December 22, 2010

Cop-Killers Not Gaming System

Cop-Killers Not Gaming System
PBA's 'Parole-Shopping' Claim An Urban Legend

Published in The Chief, Letters to the Editor, December 10, 2010

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch has gotten a lot of mileage in the media in recent weeks (see The Chief, Dec. 3 issue: "PBA: Stop Cop Killers' Parole-Shopping") with the allegation that cop-killing inmates are gaming the parole system by postponing their interviews until they get a panel to their liking. Unfortunately, Mr. Lynch is factually inaccurate.

In support of his argument, Mr. Lynch cites five inmates (four named in last week's article in The Chief and another cited to the New York Daily News) whom he accuses of "parole-commissioner shopping," contending that each of them was able to postpone a scheduled appearance before the Parole Board in an apparent effort to stack the deck in their favor. I reviewed each of those cases and found that none of the individuals requested a postponement.

Here are the facts:

Samuel Hamilton—Mr. Hamilton's initial interview was postponed, but the postponement was not at his request. Mr. Hamilton was hospitalized and physically unavailable to attend the interview. When he did subsequently appear, Mr. Hamilton was denied parole.

Lawrence Harris—We have no record of Mr. Harris ever receiving a postponement. He has appeared before the parole board nine times, and was denied each time. He remains in prison.

Steven Chirse, Ronnie Bush and Rodney Bailey—Interviews for these three inmates were postponed, but not at the request of the inmates. The Parole Board postponed the matters because the record was incomplete and the sentencing minutes had not arrived. At rescheduled interviews, and after the Parole Board had an opportunity to review the sentencing judge's comments, all three were detained and remain imprisoned.

Mr. Lynch's allegation in the media of "rampant Parole Commissioner shopping" and his contention that "cop killers are 'forum-shopping' by adjourning their scheduled parole hearings for no legitimate reason" is simply not true. Regardless, I am concerned about the perception that inmates are exploiting the interview process and implemented the following safeguards last month, and explained in a letter I sent to Mr. Lynch on Nov. 26:

An inmate requesting to postpone a scheduled appearance before the Parole Board must inform his or her facility Parole Officer no less than seven days before the scheduled interview. This will alleviate the possibility that an inmate attempts to postpone an interview because he or she has learned which commissioners are on-site on a particular day.

When a facility Parole Officer is informed by an inmate prior to his or her appearance before the Parole Board that he or she intends to seek a postponement, the facility Parole Officer shall prepare a memorandum to the Board detailing the reasons provided by the inmate for the postponement.

The inmate requesting a postponement will appear before the Parole Board at the regularly scheduled release interview to make a formal request for postponement and to place on the record the reasons why a postponement should be granted. The Board will determine whether to grant or deny the request.

If an inmate refuses to appear before a panel of the Parole Board at his or her regularly scheduled release interview, the board shall conduct the interview in absentia.

It is my hope that this policy will curtail any attempts to forum-shop, as well as the perception that inmates are manipulating the process.

Finally, I would like to stress that it is the Legislature—not the Board of Parole—that has made "cop killers" eligible for parole.

The Legislature could have mandated that those who kill police officers serve a sentence of life without parole. There was no such law at the time the inmates above were sentenced, and there is still no such law (although a life-without-parole sentence is now possible, as a judicial option, in certain cases). It is not the role of the Parole Board to impose a sentence that was neither authorized by the Legislature nor pronounced by the court. Rather, it is the Parole Board's role to apply the law as written and give fair consideration to anyone serving a parole-eligible sentence, even those involved in the homicide of a police officer. That is what the Board does, and must continue to do, until and unless the Legislature directs otherwise.

Ms. Evans is the Chairwoman of the New York State Board of Parole and Chief Executive Officer of the New York State Division of Parole.

See also:
Stop Cop-Killers' Parole Board Shopping: four delay hearings. (The Chief, December 3 2010)

December 15, 2010

Graziano v. Pataki update: December 10th 2010

A major disappointment in the Graziano v. Pataki federal civil rights case, which aims to restore justice and fairness to the parole hearings of inmates convicted of violent felonies.

GRAZIANO v. PATAKI update from the Prison Action Network:

On Friday, Dec 10 2010, Judge Seibel of the US District Court, Southern District of New York, dismissed the above-referenced case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). The court declined to follow the law of the case decided by the late Judge Brieant, and despite not finding a change in the applicable law, decided to follow a non-binding, unpublished opinion by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In short, the judge stated that even if the NY Parole Board is violating state law by deciding that all those convicted of murder should be denied parole, it is a matter of concern for the state courts, not the federal constitution. Robert Isseks, Alex Smith and Peter Sell, the legal team representing Graziano et. al. intend to appeal this ruling.

Additionally, in September Judge McDonough in Albany State Supreme Court dismissed their claim on state law grounds. They plan to appeal to the Second Circuit.

