December 01, 2009

Graziano v. Pataki update: December 1st 2009

Brief update on Graziano v. Pataki, from the Prison Action Network:

"Graziano update: The case is still alive. Parties are waiting to learn the outcome of a case before the second circuit that could impact the Graziano case."

Building Bridges - December 2009 edition

The December edition of Building Bridges is now available from the Prison Action Network.

Items covered in this issue include:

1. Activities around NYS
2. Calls from home
3. Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies
4. Correctional Association's executive director is leaving
5. ICARE column
6. Lifers and Longtermers Clearinghouse
7. Lynne Stewart goes to prison
8. Parole news
9. Prison media
10. Prisoners of the census
11. The Telephone Justice Campaign
12. Transportation to prisons

Of particular interest to parole reform:

~ The Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies will present the first draft of the revised 259-i at a member comment session on Saturday December 12, from 10:30 to 1. The Policy Committee Participants at Prison Action Network’s Family Empowerment Day 4 in October 2008 called for a change in the current parole law to make it conform to community standards of fairness and justice. This revised bill has been produced in response to that call, guided by feedback from members of the Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies.

~ The Lifers and Longtermers Clearinghouse present the first part of their case describing the need for parole reform.

~ Graziano update: The case is still alive. Parties are waiting to learn the outcome of a case before the second circuit that could impact the Graziano case.

~ Shu'aib Raheem's rescission decision.

November 10, 2009

Update on the case of Shu'aib A. Raheem

An appellate court panel has upheld an Albany County Supreme Court ruling that the state’s Board of Parole was within its rights to reconsider the parole of Shu'aib A. Raheem after hearing new testimony from the victim’s family members.

It would appear that despite every effort an inmate has made while incarcerated, the victim's impact statement has become the single overriding factor which can keep an inmate in prison.

The full text of the decision from the Appellate Department, Third Division may be found here.

See also:
Uphold withdrawal of parole for cop-killer after family objects (Chief Leader, November 6 2009).
Cop killer's parole gets put on hold (NY Daily News, October 30 2009).

November 07, 2009

Ortloff sentencing delayed again until March 8th 2010

The sentencing of former Assemblyman and NY Parole Commissioner George “Chris” Ortloff has been delayed yet again, this time for a further four months.

His sentencing was originally adjourned from April 23rd until August 11th, then was delayed and was due to take place on November 9th 2009 at 2 p.m.

Now according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Spina, Ortloff's sentencing has once again been delayed and will now take place on March 8th 2010 at 11.30 a.m. at the federal district court in Albany.

"The parties need some additional time to address some sentencing issues," Spina said in a telephone message.

See also:
Ortloff sentencing delayed again (Albany Times Union, November 9 2009).
Ortloff sentencing delayed again (Press Republican, November 5 2009).
Ortloff’s sentencing delayed a third time — now to March (Adirondack Daily Enterprise, November 5 2009).
Ortloff sentencing delayed again (, November 5 2009).

November 01, 2009

Building Bridges - November 2009 edition

The November edition of Building Bridges is now available from the Prison Action Network.

Items covered in this issue include:

1. Activities around NYS
2. CFFCJP reports
3. Gardening at prison
4. ICARE column
5. Job opportunities
6. Lady Penumbra and Ty Conscious
7. Legislation
8. Lifers and Longtermers Clearinghouse
9. Obituary
10. Parole news
11. Post-conviction sealing hotline seeks input
12. Prison media
13. Prisoners of the census
14. Telephone rates lowered
15. Transportation to prisons

There are no further updates on the Graziano v. Pataki class action case.

October 01, 2009

Building Bridges - October 2009 edition

The October 2009 issue of Building Bridges has been released by the Prison Action Network.

Items discussed in this issue include:

1. Actions you can take
2. Alternatives to incarceration
3. Buffalo citizens prevail
4. Family Empowerment Day 5
5. Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies
6. ICARE introduces new team member
7. Larry 'Luqman' White wins Citizen's Award
8. Legislation
9. Lifers and Longtermers Clearinghouse
10. Manhattan's D.A. Race
11. Parole
12. Prison Media
13. Prisoners of the Census
14. Transportation to prisons
15. 'Visitors' shows at Arthur Kill

September 29, 2009

NYS Parole Board responds to pressure and reconsiders two parole decisions

The NYS Parole Board has responded to pressure by agreeing to reconsider their decisions in two cases where parole had initially been granted, as they did in the case of Shu'aib Raheem almost two years ago.

Again and again members of the Parole Board are being overruled when they have made a decision that proves to be politically unpopular, particularly in cases where a victim of crime or victim's representative has not taken the opportunity to provide a statement in good time for a parole hearing.

In one of the injustices of the NYS Parole Statute, Executive Law § 259-i (2)(c)(A)(v), victim's impact statements submitted at a parole hearing can be used to keep an inmate in prison despite the fact that statements made by a crime victim or victim's representative were taken into account by the judge at the time of original sentencing. Thus an inmate is effectively sentenced over and over again; once by the sentencing judge at the time of his trial, and again by the Parole Board each time he comes up for a parole hearing.

Prosecutors cited an incomplete parole record and rushed to delay the parole release of José Diaz, who shot Bronx Assistant District Attorney Sean Healy in 1990. The parole record lacked statements from Sean Healy's own boss, Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson; in addition, Healy's family had not taken the opportunity to give victim's impact statements. The State Parole Board has now reversed its decision to free Diaz.

In a separate hearing, Pablo Costello was recently granted parole after serving more than thirty years for his involvement in the murder of Officer David Guttenberg, who was shot when he interrupted a robbery. His parole release has been postponed to give David Guttenberg's widow, Barbara, an opportunity to file a victim's impact statement. Her statement will be reviewed by the Parole Board before a final decision is made.

Commenting on Pablo Costello's case, PBA President Pat Lynch stated, "It is our firm belief that, absent a death penalty, life in prison without the possibility of parole is the only just sentence for cop killers." (New York Daily News, September 26th 2009)

In these cases and others, it would appear that despite every effort an inmate has made while incarcerated and because of the injustice of the NYS parole system, the victim's impact statement is the single overriding factor which keeps an inmate in prison.

See also:
Cop killers' pal: Parole Board's Thomas Grant keeps voting to turn 'em loose (NY Daily News, October 19 2009).
Menaces to society: Parole Board pair rightly overruled on freeing murderous drug dealer (NY Daily News, September 25 2009).

September 01, 2009

Building Bridges - September 2009 edition

The September edition of Building Bridges is now available from the Prison Action Network.

Items covered in this issue include:

1. Actions you can take
2. Center for Community Alternatives - two stories
3. Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies
4. Fiscal crisis in corrections
5. ICARE Reports
6. Legislation
7. Lifers and Longtermers Clearinghouse
8. Parole news
9. Prison media
10. Transportation to prisons
11. Karen Lewis is found!

There are no further updates on the Graziano v. Pataki class action case.

August 11, 2009

Ortloff sentencing delayed yet again

The sentencing of former Assemblyman and NY Parole Commissioner George “Chris” Ortloff has been delayed yet again.

Ortloff, 61, a former Republican Assemblyman from Plattsburgh, is awaiting sentencing on his guilty plea to a felony count of enticement of minors, after he was caught last fall in a sting operation trying to set up sexual liaisons with two pre-teen sisters.

