Building Bridges

The monthly newsletter of the Prison Action Network

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Wednesday, February 07, 2018

February 201

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 whenever you want to go directly to the January 2018 newsletter.


Dear Reader,  It’s been years since I’ve read the Bill of Rights.  I wonder how long it’s been for you. We’ll be opening our letter with one of the Rights each month.  

 #1. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  

                     Obviously making laws and practicing them are not the same thing, Your Editor 

Table of Contents
  1. 1.Parole release report 
  2. 2.Compassionate release 
  3. 3.Annucci’s promises
  4. 4.Follow the money
  5. 5.NetWORKS  food, prison, a world in crisis
  6. 6.Cuomo suspends package restriction
  7. 7.Legislation report
  8. 8.Barbara Allan is doing her time
  9. 9.Technical violations
  10. 10.Civil commitment is based on junk science


1. PAROLE

Reducing prison populations is being undermined by the parole system.

Two new reports from Columbia University are raising questions about New York's probation and parole system and offering suggestions for making it more effective.
One of the reports finds that despite success in reducing overall prison populations, the number of inmates re-incarcerated for parole violations is increasing. It recommends cutting the number of people imprisoned for parole violations by half - a move they say would save tax dollars and allow corrections officials to concentrate on those who are at greatest risk of re-offending.

State and city officials have said they want to reduce the prison population, and Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio has plans to close Rikers Island. But those efforts are being undermined by the parole system, said Gabriel Sayegh, a prison reform advocate and co-director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice.

  1. Parole News November 2017:   The release rate was 46% for ALL Parole decisions.

Due to technical difficulties we are unable to post all of the parole board decisions.  Send an email to prisonactionnetwork@gmail and we will send them all to you.  


2.  Vera Institute of Justice Report
Compassionate release
State policymakers have learned from national research or their own data that the cost of incarcerating older people is double that of housing younger ones, due to health care expenses.  These spiraling expenditures do not result in substantial gains in public safety, because people of advanced age pose a low risk of re- offending.
Most states have some form of what is referred to as a “compassionate release” policy, which allows people who meet certain aging or medical criteria to be released earlier than their statutory release dates.  While serving both a compassionate purpose (allowing elderly or seriously ill people to spend their  final months or years with their closest loved ones) and a practical purpose (corrections institutions are poorly equipped to care for seriously ill people), these early-release policies are also supported by recidivism research, which demonstrates that age is a significant predictor of re-offending: arrest rates drop to just more than 2 percent in people ages 50 to 65 years old and to almost zero percent for those older than 65.

Under the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution, states are obligated to provide adequate medical care for people they imprison. Many people in prison suffer from poor medical conditions even before they are incarcerated. People who are poor and people of color—two groups that are disproportionately represented in prison populations—tend to have less access to quality  medical care. Incarceration has also been found to worsen health and cause excessive stress, speeding up the rate at which incarcerated people age.




3.  Anthony Annucci’s Promises
From the testimony of acting commissioner of DOCCS at the Fiscal Year 2018-19 Budget Hearing on January 30, 2018
Some of his promises:
  • Close one SHU housing unit at Cayuga, Upstate and Southport Correctional Facilities. That will bring it to more than 1,200 SHU Beds eliminated.
  • Use of body cameras at Clinton and Bedford Hills will expand to other facilities and the Office of Special Investigations. The use of pepper spray will become operational statewide.
  • Plans to move to an electronic Inmate Trust Account Services system, which will allow family and friends to more easily deposit money, as well as provide quicker access to the funds for the population.Upon release, people will be issued debit cards that can be transitioned to a bank account in the community. ( See article 4 for more details.)
  • Each incarcerated individual will be offered a tablet at no cost, with the ability to access free educational material and eBooks, and to file grievances and will also be able to purchase music and additional eBooks, and to use a secure email system to communicate with family and friends.  (More in article 4)
  • A new inmate telephone system contract, resulting in a reduction in the per minute call rate to be one of the lowest in the nation, while also.securing the ability to make permanent our SHU pilot tablet program, to provide easier access to the telephone and pre-loaded educational materials.   (Editor advises to follow the money)
  • Expansion of the Merit Time and Limited Credit Time Allowance statutes.  
  • A pilot to place up to 100 LCTA eligible inmates into educational release and work release.
  • Geriatric parole will be authorized for inmates over 55 with debilitating age related conditions
  • The parole supervision fee will be repealed.
  • Comprehensive review of parole revocation guidelines and practices. Appropriate alternatives to incarceration for those technical violators who pose little risk to reoffend, will be prioritized.
  • Expansion of Veterans Residential Therapeutic Program to a maximum-security prison to heal and restore them to a pro-social state.




