CURE Conference video, Las Vegas 2017!AmWE0yZThnLUu1AVb8JY9WhCNpqK

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Inmate advocates urge Cuomo to ditch rules on bringing packages to state prisons

Family and friends of state prisoners launched a postcard campaign protesting the Cuomo administration’s new package system requiring they use selected online vendors.
The inmate advocates began sending postcards on Wednesday urging the Department of Corrections to stop its pilot program launched earlier this month.
They are upset because the vendors charge more than local stores for simple items like cookies and clothes.
“Dear Governor Cuomo, this holiday season is about giving, not taking away,” one of the postcards reads. “I object to the new DOCCS package rules.”
Prison inmates have started using drones to smuggle contraband
For decades, friends and relatives were allowed to bring prisoners clothing, books and food items during visits or send them through the mail. Officers search the packages before giving them over to prisoners.
But prison officials say the new system — operational in three prisons — will reduce contraband being smuggled in.
Inmate advocates contend elderly loved ones will struggle with the online system, and they point out it does not allow them to send fresh fruit and vegetables.
“I often seek discounted prices for food, clothing, toiletries, shoes, books, magazines and hobby materials for myself as well as for my husband’s monthly packages which I deliver when I visit,” said the wife of a prisoner in Greenhaven Correctional Facility who asked to remain anonymous. “Many families live on a limited fixed income some may even receive Food Stamp Assistance.”
And only one of the vendors for DOCCS’s package pilot carries tampons, charging $10.50 for a box of 40, nearly double the price at Target and other local stores.
State prison officials say there may be an “adjustment” in prices based on feedback from families.
They are also looking to add three other vendors in the coming weeks. The system is expected to go statewide by fall 2018.
“The secure vendor program, used by almost 30 jurisdictions in the country, is a safe and secure method for families, friends or inmates to receive packages of a wide range of approved items, while significantly reducing the introduction of contraband into DOCCS facilities making them safer for staff and inmates,” said department spokesman Thomas Mailey.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Practical Case for Parole for Violent Offenders By MARC MORJÉ HOWARDAUG. 8, 2017

The American criminal justice system is exceptional, in the worst way possible: It combines exceptionally coercive plea bargaining, exceptionally long sentences, exceptionally brutal prison conditions and exceptionally difficult obstacles to societal re-entry.

This punitiveness makes us stand out as uniquely inhumane in comparison with other industrialized countries. To remedy this, along with other changes, we must consider opening the exit doors — and not just for the “easy” cases of nonviolent drug offenders. Yes, I’m suggesting that we release some of the people who once committed serious, violent crimes.

There’s widespread agreement that current practices are unsustainable. The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, yet has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. The grim reality of American justice is that there are 2.3 million people behind bars, five million on parole or probation, 20 million with felony convictions and over 70 million with a criminal record.

That’s why sentencing reform — mainly consisting of reduced penalties for drug-related crimes — has received bipartisan support at both the federal and state levels. But this isn’t enough. We should also bring back discretionary parole — release before a sentence is completed — even for people convicted of violent crimes if they’ve demonstrated progress during their imprisonment.

Other democracies regularly allow such prisoners to be granted reduced sentences or conditional release. But in the United States the conversation about this common-sense policy became politicized decades ago. As a result, discretionary parole has largely disappeared in most states and was eliminated in the federal system. Prisoners whose sentences include a range of years — such as 15 to 25 years, or 25 years to life — can apply to their state’s parole board for discretionary parole, but they almost always face repeated denials and are sent back to wither away behind bars despite evidence of rehabilitation. (Inmates who have served their maximum sentence are released on what is called mandatory parole.)

Rejection is usually based on the “nature of the crime,” rather than an evaluation of a person’s transformation and accomplishments since they committed it. The deeper reason for the rejection of discretionary parole requests is simple: fear. Politicians and parole board members are terrified that a parolee will commit a new crime that attracts negative media attention.

But this fear-driven thinking is irrational, counterproductive and inhumane. It bears no connection to solid research on how criminals usually “age out” of crime, especially if they have had educational and vocational opportunities while incarcerated. It permanently excludes people who would be eager to contribute to society as law-abiding citizens, while taxpayers spend over $30,000 a year to house each prisoner. And it deprives hundreds of thousands of people of a meaningful chance to earn their freedom.

