Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

Translate this page:

Sunday, February 05, 2017

February 2017

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 with the reason for your interest.

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 February 2017 newsletter.



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


Building Bridges February 2017



Dear Reader,  Last month we devoted a lot of space to the good things Andrew Cuomo had done.  Our friend Matthew is home, and that’s one of them!  We hope more of you have his good luck.  But then Cuomo turned around and immediately showed his disdain for the families of the people he claims to have compassion toward.  So here’s my other side, Mr. Governor:  WE WILL FIGHT TO KEEP YOU FROM TAKING OUR WEEKDAY VISITS AWAY!  https://www.change.org/p/governor-cuomo-don-t-restrict-visits-in-nys-prisons



An Open Letter to Governor Cuomo, 

I know two people who would probably have died in prison if it wasn’t for your intervention.  So my appreciation for that will never vanish.  But now you are planning to take 5 visiting days away from the families and friends of the men and women who are filling out Clemency requests in maximum security prisons.  Do you have any idea what those visits mean to us?  To the children, parents, grandparents, advocates of incarcerated loved ones?  On weekends the visiting rooms are bursting.  Long waits for impatient 3 year olds and arthritic elders!  And now you are thinking of adding the weekday visitors to the overcrowded visiting rooms?  And disrupting the lives of families who regularly visit on weekdays.  You’re not just punishing the people in prison.  You’re punishing us!  You’re supposed to be protecting us!  That’s why you were elected. We have done nothing to be punished for.  Where’s that heart you claimed to have when you visited Judy Clark?  She is a widely respected and admired person, but she is not the only one.  I know many wonderful people in prison who weren’t able to catch your attention.  People who will remain in prison because you do nothing to rein in the Parole Board from their fantasy that they are judges and juries and make decisions based on their own penal ideology.  A band of scoundrels who operate outside the law!  One day your heart opens, and quickly closes the next.  Ask your friend Judy about visiting days.  Hell, ask me!  If you cut off my weekday visiting days it will be like cutting out my heart!  And there are thousands of New Yorkers who feel the same way.  I hope they take the time to write you at https://www.change.org/p/governor-cuomo-don-t-restrict-visits-in-nys-prisons    because I don’t know anything else that will wake you up!  I feel betrayed....and angry! 

Hoping to be heard,   Judith Brink, Editor

See #1 below for more details about the governor’s plan to eliminate some visits to Max prisons.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Dear reader/open letter
  1. Cutting visiting hours at the maxes
  2. Parole News, Dec. Releases, end of year totals, Dempsey Hawkins, Parole Board and Juveniles, list of commissioners 
  3. Sentencing Project report on aging in prison
  4. 48 of 59 were denied
  5. “Crime” and “Corrections” committee members
  6. Vote for Judith Clark
  7. NetWORKS: Trump, Anti-Trump and.....
  8. The SAFE Parole Act has new number
  9. MAY 10th.  Stand up for Parole Reform and Challenge Incarceration
  10. Welcome to 2017 from PRP2!
1.  Cuomo says he’s cutting visiting hours at maxes!
ALBANY - Inmates at the state's maximum security prisons are facing fewer visits from people on the outside under a proposal by Gov. Cuomo. http://nydn.us/2juQT9j 
Visits will be cut to three days a week, down from seven. He says the change is designed to make visitations at maximum-security prisons “align more closely with medium-security correctional facilities.” Prison Action Network says aligning the better with the worst is a sad goal!  It’s supposed to save $2.6 million by eliminating 39 positions.  Prison Action Network would like to see the figures.   
But it’s not just about money, it’s about families and helping them stay together, especially the children, who would be better off if we placed their parents closer to home and eliminated the need for long boring trips.
Newly appointed Chair of the Assembly’s Correction Committee, David Weprin agrees:  “I don't think it is the humane thing to do,” “It’s really penalizing the families of inmates.” “For inmates, the visitations is their main contact with the outside world and their families.”
Jack Beck, of the Correctional Association of New York, called the proposal an “unwise policy change” that could make prisons less safe by taking away an incentive for inmates to work harder to become better persons.“Visiting is crucial to not only the person inside but also their families,” Beck said. He said many prison rooms are already maxed out under the current schedule. Reducing the days could shorten visits or make it impossible for some to get in at all, Beck warned.“I see a huge downside with very little gain,” he said.
Cuomo budget spokesman Morris Peters said “weekend visitations are the most popular as many families have to travel long distances."  Prison Action Networks finds this a disingenuous statement.  Saying an overnight trip to see a loved one is “popular” reveals the lack of compassion and concern of our government for our situation.
We challenge Morris Peters to prove "This change — which comes with the expanded use of video conferencing — would be a more efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”   The expanded use of video conferencing for parole hearings is cruel and counterproductive, and involves transporting many more people to the video sites.  (Can someone tell us how the video site at Sullivan, for instance, which also services Woodbourne right next door, is saving money?  If the Board’s there already why not just walk -or ride-a short way to interview them in person?)  Families can see through these false claims!Incarcerating people in prisons near their homes would be much more popular and save on non-renewable energy sources in the process. 
The New York City Jails Action Coalition has provided a list of responsible government officials for those who would like to protest the cuts in prison visits:

