March 16, 2011

Building Bridges conducts research into 180 parole hearings in the state of New York

"Building Bridges submitted a FOIL Request to Parole and received 9 months worth of commissioners' names who were present for hearing from 1/1/10-9/15/10 (approximately 180 hearings). We wanted to learn if there was any substance to readers' protests that some commissioners never release people with A1 violent felony convictions at the completion of their minimum sentence, and that commissioners were not assigned randomly, as the Parole Board has claimed. We also were trying to see if there was any evidence to support claims that hearings are predetermined, as is the almost universal opinion of men and women who appear before the parole board. Bear in mind that parole boards are made up of either two or three commissioners, and the decisions are made in the name of the lead questioner at the hearing, so there is no way to know how specific individuals voted.

That said, here is what we saw as we looked at the record: Some commissioners were paired with each other more often than would be expected to randomly occur, specifically Ferguson and Elovich, Gallivan and Greenan, Hagler and Smith, Grant and Loomis. Some, particularly in Western NY, tend to be on boards in their home area more often than not, with Gallivan appearing on 5 out of the 7 hearings held at Gowanda during the Foil period, Greenan on 4 out of 7 at Wende/Collins and Crangle on 4 out of 7 at Albion.

Crangle, Hernandez, Lemons, Ludlow and Thompson were each twice on boards that released a person with an A1VO on his/her initial appearance, while Ferguson and Gallivan each were only once on a board that released an A1VO on his or her first board. We could find no initial releases of A1VOs under boards with Smith, Greenan, Hagler or Elovich during the Foil period (9 months).

All A1VO initial releases came out of mediums except for 3 which came from max’s. All three of those at max's were released by Grant, Loomis and Ross. We do not understand this. Surely the Board understands that being in a maximum facility does not mean that the person is any less deserving of release than someone in a medium. There are many reasons a person could be in a max; not all are punitive by any means. For example, a person can request to be transferred to one. Max's have cells as opposed to dormitories and some people prefer the privacy. They also have family reunification programs, and weekday visiting hours, which makes prisoners with families nearby prefer them.

No A1VO was released on an initial board from any of the facilities in the Elmira hub, not just in the 9 months of data Foiled but in the four years that Building Bridges has published these statistics. The Elmira hub consists of Elmira, Auburn, Five Points, Cayuga (med) and Southport. The second hub least likely to be released from on a first hearing is the Watertown hub - Gouverneur, Watertown, Cape Vincent, Ogdensburg and Riverview (all mediums) - which has seen the release of only two A1VOs on initial boards in the last four years, while Elmira has seen zero, according to our research.

That was perhaps the most disturbing fact of all - that some facilities have no/virtually no initial board releases of A1's. It gives support to the theory that decisions are predetermined and not based on individual merit. We will continue to search for the reasons. If readers can add anything to our research, please do so."

March 15, 2011

Building Bridges - March 2011 edition

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

Summaries of Articles:

1. Actions, events, and meetings are listed geographically and chronologically, so you can easily check for those in your area at times you are free. Three legislative advocacy days are listed (under Actions). These are excellent opportunities to get comfortable talking to legislators. If you support the S.A.F.E. Parole Act, you really ought to attend one of them. Winning over legislators will be an important part of our success.

2. Bob Gangi, former Exec. Dir. of C.A. is moving on, not to retire, but to take the position of Senior Policy Advocate at the Urban Justice Center. On Monday, April 4th, he will begin work there on justice related issues like the questionable arrest policies of the NYC Police Department. He looks forward to having contact, professional and/or personal, with many of you in the future.

3. Bronx Community Solutions - Your organization is invited to participate in the Bronx Reentry Community Forum and Resource Fair: “I’m Home ... What’s Next?” on Saturday, May 7, by hosting a resource table, contributing items for door prizes, or by bringing participants or students from your program.

4. Formerly Incarcerated People’s Movement - A gathering of formerly incarcerated persons began efforts to launch a campaign against the New Jim Crow. We marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, met with state legislators, and began organization building. We will be doing the same on the east coast. There were people there from around the country. You can see some video footage on

5. In Your Face heads to Washington D.C., on foot! - Readers can keep informed about the In Your Face WALK 2 WASHINGTON on the In Your Face Movement FaceBook pages, where you can also read the numerous write-ups they've received.

6. NYS Parole Reform Campaign Report - The latest organizations to sign a letter in support of the SAFE Parole Act are Exodus Transitional Community, National H.I.R.E. Network, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. Campaign members helped design a logo for the Campaign's Thousand Kites campaign website, soon to come online.

7. NYS Prisoner Justice Network - Everyone is invited to any of their series of regional and local meetings (listed in the article) and events taking place around the state to inform people in local communities about the statewide network, to share ideas and strategies for challenging and changing New York’s criminal INjustice system, and to encourage people to attend the Legislative Awareness Day for Prisoner Justice on May 3rd in Albany.

8. Parole News- January A1VO statistics show only one release on an initial hearing. A recent FOIL request asking the date and location of Parole Board Release Hearings and the names of the Parole Commissioners who were on each Board produces more questions than answers. Will DOCS and the Division of Parole merge under Cuomo? Read the article by Joel Stashenko in the NY Law Journal, in which he claims Parole Boards would lose authority under Cuomo, posted on

9. Prison Media: Thread News! is a digital multimedia magazine available online and free of charge. Their first issue deals with the complexities of prison re-entry, as seen through the eyes of 35 year old recent parolee Manny Borras, a playwright, who must now navigate life on the outside. You can submit your stories for future consideration.

10. Think Outside the Cell: Their upcoming National Symposium on Sept. 24th will bring together national experts and policy makers, as well as hundreds of those who live in the long shadow of prison, whose voices and concerns have rarely been raised on the national stage. The Rev. Al Sharpton, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and CNN journalist Soledad O’Brien will be among them. Anyone with prison in their backgrounds is encouraged to attend. An audience of more than 800 is anticipated.

March 11, 2011

Parole Boards Would Lose Authority Under Cuomo Plan

Joel Stashenko discusses Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's proposals for parole reform in New York, raising concerns about the control of the parole board and the proposed reduction in the number of authorized parole commissioners from 19 to 13.

Parole Boards Would Lose Authority Under Cuomo Plan (New York Law Journal, March 11 2011)

Traditionally, three commissioners have heard applications for parole.

“... Right now, we don’t anticipate a reduction,” Ms. Glazer said. “I don’t think this will happen. I think the way in which we have been operating so far, with the 13 [commissioners] has permitted us to operate with the three-man boards and I anticipate that will continue.”

If two-member boards were used, a second panel would have to hear any cases in which there is a tie.

Parole commissioners make $101,600 each. The chair of the board makes $120,800.

Middletown attorney Robert N. Isseks, who represents inmates before the parole board, contended that the current commissioners are overworked as it is.

“We feel the more on the panel the better,” Mr. Isseks said in an interview. “The caseload for commissioners now could be up to 100 hearings a day, where the commissioners get the paperwork that day and the hearings are perfunctory and last maybe five to seven minutes, more or less, and the commissioners are only half listening at best because they are looking at the paperwork for the next case.”

Albert O’Connor of the Defenders Association said that smaller parole panels would make release harder for some inmates.

“When you have three members, you have a more diverse panel,” Mr. O’Connor said. “You have an opportunity for a commissioner to persuade a colleague. When you cut that down to two, obviously, it’s unlikelier that you’ll connect with a board member. The chances of gaining release are diminished for the harder cases, for ones where there might be some historical reluctance to release.”

See CURE-NY's blog for the full text of the article.