Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Sunday, December 06, 2015

December 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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Posted December 17 - conversation between Rapper Killer Mike and Bernie Sanders.


Dear Reader,
It’s the Holiday Season, when most of us find something special to celebrate.  Although I always succeed in spending some happy time with my family, I can’t forget my friends in prison, and their families at home - if they still have any - for whom I can imagine the holidays are not a totally merry or happy time.  Many of you in that situation appear to manage to make the best of it, which is a gift of inspiration for me, but I imagine there are times when you’re alone and in pain.  I’m sorry.

Nevertheless, we humans are amazing in our ability to hang on to hope in the darkest hours.  Although he isn’t a Deity, Vaclav Havel, a former political prisoner in Czechoslovakia who after release became the President, wrote the following in a letter to his wife while he was incarcerated and his words help me during those moments of despair everyone feels now and again, and I hope they will do the same for you:

"Either we have hope or we don't; it's a dimension of the soul. It's an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart.  [It is] the ability to work for something because it is good, not because it stands a chance to succeed.  The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper the hope is.  Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense. 

What faith means to me is simply this: it is a particular state of mind, a state of persistent and productive openness. ...Everything meaningful in life, though it may assume the most dramatic form of questioning and doubting, is distinguished by a certain transcendence of individual human existence - beyond the limits of mere 'self-care' - toward other people, toward society, toward the world.  Only by looking outward, by caring for things that, in terms of pure survival, one needn't bother with at all... [only] by throwing oneself over and over again into the tumult of the world, with the intention of making one's voice count -only thus does one really become a person, a creator of the 'order of the spirit,' a being capable of a miracle: the recreation of the world." 
With lasting hope,  Judith, your editor


Table of Contents
  1. Parole News - October release rates.
  2. Judge Lippman to be replaced by Westchester County District Attorney Janet DeFiore if the Senate confirms the Governor’s appointment.
  3. Safe Parole Act attracts attention at the Assembly’s Hearing on Oversight of DOCCS.
  4. Notes taken at Assembly Hearing give a sense of the well organized gathering to explore the options for oversight and investigation of NYS’s criminal justice system.
  5. Collateral damage in the wake of this past Spring’s escapes from Clinton Correctional Facility
  6. NetWORKS reports on testimony submitted by the NYS Prisoner Justice Network in support of Oversight for the NYS Board of Parole.
  7. The essential elements of effective correctional oversight, by Michele Deitch, from her testimony to Assembly
  8. The Correctional Association calls for legislation to support independent oversight and investigation processes
  9. Breaking down the Box to give people with criminal convictions a fair chance at being hired.
  10. The limits of Criminal Justice reform: Joseph Margulies argues that we need not just fewer prisoners but better principles.
  11. The Fortune Society’s Castle Garden Apartments: an oasis in an affordable housing desert.

1.  Parole News - October Release Rates
OCTOBER 2015 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS DIN #s through 2001  
unofficial research from parole database
October 2015 Interview Summaries
Interviews
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year to Date Release Rate
Initials 
20
6
14
32%
32%
Reappearances
65
14
*51
22%
25%
Total 
85
20
65
24%
26%
* includes 3 Special Consideration (de novo) denials  and one merit time denial

October 2015 - Initial Releases
Facility
Age
Age @ Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Fishkill
44
20
25-Life
Mrd 2
Initial
Fishkill
49
27
25-Life
Mrd 2
Initial
Fishkill
42
21
23-Life
Mrd 2
Initial
Southport
52
29
25-Life
Mrd 2
Initial
Woodbourne
60
33
28-Life
Mrd 2
Initial
Woodbourne
70
46
25-Life
Mrd 2
Initial


