our brothers and sisters who are disproportionately chocolate and whatever color they are, we stand with them no matter what the system says," West said. "A nation loses its soul if it becomes indifferent to the suffering of anybody."  


Stay well, stay strong, and please stay in the struggle,   The Editor




CONTENTS (scroll down to find by number)

1.   Parole News:  April Releases and Year to Date percentages;  La Buda decision in John Bruetsch vs DOCCs and Parole Board;  Rome NY Reentry Assistance needed.

2.   Bills, Bills, Bills: Results of May and June Assembly and Senate Committee meetings; a status report on bills not introduced to Committees this session;  HALT bill needs your input and support; the SAFE Parole Act is gaining support in the Assembly, not much in the Senate, and does the Parole Board have the ability to implement it when it eventually passes.

3.   Vote for Oliver Koppell.  Help him defeat the man who changed his allegiance after being elected, joining the Republicans for his own personal gain.

4.  The Inside Story - How many advocates does it take to organize a day like May 5th?

5.  Litigation:  Sponsor’s memo to Assembly Bill 9795 clearly explains the shortcomings of the Parole Appeals Unit. 

6.  Plans for a Candidate’s Forum in August are in the works, organized by Riverside Church Prison Ministry’s Statewide Parole Campaign.

7.  PANDA Take Back Tour on June 7th will include amazing bands and speakers in support of banning provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act.  At the Armory in Albany NY, the first city in the nation to ban implementation of parts of the Act.

8.  June 28 Dance Performance in NYC at the Ethical Society features a joint performance of Figures in Flight 4 (a professional youth dance company based in the Hudson Valley) and Figures in Flight Released (a company formed by 5 men formerly incarcerated at Woodbourne C.F.), both under the direction of renowned dance educator and artistic director Susan Slotnick.



1.  Parole News   APRIL 2014 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES 
A1 VIOLENT FELONIES,   DIN #s through 2001
unofficial research from parole database

April 2014 Summaries


Total Interviews
# Released
# Denied
Release Rate
YTD Release Rate
21 Initials
4
17
19%
19%
92 Reappearances
26
66
28%
28%
113 total
30
83
27%
27%


Age summary April 2014
Total
Denied 
Released
Release Rate  
60-69
13
5
8
62%
70-79
1
1

0%
80+
1
1

0%
Total
15
7
8
53%


April 2014 Initial Releases

Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Fishkill
36
16-Life
Mrd 2
1
Fishkill
40
23-Life 
Mrd 2
1
Sing Sing
42
28-Life
Mrd pre 74
1
Sing Sing
51
25-Life
Mrd 2
1


April 2014 Reappearance Releases

Facility
Age
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Bedford Hills           female
66
15-Life
Mrd 2
3
Coxsackie
65
15-Life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
38
18-Life
Att Mrd 1
2
Fishkill
41
18-Life
Mrd 2
2
Fishkill
54
18-Life
Mrd 2
5
Fishkill
60
15-Life
Mrd 2
3
Fishkill
55
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Franklin
39
20-Life
Mrd 2
6
Franklin
50
15-Life
Mrd 2
8
Gouverneur
58
20-Life
Mrd 2
6
Gowanda
36
15-Life
Mrd 2
2
Gowanda sop(?)
47
25-Life
Mrd 2
6
Greene
56
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Otisville
38
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Otisville
62
10-Life
 Mrd 2
10
Otisville
62
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Shawangunk
47
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Taconic-                      female
43
15-Life
Mrd 2
8
Taconic-                      female
62
18-Life
 Kidnap-1- 
2
Taconic-                      female
69
18-Life
Mrd 2
2
Taconic-                      female
38
15-Life
Mrd 2
2
Walsh Med Ctr 
56
25-Life
Mrd 2
11
Walsh Med Ctr 
59
15-Life
Mrd 2
5
Walsh Med Ctr 
67
25-Life
Mrd 2
4
Wende
42
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Wyoming
53
25-Life
Mrd 2
7


Case of John Bruetsch, Petitioner, against NYS DOCCS,Tina M. Stanford, Chair NYS Board of Parole, and Anthony Annucci, Acting Commissioner of DOCCS

Judge LaBuda from the Supreme Court, Sullivan County ruled that the Board had failed to articulate any reasoning for its decision to deny - which was wholly unsupported by the record - and therefore showed the decision was arbitrary and capricious.  