Gov. Cuomo – can be contacted at:https://www.change.org/p/governor-cuomo-don-t-restrict-visits-in-nys-prisons and at https://www.governor.ny.gov/content/governor-contact-form

Marta Nelson,  marta.nelson@exec.ny.gov - Exec. Dir, Governor’s Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration
Alphonso David, alphonso.david@exec.ny.gov alphonso.david@exec.ny.gov - Gov’s Office, Deputy Secretary and Counsel for Civil Rights
Senator Gallivan, gallivan@nysenate.gov - Senate Chair of Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee, 
Assemblymember D. Weprin, WeprinD@nyassembly.gov - Chair of Assembly Corrections Committee
Senator Avella, Avella@nysenate.gov - Senate Chair of Children & Families Committee 
Assemblymember Jaffee, JaffeeE@nyassembly.gov- Chair Assembly Committee on Children & Families
Mail:   NYS Governor Andrew M. Cuomo,  NYS State Capitol Building,  Albany, NY 12224
DOCCS, Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci
Harriman State Campus, Building 2,  1220 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12226
SAMPLE POSTCARDS/MESSAGES:
I am opposed to New York reducing visit opportunities at our maximum security prisons. This is contrary to creating humane conditions and the ability to assist individuals with reentry. Please do not eliminate week day contact visits. YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS 
Contact visits, family reunions and family programming at our prisons are essential to maintaining community ties, love and hope for a better future. Please do not reduce the visit schedule at our state prisons. YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS

2.  Parole News
December 2016 PAROLE BOARD RELEASES - A1 VIOLENT FELONS DIN #s through 2001
unofficial research from parole database
December 2016 - A1VO Interview Summaries  1 de novo released, 2 denied.

Type
Total 
# Released
# Denied
Rate of Release
Year to Date Release Rates
Initials 
15
4
11
27%
28%
Reappearances
40
12
28
30%
31%
Total 
55
16
39
29%
30%


December 2016 -A1VO Initial Releases by Facility
Facility
Age at Hearing
Age at Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Fishkill
46
23
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Fishkill
49
27
25-Life
Mrd 2
1
Mohawk
40
23
20-Life
Mrd 2
1
Sing Sing
56
26
31-Life
Mrd 2
1


December 2016 - A1VO Reappearance Releases by Facility

Facility
Age at hearing
Age at Commitment
Sentence
Offense
# of Board
Bare Hill
63
41
22-Life
Mrd 2
2
Cape Vincent
57
22
15-Life
Mrd 2
12
Collins
77
46
20-Life
Mrd 2
8
Elmira
62
33
    3-6    ???
Mrd 2
4
Elmira
39
20
17-Life
Mrd 2
4
Fishkill
48
24
25-Life
Mrd 2
4
Fishkill
41
24
15-Life
Mrd 2
4
Fishkill
42
19
25-Life
Mrd 2
2
Orleans
61
28
25-Life
Mrd 2
6
Sullivan
46
19
15-Life
Mrd 2
8
Ulster
66
32
25-Life
Mrd 2
6
Wyoming
44
19
25-Life
Mrd 2
2


