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."