Sunday, March 18, 2018

March 2018


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 March 2018 newsletter.


RE-posted APRIL 10th 
The Survived and Punished NYC Mass Commutation Organizing Campaign is working to pressure Governor Cuomo to commute the sentences of survivors of intimate partner violence and other racialized, gender-based violence who are in prison throughout New York State.

Our goal is to have the governor commute survivors’ sentences by the end of 2018.

PLEASE JOIN US ON APRIL 14TH   This event is a call to action to join the Mass Commutation Organizing Campaign.


9:00-10:00 - Breakfast (provided)
10:00-12:00 - Panel featuring:
- Julia Shaw (Steps to End Family Violence and Survived & Punished NYC)
- Andrea Bible (Legal Aid)
- Andrea James (Families for Justice as Healing and National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls)
12:00-1:00 - Lunch (on your own in community)
1:00-2:00 - Keynote: Valerie Seeley interviewed by journalist Victoria Law
2:00-4:00 - Teach-ins

Light beverages will be provided throughout the day.

Survived and Punished is a national organizing initiative formed by a coalition of feminist anti-prison advocates and defense campaigns to build a larger movement to support criminalized survivors and abolish gender violence, policing, prisons, and deportations.

Posted March 24 

Recently the New York State Board of Parole granted Herman Bell release. Since the Board’s decision, there has been significant backlash from the Police Benevolent Association, other unions, Mayor De Blasio and Governor Cuomo. They are demanding that Herman be held indefinitely, the Parole Commissioners who voted for his release be fired, and that people convicted of killing police be left to die in prison.

We want the Governor, policymakers, and public to know that we strongly support the Parole Board’s lawful, just and merciful decision. We also want to show support for the recent changes to the Board, including the appointment of new Commissioners and the direction of the new parole regulations, which base release decisions more on who a person is today and their accomplishments while in prison than on the nature of their crime.

Herman has a community of friends, family and loved ones eagerly awaiting his return. At 70 years old and after 45 years inside, it is time for Herman to come home.

Here are four things you can do RIGHT NOW to support Herman Bell:

  1. CALL New York State Governor Cuomo’s Office NOW

  1. EMAIL New York State Governor Cuomo’s Office

  1. TWEET at Governor Cuomo: use the following sample tweet:
“@NYGovCuomo: stand by the Parole Board’s lawful & just decision to release Herman Bell. At 70 years old and after more than 40 years of incarceration, his release is overdue. #BringHermanHome.”

  1. Participate in a CBS poll and vote YES on the Parole Board’s decision
The poll ends on March 21st. Please do this ASAP!

Script for phone calls and emails:

“Governor Cuomo, my name is __________and I am a resident of [New York State/other state/other country]. I support the Parole Board’s decision to release Herman Bell and urge you and the Board to stand by the decision. I also support the recent appointment of new Parole Board Commissioners, and the direction of the new parole regulations, which base release decisions more on who a person is today than on the nature of their crime committed years ago. Returning Herman to his friends and family will help the heal the many harms caused by crime and decades of incarceration. The Board’s decision was just, merciful and lawful, and it will benefit our communities and New York State as a whole.”

Thank you for your support and contributions.

With gratitude,
Supporters of Herman Bell and Parole Justice New York

Building Bridges
the monthly newsletter of Prison Action Network
MARCH  2018
Dear Reader,  
Number 2 in the Bill of Rights has been the target of heated discussions for years.  Especially after each student killing…  :“ A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
This writer  may be naive, but I was looking for a better understanding of the 2nd Amendment, I read #3, and then the 4th and it appears to me that the Rights do not stand alone but are parts of a whole in which it lays out what we deserve in a world of wrongdoing where the powerful take advantage of the rest of us and how we can avoid becoming like them.  There are 17 more amendments. That’ll take us to August 2020.   We hope you’ll be home by then.      Peace, The Editor

Speaking of arms:  Words from a former high school shooter
A student who injured a teacher at a high school near Albany, N.Y. in 2004 and is serving a 20-year prison sentence, on Friday praised Florida advocates and called the teacher who subdued him a “hero who I owe my life to,” in a letter to the Albany Times Union.
Jon Romano, who was 16 when he fired at least two shells from a pump-action shotgun before being tackled by an assistant principal at Columbia High School, was convicted of attempted murder and reckless endangerment and will be eligible for parole in 2021.
His letter, which comes in the wake of a mass shooting at a Florida high school where 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 17 and injure at least 17, was in response to a column written by Chris Churchill questioning what would have happened if Romano had gone into his school with an AR-15 rifle.
“I know whenever another horrible shooting happens, he and all of my victims are hurt all over again from what I did to them.  I want to take away their pain but knowing that I cannot, I want to prevent others from experiencing this pain,” Romano wrote.
Romano also praised the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who have been vocal about gun reform following the Feb. 14 incident. "I believe the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland are courageous and inspiring for demanding action from politicians," Romano wrote. "Everyone nationwide should accept nothing less than meaningful, life-saving policy changes from their politicians."
In his letter, Romano said he intends "to advocate for gun safety and mental health reform" after his release.

