September 22, 2012

An interview with former parole board commissioner Tom Grant

An interview with former parole board commissioner Tom Grant. For complete report, see:

Q & A: Tom Grant, by John Caher (New York Law Journal, 21 September 2012)

Tom Grant gives his views on the parole process, including the selection of parole commissioners, pre- and post-interview preparation and discussion, the risk-and-needs assessment instrument, the movement towards a determinate sentencing structure, pressure on parole commissioners from public officials and members of the public, and unpopular parole decisions that result in public scrutiny and criticism.

Perhaps the most significant part of the interview is where Grant admits that there are some inmates who may never be paroled, no matter how well they do while in prison, and even if there is no likelihood that they will ever commit another crime:

"I happened to see one inmate on two separate occasions during my time on the parole board. He had participated in a heartbreaking crime as a teenager and he had subsequently done remarkably well during his lengthy period of incarnation. I don't believe he had one disciplinary infraction. He had already been denied by two or three parole boards, primarily due to the nature of the offense. It was a fatal shooting and he had an accomplice. During his interview, the other board commissioners and I focused on the logistics because it was unclear who might have actually fired the fatal shot. We denied him. From time to time I thought about the case. I said to myself, "I'll re-examine this, if I ever see this guy again," but it's all random who comes before you at an interview so I didn't know if I would see him again.

Four years go by, and I see him and the same questions come up, as they would. He was still doing well. In my opinion, he had no more likelihood of committing a crime than you or I. This time I voted to release him and the two other commissioners on the panel voted to keep him in. He is still in. He has life at the end of his sentence. I still think about it. We got bogged down with the logistics. He may never go home. That is the one I think about."

Grant's views on risk-and-needs assessment:

"The recent statute requiring the parole board to use a risk-and-needs assessment is perhaps the most significant positive change in parole-related statutes in the last two decades. Now that the Legislature and the Executive have moved away from an indeterminate sentencing structure to a determinate sentencing scheme, most of the cases the parole board will see in the future will be the non-drug A1 violent felons where the maximum sentence is life. If you look at the last two decades of research, the recidivism rate for released A1 violent felons is remarkably low. I would expect the risk-and-needs assessment instrument will provide the commissioners with a valuable empirical tool that will greatly aid them in decision making."

Grant makes the following two recommendations for reform:

"There should be a one-term limitation for parole board commissioners. The commissioner would, on the day of confirmation, know exactly when his term would end. This would reduce, if not eliminate, any perceived "outside influences" on the parole decision making process.

The second reform would offer the inmate an option to have a hearing, rather than just an interview, between the inmate and the commissioners for A1 felony (non-drug) cases. The inmate would be able to call witnesses on his behalf, perhaps relatives, employers, corrections counselors, someone from the Fortune Society or the Osborne Association. On the other side, if there was opposition to the release, the district attorney could participate, victims or their representatives, if they chose, could talk about how they and their families have been affected.

The hearing system for the A1's would ensure that the Parole Board had enough information to make an informed and reasoned decision based on the governing statutes.

If both of these proposals were enacted, they would encourage the board members to take even more care in their decision making."

September 17, 2012

A brief overview of the Graziano v. Pataki case

A brief overview of the Graziano v. Pataki case, given by the Prison Action Network:

In January 2006, a Class Action complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of NY, alleging that the Pataki administration's policy/practice of denying parole to prisoners serving indeterminate sentences (1) for convictions of Class A-1 offenses with (2) sentences of less than 25-Life, the statutory maximum term of imprisonment, and currently serving such sentences; (3) have served the minimum terms of their indeterminate sentences and are therefore eligible for parole release; and (4) have had their most recent applications for parole release denied by the Parole Board solely because of the "seriousness of the offense", the "nature of the present offense", or words to that effect, without due regard to any factor other than the violent nature of their present offenses, violates the Class members' rights to due process of law and equal protection of laws under the 14th amendment to the US Constitution, and whether such policy/practice violates their rights to be free from an ex post facto enhancement of the punishments under the US Constitution, Article 1, §1.

In March of 2006, a First Amendment complaint was filed to include A1 felons who received the maximum indeterminate sentence of 25 years to Life who meet the same defining factors of the main Class.

In April of 2006, the State filed an answer requesting the court to dismiss the action for a failure to state a course of action. The Class filed an opposition.

