May 15, 2012

Building Bridges - May 2012 edition

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

A summary is given below, please see Building Bridges for full details:

1. Carl Berk Remembered. A friend remembers that "He normally submitted a poem to one of the Jewish Newsletters or Lifers' notes. We didn't receive one for February." We share a prose poem, inspired by Hemingway, that Carl sent us shortly before his death.

2. Building a Better Criminal Justice System. The Fortune Society and The Sentencing Project are collaborating on a panel discussion about The Sentencing Project’s recent publication, To Build a Better Criminal Justice System: 25 Experts Envision the Next 25 Years of Reform. In the new publication, 25 leading scholars and practitioners have contributed essays on their strategic vision for the next 25 years of criminal justice reform. Issues addressed in the collection include racial justice strategies, linking public health and criminal justice reform, challenging the war on drugs, and the viability of fiscal pressures as a focus for reform.

3. Clemency, a discussion: "Among its benign if too-often ignored objects, the clemency power can correct injustices that the ordinary criminal justice process seems unable or unwilling to consider."

4. The Merit Time Bill falls victim to questionable tactics, while ill-advised bills continue to be scheduled for voting at the Senate's Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee on May 15. Building Bridges also reports on the fate of bills presented to the Committee on April 18.

"The Merit Time Bill S338/A154, sponsored by Senator Velmanette Montgomery and co-sponsored by Senator Dilan is no longer sitting in the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections Committee. Due to a troubling turn of events, it has been reported to the Rules Committee, headed by Majority Leader Dean Skelos, where it will sit probably forever, or at least until the end of this session." (See Building Bridges for full details.)

Please sign the petition in support of the Merit Time Law.

5. Parole News: March releases (reappearance rates are up), excerpts from two articles by John Caher, and a report from the NYS Parole Reform Campaign. "The Campaign has been working with the organizations who have put the SAFE Parole Act on the agenda for their legislative advocacy days. We're very grateful for the support we’ve received from these and other organizations! We've come a long way since last year at this time when our bill was just a proposal and removing nature of the crime from what the parole board could consider was believed to be too radical and so controversial that no one would touch it. We now have legislative sponsors, and many people are seeing that without this bill violent offenders with "incredible prison records" and the lowest risk scores on COMPAS, will continue to be denied parole."

6. Prisoners Are People Too! "Broken On All Sides: Race, Mass Incarceration and New Visions for Criminal Justice in the US." Karima Amin gives details of this important new film about the US prison system.

7. The NYS Prisoner Justice Network reviews the bad news and the good news and invites us to join them in a day of action: NYS Prisoner Justice Network's Prison and Parole Justice Day, in Albany, on May 22nd.

8. In Our Name: Restoring Justice in America, a retreat in beautiful upstate NY, is open to families and friends of incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated persons. This August weekend gathering of academics, activists, and advocates will work together to formulate proposals for reform of the criminal justice and penal systems. We need to share our input.

9. The Yale Law Journal welcomes submissions for their first prison law writing contest.

10. A call for stories from adult children of incarcerated, or formerly incarcerated, parents.

11. Justus Support Group forms in Troy NY.

May 03, 2012

Effect of Risk Assessment Rule on Parole Decisions Is Unclear

Extract from a report by John Caher, reviewing the impact of recent changes in the parole statute:

ALBANY - A new law requiring the state parole board to consider inmates' rehabilitation and use a "risk assessment" procedure to gauge whether parole-eligible inmates have reformed appears to be having little effect as release rates are largely unchanged and the board is routinely basing its denials on boilerplate statutory language emphasizing the offense, records suggest.

In October, the panel was legislatively required to "incorporate risk and needs principles to measure the rehabilitation of persons appearing before the board, the likelihood of success of such persons upon release."

The board did so, but advocates say the new process appears to have no impact.

"My experience has been it doesn't matter because most of the guys are scoring the lowest risk assessment level and they are still hitting them and saying they are a threat to society," said Cheryl Kates, an attorney near Rochester whose practice consists of advocating for inmates seeking parole. "It doesn't make any sense. They've added an evidence-based procedure but still cite the statute the same way they did previously. It is just a façade. It is status quo."

Similarly, Edward Hammock, a former parole board chairman who now practices criminal law, much of it post-conviction, said he has not seen any change.

"It is my impression that nothing is really happening," Hammock said. "Why do a risk assessment if you are not going to deal with it when considering someone for release?"

Part of the problem is that there is uncertainty about why the statute was changed and what the revision was supposed to achieve. It is not clear if the revision represents a sea change in the operations of the parole board, a tweak of one of the existing factors it takes into consideration, or something in between ... ...

For complete report, see:
Effect of Risk Assessment Rule on Parole Decisions Is Unclear, by John Caher (New York Law Journal, April 30 2012)

See also:
Judge Finds Parole Risk Assessment Not Retroactive, by John Caher (New York Law Journal, May 21 2012)
Acting Supreme Court Justice Mark Fandrich wrote: "While the changes may modernize the parole laws, there is no indication that they were intended to correct any past oversight or clarify the law in any way."
Inmate Loses Parole Bid Despite his 'Incredible Prison Record', by John Caher (New York Law Journal, April 24 2012)
Matter of Thwaites v New York State Bd. of Parole 2011 NY Slip Op 21453
Matter of Hamilton v New York State Div. of Parole 2012 NY Slip Op 22112