But are prisoners who have served long sentences for violent crimes genuinely capable of reforming and not reoffending? The evidence says yes. In fact, only about 1 percent of people convicted of homicide are arrested for homicide again after their release. Moreover, a recent “natural experiment” in Maryland is very telling. In 2012, the state’s highest court decided that Maryland juries in the 1970s had been given faulty instructions. Some defendants were retried, but many others accepted plea bargains for time served and were released. As a result, about 150 people who had been deemed the “worst of the worst” have been let out of prison — and none has committed a new crime or even violated parole.

This outcome may sound surprising, but having spent one afternoon a week for the past three years teaching in a maximum-security prison in Maryland, I’m not shocked at all. Many of the men I teach would succeed on the outside if given the chance. They openly recognize their past mistakes, deeply regret them and work every day to grow, learn and make amends. Many of them are serving life sentences with a theoretical chance of parole, but despite submitting thick dossiers of their accomplishments in prison along with letters of support from their supervisors and professors, they are routinely turned down.

Over the past several years, I have brought in hundreds of Georgetown students for tours that include a meeting with a panel of prisoners, and I have accompanied nearly 50 academic colleagues who have delivered lectures to my incarcerated students. Without fail, the things that stand out to visitors are the same things that haunt me: the compassion, engagement and intellect of people who made terrible mistakes long ago but should not be perpetually defined by the worst thing they’ve ever done.

Until recently the political situation was favorable to bipartisan criminal justice reform. But the election of a self-described “law and order candidate,” the doubling of the stock prices of private-prison companies and the return of the discredited war on drugs gives an indication of the direction of the current administration.
But whenever a real discussion about reform does come, policy makers should look beyond the boundaries of the United States. To be clear, I am not suggesting that all long-term prisoners should be released nor that the perspectives of crime victims should be ignored. Serious crimes warrant long sentences. But other democracies provide better models for running criminal justice and prison systems. Perhaps we could learn from them and acquire a new mind-set — one that treats prisons as sites to temporarily separate people from society while creating opportunities for personal growth, renewal and eventual re-entry of those who are ready for it.

Marc Morjé Howard is the director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative at Georgetown, where he is a professor of government and law, and is the author of “Unusually Cruel: Prisons, Punishment and the Real American Exceptionalism.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New York now considers youth as a factor for inmates’ parole Tweet email

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Parole officials in New York are now considering an offender’s age at the time of their crime in response to court rulings that juvenile offenders serving life sentences must have a meaningful shot at release. 

The Board of Parole immediately changed its procedures after a 2016 state appellate court decision and is working on final regulations to codify the change, according to state corrections agency spokeswoman Rachel Heath.
While New York has not sentenced juveniles to life in prison without parole, critics of the parole board said it made little difference if they routinely denied parole to offenders sentenced to decades or life in prison as juveniles. Recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings have significantly narrowed the instances in which those who commit offenses under age 18 can be subject to the harshest penalties.

The move to consider an offender’s age in New York is the latest example of how the state’s view of juvenile offenders is changing. Earlier this year, lawmakers voted to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York to 18, so 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer automatically prosecuted and incarcerated as adults. New York had been one of only two states — the other being North Carolina — to have such a policy on the books.

“It’s about time that New York state is recognizing that juveniles are different,” said Phil Desgranges, an attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The science bears this out: The brains of juveniles are not fully developed. They have greater impulsivity.”

The 2016 decision by New York state’s appellate division found that a juvenile offender’s youth must be considered during parole hearings in order to give them a meaningful chance at release.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New York’s Parole System Is ‘Broken,’ But Cuomo Can Help Fix It by Victoria Law June 5, 2017

