December 24, 2011

Parole Board Ordered to Apply Retroactively Rehabilitation Factor

Extracts from article:

A judge has ordered the state parole board to retroactively apply a new provision requiring it to consider the rehabilitation of an inmate and not base a denial of release on an offense that may have occurred decades in the past.

The decision, if upheld, could entitle scores of inmates to new parole interviews.

Orange County Supreme Court Justice Lawrence H. Ecker, in what he says is a case of first impression, reviewed a recent revision of Executive Law §259(c), and held that a man who came up for parole before a change in the law is nonetheless entitled to benefit from that law.

The revision requires the parole board to look beyond the instant offense and consider whether the applicant for parole has been rehabilitated.

In Matter of Thwaites v. New York State Board of Parole, 2011 NY Slip Op 21453, Justice Ecker said the board, in denying the inmate's release, relied on "past-focused rhetoric, not future-focused risk assessment analysis." He directed the parole board to afford Douglas Thwaites a new interview ...

... Justice Ecker said there is no question the board did not apply in Mr. Thwaites' case standards that had yet to take effect. Regardless, he said the "remedial" objective of the legislation requires reconsideration of the inmate's parole bid.

For complete article, see:
Parole Board Ordered to Apply Retroactively Rehabilitation Factor, by John Caher (New York Law Journal, 27 December 2011)

In a new decision on January 26 2012, Judge Lawrence H. Ecker handed down an almost identical ruling in the case of Newlly Velazquez as he did for Douglas Thwaites, one month previously. See:
Judge Orders Parole Board to Reconsider Release Bid, by John Caher (New York Law Journal, 6 February 2012)

An update on the Thwaites case, 20 September 2012: the New York State Attorney General's Office is appealing Justice Lawrence H. Ecker's ruling to the Second Department in Matter of Thwaites v. New York State Board of Parole, arguing that the ruling "stands to wreak havoc on the parole system" and that the "Legislature cannot plausibly have intended to apply the changes to parole practices to past parole board decisions". See:
A.G. Urges Court to Upset Parole Interview Decision, by John Caher (New York Law Journal, 20 September 2012)

Update on the Graziano case, December 2011

Extract from article:

The Appellate Division, Third Department, has refused to reinstate an action on behalf of violent felons who contend the parole board has systematically violated state law in routinely denying release to Class A-1 convicts. The same issue was unsuccessfully litigated in federal court.

Graziano v. Evans, 512150, is the state court version of Graziano v. Pataki, 7:06-cv-00480, a Southern District case dismissed a year ago by Judge Cathy Seibel.

Judge Seibel rejected the plaintiffs' constitutional claims and the state courts have rejected their statutory claims.

The Third Department affirmed Albany Acting Supreme Court Justice Roger D. McDonough in dismissing the state court action ...

For full details, see the end part of this article:
Parole Board Ordered to Apply Retroactively Rehabilitation Factor, by John Caher (New York Law Journal, 27 Dec 2011)
See also:
A brief summary of the history of the Graziano case (Building Bridges, January 15 2012, at the end of section 5: Parole News)

December 23, 2011

Transitional Accountability Plans (TAP) and Risk and Needs Assessment (COMPAS)

Extract from Building Bridges, December 2011:

Transitional Accountability Plans (TAP) and Risk and Needs Assessment (COMPAS)

From the testimony of Andrea Evans, Chairwoman of the Board of Parole, before the Assembly Committee on Correction, Nov 10, 2011, we gained some further insight into how TAP and Risk and Needs Assessments will be used in parole decisions. The following information is from her written testimony to the Committee.

The Board has been working closely with the DOCCS in developing the TAP instrument. It will be the instrument that measures the rehabilitation of persons appearing before the Board, as well as their likelihood of success in the community when released. Each member of the Board has received training in the use of both the TAP instrument and a risk and needs instrument known as the COMPAS instrument. Currently the use of these instruments is being piloted in 3 correctional facilities for the purpose of establishing appropriate conditions of supervision. When the pilot phase is concluded, the Board will use them to assess the appropriateness of an inmate’s release to community supervision. Because the TAP instrument reflects an inmate’s overall effort toward his or her rehabilitation while incarcerated and draws upon information closely associated with their risk of re-offending, and their needs in order to become successful, the Board’s written procedures will call for the use and careful consideration of these documents.

As an interim measure, I have instructed the Board to use the TAP instrument where and when it has been prepared for a parole eligible inmate. I have emphasized that when the Board considers an inmate for parole, they must ascertain what steps he or he has taken toward their rehabilitation and the likelihood of their success once released to community supervision.

The one function that has been transferred from the Board to DOCCS is the granting of certificates of relief and certificates of good conduct. Last year the Board granted 1,695 such certificates. DOCCS has granted 1,581 since April 2011.

See also:
Andrea W. Evans' memorandum to the Members of the Board of Parole, dated October 5 2011, regarding the recent amendment to Executive Law §259-c(4).

In the memorandum she gives details of the COMPAS Risk and Needs Assessment tool and the TAP instrument, and lists the statutory criteria to be considered by the Board. She states: "Please know that the standard for assessing the appropriateness for release, as well as the statutory criteria you must consider has not changed through the aforementioned legislation."

She ends the memorandum by giving the following instruction to the Board: "

Therefore, in your consideration of the statutory criteria set forth in Executive Law §259-i(2)(c)(A)(i) through (viii), you must ascertain what steps an inmate has taken toward their rehabilitation and the likelihood of their success once released to parole supervision. In this regard, any steps taken by an inmate toward effecting their rehabilitation, in addition to all aspects of their proposed release plan, are to be discussed with the inmate during the course of their interview and considered in your deliberations."

December 17, 2011

Recent Study Confirms that Cognitive Behavioral Intervention Works to Reduce Recidivism

Recent Study Confirms that Cognitive Behavioral Intervention Works to Reduce Recidivism by Lama Hassoun, Researcher at the Harlem Community Justice Center, December 12 2011

Over the last 10 years, many research studies have looked at how effective Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) programs are and their impact on those who participate.

In 2007, a comprehensive research study attempted to provide a fuller picture of the effectiveness of CBT programs with offenders and the difference between the different kinds of brand name CBT programs.

The study confirmed the findings of previous studies, showing that offenders who received CBT were 1.53 times less likely to recidivate when compared to offenders who did not receive CBT. Statistically, this is considered to be a significant difference.

The researchers also looked at the differences between the different “brand” name CBT programs. They found NO difference between them and concluded that the general CBT approach is responsible for the overall positive effect on recidivism. They found that including distinct anger control problems and interpersonal problem solving components really enhanced the effects of CBT.

High quality implementation of CBT was found to have a strong impact on the chance of recidivism of the offenders. High quality implementation was defined as low rates of people dropping out of the CBT program, close monitoring of quality and fidelity of the treatment implementation, and adequate CBT training for the providers.

It is also VERY encouraging that the effects of CBT were greater for offenders with higher risk of recidivism than those with lower risk, which contradicts any assumptions that high risk offenders might be less willing to undergo treatment.

Interestingly, offenders treated in prison showed recidivism decreases comparable to those offenders treated in the community (probation, parole, or transitional aftercare). Researchers also found that CBT was as effective for juveniles as it was for adults.

All in all, this study is very promising for providers in their attempts to assist offenders in reintegrating in their communities. CBT has been proven to be effective, time and time again.

December 16, 2011

Setting the record straight, Part 3: Release, Reentry, Reintegration: how the SAFE Parole Act is necessary for all three

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT, a series of articles presented by the Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies to explain and support the SAFE Parole Act.

Part 3: Release, Reentry, Reintegration: how the SAFE Parole Act is necessary for all three, by Larry White

The Importance of the Safe and Fair Evaluations (S.A.F.E.) Parole Act in Making Decisions about Release, Reentry, and Reintegration

Penal Law 1.05 states that in addition to punishment (retribution), deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation there is a fifth goal: "the promotion of their [incarcerated people's] successful and productive reentry and reintegration into society." [emphasis added]

The purpose of this article is to define reintegration, and to show how necessary the SAFE Parole Act is in achieving it.

Reentry and reintegration are commonly thought of as meaning the same thing, but they are, in actuality, very different:

Reentry is the process of returning to one's community and finding a way to get basic needs met - such as housing, food, employment - without resorting to criminal activities. Preparation for reentry starts in prison, with programs that prepare the person for life on the outside. In recent years outside agencies have gotten funding to meet reentry needs and continue to help a person remain at liberty without reverting to a life of crime. Parole needs to to create linkages for their clients with community agencies that can meet their subsistence needs, such as food, clothing, employment, medical care, and public assistance. Most community organizations offer case management to get a person back on their feet. Most don't go any further.