Some parts of the ruling stood out:  the court noted that the changes to 259-(c)(4) were intended to shift the focus of parole boards to a forward-thinking paradigm;  the requirement for TAP only pertains to people entering the system on or after 9/30/11;  there are 3 things a parole board cannot do:  base decision solely on nature of crime, fail to consider the guidelines, and fail to present their reasons for denying parole in detail; since a murder conviction per se does not preclude parole, there must be a showing of some aggravating circumstances beyond the seriousness of the crime itself.   Judge LaBuda ordered a de novo hearing within 30 days, and for some reason not clear to the writer stated that it “shall consist of at least 2“ parole board members, none of whom sat on the prior hearing.  Exactly 30 days later the hearing took place with 2 commissioners and no consensus was reached.  Duh.

Mr. Bruetsch was represented by Christopher P. Eng., Willis & Ng, PO Box 874, 444 Broadway, Suite 4, Monticello, NY 12701


Reentry Assistance Needed: A gentleman will be returning to Rome NY after 20 years in prison on or before October 22, 2014.  He has no family still living in Rome and his letters to the Oneida County Reentry program have gone unanswered.  Does anyone have suggestions for him of people or agencies in the Rome area who might assist with his reentry needs?  Please send to PAN.



2.  Bills, bills, bills!

Bills considered in May and June by the Committees;  bills that never got out of Committee;  details of HALT and SAFE Parole Acts.

Assembly Correction Committee (O'DONNELL, Chair)   -   Tuesday, May 13, 2014 


Bill Number
Primary Sponsor(s)
Purpose
A.2308/S1789-A
Referred to Ways and Means,

Crespo/Rivera

Establishes pilot project for the placement of inmates close to home 

A.5554  no same as
Referred to Codes
Aubry 

Establishes a certificate of restoration to replace the certificate of good conduct and certificate of relief from disabilities and streamlines the process to obtain such certificate.

A.9285  no same as
Reported referred to Ways and Means

O’Donnell

Directs the Board of Parole to publish its appeal decisions on a public website and create an annual index of such decisions.

A.9286-A  no same as
Reported referred to Ways and Means
O'Donnell


An act to amend the correction law, in relation to requiring structured out-of-cell programming for adolescents in segregated disciplinary confinement

A.9358   no same as
Referred referred to Codes
O'Donnell 


Excludes prisoners under the age of 21 from solitary confinement in New York correctional facilities.

A.9370   no same as
Reported
Sepulveda 

Directs the Board of Parole to add to their annual report the demographic data of persons considered for release

A.9520/S.7138
First report
Russell/Richie


Allows Jefferson County Correctional Facility to hold persons who are under arrest and awaiting their arraignment.

A.9550   no same as
Reported
Rozic

To exclude pregnant prisoners from solitary confinement in New York State correctional facilities.


Assembly Correction Committee (O'DONNELL, Chair)   -   Monday June 2, 2014

Bill number
Primary Sponsor(s)
Purpose
A.3721/ S.1394
Referred to Ways and Means
Robinson/Montgomery
Creates a temporary state commission to study and investigate sexual misconduct in state correctional facilities; to determine any additional safeguards that may be instituted in prohibiting sexual relations between inmates and correctional officers.

A.4585/ S.507
Referred to Ways and Means
O’Donnell / Espaillat


Creates a temporary New York state commission on sex offender supervision and management
A.4591-A/ S3138
Referred to Rules
O’Donnell / Krueger

To update the guidelines of the sex offender risk assessment instrument and requires use of a validated instrument.

A.4595  No same as
Referred to Rules
O’Donnell 


Clarifies when a person convicted of luring a child pursuant to section 120.70 of the penal law is required to register as a sex offender.

A.6074-A / S.6231-A
Referred to Codes
Gunther / Maziarz


This bill changes the sex offender registry so that all of a sex offender's crimes of conviction that require him or her to register as an offender appear on the registry.

A.9285  No same as
PASSED ASSEMBLY
Delivered to Senate

O’Donnell 


Requires parole decisions to be published on a publicly accessible website within 60 days of such decision.

A. 9370   No same as
PASSED ASSEMBLY
Referred to Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections

Sepulveda
This bill directs the Board of Parole to add to their annual report the demographic data of persons considered for release.

A.9550   No same as
PASSED ASSEMBLY
Delivered to Senate

Rozic
To exclude pregnant prisoners from solitary confinement in New York correctional facilities.

