Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Wednesday, November 04, 2015

November 2015


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

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During the month we post late breaking news and announcements here, so please check back now and then.  Scroll down now to go directly to the October newsletter.

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November 10  Posted by National Lawyers Guild Parole Preparation Project

The Parole Preparation Project is an all-volunteer collaboration with people serving life sentences in New York State prisons to support them as they prepare for upcoming Parole Board interviews.

Since July 2014, the Project has trained over 100 volunteers to work alongside 50 parole applicants to develop written advocacy materials and prepare for Parole Board interviews. In the past year, the Board has granted parole to 10 of the 24 Project collaborators who have had interviews -- a Project-related release rate of 41%!


Welcome Home Celebration and Fundraiser: November 19th
7pm-9:30pm at The Commons Brooklyn
 388 Atlantic Ave (between Hoyt and Bond)
Brooklyn, NY 11217 

On November 19th, we are hosting our second annual Welcome Home Celebration and Fundraiser. We'll celebrate the homecoming of people released on parole and raise funds to cover the costs of prison visits, postage, phone calls, volunteer trainings, speaker stipends, and internships. There will be food, drinks, music, guest speakers, and great company! 

Suggested donation: $10 - $100 (n
o advance tickets and donations are made at the door, but no one turned away for lack of funds).

Please RSVP on Facebook.




November 6  Posted by Sheila Butler

A Change.org petition to the NYS Parole Board to correct errors in Frank Povoski's parole file so he can get a safe and fair Parole Board evaluation.

 Please sign the petition to lawfully release Frank Povoski 





Building Bridges November 2015


Dear Reader,

I have always thought ending mass incarceration was a moral and ethical issue, not a financial one.  The economy may change for the better.  Will that mean going back to building more prisons and hiring more guards?  Meanwhile, it’s the taxpayers that absorb the cost, not the politicians or the corporations, and when have you ever known the money saved to go toward providing the taxpayers with free education, free health care, and affordable housing? 

In my opinion, Americans are locking other American citizens in cages -smaller than what zoos require for animals -and act like it’s okay.  Well, it’s NOT!  That so many of my incarcerated friends have survived intact has always impressed me immensely, but that doesn’t make it ok.  We must let the world know that we think mass incarceration is evil!  And always will be, regardless of the cost.
The Editor 

Table of Contents
1.  Parole News - A1VO September release rates, decisions in the Linares, Olmosperez, and R. Williams court cases, and an administrative appeal victory.
2.  Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act - More signatures and a report on four major events (3 on the same day!) which move us closer to our goal.
3.  Parole and Incarceration statistics and quotes for use in educating others.
4. The work needs you!  Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. joins forces with VOICE-Buffalo and together they are building a stronger community presence which is making a difference.
5.  Clemency and Judith Clark

6.  NetWORKS reports on Albany City’s non-indictment of police officers in the taking of another innocent Black Life.
7.  Families are also doing time (and don’t we know it!).



1.  Parole News - September Release Rates, Linares, Olmosperez, and R.Willams court decisions 
SEPTEMBER 2015 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS DIN #s through 2001  
unofficial research from parole database

September 2015 Interview Summaries
Interviews
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year To Date Release Rate
Initials 
25
6
*19
24%
32%
Reappearances
80
***16   
**64
20%
25%
Total 
105
22
83
21%
27%
* includes 1 medical denial
** includes 1 Parole Violation
***1 special consideration, and 1 rescission reinstatement

September 2015 Initial Releases
Facility
Age
Age @ Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Attica
44
20
25-Life
Mrd 2
INITIAL
Fishkill
41
26
16-Life
Mrd 2
INITIAL
Fishkill
54
57
33-Life
Mrd 2
INITIAL
Marcy  *
47
24
25-Life
Mrd 2
INITIAL
Otisville
72
48
25-Life
Mrd 2
INITIAL
Sing Sing
47
28
25-Life
Mrd 2
INITIAL 
* Rescission release