On July 17, 2006, the Honorable Judge Charles Brieant denied the State's motion to dismiss the complaint as to all claims. (2006 lib 2023082.)

In May of 2007, the State filed a second motion to dismiss the amended complaint, submitting the Class's claims are moot because Pataki left office in 2006 and the new governor Eliot Spitzer, along with a new Parole Chairman, George Alexander, would not follow Pataki's alleged policy. The Class filed an opposition in May of 2007. In December of 2007, Judge Brieant denied the State's moot argument, stating: "the change of office does not necessarily mean the policy or practice of the Parole Board would not be repeated". Judge Brieant also granted Class certification, instructing the State to settle the case. In early November of 2007, after months of settlement discussions, the State agreed to terms of a settlement. On Nov. 15, 2007, then Senate Majority leader Joseph Bruno and his cronies likened a settlement in the inmate parole suit to a "get out of jail free card" and persuaded Spitzer to continue fighting the suit. Senate hearings were conducted asking Spitzer why he had let out 56 violent felons. In March of 2008, we had the Spitzer sex scandal.

On July 22, 2008, the NY Law Journal announced that Judge Brieant, who had served on the bench for 37 years and who was appointed by President Nixon in 1971, died of cancer at 85. The Class lost a seasoned Jurist.

In 2008, Cathy Seibel was appointed to replace Judge Brieant and in December of 2008 Class Counsel moved to have former Governor Pataki deposed [made to testify to or give evidence on oath, typically in a written statement]. In her first ever ruling on the case, in April of 2009, Judge Seibel denied plaintiffs' motion to compel Pataki's deposition.

In September of 2010, knowing Judge Siebel had given them their first favorable ruling in Graziano, the State moved for a third bite at the [dismissal] apple, asking Seibel to dismiss the action. Despite the fact that Judge Brieant, who was a seasoned judge with 37 years on the bench had twice denied the State's request to dismiss the action, Judge Siebel granted the State's dismissal request and directed the clerk to close the case.

An appeal was filed in the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit and oral argument was allowed in March of 2012. On August 3, 2012 a majority of the Court affirmed Judge Seibel's dismissal, with Judge Stefan R. Underhill - sitting by designation from Connecticut - filing an informal reasoned dissenting opinion.

An en banc (asking the complete court) application is presently being filed to the 2nd Circuit.

September 16, 2012

Building Bridges - September 2012 edition

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

A brief summary is given below. Please see Building Bridges for full details:

1. The 1971 Attica Rebellion revealed an unforgivable truth; that this country allows human beings in confinement to be dehumanized, traumatized and demoralized, unmercifully.

2. Civic engagement means you take ownership of your community. You work to make it the place you want to live. One of the ways to do this is by voting. The Reentry Roundtable makes civic engagement the focus of their September 19th meeting.

3. Corey Parks tells readers how the Merle Cooper Program taught him that confrontation could be a positive tool for transformation.

4. Family Empowerment Day 5 in Buffalo features keynote speakers Ebony Magazine's "Couple of the Year", Rufus and Jenny Triplett of Powder Springs GA. The choice of workshops is listed in the flyer at the end.

5. Herman's House, a movie: 'What kind of house does a man who has been imprisoned in a six-foot-by-nine-foot cell for over 30 years dream of?' Co-presented by the Correctional Association and opening at the Harlem International Film Festival on Wed. Sept 19.

6. History of Graziano v. Pataki. It took 5 years before the plaintiffs found a lawyer to take the case pro bono. Is Mr. Graziano despairing after the latest set-back? No. The fight continues!

7. ICARE speaks about our Social Contract. If progressives are going to dispel the myth that mass incarceration is a response to crime, we have to break through the prevailing definition of criminality. And we are going to have to fight back using moral terms.

8. In Our Name, Restoring Justice in America, was the first in what promise to be a series of excellent conferences. The issues facing War Veterans in prison will be the focus of the Spring 2012 event.

9. My Name is My Own II, an evening of words by formerly incarcerated women, Tue. Sept 18 7-9pm.

10. Old Behind Bars, Speaker Jamie Fellner, Human Rights Watch, on October 10th, 11am-1pm. FREE. Fordham University.

11. Parole News: July release rates, the percentages are looking good, but the denials are the same old "nature of the crime" and the inconsistency is even getting to some prison superintendents, one of whom is reported to have complained about the denials of parole applicants he thought were highly qualified for release; Mark David Chapman's parole denial.

