January 29, 2011

Cuomo may scale back prison-closing plan

Under pressure before the budget, Cuomo appears to be scaling back his plans for prison reform.

"Nearly a month ago, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made a call to close some prisons an emotional capstone of his first annual address to the Legislature, vowing, to sustained applause from fellow Democrats, that underused prisons would no longer be “an employment program” for upstate New York.

The issue has long prompted resentment, particularly for families of New York City residents who are shipped hours north of the city to be incarcerated, to places like the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, which is perched in the northern Adirondacks.

But now Mr. Cuomo appears to be, at least partly, in retreat.

The governor and his staff had considered closing or consolidating potentially 10 or more adult and youth prisons and other facilities controlled by the corrections department, but they have faced stiff resistance from Senate Republicans, who are trying to fend off the loss of hundreds of state jobs in some of their upstate districts.

Now the governor appears to be scaling back his ambitions, those with knowledge of his plans said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to talk on the record about the governor’s budget deliberations ahead of the budget’s completion.

Any plan to shutter specific prisons is unlikely to be included in the budget Mr. Cuomo releases on Tuesday and will be left to negotiations with the Legislature as it hammers out a final budget over the next two months.

The governor’s office has already signaled a willingness to accommodate Republicans; a plan floated on Friday in The New York Post suggests as few as six prisons would be closed, three of them in New York City, including two that house work-release programs.

If the new strategy holds, it would sharply curtail Mr. Cuomo’s ambition and could ultimately even increase the proportion of prisoners sent upstate."

For full story, see:

See also:

January 15, 2011

Building Bridges - January 2011 edition

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

Topics covered this month include:

1. Actions, meetings and events happening around the state this month.
2. A good place to start cutting; NY Times article on Cuomo's speech.
3. Job opportunities with the Legal Action Center.
4. The New Jim Crow, Chapter 3 quotes.
5. NYS Parole Reform Campaign Report.
6. NYS Prisoner Justice Network Report.
7. Parole news.
8. Prison suicides, by Mary Beth Pfeiffer.
9. Think Outside the Cell adds 3 books to its series.

The Prison Action Network makes a plea for membership donations to support the continued publication of Building Bridges:

"Prison Action Network is running out of money to publish Building Bridges. Many of our members are in prison and cannot afford to make membership donations large enough to cover the cost of their newsletter. We are hoping you will bridge the gap. Please join Prison Action Network by sending us a yearly membership donation. It isn't fair that those in prison are carrying the full responsibility for supporting the newsletter that others benefit from as well. Whatever you can afford will be gratefully accepted. Donations may be sent to PAN at PO Box 6355, Albany, NY 12206. Thank you for your support."

January 07, 2011

A Good Place to Start Cutting

Governor Andrew Cuomo on prison reform:

A Good Place to Start Cutting (New York Times, January 6 2011)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo struck just the right tone on both adult prison reform and juvenile justice reform in his first State of the State address on Wednesday. He said that New York could no longer afford to keep hugely expensive but unneeded facilities open to serve as "an employment program" for upstate residents.

To get the Legislature to agree to shut these facilities, Mr. Cuomo will have to push back hard against the corrections workers' unions that have thwarted sound closure proposals from all three of his predecessors.

The case for closures is laid out in a new analysis by the Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit group. New York's prison population has dropped from about 71,500 at its peak in 1999 to around 56,000 today. This has left more than 8,000 empty beds, meaning that the state could close or significantly downsize eight to 10 of the 67 units in the system and still have ample room to handle any unexpected spike in the population. The savings would be $220 million in the first year.

The state could also save money by reversing misguided criminal-justice policies. In 1995, Gov. George Pataki prohibited people convicted of violent crimes from participating in work-release programs. That order cut the number of participants from nearly 28,000 in 1994 to about 2,500 in 2007, the most recent year for which the association has data.

The point of Mr. Pataki's order was to protect the public from violent offenders, but it may well have had the opposite effect. Once they had done their time, inmates were dumped onto the streets without any chance to reacclimate and find their place in the community. Work-release programs cost about $7,500 per participant annually, as opposed to about $55,000 to keep one person behind bars. Increasing the number of participants to just 5,000 would save more than $80 million a year.

The state also needs to reform a parole system that returns as many as 8,000 inmates a year to prison for technical violations like breaking curfew. Other states have shown that they can keep the prison count down, at no risk to the public, by increasing supervision of violators instead of reflexively bouncing them back to jail.

These will be tough political fights. But for the sake of both fiscal sanity and sound public policy, they are ones that Governor Cuomo needs to fight and win.

January 06, 2011

Update on Merit Time Bill S00329

Update on Merit Time Bill S00329, sponsored by Senator Velmanette Montgomery:

01/05/2011: Referred to Crime Victims, Crime and Correction.

Bill S00329 Summary:
Allows certain inmates to be granted a merit time allowance; allows inmates who are victims are able to prove that they were subjected to substantial physical, sexual or psychological abuse, that the abuse was inflicted by a member of their same family or household or a member of the person's immediate family, and that the abuse was a substantial factor in causing them to commit the crime to be eligible to earn merit time in the amount of one-third off either their minimum sentence (if inmate has an indeterminate sentence) or their flat sentence; allows such inmates to be eligible for presumptive release; expands the criteria that a person in custody of the department of correctional services may meet in order to earn merit time.