Table of Contents 
  1. Parole Report      P.1-4
  2. NetWORKS: Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will      P. 5-6
  3. Jericho 20th Anniversary.      P. 6
  4. Call for Prison Visitation Buses.      P. 6
  5. Report on February Legislation.     P. 7
  6. We the People cChallenge Incarceration.      P. 8
  7. Bills that passed out of the Senate’s Crime Committee.     P. 9
  8. 60 Pardons and Commutations.      P. 10
  9. Incarceration of Girls and Women      P. 10

unofficial research from parole database


2.  NetWORKS, the monthly column of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network
Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

Throughout history, people in prison have had an influence on their societies, and especially on movements for social justice. Antonio Gramsci was an Italian communist who lived from 1891 to 1937. He was imprisoned by Mussolini’s fascist government from 1926 until shortly before his death. From prison, Gramsci wrote thousands of pages of history and analysis, was a major force in European and worldwide social movements, and is still influential today. 

He was an innovative and radical thinker who experimented with adapting traditional Marxist concepts to changing conditions. Gramsci experienced deep suffering in prison – he was ill, in pain, and faced horrible medical neglect.  Like other prison thinkers, by seeing society from the bottom he learned how terrible oppression is and how much is at stake in fighting against it. 

One of the most useful reasons to remember Gramsci today is his saying, “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will,” sometimes shortened when quoting him to “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”  Pessimism of the intellect means that those who wish to be effective agents for change can’t be in denial about the depths of cruelty and oppression in the system of power that rules our society. We who are in prison, or are the families and friends of people in prison, have a valuable window on this reality. We see cruelty and oppression up close and personal. The optimism of the will means that through collective action we can see the possibilities for change.

This is certainly a moment in history when our intellect is bound to lead us to pessimism. Every day’s news is filled with evidence that the forces in power in this country are cruel, greedy, selfish, short-sighted, and malicious. Even more pessimism can come from viewing these traits as belonging, not just to one President, but to the whole wealthy and powerful class of both political parties who exercise political, social, economic and military control  -- after all, the most prisons in New York State history were built under the regime of the liberal Democrat, Mario Cuomo.  

In the criminal legal system, every turn gives us plenty of reason for pessimism. When our movements succeed in exposing injustices, the forces in power assure us that they are on our side and are going to fix it right away. Then they propose, and sometimes enact, false solutions that appear benign but may actually make things worse. All of a sudden, the media and public officials have noticed that the bail system keeps poor people in prison while rich people get out for the same offense. We are shocked!! We never noticed that poor people are in prison and rich people are not!! How clever of them to have figured that out! But never mind, they are going to fix it. There are a number of proposals to “reform” the bail system. Some of them make the situation worse by evaluating people for release eligibility not based on their likelihood to return to court, but on some unpredictable future “dangerousness,” measured in a way that will replicate existing racist and classist biases. And some of them make it worse by creating conditions of community supervision that are more oppressive than jail – restrictive electronic monitoring that is nothing but a jail without walls, for example. 

The pessimism of the intellect – everything that tells us that injustice and suffering are winning – is all around us. Despair is a danger lurking on every corner. So where and how does the optimism of the will come into play? 

The optimism of the will says that things can change; in fact, nothing ever stays the same, the most powerful forces can falter and fall, history is full of surprises.  People are the agents of those changes, for better and for worse. Our actions on behalf of justice, compassion, love, and community are the source of the optimism of the will. That is, only through action can we see and seize the opportunities for creating a better world.

In the example of bail injustice, first, the awareness that bail unjustly punishes the poor – obvious as it should be – came about by people fighting for it. If it is so obvious, why did it take a fight? Because those forces who want more incarceration, not less, deliberately covered up the obvious. But people, organizations, movements fought against the invisibility of bail injustice and have largely succeeded in forcing it into the light. And now are still fighting, for real and not token solutions. In New York State at this moment there are broad coalitions of advocates exposing the false solutions and fighting vigorously for real ones: a combination of genuine bail reform/abolition, discovery reform (requiring prosecutors to show the evidence to the defense attorney), and speedy trial. 