4.  Always follow the money…. Free? Tablets for people in prison?
By Erica Bryant, Democrat & Chronicle’s Pay it Forward Columnist.   (Retitled by BB)

Assemblyman Steve Hawley asked the wrong question about the free tablet computers that will be given out to New York's prisoners this summer. Taxpayers won't pay for the 50,300  jail-friendly iPad-like devices, but Hawley was still not happy to learn that this "luxury" item was to be "handed out like candy" to prisoners.
“If it’s this easy to encourage vendors to provide free tablets to inmates, why aren’t they being provided to our students in disadvantaged school districts or to libraries across the state as a community resource?" the Batavia-based legislator asked in a statement. 
The answer to that question is obvious. Vendors can make a ton of money off of prisoners' families. 

Disadvantaged school children and library users aren't going to pay 50 cents to send an email. Families of prisoners almost certainly will.  Private companies have been charging exorbitant rates for prisoner phone calls and commissary items for ages. Why not make some money off apps and emails?  

The United States incarcerates people at a rate five times higher than most countries. As the prison population has grown, so have exclusive, lucrative deals between prisons and private companies. These deals often leave prisoners' families paying far more for services than is fair or reasonable. 

In the past, prison services provider JPay has been criticized for charging exorbitant fees for electronic money transfers to prisoners. A 2014 investigative report by the Center for Public Integrity revealed the company was charging 35 to 45 percent to transfer money in some cases. It also found that families of hundreds of thousands of U.S. inmates had no way to send money to incarcerated loved ones without paying high fees to private companies including JPay. After the investigation, JPay decreased or eliminated some of its fees and added a free deposit option in certain states. 
Costs for apps, music, books and games on the JPay tablets are not available at this time said a spokesperson from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. In other states JPay charges about 50 cents per email. 




5.  NetWORKS, the monthly column of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network
“You have no idea”: food, prison, and a world in crisis

Every day, the news brings ever-more-dire evidence of U.S. society and the world unraveling in a thousand terrible ways.  In the midst of all that horror, a down-to-earth reminder came from a survivor of 29 years in the NYS prison gulag: “You have no idea,” he said to a meeting of parole justice activists, “how much food means to us on the inside. You have no idea.” 

In today’s news, Russiagate shows the ruling elites bashing each other as if they weren’t all on the same side – their side, against the rest of humanity and the earth. The slaughter ordered by those same elites rages in a dozen far-off countries – we ignore it at our peril. A well-respected prison justice activist is accused of sexual misconduct – opening up the twin evils of incredibly widespread sexual abuse, on the one hand, and the media’s instant adoption of unproven accusations, on the other. That’s just the tip of the bad news iceberg. Despair is lurking in every headline.

So what does that have to do with our friend reminding us of how precious food is when you are locked inside a cage?

As you probably know by now, the grass-roots campaign against the new outrageous DOCCS package restrictions had a glorious, though probably temporary, victory this past month. After an amazingly fast and widespread opposition campaign led by incarcerated people, their families, and other advocates, and picked up by all sorts of media, the Governor announced that the pilot program limiting package ordering to six vendors was being “rescinded,” while the spokesperson for DOCCS used the term “suspended.” It was great news, even though we know there will be further attempts to make the package system worse than it already is. 
The campaign against the package directive came fast but it didn’t come out of nowhere. For the past ten years, New York State prison justice advocates from many different organizations, on many different fronts, have been building ties with each other, strengthening our mutual understanding of prison issues, promoting the leadership of the formerly incarcerated and their families, developing means of outreach and communication, spreading the word about prison as a crucial social justice and racial justice issue, confronting and resisting whenever and wherever we could. All of this groundwork proved its worth in responding to the DOCCS directive.

Along the way, the story of what food means to those in prison reached a lot of people who had not thought about it before. Under the proposed new directive, no fresh fruits or vegetables would be allowed, book choices would be severely limited, personal items and packaged food could only come from  lists pre-selected by a handful of corporate vendors. The campaign against the directive allowed people on the outside to hear a little about life on the inside: the health risks of eating only prison food year in and year out, the few choices available through commissary, the joys of getting a package from family or visitors, the connection with outside life represented by fresh food or everyday items. Your reporter was once able to bring a package of  fresh fruits and vegetables to a friend on a visit. It contained a mango. Back on the company, a neighbor, seeing the mango, said, “I haven’t seen a mango in 40 years.” My friend insisted that he take the mango. A little later, my friend observed a group of six guys sitting around a table together – sharing the mango! 