A.9501   No same as
Referred to Rules
O’Donnell

Provides that the Board of Parole shall give due deference to the type of sentence, length of sentence and recommendations of the sentencing court when considering the seriousness of the offense as a factor in making parole release decisions.

A.9642 / S.6954
Referred to Rules
O’Donnell / Gallivan


Extends the expiration date to September 1, 2017 to continue to authorize local correctional facilities to enter into contracts for the purpose of boarding certain inmates from other states' local correctional facilities.

A.9745/ S.763
Referred to Rules
Rosa / Montgomery


Allows state prison inmates entering solitary confinement in special housing units (SHU) to make a telephone call upon admission into SHU and at least once per month thereafter.

A.9770 / S.7642
Referred to Rules
O’Donnell / Gallivan


Fixes an incorrect reference to a subdivision number by changing it to the correct subdivision number

A.9795   No same as
Referred to Ways and Means
O’Donnell

Changes the parole appeal process to provide for timely and comprehensive review of parole denials.

PS  If you ever doubt that our voices are heard, think about the December Assembly Hearing on Parole [see Jan. ’14 issue] and notice how many of the bills above appear to be inspired by the testimony given at that hearing, as well as by your letters.


Senate CrimeVictims, Crime and Correction Committee  (GALLIVAN (Chair)   -   Wednesday May 14, 2014
Bill Number
Sponsor/s
Description
S.2612 
No same as
Referred to Finance
Young
Provides that parole violators who are placed in the temporary detention of a local correctional facility shall be held no longer than 72 hours before they must be transferred to a state correctional facility for further temporary detention.

S.6494A /A .8332-B  
Referred to Finance
Ranzenhofer/Sepulveda
Reduces correctional healthcare overpayments, and requires that private health insurance providers and Medicaid are billed for eligible inpatient hospital and professional services.

S.6778A/ A9025-A
1st report Calendar

Ball/Braunstein
Restricts sex offenders from residing near the residence of their victim.

S.7118
No same as
1st report Calendar

Gallivan
Makes conforming changes and technical amendments to various statutes so that the provisions of the Protection of People with Special Needs Act (PPSNA) (Chapter 501, Laws of 2012),  can be implemented in the manner intended.

S.7138/ A .9520  Russell
1st report Calendar

Ritchie/ Russell
Allows the Jefferson County Correctional Facility to hold persons who are under arrest and awaiting their arraignment.

Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction (GALLIVAN, Chair )    Tuesday, June 3
Bill number
Primary Sponsor(s)
Description
S.1789A /A.2308
Reported to Finance
Negative Vote: Richie
Rivera/ Crespo
Establishes a pilot project for placement of inmates close to home; provides that such project would house inmates who are parents of minor children in the correctional facility located in closest proximity to the primary place of residence of any such inmate's minor child or children.

S.2459 / No same as
Referred to Finance
Negative: Hassell-Thompson, Montgomery
Lanza
preventing certain sex offenders who are released on parole or sentenced to probation from entering public, association or free libraries

S.2486A /A.2774
Reported to Finance
Negative: Hassell-Thompson, Montgomery, Rivera

LaValle/ Thiele
Increases from twenty-four to sixty months, the time for which reconsideration for parole for a violent felony offense shall be determined

S.3316 / no same as
Referred to Finance

Hassell-Thompson
Assuring rehabilitation programs for female inmates are equivalent to programs afforded male inmates

S.3582 / A.9210
Reported to Finance
Negative: Rivera
Robach/ Simanowitz
Establishes a public awareness outreach program to provide educational outreach to schools, community groups and clergy on issues related to sex offenders.

S.3697 /A.2314
Reported to Finance
Negative: Hassell-Thompson, Montgomery, Peralta, Rivera

Ritchie/Gunther
Requires parole violators to be transferred to state correctional facilities after 10 days in a local correctional facility

S.4165 /A.6166
Referred to Finance
Negative: Montgomery
Without recommendation: Rivera

Lanza/ Cusick
Requires websites providing sex offender registry information to be searchable by the zip code of a registrant's employment.

S.4994 / A.7001
Reported
Negative: Hassell-Thompson

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

S.5423 / A7933
Referred to Finance
Negative: Hassell-Thompson
Ritchie/Blankenbush
Requires parole violators in the counties of Jefferson, Oswego, and Saint Lawrence to be transferred to state correctional facilities after 10 days in a local correctional facility.