Reintegration is established when the formerly incarcerated person has developed social ties that help him or her continue to live at liberty without breaking the law. This person needs to be connected with a new environment which encourages and rewards legitimate behaviors and attitudes. The shorter the period of incarceration, the easier this task will be.

Part of this new involvement is with groups such as neighborhood associations, faith groups, men's groups, women's groups; groups where he or she is accepted as a contributing member to the positive goals of the group. Reintegration is the last stage in our criminal justice system, and therefore it must be the goal of all the stages that precede it, from arrest forward. It’s the capacity to live at liberty without disobeying the law. The community must get involved in nurturing legitimate lifestyles in the lives of the men and women returning from prison.

In NYS's criminal justice system the judicial system sets the punishment, which may include a period of incarceration. Prisons are responsible for providing deterrence and the tools for rehabilitation. The Parole Board's job is to assess a person's readiness to leave the incarceration stage behind and begin the process of reintegration.

This is where the SAFE Parole Act becomes necessary. Even with the recent revisions to the law, which mandate the use of a Transitional Accountability Plan and a Risk and Needs Assessment, the criminal justice system has not moved significantly closer to the fifth goal of reintegration. As long as the Parole Board can continue to base release decisions on the crime, which a person can never change, people who are truly ready to begin the process of reintegration will continue to be denied. The Safe and Fair Evaluations (S.A.F.E.) Parole Act doesn't leave it up to the Parole Board to voluntarily create procedures that would lead to fairer parole hearings, it includes them right in the bill.

Unlike the recently implemented changes, the SAFE Parole Act is based on an understanding that what a person does, what his or her attitudes and behaviors have become over the course of many years, are the most important indicators of readiness for reintegration, and thus for release from prison.

Most importantly, if the parole applicant’s attitude and/or behavior does not meet their standards, the Parole Board must spell out what he or she must do in order to be considered ready for release to parole supervision. Once those requirements have been met, the person must be released.

No one can ever know for sure that another person will commit a crime. But there are good indicators in the SAFE PAROLE ACT, and the Parole Board can do no better than to base their decision on them.

TAP and R&NA will continue to be used by Parole's Community Supervision once the person is back in society, and will extend until the person has reached the final goal of reintegration.

From: the Prison Action Network, in Building Bridges, December 2011

December 15, 2011

Building Bridges - December 2011 edition

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

Articles in this issue include the following:

1. Attica - The Correctional Association (CA) of New York visited Attica C. F. on April 12 and 13, 2011 and reports that Attica has changed significantly since 1971, although some severe problems do persist. So severe that Director Soffiyah Elijah concludes that it is broken beyond repair, and Governor Cuomo should shutter its doors forever.

2. Dorothy Day Apartment building on Riverside Dr. in West Harlem once was home to drug dealers but is now not only beautiful, but it also pulses with pride and hope and happiness.

3. The Guardian Newspaper is interested in hearing from U.S. inmates, their families, prison guards or anyone whose life has been impacted by incarceration.
 If you would like to contribute to the series, please write to: Sadhbh Walshe, The Guardian, PO Box 1466, New York, NY 10150.

4. Hour Children, a Queens nonprofit group, is creating affordable housing in Long Island City for formerly incarcerated women trying to rebuild their lives.

5. Job Op: Trinity Alliance of the Capital Region is seeking a program director for their SNUG program.

6. Legislation updates: 65%, Merit Time Bill, SAFE Parole Act, Domestic Violence Survivor Justice Act.

7. NYS Parole Reform Campaign will present a workshop at the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus Weekend in February. We continue to work on clarifying the changes to the current parole statute. Part 3 of Setting the Record Straight deals with Parole's 3 Rs.

8. Column #2 of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network discusses their involvement with Occupy Wall Street and asks for your involvement in that work.

9. Parole News: TAP and COMPAS per Chairwoman Evans; October parole release decisions.

10. Prisoner of the Census: An Albany judge has upheld a state law that counts inmates, for legislative reapportionment purposes, in their home community rather than the district in which they are incarcerated.

11. Prison Legal Services is looking for lawyers to do pro-bono work and offers incentives.

12. Radio messages from home to those inside. CALLS FROM HOME is a gripping radio broadcast that brings the voices of prisoner families, former prisoners, poets, musicians, and everyday citizens to the airwaves. The broadcast consists of holiday greetings from family members to their loved ones behind bars and the over 2.4 million people incarcerated in the United States.

13. Taking Care of Business means communities building an inclusive environment for people returning home from prison, by Karima Amin, CEO of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc.

The Prison Action Network gives a summary of the 2011 changes to Parole Board policies:

In 2011, the governor revised parole board policies when he merged DOCS and the Division of Parole. He left the Board as an independent body. In doing so he revised the parole statute to direct the Parole Board to:

1. consider the person's readiness for reentry and reintegration.
2. establish procedures for including risk and needs principles in their decision making process.

The other eight factors that the parole board must consider are the same as always, except they are now all in one place. They still include "the seriousness of the offense".

In 2011 the Safe And Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act was introduced to the legislature as Senate Bill 5374 and Assembly Bill 7939. It is not yet a law. To become a law it will have to pass in both houses of the legislature and be signed by the governor.

November 17, 2011

Setting the record straight, Part 2: The success of the merger depends on the implementation of the SAFE Parole Act

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT, a series of articles presented by the Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies to explain and support the SAFE Parole Act.

Part 2: The Success of the Merger Depends on the Implementation of the SAFE Parole Act, by Larry White (delivered at the NYS Assembly's Nov. 10 Public Hearing on the DOCCS Merger).

I believe with great conviction that incarcerated individuals are stakeholders in every aspect of the correctional and parole process, and therefore should have meaningful involvement in the operation of the processes that affect their lives and liberties.

The recent legislative changes that were enacted in conjunction with the merger of Dept. of Corrections and Community Supervision and the Division of Parole, including the development of Transitional Accountability Plans and the implementation of Risk and Need Assessment Instrument(s) provide tools that are potentially helpful to refocus the roles of Corrections and Parole in preparation for successful reentry, but completely fail to address the need for those under custody to have direct involvement and input in the very processes that directly affect their release from incarceration.

Although the Transitional Accountability Plan in theory does allow for participation by inmates in the construction of their individualized plan, there is no general policy or directive that requires this. There is also nothing that categorically provides that at every stage of the correctional process the individual inmate shall be informed of exactly what he/she must accomplish or achieve in order to be released on parole. It is this involvement that creates buy in and empowers personal transformation. Without such information the inmate cannot chart a course of involvement in the correctional process that he/she feels certain will lead to successful parole release.

Both the TAP and the Risk and Need Assessment Instrument have the potential to make clear to a person in prison what is expected of him or her and why. Under the TAP, IF the original model is followed, each inmate will participate in the development of their treatment plan, and thus will have a clearer understanding of what they must achieve. That is a very big “if.” The challenge will be whether New York follows the original model, and if line staff can accept a model in which people in prison participate in their own plan.

The Risk and Needs Assessment Instrument and the Transitional Accountability Plan together have the potential to provide each inmate with a clear indication of what is required for successful release to parole and community supervision. Inmates could be informed of these requirements at each stage in the correctional process when the TAP and the Risk and Needs Assessment are updated. Inmate participation in the rehabilitation process is increased when they are informed of what is required for their release from imprisonment and when they have an opportunity to take part in setting those goals. At this stage of the merger it is entirely unclear whether this is how the Tap and Risk and Needs Assessment will be utilized and implemented. I feel compelled to express my doubts and concerns.

Perhaps we need to follow the path of places like Norway and other European countries that have decreased the primacy of punishment and increased the use of proven programmatic approaches to behavioral and cognitive change that lead to law-abiding conduct. The prevailing primacy of punishment that guides our correctional system fails to provide an environment that encourages a personal, stakeholder approach to inmate involvement in the rehabilitative process.

I would like to address the use of Risk and Need Assessment Instruments in the parole release process. Risk assessments are essentially predictions of future behavior and are subject to error. There are no 'laws' of behavior that can be applied to a set of circumstances to determine the behavioral outcome that will follow. Criminal behavior, in particular, is motivated and supported by an unquantifiable number of factors; therefore to assess an individual as 'high risk' is not to say that he or she will indeed recidivate. Despite its shortcomings, risk assessment can, to a certain extent, differentiate offenders who pose a significant risk for re-offending in the future from those who are likely to refrain from committing future offenses. It can also help identify needed support services.