Building Bridges - December 2010 edition

The December edition of Building Bridges has been issued by the Prison Action Network.

Topics covered this month include:

1. Activism: actions, meetings and events
2. Buffalo’s Jerry Balone inspires students
3. Introducing the In Your Face Movement
4. The New Jim Crow, Chapter 2 quotes
5. Lifers and Longtermers Clearinghouse by Larry Luqman White
6. NYS Parole Reform Campaign - time to take two steps forward!
7. Parole news, including Graziano update

* Lifers and Longtermers Clearinghouse: Larry White and the Hope Lives for Lifers Reintegration Program have developed a reintegration program consisting of a series of study groups/workshops to address particular reintegration needs of incarcerated individuals preparing for release.

* The NYS Parole Reform Campaign asks advocacy organizations to support their legislative proposal to reform the parole process so that parole applicants are fairly evaluated instead of being punished with repeated and unjustifiable parole denials.

* On Friday, Dec 10, Judge Seibel of the US District Court, Southern District of New York, dismissed the above-referenced case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). The court declined to follow the law of the case decided by the late Judge Brieant, and despite not finding a change in the applicable law, decided to follow a non-binding, unpublished opinion by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

December 07, 2010

Liberate N.Y. from its prisons, by Robert Gangi

Liberate N.Y. from its prisons, by Robert Gangi. (Albany Times Union, Tuesday, December 7, 2010)
Despite a sharply declining prison population and the very real need to cut state agency budgets, New York has closed hardly any of its underutilized prisons. For example, the state budget approved earlier this year included eliminating funding for just 450 beds.
More ambitious plans to shut facilities have failed largely for political reasons. Concerned about the loss of jobs, the correction officers union and legislators from upstate areas where most of the prisons are located have successfully blocked most closure proposals made by the state's past three governors: George Pataki, Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson.
Now, however, trends that have been building for years in New York have reached a level of an almost perfect storm. The stage has been set for a major government initiative to close costly, empty prisons. Those trends include a continuing fiscal crisis with a projected $9 billion deficit for the next fiscal year alone, a prison population that has declined from more than 71,600 in 1999 to fewer than 57,000 today, a 28 percent drop in the crime rate in the last 10 years and a growing number of unused prison beds -- more than 8,000, by the state's own recent count.
Now Andrew Cuomo is coming into office with an unmistakable mandate to put state government in order. Cuomo stated during the campaign that he was prepared to stand up to the state's public service employee unions and to oversee substantial cuts in state agency budgets.
Given the convergence of these political and economic factors, given all those empty spaces and the dropping crime rate, why shouldn't the state's leaders move to close facilities?
Albany policymakers can enact additional population reduction measures that will make such a cost savings step easier to take:
Fully repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Even after last year's reforms, mandatory sentencing provisions remain on the books that will cause the imprisonment of thousands of minor drug offenders each year.
Restore work release. In 1994, more than 27,000 state inmates participated in work release, a proven, cost-beneficial program that aids in the safe transition back to the community. Now, about 2,500 are enrolled.
Expand graduated sanctions for technical parole violations. Last year, more than 8,000 people were returned to state prison for technical parole violations -- such as showing up late for an appointment or breaking curfew -- not for committing new crimes. Instead of returning people to prison, the state could enhance their level of supervision.
Increase parole release and expand merit time eligibility. The state Parole Board often denies individuals release because of the nature of their crime, despite their positive institutional records. Merit time, which allows inmates to earn time off their sentences, is not available to those convicted of violent offenses. Combined, these two policies delay the release of thousands of people every year.
When New York passed the Rockefeller Drug Laws in 1973, only about 12,500 people were confined in its prisons. About 300,000 people were locked up in the nation's prisons and jails. Those harsh laws effectively triggered a mandatory sentencing movement that swept the country. Today our nation's correctional facilities house nearly 2.4 million people, a growth of more than 600 percent.
This social experiment in "mass incarceration" has been a failure by any criteria. The evidence that it enhances public safety is, at best, mixed. Some consider it criminogenic. It has been enormously expensive, costing federal and local governments billions each year. And it has had a devastating impact on low-income communities of color where a starkly disproportionate number of the people who we imprison come from.
New York can perform a pivotal role in pointing criminal justice practice in a more productive direction by downsizing its prison system and re-investing some of the money saved in proven rehabilitation and community-based prevention programs.
The week after his election, Andrew Cuomo toured Sing Sing prison and spoke to the press afterward. He cited New York's declining prison population, calling it "good news." He also strongly suggested that New York could no longer justify paying to keep open institutions whose employees "literally have no function."
That was good news, too, and a significant signal that, on the prison downsizing front, New York's next governor is determined to fulfill a major campaign promise by succeeding where his predecessors so tellingly failed.
Robert Gangi is executive director of the Correctional Association of New York.