S.5933 / A.1493
Referred to Finance
Negative: Hassell-Thompson, Rivera
Ritchie/Gunther
Requires the commissioner of correctional services to enter into agreements with counties and the city of New York to take custody of inmates serving a definite sentence of more than 90 days to alleviate overcrowding in local correctional facilities.

S.7642/ A9770
Reported
Gallivan/ O’Donnell
Fixes an incorrect reference to a subdivision number by changing it to the correct subdivision number

S.7655A  No same as
Referred to Rules
Nozzolio
Directs the department of correctional services and community supervision and the OASAS to conduct a study to determine the feasibility of converting certain correctional facilities into treatment centers.

S.7656 / no same as
Referred to Rules
Negative: Hassell-Thompson, Hoylman, Rivera
Nozzolio
Eliminating shock treatment for class A-II felony drug offenders


Two more bills of note, which, like the SAFE Parole Act and HALT, have not been presented for a Committee vote:

Bill number
Primary Sponsor(s)
Purpose
 S.3386  No same as
 01/08/14 -  Referred to Crime Victims,      Crime and Correction 
  Sen.Hassell-Thompson
This bill will curtail unlawful discriminatory practices against persons with criminal records and help to ensure that employers abide by the provisions of Article 23-A of the correction law.
A.8574/S.6437
01/23/14 - referred to Correction

01/23/14 - referred to Crime Victims,  Crime and Corrections


Assembly: Peoples-Stokes, Sepulveda, Roberts, Arroyo, Clark, Farrell

Senate:
Montgomery, Espaillat, Hassell-Thompson, Parker, Peralta, Perkins, Sampson, Serrano 
Removes the needless barriers to higher education faced by people with past criminal justice involvement.




The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act Needs Your Input and Support! The New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) is a group of advocates, formerly incarcerated people, and family members of the currently incarcerated. We support sweeping reform of the use of solitary confinement and other forms of isolation in New York's prisons and jails.
CAIC members helped to write the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, A8588A / S6466A, which was introduced in the New York State legislature earlier this year. On May 5, 2014, over 130 of us gathered in Albany to tell our legislators why we need the HALT Act.  The HALT Act seeks to limit SHU time to 15 days, and create an alternative in the form of Residential Rehabilitation Units with programming, therapy, and substantial out-of-cell time. It would ban vulnerable populations such as youth, the elderly, disabled people, and others from being place in the SHU at all.
It may be a long time before the HALT Act is passed and becomes law.  In the coming year, we will be working to educate the public and New York legislators about the problems with solitary confinement and the importance of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act. While we do our work on the outside, we also want to let you know what you can do to help. 
1. Read the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, give us your feedback, and subscribe to our newsletter: We want to know what you think of our efforts, and hear any suggestions you may have. We can send you a copy of the legislation we have proposed. We also have a newsletter that we can send to you, to keep you up to date on our work. Please write to CAIC at the address below. (Please note that due to our limited capacity, we will not be able to provide individual assistance.) 
2. Share your stories: Firsthand stories of life in solitary confinement can help people understand why this practice in inhumane and counterproductive. We sometimes publish stories on our website. Please send your  story to CAIC at the address below (and let us know whether you want us to use your name).
3. Encourage your loved ones to join CAIC: CAIC especially welcomes the friends and family members of people in prison, as well as people who are formerly incarcerated themselves. Please tell your loved ones about CAIC, and ask them to get involved by writing to us at the address below or emailing us at nycaic@gmail.com
Thank you for helping to bring change to New York's prisons and jails!        

 Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, PO Box 541364, Bronx, NY 10454


What’s happening with the SAFE Parole Act?
Here’s where it’s at today:  The Senate Bill, S.1128, has 6 sponsors: PARKER, Espaillat, Hassell-Thompson, Kennedy, Montgomery, Perkins.  The Assembly Bill, A.4108, has 19: AUBRY, Arroyo, Barrett, Brennan, Clark, Crespo, Fahy, Farrell, Gottfried, Hevesi, Montesano, Mosley, O’Donnell, Ortiz, Perry, Roberts, Scarborough, Sepulveda, Skartados.  It hasn’t come up for a vote in either house, and there may not be another opportunity this session.  Without a Democratic majority, it’s unlikely it would pass in the Senate even if it was presented.  Not that Democrats are much different than Republicans who regularly vote as a block, which the Democrats rarely do.  It’s kind of a Catch 22.  The Republicans vote as a block against progressive criminal justice bills, and the Democrats don’t vote as a block for them.