September 2015 Reappearance Release Rates
Facility
Age
Age @ Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Albion-female
39
23
18-Life
Mrd2
2
Bare hill
43
23
20-Life
Mrd2
2
Collins
58
32
15-Life
Mrd2
7
Fishkill
66
27
25-Life
Mrd2
*9
Fishkill
46
26
20-Life
Mrd2
2
Fishkill
63
32
25-Life
Mrd2
5
Gouverneur
55
28
25-Life
Mrd2
3
Green haven
70
44
15-Life
Mrd2
7
Otisville
60
38
20-Life
Mrd2
3
Otisville
40
24
15-Life
Mrd2
2
Sullivan
48
21
2-7
JO Mrd1
13
Wende
64
28
20-Life
Mrd2
10
Woodbourne
46
24
20-Life
Mrd2
3
Woodbourne
43
22
15-Life
Mrd2
5
Woodbourne
52
30
15-Life
Mrd2
6
Woodbourne
51
22
25-Life
Mrd2
4
* Deport

September 2015 - Age at Time of Incarceration
Age Range
Total Seen
Released
Denied 
Rate of Release
Year-to-Date Release Rate
16-20
20
1
19
5%
30%
21-25
40
8
32
20%
27%
25+
44
13
31
30%
9%
Total
104
22
82
21%
21%


September 2015 - Over 60 at Time of Hearing
Age Range
Total Seen
# Released
#Denied 
Rate of Release 
Year to-Date-Release-Rate
60-69
18
4
14
22%
25%
70-79
7
2
5
29%
18%
80+
2

2
0%
0%
Total
27
6
21
22%
23%



In Matter of Linares the Court of Appeals was asked to determine the very important question as to whether the Parole Board can continue to whimsically give no weight to low COMPAS risk and needs assessment scores, or whether, when they override a COMPAS score, they must give articulable reasons.  Parole applicants, their families, advocates, lawyers, judges and the legislature have been waiting for more than two years for this issue to be settled. Despite giving every indication at oral argument that they understood what the Parole Board was doing was wrong, the Court of Appeals copped out, refused to address the merits, excusing their inaction on procedural grounds.  In essence the Court of Appeals told Mr. Linares to start the process all over again, and present his argument to the Parole Board.  

Alan Rosenthal, one of the attorneys representing Mr. Linares, said of the Court’s decision, “it underscores the need for the legislative reform of a very broken parole system.”

Linares Decision:
The order of the Appellate Division should be affirmed,without costs. Petitioner challenges the validity and potential application of certain regulations of the Board of Parole which address risks and needs assessments and related matters (see 9NYCRR 8002.3 [a]).  However, the Board promulgated those regulations after its determination here and has not had an opportunity to consider petitioner's arguments. Given the impact that a determination of petitioner's claims will certainly have in this and future cases, the more prudent course is to leave the propriety of the regulations to be raised in the first instance before the Board (see Walton v New York State Dept of Correctional Servs, 8 NY3d 186, 197 [2007]; Schiavone v City of New York, 92 NY2d 308, 317 [1998]; see also Red Hook/Gowanus Chamber of Commerce v New York City Bd of Stds, 5 NY3d 452, 461-462 [2005]). Because, under the particular circumstances of this case, none of petitioner's statutory and regulatory claims are reviewable on appeal at this juncture, we express no opinion on the merits of those claims.

Two responses to the decision:
  • To be optimistic, if they accept a new parole case, where the hearing took place after July 30, 2014, when the Board promulgated their “regulations”, we could then be reasonably assured they would get to the merits (unless some new, bizarre procedural issue presents itself).

  • A jailhouse lawyer submitted the following suggestions for future parole appeals:
Because the issue was not decided on the merits, anyone who is challenging their parole denial in the future should make sure that in addition to whatever other issues they have, if the issue which Linares brought up in the Court of Appeals applies to them, then that person would do well to make sure to preserve it (bring it up) in their appeal.  

Our advice:  Don’t skip your parole hearing!  Even a denial can be an opportunity for systemic changes. 

Readers with computer access can find the Linares (or other case’s) brief and reply brief at the Court of Appeals website .    Easy directions:

Google (nys court of appeals).  It will be the first link that comes up.  
Once in : 
Click on COURT PASS Public Access and Search System. It is on the right of the screen.
NEXT click on the  SEARCH  box ( left box on screen)
NEXT enter the name you are searching for in the "Search by party name" box (Ex: Linares) and hit enter.
NEXT should see the name of the person you’re searching for with a SELECT box next to the name - click on select.
Now (scroll down a little) you should see a list of all the documents that are available with select boxes on the far right of each one and can select which ones you want to look at and/or print. 
Also, the webcast is on there as well as the transcript of the oral arguments.