Ortloff surrendered himself to federal authorities in April to begin serving his prison term for enticement of minors, although he has not yet been formally sentenced.

His sentencing was adjourned from April 23rd until August 11th, and has now been delayed yet again until November 9th at 2 p.m. at the federal district court in Albany.

U.S. Assistant District Attorney Thomas Spina stated that the latest delay was due to a scheduling conflict.

Ortloff faces a mandatory minimum of ten years in federal prison and maximum penalty of life.

See also:
Ortloff sentencing remains in holding pattern (Albany Times Union, August 11 2009).
Ortloff sentencing delayed (Press Republican, August 9 2009).
Ortloff sentencing delayed until Nov. 9 (Adirondack Daily Enterprise, August 5 2009).
Ortloff sentencing delayed for second time (, August 4 2009).

August 01, 2009

Building Bridges - August 2009 edition

The August edition of Building Bridges is now available from the Prison Action Network.

Subjects covered in this issue include:
1. Actions you can take
2. Birth in shackles
3. ICARE is on vacation
4. Legislation updates and bills to watch
5. Parole News
6. Prison Media
7. Prisoners of the census
8. Public Defense
9. Transportation
10. Voting rights
11. Writing Contest

There are no further updates on the Graziano v. Pataki class action case.

Update on Merit Time Bill S2932/A6487: the Bill has passed out of the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee and is now sitting in the Rules Committee.

July 22, 2009

The Sentencing Project releases national report: 1 in 11 prisoners are serving life sentences

More prisoners today are serving life terms than ever before — 140,610 out of 2.3 million inmates being held in jails and prisons across the country — under tough mandatory minimum-sentencing laws and the declining use of parole for eligible convicts, according to No Exit: The Expanding Use of Life Sentences in America, a report by The Sentencing Project, a group that calls for the elimination of life sentences without parole.

The authors of the report, Ashley Nellis, Ph.D., research analyst and Ryan S. King, policy analyst of The Sentencing Project, state that persons serving life sentences "include those who present a serious threat to public safety, but also include those for whom the length of sentence is questionable."

The full report and links to Press articles can be found here.

July 02, 2009

State agencies partner on prison-based addiction services

Leaders of New York’s drug treatment and criminal justice systems today announced a collaboration on behind the walls addiction services that will serve as a blueprint for the future under Rockefeller Drug Reform.

The New York State Department of Correctional Services’ (DOCS) Willard Drug Treatment Campus in Seneca County is launching a new phase of the corrections-based drug treatment readiness program, in collaboration with the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) and the Division of Parole (DOP), to enhance addiction services “behind the walls” to parolees as part of the Rockefeller Drug Law Reforms signed this year by Governor David A. Paterson...

...Andrea Evans, Chairwoman of the NYS Board of Parole and Chief Executive Officer of the New York State Division of Parole said, “Substance abuse is one of the greatest barriers to successfully completing parole. The program here at Willard is an opportunity to help the addicted choose sobriety and in doing so eliminate the behaviors that often result in criminal activity and a return to prison. This program is a proactive way to protect public safety by stopping crime before it happens."

Full Press release is available here.

July 01, 2009

Building Bridges - July 2009 edition

The July 2009 issue of Building Bridges has been released by the Prison Action Network.

Subjects covered in this issue include:
1. Abuse of incarcerated youth
2. Actions you can take
3. ICARE Reports
4. Legislation
5. Lifers and Longtermers Clearinghouse
6. Parole news
7. Prison closures - what replaces them?
8. Prison media
9. Prisoners of the census
10. Transportation to prison
11. Citizens Against Recidivism questionnaire

Update on Merit Time Bill S2932/A6487: the Bill had passed out of the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee and was waiting to be put on the Calendar, when the Senate fell into total disarray. It did not get out of the Assembly Corrections Committee before the end of session. It may be reintroduced next session, or yet another Merit Time Bill may be drafted to replace it.

Citizens Against Recidivism, Inc. would like to consult with people in prison and have developed a brief survey on the issues that affect prisoners. The survey can be found at the end of the July issue of Building Bridges.

Graziano v. Pataki update: July 1st 2009

Brief update on Graziano v. Pataki, from the Prison Action Network:

"GRAZIANO VS PATAKI: The lawyers for Graziano submitted written questions to Pataki; his responses are not due for another three weeks or so."

June 08, 2009

Andrea W. Evans confirmed by Senate to serve as Chairwoman of the Board of Parole and CEO of the Division of Parole

Andrea W. Evans confirmed by Senate to serve as Chairwoman of the Board of Parole and CEO of the Division of Parole

The New York State Senate today confirmed Andrea W. Evans as Chairwoman of the State Board of Parole. Ms. Evans was nominated by Governor David A. Paterson on May 22, 2009.

As Chairwoman, Ms. Evans will also serve as Chief Executive Officer of the Division.

Ms. Evans was most recently Director of the Division of Parole for Region II, an area encompassing Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. In this position, she was responsible for the operation of nine area offices, and the Queensboro Correctional Facility. Prior to this role, Ms. Evans served as Deputy Regional Director for Region I, where she managed the operation of five field offices in Bronx County.

June 01, 2009

Building Bridges - June 2009 edition

The June 2009 issue of Building Bridges has been released by the Prison Action Network.

Items discussed in this issue include:
1. A list of ways you can help create positive change
2. Citizens Against Recidivism reports on "Considering the Evidence on Long Term Sentences"
3. Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies Update
4. ICARE Reports
5. Legislation Report
6. Lifers and Longtermers Clearinghouse update on community linkages
7. Parole news and statistics
8. Prison Media: Fancy Broccoli, Soul Spectrum, and Still Here Harlem
9. SHU Bill Hearing held in March to discuss delay in implementation
10. Temporary Work Release: part 2 of "Wilderness or Promised Land"
11. Transportation to Prison

There were no new developments in the Graziano v. Pataki class action case during May.

Of particular interest in this edition of Building Bridges is the report of the Citizens Against Recidivism on the panel discussion held on May 5th at the Graduate Center at CUNY. The discussion was lead by Dr. Michelle Fine, a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center; panelists included Kathy Boudin, Eric Waters (Osbourne Association), Mika’il DeVeaux (Citizens Against Recidivism, Inc.), Carla Marquez (Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate Center) and Felipe Vargas (The Doe Fund). The aim of the panel was to review evidence relating to people in prison with long term sentences, particularly those who have committed violent offenses. Current policies toward this class of incarcerated people were discussed; and suggestions were made for various new policies for inmates whose release is thought to better serve the public interest and increase public safety.

May 27, 2009

Six Months, Four Parole Board Chairs

"In a move that went largely overlooked (and was likely intended to be, given the fact that it was made at 5:30 p.m. on the Friday before a three-day holiday weekend), Gov. David Paterson announced his latest nominee to chair the state Parole Board: Andrea Evans.

If she is confirmed by the state Senate for the $120,800-a-year job, Evans will be the fourth person tapped for the post since December 2008, and Paterson's third appointee..."

Read the full story in the Daily Politics blog by Elizabeth Benjamin, NY Daily News, May 25 2009.

May 22, 2009

Governor David A. Paterson nominates Andrea D. Evans as Chair of the New York State Board of Parole

Governor Paterson announces nomination to the State Board of Parole

For immediate release: May 22, 2009

Governor David A. Paterson today announced the nomination of Andrea D. Evans as Chair of the State Board of Parole. As Chair, Ms. Evans will also serve as Chief Executive Officer of the Division.

Ms. Evans is the current Director of the Division of Parole for Region II, an area encompassing Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. In this position, she oversees the operation of four Area Offices, including one located in the Queensboro Correctional Facility. Prior to this role, Ms. Evans served as Deputy Regional Director for Region I, where she managed the operation of five field offices in Bronx County.

From 2000 to 2006, Ms. Evans served as Special Assistant to the Downstate Director of Operations. From 1997-2000, she worked as an Investigator in the Division of Parole’s Office for Professional Responsibility, where she conducted investigations into allegations of professional misconduct. From 1994 to 1997, Ms. Evans was a Senior Parole Officer and served as Acting Supervisor in the Bronx Area Office. Additionally, she worked as a Parole Revocation Officer from 1990 to 1994. Ms. Evans began her career with the Division in 1986 as a Parole Officer.

Prior to joining the State Division of Parole, Ms. Evans worked for the Central Brooklyn Coordinating Council from 1979 to 1986, a community-based family services and support organization dedicated to foster care prevention.

Ms. Evans holds a B.A. in Psychology from the City College of New York.

As Chair of the State Board of Parole, Ms. Evans will receive an annual salary of $120,800. This position requires Senate confirmation.

May 01, 2009

Building Bridges - May 2009 edition

The May 2009 edition of Building Bridges has just been issued by the Prison Action Network. Visit their blog to read all the latest news and updates. Subjects covered this month include:

1. A list of things you can do to help your incarcerated loved ones
2. Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies
3. ICARE reports
4. Legislation
5. Lifers and Longtermers Clearinghouse
6. Parole news
7. Prison Media
8. Prisoners of the census
9. Transportation to prisons
10. Warrentless vehicle searches curtailed

Graziano v. Pataki update: May 1st 2009

Update on Graziano v. Pataki, from the Prison Action Network:

"GRAZIANO VS PATAKI: The Judge has denied the Plaintiffs’ (Graziano motion to compel the deposition of the Defendant, former NYS governor George E. Pataki, citing immunity for high ranking officials, which protects them from “unnecessary probing of the officials’ thought processes”, and such depositions would “likely discourage individuals from public service positions”. Justice Seibel also stated in her decision that “Pataki has offered to answer written interrogatories, and such a procedure is a reasonable middle ground.” Case 7:06-cv-00480-CS Document 121, Filed 4/27/2009."

April 22, 2009

Ortloff sentencing delayed until August 11th 2009

Former NYS Parole Board Commissioner Chris Ortloff's sentencing has been delayed and is now scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on August 11th at the federal courthouse in Albany. In the meantime, the former assemblyman's bail will be revoked and he will begin serving time pending his sentencing. Ortloff has been free on conditions and a $100,000 bond since late December last year, when he pleaded guilty to a single count of online enticement of a minor.

See Jail time for Ortloff to begin Thursday: sentencing delayed from this week until August (Adirondack Daily Enterprise, April 22 2009) for the full story.

From the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, quoting Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Spina:

"The minimum sentence for Ortloff's charges is 10 years' imprisonment with a maximum of life, plus a $250,000 fine. Spina said federal prisoners are "typically eligible for 50 days of good time a year if they comply with all the programs."

Additionally, Spina said, they are sometimes released to a halfway house four months before the end of their sentence to help their reintegration into the community. Following this, if Ortloff is sentenced to the 10-year minimum, he would have to serve more than eight years before he could be released."

The authors of the article note that Chris Ortloff was paid $101,600 a year on the Parole Board and will continue to be paid $53,136 a year for the rest of his life, even in prison. This pension is guaranteed by New York State's Constitution.

See also:
Ortloff sentencing delayed to August (Press Republican, April 21 2009)
Ortloff starts sentence for trying to seduce children (Albany Times Union, April 23 2009)
Ortloff is in custody to await sentencing later this year (Times Union Capitol Confidential Blog, April 23 2009)

April 01, 2009

Graziano v. Pataki update: April 1st 2009

Update on Graziano v. Pataki, from the Prison Action Network:

"GRAZIANO VS PATAKI: The parties are still waiting for a decision on the motion to compel the Pataki deposition."

Building Bridges - April 2009 edition

The April 2009 edition of Building Bridges has just been issued by the Prison Action Network. Visit their blog to read all the latest news and updates. Subjects covered this month include:

Activities to educate, motivate, and mobilize
Budget speech by Commissioner Brian Fischer
Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies - NYC
ICARE Reports
Lifers and Longtermers Clearinghouse
Parole news
Prison health care report
Prison libraries research project
Prison media
Prisoners of the Census Reentry unit opens
Reentry speech by Commissioner Fischer
SHU Bill commentary by Sol Wachtler
Transportation to prisons

The Prison Action Network note that George B. Alexander, former NYS Chair of Parole, will be the special guest at the meeting of the Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies - NYC Chapter on Saturday April 25, 10:30am-1pm. He will discuss his situation and his desire to return to his former position as Chair of Parole now that charges against him have been dismissed.

The meeting will be held at Fortune Society’s Offices, 29-76 Northern Blvd. (Rte 25A) between 40th Ave and 41st Ave in Long Island City.

March 27, 2009

Governor Paterson and legislative leaders announce three-way agreement to reform New York State's Rockefeller Drug Laws


Governor David A. Paterson Press Releases. For immediate release: March 27, 2009

Sweeping Reform Ends Harsh Sentences for Non-violent Addicts

Focuses on Treatment Rather than Punishment to End the Cycle of Addiction

Governor David A. Paterson, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver today announced a three-way agreement calling for sweeping reform of the State’s Rockefeller Drug Laws. The agreement eliminates the harsh sentences that the Rockefeller Drug Laws mandated by giving judges total authority to divert non-violent addicts to treatment and greatly expanding drug treatment programs. The agreement strikes a careful and appropriate balance to ensure that non-violent addicted offenders get the treatment they need while predatory kingpins get the punishment they deserve.

“I have been fighting to overhaul the drug laws and restore judicial discretion in narcotics cases since I began my career in public service as a State Senator nearly a quarter-century ago,” Governor Paterson said. “As a resident and representative of Harlem, I saw first-hand the devastating effect that drugs have on our communities, and the devastating effect that ill-considered drug laws and drug policies have had on individuals, families and neighborhoods.”

The Governor added: “I have seen too many lives destroyed by outrageously harsh and ineffective mandatory sentencing laws, and I have also seen too many lives ruined by despicable dealers who prey on the vulnerabilities and addictions of others. I believe this agreement strikes the right balance, and I urge the Legislature to enact it immediately, before more lives and communities are needlessly destroyed.”

Senate Majority Leader Smith said: “Today marks the beginning of a new era for New York’s sentencing laws. Rockefeller Drug Law reform will reverse years of ineffective criminal laws, protect communities and save taxpayers millions of dollars that were wasted on the current policy. With more money going toward treatment instead of costly imprisonment, our State will finally have a smarter policy, giving families a fighting chance in the war on drugs.”