What to do?  Prison Action Network will be working to get good Democrats elected to the State Senate in November, to have a chance at getting decent legislation passed next session.  We hope you’ll get involved.  (See following article)

We still have a lot of educating to do.  It’s been 3 years since the SAFE Parole Act became a bill and the campaign to get it passed began, and we’re still being asked, sometimes even from people in prison, “what about people who committed horrific crimes?  Shouldn’t the parole board be able to deny them based on the crime?”  That would result in re-sentencing and we have to make sure everyone knows that’s not the Parole Board’s job!  It’s the job of the sentencing judge. (The judicial system needs some fixing, to be sure, but that’s not the purview of the parole board or the SAFE Parole Act.).

Denying parole solely on the nature of the crime is nothing more than punishment.  The parole board is not responsible for punishing.  Their job is much more complicated, and it’s not an easy one (that’s why they get a 6-figure salary).  They have to determine whether it’s safe to release the person once they’ve served their minimum sentence.  Have they changed since then?  Are they likely to commit the same crime again?   Have they rehabilitated themselves?  That’s what’s important to all of us: victims, family members, the community.

One could ask whether the current parole board is capable of making that determination.  How would we know?  Their decisions rarely explain why they are denying parole, other than to use the boiler plate language you are all familiar with.  Could it be that they aren’t qualified to make a complex evaluation, so they take the easy way out and use the crime to basically avoid all possibilities of making a mistake.  If so, they’re making parole boards obsolete.  Who needs a parole board if they always base their decisions on the crime?  

One would expect that candidates for the parole board are carefully vetted before the governor appoints them.  But what is the evidence of that?  Do they know how to interpret the law?  What are their evaluating skills?  Are they trained interviewers?  Able to lay aside their personal biases?  Culturally competent?  Do they have a stake in the communities from which most of the people in prison are from?  Are they able to understand a psychiatric or psychological assessment?  Are they problem solvers?  Creative thinkers?  Good researchers?  Do they consider themselves servants of the people?  Those should be the minimum skills and qualities necessary for the position.  If people are hired without those qualities, is it really fair to throw them into a situation so far over their heads, and then leave them to take the heat when the public objects?

Those of us who know a parole applicant; have visited frequently, written voluminously, talked on the phone, watched them mature and transform in front of our eyes;  these are the people the parole board should listen to, since they can never know the person that well.  These are often the people who are going to have to live with the person on parole;  why would they want a dangerous person living with them?  One of our volunteers recently wrote to the Parole Board in support of a mutual friend, and I was convinced it would persuade anyone with a beating heart and a functioning conscience to see the parole applicant presented no risk to society.  

They did not release him.  And they did not provide any reasons, beyond the nature of his crime, for their decision.  They are not the people I want making decisions about anyone’s freedom!  I’m sure most of them are nice people, with good friends and loving families, but they are not in the right profession!  In 2011 the legislature gave the Board direct instructions to create procedures for using risk and needs principles to measure the rehabilitation of persons appearing before them, and to use this scientific tool to assess the likelihood of success of such persons upon release.  They have never, as far as I know, used them to justify a denial.  Why is that?  Could this science-based tool be beyond their abilities to use?

The SAFE Parole Act will not be able to remedy the situation when the people who are charged with following it, are not able to understand it.  It’s time to disband the Board!  Start over.  Create a job description that fits the assignment, take the politics out of the appointments, and get some people in there who have the ability to make the hard decisions required of them.



3.  Vote for Oliver Koppell!

On Saturday May 31 we joined the campaign to take back the Democratic majority status in our State Senate.  Oliver Koppell is running for the seat Sen. Klein traded for more personal power.  We want Koppell to win.  Here it what it says about him on his literature:  He has been a NYS Assembly Member, the State’s Attorney General; chief sponsor of the Living Wage law and co-sponsor of the Family Leave Act.  He helped pass NY’s first law protecting a woman’s right to choose, and more.  He supports comprehensive campaign finance reform, stronger rent regulations and better environmental protections.  

