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)