Judith Clark is what many would consider a model prisoner.
During her 35 years at a maximum-security women’s prison in Bedford Hills, New York, she created and worked in many programs for her fellow inmates, including those dedicated to AIDS counseling, college education, and parenting.
For Governor Andrew Cuomo, these deeds showed that the 67-year-old had changed drastically from the 32-year-old who, in 1981, acted as the getaway driver in a Brink’s armored car robbery in which a guard and two police officers were killed in Rockland County. She was convicted and sentenced to 75 years to life in prison, and she would not have been eligible for parole until she turned 106 if not for Cuomo commuting her sentence in 2016.
Even so, the parole board unanimously denied Clark’s request for parole in April, after interviewing her for seven hours over a two-day period.
“We do find that your release at this time is incompatible with the welfare of society as expressed by relevant officials and thousands of its members,” the board stated, noting the nearly 10,000 signatures opposing her release. “You are still a symbol of a terroristic crime.”
Parole denials based on the nature of the crime are so common that critics have called the parole system “broken.”
In March 2017, little more than 1/3 (259) of the 704 people who appeared before the parole board were released. Ninety-five applicants had violent felony convictions; only 36 (or 38 percent) were released. Among the 445 people denied and forced to wait two years for another hearing, 20 were aged 60 or older.
“People think of parole as early release,” said Laura Whitehorn, a formerly incarcerated woman and current organizer for the Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) campaign. “It’s not. It’s release after your minimum term is up. If you have a sentence of 25 to life, 25 is the minimum you have to do. Parole doesn’t mean you get out early.”
Parole board members are appointed by the governor, usually at the behest of a local state senator. These appointees must be confirmed by the New York State Senate Standing Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction, a committee currently chaired by Patrick Gallivan, a former commissioner himself and a staunch opponent of Clark’s release, who went so far as to collect signatures against it on his state senate page.
The members, called commissioners, can serve an unlimited number of six-year terms, though they must be reappointed and reconfirmed. To qualify, a potential commissioner must have a college degree and five years’ experience in criminal justice, sociology, law, social work, or medicine. The annual salary is $101,600; the chairperson is paid $120,800.
The parole board can have up to nineteen commissioners; it currently has twelve. The terms of four commissioners, three of whom were appointed by Governor George Pataki, are ending this summer, while another is currently in “holdover,” meaning that, though her term has technically expired, she continues to make parole decisions. Cuomo’s office is currently interviewing candidates, who must be confirmed before June 21, when the legislative session ends.
Robert Dennison, a former commissioner, served on the board from 2000 to 2007, participating in hundreds of parole hearings. The average parole hearing, he told the Voice, lasted fifteen minutes. During that time, the applicant had to articulate how he or she was no longer a threat to society and why he or she deserved to be paroled.
“In practice, one commissioner presides over the hearing while the other two try to pay attention as they read files for upcoming cases,” he said. They saw forty people a day. Now, hearings are, for the most part, conducted by video.
By law, commissioners must consider not only the crime, but factors such as participation in rehabilitative programs, release plans, and the risk of recidivism. In reality, Dennison said, commissioners feel pressured to deny release to those convicted in the deaths of police officers or other high-profile cases.
“It’s so easy to hold a person, because you never get criticized for keeping a person in,” Dennison said.
He recalled one instance in which a fellow commissioner told him that he had voted to deny parole to Diana Ortiz, a woman convicted as a teenager in the death of an off-duty police officer. After more than seventeen years, she had served more time than her co-defendants, whose sentences were reduced on appeal.
“We should have let her go,” Dennison recalled his colleague telling him. But the junior commissioner was “intimidated” by another commissioner on the board and afraid of the backlash he might suffer if he granted parole to a woman convicted in the death of an officer.
Two years later, Dennison was on the board that allowed Ortiz to go home.
He does think that political pressure “occasionally” plays a role in parole denials. For example, the two commissioners who granted parole to Clark’s co-defendant Kathy Boudin in 2003 were not reappointed.
“That sends a message to any parole board commissioner,” he noted.
That message has also made its way to parole applicants — and can sometimes lead to despair.
On August 4, 2016, shortly after his tenth parole denial, 70-year-old John Mackenzie committed suicide at Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, New York. He spent 41 years in prison on a sentence of 25 years to life for fatally shooting a police officer in 1975.
Though acknowledging his many programs and accomplishments as well as his low-risk assessment score, commissioners based each denial on his decades-old crime. His final parole denial stated, “After a review of the record and interview, the panel has determined that if released at this time, there is a reasonable probability that you would not live and remain at liberty without again violating the law.”
Mackenzie’s daughter Danielle is now advocating for changes in the parole system. These repeated parole denials meant her father not only missed out on her life, but will not get to see his ten-year-old granddaughter grow, either.
Danielle filled out the paperwork necessary to retrieve his belongings. She wanted the one existing photo of them together, taken in the prison visiting room during their very first visit when she was 21. She had let her father keep it.
“That was the only thing from Fishkill I wanted,” she said. But prison staff had thrown it away.
Instead, they returned the bed sheet that he had used to hang himself.
On April 24, 2017, Danielle took the day off from work and drove to Albany with members of RAPP to speak before the board’s monthly business meeting.
“I represent the somewhat voiceless in this process, the children of the incarcerated parents,” she told the commissioners. “In his last letters, my father expressed hopelessness. He felt there was nothing he could do to express how much he had changed. There was nothing left.”
She recalled that two commissioners were crying by the time she finished speaking.
Danielle wants more than tears and regrets. She wants the parole process to have more accountability and more recourse for inmates.
Dennison, the former parole commissioner, says “the only thing a judge can do is assign a new hearing.” But a new hearing does not necessarily mean a different result.
In June 2016, Cuomo nominated five new commissioners, but the senate committee never held their confirmation hearings.
With more commissioners’ terms set to expire, advocates see an opportunity for change.
“He can appoint seven new people,” Whitehorn, the formerly incarcerated activist, said. “And he can fight for them.”
A spokesperson for the governor’s office did not respond to our requests for comment — we’ll update if they do.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