Olmosperez v. Evans, No. 205 SSM 18
In the Matter of Noel Olmos-Perez,  Appellant v Andrea W. Evans, Respondent.
          Submitted by Cynthia H. Conti-Cook and Caroline Hsu, for appellant.
          Submitted by Frank Brady, for respondent.

Essentially the same decision for the same reasons as Linares:

MEMORANDUM:
          The order of the Appellate Division should be affirmed, without costs (see Matter of Linares v Evans, __NY3d__ [decided today]; Matter of Silmon v Travis, 95 NY2d 470, 476 [2000]).
On review of submissions pursuant to section 500.11 of the Rules, order affirmed, without costs, in a memorandum.  Chief Judge Lippman and Judges Pigott, Rivera, Abdus-Salaam and Fahey concur.  Judge Stein took no part.  Decided 10/22/15 

Cheryl Kates, Esq. won an administrative appeal for a client, on the issue of whether the parole board has to have a TAP or some other case plan, before making a decision.  It is the same issue that was decided in Garfield regarding COMPAS.  In Garfield the board must have a COMPAS before it, but they don’t have to give it any weight.  Same thing with TAP.  The Board must have it to look at but can decide to give it no weight.   The Board has routinely turned down the appeals when it was someone who came into the system prior to 2011, the year that TAP statute went into effect.  That is because they take the position that a TAP is only done when a person comes into the system after 2011.  But it was inevitable that eventually a case would come before the Parole Board where the person was relatively new in the system and there actually was a TAP or case plan.

 As we know, even their own new regulations require consideration of a TAP or case plan if one exists.  Lawyer Kates had a case in which there actually was a case plan, but it was not given to the Parole Board, and they therefore did not consider it.  Her case does not stand for the proposition that the parole board must have a TAP or case plan before it makes a decision, but only stands for the much more limited proposition that if a case plan or TAP exists, the Parole Board must consider it.

Since there was a case plan prepared by the ORC, but it was, for some reason, never provided to the Parole Board, the Parole Board, on administrative appeal, decided to give the person a de novo hearing, at which the parole board would consider the case plan.  (Building Bridges does not know the identity of the client, so we won’t know how the de novo hearing turns out.)  It does not appear this decision by the Parole Board has any broad application.


Matter of Williams v. N.Y. State Parole of Board, 145418, NYLJ 1202740105386, at *1 (Sup., ST. LAWRENCE, Decided September 30, 2015 by Justice S. Peter Feldstein.  Judgment Pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules

Rudolph Williams, an inmate at the Gouverneur Correctional Facility challenged the May 2014 determination denying him discretionary parole release and directing that he be held for an additional 24 months. 

On June 19, 1975 he was sentenced in Supreme Court, Kings County, to an indeterminate sentence of 20 years to life upon his conviction of the crime of Murder. After having been denied discretionary parole release on nine previous occasions petitioner made his tenth appearance before a Parole Board on May 21, 2014. Following that appearance a decision was issued again denying him discretionary parole release and directing that he be held for an additional 24 months. The May 2014 parole denial determination was written in the boiler plate language that Building Bridges readers are familiar with.

Citing Executive Law §259-i(2)(c)(A), as amended by L 2011, ch 62, part C, subpart A, §38-f-1, effective March 31, 2011, 
Mr. Williams advanced a variety of arguments in support of his ultimate contention that the May 2014 parole denial determination must be overturned. The Court was most concerned with the assertions that the May 2014 parole denial determination lacked sufficient, non-conclusory detail. The Court was struck by the fact that the Parole Board's conclusions were merely a recitation of portions of the language set forth in Executive Law §259-i(2)(c)(A) and the lack of even minimal insight into how the Board's consideration of the statutory factors led to its ultimate conclusion that denial was warranted.  Citing Hamilton v. New York State Division of Parole, 119 AD3d 126, the Court was left to speculate as to whether or not the Parole Board engaged in such a weighing process since the parole denial determination is silent on this point which is particularly troubling since several of the factors it mentioned bear no apparent relationship to the facts and circumstances of petitioner's case. While the Parole Board purported to take note of "LETTERS OF SUPPORT, DEGREE OF COMMUNITY OPPOSITION [and] SENTENCING MINUTES," no letters of support or expressions of community opposition appear to be included in the record before the Court and the 1975 sentencing minutes were specifically referenced as being unavailable. The Supreme Court granted the petition in Sept 2015, “without costs or disbursements, but only to the extent that the May 2014 parole denial determination is vacated and the matter remanded for prompt de novo parole release consideration not inconsistent with this Decision and Judgment”.