It appears that the risk assessment instrument that DOCCS intends to use will contain “seriousness of the offense” as a factor to determine current dangerousness. From my perspective, the nature of the offense is not a useful tool in determining who should be released and if in fact they are ready for reintegration. The seriousness of the crime has no relevance as a predictor of whether the person will commit that crime again. In addition, the process for utilizing the risk and needs assessment instrument should be transparent. A person appearing before the parole board should be provided with a copy of the scored instrument in advance and the decision should include an explanation of how the instrument was used to make the release decision.

What is sorely missing from the legislation under discussion that accompanies this merger is the requirement that the Board of Parole provide the parole applicant with specific requirements for actions to be taken, programs or accomplishments to be completed, or changes in performance or conduct to be made, or corrective action or actions to be taken, in order to qualify for parole release. As soon as the requirements have been successfully completed and the parole applicant's institutional record has been satisfactory during the time between the previous and current parole board hearing, release shall be granted.

From: the Prison Action Network, in Building Bridges, November 2011.

November 16, 2011

Building Bridges - November 2011 edition

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

Articles relating to parole in this issue include the following:

* Governor Andrew Cuomo will be appointing judges to the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals, particularly if he serves two terms. The Prison Action Network hopes this will lead to more reintegrative sentencing in NYS

* Decision Fatigue is blamed for conservative parole board decisions in a New York Times Magazine article.
 Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.

* Legislation: a report on the progress of the Domestic Violence Survivors' Justice Act.

* Minimum Sentences are "often excessively severe" according to a report by the US Sentencing Commission.

* NYS Parole Reform Campaign continues to gain support; the Prison Action Network delivered 333 letters from family members and advocates to Governor Cuomo. Part 2 of "Setting the Record Straight": the success of the the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) merger depends on the implementation of the SAFE Parole Act. 

* NYS Prisoner Justice Network premieres the first of its monthly Building Bridges columns.

* Parole News: September statistics around 16%; Merger confusion; "one size fits all" parole decisions continue; does long incarceration increase public safety?

November 08, 2011

Kitty Genovese's murderer is denied parole

The revision of Executive Law §259(c) included in this year's executive budget requires the parole board to establish and apply "risk and needs principles to measure the rehabilitation of persons appearing before the board" and the likelihood of success should the offender be released. In the past, the board "could" consider those factors; now it "must" consider them.

Winston Moseley was among the first group of parole-eligible offenders subject to the new criteria (New York Law Journal, September 30 2011). An examination of the transcript of Moseley's parole hearing provided by the New York Law Journal indicates that nothing much has changed; despite the revision in the law the board still focused almost entirely on the nature of his crime, giving very little consideration to his achievements while in prison or his plans if released. Moseley has been denied parole for the 15th time.

John Caher gives the board's decision:

The parole board, in a decision by Commissioners Henry Lemons and Sally A. Thompson, said it took into consideration Mr. Moseley's "good institutional conduct and your many program and institutional accomplishments," as well as "your letters of support and all relevant matters required by law." However, the board told Mr. Moseley that, "After a review of all factors it is the conclusion that there remains a probability that if released you might not live at liberty without re-offending. You remain a threat to the community and parole is again denied."

For further details, see:
Kitty Genovese's murderer is denied parole, by John Caher (New York Law Journal, November 8 2011)
Law Requires Board to Assess Rehabilitation in Parole Rulings, by John Caher (New York Law Journal, September 30 2011)

October 23, 2011

When life is too long: Debate over older prisoners

Extract from article:

Yohannes Johnson is serving 75 years to life in a remote upstate New York prison, behind 30-foot concrete walls and locked steel doors, 300 miles and 30 years and 10 months from home in New York City.

He measures time in long, slow, personal change. And he maintains hope he will, someday, walk outside the Clinton Correction Facility.

"One thing I don't do is subject myself to the thought I'll never leave prison," said Johnson, now 55, slender and soft-spoken, his hair flecked with gray. He's a convicted robber and killer and president of the prison's Lifer's and Long-Termer's Organization, part of a growing club of inmates locked up for life nationwide. "I can't afford to do that. I do that, I lose hope. I lose hope then I don't care about anything. I don't care about anything then I become a detriment to myself and those around me."

Now, even corrections officials are considering different options for older inmates while some research suggests keeping them locked up until they die might be an expensive and unnecessary price for the public to pay.

Nationally, nearly 10 percent of more than 2.3 million inmates were serving life sentences in 2008, including 41,095 people doing life without parole, up 22 percent in five years, according to The Sentencing Project, which advocates alternatives to prison. The increase resulted from lawmakers "dramatically" expanding the types and repeat offenses that carry potential life terms, research analyst Ashley Nellis said.

"The theme is we're protecting society, then the question is: From what?" said Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, a watchdog group. She said with the cost of keeping a state inmate $55,000 a year — a cost that grows as they age and their medical needs increase — a financial analysis shows that parole and probation are far cheaper punishments that can also satisfy the public need for retribution.

Meanwhile, data show new crimes by convicted felons steadily declining from their teens through their dotage.

"Most criminal behavior is tied with impulse control. The section of the brain that controls impulse control is the last section of the brain that becomes fully developed," Elijah said. There's a large drop-off in criminal behavior and recidivism after 40 or 45, she said, a point seldom made in public discussion "because it's not convenient. It doesn't dovetail with the kind of tough-on-crime mentality that results in votes."...

For complete article, see:
When life is too long: Debate over older prisoners, by Michael Virtanen (Associated Press, October 22 2011)

October 21, 2011

Growing prison populations hinder budget cuts

Extract from article:

The rising number of prisoners serving costly life terms across the country is complicating state officials' efforts to make dramatic cuts to large prison budgets, lawmakers and criminal justice officials said.

From 1984 to 2008, the number of offenders serving life terms quadrupled, from 34,000 to roughly 140,000, according to the most recent count by The Sentencing Project, which advocates alternatives to incarceration.

One of the fastest-growing subgroups are inmates serving life without the possibility of parole. Those numbers have jumped from 12,453 in 1992 to 41,095 in 2008 and represent the most costly inmates to house as the aging inmates require increased medical care.

"The challenge for us is to distinguish between the offenders we are afraid of — those who deserve to be locked up for life — and those who we are just mad at and who can be handled outside of prison," Texas state Sen. John Whitmire said...

For complete article, see:
Growing prison populations hinder budget cuts, by Kevin Johnson (USA Today, October 21 2011)

October 14, 2011

Setting the record straight, Part 1: Why we need to continue working for passage of the Safe Parole Act

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT, a series of articles presented by the Coalition For Fair Criminal Justice Policies to explain and support the SAFE Parole Act.

Part 1: Why we need to continue working for passage of the Safe Parole Act

In his September 1, 2011 New York Law Journal article, Professor Philip Genty shares with readers his optimism for parole reform, as he attempts to interpret the legislative change enacted by the Governor’s March 31, 2011 budget bill. If that optimism depends upon the good will of the parole board to write procedures heralding a new day for parole reform, should we share that hope?

If Professor Genty is correct in his prognostication, we say “hurrah!” But there is substantial room for skepticism, and it is that skepticism that is the basis for the need for supporters of real parole reform to continue to demand sweeping change. It is important to understand what the legislative change did and did not do—and why now is the time to push for the real reform proposed by the SAFE Parole Act (A.7939 and S.5374).

The statutory change that has generated this optimism is a re-write of Executive Law§ 259-c(4). It says that the parole board shall:

establish written [guidelines] PROCEDURES for its use in making parole decisions as required by law[, including the fixing of minimum periods of imprisonment or ranges thereof for different categories of offenders]. Such written [guidelines may consider the use of a] PROCEDURES SHALL INCORPORATE risk and needs [assessment instruments] PRINCIPLES to MEASURE THE REHABILITATION OF PERSONS APPEARING BEFORE THE BOARD, THE LIKELIHOOD OF SUCCESS OF SUCH PERSON UPON RELEASE, AND assist members of the state board of parole in determining which inmates may be released to parole supervision.
( [ ] = deleted from original; CAPS = added to original)
It should be noted that there was also a rewrite of Executive Law § 259-i, which contains the factors that the parole board must consider. These factors remain exactly the same as they were, except for their repositioning within the statute. They continue to include the very static factor “the seriousness of the offense...” This factor and all of the other factors are still required to be considered under the new procedures that are still to be written.

So, here we are six months after the enactment of this hope-generating statute, and neither the procedures nor the risk and needs assessment instrument have been implemented. Yet it is these, as yet unwritten, procedures that Professor Genty would have us pin our hopes on. It doesn’t seem like a good time to sit back with our fingers crossed in hopes that the parole board will inject real reform into the still to be written procedures.

The SAFE Parole Act doesn’t leave the practical implementation of reform to the vagaries of the parole board and the hope that it will write reform-minded procedures. The SAFE Parole Act contains the procedures for implementation right in the statutory proposal itself.