October  2015 reappearance releases
Facility
Age
Age @ Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Attica
64
40
25-Life
Mrd 2
3
Cape Vincent
57
25
20-Life
Mrd 2
9
Cape Vincent
42
20
22-Life
Mrd 2
2
Clinton
47
23
20-Life
Mrd 2
4
Fishkill
53
29
15-Life
Mrd 2
6
Fishkill
46
22
15-Life
Mrd 2
6
Fishkill
61
44
18-Life
Mrd 2
8
Fishkill
54
26
28-Life
Kidnap1
2
Fishkill
45
21
20-Life
Mrd 2
4
Hudson
63
44
16-Life
Mrd 2
3
Sing Sing
42
20
20-Life
 Mrd 2
3
Taconic-female
46
29
17-Life
Kidnap1
2
Woodbourne
46
24
19-Life
Att Mrd1
3
Woodbourne
45
23
23-Life
Mrd 2
2



October 2015 - Age at Commitment
Age Range
Total Seen
Released
 Denied 
Rate of Release
Year-to-Date Release Rate
16-20
12
3
9
25%
29%
21-25
26
7
19
27%
27%
25+
46
9
37
20%
11%
Total
84
19
65
23%
21%



October 2015 - Over 60 at Time of Hearing
Age Range
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied 
Rate of Release  
Year-to-Date Release Rate
60-69
16
4
12
25%
25%
70-79
6
1
5
17%
18%
80+
0
0
0
0%
0%
Total
22
5
17
23%
23%




2.  Janet DeFiore will succeed Judge Lippman, who is retiring on December 31st

 Governor Cuomo has nominated Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore to succeed Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman as both the chief administrator over the state's court system and as chief judge of New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. 

Cuomo’s nomination is subject to confirmation by the state Senate. The Senate has never rejected a nominee for the Court of Appeals sent it by a governor since the current merit selection process to the court began in 1979.  The Senate has 30 days to act on Cuomo's nomination.

DiFiore, 60, served as both a Supreme Court and County Court judge in Westchester County before her election as the county's chief prosecutor in 2005. She was initially elected as a Republican, but switched her enrollment to the Democratic Party in 2007.

Lippman is stepping down because he reached the state's mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 in May.




3.  Progress report on the Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act
The group silently enters Roosevelt Hearing Room C in the Legislative Office Building of NYS’s Capital (site of the  Assembly’s Hearing on Oversight of DOCCS), carrying signs demanding, “PAROLE REFORM NOW!”,  to remind the people in the room not to overlook the need for Oversight of the NYS Parole Board, one part of DOCCS that especially needs monitoring and oversight because the Commissioners continue to ignore the intent and letter of the law, with no apparent fear of repercussions (unlike the men and women appearing for their Parole hearings, who have paid for theirs)  (See more in Article #6)


4.  Assembly Hearing on Oversight of DOCCS
On December 2 the NYS Assembly's Standing Committee on Correction, chaired by Danny O'Donnell, presented a public hearing to examine and investigate oversight of the Dept of Corrections and Community Supervision, which became a topic of public conversation when two men from Clinton C.F. escaped this past Spring.  

The Committee's description of the intent of the hearing:
In June 2015, two inmates escaped from Clinton C.F. with the assistance of a civilian employee.  In the aftermath of the escape, nine correction officers were suspended pending investigation.  The Governor directed the State Inspector General to conduct a thorough investigation to determine all factors in the escape of the two inmates.  Historically, although not expressly authorized in statute to maintain its own inspector general's office, DOCCS has conducted its own investigations internally.  Additionally, the State Commission of Correction has the ability to inspect correctional facilities and make recommendations concerning the safety, security, health and sanitary conditions in those facilities, and is responsible for investigating and reviewing inmate deaths.  The Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs is responsible for monitoring the quality of mental health care provided to inmates with serious mental illness and DOCCS' compliance with the law governing diversion of mentally ill inmates from segregated confinement.

This hearing will investigate oversight of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and examine both the internal and external options for independent investigations to ensure the safety of staff and inmates, and guarantee the integrity of the Department.  