Gathering signatures was fun as well as fulfilling.  The petition is to put Oliver on the ballot for the upcoming Democratic primary election on September 9th.  We were assigned to a shopping mall, where we met an interesting variety of shoppers, most of whom were eager to sign.  Anyone - you too - can sign a petition if you are a registered Democrat in one of these zip-codes:  Bronx - 10462, 10471, 10463, 10473, 10474, 10465,10454, and Westchester - 10550, 10803.   Here’s a link with the zipcode map for the bronx:  http://webspace.webring.com/people/kc/coopcity/coopcity/bxzipmap-r.gif

We’d love meet you on the campaign trail.  There are opportunities to volunteer every day of the week.  If you’re a registered Democrat anywhere in NY State, you are qualified to carry a petition.  If not, there is other work you can do in the office.  Please sign up so they can have work ready for you, and be sure to tell them if you are registered and that you are part of the Prison Action Network team.  I’d love to meet you when I next go to their Bronx headquarters on Tuesday May 10.  You can sign up at www.oliverkoppell.com or call 718 543 3333.



4.  May 5th NEW YORK AGAINST PRISON INJUSTICE: the inside story
by the New York State Prisoner Justice Network

The organizing for the successful May 5th NEW YORK AGAINST PRISON INJUSTICE march, rally, and day of action in Albany began five years ago, with a small group of Albany-based activists, most of us supporters of Black liberation era political prisoners who had been incarcerated for decades. We realized that the problem of prisons included but also went beyond the suffering of the political prisoners. We learned that there were organizations in many corners of the state working on different aspects of challenging racism, abusive conditions, and mass incarceration in the criminal justice system. We thought we could play a role in putting these groups in touch with each other. The core group grew larger as we organized the first statewide prisoner justice conference in 2010, and became the New York State Prisoner Justice Network (NYSPJN), with the goal of bringing together all the diverse groups, communities, strategies, and issues into – a movement! 

We held local, regional, and statewide meetings, forums, meet-ups, conferences, online communications of all kinds, and correspondence with people in prison. In the meantime, a lot of other energy in addition to ours was building throughout the movement and starting to become visible and enter the public dialogue. The concept of “mass incarceration,” and the idea that it is racist and wrong, entered public consciousness with a bang with the publication of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness. In September of 2011, a 40-year commemoration of the Attica prison uprising was held at Riverside Church in New York City with hundreds in attendance. In September of 2012 a gathering of 2000 people at Riverside Church featured Michelle Alexander, Angela Davis, Mumia Abu-Jamal (by call-in) and other powerful speakers. In September of 2013, NYSPJN held a “convergence” (coming together) of representatives of more than 40 anti-incarceration organizations to strategize for movement-building and effective action for change. A commitment to hold a statewide action came out of that convergence.

Throughout this time, the campaigns for particular incarceration-related issues were growing and having an impact on public dialogue – parole reform, ending solitary confinement, releasing elders, raising the age for youth to be kept out of the adult system, challenging the “war on drugs,” and others. A common awareness was growing among many of the activists working on these issues that we were not fighting simply to tweak a law here or modify an abusive practice there, but to fundamentally change the punitive and vengeful underpinnings of the whole criminal justice/incarceration model to one focused on community well-being and valuing each precious life.

So by the time we started to organize for the May 5th Day of Action, we had been laying the groundwork for five years.

We knew we had to make this event large, powerful and visible, and that would be challenging to do in Albany on a weekday. Two ideas emerged early: combine with a group that was already bringing people to lobby in Albany, and obtain a well-known speaker. The result was a fruitful collaboration with the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) and its lobby day; and the speaker was Cornel West -- whose sincere commitment to justice became evident when he immediately agreed to deliver a keynote address, with no fee (which we could not have afforded). 

After that, by conference call and e-mail, little by little a whole set of teams sprang into being as they were needed. There was a central coordination team that met weekly by conference call. Representatives of all the participating organizations were invited to be on it; in practice it usually was a group of about 10 people. The tasks: to choose a date, agree on slogans and collaborators, write a platform, get a keynote speaker, rally permit, sound system, and reception venue, do intensive outreach by flyer, poster, word of mouth, and social media, arrange transportation from New York City and upstate, plan the activities of the day and schedule them not to conflict with each other. Each of the day’s activities needed to fit into the overall plan and also needed its own separate team. The central planning committee planned and organized the rally speakers and timing. CAIC organized a press conference, a full day of legislative lobbying appointments, and two buses from NYC. The NYSPJN-NYC team organized and captained what we originally thought would be one bus from New York City, which grew to three buses and added two pickups in the mid-Hudson. The NYSPJN-Albany team coordinated with upstate groups to make sure there was outreach and transportation to bring people from Buffalo, Binghamton, Ithaca, Rochester, Utica, the North Country, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, and Kingston. In each of these regions, at least one volunteer stepped up to coordinate a delegation, some at the last minute and some who had never been in touch with the Network before. The Riverside Parole Reform Campaign planned and carried out the afternoon Parole Speakout at the Million Dollar Staircase in the Capitol, creating Missing Posters for loved ones denied parole. The Milk Not Jails campaign draped the staircase with necklaces made out of dozens of letters from incarcerated people, tied together on long ribbons.  