Unlike the budget bill, the SAFE Parole Act would do the following:

A) Remove from parole consideration “the seriousness of the offense,” leaving that consideration exclusively to the sentencing court.

B) Add the requirement that the parole board must consider the parole applicant’s preparedness for reentry and reintegration, as evidenced by the applicant’s institutional record pertaining to program goals and accomplishments as stated in the facility performance reports, academic achievements, vocational education, training or work assignments, therapy and interactions with staff and other sentenced persons, and other indications of pro-social activity, change and transformation.

C) Add the requirement that the parole board consider the progress made towards achieving the programming and treatment needs developed in the transitional accountability plan.

D) Add the requirement that if parole is not granted the parole board will state in detail and not in conclusory terms the factors and reasons for the denial and the specific requirements for actions to be taken, programs or accomplishments to be completed, or changes in performance or conduct to be made, or corrective action or actions to be taken, in order to qualify for parole release.

E) Add the requirement that if parole is not granted the Department shall, within ninety days of the hearing decision, provide the parole applicant access to the program or programs, activities and/or facilities needed in order to provide the opportunity to fulfill the requirements set forth by the board.

F) Add the requirement that if the requirements previously set forth by the parole board at the time of denial have been successfully completed and the parole applicant’s institutional record has been satisfactory during the time between the previous and current parole hearing, release shall be granted.

G) The parole applicant shall be entitled to a copy of the scored risk and needs assessment.

These are but a few of the provisions that the SAFE Parole Act would require if enacted.

We have two choices.

We can sit back and hope that the parole board writes procedures for itself that adopt the requirements of the SAFE Parole Act, and thus prove true Professor Genty’s prognosis that these procedures may “be the most significant parole reform in more than 30 years.

Or we can continue to do the hard work of organizing for legislative change and passage of the SAFE Parole Act.

From: the Prison Action Network, in Building Bridges, October 2011.

October 13, 2011

Building Bridges - October 2011 edition

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

Articles in this edition include:

1. Prison Children Anonymous: Children who have or once had a parent, sibling or loved one involved in the criminal justice system, now have a place to receive emotional support and learn about our penal system.

2. Citizens Against Recidivism 5th Annual Citizens’ Awards Event, Saturday November 5th, is at a new location this year: TIAN, 679 Riverside Dr. Join the PAN table for a reduced ticket price.

3. Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement (FICPM) announces a national conference to discuss and ratify a National Agenda to restore their civil and human rights.

4. The Coalition for Women Prisoners, a project of the Women in Prison Project, invites readers to help make the criminal justice system more responsive to the needs and rights of women and their families.

5. The Free Bus Program was recently eliminated by NYS DOCCS. Please help bring it back by taking the “Bring Back the Buses” Survey.

6. Legislation: Despite rumors, there is no law releasing inmates after 65% of their sentence is served, The SAFE Parole Act was not voted on by the Senate ‘s Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee, and only 4 of the 26 bills reported on in Building Bridges were voted on by any body. None of them became law.

7. NYS Parole Reform Campaign: Response to Philip Genty’s article on Exec. Law §259-i revisions by the governor (see Sept. Building Bridges). More than 210 letters to the Governor in support of the SAFE Parole Act have been gathered by hardworking readers. Good work, team!

8. Parole News: August releases, first use of revised Parole Board policies, comments from a stakeholder.

9. Youth Justice: New York State is one of only two states in the country (the other is North Carolina) where every 16 and 17 year old is automatically tried as an adult. Judge Lippman calls for raising the age.

October 07, 2011

NYSACDL Supports Call For Parole Reform

The NYSACDL [New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers] has joined a growing list of legal, advocacy and community organizations that have called for the reform of New York parole law. This diverse coalition supports the Safe And Fair Evaluation of Parole Act, also known as the SAFE Parole Act. The SAFE Parole Act would amend New York’s existing parole statute, Executive Law § 259-i... ...

It might be asked why parole reform should be supported at a time when the newly appointed New York State Permanent Sentencing Commission seems poised to recommend adoption of a mostly determinate sentencing scheme for nonviolent felonies, adding it to the determinate scheme already adopted for violent and drug felonies. The answer is simple. No matter how quickly the Sentencing Commission and the Legislature act, there will still be thousands of people in prison serving indeterminate sentences for decades to come who will face parole board appearances. For example, there is certainly no consideration being given to ending indeterminate life sentences for A-1 violent felonies, A-1 drug conspiracies and major traffickers or persistent felony offenders.

In fiscal year 2009-2010 the Parole Board conducted over 19,000 hearings for people who were serving indeterminate sentences. It will take years for that number to diminish substantially. As of January 1, 2009 there were over 9,100 men and women in New York prisons serving life sentences for A-1 violent felonies. With an initial parole release rate of just 8% for A-1 violent felons, and a subsequent parole release rate of 13%, the number of people requiring parole consideration will measure in the thousands for the foreseeable future. The remarkably low release rate for this population reflects the Parole Board’s aversion to parole release for applicants convicted of A-1 violent felonies. The Parole Board has chosen to focus on the “serious nature of the criminal offense” rather than looking at factors grounded in prison based performance, to determine if there is a reasonable basis to conclude that the individual will live a law abiding life if released. It is noteworthy that the recidivism rate for this group is significantly lower than any other group of parole releasees. According to the Division of Parole, of the 784 people serving life sentences for A-1 violent felonies who were released on parole during 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 the recidivism rate, measured by return to DOCS for a new felony conviction, was 1/4 of one percent.

It is both unfair and bad corrections policy to require such a significant number of people to continue to be subject to a parole release system so fundamentally flawed.

For full article, including a review of some of the changes proposed by the SAFE Parole Act, see:
NYSACDL Supports Call For Parole Reform (Atticus, Volume 23 Number 1, Winter 2011)

October 01, 2011

Law Requires Board to Assess Rehabilitation in Parole Rulings

The revision of Executive Law §259(c) in the new budget legislation this year requires the parole board to establish and apply "risk and needs principles to measure the rehabilitation of persons appearing before the board" and to take into account the likelihood of success should the offender be released. In the past, the board "could" consider those factors; as of today it "must" consider them. The risk assessment tool is under development and is expected to be in use by November.

Advocates welcome the new paradigm and are eagerly awaiting the first batch of parole board determinations based on the revised standards. An article in the New York Law Journal includes the following reactions to the new law:

"This has the potential to really make a difference," said JoAnne Page, president and chief executive officer of The Fortune Society, a social services and advocacy group that promotes successful re-entry from prison.

"Static facts—what a person's record was, the nature of the crime—should not be the only things looked at when someone is appearing before the parole board," she said. "What [the new law] does is require looking at rehabilitation and likelihood of success on release and use of risk guidelines. If this is actually implemented, it will make an enormous difference."

Robert N. Isseks, an attorney in Middletown who has for years pursued a federal class action alleging that the parole board ignores current criteria and effectively acts as a re-sentencing body, said he has doubts.

The parole board routinely states in its determinations that it has considered requisite statutory criteria, and courts generally accept its assurances when inmates challenge a denial of parole release.

"I'd like to be optimistic," Mr. Isseks said. "I hope [the new law] will force them to do what they are supposed to do, but I can't predict. In the hundreds of decisions I have seen, there is plenty of reason to be skeptical."

An annual report issued by what was then the Division of Parole late last year stated that in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, 40 percent of the eligible inmates were released on parole (22 percent at the first opportunity) but only 9 percent of violent felony offenders.

The 2006 federal case filed by Mr. Isseks in the Southern District, Graziano v. Pataki, 7:06-cv-00480, was dismissed last December by Judge Cathy Seibel. Mr. Isseks is appealing and also attempting to reinstate a state court action pending before the Appellate Division, Third Department.

Mr. Isseks said the new requirements may put a heavier burden on the parole board to establish that it has performed more than a cursory review.

"These new guidelines might help the judges make more informed decisions, and give them something more to look at and consider," Mr. Isseks said.

Ms. Page agreed.

"This provides grounds for challenging a parole board hit on the basis of not having looked at evidence of rehabilitation or not having administered a recent risk assessment," she said. "It opens doors, provides a basis from which to challenge [a denial of parole]. It is a step in the right direction, and something that has been needed for many, many years."

Ms. Page said the new criteria may force the parole board to take into consideration that A-1 felons released on parole are at an extremely low risk of re-offending. In fact, state figures show that offenders who serve a sentence for murder are the least likely to commit a felony once they are paroled.

