CURE New York
Online Issue
Winter/Spring 2018
The New York Chapter of National CURE
Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants
PO Box 182
Hopewell Junction, NY 12533

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It is with heartfelt sorrow that CURE has lost one of the champions of criminal and social justice. Rudolph “Rudy” Cypser passed peacefully at his home on February 16, 2018 at the age of 94.
Rudy, along with his wife Betty, spent well over 40 years, essentially a lifetime, as criminal and social justice reformers. We cannot remember Rudy without speaking of Betty, his loving wife of 70 years.
CURE-NY had the privilege of hosting a luncheon around 3 years ago in their honor and awarding them a plaque in recognition of their service to others.
Not only were they co-presidents of CURE-NY in its infancy, they were also co-editors of the CURE International newsletter and served on the Board of Directors of CURE National along with representing CURE International at the UN. Creating and active in the Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) within NYS Correctional Facilities, they also were involved in prison education, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Correctional Association and the Judicial Process Commission.
In 2007 they were honored for 32 years of prison work by the NY Catholic Charity Directors. In 2008, they were the recipients of the “Peacemaker” Award for their dedication to prison reform, the teaching of nonviolence in prison and faith development amongst those incarcerated.
As part of “Prison Reformers without Borders” they produced a document and booklet “Human Rights For All”, which Betty is quoted “Who will speak, if we don’t? Who will speak so their voice will be heard? Who will speak, if we don’t?” These accomplishments are only a few for us to acknowledge in a long list that goes on and on.
Those of us that were privileged enough to have known Rudy for many years have been the lucky ones to receive his gift of humanity. However, if you only met him for a minute in time, you would know that his spirit, caring and humanity were something we should all aspire to be, especially in these troubled times.
Rudy was a mentor to me throughout the 15 years I knew him. His legacy inspires me to be better, to do better. For the knowledge he provided me on my journey I will be forever grateful. No one I have ever known has dedicated themselves more in an entire lifetime to being the change we all want to see.
Rest in Peace and Power, my dear friend
Deb Bozydaj, President CURE-NY

Testaments from current and former CURE-NY Board Members and Executives

In loving memory of Rudy Cypser, one of the Fathers of Restorative Justice in New York State. Rudy and his beautiful beloved wife Betty combined spent about 80 years (if not more) in and out of New York State Prisons. I met them in the late 80’s when they were full swing in coalition building mode growing Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) in NYS prisons and initiating the formation of the NY chapter of the national organization Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE-NY).
During 1995-2006 or the Pataki administration we had such a daunting task before us, creating a constituency among prison families and addressing re-entry and parole for those formerly incarcerated in NYS. I am so thankful that in such a dark time we had Rudy’s wisdom, strength and sensibility. I always felt better when we had Rudy in the room with us in those days. He vigorously accompanied us in the halls of power while we were warring against the prison industrial complex. He used his power, privilege and influence as an ally and was a guardian of dignity in every exchange when we took the risk to speak truth to power.
Thank you Rudy for affirming justice, dignity and love in every struggle and battle you so valiantly fought. Rest In Peace. Sandra Oxford (Member CURE-NY)

An icon in the field of criminal justice reform. There is no other anywhere close to what he was. From the CURE NY newsletter to the support he gave national office and continued on with our NY chapter. You will be greatly missed my friend. For you I raise my fist and salute. The work you did for incarcerated people throughout your lifetime will forever be remembered. You are a king. Rest in peace my brother in the struggle. Cheryl L. Kates-Benman, Esq. (CURE-NY Auxiliary Board-Mentors & Advisors)

Rudy and Betty have been stalwarts for peace and justice in so many areas. They have been marked with energy, grace, hard work and such a generous and loving spirit. Those of you who not have known or worked with them have missed a rare gift. Jim Murphy, (Former Treasurer, CURE-NY)
Years ago, Rudy and Betty gave us coffee mugs that said that “Education is better and cheaper than incarceration…Put Internet education in all the prisons of the world! I almost daily use my mug to think about them and their national and international contributions to prison reform. Charlie and Pauline Sullivan (International CURE).