[We visited the DOCCS and Parole Board Calendar websites and both say that Mr. Williams will see the Parole Board in November 2015  and that it will be his initial hearing, which puzzles us.  The parole decision he is appealing was his tenth.]


2.  Progress report on the Safe and Fair Evaluations Parole Act


More legislators sign on: Comrie, G.Rivera, and Serrano in Senate (now up to 9) and Barron in the Assembly (now 21)

Three major promotions which took place in October definitely moved us closer to passing the SAFE Parole Act: the 2015 Family Empowerment Tour Stop in Rochester, the Myth of the Dangerous Criminal conference, and the Parole Justice-NY Brunch
The Rochester Family Empowerment Tour stop, a joint effort of Prison Action Network and Milk Not Jails (as part of Parole Justice NY) on October 17 brought out an energized group of people: families, formerly incarcerated people, prison volunteers and other advocates, all of whom were determined to change Parole Board policies.  We talked about ways to approach legislators using our personal stories of the harm we’ve experienced at the hands of a parole board that continues to add time to a person’s original sentence instead of looking at who they are at this time.  These stories cannot be argued with, and their reality shines light on how the Parole Board inflicts unnecessary pain on us, and by continuing to do so are basically saying that its ok to abuse us.  We are arguing that it’s not right to torture us and tear apart our family structures!  We’re basing our conversations on what we know best: the harm caused by abusive parole board practices, not on the legislator’s possible objections to the bill. 

By the end of the day, the participants, all of whom had not previously known each other, arranged to have another meeting, on Saturday Nov 7 in Batavia, to use some of the information and materials we had shared to move forward as a united force in Rochester, supporting fair and equitable NYS parole board hearings. For more info please contact Ann at Spiritvibes66@yahoo.com] 

The ParoleJusticeNY Brunch, held a week later, on October 24th, was hosted by New York State Prisoner Justice Network, Release Aging People in Prison, Prison Action Network, and Milk Not Jails. Also represented were Prison Families Anonymous of Long Island, National Action Network Second Chance Committee,  the National Lawyers Guild’s Parole Preparation Project, and many formerly incarcerated individuals and prison family members.  

Designed as an opportunity for members of the newly formed coalition to meet each other face-to-face, and hopefully to attract new people to the work of passing the SAFE Parole Act, it succeeded on all fronts.  Altogether we were 25 people who had time to catch up with some old friends and to meet new ones. 

Most of the day’s discussion focused on ways to bring more incarcerated people into the strategic planning aspect of our work.  Parole Justice NY will be having monthly meetings, mostly by phone.  We will be sending invitations to prison organizations by mail, and the prison organizations that are interested will be sent our monthly reports and will send back their input - in time to be included on the next month’s discussion.  Stay tuned and urge your friends and families to get involved.  
**************************************************************************
Note to friends with ideas for passing the SAFE Parole Act:  

ParoleJusticeNY is the place to bring those ideas, so they will reach a larger group of advocates who are poised and ready to move forward in new ways.  We have monthly meetings by phone at 7:30pm on the third Monday of each month.  Our next call is on November 16. Bring your ideas and don’t be shy.  We welcome fresh voices and fresh ideas.   [for the number, please contact Prison Action Network (518 253 7533) or one of the other member groups listed above]

*****************************************************************************
www.ParoleJustic.org is a good place to visit to take action immediately.  Remember, it will take more than a few people to succeed at bringing you or your loved one home when you or they are community ready.  It will take thousands of people from all over NY State!

The Myth of the Dangerous Criminal Conference, - the work of Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College of Criminal Justice,  American Friends Service Committee,  JustLeadershipUSA,  Prison Ministry of Riverside Church,  Think Outside the Cell  Foundation  and Prison Action Network - took place later on the same day. The event was a well attended and enthusiastically received exchange of ideas for changing the public perception of people with criminal histories.  The exercises led by the Theatre of the Oppressed NYC were energizing, the diversity of the speakers resulted in fresh ideas and new observations, and the questions from the audience, in combina-tion with answers from the diverse group of speakers, led to further insights into overcoming the significant barrier we who believe in justice face on a daily basis, as we promote our criminal justice causes. 

