February 15, 2012

Building Bridges - February 2012 edition

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

Items in this issue include the following:

1. Pepsi Beverages Company has agreed to a $3.1 million settlement following federal charges that Pepsi committed racial discrimination in its hiring practices, specifically by eliminating approximately 300 African American applicants based on arrest records (but not necessarily convictions).

2. Threat to close Auburn Prison's Hospitality Center alarms families who depend on this service to provide shelter while they wait from the time the bus drops them off until the beginning of visiting hours.

3. Today's "Incarcerated Man" is vastly different from the representative specimen of yesteryear. For the first time in "incarcerated man's" history there are more notable success stories than failures, as evidenced by a dwindling prison population and the success of the many women and men in leadership positions in re-entry programs throughout the state.

4. Two Job Opportunities: 1) Full time Development Associate at the Correctional Association. 2) Combine your desire to sharpen your skills and your commitment to fair criminal justice policies by training to become a media volunteer with the NYS Parole Reform Campaign. Free training.

5. Standardize Marijuana Offenses: We need a permanent, statewide solution like the bipartisan version proposed by Assemblyman Jeffries and Senator Grisanti. Please support A.7620 (Jeffries)/S.5187 (Grisanti): legislation that would end the racially biased, costly, and unconstitutional marijuana arrests throughout New York State.

6. How is the merger of DOCCS going to be implemented, and when? Who is overseeing the process? In this vast system with all its tensions and conflicts - between agencies, between management and unions - who is monitoring this monolithic entity? Building Bridges attempted to find out by attending, and reading testimony from, the Public Hearing on the Merger of DOCS and the Division of Parole into the new Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Thursday, November 10, 2011 and a hearing on the Public Protection portion of the 2012-13 Executive Budget, held by the State Legislature's fiscal committees on January 30, 2012. Please scroll down to section 6 of the Building Bridges newsletter for their report on this highly complex situation, including information on TAP and COMPAS.

7. The Merit Time Bill S338/A154, sponsored by Senator Velmanette Montgomery and co-sponsored by Senator Dilan is sitting in the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee and in the Assembly’s Correction Committee, as is the SAFE Parole Act. Brianne Russo has posted a petition in support of Senator Montgomery’s Merit Time Bill, S338. If you want to make your voice heard, please sign the petition.

8. Last chance to decide to attend the Caucus weekend workshops. The NYS Parole Reform Campaign of the Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies has a room that holds 500. Think of the impression it would make if it was filled! But if you can’t get there, you can help to get your legislators to support the SAFE Parole Act. People are suffering in prison waiting for us to win this struggle. It won’t be easy, but it can be done if we ALL get involved!

9. Mass Incarceration and the NYS Prisoner Justice Movement: "Dear Prisoner Justice Network, I have been in prison for 27 years. My last parole hearing lasted 4 minutes." Mass incarceration is a false solution that gets in the way of real solutions. It does not interrupt violence - it feeds the cycle of violence.

10. Parole News: Updates on Thwaites decision, and Graziano's:

Douglas Thwaites reports that the Assistant Attorney General is appealing Judge Lawrence H. Ecker's ruling in which the Judge ordered the Parole Board to hold a new hearing for Mr. Thwaites with a different panel within 30 days of the decision dated 12/21/11. Thwaites is challenging the appeal. He thanks all who have written in support and asks us to keep faith alive. His next parole hearing is scheduled for March 2012.

In a new decision on January 26 2012, Judge Lawrence H. Ecker handed down an almost identical ruling in the case of Newlly Velazquez as he did for Douglas Thwaites, one month previously. He again quotes Professor Phillip Genty's interpretation of the governor's revisions to the Parole Statute, including: "[T]he most important change is the replacement of static, past focused "guidelines" with more dynamic present and future-focused risk assessment "procedures" to guide the Parole Board."

Graziano does not give up!
 It is not the end of the road yet.  Lawyers are waiting for a date to argue their federal case to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  They also plan to request leave to appeal the state case to the New York Court of Appeals. 

11. Stop and Frisk policies are the scourge of a Black person's life, particularly for males, and particularly for young males. But as this story reveals, even grey haired 70 year old Black men are not immune to being stopped and frisked.

12. Veterans in Prison, a report by Karima Amin in Buffalo, where the first Veteran's Treatment Court in the nation was created by Judge Robert T. Russell, Jr.

13. Over 37,000 New Yorkers are denied their constitutional right to vote because they are on parole, even though they are living and working in their communities. Join the effort to change this!