December 2016 - A1VO All Over Age 60 Summary
Age Range
Total 
# Released
# Denied 
December Release Rate
Year to Date Release Rate
60-69
13
4
9
31%
26%
70-79
4
1
3
25%
20%
80+
1
0
1
0%
30%
Total
18
5
13
28%
25%



A1VO’s Rates of Release in 2016
Type of release
Total 
# Released
# Denied
2016 Rates of Release
Initials 
225
65
160
29%
Reappearances 
887
264
623
30%
Total 
1112
329
783
30%


ALL Parole Releases (including the A1VOs reported above) in 2016

Type of Release
Total Seen
# Released
# Denied
2016 Rates of Release
Initials
3587
925
2662
26%
All other decisions
3885
1043
2842
27%
Total Interviews
7472
1968
5504
26%


ALL Releases (including the A1VOs reported above) by Age at Commitment in 2016
Age Range
Total seen
Released
Denied 
2016 Release Rates
16-20
185
63
122
34%
21-25
370
120
250
32%
25+
555
145
410
26%
Total  (2 ages unknown)
1110
328
782
28%


Dempsey Hawkins is free...in England

Excerpts:
Dempsey Hawkins spent his entire adult life in New York State prison for a crime he committed on Staten Island in 1976, when he was 16. This August Mr. Hawkins, now 57,  was paroled on the condition that he be deported to England.  Dempsey moved to Staten Island with his English mother when he was 6.  (His only memory is of the rain.)  
An article about his case last year quoted his victim’s family criticizing Mr. Hawkins for showing no remorse. Mr. Hawkins said that was far from true.  “Remorse has been part and parcel with my being since I’ve been in here,” he said. “When I look back at my crime, I’m in disbelief. “I never stop reflecting in one sense or another,” Mr. Hawkins said. “There’s always things to remind me. It never leaves me. My shame of it is absolute. It’s perpetual.”
He said he was in no rush to learn about email and smartphones. “I’m not looking to get into sensory overload,” he said.
Rather, he looked forward to quieter pursuits. “Walking down the street and just walking into a bookstore,” he said.
Upon his arrival in England he met with workers from Prisoners Abroad, an agency that provides support for convicts deported to Britain. 
He was struck by the darkness. Walking outside at night, he got lost. “When you go out in prison at night, it’s floodlit,” he said. “It’s like a baseball game.”
Upon landing in London, Mr. Hawkins was handed a British passport by an immigration official.  “He said, ‘You can go anywhere in the world with this passport but one country,’” Mr. Hawkins recalled. “I said, ‘I got you.’”

The Parole Board and Juveniles
Excerpts from an article in the NY Law Journal, Children Sentenced to Life: A Struggle for the N.Y. Board of Parole

Issa Kohler-Hausmann, Avery P. Gilbert and Christopher Seeds

The Board's proposed new regulations are unlikely to pass constitutional muster.   A sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole imposed upon a juvenile is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
For decades, commissioners on the New York State Board of Parole have denied parole release to reformed and rehabilitated individuals who have served their minimum sentence.  New York's parole scheme does not differentiate, in substance or procedure, its parole release evaluation between persons serving indeterminate life sentences for crimes committed when they were juveniles and persons serving indeterminate life sentences for crimes committed as adults.
The proposed regulation amending NYCRR §8002.1(c)(1) simply lists youth as one of many "factors" that the Board has unstructured discretion to consider and weigh in any fashion it chooses.  
Any adequate regulation would direct the Parole Board to specifically consider the youthful perpetrator's crime in light of such hallmark features of youth as lack of impulse control, a limited ability to plan alternate courses of action, the difficulty young people have extricating themselves from crime-inducing circumstances, and greater susceptibility to peer pressure.
Without the time or resources for thoughtful consideration, many Boards base their decisions solely on the seriousness of the crime-no matter how long ago it was committed or how young the person was at the time of their offense-and deny parole to the overwhelming majority of applicants, sometimes even when there is strong evidence of their rehabilitation. Decades of habituated practice of commissioners focusing on the nature of the crime itself, something taken into account already by a court and a static factor the prisoner cannot change, has not well prepared the New York Board of Parole for its new constitutional obligation to provide "even those convicted of the most heinous crimes" a "meaningful opportunity to obtain release."
The Numbers
How do 13 people provide safe and fair parole evaluations for an estimated average of 700 applicants a month?  That’s almost 60 interviews a day in a 3 day week (on Mondays and Fridays they are busy with other business.) Why don’t we have 19, the maximum number, which could make the job a little more doable?  We can only speculate that the Governor is having a hard time finding candidates - people whom the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee will approve - to fill the terms of the 5 commissioners whose terms expire in 2017, plus 7 more to bring it up to 19 