Speakers included (in random order): Ismail Nazario, Bruce Western, Ronald D. Simpson-Bey, Baz Dreisinger, Kharon Benson, Glenn Martin, Rev. Edwin Muller, Khalil Cumberbatch, Robert Fulllilove, Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Ana Oliveira, Marlon Peterson, Ravi Ragbir, Jeff Smith, Jesse Wegman, Sara Bennett.


The Annual Awards Banquet hosted by Citizens Against Recidivism , a fourth event, was also held on October 24th.  Although it did not focus specifically on Parole Justice, it certainly shined a light on the shortcomings of current Parole Board policies, by honoring 8 formerly incarcerated people - some of whom were released after many parole denials based on their crime - who have not become a danger to society or returned to criminal behavior of any sort. 

With all the other events happening on that day some of us were not able to attend this year’s event.  What we missed was hanging out with eight amazing individuals who were awarded for transforming their lives and returning to their communities as positive influences so that others may come home from prison with a community ready and able to support them.
We missed hearing the keynote speech by Tanya R. Kennedy, Acting Supreme Court Justice and Supervising Judge of Civil Court, New York County but it’s good to know she was able to meet so many people who had moved from a criminal history to being award-winning model citizens.  Hopefully it will inform her future decisions.
Community heroes Charles Rangel, Senator Bill Perkins and a host of other dignitaries were on hand to give well wishes to this year’s honorees, with whom many of our readers are acquainted.  
Those who were honored:  Mary Johnson, Yolanda Morales, Anisah Sabur, Khalil Cumberbatch (who also had been a speaker at the Myth of the Dangerous Criminal event earlier in the day), Victor Pate (who was at the Brunch),  Dr. Samuel Arroyo, Mark Graham and Ricky Jones.   
We’re moving forward!  The drums of justice are sounding!  It’s time to get involved, in whatever way you can. 




3.  New York State Incarceration and Parole – some quick statistics and quotes
NYS Prison and Jail Populations
  • State prison population 2015: 53,000
  • Local jail population 2015: 25,000
  • Total state and local incarcerated population in New York State June 2015: 78,000
  • African Americans and Latinos/as as percentage of prison population: 75%
  • Elder (over 50) population: 9,500 (an increase of 81% since 2000)
“I am reminded of Elmina, the Portuguese slave fortress, located on the West coast of Ghana from which enchained afrikans were led through its infamous ‘door-of-no-return’ to the holds of waiting slave ships. I too feel as though I’ve walked through a door-of-no-return.”—Herman Bell, Black Liberation Movement political prisoner in his 40th year of incarceration, Great Meadow Correctional Facility

Board of Parole Caseloads 
  • First appearances: 6,000-9,000/year
  • Reappearances: 4,000 – 6,000/year
  • Total case load: 10,000 – 15,000/year
“I have been in prison for 29 years. My parole hearing took 4 minutes.” – Anonymous 

Release Rates
  • First appearances: 30%
  • First appearances, non-work release/shock program: 20%
  • Reappearances: 16-20%
  • Totals: ~20%
“You go without any discipline record, complete everything, and they still hit you at the board. If a person has changed and it shows, how can you ever get out from under your past history?” —person incarcerated at Groveland Correctional Facility.

Release and Recidivism
  • Recidivism rates for people over 50 years of age who have served 10+ years: Less than 1%
  • Parole board releases for older long-term prisoners: less than 20%
  • The majority of denials are for factors the applicant can never change (nature of the crime, prior criminal history).
“This parole board based its denial of parole on the commissioners’ personal opinions regarding the nature of the offense. A parole interview is not supposed to be a retrial.” – Justice Frank J. LaBuda, ruling in the case of Dempsey Hawkins

Sources for statistics: Correctional Association testimony at Assembly Corrections Committee hearing on parole, Scott Paltrowitz, December 4, 2013; NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision; and website of Release Aging People in Prison, www.rappcampaign.com



4.  The Work Needs YOU!
by Karima Amin

Here in Buffalo there are meetings, forums, panels, rallies, gatherings, demonstrations, teach-ins and conferences everyday.  On a daily basis, those of us who care about social justice are scrambling for time, stretching our energies, and striving to make Western New York, and the world, better.  There is so much work to be done and it often appears that the workers are few. No doubt, most of us have discovered that our solo efforts may be minimally productive. Coalitions can be chaotic at times but a strong coalition with a defined mission can be successful in a major way.  That is why Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. joined VOICE-Buffalo two years ago.