This activism opens up a vision of a world without incarceration: the demand to close the entire New York City jails complex on Rikers Island seemed completely unrealistic when it was first advanced, and now has been accepted by officials as a workable goal. 

Advocates are not done: they are demanding that the alternatives to Rikers be less incarceration rather than just different jails! The optimism of the will requires collective action based on communities of resistance. The obstacles to  building those communities, the barriers to mutual trust and respect we face across our differences of identity, privilege, background, and lived experience, are no less formidable than the obstacles we face in confronting powerful rulers. 

That is why Gramsci calls it the optimism of the will: it is not pollyanna wishfulness, but a real-life project of humans struggling against great odds to act for our mutual survival, and in the process creating the conditions for a world of genuine equality and freedom. How do we overcome those odds, those barriers, and those differences to create communities of resistance?  A story for another day… stay tuned.

3.  It’s Black History Month….Again!
by Karima Amin

I recently made a comment to someone about this month being Black History Month. In an incredulous tone, that person replied, “Again!” I was a little shocked as I was speaking to someone who was my age and college-educated who, for some reason, didn’t realize that Black History Month is an annual observance. Also, she had never heard of Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, “The Father of Black History,” who founded “Negro History Week” in 1926. Initially, the response to Dr. Woodson’s work was lukewarm but the idea gained in popularity over the next five decades and by 1976, school administrations, religious institutions, fraternal organizations, city councils, and some state governments embraced the value and importance of acknowledging the significance of the history of people of African descent. Canada and the UK also celebrate Black History Month. Woodson died in 1950 after distinguishing himself as a historian, journalist, and author, most notably for Mis-Education of the Negro (1933). He also founded the Association for the Study of Negro (African American) Life and History (1937), which still functions from its offices in Washington, DC.

Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. will acknowledge Black History Month with the screening of a short documentary, Incarceration in America: The Inside Story which gives a quick review of Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness.  In addition to viewing and discussing the film, we will take a look at our Youth Program aka YEST (Youth Education for Social Transformation); we will consider our upcoming participation at a retreat sponsored by AFJ (The Alliance of Families for Justice); and we will start initial planning for a PRP2 conference which will take place in April 2019. As always, we encourage you to join us in the local, statewide, and national work that we are doing.

Refer to our website for additional information:  or write to us at Prisoners Are People Too, P.O. Box 273, Buffalo, NY 14212.

4.  Save the date!  
Jericho Amnesty Movement
20th Anniversary

Former political prisoners will be at the Anniversary March and Rally, with Jericho Co-founder Herman Ferguson
Saturday, March 24, 2018
Holyrood Episcopal Church 715 W. 179th St, NY
Program from 6:30 to 9 p.m. in Sanctuary 
Speakers: Jericho National Co-Chair Jihad Abdulmumit Pam Africa of ICFFMAJ and MOVE Organization 
  • Additional Speakers • Culture • Music • Spoken Word .National Jericho Movement • NYC Chapter • • 917-544-1577 • 

Governor Cuomo: 518-474-8390; Speaker Heastie: 518-455-3791;   Leader Flanagan: 518-455-2071

6.  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 Corrections Committee to another committee (from where it may go to the entire Assembly for a floor vote).  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 February 13, 2018  five (5 )bills were passed out of the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee 
(Gallivan, chair)

Bill Number
Primary Sponsor/s
3rd reading
To prohibit civilian drone use within one thousand feet of a correctional facility.
S.1186/ no same as Sent to finance
Requires notification to victims upon the conditional release of an inmate convicted of a crime against a member of the same family or household
S.3344/A.3192  sent to Finance
Increases access to substance abuse programming for prisoners whose first language is not English
S.962/A. 5113
3rd reading
Expands the amount of information available to police and the public, by means of the internet, about registered sex offenders.
Sent to Finance
Requires adequate staffing at correctional facilities

On February 27, 2018 five (5) all were passed by the Assembly’s Corrections Committee
(Weprin, Chair)
Bill Number
Primary Sponsor/s
A.1270/no same as
3rd Reading
To make it unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer to require a job applicant to disclose his or her criminal history record obtained from the Division of Criminal Justice Services as a requirement for consideration of employment.

Sent to Codes
The Parole board shall develop guidelines and procedures and use  a  validated  risk assessment instrument to assess the risk of a repeat offense by a sex offender.
Sent to Ways and Means
To restrict the use of segregated confinement and create alternative therapeutic and rehabilitative confinement options
A.4034/no same as
Sent to codes
Removes depreciation of the severity of the crime from consideration of discretionary release.
A.4047/no same as
Sent to Codes
Requires the parole board to grant parole to inmates who successfully participate in a temporary release program for two years without interruption immediately prior to appearance before the board.

