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

April 15, 2011

State of Recidivism: the Revolving Door of America's Prisons

More than four in ten offenders nationwide return to state prison within three years of their release despite a massive increase in state spending on prisons, according to a Pew report.

States today spend more than $50 billion a year on corrections, yet recidivism rates remain stubbornly high. As the slumping economy forces states to do more with less, policy makers are looking for a better public safety return on their corrections dollars.

While overall figures are discouraging, the report highlights the strategies that three states— Michigan, Missouri and Oregon— have employed to reduce returns to prison.

April 14, 2011

Building Bridges - April 2011 edition

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

Of particular interest to parole reform in this edition:

7. The NYS Parole Campaign has attracted 4 more organizations who support the SAFE Parole Act.: Center for Nuleadership on Urban Solutions, Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives, Greenhope Services for Women, Inc., and the Morningside Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Legislative Advocacy efforts will start in earnest in May.

8. NYS Prisoner Justice Network tells us what’s wrong with New York’s prison system...and what we can do about it: New York’s prison system is spending $3 billion on “corrections” – that don’t correct anything – while cutting education, health care, and other social programs to the bone. This system of mass incarceration is inhumane, unnecessary, uneconomical, and ineffective. Read the article to find out what you can do!

9. Parole News - Of the 84 parole hearings in February, 2 applicants were released at their initial hearings and 14 were released at a reappearance. DOCS and Parole have been merged into one Department, while the Parole Board remains independent.

A major change was the merging of DOCS and Parole into one agency headed by one person. In theory it could be a benefit. A seamless process from incarceration through reentry is certainly something to be desired, especially when the goal is successful reintegration. Of course, as with most laws, everything depends on the nature of those implementing them. We have faith that Commissioner Brian Fischer will do his best to promote successful reintegration, but under future administrations who knows? In extreme times, as we can see by Sen. Little’s suit against the new Gerrymandering law (see article 5), when people don’t like a law, they can try to overturn it and often do. In fact that is what we hope to do with Gov. Cuomo’s rewrite of the parole board statute, formerly known as 259-i and now broken up and placed in new locations in NYS laws.

Changes include the removal of section 1 of 259-i more than 20 years after the Board lost the authority to set minimum sentences. Other changes require the Parole Board to use risk and needs assessment principles in the parole release decision, and the use of a Transitional Accountability Plan (TAP) by the newly created Department “to be a comprehensive, dynamic and individualized case management plan based on the programming and treatment needs of the inmate. The purpose of such plan shall be to promote the rehabilitation of the inmate and their successful and productive reentry and reintegration into society upon release.” [To request a copy of the sections of legislation which contain the above changes please email parole.reform@gmail.com with your request.]