[Transcripts become available 1-2 months after the hearing.  At that time you may send a request to Tana Agostini, Analyst, Correction Committee, New York State Assembly, 80 South Swan Street, 11th Floor,  Albany, NY 12248

It was a well attended event,  although NYS DOCCS , scheduled to be a Witness, did not appear (due to the court case still pending) causing Assemblymember O’Donnell to adjourn the first part of the meeting until a later time when the State Inspector General’s report is completed and made public.

The hearing proceeded from the didactic, through the academic, followed by descriptions of Oversight methods in Indiana and in the United Kingdom and Wales, to the story of Samuel Harrell’s murder, as told by his families’ legal counsel, and concluding with two very sad and painful stories by the mothers (not acquainted previously) of men suffering from mental illnesses (which was also true of Samuel Harrell), who were given inadequate medical care and lied to and abused by staff as well, until both of the mothers feared for their son’s lives.  For anyone who arrived thinking independent oversight was unnecessary, by this point they were likely to have changed their minds.
Witnesses were Karen Murtagh, EO of Prisoners Legal Services;  Michael Mushlin, Esq, Professor of Law, Pace Law School, and Co-Chair of the American Bar Association’s Subcommittee on Independent Correctional Oversight;  Charlene Burkett, Corrections, Indiana, USA, Chair, Corrections Subcommittee, U.S. Ombudsman Association;  Kate Eves, Independent Oversight Consultant, United Kingdom and Wales;  Jonathan Moore, Esq. Counsel, Family of Samuel Harrell (in the past represented the Central Park 5);  Terry Sartoris, son in prison;  and Tami Bell, also a parent. 
The day started with Karen Murtagh, who talked about the many letters PLS received in the aftermath of the escape of Mr. Matt and Mr. Sweat from Clinton Correctional Facility; letters -mostly from Honor Block- describing brutal interrogations inflicted by law enforcement trying to get information about the escape.  Ms. Murtagh stated that PLS is having difficulties adequately representing their Clinton clients due to the lack of record keeping at Clinton;  there were no records of the transfers from cells, of the interrogations, or reports of the abuse.  One FOILed document PLS did get had so much blacked out that there was little left of any use.
Ms. Murtagh called for oversight of facility hearing officers, the grievance process, zero tolerance for staff on inmate assaults, tracking of all staff movement, installation of videos and cameras in areas where there are none, and finally and most importantly her agency needs unfettered access to evidence to do its job. 

Asking questions from the dais were Assemblymember Danny O'Donnell, Chair of the Assembly’s Correction Committee,  Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, from Queens,  Assemblywoman Addie Russell from the North Country with an office in Watertown;  and from the minority: Assemblywoman Janet Duprey with an office in Plattsburgh and whose district includes Clinton Correction Facility, Assemblyman James Tedisco from the Capital District area, and  Assemblyman Dan Stec, from the North Country where he has an office in Glens Falls (which is not far from Gr. Meadow Prison.)
Professor Mushlin maintained that no system can stay honest without oversight at all levels.  He called for an independent Special Prosecutor to handle staff wrongdoing, and accused the Commission of Correction of having power to exercise Oversight and monitor legislation, but doesn’t use it.  
Written testimony was supplied to the Assembly’s Correction Committee by the speakers and also from individuals and organizations not on the agenda, including NYS Prisoner Justice Network (see Article #6),  Michele Deitch (Article #7), and the Correctional Association, whose over 100 pages of testimony contained, in text boxes throughout, anonymous testimonies from people in prison about the need for prison oversight.  (Article #8)

5.  Collateral Damage
My issue is with DOCCS's overreaction to the escape by transferring men who have been in one facility for ten years to another facility.  One person I know--the founder of a valuable prison group I know of - was transferred to a prison where there are virtually no programs.  This is almost a re-incarceration in the sense that it takes him away from all the activities he participated in, one he founded.  It undercuts DOCCS’  "rehabilitation" by taking someone who has done everything to "rehabilitate" himself and then dragging him away from the very activity that allowed him to live peacefully and in as fulfilled a way as possible, in prison.  This is not only short sighted, but cruel and unusual as far as I'm concerned. 
Anonymous



6.  NetWORKS: The New York State Prisoner Justice Network’sWritten Testimony on Parole Oversight to the Assembly Committee
Assembly Standing Committee on Correction, Public hearing on oversight and investigation of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision,  December 2, 2015

The New York State Prisoner Justice Network (NYSPJN) thanks the Assembly Committee on Correction and Chairperson O’Donnell for accepting public testimony in relation to the Committee’s oversight of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). We would like to address the Committee’s oversight of the Parole Board. The Parole Board, as an operational component of DOCCS, falls under the oversight responsibilities of the Committee on Correction.

NYSPJN respectfully requests this opportunity to call the Committee’s attention to multiple ways in which the Parole Board is not in compliance either with the legislation which is supposed to govern its functioning or with the interests of justice and public well-being. We are interested in exploring how Committee oversight can meaningfully enforce such compliance

NYS Prisoner Justice Network’s interest, as our name implies, lies in justice. We believe that over-incarceration and endless punishment of women and men who have served long sentences and have demonstrated readiness to productively return to their communities do not serve the interests of justice and community well-being.

Endless punishment appears to be the model adopted by the Parole Board, in clear contravention of the intent of the legislature as expressed in Executive Law. Executive Law, both before and after it was revised by the Legislature in 2011, requires the Board to consider a number of factors, including the severity of the instant offense, in deciding on whether to release a parole applicant, but allows the Board discretion in allocating different weights to these various factors. In practice, in most cases of A-1 violent felony convictions, the Board barely gives a perfunctory nod to all factors except the instant offense, giving all other factors in essence a weight of zero. This practice makes a mockery of the law: why would the legislators bother to include a long list of factors in order for the Board to give them a weight of zero?  
In its 2011 revision of Executive Law §259-c(4), the legislature required the Board to promulgate new procedures in making parole release decisions. Such new procedures to be adopted "shall incorporate risk and needs principles to measure the rehabilitation of persons appearing before the board, the likelihood of success of such persons upon release, and assist members of the state board of parole in determining which inmates may be released to parole supervision." The clear intent of this change in legislation was to effect a change in the practices of the Parole Board – from a backward to a forward focus.
No such change has been forthcoming. No regulations were promulgated by the Parole Board at all until 2014, when – urged by this Committee at a public hearing – the Board finally released draft regulations for public comment. The draft regulations referred to the 2011 legislation but allowed the Board to continue its longstanding practices virtually unchanged. The Board, as required, accepted public comments on the proposed regulations, and received an unprecedented flood of comments in opposition to the draft regulations. The comments – nearly two hundred of them -- overwhelmingly urged the Parole Board to promulgate regulations which would effect a change in practice from past to future focus in its release decisions. The Board, as it is apparently permitted to do by statute, ignored the overwhelming weight of the public comments just as it ignored – and continues to ignore – the plain intent of the Legislature. Is the public comment process supposed have any meaning, or is it merely an outlet for venting?  Perhaps the board feels it has the discretion to assign public comments whatever weight it wishes, and it assigns them zero. What is the point of a public comment process? Surely the Parole Board’s flagrant assertion of its right to be a law unto itself, in defiance of both the Legislature and public opinion, merits legislative oversight? 
Since the revision of Executive Law in 2011, and similarly since the promulgation of regulations by the Parole Board in 2014, the practice of the Board has remained essentially the same as it has been for the past decade. The Board’s release rates for A-1 violent felony offenders remain in the low 20 percents. This despite a large body of new research that confirms that older prisoners who have served long sentences have by far the lowest recidivism rates of any component of the prison population, less than 1% for new violent felonies. There is a growing public consensus that revenge is not appropriate public policy. These older prisoners who have served decades are suffering (and costing the public money) for no public benefit. 
For extensive information on this research and its implications, see the report, "Aging in Prison: Reducing Elder Incarceration and Promoting Public Safety," published by the Center for Justice at Columbia, and available on line at http://rappcampaign.com/solving-the-crisis-of-aging-in-prison-a-collaborative-report/.