Name
Originally Appointed By
Date of Original Confirmation
Term Expires
Tina Stanford (Chairwoman)
Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo
June19, 2013
2/6/19
Walter William Smith
Hon. George Pataki
Dec. 17, 1996
7/6/17
James B. Ferguson
Hon. George Pataki
April 12, 2005
7/6/17
G. Kevin Ludlow
Hon. George Pataki
June 21, 2006
6/20/17
Lisa Beth Elovich
Hon. George Pataki
June 13, 2006
12/31/19
Sally Thompson
Hon. Eliot Spitzer
June 14, 2007
5/4/19
Joseph P. Crangle
Hon. David A. Paterson
June 19, 2008
6/18/20
Ellen Evans Alexander
Hon. Andrew Cuomo
June 20, 2012
6/18/20
Marc Coppola
Hon. Andrew Cuomo
June 20, 2012
6/18/21
Edward Sharkey
Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo
June 20, 2012
6/18/18
Julie Smith
Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo
June 19, 2013
2/7/17
Otis Cruse
Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo
June 16, 2015
7/6/17



3.  Keeping ‘old timers’ in prison doesn’t make ethical or financial sense.
The following paragraphs are from a much longer report written by Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Ph.D., Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project. Leigh Courtney, Corey Guilmette, Elizabeth McCurdy, Zack Eckles, and Sami Ghubril, with former interns providing research assistance.
Researchers have shown that continuing to incarcerate those who have “aged out” of their crime-prone years is ineffective in promoting public safety.  Long sentences are also limited in deterring future crimes given that most people do not expect to be apprehended for a crime, are not familiar with relevant legal penalties, or criminally offend with their judgment compromised by substance abuse or mental health problems. Unnecessarily long prison terms are also costly and impede public investments in effective crime prevention, drug treatment, and other rehabilitative programs that produce healthier and safer communities.
[Suggested ways to remedy the situation:]
Reduce the minimum number of years that lifers must serve before their first parole hearing and shorten wait times for subsequent hearings.
Depoliticize and professionalize parole boards: Distance governors from paroling authorities to enable parole decisions to be based on meaningful assessments of public safety risk.
Establish a presumption of release: Parole boards should assume that parole candidates are potentially suited for release at the initial, and especially subsequent, parole hearings unless an individual is deemed to pose an unreasonable public safety risk.
Improve the integrity of parole hearings: Expand the procedural rights of parole applicants, enable parole applicants to review the evidence used to evaluate their eligibility for parole, and allow the public to review decision-making criteria and outcomes.

The situation in NYS:
  • New York has the country’s second largest population of parole-eligible lifers. Although in 2011 legislators required the parole board to give greater weight to risk assessments in parole decisions—effectively prioritizing rehabilitation over crime severity—the board disregarded these mandates for several years. After state courts repeatedly chastised and twice held the parole board in contempt for failing to follow these legislative reforms, the board proposed new regulations in 2016 in order to comply with the 2011 legislative mandate. 
  • People currently receiving life sentences for first-degree murder must serve a minimum of 20 to 25 years before parole-eligibility; those convicted of second-degree murder must serve a minimum of 15 years. 
  • The number of lifers with murder convictions paroled annually has increased substantially from 82 individuals in 2004 to 319 in 2013. During this period, average time served for those released increased from 16.4 to 21.1 years. 
  • The overall parole grant rate for lifers has stayed around 25% between 2004 and 2013. The annual number of lifer parole hearings has decreased slightly during this period, from 1,822 in 2004 to 1,599 in 2013. 