In 1996, VOICE-Buffalo was born when a group of clergy identified congregation-based organizing as a strategy for change. Moving forward, with the motto: “Faithfully bringing forth Justice,” VOICE-Buffalo has been able to bring people together in an interracial, urban-suburban coalition of more than 45 faith-based congregations, as well as community, business, and labor leaders throughout Buffalo and Erie County.  

VOICE-Buffalo has a proven track record of rallying local leaders, congregations, and businesses together in holding policy makers and power players accountable. In 2013, VOICE-Buffalo stood with us in our desire to improve conditions at the Erie County Holding Center as well as our aim to bring restorative practices to our county jails.  In 2014, VOICE-Buffalo championed our desire for conditional release that would allow some individuals in our county jails to be released before the completion of their sentences with certain conditions and wrap-around services in place for successful reentry. This year, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. is especially concerned with the need for providing healthcare to returning citizens. VOICE-Buffalo agrees. This means that more than 45 entities agree with us. As one organization, we have power. With VOICE-Buffalo we have more power and a stronger community presence.

We didn’t have 1100 attendees as we hoped, but there were more than last year.  We joined together with faith in our power to hold our public officials accountable.  

PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO had these 4 goals in mind:  
1. Providing healthcare to returning citizens, 2. supporting our allies who are working to·address Violence in the Community (Buffalo Peacemakers), 3. Workforce Diversity and Workforce Development, and  4. Extending Public Transportation.

We are especially concerned with providing healthcare to returning citizens. We received an Open letter from the Erie County Holding Center Superintendent, Thomas Diina , pledging his support.  Jennifer Nichols, representing Kalieda Health, read a statement agreeing to pay for two navigators to go into our two county jails to sign people up for insurance or Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

One of the Buffalo Peacemakers, Tina Sanders, talked about the need to fund the Peacemakers who have been working as volunteers since August 9. The Mayor, Byron Brown has verbally pledged the City's support BUT.....no word about when the $$$ will be forthcoming. Peacemakers are always on the job. They deserve more $$ and respect!

Directors of several agencies, hiring formerly incarcerated people and willing to hire more, stood up to say that they would continue to do do so.  Apparently, there are CNA jobs and similar positions available in several of the nursing homes and hospitals in some of our first ring suburbs, but there are no bus routes to get city folks to these jobs. No NFTA (Niagara Frontier Transit Authority) folks showed up so it looks like we will have to march on the NFTA's headquarters to get them to see that there is a need and we can fill it. There is a simple fix: extend 2 bus routes to 5 x a day. The increased ridership will pay for it. 

A VOICE-Buffalo member, from one of the member churches in Clarence, NY spoke very eloquently about the need for qualified folks to fill the bill. Her mom is in one of those nursing homes that is begging for more workers...……

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
Karima Amin, 716-834-8438



5.  Clemency and Judith Clark
 After seven years, Sara Bennett is transitioning off of the campaign to release Judy Clark, who has served 34 years for driving a getaway car in the robbery of an armored car. Three people were killed by the robbers.  Although she has led an admirable life in prison, Ms. Clark will not be eligible for parole until 2056, when she is 107 years old. The governor is sitting on an application of over 1,000 pages to shorten her sentence. 

Students of the CUNY School of Law Public Defenders Clinic and their Professor, Steve Zeidman, are taking on the task that Sara started and nurtured.  In a recent email notice from them, the students said about the Governor’s decision to grant 4 clemencies, that, “While we are thrilled that the Governor is finally listening to the demands of his constituents, we are saddened that Judy was not among those released. However, this is an unprecedented moment in our campaign. We have the attention of the Governor and his staff who have made new promises to grant clemencies every quarter.”  [According to Alphonso B. David, the governor’s chief counsel, requests would be reviewed four times a year, and the governor’s office is asking superintendents at all the state’s prisons to suggest prisoners for consideration.]