There were many tasks that depended on local activists on the ground in Albany. Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration (CAAMI), a small new group less than a year old, stepped forward with amazing enthusiasm and formed teams that ultimately did a huge amount of the on-the-ground work: outreach, media, and social media both before the event and after-coverage; sound system and the performance part of the program; marshals, bus greeters, information handouts, legal observers, the march plan including route, bullhorns, and chants; and the pizza reception -- planning, shopping, ordering, setup, and cleanup for serving some 200 people.

Unexpected help came from many quarters. One was the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a group of street musicians with an array of instruments, who found us on email and wrote offering to be part of our march; they ended up leading it with superb energy, beat, and volume amplifying our chants and signs. 

We did it all with almost entirely volunteer labor. Funds came from donations from individuals and groups, and small grants from RESIST, the Grassroots Exchange Fund, and the Criminal Justice Initiative. CAIC paid expenses for the anti-solitary lobbyers.

The outcome was like an orchestra with each instrument and each section playing its own part, resulting in a complex, beautiful, and powerful symphony. And when it was over, everyone who participated felt that our movement against prison injustice and for community well-being was measurably advanced by this day of coming together and showing our strength, our common purpose, and our determination to continue until we end the unjust incarceration system.


5.  Litigation:  (from Assembly bill A.9795 sponsor’s memo)

When an inmate is denied release by the Board of Parole he or she may file an administrative appeal of that denial to the board's Appeals Unit followed by an Article 78 petition to Supreme Court should the decision be upheld by the Appeals Unit.  Under the board's own rules, the Appeals Unit has 120 days to answer an administrative appeal. An inmate has a right to counsel for the administrative appeals process but not for an Article 78 petition to the court.

According to data from the Board of Parole, in 2012 and 2013, the Appeals Unit received more than 4000 perfected appeals and issued decisions in 2699 such appeals, or roughly two thirds. Of the latter, 2628 decisions were affirmed and 71 were reversed. During those same two years, only 4 decisions were made within the allotted four-month time period while 2695 were decided after the requisite deadline.  Most appeals, 1279, were decided between six and nine months after the initial decision was issued by the board.

In other words almost every inmate who appealed a parole determination had to wait four months while the Appeals Unit failed to make a decision before he or she was able to file an Article 78 petition in court challenging the denial of parole. Of the inmates who eventually received a decision from the Appeals Unit, nearly all of them were affirmations of the board's determination. This is not a meaningful appeal process and is a waste of time for both the inmate and appointed counsel. Additionally, since the board does not currently provide timely administrative decisions to the court, the court is in no worse position by treating the parole board's determination as a final decision.

When an inmate is finally able to file a petition challenging the parole denial, there is usually an additional delay of many months before the board produces a transcript of the parole interview to the petitioner and to the court. The board reports that when they use State hearing reporters, there is an average 4- to 6-month delay before the transcript is received by its own transcription unit. A month or two after the transcript is finalized the attorney general's office answers the inmate's petition and, several months later, the court issues a decision.

 By law a parole "hit," that is, the waiting period before an inmate is eligible to reappear before the board, can be no more than two years.  In most cases, by the time the court is able to make a decision on the petition, the inmate is already scheduled to see the board again.  Very few cases make it to the Appellate Division because the majority of them are moot by virtue of having reached the inmate's next scheduled appearance before the board. By delay, the board escapes review of its decisions.