4.  In 2016, Forty-eight of the fifty-nine A1VO parole applicants interviewed, aged 70 to 79,  were denied.

Governor Cuomo’s decision for the commutation of Judy Clark’s 75 year sentence was the right one. However, after Senator Gallivan’s response, Cuomo should not expect a release.  Senator Gallivan, a former parole board member, reflects the view of many on the current parole board. They regard their job as that of a sentencing review board rather than one determining if a person is a current risk to society.  This is especially true in murder cases and routinely when the case involves a law enforcement officer.  The data for A1 hearings in 2015 demonstrate the problem. In these hearings with maximum sentences of life and a minimum of anywhere from 1 to 40 years, there is a huge disparity in what and how the boards decide. 
For example, in 2015, data on parole show denials of 74% of A1 hearings and releases of 26%.  Four of the fourteen board members accounted for 48% of all releases and 23% of denials,  six members accounted for 17% of releases and 38% of denials. One board member voted to release in 50% of her hearings and another voted to release in 7% of hers. 
In 20% of hearings with only two members, one member voted to release 35 of the 49 people who were released. She was joined by another member in 24 of those 49 decisions. On the other hand, four members did not vote for any releases and three voted to release 1 or 2 people. For many board members it is the original crime, not who the person is after decades in prison, that decides the issue for them.
As Assemblyman O’Donnell has written, decision making by parole boards should be transparent, but it is not. Although all of the information is public, it takes digging and compiling various sets of the data to come up with the information and overcoming obstacles of delays and denials of FOIL requests.  I have been compiling data since 2013. 
In May of 2016, Judge Maria Rosa held the parole board in contempt for disregarding John MacKenzie’s positive risk assessment and 30 years of imprisonment without a negative write up. John had been denied 9 times after serving 40 years in his 25-Life sentence.   Judge Rosa decided that: “Parole Board members made decisions based on their penal philosophy and not the law”.  When in July 2015, he was denied the 10th  the time, it was too much for him. He had lost hope.  John committed suicide in August.
In another case, Mohaman Koti was denied. “At risk to commit another crime, and ... create disrespect for the law.”  That’s what the Board decided in denying him parole in 2013.  1n 2013. Mohaman was 85 years old having multiple medical problems and was confined to a wheel chair.  Sentenced to 25 to life in 1978, he had been in prison for 35 years and had a low risk assessment and positive record. On a 2014 appeal, a judge ruled that the board's basis for denying him parole was irrational and called for a new hearing. Mohaman finally won release but died soon after. His case is not unique. Six of the eleven A1 felons over 80 years of age and forty eight of fifty nine of A1 age 70 to 79 were denied.  The board’s job should be to evaluate risk and not to determine if the sentence is long enough.                                                     
By Jim Murphy, former priest, Schenectady County legislator and Vietnam War protester         


5.  The Crime and Corrections Committees
Assembly Correction Committee 
As most of you may know by now, Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell is no longer the chair of the Assembly’s Correction Committee, nor is he even a member.  However he is the Chair of the Subcommittee on Criminal Procedure and a member of the committee on Codes, as well as the Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development. 
Assembly Member David Weprin is the new chair. He represents the same district represented by his father, the late Assembly Speaker Saul Weprin, for 23 years and his brother Mark Weprin, for over 15 years.  Weprin has lived in the Hollis-Jamaica area his entire life. He is a graduate of Jamaica High School, SUNY at Albany, with a cum laude degree in Political Science, and a law degree from Hofstra University.  He has always been well liked and respected by his constituents.  

The Senate’s Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee.
The Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee has 12 members:  The chair is Patrick Gallivan.  Others are Jamaal Bailey (the ranking minority member), Fred Akshar, Joseph Griffo, Jesse Hamilton, Pamela Helming, Chris Jacobs, Betty Little, Velmanette Montgomery, Patty Richie, Gustavo Rivera, James Tedisco.
On the Committee’s website is the following invitation:
“Join us in calling on the New York State Board of Parole to deny the release from prison of Judith Clark, the driver of a getaway car in a 1981 robbery of the Brink’s armored car in Rockland County, N.Y. The robbery left security guard Peter Paige and Nyack, N.Y. Police Sgt. Edward O’Grady and Officer Waverly “Chipper” Brown dead.
Clark was convicted of murder and robbery charges and sentenced to 75 years in prison. But Governor Cuomo recently commuted her sentence, making her eligible for parole in 2017.
As Diane O’Grady, the widow of Edward O’Grady, said in a letter to the governor, “I find even the suggestion of her release an insult and slap in the face to the families, all law enforcement and veterans and military alike.”