Professor Zeidman was quoted in a NY Times article by Jim Dwyer, “Where do notions of mercy and redemption fit when we are talking about people convicted of violent crime?” referring to Judith Clark.   "[The governor] would have to decide if mercy and justice are parallel forces, aimed toward equally honorable destinations” he added.

[The Campaign] wants Governor Cuomo to know that Judy is not only worthy of clemency because of her accomplishments in prison, but because “she is an inspiration to each of us.”  They also want to remind the Governor that the continued incarceration of aging and elderly people, who pose no risk to public safety, goes strongly against principles of mercy and justice. In addition, denying release to aging people contradicts all efforts to reform the criminal justice system that are currently underway to reduce the number of people in prisons and jails.

They are asking that you please take time this weekend to send a letter to the Governor’s office to demonstrate the commitment and diversity of Judy’s supporters. Send letters to the Governor at the following address:
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York State, NYS State Capitol Building,  Albany, NY 12224



6.  NetWORKS: The monthly column of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network
We STILL Can’t Breathe: Justice for Dontay Ivy

(We interrupt the regularly scheduled topic of this column – Part II of SAY HER NAME – for an emergency response to yet another non-indictment of police officers in the taking of another Black Life That Matters.)

Shortly after midnight on April 2, 2015, Donald “Dontay” Ivy died after being unconstitutionally stopped, violently assaulted and tasered by Albany, NY police officers. 

On October 28, 2015, Albany County District Attorney David Soares announced that a Grand Jury had decided not to indict the three officers involved in Ivy’s death.  

In a letter Soares wrote to Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan describing the results of his investigation into the incident – which he referred to as a “scuffle” – Soares did not share any specifics of the testimony or evidence obtained by or presented to the grand jury. Given that District Attorneys are almost always able to obtain indictments from Grand Juries, it seems likely that D.A. Soares did not seriously attempt to obtain an indictment. 

Soares’ report was a whitewash, accepting the police account at face value and barely mentioning a need to “review” police department training and policies except for recommending more cameras. In a joint press conference with Soares, Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox said the three officers had not violated any policy and this was not a case of racial profiling.  

Another Black person is dead at the hands of white police officers, and no one did anything wrong. 

Dontay Ivy left his house to check his account at the local ATM for his benefit funds. Finding they were not yet available, he was on his way home when he was accosted by Albany police officers. 

D.A. Soares spends a lot of space in his report detailing his office’s unsuccessful attempts to find non-police witnesses and useful video or camera images for what happened next. Most of the information he presents comes from the police officers themselves. But the officers’ own account presents a horrifying – and unashamed -- picture of a violent police assault on an innocent unarmed man who was minding his own business and presented no threat to anyone. It is not clear why any additional information would be needed to indict these officers -- and the policies, training, departmental culture, and societal racism that led to Dontay Ivy’s death. 

As described in the Soares letter, the officers presented their account of ridiculous hunches (he looked suspicious because he was wearing a puff jacket with his hands in the sleeves and the temperature was “not that cold” at 26 degrees) and wildly escalating police violence as if it was normal and acceptable policing policy and practice – which apparently it is, since both the D.A. and the Police Chief found nothing wrong with it. 

The officers were not looking for a suspect – no crime had been committed. The police account establishes that the officers violated Mr. Ivy’s rights from the moment they accosted him. They had no reasonable, articulable suspicion Mr. Ivy had been, was, or was about to be engaged in criminal activity, the constitutional requirement for a police stop to be lawful. When asked to show his hands – to prove he was not concealing a gun in the sleeve – Mr. Ivy complied. At that point the officers, with zero grounds for suspicion of anything, changed their theory: if he was not concealing a gun, he must be concealing drugs. No racial profiling? 

At each stage of the confrontation, the officers used the fear they created as an excuse to escalate to more violence. With no grounds for suspicion, they started a pat search, and when Dontay moved his hands, they tried to put handcuffs on him, and when he resisted the handcuffs – not a crime, since he was not under arrest – they assaulted him, attempted to throw him to the ground, and tasered him. Then he began to run (also not a crime) with three officers chasing and repeatedly tasering him. Finally the officers threw him to the ground face down, beat him with batons, tasered him some more, and cuffed his hands behind his back. Mr. Ivy still had done absolutely nothing illegal or threatening and was not under arrest. The officers – there were five of them now -- describe him being “disruptive” – screaming, flailing, and arching his back – so they continued to beat and taser him, and decided to shackle his feet. After he was shackled, they said, he finally “calmed down,” and shortly afterward they rolled him over.