6.  We the People!
PAN wants our incarcerated readers and their families to know that all our letters matter.  It is from reading them that many people learned about the policies and practices that break spirits and separate families.  ,Challenging Incarceration-NY, a collective that represents many, if not all, the other advocacy organizations who are fighting for an end to mass incarceration.  Any one in a family who feels they’re all alone would find support in this group, and a way to get changing the Criminal Injustice System. This is Challenging Incarceration’s 2018 Prioritized Platform (condensed by Building Bridges and inspired by all your voices)
…We must reconstruct our State through caring and empowered communities with control over the decisions and resources that affect our own lives. …This platform represents our commitment to standing together as one community, fighting for human rights for all. 
We call on New York legislators and the Governor, as well as all local governments to enact and effectively implement all of the following prioritized measures in 2018.
  • End Mass Incarceration:
  • Parole Reform: require Parole Board to make decisions based on applicants’ current risk, readiness, and personal transformation, with presumptive release for people reappearing before the Board, A.7546, and “second look” parole consideration for all people who are 55 or older and have spent 15 years incarcerated. Strengthen and expand geriatric/medical parole and ensure no one is excluded based on crime of conviction.
  • Raise the Age: As a start, NY must fully implement and expand the enacted 2017 raise the age law.
  • Pre-Trial Justice: adopt bold speedy trial, S.7006B, bail, S.3579A, and discovery law reform, S.7722; stop indiscriminate and coerced use of plea bargains that terminate defendants’ rights; and expand funding for legal representation, in order to ensure fairness, end pre-trial detention in almost all cases, end poverty-based detention.
  • Revamp all sentencing: end life without parole, reduce all prison sentences, stop re-incarceration on technical violations, and expand alternatives to incarceration, such as restorative and transformative justice for all people, including people convicted of the most violent offenses.
  • Promote Community Empowerment, Education, Reconstruction, and Control:Voting Rights for All: provide right to vote for all people incarcerated in prisons and jails, and who are on parole.
  • Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) restoration: A. 3995 / S. 3735, restore financial aid eligibility of incarcerated people for college.
  • Enhance Visits, Packages, Family/Community Ties: Restore 7-day visiting at medium security prisons and codify the right to visits in state law, A. 7241 / S. 6725; restore free visiting bus program, A. 7016 / S. 5693; permanently end all package restrictions & expand opportunities for people to receive packages, fresh food, books, materials; & ensure incarcerated people are assigned to prisons closer to their children, loved ones, and community.
  • Shift Away from the Punishment Paradigm: 2018 Priorities:
  • HALT Solitary Confinement Act, A. 3080B / S. 4784A: Close Rikers and Attica:
  • Racial Justice: establish Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, and A. 5851.
  • Domestic Violence Survivors  Justice Act (DVSJA), A. 3110 / S. 5116: grant judges discretion to sentence DV survivors convicted of offenses caused by that violence to shorter sentences or alternative-to-incarceration program
Endorse the platform and get involved in the Challenging Incarceration collective by emailing: Urge Gov Cuomo (518-474-8390) and your legislators to sponsor all parts of the prioritized platform. Find your legislators at

7.  Crime victims, Crime and Correction Committee posted their 2017 legislation:

Laws Enacted (signed by the Governor)