6. Vote for Judith Clark 
Prison Action Network invites you to cast a different vote than the Senate’s Crime Committee promotes:  
Judith Clark, 67, has served over 35 years of her 75 to life years to life sentence for participating in a crime of so-called revolutionary violence. She neither held, nor fired, a gun. But she drove a getaway car in the 1981 Brinks robbery, which caused the death of three men, two of them police officers. “I’m sort of a poster child for those who deserve to go to prison,” she says. “I want to be very, very clear that I’m not minimizing my crime. Or the pain I’ve caused.”
Based on her original sentence, she would have been 106 years old before she became eligible for parole.  Governor Cuomo commuted her sentence to time served, which means she can see the Parole Board in the next few months.  
To read the testimony of those she has worked with inside is to be unavoidably moved. She has worked with one mother after another to help them accept their pain and their responsibility for their crimes and fractured families. 
Governor Cuomo said, when he granted her clemency, that he thinks the situation is corrected as much as it is ever going to be, unless you can bring a person back to life.
1. Governor Cuomo says he believes in showing mercy and justice and compassion and forgiveness, and so do we.    
2. There are some NYS legislators who are urging us to sign a petition to the Parole Board to oppose Judith Clark’s release.
3. We want the Parole Board to know we support the release of Judith Clark, (83 G 0313).
If you agree with Prison Action Network and the Governor, please mail a letter with the preceding 3 bolded sentences and/or your own words to  NYS Board of Parole, 1220 Washington Ave, Building 2,   Albany, New York 12226-2050 because the the Parole Board’s message site is malfunctioning: (see for yourself. maybe it's been fixed): http://www.doccs.ny.gov/DOCCSWebLettersToBoardofParoleForm.aspx