Bill status, summary and full text may be found here.

January 05, 2011

Governor Andrew Cuomo's statement on prison reform, from the State of the State Address, January 5 2011

Governor Andrew Cuomo's statement on prison reform, from the State of the State Address, January 5 2011:

"...For those of us who are old enough to remember Willowbrook, it brings back very bad memories. When we think about our current juvenile justice facilities, I believe there are echoes of what we dealt with in Willowbrook. You have juvenile justice facilities today where we have young people who are incarcerated in these state programs who are receiving help assistance program treatment that has already been proven to be ineffective; Recidivism rate in the 90 percentile. The cost to the taxpayer is exorbitant.

For one child, over $200,000 per year. The reason we continue to keep these children in these programs that aren’t serving them but are bilking the taxpayers is that we don’t want to lose the state jobs that we would lose if we closed the facilities. I understand, I understand, the importance of keeping jobs. I understand the importance of keeping jobs especially in upstate New York. I also understand that that does not justify the burden on the taxpayer and the violation of civil rights of the young person who is in a program that they don’t need where they’re not being treated hundreds of miles from their home just to save state jobs. An incarceration program is not an employment program. If people need jobs, let’s get people jobs. Don’t put other people in prison to give some people jobs. Don’t put other people in juvenile justice facilities to give some people jobs. That’s not what this state is all about and that has to end this session."

January 03, 2011

Felony Convictions of Parole Releasees at 10-year Low

Felony Convictions of Parole Releasees at 10-year Low
Less than 3 percent of releasees returned State Prison for committing a new felony

For Immediate Release: Thursday, December 30

Andrea W. Evans, Chairwoman of the New York State Board of Parole and Chief Executive Officer of the Division of Parole today announced that the percentage of releasees returned to State Prison for committing a new crime has declined 40 percent over the past decade.

“The Division of Parole has two main objectives – to enhance public safety and to successfully transition former offenders back to their community after release from prison,” Ms. Evans said. “The fact that fewer releasees are committing new crimes is great news for the public and a testament to the tight supervision and careful mentoring provided by our parole officers. In fiscal year 2009-10, New York State Parole Officers made more than a half million home visits, conducted 151,038 on-site drug tests and collected nearly $1.1 million in supervision fees.”

In an annual report submitted today to Governor David A. Paterson and legislative leaders and posted to the Division’s website (www.parole.state.ny.us), Ms. Evans noted that while the rate of releasees returned to prison for a new conviction has decreased from 3.7 percent in 2000-01 to 2.6 percent in 2009-10, the percentage of releasees returned for violating the conditions of their release has increased over the same period from 13.2 percent to 15.9 percent. In other words, Ms. Evans said, while the percentage of releasees returned to prison has increased, the percentage of parolees returned for committing a new crime has decreased.

“When a person on parole violates the conditions of release in a significant way, or repeatedly refuses to abide by the reasonable restrictions imposed by the Board of Parole and the parole officer, it can indicate that the individual is slipping and is not ready to return to society and live a crime-free life,” Ms. Evans said. “While we do not look for excuses to send someone back to prison and would much prefer to transform the individual into a law-abiding, tax-paying member of society if we can do so without compromising the public safety, the Division of Parole does not hesitate to violate those who cannot or will not play by the rules.”

According to the annual report, during FY 2009-10, only 1,515 releasees - fewer than 3 percent of those under supervision - were imprisoned as a result of a new felony conviction. Releasees accounted for 3.1 percent of all arrests New York State in 2009 (4.5 percent of all felonies and 2.5 percent of all misdemeanors), the last year for which full-year statistics are available, according to the report. That is the lowest rate for at least a decade.

The report also shows that the Board of Parole in FY 2009-10 granted release to 40 percent of the eligible inmates, but only to 22 percent of those being considered for parole for the first time. Nine percent of the violent felony offenders and 3 percent of the sex offenders eligible for parole were released to parole supervision.

Additionally, the report shows that 92 percent of the releasee population is male, more than half is comprised of African American individuals, and 74 percent are either African American or Hispanic. Additionally, alcohol and substance abuse issues are very common among releasees: Nearly half of the population has a history of alcohol abuse, and 67 percent have a history of drug abuse.

Chairwoman Evans noted the Division’s commitment to helping releasees make a successful transition to the community.

“Our Re-entry Services unit works closely with localities throughout the state to facilitate access to housing, benefits and support services,” Ms. Evans said. “The unit has developed referral sources for housing, substance abuse prevention services, anger management, domestic violence counseling, mental health counseling, medical services, mentoring, employment and many other services needed by releasees. In the past year, the number of releases to homeless shelters in New York City have been decreased dramatically, from 31 percent to 16 percent.”

In 2010, the Division of Parole, which was established on July 1, 1930, marked its 80th anniversary of public service to the people of New York State.