The courts have been divided on whether and to what extent they have jurisdiction to correct the injustices of the Parole Board. There have been cases in which courts were obviously outraged by the Parole Board’s flaunting of the intent of the legislation, but overall the results of litigation have not fundamentally altered the behavior of the Parole Board. Often, the court sends the parole applicant back for a new hearing, and the Board denies again, applying the very same process that resulted in denial the first time –in one case even resulting in a contempt citation for the Board (see Cassidy v. New York State Board of Parole, 2255/14). Litigation has not proven effective in solving the problem.

New York State Prisoner Justice Network and over 100 other organizations and several hundred individual petition signers have endorsed legislation that would address these injustices: the SAFE Parole Act, S. 1728 and A. 2930. We thank Chairperson O’Donnell for his support of this bill and urge the Committee to make parole reform a priority in the coming legislative session.

The practices of the Parole Board in denying parole to people who have served their time and are no danger to society, in defiance of the Legislature, the public, the courts, and scientific research, cry out for oversight, enforcement, and corrective legislation. We believe these remedies are the responsibility of the Legislature and specifically of this committee. New York State Prisoner Justice Network, and indeed an entire movement of advocates, incarcerated people, families and communities adversely impacted by the harm wrought by the Parole Board, look to this Committee for effective intervention to uphold law, justice, and common sense in parole decisions.



7.  The Essential Elements of Effective Correctional Oversight
From the written testimony of Michele Deitch to NY Assembly Standing Committee on Corrections on Correctional Oversight of the NYS DOCCS 
Michele Deitch currently serves as the Co-Chair (along with Professor Michael Mushlin of Pace Law School) of the American Bar Association’s Subcommittee on Independent Correctional Oversight. She is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin with a joint appointment in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and the UT School of Law. An attorney by training, she has spent her 29-year career working on issues related to prisons and jails. Much of her research over the last decade has focused on independent correctional oversight, and she has authored numerous publications on this topic, including helping edit OPENING UP A CLOSED WORLD: A SOURCEBOOK ON PRISON OVERSIGHT, a special volume of the Pace Law Review (30 Pace L. Rev. (Fall 2010))
The American Bar Association’s policy spells out 20 key elements for effectiveness of which the most critical of those features are as follows:
(1) The oversight body must be independent of the correctional agency, and able to do its work without interference or pressure from the agency or any other body. “Independence” is a complicated concept, but it includes:

    • structural independence—The entity does not report to the agency head; it is    situated outside of that reporting structure. Moreover, the agency has no control over the release of reports or the monitoring entity’s resources.
  • fiscal and physical independence—The oversight body should not be co-located in the correctional agency and its staff should not include correctional agency personnel. Nor should the oversight body be reliant on the correctional agency for budget support, infrastructure support, Internet services, or email. 
  • true independence—The oversight entity needs strong leadership with the backbone and resolve to stand up to the head of the correctional agency and any political pressure that may exist, and to report candidly on problems and concerns. A term-limited tenure for the head of the monitoring body can be helpful in this regard. 
  • perceived independence—The public—and prisoners, especially—must perceive the oversight body as independent of the correctional agency under review, and not susceptible to pressure. 

(2) The oversight body must have a mandate to conduct regular, routine inspections of the facilities under their jurisdiction, and the authority to investigate, and issue reports on, a particular problem at one or more facilities. 

(3) Monitors must have a “golden key,” giving them unfettered and confidential access to facilities, prisoners, staff, documents, and materials, and they should have the ability to visit any part of a facility at any time of day without prior notice. 

(4) The oversight body must be adequately resourced, with sufficient staffing (e.g., attorneys, investigators, and support staff), office space, and funding to carry out their monitoring responsibilities, and the budget must be controlled by the monitoring entity. 

(5) The oversight body must have the power and the duty to report its findings and recommendations in a timely manner, in order to fulfill the objective of transparency, and it should control the release of its reports. 

(6) Monitors must use an array of methods for evaluating the treatment of prisoners, relying on observations, interviews, surveys, and other methods of gathering information from prisoners as well as on statistics and performance-based outcome measures. In other words, this is not a paper review, and there must be a focus on the well-being of inmates. 

(7) There must be a means of fulfilling both the investigative function and the monitoring function, in order to provide accountability for past wrongdoing in individual cases and to prevent future problems. These functions need not be performed by the same oversight body. 

(8) The correctional agency must be required to cooperate fully with the oversight body and to respond promptly and publicly to its findings. 

These factors are far more critical than whether an oversight entity is set up as an independent governmental body, a legislative committee, an Ombudsman, an Inspector General, a non- governmental organization, a lay citizens’ oversight group, or a court-created monitoring structure. What structure is chosen for any given jurisdiction must necessarily take into account the culture and norms of that jurisdiction and the oversight mechanisms that are already in place. Each way of structuring a monitoring entity presents its own challenges, often involving trade- offs between the extent of independence and the ability to be effective.

There is some disagreement among experts in this field as to whether a monitoring body should have enforcement authority when it comes to the power to compel implementation of its recommendations. My own view is that such enforcement authority is neither essential nor desirable for a monitoring entity. The investigation and monitoring functions should not be confused with a regulatory function. Monitors are not managers, and they are not policy-setters; they should not exercise control over an agency or its staff, for in doing so they become yet another layer of management. Enforcement should come from a regulatory body, a budget- setting body (such as the Legislature), or the courts. In contrast, the monitor’s strength comes from the power of persuasion, not control.

8.  From the Correctional Association’s written testimony
Because the Correctional Association is the oversight agency with whom Prison Action Network is most familiar, and because CA was not one of the witnesses, we are concluding our coverage of the Oversight Hearing with these suggestions from their written testimony, in a section which advises that:
The legislature should support oversight and investigations wholly independent of New York State, including by the federal Department of Justice (DOJ), United Nations bodies, the Correctional Association of NY, independent PREA auditors, local community monitors, and the courts. 
Given the entrenched and pervasive brutality occurring throughout NYS prisons, coupled with the widespread infliction of solitary confinement, the legislature should support the call for a statewide systemic investigation of NY prisons by the federal DOJ as the most likely body to carry out a fully independent and comprehensive evaluation. 
The legislature should also mandate that DOCCS allow and help facilitate the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and other United Nations agencies to visit prisons in New York to investigate the use of solitary confinement, brutality, and other abuses, particularly given the repeated unsuccessful attempts by the Special Rapporteur to gain access.
Further, given existing restrictions on the CA’s ability to carry out its nearly 170-year- old legislative mandate to monitor conditions in NY prisons, the legislature should augment the CA’s authority, including by authorizing the CA to carry out unannounced visits and have full timely access to documents, staff, and incarcerated persons; and by requiring DOCCS to publicly respond to the CA’s findings and recommendations and, if it agrees, document and take corrective action. 
In addition, the legislature should consider adopting a model of community oversight based on the Independent Monitoring Boards in the United Kingdom, where local community members have unfettered access to monitor, investigate, and oversee each prison. Furthermore, the legislature should strengthen the ability of incarcerated persons to bring legal cases through the judicial system. Moreover, the legislature should adopt some of the positive aspects of federal PREA auditing guidelines in developing independent oversight mechanisms for all forms of abuse, while rectifying some of the substantial limitations of the current PREA audit process.”


9.  Breaking Down the Box
by Karima Amin

At its monthly meeting on November 30, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. considered “breaking down the box,” not to be confused with the campaign to “ban the box.”  Banning the box is about ensuring that people with criminal convictions have a fair chance to work. To date, 19 states and over 100 cities (including Buffalo) and counties have taken steps to remove barriers to employment for qualified workers with records. Breaking down the box is about dismantling solitary confinement, a form of imprisonment that isolates a prisoner from any meaningful human contact. While it has been cited as a measure of protection for a prisoner, it is a form of punishment that has far-reaching ramifications. Men, women, and children, who are subjected to this form of punishment, experience a form of psychological torture that can be abusive to mind, body, and spirit.

When a prisoner is relegated to isolated confinement, aka solitary confinement, this person is confined to what is commonly known as the box, the hole, the bing, the shu (special housing unit or secure housing unit), [pronounced “shoe”], or lockdown. Generally speaking, this means that a person will spend 22 to 24 hours a day in segregation, in what is typically a 6’ by 9’ cell.  One or two hours may be used for showering or exercise. Time in the box may be one day or several decades.

In the past, PRISONERS ARE PEOPLE TOO, INC. has devoted several programs to increasing our understanding of solitary confinement and what we can do to fight against this practice. Most recently, in January of 2014, CAIC  (the NY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement) came to Buffalo and conducted two workshops to share information about this form of extreme isolation, in our state prisons and local jails, and the campaign against it. Although it has been proven that solitary confinement is a damaging practice, New York utilizes this mode of punishment at rates well above the national average.

On November 30, we gathered for a screening of “Breaking Down the Box,” a documentary film about solitary confinement, produced by NRCAT (the National Religious Campaign Against Torture). In the past we have screened “Solitary Confinement: Torture in Your Backyard” (also a NRCAT film) and “Herman’s House,” a film about Herman Wallace, a political prisoner who died in 2013 after 41 years in solitary confinement. Guest speaker, Mr. Sha-teek Howse  from Buffalo, NY, who spent 20 years incarcerated in New York, some of it in solitary confinement, shared his thoughts about mass incarceration as well as some insights regarding isolated confinement. Mr. Howse, who was released 3 years ago, has recently published a book,  WHAT DID I SAY?, which chronicles his struggles as well as his successes.   
This was our last meeting of 2015.   The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng are the sponsors of this program. For further information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org or BaBa Eng, g.babaeng@yahoo.com.


10.  BOSTON REVIEW, The Limits of Criminal Justice Reform
We need not just fewer prisoners but better principles. And we need to follow them.
By Joseph Margulies, Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. It’s a long article which we have only space  to summarize:
Joseph Margolies talks about how the current conversation about decreasing the prison population focuses on the symptom rather than the disease.  He points out that proposals aimed at population-cutting rather than principle are dangerously incomplete. He writes that, “Halving the prison population is a laudable goal, but population-cutting initiatives mistake a symptom for the sickness.” ...Instead of adopting certain principles of living together, we expect prisons, punishment, and control to solve social problems of poverty, lack of opportunity, and mental illness. ...

He suggests that principles, not simply numbers, are the only lasting solutions to a broken criminal justice system and names three principles without which he asserts we will fail. But first he warns us that along with our rights, people also have an obligation to not harm others, and because that will never be entirely eliminated, we will still need police, prosecutors, and prisons. In other words, he says, “we do not need to abolish the criminal justice system; we need to transform it.”  
His three principles are:
1. People have a right to be treated with dignity
Since the end of the Second World War, dignity has become a staple of international human rights discourse. In the first line of its first article, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims, “All individuals are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Less than six months after the Declaration was adopted in 1948, the Federal Republic of Germany passed its constitutional law, the Grundgesetz, which announces, “Human dignity is inviolable. To respect it and protect it is the duty of all state power.” Comparable passages dot constitutions, charters, and basic laws around the world.