International Conference to Discuss “Mandela Rules” on Prison Reforms  April 25-29 in Costa Rica

Representatives from around the world will meet in San Jose, Costa Rica, from April 25 to 29 to discuss landmark United Nation reforms governing the treatment of prisoners.

The 7th International Conference on Human Rights and Prison Reform will examine the “Mandela Rules,” adopted unanimously in 2015 and named after former South African President Nelson Mandela.

“At past conferences, there were many prison reform speeches,” says Charles Sullivan, President of International CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants), which is sponsoring the event. “But there were no guidelines for structuring prison reforms.”

“The Mandela Rules have not only given us the framework for treatment of prisoners in the 21st century,” Sullivan says, “but aim to transform imprisonment from wasted time to an opportunity for personal development, resulting in substantially less crime.”

Ten panels with participants from 17 countries will make presentations on different aspects of prison reform based on the revised guidelines, officially known as the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. They represent Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, India, Japan, Malawi, Panama, Peru, Rwanda, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, United States, and Zambia.

The conference will take place at the Courtyard Marriott (near the airport) in San Jose. See the attachment for the full agenda.

The last International Conference on Human Rights and Prison Reform was held in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2014. Previous conferences took place in New York City, Washington, Geneva, and Abuja, Nigeria.

For more information, please contact Samuel Kaplan at 202-531-4932 or

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Political Interests in Albany Could Finally Align to ‘Raise The Age’ Of Criminal Responsibility BY CHRISTINA VEIGA  Chalkbeat March 16, 2017

New York State’s practice of charging all 16- and 17-year olds as adults in the criminal justice system could finally end this year, as both houses of the legislature and the governor are tentatively supporting a change.
The Republican-led Senate included a provision to support raising the age of criminal responsibility in its budget proposal that passed Wednesday. The Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight lawmakers who collaborate with Republicans in the Senate, has rallied to “Raise the Age.”
New York is one of only two states that automatically treats 16- and 17-year olds as adults in the criminal justice system, according to Raise the Age, a coalition of community organizations. That means holding teens in adult jails after arrest, trying them in adult court and sending them to adult prisons if convicted — potentially leaving teens with a criminal record.
“There are hundreds of people involved in the campaign, spreading information. That helps us better understand why this is good not just for the young people, but for public safety as well,” said Naomi Post, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of New York state, one of the organizations leading the Raise the Age campaign. “I think the amplification of voices has really had an impact on making the issue more salient.”
The state Assembly, which passed its own budget proposal on Wednesday, has long been supportive of raising the age of criminal responsibility, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also included provisions to do so in previous years’ budget proposals.
But Tami Steckler, attorney-in-charge of the juvenile rights practice at the Legal Aid Society, isn’t ready to declare victory. She said it’s important that the final bill include wide protections for young people — regardless of the crime they are charged with — including requirements that all teens be held in juvenile facilities and that their cases be handled under family court law.
“You can reduce recidivism and improve public safety by treating children as children, because that’s what works best,” Steckler said. “What happens now is meaningful because it’s really hard to get more later.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment