February 03, 2010

Law has little effect on early release for inmates

New York's new state guidelines for medical parole release may have led to a surge in applications for early release on medical grounds — 202 inmates last year, compared with 66 in 2008 — but they have had little effect on the outcome. Originally, the compassionate-release law provided early release to inmates suffering from terminal illness or permanent disability, with the exception of those convicted of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, sex offenses, or any attempt to commit those crimes. New legislation, adopted within the 2009 state budget bill, now allows all but first-degree murder offenders to qualify under the compassionate-release law.

Despite the fanfare within the corrections field about the humanitarian and financial benefits of compassionate release — New York is one of a dozen states that have expanded, enacted or streamlined programs over the past two years — the policy shift has had minimal effect. Experts attribute this to the fear that freed inmates, no matter how sick, might commit further crimes, as well as to the difficulty of placing dying criminals in nursing homes.

"The problem is, when we start trying to put people out, there are others in the community who are sure we're trying to make more crime in the community," said Dr. Lester Wright, chief medical officer for the New York State Department of Correctional Services.

Sadly, Eddie Jones, the 89-year-old inmate who could have become the first prisoner to be freed under New York's expanded compassionate-release law, died on the morning of February 1st in his hospice bed in a state prison, according to corrections officials and his niece. He was nine days away from his parole hearing, at which it was hoped that he would be released into his family's care.

Read the full story:
Law has little effect on early release for inmates (New York Times, January 30 2010).
Killer, 89, hoping for mercy, dies in prison (New York Times, February 2 2010).
Death shines light on life: terminally ill inmate puts focus on compassionate release (The Daily Mail, February 3 2010).

February 02, 2010

Current members of the NYS Board of Parole

Details of the current members of the New York State Board of Parole may be found here.

February 01, 2010

Building Bridges - February 2010 edition

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

Items covered in this issue include:

1. Activities for advocates, statewide
2. CFFCJP reveals proposal for 259-i revision
3. ICARE on Black History Month
4. Legislation Watch
5. Medical Parole releases
6. NJ's progressive criminal justice legislation
7. NYS Prisoner Justice Conference
8. Parole News
9. Prison Media: radio, Internet, movies
10. Prisoners of the Census - NYS coalition formed
11. Transportation to Prison
12. Women In Prison Project reports on Lobby Day

Of particular interest to parole reform is the summary of proposed changes to NYS Executive Law § 259-i, given by the Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies, and quoted in detail below. [For comparison, the full text of NYS Executive Law § 259-i currently governing the procedures of the State Board of Parole may be found here.]

Here is the summary of proposed changes to Executive Law § 259-i, prepared by the Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies.

Executive Law § 259-i describes the way the State Board of Parole must operate.

Section 1 has been removed because it established how to set minimum periods of imprisonment. That responsibility was returned to the Courts in the 1980's, so the Board of Parole no longer has a punitive responsibility. The Parole Board now is responsible for determining a person's readiness to remain at liberty without violating the law.

Parole hearings must take place with all parties in the same room, and it must be video and sound recorded. Copies of the recording must be made available to the Division of Parole and the parole applicant or someone representing the parole applicant. No one else will have access.

At least one month before the hearing, the applicant must be allowed to see all documents about him/her that will be supplied to the Parole Board. No documents shall be considered confidential, including mental health records (unless they can reasonably be expected to cause substantial and identifiable harm to the parole applicant or others, in which case the parole applicant would be told that such documents exist in his/her file, but won't be allowed to see them).

If the Parole Board denies release, they will be required to state in detail the reasons for the denial, and the specific actions, programs or accomplishments needed in order to qualify for parole release at their next hearing, and provide this information to the parole applicant within two weeks of the hearing. Within 90 days the Dept. of Corrections must provide access to the means for achieving the requirements specified by the Parole Board.

The parole applicant will have a rehearing before the Parole Board upon completion of the specific requirements, or in 24 months, whichever comes first.

At the rehearing, if the Parole Board determines that the requirements have been successfully completed, release shall be granted.

If the parole applicant hasn't completed the specific requirements within twenty-four months the Board will identify the deficiencies and list the remedies to be taken by the applicant, and the process will be repeated.

The Parole Board shall consider good conduct and efficient performance of duties while confined, and preparedness for re-entry and reintegration into society, in making their decision whether the person will be able to live and remain at liberty without violating the law.

In making their determinations the following things must be considered by the Parole Board:

1. the applicant's institutional record, including program goals and accomplishments as stated in facility performance reports
2. academic achievements
3. vocational education
4. training or work assignments
5. therapy
6. interpersonal relationships with staff and other sentenced persons
7. other indications of pro-social activity, change and transformation.
8. if it's a reappearance, the progress made towards the completion of the specific requirements previously set forth by the Parole Board
9. participation in a temporary release program
10. release plans, including community resources, employment, education and training and support that will be available
11. a deportation order

Concerning victim impact statements, the Parole Board may only consider statements about behavior which took place after sentencing and in which the applicant [or his/her representative] threatened or intimidated the victim.