The words spoken at the parole justice meeting, about the value of food to those behind bars, reminded us that while trying to overturn injustice, it is worth taking whatever steps we can to soften its impact on the people who are suffering from it. Being able to win even a small and temporary victory reminded us that what we do matters, even in the face of a larger world of disasters that seem too big to tackle.  And perhaps most important, winning a skirmish that we never thought we could win reminded us that history is full of unpredictable twists and turns, and some of them might just twist or turn in our favor – especially when we have prepared the groundwork and taken advantage of every opportunity to resist injustice.




6.  Governor Cuomo suspends package program 
Credit:Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times
The governor directed DOCCs to suspend a pilot program that restricted packages for inmates in state prisons after 10 days of it’s implementation, after outcry that included a postcard-writing campaign, social media denunciations and letters from local and national lawmakers, “Concerns have been raised by families of inmates regarding the availability and price of products under this program, concerns we do not take lightly,” Thomas Mailey, a department spokesman, said in a statement, adding that “In the meantime, we will redouble our efforts on the other parts of our multifaceted plan to eliminate contraband and increase safety in our prison system.”
“For now, we will cautiously celebrate, but be ever vigilant and watchful as to what else might come,” Ms. Soffiyah Elijah,  head of Alliance of Families for Justice.said.
Prison Action Network is asking for records of the dates and substance of all contraband discovered in packages sent by families.  We have a strong suspicion that most families are not drug dealers or weapons smugglers, but rather people who want to show their love with food and clothing.




7.  Legislative report
Explanation:   S stands for Senate, A stands for Assembly.   
If a bill has a sponsor in both chambers we identify it with a slash mark between their two numbers (A.1234 / S.5678) and the primary sponsors like this: (Kavanagh/Parker).  
For Assembly bills, the first name is the Assembly Member and for Senate bills the Senate sponsor is listed first.  
We don't list the co-sponsors.  You may write us for that information (SASE required) or look it up on-line.
If a bill is “reported” or “referred”, it means it passed out of the Committee to another committee (from where it may go to the entire house for a floor vote).[ 3rd reading essentially means ready to be presented to the full house].
  Before any of these bills become law they have to be passed in both houses, where changes can be made from the floor before a final vote.   If passed, the Governor has to sign them before they can become the law.

On January 23, 2018 6 bills were passed by the Corrections Committee (Weprin, chair)
Bill Number
Primary Sponsor/s
Purpose
A1208/no same as
3rd reading
Roczic
Allows inmates entering solitary confinement (SHU) to make a telephone call upon admission at least once per month thereafter.
A1805/no same as
reported referred to ways and means
Peoples-Stokes
Requires information regarding HIV testing, counseling and education
to be provided to persons upon release from a state correctional facility.

A3626/no same as reported referred to ways and means
Aubry
This bill would require the Department to make best efforts to assist inmates in having their social security cards and birth certificates (corrected and reissued if necessary) while they are still in prison so they have them when released.
A8958/S7305
Passed in both committees
3rd reading
Weprin/Gallivan
Requires that an inmate who has appeared before the board of parole prior to having completed any program required by the department of corrections and community supervision, and has been denied release, shall be placed into the required program. 
A8959/S7281
reported referred to ways and means
Rozic/Bailey
Assures rehabilitation programs for female inmates are equivalent to programs afforded male inmates.
A8960/S7333
3rd reading
Weprin/Montgomery
Requires Board of Parole administrative appeal findings and recommendations to be published on a website and provided to correctional facility law libraries



On January 23, 2018,  12 bills were passed by the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee (Gallivan, chair)
Bill Number
Primary Sponsor/s
Purpose
S.193/A.2915
Reported to  finance 
Marchione/McDonald
Requires the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to
maintain the responsibility and costs of monitoring any person released
on parole with the mandatory requirement of an ignition interlock.

S.215/A.2915
Marchione/McDonald

Requires legislative approval for the closure of correctional facilities and institutions. 
S.449/no same as
Reported to finance
Young
Limits the temporary detention of defendants in violationof their release in a local correctional facility to three days before their transfer to state custody.
S.1006A/no same as
3rd reading
Robach
An act to amend the correction law, in relation to sex offender registration of change of address and internet accounts
S.1014/A.8974
Robach/D’Urso
Establishes an educational outreach program for sex offender awareness by providing for educational outreach service to schools (public/private), community groups and clergy. 
S.1271/A.3259
3rd reading
Avella/Ortiz
Establishes a uniform standard for measuring and enforcing the 1,000 feet restriction between school grounds and sex offender residences.
S.2173/8719
Reported to finance
Servino/Thiele
Requires sex offenders to verify their registration with the sex offender registry on a biannual basis.
S.3030A/S.8715
3rd reading
Helming/Thiele
Increases the penalty for failing to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registry Act to a class D felony and prohibits employment on mobile food service establishments or pushcarts 
S.3396/A.1776
Reported to finance
Parker/Joyner
Authorizes a study by DOCCS to study the treatment of aging prison populations and make recommendations for ensuring humane treatment of such populations.
S.3854/A8381
3rd reading
Marchione/Woener
Permits correction officers to be color blind.