7.  NetWORKS: The monthly column of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network
Trump, Anti-Trump, and the Fight for Prison Justice
The bad news is that Donald Trump is President. The good news is that more people are mobilizing for more justice and equality issues than we’ve seen in decades—maybe ever. 
How does that impact us as a movement for justice in the prisons and jails of New York State? The Trump agenda is dangerous for people in prison and their loved ones -- filled with racism, women-bashing, homo- and trans-phobia,  Islamophobia, anti-immigrant hysteria, and rage toward anyone branded as “other.” On the other hand, the anti-Trump mobilizations are spirited, inspiring, and potentially important in our attempts to fight the racism and cruelty of the mass incarceration system. 
Hundreds of thousands of people showed up in Washington D.C. on January 21 for a rally led by women of color and massively supported by women of all races, demanding an end to discrimination of all kinds.  Sister rallies in cities all over this country and the world called for unity and solidarity with and among everyone targeted by Trump: women, people of color, lgbtq people, Muslims, immigrants.  Huge numbers of people came who have never participated in any protest before. Everyone vowed to keep on protesting until it becomes impossible for Trump to carry out his plans to harm vulnerable and targeted communities. While prisoner justice did not play a prominent role in these demands, an agenda of equality, kindness, and solidarity can only benefit us. Also, we can learn from the leadership of women and lbgtq folks in the anti-Trump movement; it should remind us that as an anti-incarceration movement we have not always fully incorporated the issues that impact on those most vulnerable populations.
There are also aspects of the anti-Trump movement that are problematical for us as a movement for prisoner justice. Many anti-Trump folks see Trump and his hate-mongering supporters as a new phenomenon. They see the Democrats and even the moderate Republicans as being completely different. We prisoners and prison families have experienced the hate, racism, and cruelty of a system that was put in place by all those pre-Trump Democrats and Republicans. So focusing only on Trump, and preparing for a struggle that will only last four years, is not helpful to us. From where we stand, we can see the path of racism and repression that extends from slavery through lynching through Jim Crow segregation to the school-to-prison pipeline. We know that every President in the past half century contributed to the growth of the prison system and the race-based scapegoating and demonization of people who are incarcerated. The result, long before Trump, was a prison system that exceeded any in the world, not only in size but in length of sentences, brutality of conditions, and lack of accountability. Like the murders of people of color by police officers, suffering in prisons was almost entirely invisible to the public eye until our movement began to crack the wall of silence. If Trump makes it worse, as he probably will, he is only continuing and expanding policies that were well established before he took office. We need a fighting strategy that goes way beyond the next four years.
And because we know what we know about the long-term nature of our own struggle, we may be able to bring that long view to campaigns around other issues. Climate destruction didn’t start with Trump either. Like mass incarceration, it came about through leaders who said one thing, did another, and brought us to the brink of disaster. The same for vast wealth disparities, immigrant detention and deportation, endless wars of conquest and bloodshed,  surveillance into every corner of life, Muslim registration – and tyrannical Presidential powers to enforce all of it. It’s not just prisoners that need a long-term strategy for change. The rising winds of protest and resistance create a favorable climate for that message to take root. 
Our New York State anti-mass incarceration movement also faces good news and bad news. Governor Cuomo’s clemency actions, hyped as granting mercy to over 100 people, actually released only 5 and allowed 2 to go to the Parole Board – the rest were already out. And like an evil magician, while we were distracted contemplating the doubtful impact of clemency on mass incarceration, Cuomo dropped the bombshell of his plan to restrict visiting at maximum security prisons to three days a week, down from the current seven. And he did it with such a deceptive argument: to make the max policy match the existing visitation at mediums, and because most families already visit on weekends. Yes they do, and they have to wait 2-3 hours (after riding in the bus all night) to get into overcrowded visit rooms now – what will that be like when all visits are crammed into those same weekend days? There also seems to be a move afoot to dismantle Honor Blocks, though not officially announced. The measures to make prison life more unbearable than it already is impact most heavily on the lifers and long-termers who have to bear it the longest with no idea of when or if the Parole Board will ever let them out.
The good news is the growing strength, visibility, and unity of our anti-incarceration movement.  
On May 10th, 2017,  activists, advocates, and families from all over New York State will come to Albany for a day of action and advocacy against mass incarceration and harsh prison conditions. 
It will be a coalition day with a multi-issue platform with special emphasis on parole justice. There will be lobbying for the SAFE Parole Act and other measures to end lawless Parole Board denials.  A rally is planned outside the Capitol with speakers, music, and cultural presentations; there will be a big march through and around the Capitol and other state buildings, and possible speakouts and demonstrations throughout the day, ending with a pizza and networking gathering for participants. In addition to parole, some of the dozens of issues/organizations represented in the coalition are raise the age of criminal responsibility, end solitary confinement, close Rikers and Attica, release aging people, make higher education available to prisoners, ban post-prison discrimination in education and jobs, eliminate cash bail, and create an adequate public defense system. We expect hundreds of people coming from all over the state to raise our voices for justice, an end to mass incarceration and the revenge and punishment that drive it, and a parole system that releases people once they have done their time and are ready to be an asset to their communities.
Will the anti-Trump groundswell help fill the buses to Albany on May 10th? Yes, if the May 10th organizers succeed in tapping into the growing anti-Trump momentum, and build on people’s new enthusiasm for justice by connecting with organizers of, and participants in, anti-Trump  activities.
The May 10th day of action and advocacy will put anti-incarceration and parole justice squarely onto the map of justice issues for the era of Trump, anti-Trump – and post-Trump.  
Watch next month’s Building Bridges for detailed information about how to help build for May 10th and how to join it. 