Dontay Ivy was dead.

The coroner said Dontay died of a stress-induced heart attack brought on by the confrontation, with tasering a contributing, but not the only, factor. The D.A. found an “expert” from out of state to say that death is not a “reasonably foreseeable” result of tasering (although it has killed at least 800 people, not counting police cover-ups). Dontay’s underlying heart condition and mental illness were said to be contributing factors, and perhaps they were – but you would not have to be mentally ill to panic in that situation. 

Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration (CAAMI) led a demonstration of several hundred people at an Albany police station soon after Dontay Ivy’s death; and another one on October 30th, two days after D.A. Soares announced the non-indictment. Voices were raised in pain and rage, including the heartbroken voices of Dontay’s friends and family. Demands were made for the officers to be fired, the D.A. to resign, the APD to stop using Tasers and be disarmed.  Led by passionate young activists of color, the protesters vowed to continue and intensify their protests until fundamental changes are made. 

But many wondered, will anything ever change? Is our Black Lives Matter movement having any effect? Aren’t things just getting worse? Why haven’t we been able to stop this nightmare? How do we keep on in the face of such despair? 

Words were passed in the night from one activist generation to the next: What we do makes all the difference in the world, even when we are not strong enough to win. What if no one said that Dontay’s death is an outrage? What if the visible reality were controlled by the story that police killing people of color is normal, is justified, isn’t racist? We couldn’t prevent them from killing Dontay but we prevented them from killing his story. His life matters. Our witness that Dontay’s life matters changes the face of reality. We haven’t won yet, but as long as we keep on showing up for justice, we haven’t lost yet either.  


7.  Families are Doing Time Also
We already knew it, but now it’s official, women often fare the worst:
A survey of families that have a member in jail or prison has found that nearly two-thirds struggle to meet their basic needs, including 50 percent that are unable to afford sufficient food and adequate housing. The report found that costs associated with incarceration, like traveling for prison visits, had pushed more than one-third of the families into debt. The research was conducted by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, Calif.; Forward Together; and more than a dozen community and civil rights organizations that work with incarcerated people.
The focus on the economic hardships endured by families after an arrest is an often overlooked element of the nation’s criminal justice system, where 2.4 million people are in prison or jail — many of them fathers or mothers who were their family’s primary income earners, according to the report.
After an inmate’s release, a criminal conviction often means a family loses its ability to live in government-subsidized housing. And former inmates are barred from competing for various federal student grants and loans and have difficulty finding even menial work.Twenty-six percent of the more than 700 former inmates surveyed for the study remained unemployed five years after their release, and the vast majority of others had found only part-time or temporary jobs, the report said. The findings emphasize the link between imprisonment and poverty, said Azadeh Zohrabi, national campaigner for the Ella Baker Center, a nonprofit group that focuses on racial and economic justice issues.
Previous research has shown that a significant number of prison and jail inmates come from impoverished backgrounds.
“Incarceration weakens the social fabric and disrupts the social ecology of entire communities through the way it disrupts families’ economic stability,” Ms. Zohrabi said. “Often, it leaves it broken beyond repair.”In all, researchers interviewed more than 1,000 former inmates and family members in 14 states and found that court fees and fines, phone and visitation expenses, and commissary costs frequently sink families deep into poverty.  Even public defenders are not always free. Most states permit courts to charge defendants who use public defenders — with costs sometimes rising to thousands of dollars, the report said. Other states charge defendants extra fees for jury trials. The study said that among those surveyed, the average debt for court-related fines and fees alone was $13,607 — more than the $11,770 annual income poverty line for individuals.

The vast majority of prison and jail inmates live at or below the poverty line.  Women — the mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and girlfriends of the incarcerated — nearly always become responsible for the legal and prison costs, the report found.  A recent University of Washington study found that 44 percent of black women and 12 percent of white women have a family member imprisoned, compared with 32 percent of black men and 6 percent of white men.



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