12. NYS Parole Reform Campaign depends on voters to elect a strong Democratic majority in order to pass the SAFE Parole Act. First step is to make sure your voter registration is up to date. Report on the Sept 13 primaries looks positive.

13. Pregnant in prison? Tell us about it. The law says you can't be shackled when in labor, during delivery, recovering after birth.

14. Prison Public Memory Project: website and blog + community-based activities and events to build public memory, connect communities with prisons to their histories and help people in places where prisons have closed to use the past to imagine new futures.

15. NYS Prisoner Justice Network reports on Sept 14's Program to End Mass Incarceration/Close Attica.

16. Reminder: Prison Action Network’s deadline for position papers is October 1.

17. Thinking Outside the Cell is launching a 10 minute multi-media study of the stigma of incarceration in the USA.

September 13, 2012

DOCCS marks 25th anniversary of Shock Incarceration

DOCCS marks 25th anniversary of Shock Incarceration
(NYS DOCCS press release: Wednesday, September 12, 2012)

Successful boot camp-style program that incorporates intensive drug and alcohol treatment, education and counseling has saved New York State taxpayers approximately $1.340 billion as an alternative to traditional incarceration

ALBANY – The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision today recognized the 25th anniversary of its Shock Incarceration Program, which was launched in 1987 at the Monterey Shock Incarceration Facility in Schuyler County.

Shock is a six-month program that is similar in nature to a military boot camp regimen, but it incorporates intensive substance abuse treatment and academic education within a therapeutic community setting. Since its inception at Monterey (Schuyler County), the program was expanded to the Summit (closed in 2011), Moriah (Essex County), and Lakeview Shock (Chautauqua County) Incarceration facilities, culminating in 1995 with the opening of Willard Drug Treatment Campus (Seneca County), a program for parole violators similar to the regimen of a shock incarceration facility.

All Shock participants are engaged in comprehensive life skills programs that include academic education, group counseling, intensive alcohol and substance abuse treatment, physical training, drill instruction and work crews. Shock provides 675 hours of substance abuse treatment and education in each six-month session. Shock inmates pass the GED at a rate of 80%.

In an Executive Chamber Proclamation highlighting the program’s anniversary, Governor Cuomo stated, “The Shock Incarceration Program is a groundbreaking program that has contributed significantly to the state’s lower incarceration levels, improved public safety within our communities and reduced costs to our state.”

Between 1987 and July of 2012, 79,114 Shock eligible inmates were screened for program participation, including 6,694 females. Ultimately, 61,687 inmates were transferred into Shock with 45,135 graduating (including 3,251 females), saving New York State taxpayers an estimated $1.340 billion.

DOCCS Commissioner Brian Fischer, today participating in a ceremony commemorating the program’s anniversary, stated, “The Shock Incarceration Program owes its success to the best trained and most dedicated staff the Department has, and to the creativity and support of individuals who brought it into existence twenty-five years ago and those who have since maintained its standards and practices. In recognizing the history and value of the Shock Incarceration Program, we need to understand that we are recognizing our staff, the people who have dedicated their lives to helping others develop into better members of society.”

In terms of its impact on recidivism, 26% of Shock graduates who were released from Shock facilities in 2007 or 2008 returned to prison within three years compared to 42% for all DOCCS releases to parole supervision in 2007. Of the Shock graduates who were released from Shock facilities in 2007, 2008, 2009 or 2010 7% returned to prison within one year compared to 20% for all releases in the same time period.

As of today, there are 1,100 inmates participating in the Shock program: 589 men and 119 women at Lakeview, 205 men at Monterey and 187 men at Moriah.

Since 2000, the Parole Board has approved 97% of the successful Shock graduates. Shock graduates serving determinate sentences are conditionally released once they complete the Shock program. Upon graduating all offenders are supervised by parole officers assigned by the Department’s Community Supervision division.

The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) is responsible for the care, custody and treatment of individuals sentenced to state prison and for working with them to ensure their successful re-entry into the community. The Department operates 60 correctional facilities (including the Willard Drug Treatment Campus and the Edgecombe Residential Drug Treatment facility) and oversees 38 community supervision (parole) field offices across the state. DOCCS currently provides care, custody and supervision of approximately 94,000 individuals: 56,000 in custody in correctional and drug treatment facilities and 38,000 under post-release community supervision.