"People change," Ms. Page said. "If there is anything I know from my 22 years heading Fortune, it is that people who have been menaces to the community have the capacity to become good neighbors and make a positive difference in the world. And the people who committed the most horrific crimes and served decades [in prison] are beyond the age when people tend to recidivate."

Full text of report:
Law Requires Board to Assess Rehabilitation in Parole Rulings, by John Caher (New York Law Journal, September 30 2011)

September 25, 2011

The Misuse of Life Without Parole

"...The American Law Institute, a group composed of judges, lawyers and legal scholars, has wisely called for restricting the use of the penalty to cases “when this sanction is the sole alternative to a death sentence.”

In capital cases, life without parole is a sound option. Public support for the death penalty, a barbarity that should be abolished in this country, plummets when life without parole is an alternative. In many states, juries are instructed that it is an option. But the use of the sentence has gone far beyond death penalty cases, even as violent crime rates have declined.

In the last decade in Georgia, one of the few states with good data on the sentence, about 60 percent of offenders sentenced to life without parole were convicted of murder. The other 40 percent were convicted of kidnapping, armed robbery, sex crimes, drug crimes and other crimes including shoplifting. Nationwide, the racial disparity in the penalty is stark. Blacks make up 56.4 percent of those serving life without parole, though they are 37.5 percent of prisoners in all state prisons.

The overuse of the sentence reflects this excessively punitive era. But as the institute’s report explains, an “ordinary” life sentence is “a punishment of tremendous magnitude” whose “true gravity should not be undervalued.” In the past 20 years, the average life term served has grown from 21 years to 29 years before parole...

...A fair-minded society should revisit life sentences and decide whether an offender deserves to remain in prison or be released on parole. And a fair-minded society should not sentence anyone to life without parole except as an alternative to the death penalty."

For full story:
The Misuse of Life Without Parole (New York Times, September 12 2011)

See also the following responses:
Life Sentence for Youths? (New York Times, September 18 2011)
Revisiting Life Sentences (New York Times, September 25 2011)

September 16, 2011

Building Bridges - September 2011 edition

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

Articles in this edition include:

1. Attica: NYC's Attica Is Us event focused on the messages we can take from the 1971 Rebellion; Buffalo engaged in educating the public about the impact of incarceration on individuals and the community, and Mika'il DeVeaux used his memory of the day to write a piece reminding us of the continued politicizing of incarceration, and calls on us to fight back.

2. The Women in Prison Project looks forward to a "day when survivors who act to protect themselves and their children from an abuser’s violence are given support and protection instead of harsh punishment and incarceration—to a day when survivor-defendants are treated with the fairness and dignity they deserve."

3. Columbia Law School Professor Philip Genty analyzes the potential impact of the policy shift contained in the Governor's revision of Exec Law § 259-i and concludes that "this addition of an explicit requirement that the Parole Board adopt and be guided by procedures that require it to evaluate "rehabilitation" and "the likelihood of success…upon release" signals a critical reform and modernization of parole practices."

4. Job Announcement from FACES NY, Inc. Job Title: Re-Entry Case Manager; Hours: 35 hrs/weekly; Salary Range: $30,000 - $35,000/yr Qualifications: BA degree in Social Work or a related human services field and/or 5 years minimum experience.

5. Legislative report dispels the rumor that the SAFE Parole Act has passed. A bill is not a law. The NYS Senate and Assembly both need to vote for it during a Legislative Session. The last Legislative Session ended in June 2011, and will not start again, barring an emergency, until January 2012. (See further details below.)

6. The NYS Parole Reform Campaign invites family members and friends and advocates of people who have appeared, or will appear before the NYS Parole Board, to tell their stories on video or audio recording, and hopefully by doing so open the eyes of those who know nothing of the injustices we experience. They also need data entry and legislative look-up volunteers to help their supporters get the information they need.

7. Parole News: July Statistics for A1VO Parole Releases.

Also from Building Bridges, an update on the status of the SAFE Parole Act:

"Rumors that the SAFE Parole Act has passed are unfounded. A bill is not a law (please refer to the August issue of Building Bridges for the process). The NYS Senate and Assembly both need to vote for it during a Legislative Session. The last Legislative Session ended in June 2011, and will not start again, barring an emergency, until January 2012.

S5374: The Senate will have to reintroduce the SAFE Parole Act in January when they go back into session. It will be given a new Senate number. At the end of last session it had four Senate sponsors: Senator Tom Duane and three co-sponsors: Senators Velmanette Montgomery, Bill Perkins, and Gustavo Rivera.

When Sen. Nozzolio chooses, the SAFE Parole Act will be introduced to the Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee, which he chairs, for a vote. A majority of the members will have to vote for it in order for it to move out to the Senate floor for a vote. If a majority vote against it, it will be dead unless and until someone reintroduces it at the next Session (January 2013).

A7939: The Assembly retains bills for two sessions, so it will keep this number and its seven Assembly sponsors: Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry, two co-sponsors: Assembly Members Andrew Hevesi and Eric A. Stevenson, and three Multi-sponsors: Assembly Members Herman D. Farrell, Jr., Richard N. Gottfried and John J. McEneny.

Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry (who is also the head of the Assembly's Corrections Committee) probably will wait until he feels it has enough support to pass before he introduces it to the committee. Like the Senate, if the committee passes it, it goes to the Assembly floor for discussion and a vote.

Please encourage your State Senator and Assembly Member to vote for the SAFE Parole Act if there is to be any hope of this bill becoming law."

September 15, 2011

Changes to Parole Laws Signal Potentially Sweeping Policy Shift

The following extracts from this article by Philip M. Genty, referring to Governor Cuomo's revision, are taken from Building Bridges:

"...In his article [condensed here] Prof. Genty holds that the most significant reform in Gov. Cuomo’s revision was the removal of Section 1. In 1978, the Parole Board announced its guidelines for setting the minimum sentence, which Section 1 gave them authority over. The only two factors specified in these guidelines were the seriousness of the offense and the person's prior criminal history. The guidelines were presented as regulations, which set out a grid for calculating the minimum period of imprisonment, i.e., the period of time a person in prison would be required to serve before becoming eligible for parole release:
(3) To derive the guideline time range, the appropriate cell is located on the parole decision making grid where the offense severity and prior criminal history scores intersect. The offense severity score is located on the vertical axis, the prior criminal history score on the horizontal axis. The cell on the guideline grid where the two scores intersect indicates the suggested time to be served, based on these two major factors.

...No other release guidelines have ever been set forth by the board. In 1980, the Legislature removed the responsibility for setting minimum sentences from the Parole Board and transferred it to the courts. Senator Christopher Mega's memorandum in support of this change described the Parole Board's power to set sentences as "an irrational waste of taxpayer money as well as of criminal justice resources" and observed that "there is nothing on which the Board's decision can be based which was not before the court at the time sentence was imposed…; and most of these factors consist of matters the court is better able to ascertain and evaluate (e.g., seriousness of the offense, mitigating and aggravating factors, etc.). However, despite the Parole Board's loss of the responsibility for setting minimum sentences, Section 259-i(1) of the Executive Law—"Establishment of the Minimum Periods of Imprisonment"—stayed on the books, and the guidelines remained unchanged.

...The 2011 amendments require the board to adopt procedures that incorporate a growing body of social science research about assessing post-release needs and recidivism risks. These procedures will be designed to measure rehabilitation and facilitate better informed parole release decisions. The amended Section 259-c states that the Parole Board shall:
establish written procedures for its use in making parole decisions as required by law. Such written procedures shall incorporate risk and needs principles to measure the rehabilitation of persons appearing before the board, the likelihood of success of such persons upon release, and assist members of the state board of parole in determining which inmates may be released to parole supervision.

...This addition of an explicit requirement that the Parole Board adopt and be guided by procedures that require it to evaluate "rehabilitation" and "the likelihood of success…upon release" signals a critical reform and modernization of parole practices. Such procedures, when promulgated, will rationalize parole decision-making by placing the focus primarily on who the person appearing before the Parole Board is today and on whether that person can succeed in the community after release, rather than—as under the previous "guidelines"—on who the person was many years earlier when she or he committed the crime. This is a shift in policy of potentially sweeping significance."

The Prison Action Network make the following comments about Professor Genty's article:

"We are encouraged by Columbia Law School professor Phillip Genty’s optimistic view of the Governor’s changes to the parole laws, and we certainly hope Parole Commissioners are reading it and being influenced to see it as he does. Through Genty's eyes, the Governor’s changes accomplish much of what the SAFE Parole Act would. However we do not share Prof. Genty’s faith in the Risk and Needs Assessment that is used. Its questions measure the strengths and deficits of the person being interviewed. While this is useful in developing a Transitional Accountability Plan for use during incarceration and after release to parole supervision, how it will influence release decisions remains to be seen."

For full text of the article, see:
Changes to Parole Laws Signal Potentially Sweeping Policy Shift, by Philip M. Genty. (New York Law Journal, September 1 2011)

August 20, 2011

SAFE Parole Act backed by Correctional Association of NY

J. Soffiyah Elijah took office as the executive director of the Correctional Association of New York (CA) on March 14 — and while she acknowledges that she is still settling into that role, she has declared herself to be an ardent advocate of the ongoing parole reform movement. The CA is one of only two private organizations in the country (and the only one in New York) with legislative authority to inspect and report on conditions in state prisons.

Elijah has expressed strong support for the SAFE Parole Act — which was introduced in mid-May by State Senator Tom Duane and State Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry. The bill, which is at this point still within committees in both houses and has yet to be voted on, would amend the statute of New York State law governing procedures taken by the state’s Parole Board during prisoners’ applications to be released on parole. Among other things, the bill would make it necessary for all parole hearings to be done face-to-face (they are often done by videoconference), and would force the Parole Board to judge an applicant’s request to be released based on their behavior, education and rehabilitation while in prison — and not on the nature of their crimes.

“I think that a lack of information, especially in terms of how parole should work, is what divides people and makes some of them unreceptive to reform,” said Elijah in a June 24 phone interview. “The fact is that when you deny parole based on the nature of the original offense, you basically condemn people to die in prison — and that’s not what sentencing is for.” ...

... A particular area Elijah highlighted when expressing the need for parole reform was that of the aging prison population. She added that, under her direction, she would like to see the CA work with the Prison Action Network (the advocacy group that worked with Senator Duane to create the SAFE Parole Act) to build a campaign around that issue. She called it an “early, embryonic” idea, but hopes to eventually build support for another in-depth look at the parole guidelines as they specifically affect older prisoners.

“Recidivism drops drastically after the age of 40 or 45, and people need to be informed of the lack of value in the continued incarceration of the older prison population. There’s just no public safety concern — it drops to less than five percent. And if we look at those facts, why are we spending up to $124,000 a year to keep an older prisoner with medical needs incarcerated?” ...

For full text of article, see:
SAFE Parole Act backed by Correctional Association of NY, by Sam Spokony (Chelsea Now, July 13 2011)

August 16, 2011

Building Bridges - August 2011 edition

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

Summary of articles in this issue:
1. Activism: most of this issue is devoted to letting you know about all the interesting things going on this month; lots of picnics, parades, and less business meetings than usual. A great way to get comfortable with other people who share your situation and your interests.

2. Citizens Against Recidivism is gearing up for its annual Award Dinner coming up this October 29th, and the deadline for nominating someone for an award is September 1.

3. The Legislative report this month attempts to explain the legislative process in terms most of us can understand. Feel free to send us your comments and questions.

4. Mayor Bloomberg is removing one of the obstacles facing formerly-incarcerated people looking for jobs, by ordering city agencies not to ask about criminal histories until after the interview process.

5. The NYS Parole Reform Campaign is moving forward in a spirit of hope and enthusiasm. We've been having meaningful visits with legislators and commissioners. Let us know if you would like to join us in the future.

6. Parole News covers June's releases of A1VOs, discusses the composition of the parole board, and reports on a parole applicant's 11th parole hearing.

7. A letter to sign and send to Governor Cuomo supporting the SAFE Parole Act (scroll down to the end of the Building Bridges newsletter to find it).

Also from Building Bridges, an update on the NYS Parole Reform Campaign:

"We've been spending the summer months visiting with people we hope will become supporters of the SAFE Parole Act. A group of constituents and supporters met with Sen. Edward Maziarz in his district office in Lockport NY. Joining us was former head of Parole, George Alexander, representing the Saving Grace Ministry Parole (half-way house) program where he serves as an assistant director. (He sends his greeting to to all of you.) Sen. Maziarz appeared impressed by the personal stories he heard at our meeting. If you're in his district and would like to share yours, it could make a difference.

We also had a productive visit with Andrea Evans, chair of the Parole Board. We went into the meeting assuring her we would keep our discussion confidential but we do want you to know we were representing your interests, which of course are in everyone's best interest, so there's no conflict there.

If you want to join the campaign’s efforts, please contact us. By phone or email if possible; by letter if not (NYS Parole Reform Campaign, 518 253 7533, parolereform@gmailcom, PO Box 6355, Albany NY 12206). We especially encourage families to get together in support of the SAFE Parole Act. One of you can represent the group in corresponding with us. We need to present a united front, so let's make sure our outreach carries the same message, and goes to the most strategic places."

July 14, 2011

Building Bridges - July 2011 edition

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

Summary of articles in this issue:

1. Activism: actions, classes, events and meetings happening around the state this month.

2. Full details of the legislation introduced this year in the Assembly’s Correction Committee and/or the Senate’s Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee. Twenty-six bills, some good, some bad. None of them became law. Assembly bills are reintroduced every two years, so this year’s Assembly bills will still be there next session. Senate bills need to be reintroduced every year and get a new number. Both houses of the State Legislature go back into session in January 2012. It will be an election year.

3. The NYS Parole Reform Campaign is planning group District Visits during the summer. If you know who your legislators are, perhaps we can plan to visit them at their district offices.

4. Parole News: May releases and May Board Members (as known).

5. Commentary on closures of four minimum-security facilities for men: Buffalo Work Release; Camp Georgetown; Summit Shock; and Fulton Work Release, in addition to three medium-security facilities for men: Arthur Kill; Mid-Orange; and Oneida.

6. Risk and Needs Assessments - they’re in the law, and weve seen a copy used for reentry purposes. We don’t know how they’re scored, nor how they’re applied to parole board decisions.

7. Registration is now open for "Think Outside the Cell: A New Day, A New Way". Anyone who wants to attend the free, day-long symposium is urged to register immediately, since space is limited. Free breakfast and lunch will be available at the event, which is funded by the Ford Foundation.

July 01, 2011

Cuomo Administration Closing 7 Prisons, 2 in New York City

The Cuomo administration, following through on one of the most contentious cutbacks included in the state budget, said Thursday that it would close seven of New York’s dozens of prisons, including a facility in the Bronx and one on Staten Island.

The prisons to be shut down include three medium-security facilities: Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island, Oneida Correctional Facility in Rome and Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick.

The governor also named four minimum-security prisons to be closed: Fulton Correctional Facility in the Bronx, Camp Georgetown in Madison County, Summit Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Schoharie County and Buffalo Correctional Facility.

Full story:
NY State To Close Seven Prisons, Two In NYC (NY Daily News, June 30 2011)
Prison Facilities Ordered to Close (Wall Street Journal, July 1 2011)

June 16, 2011

Duane spearheads state parole reform

On May 13, State Senator Duane introduced the Safe and Fair Evaluations (SAFE) Parole Act to the Senate’s Crime and Correction Committee. The bill would provide landmark reform to New York’s parole system by amending paragraphs “a” and “c” of Executive Law § 259-i, which dictate current procedures for parole hearings.

“I’ve heard directly from so many inmates who’ve been unfairly denied parole,” Duane said in a phone interview last week. “It was their experiences that led me introduce the legislation.”

The inmates to whom he was referring are mainly those who have committed A1 felonies — and, of those, primarily murder — but have shown an high level of rehabilitative effort based on sustained good behavior and exemplary performance in academic, vocational or social programs (along with having served time well beyond their minimum sentences). The major obstacle for those inmates once they apply for parole is the fact that the Parole Board always treats their pleas based not on their records of improvement but on the violent nature of their original crimes. This has invariably led to repeated denials — even for inmates who have the support of family, community members or advocacy organizations.

In its current form, the bill redefines those standards by which inmates would be judged at a parole hearing, with the overriding focus on “preparedness for reentry and reintegration.” The amendments would make it more clearly unlawful to deny an applicant based on the nature of their crime (although doing so is already a technical violation of the current 259-i statute). The bill would also do much to change the setting in which hearings are held — by requiring the Parole Board to meet face-to-face with any prisoner making a case for his or her release, as opposed to the more impersonal and psychologically distant videoconferences that often take place.

Another notable amendment to the state law proposed by the bill is the language used within it. All instances of the word “inmate” are replaced with the decidedly more innocuous “parole applicant.” Judith Brink, the director of Prison Action Network — a prisoner-rights advocacy group that worked with Duane to create the SAFE Parole Act — understands that steps forward in a paradigm shift in the way ex-convicts are perceived by the public begins with the simple changes in terminology found in the bill.

“Removing the stigma of dehumanization from people who’ve committed crimes in the past, as well as from their loved ones, is a huge part of this,” she said. “It’s important now because I think that more people who are directly affected by the prison system are seeing that the ‘shaft of shame’ is disappearing.”

Brink also made it clear that the SAFE Parole Act is only a small piece of the Prison Action Network’s much larger movement called “The Reintegrative Justice Campaign,” which will work to change the response to crime from a punitive one to one that sets a goal of reintegration throughout the process.

“We picked this issue now primarily because of the fact that so many people are being denied parole based solely on the nature of their crimes, even though they have transformed themselves and really want to give back to their communities,” Brink said. “But we saw, as soon as we looked at the prison system, that it needs reworking from beginning to end. From the moment somebody’s arrested, the system has to change.”

What may be more pressing at this point — while both the authorities and the public have yet to fully adopt such a liberal view of those who are or have been incarcerated — is making sure that the Parole Board is not able to circumvent the state law even after it has been amended. Robert Isseks, a Middletown attorney, is skeptical about board members following the letter of the law — because he’s already suing them for it. He currently represents ten inmates in an ongoing class action lawsuit against the state.

“The Parole Board has not been exercising its discretion according to the statute [259-i], which states that it should be done on an individual, case-by-case basis. When it comes to people convicted of A1 [felonies], they arbitrarily deny them based on that and for no other reason,” Isseks said. “So let’s just say that there’s certainly reason to doubt whether the board will follow [a new bill], simply because they’ve already continued to break the rules in that regard. So that’s troubling.”

But Duane is confident in the strength of his bill, as well as its chances of passing through the State Senate with relatively few changes. Like Brink, he sees it as one part of a greater shift that will take place — and that now, it’s just a matter of getting his peers and their constituents on board.

“I believe that all of the elements of the legislation are common sense and fair,” he said. “I wouldn’t pick out one more particular section and say that it would be more or less palatable, because holistically, it’s going to reform the parole system, and people are either going to be supportive of that or not.”

Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry introduced the SAFE Parole Act into the Corrections Committee of the State Assembly on May 25, but could not be reached for comment regarding the bill. He was also conspicuously absent from the College and Community Fellowship’s 11th Annual Graduate Celebration for formerly incarcerated women who were receiving college degrees, which took place last Thursday in Harlem.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision — which includes both the former Department of Correctional Services and Division of Parole (a merger created by Governor Cuomo’s 2011-12 Executive Budget) — declined to comment on the bill.

Both versions of the SAFE Parole Act — within the State Assembly and State Senate committees — have yet to be voted on or discussed at length by the committee members. Chelsea Now will continue to cover the development of the bill, as well as the ongoing parole reform movement, throughout the year.

The SAFE Parole Act can be found at:

Duane spearheads state parole reform, by Sam Spokony (Chelsea Now, June 15 2011)

June 15, 2011

Building Bridges - June 2011 edition

The June edition of Building Bridges has just been released by the Prison Action Network.

Summary of articles in this issue:

1. Nine actions, events and meetings you can attend to be part of the solution.

2. Citizens Against Recidivism offers 13-week program for adults who want help with their anger problem.

3. Legislative Report on a good bill that was vetoed, two bad bills that were passed, and bills that are in process; twelve bills in all that are important to members of Prison Action Network, including:

S0338/A0154 - Montgomery/Aubry Merit Time Bill
Mar 29, 2011: Defeated in Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections
Ayes (3): Rivera, Hassell-Thompson, Montgomery
Ayes W/R* (2): Kruger, Peralta *with reservations
Nays (9): Nozzolio, DeFrancisco, Gallivan, Griffo, Little, Maziarz, Ranzenhofer, Ritchie, Kennedy

4. Media coverage of our issues; Charles Blow in NYTimes OpEd speaks eloquently on the racial disparities of the War on Drugs; Bob Gangi addresses the same issue at

5. The NYS Parole Reform Campaign encourages use of interactive website to contact legislators and record your stories; house parties to organize for the SAFE Parole Act.

6. Parole News reports only one A1VO initial release in April and one rescission of a March release. Readers have begun to report which commissioners were at each facility.

7. Prisoners of the Census: civil rights organizations file motion to defend law ending prison-based gerrymandering.

8. The SAFE Parole Act: what a ‘markup’ bill is, and another way to vote beside the ballot box. The SAFE Parole Act S5374 now has sponsors in both houses: Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry has introduced it as Bill A7939, Assembly Member McEneny signed on.

9. On Sept. 24th at the Riverside Church in New York City, "Think outside the cell - a new day, a new way,” will feature a range of well-known speakers together with hundreds of formerly incarcerated men and women and their loved ones to grapple with issues affecting those who live in the long shadow of prison .

10. VOCAL - NY's parolee organizing project is demanding voting rights for parolees. PAN is one of 22 organizations who signed a letter urging Governor Cuomo to restore the vote for approximately 41,000 New Yorkers currently on parole. (Next step, PAN hopes, is to expand the right to vote to people in prison.)

May 18, 2011

Senate wants to create violent offenders registry

The state Senate have passed a bill that would make it easier for New Yorkers to find out if their neighbor has a violent past.

The legislation would create a statewide violent offender registry, similar to the one in place for sex offenders. The bill, S3645C, also known as Brittany's Law, was introduced by Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, and has 14 co-sponsors, including Mike Nozzolio, R-Fayette.

The Republican-controlled state Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday to force violent felons to register their names and whereabouts annually with local law enforcement and on an Internet database accessible to the public.

The proposal would only apply to new violators convicted of charges deemed violent in state law. The registry would require anyone convicted of a violent felony to update their information annually for 10 years, or more frequently for the most grievous crimes. After a decade, the felon would no longer be required to check in, although his name would remain in the database. Felons could also seek judicial relief from the requirement to register.

For full story:
Senate wants to create violent offenders registry (Legislative Gazette, May 17 2011)
Senate passes bill to create registry of violent felons (Democrat and Chronicle, May 18 2011)
1 Albany bill's great; the other, misguided (Times Herald Record, June 18 2011)

May 16, 2011

Building Bridges - May 2011 edition

The May edition of Building Bridges has just been released by the Prison Action Network.

Summary of articles in this issue:

1. Actions, Event and Meetings include Coalition for Women Prisoners Advocacy Day in Albany on behalf of the the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act. [with dates for NYC and phone pre-trainings]; Presentation of the SAFE Parole Act on March 19 at the Chelsea Reform Dem Club, with Tom Duane; March 21 appearance of Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow at Riverside Church; Buffalo PRP2! meeting on May 23, Manhattan meetings on May 17 (Milk Not Jails), May 18 (NY Reentry Roundtable), and May 19 (Coalition for Women Prisoners) as well as regularly scheduled support group meetings. You can keep busy working for justice almost any day!

2. The Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies is passionate about bringing deserving men and women home from prison through better parole policies, but the question throughout the process from arrest through sentencing, potential incarceration, and parole release should be: where do we want this person to end up? This is called Reintegrative Justice.

3. Legislation: S 338/A 154 expands Merit Time eligibility to include violent crimes (with some exceptions) and the list of criteria for receiving merit time has also been expanded.

4. DOCS and the Div. of Parole have merged into DOCCS (Dept. of Corrections and Community Supervision); The Parole Board will maintain its independence.

5. NYS Parole Reform Campaign is now at WWW.PAROLEREFORM.ORG. Visit this new interactive website where you can view people speaking about their parole experiences, leave your parole story on the storyline phone, and take several actions, including sending Senator Duane a thank you letter. It includes a list of members of both committees in the legislature who have to pass it before it can move to a vote of each house.

6. Parole News - 134 interviews, 30 released, 4 on initial hearings. (Still none in the Elmira or Watertown hubs.)

7. A link to The SAFE Parole Bill S.5374 in its entirety, plus what we know about TAP and risk and needs assessments. Called a “mark-up”, the bill S5374 shows the changes that constitute the SAFE Parole Act. It contains all the language in the governor’s revision. The SAFE Parole Act removes all the crossed out language and adds the CAPITALIZED words.

May 15, 2011

The NYS Parole Reform Campaign reports that Senator Tom Duane is sponsoring the Safe Parole Act, S5374

The NYS Parole Reform Campaign reports that Senator Tom Duane is sponsoring the SAFE Parole Act in the Senate, where it is Bill #S5374, and Jeffrion Aubry has sponsored it in the Assembly, Bill #A7939.

News from the Prison Action Network:

Now that the SAFE Parole Act has a bill number and a sponsor, it's time for the heavy lifting. Not in the weight room but in the legislature. We need to build a strong grassroots base that will put pressure on legislators who will have to be convinced that sponsoring Senate Bill 5374, or at least to vote for it, is the smart thing to do. Personal stories are very important. They connect the words in the SAFE Parole Bill with human beings who are suffering under the weight of unfair parole board decisions. The good news is that now there's an easy way to get started!

This week we are inaugurating our new interactive website, where you can learn more about the SAFE Parole Bill, sign a petition, send a letter to your legislators and to the governor, and download materials to pass out where ever you go. There's much more at; you can tell your story on the 24/7 storyline and watch videos of others telling how they've been affected by unfair parole policies [to see more than one, click on the channel tab]. You can even use it to find out your legislator's phone #. When you take action and send the form letter on the site, you will see the name, photo, and phone # of each of your representatives in the state legislature.

It's important to start working right now, since this legislative session is over at the end of June. Plan to visit the site regularly. Tell everyone you know about it and invite them to do the same.

[Thanks to Thousand Kites who have done all the work of creating the website and who will continue to help us improve it and move it out into the public arena. Your feedback will help us. Let us know if you experience any difficulties. But most importantly, please use it.]

(We need videographers in the Ithaca, Syracuse, and Binghamton areas. 1000 Kites supplies the cameras and the training, please email if interested.)

FOLLOWING ARE THE MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEES WHERE OUR BILL WILL REMAIN UNTIL THE CHAIRS OF EACH RELEASE IT FOR A VOTE. We still need a sponsor in the Assembly. These committees have to pass our bill before it can be voted on by the respective full house. If one of them represents you and you want to change the Parole Board’s policies, you need to convince him or her to vote yes to pass the SAFE Parole Bill, S.5374. It is now in the Senate Committee.

Chair: Jeffrion Aubry
William Colton
Janet Duprey
Joe Giglio
Hakeem Jeffries
Tom Kirwan
Alan Maisel
Félix Ortiz
Teresa Sayward
Eric Stevenson
Harvey Weisenberg
Keith L.T. Wright

Chair: Sen. Michael F. Nozzolio
John A. DeFrancisco
Patrick M. Gallivan
Joseph A. Griffo
Ruth Hassell-Thompson
Timothy M. Kennedy
Betty Little
George D. Maziarz
Velmanette Montgomery
José Peralta
Michael H. Ranzenhofer
Patty Ritchie
Gustavo Rivera

April 27, 2011

Workers await word on prison cuts

"Where will the ax fall? Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick? The state prison just outside Otisville? The medium-security site near the Ulster County hamlet of Wallkill?

Nearly two months after state lawmakers passed a belt-tightening budget, more than 2,800 prison employees working in this region are awaiting a lingering decision that could upend their lives: Which prisons will Gov. Andrew Cuomo close to eliminate 3,700 prison beds statewide?

Cuomo's spending plan demanded prison space be reduced by that amount — in response to declining inmate numbers — but let the governor decide afterward which of the state's 67 prisons to close... ...

... ...The job uncertainty affects about 2,800 of the region's nearly 5,000 prison employees because the four maximum-security facilities are in no danger of closing.

The state plans to shut only medium- and minimum-security prisons, where inmate numbers have plunged because of lower crime levels and the softening of sentences for low-level drug offenders.

The targeted facilities are expected to close 60 days after employees are informed. State law normally requires that workers get a year's notice, but the budget shortened that period to save money this fiscal year."

Full story:
Workers await word on prison cuts: four maximum-security facilities are in no danger of closing. (Times Herald-Record, April 27 2011)

April 26, 2011

Merger of Department of Correctional Services and Division of Parole

Commissioner Brian Fischer has released a Fact Sheet highlighting how the merger of DOCS and Parole came about and the manner in which the new agency, Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, will operate. The document also details the Parole Board’s independence as stated in statute, and its continued responsibilities.

Full details are given below:

Merger of Department of Correctional Services and Division of Parole

Mission Statement

To improve public safety by providing a continuity of appropriate treatment services in safe and secure facilities where offenders’ needs are addressed and they are prepared for release, followed by supportive services under community supervision to facilitate a successful completion of their sentence.


  • Enacted by the State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) and the Division of Parole (DOP) have been merged to form the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).
  • As envisioned by Governor Cuomo, this merger will streamline departmental functions, eliminate duplication of effort, achieve better outcomes for more offenders and enhance public safety, while simultaneously reducing expenditures and saving taxpayer dollars.
  • A primary goal of the new agency will be to create a more seamless, more comprehensive operation through a continuum of care from the moment an offender enters the correctional system until he or she successfully completes the required period of community supervision.

Parole Board

  • The Parole Board will continue as an independent body, with Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and the Board’s Counsel’s Office answering directly to the Parole Board.

  • The Parole Board will maintain its existing functions (e.g., release decisions, set conditions, etc).

  • The Parole Board, with a membership of up to 19 members will continue to be appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate; they will not be hired by the Commissioner of DOCCS and will continue to be led by an appointed Chairperson.

Changing Role of Parole and Corrections

Starting in 1995, the Legislature authorized determinate sentences for repeat violent felons and later for all violent offenders. In 2005, the use of determinate sentences was further expanded to include drug offenders and in 2007 was expanded again to include most sex offenders. Beginning in 1998, Community Supervision (Field Parole) was made a mandatory requirement of all offenders released under a determinate sentence.

DOCS and Parole have historically worked collaboratively on many fronts, such as the Willard Drug Treatment Campus, the Edgecombe Residential Treatment Facility, working with county re-entry taskforces, assisting offenders with Medicaid applications upon release, providing voter information to released offenders, and assisting in post release placement in treatment programs as appropriate.

Functions of New Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

  • The new agency’s function is to ensure the appropriate care, custody, treatment and supervision of the individual, whether in a facility or in the community.
  • The merged agency’s organizational chart will place the functions of community supervision directly under a Deputy Commissioner reporting to the Commissioner.
  • Functions of the Parole Board will be apart from the DOCCS organizational structure, but supported by the full agency.
  • By statute, DOCCS is required to implement an offender Transition Accountability plan that includes an integrated team case management plan based on a research based risk assessment tool.

    Organizational Responsibilities:

    • DOCCS will consist of two operational components – the Parole Board and non-Parole Board activities.
    • Both components are designed to provide all appropriate services for all offenders, from entry to release, and from release through discharge.

    Release Process:

    • Parole eligibility criteria do not change, nor the manner in which Parole Boards meet and review cases.
    • The Parole Board’s autonomy in their decision making is specifically preserved in statute.
    • DOCCS staff will continue to provide information and assistance to the Parole Board, such as preparing the documents for an offender’s Parole Board hearing.
    • The Parole Board retains authority to conduct victim impact interviews and retains authority over release decisions for indeterminate sentences and medical parole.
    • There is no change in the ability of an offender to be seen by the Parole Board or to challenge the decision of the Parole Board.
    • There will be no change in the Board’s role in setting an offender’s release conditions.
    • Appeals of the Board’s decisions, following a release denial, will continue to be handled by Board’s Counsel’s Office who serve and are appointed by the Board.

    Revocation Hearings:

    • The preliminary hearing officers and ALJs who perform revocation hearings will become employees of DOCCS; however, they will be hired by and report to the Board.
    • All existing due process protections will remain in place.
    • All administrative appeals relating to revocations decisions and any litigation commenced as a result of the revocation will be handled by the Board’s Counsel’s Office.
    • There are no substantive changes in the procedures by which parole violators will be re-released from prison after serving their time assessment.

    Offender Discharge Process:

    The Legislature has enacted laws that allow certain parolees to be discharged from further community supervision after certain periods of good behavior.

    • The Parole Board will continue to review and decide three-year discharge applications from parole supervision for offenders serving indeterminate sentences.
    • The Parole Board will assume the responsibility to review and decide the granting of five-year discharges from supervision for sex offenders who are serving determinate sentences.
    • DOCCS will assume the responsibility for granting merit terminations from presumptive release, parole, conditional release and release to post-release supervision for certain non-violent offenses.
    • DOCCS will also assume mandatory and discretionary terminations of sentences for certain drug offenders.
    • DOCCS will assume the responsibility for issuing certificates of relief and certificates of good conduct.

Other Programs & Processes

  • Clemency requests will continue to be reviewed in accordance with all past policies and procedures.
  • Interstate transfers will continue to be managed in accordance with all established policies and procedures.
  • Re-entry will be expanded to better incorporate services previously provided separately by DOCS and Parole.

Cost Savings

The merger of DOCS and Parole into the new Department of Corrections and Community Supervision will provide an estimated savings of $17 million in FY2011-12.

April, 2011

State of New York
Department of Corrections and Community Supervision
1220 Washington Avenue
State Campus, Building 2
Albany, NY 12226-2050
Brian Fischer, Commissioner