S.6548/A.8502
3rd reading
Murphy/Miller
Provides that information on a sex offender from another state who has not been assigned a risk level in this state, may be disclosed as if he or she was a level two offender until given a designation by NYS.
S.7404/no same as

3rd reading
Akshar
Allows the Tioga County Correctional Facility to hold persons who are
under arrest prior to their arraignment.





8.  Doing our time on the outside

That’s the name of Barbara Allan’s recently published book.  Until now she was known primarily for the organization she started: Prison Families Anonymous.  She is also known as a national advocate for families who find themselves serving time on the outside.   Well!   get ready to discover another side of Barbara ; who will from now on be known as a gifted writer who will keep you turning the pages.  This is an inspiring tale of one woman who would not be silenced by the stigma of loving someone who committed a terrible crime.  Barbara invites you to a book signing on Sunday, March 4, 2018, at 2:00 PM at Castle Gardens, 625 West 140th Street, NY, NY.  If you already have your copy, bring it along and have Barbara autograph it.  It’s also available on Amazon.

Prison Families Anonymous, 350 Veteran's Memorial Highway Commack, NY 11725
631-943-0441. www.pfa-li.com




7.  What’s the biggest cause of re-incarceration?

Technical violations.  Over the past 2 decades there was a 31% reduction in the number of people in NY State prisons, from 72,649 in 1999 to 50,391 in 2017. Moreover, since 2011, the state has closed 13 prisons and eliminated over 6,000 prison beds, saving over $160 million annually.  But as people were released on parole, one of the ways our prison population was reduced, for every ten of them, nine exited parole to return to incarceration.  In fact, in 2016, being revoked and returned to prison accounted for 58% of the final outcomes for people who violated their state parole conditions. They made up 29.2% of DOCCS admissions in 2016.  In fact, in New York, people released on parole are more likely to return to incarceration, not for new convictions, but for violating the conditions of their parole. In 2012, 9,372 people were released from DOCCS facilities onto parole. Within three years of their release, more than half of these individuals had been reincarcerated. Of those, an overwhelming 83.7% were reincarcerated for violating the conditions of their parole, while only 16.3% had returned because they had committed a new crime 

Research into the impact of punishment and incarceration consistently shows that it is the certainty, not the severity or length, of sentences that carries the greatest impact on public safety. The Harvard Kennedy School Executive Session addresses this issue squarely: “When responding to violations, sanctions should be swift and certain, but mild — no greater than are needed to modify the behavior. Returns to prison for lengthy periods, for example, should be eliminated for technical violations.”

Even President Trump has said “former inmates” should get a 2nd chance.  In an article by Ginia Bellafante in a blog at the New York Times (bigcity@mytimes.com), she talks about how your second chance can be ruined by the stringent rules that are imposed by Community Supervision once you are back in your community

Ms. Bellafante points out in her article that at about the same time there was a scaling back of stop and frisk in the community, there was a spike in the jailed parolee population.  Could it be that reveals a way to maintain the numbers of (black, brown, poor) people in prison?

Bellafante is a great writer;  visit her blog bigcity@mytimes.com  technical violations if you’d like to read the whole article.


Civil commitment
Like hundreds of other regulations imposed on those required to register as sex offenders, civil confinement has been justified by assertions about the recidivism  of sex offenders.  But this assertion turns out to be entirely belied by science.
When these restrictions have been challenged in court, judge after judge has justified them based on a Supreme Court doctrine that allows such restrictions, thanks to the “frightening and high” recidivism rate ascribed to sex offenders — a rate the court has pegged “as high as 80 percent.” The problem is this: The 80 percent recidivism rate is an entirely invented number.

Only one source made the 80 percent assertion: a Psychology Today article published in 1986.
That article was written not by a scientist but by a treatment provider who claimed to be able to essentially cure sex offenders though innovative “aversive therapies” including electric shocks and pumping ammonia into offenders’ noses via nasal cannulas. The article offered no backup data, no scientific control group and no real way to fact-check any of the assertions made to promote the author’s program.

But in the 30 years since that Psychology Today article was published, there have been hundreds of evidence-based, scientific studies on the question of the recidivism rate for sex offenders. The results of those studies are astonishingly consistent: Convicted sex offenders have among the lowest rates of same-crime recidivism of any category of offender.



Read now!