Assembly Speaker Silver said: “Long before we had partners in either the Executive or in the Senate, the Assembly Majority was fighting for real reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. With this legislation, we have taken, at long last, a giant leap in establishing a more just, a more humane and a more effective drug policy in the State of New York. No longer will drug use and addiction be considered solely a criminal matter in this State, but a public health matter as well. This legislation recognizes that drug addiction is a disease which calls out for treatment rather than incarceration. I commend the tenacity and the dedication of my colleagues and the leadership of Assemblymembers Aubry, Lentol and Weinstein for their unyielding commitment to this issue.”

Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson said: “Today, the Governor and the Legislature have agreed on a major change in public policy. We have created a balanced approach to drug addiction and crime. Our ability to reduce the flow of drugs in our communities is dependent on our ability to reduce the demand. We are now shifting resources to treat drug addiction as a medical problem. By diverting addicts to drug treatment courts, we believe we can get people off drugs and thereby reduce the demand for them. Study after study shows that our policies will make our communities safer and save the taxpayers millions of dollars. Today, we begin anew, offering offenders an opportunity to receive treatment, while maintaining that the safety and security of our neighborhoods, cities, and State remains paramount.”

Senator John L. Sampson said: “This is a promise made, and a promise kept. The Rockefeller Drug Laws have decimated communities and destroyed lives. Our Democratic conference said that once in the Majority we would be instrumental in making changes that positively impact all people across our State. Taking on this issue in our first year as the Majority shows the people that the Senate is serious and will not back down from the big issues. Reforms we made in 2004 were just a down payment, we’ve now paid off the mortgage. So I congratulate the Governor and members of the Assembly. I also congratulate my colleagues, Senators Schneiderman and Hassell-Thompson, who along with myself, were at the table and the forefront of the push to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws.”

Senator Eric T. Schneiderman said: “This legislation delivers a big dose of sanity to our State’s sentencing practices. It will make our communities safer, save money and, most importantly, save lives. Thousands of people from every corner of this State will benefit from these reforms. Today NewYork chooses treatment over incarceration—30 years is enough.”

Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry said: “My Assembly colleagues and I continue in our pledge not to give up our fight for greater reform of New York State’s ineffective and imprudent drug laws. While today’s agreement brings us closer to our goal, we recognize the need to do more. We will continue to work with our partners to completely reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws.”

Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol said: “Thirty-six years ago I voted against the enactment of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. It was clear to me that simply locking drug offenders away without treatment would not be effective. I am pleased that we are finally towards turning this travesty around and judges will once again have more of the discretion they need.”

Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein said: “Judicial discretion has always been one of the core principles for which the Assembly has fought. With the expansion of drug courts and other options to treat addicts, we are moving toward dealing with the underlying problems of drug offenders – giving them the opportunity to get treatment and reduce recidivism in New York.”

The agreement will give judges the discretion to divert non-violent drug addicted individuals to treatment alternatives that are shown to be far more successful than prison in ending the cycle of addiction. Crucially, it also commits tens of millions of dollars to existing and new treatment programs.“

It makes no sense to give judges the authority to place non-violent addicted offenders into treatment if there is nowhere to treat them,” Governor Paterson said. “We must not only overhaul the drug laws, but also provide an infrastructure to ensure that we successfully rehabilitate those who are addicted.”

There are three significant pieces of the agreement. First, it creates a drug treatment program to be administered by drug court judges.

* Under this program, judges will have discretion to place addicted first and second-time drug offenders into judicially-approved alcohol and substance abuse treatment – over the objections of prosecutors.
* This agreement also recognizes that drug-addicted persons often commit other crimes, such as property and theft offenses. This agreement will make treatment available to these non-violent addicted offenders who commit these offenses.
* The agreement maximizes an addicted offender’s chance of success in overcoming addiction, by relying on New York’s highly successful drug courts to administer the new treatment model. Drug courts use specially-trained judges who build relationships with offenders, closely monitor their progress and reward their successes. They are also staffed with case managers and vocational and employment specialists to assist offenders in obtaining education and jobs.
* For the first time, the agreement gives judges the authority to dismiss all charges or seal the arrest and conviction records of offenders who successfully complete a judicially-sanctioned treatment program. It also gives judges complete discretion to determine an appropriate penalty for those offenders who are unable to succeed in the treatment program.
* The agreement recognizes that relapses are often part of recovery from long-term drug addiction. It would require judges to consider whether a non-incarceratory remedy, such as heightened supervision or more frequent testing and treatment, could effectively be used if an offender under court supervision suffers a relapse.
* The agreement vastly expands the availability of drug treatment programs and commits tens of millions of dollars to inpatient treatment programs, outpatient treatment programs and community residential facilities.
* Recognizing that some offenders may require more supervision than can be provided through community-based drug treatment programs, the agreement expands the use of programs such as the “shock” incarceration program and the Willard drug treatment program, to give judges additional sentencing options for these offenders.
* The agreement also permits the State Division of Parole to discharge early from continued parole supervision those drug offenders who have demonstrated success and rehabilitation while serving a term of post-release supervision.

Second, the agreement relieves new offenders from some of the old Rockefeller Drug Law’s mandatory sentencing provisions and provides additional relief to offenders who remain incarcerated under the old laws.

* The agreement eliminates mandatory State prison sentences for first-time class B felony drug offenders and second-time non-violent class C, D and E drug offenders, making them eligible for a term of probation that could also include drug treatment, or a local jail sentence.
* The agreement permits class B drug felons who meet eligibility criteria and who are currently serving Rockefeller Drug Law sentences to enter the six-month shock incarceration program when they are within three years of release. If successful, they would be entitled to early release from prison.
* The agreement also requires the Board of Parole to consider current, lower sentencing ranges when deciding whether to release a class B drug offender to parole supervision.

Third, the agreement ensures that offenders who are not addicted, but who profit from the addictions of others, are appropriately sentenced to State prison.

* The Governor believes that law enforcement should target drug kingpins instead of low-level drug users and his agreement creates a new drug “kingpin” offense that targets organized drug traffickers who profit from and prey on drug users.
* The agreement also creates new crimes to ensure that adults who sell drugs to children are appropriately required to serve time in State prison.
* Finally, the agreement retains mandatory prison sentences for class B predicate drug offenders, but allows judges to impose lower prison terms that are similar to those in other states.

See also: Albany Reaches Deal to Repeal ’70s Drug Laws, by Jeremy W. Peters. (New York Times, March 25 2009.)

March 21, 2009

Merit Time Bill Survey

You are invited to take part in a survey organized by the Prison Action Network (see their newsletter for March 2009).

The following is from the Prison Action Network:

"MERIT TIME BILL SURVEY: We are conducting a survey, the results of which we will take to the sponsors of the Merit Time Bills currently in the NY State Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections. We need your opinion. Please help us help you.

There are two Merit Time Bills on the table: S49/A172 and A6487/S2932.

S49/A172 includes all people in prison (except those who have Life without parole) and allows up to 1/3 off of the minimum and maximum sentence.

Bill A6487 expands the existing merit time (1/7) to all persons with a violent offense (including manslaughter) except those serving a life sentence for a murder 1 or murder 2 conviction, a sex offense or a terrorism offense.

We would like to know if you would support a bill that does not include Lifers."

March 14, 2009

Former Parole Board chief has laptop case adjourned toward dismissal

Former Parole Board chief has laptop case adjourned toward dismissal: Alexander also pays county $500 for keeping laptop computer in his home.

Full story by Matt Gryta, in the Buffalo News, 03/14/09.

"George B. Alexander, forced to resign as head of the state Parole Board after he was accused of stealing a laptop computer, was granted a six-month adjournment in contemplation of dismissal Friday.

Buffalo City Judge Jeffrey F. Voelkl issued the ruling for Alexander, 56, who had faced stolen property charges. The state attorney general also agreed to the sentence.

Alexander’s lawyer, John V. Elmore, said Alexander, who had previously served as Erie County probation commissioner, handed over a $500 check to Erie County for having the laptop for a year.

Elmore said Alexander “just forgot” he left the laptop in his Buffalo home in the swirl of activity that sent him to Albany for his job on weekdays, his attorney said.

Under the arrangement, Alexander’s adjournment will expire June 23 — six months after he was arraigned in Buffalo City Court on felony grand larceny and stolen property charges — “and he’ll have a clean slate,” Elmore said.

Alexander currently is a part-time criminal justice instructor at Buffalo State College.

Alexander, who returned to Buffalo on weekends, oversaw a parole operation with an annual $279 million budget and 2,300 employees. However, he neglected to surrender to the county the $1,700 Gateway laptop, which he brought home so his computer-savvy son could check out its bells and whistles, Elmore said.

Elmore said Alexander admitted in writing that he had the laptop from January 2007 to April 2008, when he returned it to the county, and admitted he “deprived” the Erie County Probation Department of its use... ..."

March 11, 2009

Parolee information now available on the NYS Division of Parole website

PAROLEE INFORMATION NOW AVAILABLE ON PAROLE WEBSITE: Public can access parole supervision status of individuals

(The New York State Division of Parole "Parolee Lookup" feature may be found here; further information may be found here.)

Press release from the NYS Division of Parole, March 11th 2009

Henry Lemons, interim chairman of the New York State Division of Parole today announced the launch of a new “parolee lookup” feature on the Division’s website, The public can now access real-time information on the parole status of those currently under supervision as well as those who have completed their supervision.

“Victims, members of law enforcement, state and federal criminal justice agencies and family members routinely have questions about the status of an individual’s parole supervision,” Lemons said. “By creating this valuable online tool, people can have access to this important information 24 hours a day.”

After entering specific information about a person under parole supervision such as a name or identification number, the public will be able to search for details about that individual’s parole status. Data that is available includes the county where the crime was committed, crime of conviction, the date parole supervision began, the status of parole supervision, the address of the parole office that an individual reports to as well as the name and contact telephone number for the parole officer overseeing the case.

The addition of the look-up feature on the website is part of the Division’s goal to make its work more transparent and readily available to the public. It follows the 2008 online addition of the Parole Board interview schedule that allows users to look back at Parole Board determinations over a two year period, and locate the parole interview dates of persons that are scheduled to come before the Board in the next four months.

March 06, 2009

Make jail time a last resort

Make jail time a last resort - commentary by Jonathan E. Gradess on the report of the New York State Commission for Sentencing Reform, February 11, 2009.

"The recent report of the New York State Sentencing Commission, merely toying with sentencing reform, mirrors our past rather than breaking new ground. The Legislature should reject the report, send it to the State Archives, and begin anew...

...The Legislature should abolish all mandatory sentences and return full judicial discretion to judges. Prison sentences should be uniformly shorter, and non-incarcerative sentences should be available for every offense. Prison should be viewed and used as a last resort. The presumption of incarceration that has emerged should be replaced with meaningful procedures to fashion appropriate non-prison sentences. A continuum of non-incarcerative, treatment oriented, graduated sanctions should replace the simple "in" or "out" decision that currently characterizes sentencing. We should impose all sentences with an eye toward making people productive."

Jonathan E. Gradess is executive director of the New York State Defenders Association.

March 02, 2009

States urged to improve probation, parole programs

1 in 31 U.S. Adults are Behind Bars, on Parole or Probation

The complete report may be found online here.
Factsheet for New York State may be found here.

Release Type: Pew Press Release
Pew Contact: Jessica Riordan, 215-575-4886; Andrew McDonald 202-552-2178

Washington, DC - 03/02/2009 - Explosive growth in the number of people on probation or parole has propelled the population of the American corrections system to more than 7.3 million, or 1 in every 31 U.S. adults, according to a report released today by the Pew Center on the States. The vast majority of these offenders live in the community, yet new data in the report finds that nearly 90 percent of state corrections dollars are spent on prisons. One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections examines the scale and cost of prison, jail, probation and parole in each of the 50 states (please see the 50 state factsheets), and provides a blueprint for states to cut both crime and spending by reallocating prison expenses to fund stronger supervision of the large number of offenders in the community.“Most states are facing serious budget deficits,” said Susan Urahn, managing director of The Pew Center on the States. “Every single one of them should be making smart investments in community corrections that will help them cut costs and improve outcomes.”

In the past two decades, state general fund spending on corrections increased by more than 300 percent, outpacing other essential government services from education, to transportation and public assistance. Only Medicaid spending has grown faster. Today, corrections imposes a national taxpayer burden of $68 billion a year. Despite this increased spending, recidivism rates have remained largely unchanged.

Research shows that strong community supervision programs for lower-risk, non-violent offenders not only cost significantly less than incarceration but, when appropriately resourced and managed, can cut recidivism by as much as 30 percent. Diverting these offenders to community supervision programs also frees up prison beds needed to house violent offenders, and can offer budget makers additional resources for other pressing public priorities.

One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections provides a detailed look at who is in the corrections system and which states have the highest populations of offenders behind bars and in the community. Key findings include:

• One in 31 adults in America is in prison or jail, or on probation or parole. Twenty-five years ago, the rate was 1 in 77.
• Overall, two-thirds of offenders are in the community, not behind bars. 1 in 45 adults is on probation or parole and 1 in 100 is in prison or jail. The proportion of offenders behind bars versus in the community has changed very little over the past 25 years, despite the addition of 1.1 million prison beds.
• Correctional control rates are highly concentrated by race and geography: 1 in 11 black adults (9.2 percent) versus 1 in 27 Hispanic adults (3.7 percent) and 1 in 45 white adults (2.2 percent); 1 in 18 men (5.5 percent) versus 1 in 89 women (1.1 percent). The rates can be extremely high in certain neighborhoods. In one block-group of Detroit’s East Side, for example, 1 in 7 adult men (14.3 percent) is under correctional control.
• Georgia, where 1 in 13 adults is behind bars or under community supervision, leads the top five states that also include Idaho, Texas, Massachusetts, Ohio and the District of Columbia.

The report also analyzes the cost of current sentencing and corrections policies. The National Association of State Budget Officers estimates that states spent a record $51.7 billion on corrections in FY2008, or 1 in every 15 general fund dollars. Adding local, federal and other funding brings the national correctional spending total to $68 billion.

While total correctional spending figures have been available before, new data collected by the Pew Center on the States for the report provides the first breakdown of correctional spending by prisons, probation and parole in the past seven years:

• In FY 2008, the 34 states for which data are available spent $18.65 billion on prisons (88 percent of corrections spending), but only $2.53 billion on probation and parole (12 percent).
• For eight states where 25 years of data were available, spending on prisons grew by $4.74 billion from FY 1983 to FY 2008, while probation and parole spending increased by only $652 million. This means that while prisons accounted for one-third of the population growth, they consumed 88 percent of the new corrections expenditures.
• The 34 states that were able to provide data reported spending as much as 22 times more per day to manage prison inmates than to supervise offenders in the community. The reported average inmate cost was $79 per day, or nearly $29,000 per year. The average cost of managing an offender in the community ranged from $3.42 per day for probationers to $7.47 per day for parolees, or about $1,250 to $2,750 a year.

“Violent and career criminals need to be locked up, and for a long time. But our research shows that prisons are housing too many people who can be managed safely and held accountable in the community at far lower cost,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project, which produced the report. “New community supervision strategies and technologies need to be strengthened and expanded, not scaled back. Cutting them may appear to save a few dollars, but it doesn’t. It will fuel the cycle of more crime, more victims, more arrests, more prosecutions, and still more imprisonment.”

One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections provides states with a blueprint and specific case studies for strengthening their community corrections systems, saving money and reducing crime. Research-based recommendations include:

• Sort offenders by risk to public safety to determine appropriate levels of supervision;
• Base intervention programs on sound research about what works to reduce recidivism;
• Harness advances in supervision technology such as electronic monitoring and rapid-result alcohol and drug tests;
• Impose swift and certain sanctions for offenders who break the rules of their release but who do not commit new crimes; and
• Create incentives for offenders and supervision agencies to succeed, and monitor their performance.

Launched in 2006 as a project of The Pew Center on the States, the Public Safety Performance Project seeks to help states advance fiscally sound, data-driven policies and practices in sentencing and corrections that protect public safety, hold offenders accountable and control corrections costs.

The Pew Charitable Trusts applies the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Our Center on the States identifies and advances effective policy approaches to critical issues facing states. Online at

March 01, 2009

Graziano v. Pataki update: March 1st 2009

Update on Graziano v. Pataki, from the Prison Action Network:

"UPDATE ON GRAZIANO VS PATAKI: The judge has been presented with Graziano’s motion to compel Pataki’s deposition, and Pataki's opposition argument. We await her decision."

February 16, 2009

George Pataki denies having a secret policy to deny the release of violent offenders by focusing on the severity of their crimes

In a letter to Judge Cathy Seibel, former Governor of NYS George Pataki has denied having a secret policy to deny the release of violent offenders by focusing on the severity of their crimes at their parole hearings.

"I never directed the Parole Board, nor did I instruct any member of my staff to direct the Parole Board to deny parole to any individual or group of inmates."

Lawyers for the inmates in the Graziano v. Pataki federal civil rights class action case accuse the Pataki administration of unconstitutionally rejecting parole for violent offenders to advance the administration's political and economic agendas.

Full story by Thomas Zambito in the NY Daily News

February 12, 2009

Timothy D. O'Brien has been named interim Executive Director of the New York State Division of Parole

Felix M. Rosa Jr. has been demoted and Timothy D. O'Brien has been named interim Executive Director of the New York State Division of Parole, effective today.

Press release from Governor David A. Paterson: February 12, 2009

Mr. O'Brien, who most recently served as Director of Upstate Parole Operations, has worked in the Division for nearly 20 years. He began his career as a parole officer in 1989 and later served as Assistant to the Director of Parole Operations. Mr. O'Brien, of Lake George, was appointed Director of Upstate Parole Operations in 2007.

Mr. O'Brien will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Division of Parole pending an Inspector General's inquiry involving Felix M. Rosa Jr., who had served as Executive Director since April 2007. Mr. Rosa has returned to his civil service position of Area Supervisor and will be assigned to the Central Office to work on the Division's re-entry program pending the outcome of the inquiry.

Mr. O'Brien will be paid $123,446 annually. Mr. Rosa's salary is $104,080.

February 10, 2009

Prison panel calls for "revoking" parole

"The governor's Sentencing Commission garnered attention for its call to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Less noticed was its call for practically eliminating discretionary releases from state prisons.

When the New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform issued its final report last week, most attention centered on its recommendation to reform the so-called Rockefeller drug laws. But the commission also proposed the virtual elimination of parole – a move with practical implications for thousands of prisoners and historical significance for the state..."

Editorial on the final report of the New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform, by Jarrett Murphy

February 09, 2009

Governor David A. Paterson appoints Henry Lemons, Jr. as interim Chair of the New York State Board of Parole

Governor David A. Paterson today announced the appointment of Henry “Hank” Lemons, Jr. to serve as interim Chair of the New York State Board of Parole and interim Chief Executive Officer for the Division of Parole. Mr. Lemons, who has served as a member of the Board of Parole since 2007, will fulfill the role of former Chairman George B. Alexander until a new chair and CEO is confirmed by the New York State Senate.

In 2007, Mr. Lemons was unanimously confirmed by the State Senate for his position as member of the Board of Parole. He served from 2004 to 2007 as Deputy Chief Investigator for the New York State Attorney General. Prior to that post, he was the Assistant Chief Investigator for the Kings County District Attorney. Mr. Lemons is a former Sergeant and Detective with the New York City Police Department. He also served for four years of active duty with the United States Air Force.

Mr. Lemons earned his bachelor’s in criminal justice and planning from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and his master’s in organizational leadership from Mercy College. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy.

Mr. Lemons was raised in the Bedford – Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn and Queens, where he still resides.

The Board of Parole’s major responsibilities include determining release dates for inmates serving indeterminate prison terms, establishing conditions of release for inmates who are paroled and revoking parole when it is determined that a releasee has violated those conditions.

The Board of Parole consists of up to 19 members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate for a six-year term. One member is designated by the Governor to serve as chairman and chief executive officer of the division. Those positions were held by Mr. Alexander until his resignation in December.

Executive Director Felix M. Rosa Jr. had been nominated to succeed Mr. Alexander. Mr. Rosa withdrew his name from consideration last week.

As interim Chair of the Board of Parole, Mr. Lemons’ salary will be $120,800.

February 05, 2009

Felix M. Rosa Jr. withdraws his name from consideration for Chair of the NYS Board of Parole

Felix M. Rosa Jr. has withdrawn his name from consideration for Chair of the NYS Board of Parole citing "personal reasons", following an allegation that arose while he was being vetted for the post. It is alleged that he sexually harassed Parole Interpreter Pamela Menera fourteen years ago.

Mr. Rosa issued the following statement:

"I have withdrawn my name as a candidate for appointment to the Board of Parole and the related consideration for appointment as Chairman of the Board of Parole due to personal reasons.

I am honored that the Governor considered me for this position and will continue my commitment to further the mission of this agency and Governor Paterson's initiatives in criminal justice."

(Governor David A. Paterson announced the nomination of Felix M. Rosa Jr. to serve as a Member and Chair of the State Board of Parole on January 16th 2009. George Alexander, the previous Chair of Parole, resigned on December 18th 2008 following allegations that he stole a laptop computer.)

February 04, 2009

The Future of Sentencing in New York State: Recommendations for Reform, by the New York State Commission on Sentencing Reform, January 30, 2009

The New York State Commission for Sentencing Reform has agreed on five major principles of drug law reform. The commissioners also recommend the establishment of a permanent sentencing commission for New York State to advise the Executive and Legislative branches on proposed legislation; the adoption of a largely determinate sentencing system to promote greater uniformity, fairness and truth-in-sentencing; the expansion of effective and cost-efficient shock incarceration and merit time initiatives to reduce recidivism and reserve costly prison space for the most dangerous offenders; and the enhancement of the rights of crime victims.

Press release from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services ...for immediate release: 12 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009

Full Report (pdf)

Statement from the Press release:

Jeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the “Sentencing Commission has performed a valuable service, at a critical time in the state’s history.”

“By focusing squarely on the connection between public safety and sentencing policy, the Commission has provided a roadmap that will guide the state during difficult fiscal times,” President Travis said. “The Commission’s recommendations, if followed, will bring clarity to our patchwork quilt of accumulated sentencing reforms, improve reentry outcomes, and support more rational uses of our prisons and our parole system.”

For commentaries, see also:
Prison panel calls for "revoking" parole, by Jarrett Murphy, City Limits Weekly #674, February 9, 2009.
Make jail time a last resort, by Jonathan E. Gradess, Times Union, February 11, 2009.

February 01, 2009

Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies, NYC Chapter

The Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies, NYC Chapter is "a movement of empowered families and advocates committed to ending unjust criminal justice policies and practices". The group is concentrating its efforts on changing current parole policies.

They would like thoughtful responses on how best to amend/revise NYS Executive Law § 259 (i) so that it minimizes or eliminates the power of the Parole Board to continuously use the nature of the crime as justification for denying parole.

Please send responses as soon as possible to the Prison Action Network.

Prison Action Network,
PO Box 6355,
NY 12206.
phone: 518 253 7533

January 31, 2009

Graziano v. Pataki update: January 31st 2009

Update on Graziano v. Pataki, from the Prison Action Network:

"UPDATE ON GRAZIANO VS PATAKI: Graziano lawyers had to file a motion to compel Gov. Pataki's deposition. The Attorney General had until Jan 12 to file opposition papers. They asked for an extension and the judge has not yet issued her decision whether to grant it."

January 21, 2009

New York State Parole Board Reform Request - petition

Found on

New York State Parole Board Reform Request

"To: New York State Parole Commission, elected senate and judiciary members.

This petition is a representation from the community against NY state's parole board policies regarding class A felonies, and we are demanding reforms be made to improve chances for parole for inmates classified as violent offenders in NY State. We also demand that laws be applied fairly to pre-Pataki convicted class A felons."

January 16, 2009

Governor David A. Paterson nominates Felix M. Rosa, Jr. to serve as a Member and Chair of the New York State Board of Parole

Governor David A. Paterson today announced the nomination of Felix M. Rosa, Jr. to serve as a Member and Chair of the State Board of Parole. As Chair of the Board of Parole, Mr. Rosa will also serve as the Chief Executive Officer of the State Division of Parole. Mr. Rosa has served the Division of Parole for more than 20 years.

Mr. Rosa was appointed Executive Director of the New York State Division of Parole in April 2007. In this role, Mr. Rosa was responsible for the day-to-day management of the agency, led the development and integration of re-entry programs for the Division and played a primary role in increasing efficiency within the Division of Parole and a number of State agencies with which it interacts.

From 2003 until 2007, Mr. Rosa served as Director of Executive Clemency and Secretary to the Board of Parole where he oversaw requests for executive clemency, certificates of relief from disabilities and certificates of good conduct. He also managed the day-to-day operations of the Board of Parole and Victim Impact Unit.

From 1999 through 2003, Mr. Rosa served as Executive Assistant to the Executive Director, establishing a number of programs that continue to be an integral part of the agency including Harlem Re-Entry Court, DNA collection, technology-based access to criminal records information and the Division’s photo identification system.

Mr. Rosa served from 1993 until 1999 as a Senior Parole Officer in various units throughout the Division including the Juvenile Offender Unit, Staff Development Unit, Office of Professional Responsibility and Central Office Operations. Prior to that role, Mr. Rosa served as a Parole Revocation Specialist and was a Parole Officer from 1987 until 1990.

Mr. Rosa was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and immigrated to the United States at the age of two. His family settled in Washington Heights, New York and he became a naturalized citizen at the age of 10. He returned to the Dominican Republic to attend high school at Colegio Dominicano De la Salle.

Upon his return to the United States, Mr. Rosa earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Eastern Michigan University in 1982 and a Masters in Social Work from Fordham University in 1987.

Mr. Rosa has four sons and lives in the Albany area with his wife, Jodi. He is the Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 75 in Delmar and has served on the board of Hispanic Outreach Services in Albany.

The Board of Parole’s primary duties include making determinations on whether to release inmates eligible for parole, setting parole conditions for individuals released by the Board or conditionally released by statute, and revoking parole for those who violate the conditions of their release. Additionally, at the Governor’s request, the Board may interview applicants for clemency and provide recommendations to the Governor.

The Division of Parole operates 30 field offices in addition to on-site offices in each of the 69 New York State correctional facilities and the Willard Drug Treatment Campus. The Division employs approximately 2,200 people including 1,200 peace officers who manage the parole supervision of 45,000 formerly incarcerated individuals within New York State. Each year, approximately 26,000 individuals are released to parole supervision.

As Chair of the Board of Parole, Mr. Rosa’s salary will be $120,800. This appointment requires Senate confirmation.

January 14, 2009

The Monster Among Them, by Billy Doane

Thought-provoking article which raises questions about the parole system in NYS:

The Monster Among Them – by Billy Doane

On October 15, 2008, New York Parole Board commissioner Chris Ortloff was arrested in an Albany motel for soliciting sex from minors on the Internet. Ortloff, a Board member for two years, was apprehended in consequence of a four-month sting operation by the New York State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (Albany Times Union, 10/15/08). According to the official complaint, Ortloff believed he was arranging a sexual liaison with two children aged eleven and twelve. Instead, he was arrested in his motel room, naked, and in possession of sex toys and lubricants. Since his arrest, he has admitted to having sex with nine and twelve year olds and having an indecent fondness for toddlers (New York Daily News, 10/15/08). When Ortloff was not preying on children, he was functioning as a no-nonsense Parole Board member known for his tough on crime approach to parole consideration. The blatant hypocrisy, absence of moral conscience, and violation of the public trust exhibited by Ortloff's criminal conduct exposed a Jekyll and Hyde persona that turns an accusing finger back on the parole system as it currently exists in New York State.