2. Communities deserve to thrive
For decades, we have been killing the communities we are trying to save. Saturation enforcement encourages police stops for trivial violations in order to create opportunities for street-level interrogations and searches. The result is that nearly half of black men—and 40 percent of white men—under the age of twenty-three have arrest records, which can have long-term social and economic consequences. Just a weekend in jail has been shown to have serious adverse effects. Yet according to data assembled by the Sentencing Project, as many as one in three Americans has been arrested or convicted of a crime. In spite of this, the policies of the past few decades could conceivably be justified if they were the product of local, self-determined choice. But the men and women living in the communities ostensibly served by saturation enforcement strategies are often the people who object to them most vehemently. For too long, their voices have gone unheeded. Instead, criminal justice policy has been designed and imposed by those least affected by crime, by distant politicians and pundits who do not so much experience disorder as imagine it. So in addition to giving large swaths of the community a needless criminal record, and in addition to destabilizing the community through the incarceration cycle, modern criminal justice policy strips a community of its political voice.
3. Government has an obligation to be fair
To be fair is to be even-handed. Two people who commit the same offense, or who commit different offenses that cause equivalent harm, or who otherwise present the same claim for some right or privilege in society, may not be treated differently. As simple as this seems, it has proven impossible to achieve, in part because of the legacy of discrimination. The most careful research consistently shows, however, that formal, overt discrimination of the sort that poisoned criminal justice in the age of Jim Crow plays a small part in the modern criminal justice system. Today, the problem is more insidious. Instead of Bull Connor, we are confronted with what sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls “racism without racists”: the culturally embedded and far-reaching lattice of implicit biases and racialized practices that both derive from and perpetuate stereotypical assumptions about black criminality.

Margolies says that once we adopt those 3 principles, the written laws will be observed. “Yet, if genuine transformation of the criminal justice system is at last upon us—if we finally accept dignity as humanity’s irreducible core, demand that government be truly fair, and insist that communities be permitted to thrive—the written law will follow. But if we still have not arrived—if instead of transformation we seek only modest reform that leaves our symbolic demons intact—then no written law can bridge the divide between reality and aspiration.”

To read the complete article please visit:          [http://bostonreview.net/us/joseph-margulies-criminal-justice-transformation]



11.  Fortune’s Castle Gardens 
Completed in 2010 and owned by The Fortune Society, Castle Gardens not only provides stable supportive housing for the formerly incarcerated, but also a real option in terms of affordable housing for the community.
Located at 625 West 140 St., the 110,000-sq.-ft. Castle Gardens is adjacent to the not-for-profit Fortune Academy (“The Castle”), a nationally recognized residence for homeless individuals with a history of incarceration.
The 11-story Castle Gardens offers 114 units (including 50 studio units) of affordable, permanent rental housing to Fortune clients and other low-income residents. All units are designated for residents earning below 60% of area median income, while rental subsidies through Section 8 and NY/NY III make many of the units affordable to residents with little or no income. In addition to residences, the new building also includes 20,000 square feet of office, meeting, and community space to house supportive service programs for the residents.
The building follows rigorous green design standards. An extensive green roof features a rain water harvesting system and allows residents to take advantage of unobstructed views of the Hudson River.
Every year, thousands of men and women are released from jails and prisons with no place to go and no preparation for reentry into society. Many of these folks have family to support who may also be in need of stable, supportive housing. Castle Gardens not only provides the housing, the counseling, and/or the needed trainings, but in doing so, it also provides a platform for building a life.
[ Al Jezeera English recently produced a video about reentry issues which featured a resident at the Fortune Society.  You may view it at: http://tinyurl.com/oenmqrt  ]

The Castle (Fortune Academy),  630 Riverside Drive,   New York, NY 10031
No walk-ins accepted at this location.  Please call or visit our main office in Long Island City.
(212) 691-7554  Mon-Thurs: 8am - 8pm,  Fri: 8am - 5pm

Castle Garden  625 W. 140th St.  New York, NY 10031
No walk-ins accepted at this location.  Please call or visit our main office in Long Island City.

Please call or visit our main office in Long Island City.
29-76 Northern Boulevard. Long Island City, NY 11101







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