6.  Next up for the Statewide Parole Reform Campaign—Ending Parole Abuses-Reuniting Families
A candidates’ forum in New York City on criminal justice issues. In this election year, and with so much at stake, the nonpartisan forum will give citizens an opportunity to hear where political candidates stand on parole and a range of other justice concerns.  
The event is tentatively scheduled for 7 pm on Thursday, August 7. The respected New York Society for Ethical Culture has offered to co-sponsor the forum and provide space at its headquarters, at 2 West 64th Street in Manhattan.  Dean Meminger, the criminal justice reporter at NY1, which is a major  television station for political news, has told us he’d like to moderate. He’s checking with his schedulers to see if he can join us.
Candidates for statewide offices and those seeking assembly and state senate seats in certain districts of New York City’s metropolitan area are being invited to speak at the forum. To honor its nonpartisan and educational nature—and to include a range of criminal justice groups and issues—the forum is being organized under the umbrella of Communities for Criminal Justice Awareness. 
New York City was determined to be an ideal place for the forum since, on average, 50 percent of those denied parole are from and would return to the city, and a majority of the nearly 80,000 children in New York State who have at least one parent in prison live in the city’s low-income communities of color. The campaign is urging its allies in other parts of the state to sponsor similar events that ultimately allow citizens to hold candidates accountable on the issues we all care about.
On other fronts, for our social media project “Did You Know…,” please continue to send facts about New York State’s criminal justice system that you think the public should be made aware of.  For example, “Did you know that it costs taxpayers approximately $128,000 to incarcerate one person age 50 and older each year?”  And please continue to ask everyone you know to sign our Change.org petition. By doing so you will be telling Governor Cuomo to overhaul the parole system and send community-ready people home. We’re up to 1,787 signatures. Help us reach 10,000! To gain access to the petition go to www.parolereformnow.org, scroll down and click on the word HERE in red letters. That will take you to our petition “Governor Cuomo: Establish a Commission on Parole in New York State.”   Every signature matters!
To contact the Statewide Parole Reform Campaign: Parole Reform Campaign,  c/o Think Outside the Cell, 511 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 525, New York, NY 10011    thinkoutsidethecell@verizon.net,  877-267-2303 


7.  The PANDA Take Back Tour featuring activists, artists and speakers is coming to Albany!

June 7th at the Armory. Doors open at 3:00 PM. 

The Take Back Tour will feature local bands such as Carl Daniels and Nick Shantell, The Ameros, Stellar Young, Lucky Jukebox Brigade, Appocalypz, JB, Shyste, Ses Da Great, Mic Lanny, Iron Bar Collective, and more, along with national acts such as top rock band Saving Abel, Jordan Page, Lefty Williams Band and Hip-Hop artist Immortal Technique.

Speakers scheduled to appear include Jill Stein, Shahid Buttar, Carl Arnold, Dr. Uma Dhanabalan, Chris Edes, Jesse Calhoun, Hesham El-Meligy, and Dan Johnson of PANDA. 

Since the signing of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), People Against the NDAA (PANDA) has fought to ensure that no American is robbed of his or her habeas corpus rights as the NDAA would allow.  Albany, NY, is the first city in the country to ban the laws of war from applying to non-military personnel, in defiance of detention provisions in the NDAA. 

For more info, check out:  www.takebacktour.com/albany
To purchase tickets, visit:  http://takebacktour.com/product/rustic-justice-ticket/
Watch a promotional video: http://youtu.be/GXiOv3WvedMhttp://youtu.be/GXiOv3WvedM


8. June 28th Dance Performance  Crosses Cultural Divides To Help Youth At Risk of Incarceration  - 
Center for Ethical Culture, Central Concert Hall  2 West 64th Street, Manhattan.  Admission is free with a donation optional.  Performance starts at 7pm and tickets will be available at the box office of the Concert Hall starting at 6pm. Audience will have a chance to join a discussion after the performance about the potential of artistic expression to prevent crime and promote rehabilitation. 

Figures in Flight Released, a group of adult men whose dance training began through a rehabilitation program in Woodbourne C.F. will be joined by Figures in Flight 4, a professional youth dance company made up of high school students from the Hudson Valley.    For further information contact Stephanie Kristal at (845) 750-4438 or Judith at 518 253 7533.

In spite of their obvious differences in race, age, and background, these two groups share something that shines through on stage and in rehearsal: a love of dance, and a commitment to mutual respect between people of all kinds.  They also share a dance teacher and choreographer.  Both companies are being presented under the direction of renowned dance educator and artistic director Susan Slotnick.

In 2012, as the men completed their prison sentences they formed their own company in New York City.  Figures in Flight Released has performed at Vassar College, John Jay College for Criminal Justice, Fordham University, Columbia University and the National Museum for Dance.  Former prisoner Andre Noel is the company’s director.

The teenage dancers of Figures in Flight 4 have been training with Slotnick since early childhood.   Though still in high school, these young dancers are seasoned performers, with a roster of past appearances that includes the prestigious Downtown Dance Festival in New York City’s Battery Park, the National Museum for Dance in Saratoga Springs, and Mohonk Mountain House. 

For further information contact Stephanie Kristal at (845) 750-4438





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