S3338/A6857 (Bailey/Ortiz). Defines necessary court appearance for purposes of determination of crime victim’s award.
 S3498/A2534 (Bailey/Rozic). Requires that rehabilitation programs for female inmates in state correctional facilities be equivalent to those provided to male inmates elsewhere in the state.
S3504/A3824 (Griffo/Brindisi). Relates to allowing the Oneida County Sheriff and correctional facility to hold detained persons prior to arraignment.
S3982/A3053 (Montgomery/Weprin),. Requires parole decisions to be published on a publicly accessible website within 60 days of such decision.
S4909/A2394 (Diaz/Dinowitz). Directs the Office of Victim Services to consult with the Office for the Aging in establishing a volunteer program of home visitation for elderly and invalid victims of violent crime.
S5407/A7586 (Gallivan/Weprin). Updates internal citations and outdated references to the Division of Parole with references to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the Board of Parole, or the Former Division, as appropriate.
S5408/A7281 (Gallivan/Peoples-Stokes). Relates to eligibility for reimbursement of crime scene cleanup; expands such eligibility to grandparents, parents, stepparents, guardians, brothers, sisters, stepbrothers, stepsisters, and grandchildren.
S5409A/A7985A (Gallivan/Blake) Allows for county jails to contract with medical professional corporations for the provision of inmate health care services.
S5430/A7569 (Gallivan/Weprin). Authorizes the Office of Mental Health to enter into an agreement with a sheriff’s department to permit the relevant public safety officials to transfer custody of an inmate to an OMH secure facility while such inmate receives mental health treatment.
S5494A/A6353A (Gallivan/Weprin), Requires that an inmate, who has appeared before the board of parole prior to having completed any program required by DOCCS, and has been denied release, shall be immediately placed into the required program.
S5682/A1730 (Hamilton/Mosley),. Requires inmates to be allowed to make at least one personal phone call within 24 hours of arriving at a facility which the inmate has been transferred to. Provides for the call to be made by a designated staff member should the inmate be prevented from doing so directly due to security concerns.
S5894/A7675 (Gallivan/Weprin). Extends from September 1, 2017, to September 1, 2020, the expiration of provisions authorizing local correctional facilities to enter into agreements to take custody of out-of-state inmates.
S5987/A7687 (Gallivan/Weprin). Authorizes the study of staffing of parole officers and other employees of the department assigned to community supervision.

Laws Vetoed by the Governor

S4770A/A4032A (Gallivan/Weprin), Veto Memo 166. Clarifies that parole officers shall perform parole warrants, transporting parolees, conducting substance abuse testing of parolees, conducting home or field visits with parolees, conducting any investigation relating to parolees, etc. Further clarifies that police officers or peace officers, not
employed by the department, shall not be prevented from executing parole warrants.

Legislation passed in the Senate but not in Assembly
S193 (Marchione).
 Requires the department of corrections and community supervision to maintain the responsibility and costs of monitoring any person required to use an ignition device.

S215 (Marchione).Requires that when DOCCS is seeking to close any correctional facility,to submit a report to the Legislature at least 365 days before seeking such closure.Provides for legislative approval of such proposed closure.
S248 (Ortt).
 Prohibits any sex offender from residing within a quarter mile of any school,playground, park or building in which child care is provided.
S249 (Ortt).
 Requires the employment address of certain sex offenders to be reported to the division of criminal justice services.
S296 (Robach).
 Requires all level three sex offenders convicted of any sexually violent crime against a child to wear an electronic monitoring device for life.
S399 (Ortt). Creates a definition of residence under the sex offender registry act.

8.  Sixty people were granted pardons and commutations at the end of 2017
In December, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office announced that Cuomo had granted pardons and commutations to 60 people, including 18 immigrants at risk of deportation and two men who have been imprisoned, respectively, for murder and attempted murder.
In a news release on Dec. 27, the governor’s office highlighted the stories of two men whose minimum 25-year prison sentences for murder and attempted murder had been commuted. The press release also provided details on three immigrants who received pardons, including Lorena Borjas, 57, a transgender woman from Mexico who was convicted of criminal facilitation in 1994 after being “entrapped” as a human-trafficking victim.
But the administration has declined to release the names of 39 people who were given conditional pardons for convictions the governor’s office described as “misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes (committed) when they were 16 or 17 years old.” The governor’s office characterized those pardoned as “youths,” an apparent reference to their ages at the time the offenses were committed.
“The entire point of this program is to give a second chance to people who made a mistake when they were young, but have been leading law-abiding lives for years, if not decades,” said Richard Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman. “Proactively releasing their identities defeats the purpose.”   The 39 people who received conditional pardons from Cuomo were prosecuted as adults and had not been granted youthful-offender status, which would have resulted in their criminal records being sealed by a court.

9.  UAlbany Symposium: "Incarcerating Girls and Women: Past and Present"April 6 (Friday)
Film screening and discussion of INCARCERATION NATION with Susan Burton, former inmate, author, and prison reform activist   7:00 p.m., Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus (free and open to the public.)
After serving six prison terms in 17 years, Susan Burton has turned her life around and dedicated herself to helping other women overcome personal histories of incarceration, poverty, and addiction. Burton is the founder and executive director of A New Way of Life, a reentry project for former inmates.   Her memoir, Becoming Ms. Burton, recounts her life-struggles after her five-year-old son was killed by a van driving down their street and, consumed by grief, she turned to drugs.
For more information about the symposium, contact the School of Criminal Justice at (518) 442-5210.
Sponsored by UAlbany’s School of Criminal Justice’s Justice and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century project, and cosponsored by the Prison Public Memory Project