8.  The Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act
The SAFE Parole Act has a new Senate number: S3095.  As of February 5, there is no Assembly number posted although we have been told it is in process.   Sen. Hassell-Thompson has retired, and now is working for governor Cuomo as a special advisor for policy and community affairs.  The person who won her seat, Senator Jamall Bailey, has signed on to S3095.  Another former supporter, Adriano Espaillat, was elected to the US Congress.  (You may be interested to learn that he is the first Dominican-American - and first formerly undocumented immigrant sworn into Congress.)  That results in one less supporter on the Senate side. Current signatures:  Parker, Bailey, Comrie, Kennedy, Montgomery, Perkins, G.Rivera, Sanders and Serrano.  (You could send thank you letters....)
In the Assembly Brennan retired and Clark is deceased. That leaves, as far as we know, Aubry Arroyo, Barrett, Barron, Crespo, Fahy, Farrell, Gottfiied, Hevesi, McDonald, Montesano, Mosley, O’Donnell, Ortiz, Perry, Rodriguez, Sepulveda, Simon, Skartados and Theile  (You might want to call Aubry to ask why it’s taking so long to get it numbered:  718-457-3615)


9.  MAY 10th IS AN IMPORTANT DAY.  PLEASE PUT IT ON YOUR CALENDAR RIGHT AWAY! 
WE NEED TO STAND UP FOR PAROLE REFORM AND OTHER CHANGES TO THE SYSTEM!!!  IT’S IMPORTANT TO SHOW UP!
Readers have asked for more details, and because we’re still in the planning stage it’s difficult to provide them.  Article 7 has a rough agenda.   There’s time for your suggestions; if you have any please send them to PAN at the address below.  
We will report more details as they’re confirmed.  When the program is finalized we’ll send out flyers and announcements to all our members in prison and, by email, their families and advocates.
RSVP:   To help us make appointments with your legislators now while there is room on their schedules, please send a note to  may10dayofactionRSVP@gmail.com  and provide as much of the following info as possible: name, email, phone #, address, organizational affiliation if any, and the name of your State Senator and State Assemblyperson.  (If you need assistance, feel free to call Judith at 518 253 7533.


10. Welcome to 2017,  by Karima Amin
Happy New Year, Family! We trust that the last month was good for you. Ours was filled with family, friendship, fun and a focus on the life-affirming principles of a productive Kwanzaa celebration. The principles: Unity, Self-determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith were emphasized as principles to be honored all yearlong. 
I took the time to reflect upon the topics that were highlighted during 2016 at our monthly meetings and I was both saddened and encouraged.  The Restorative Justice Developer, our Program Director, BaBa Eng, is still hard at work, sharing information about Restorative Justice Practices. 2016 saw two more “peace hubs” being established and the total number of individuals being trained in restorative practices reaching 70 trainees who are capable of facilitating peace circles and peace conferences.
Topics that we have highlighted in the past were emphasized again. Positive movement in these areas has been slow as many in the general public fail to view them as critical issues until an issue “hits home”: solitary confinement, juvenile justice, recidivism, and mental health during incarceration and reentry. Needless to say, we have work to do as prisoners and formerly incarcerated people tend to be marginalized and stereotyped.  During 2016, we featured eleven guest speakers who helped us to reach a better understanding of the ways in which the criminal justice system functions, too often ignoring the importance of valuing an individual’s humanity.  Prisoners are people, too. 
As I am typing this, I am remembering those guest speakers who volunteered their time and energy to talk to us about their prison experience.  They also shared what they have encountered since their release.  Some of our guest speakers have never been to prison. These were young people working hard to help others avoid the traps that sometimes lead to incarceration. Among our speakers, we also hosted two clergy people, a teacher, and a former councilman who all talked about crime-generative factors (such as drugs, high unemployment, and poor health care) that have led to crime in this community.
At our January 30th meeting our guest speaker was Alfonso “Fonz” Carter, a native of Niagara Falls, NY, who has a gift when it comes to connecting with the youth and the streets through music. As a hip-hop artist, he shares the stories of his life, talking about his youth, his drug selling days, and the 2004 arrest that resulted when the FBI and the Amherst police, working together, brought his street journey to a halt. He also talks about finding his true identity during his incarceration. “Fonz” is an entrepreneur with a clothing line that features his distinctive label and post-incarceration attitude, “Brand New Life.”  He inspired us with his stories about the twists and turns that led him to a brand new life.
For more information, contact Karima Amin, 716-834-8438 or karimatells@yahoo.com; or BaBa Eng, 716-491-5319.


If you would like the full article of one we’ve only printed excerpts from, 

Email us with the name of the article and the date of this issue