As anyone who has been before a parole board knows, these hearings are conspicuously devoid of any substantive method by which an inmate can be judged by total strangers in a fifteen-minute appearance. Even the federal courts have noted the "nebulousness" of New York State's "extremely vague statutory standards", and that the "statute's language does not provide a workable decision-making scheme and the broad grant of discretion has not been structured for exercise in a fair, rational and non-discriminatory fashion" (U.S. ex. rel. Johnson v. Chairman, 500 F2d, 925). The absence of objective criteria is substituted with the "unfettered discretion" of Parole Board members. One would think the Board's discretionary authority would be tethered to concrete data concerning proficiency, conduct, performance of prison duties, completion of DOCS mandated programs and other positive accomplishments directed toward rehabilitation. However, parole consideration under NYS Executive Law § 259 (i) specifically states that parole is not a reward for these factors. There is no other objective criterion that provides an empirical measure of individual self-improvement in a given period of incarceration. Since the parole statute excludes reliance on prison accomplishments, lacks objective criteria, and a statutory mandated decision-making scheme, how does the Parole Board determine who does and does not present a continued public risk? Given the vagueness of the statute, the provision of wide discretionary powers infers a dependence on an intuitive element in the decision-making process.

This intuitive theory is substantiated by the statutory requirement of physical appearance before a panel of Parole Board members. What are they looking for? What does rehabilitation look or sound like when detached from the unrewardable data of prison conduct and achievement? American Idol judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson are held to a higher standard of objective measure than New York State parole commissioners. For two years, the New York Division of Parole has had a monster in its midst, an admitted predatory child-molester who exerted a great deal of energy in pursuing his degeneracy while protecting his upstanding public image. How many parole commissioners were duped by this sociopath? All of them apparently; yet these same commissioners, who could not detect Chris Ortloff’s diabolical character even while working closely with him, are expected to determine in a fifteen-minute hearing whether if placed on parole, an individual will remain at liberty without violating the law. This is not an indictment of parole commissioners who failed to recognize the demon lurking beneath the public face of Chris Ortloff. After all, they are only human, and human beings are simply not capable of penetrating the hidden self in others. That’s the point. Even well-meaning Parole Board appointees are subjected to a flawed statute that reduces parole from a rational system of practical evaluation to a penological exercise in clairvoyance. Not only is the system of subjective prognostication unfair to the individuals who have spent years – decades even – in the sincere commitment to rehabilitation, but clearly, a hit-or-miss, spin-the-wheel guessing game is a violation of public trust. At the very least, the state could replace the political pretence that parole is a rational process with the public virtue of government transparency; discontinue the political patronage of Parole Board appointments. This will save the state more than 1.5 million dollars in annual six-figure salaries. At considerable savings, contract Ms. Cleo and the Psychic Hotline, which will transfer the nebulousness of parole from the uncertain speculation of rank amateurs, and place it in the mystical minds of professional soothsayers. In the meantime, Ortloff’s arrest should give pause to Commissioner Alexander and all of the remaining Parole Board members. Evaluating individual character, integrity, and potential, requires more than the superficial observation and cursory examination indicative of current parole practice that merely satisfies a minimum statutory requirement. Parole consideration must be tied to individualized criteria that provide parole commissioners with evidence of positive change, personal growth, and civic consciousness. Undoubtedly, when Ortloff goes before a Parole Board panel many years from now, he will not want to be judged by the same subjective vagaries he used while pretending to be the self-righteous arbiter of the public good.

Questions remain concerning the potential legal ramifications that stem from the arrest of Chris Ortloff. Ortloff, 61, has not been convicted of a crime, but various media outlets have reported his voluntary admissions of indecent and illegal conduct. His voluntary resignation from his six-figure Parole Board appointment also suggests an admission of culpability. One would also expect that after a four-month sting operation, the investigative agency would have accumulated a trove of incriminating evidence. Admissions are not confessions and evidence is not fact. Criminal culpability aside, Ortloff’s voluntary admissions clearly violate the New York State Code of Ethics (Public Officers Law § 74). More importantly, the mental imbalance evident from Ortloff’s tough on crime public persona and the moral degeneracy of his private life clearly invalidates any defense argument that he was capable of making rational or moral judgments concerning the rehabilitation of others. Ortloff once stated, “Our government must do more to keep dangerous, sexually violent predators away from children and women” (Albany Times Union, 10/15/08). I agree – appointing them to the Parole Board, however, is not the solution.

How much of Ortloff’s tough on crime rhetoric and actual parole denials were calculated, deceptive tactics affected to assuage his own personal guilt? Was being tough on others a form of psychological transference wherein his own self-loathing was redirected to others? Freud would have had a field day with this guy. It would be advisable for those who had Ortloff conducting or participating in their parole hearing to include arguments attacking his competence by juxtaposing his admissions against the State Code of Ethics. It would be interesting to know if Commissioner Alexander was aware of the ongoing investigation, and continued to permit Ortloff to participate in parole hearings.

– Postscript –

On December 24, 2008, Ortloff pled guilty to using the Internet to prey on children for sex. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 23, 2009 in Albany and is currently free on $100,000.00 bail. Under a plea agreement, Ortloff will receive 10 years rather than face the possibility of a life sentence had he been found guilty at trial. Under federal guidelines, Ortloff will serve a determinate sentence with a specified release date. Consequently, this former “tough on crime” parole commissioner with a reputation for summarily denying parole applications, will never have to face a parole hearing himself. When released, he’ll also be half a million dollars richer, thanks to his taxpayers-funded $53,000.00 a year for life pension guaranteed under New York State’s Constitution (New York Post, 12/27/08).

New York’s Board of Parole suffered further embarrassment when Parole Chairman George B. Alexander was forced to resign because at a criminal investigation, Alexander was found to be in possession of a $1,700.00 laptop that was missing from the Erie County Probation Office where Alexander worked prior to his appointment to the Parole Board. Alexander previously denied any knowledge of the missing laptop, but a GPS security device led investigation to his home. Alexander is expected to plead guilty to official misconduct, a misdemeanor (Albany Times Union, 12/19/08).

January 07, 2009

Bill A01188, proposed by Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr.

Title of proposed Bill: An Act to amend the executive law, in relation to the time in which reconsideration for parole shall be determined.

Summary and justification for Bill: Increases from twenty-four to sixty months, the time for which reconsideration for parole shall be determined.

"Currently when parole is denied, the board has the discretion to set the date for reconsideration for parole for any date within two years of the denial of parole. In many cases, especially those involving heinous acts of violence against another, parole will be denied numerous times. However, each time an inmate is considered for parole, the victim and his/her family is required to relive the horror of the crime for the sake of impressing upon the Parole Board the inappropriateness of early release. In these cases, when the board is confident that their opinion regarding parole release will not be changed by anything that can transpire within the next five years, the board should have the discretion to set the date for reconsideration of its denial of parole for any date within those five years. This would still allow for an earlier reconsideration if warranted, yet also give the victim and his/her family a greater period of time of peace before the next parole consideration."

Full text of proposed Bill may be found here.

January 01, 2009

Graziano v. Pataki update: January 1st 2009

Update on Graziano v. Pataki, from the Prison Action Network:

"UPDATE ON GRAZIANO VS PATAKI: This is the case in which a group of incarcerated men are suing the Governor for having an illegal policy of not granting parole to A1 Violent Offenders. The lawyers had to file a motion to compel Gov. Pataki’s deposition. The Court will issue a decision on it and then schedule a conference. The Attorney General’s opposition papers are due on January 12 and Graziano’s reply, if any, on January 19."