I have participated in several of their programs and experienced how good they are in engaging the population and bringing light, joy and growth to those behind the prison walls. Both Betty and Rudy, at least since the early nineties when I met them, have worked tireless with the Maryknoll Affiliate movement; meeting monthly for fellowship and engaging with peace and justice issues in the world at large. I have personally benefited so much from my relation and friendship with the Cypsers. I feel indebted to Rudy and Betty for getting me involved with CURE.
They are a beacon for us all.
Hans Hallundbaek (CURE-NY Auxiliary Board-Mentors & Advisors)

The State of Packages in NYS
Cheryl L. Kates Benman Esq.

One of the only things a NYS prisoner looks forward to on visit day is getting a package from their family. What could an inmate receive in a package? The most important healthy items are fresh fruit and vegetables. They can re-ceive limited personal care items and books. Limited by col-ors, clothing and footwear (under 50.00) in value are also receivables. Home-baked goods aren’t allowed, but receiv-ing a package it was still something like the comfort of home. To feel loved and appreciated goes a long way when you are behind bars. Cooking a meal with other inmates is sometimes the closest thing to home some of the incarcer-ated get. Receiving these packages were the only way, someone incarcerated could eat well-balanced meals, avoid the drama of the mess hall and enjoy something while doing time behind bars. Recently, this luxury came under fire when prison officials decided to go through approved vendors, based on the idea stopping personalized packages might decrease the contra-band problem in NYS.
In March of 2017, a memo indicated a pilot program began at 3 prisons where the visitors were now refrained from bringing their loved one’s packages. In December 2017, it was determined the pi-lot prisons would be Taconic, Green and Green Haven. Many prison advocacy groups including CURE NY stepped up to provide a voice for the otherwise voiceless in NYS prisons. One of the advo-cates’ concerns were the extreme prices of goods offered from the 5 to 6 approved vendors. There was a limited offering of fresh fruits and vegetables. Some people’s families don’t have access to a bank account or credit card. This was also seen as a way of alienating prisoners and worsening al-ready known inhumane practices in NYS prisons. Something needed to be done.
Criminal reform advocacy and interest groups began contacting legislators voicing their con-cerns. In January 2018, Governor Cuomo directed DOCCS officials to halt this program. This is only a temporary solution as it is only stopped until concerns are addressed. What people need to under-stand, on the face of things rules imposed in prison are often implemented based on what looks like a security or budgetary concern but in the long-term analysis, these policies adversely affect the inmate population. To truly rehabilitate an individual takes many things. Among them is acclimating coping mechanisms and adjusting thinking which resulted in their incarceration in the first place. Implement-ing rules which diminish or take away connections with family or support systems is not the way to go.
While contraband being introduced into prisons is a huge safety and security issue in correc-tions, it is fair to say it is unlikely the package room is the way most of the drugs get into prisons. It is too risky. Corrections has the data, why not investigate the issue? How many inmates were disci-plined for package room contraband as opposed to unknown sources of contraband? This issue can clearly provide the answers. As a criminal justice advocate and one who is familiar with correctional issues I want to say maybe corrections should investigate or implement stricter policies screening their own employees for contraband.
Another thought that comes to mind, which I discussed with my brother who was recently re-leased after serving 30
stroy people’s packages? There is a consistent problem where guards destroy things purposely. Inmates file grievances and lawsuits. This policy implementation could be in violation of the first amendment right to address the right to file a grievance. Look deeper.
For those who have the mind-set once people become criminals, they should just rot and receive no amenities. You are missing the point. The majority of people in prison, come home. To increase the risk to the community by decreasing programs in prisons no one wins. A person in prison can become an asset to the community if we just give them a chance!
Cheryl L. Kates-Benman Esq. is a defense attorney who handles parole and correctional matters only. She can be reached at PO Box 734 Fairport, NY 14450.


I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about my support group which I have facilitated for the last 5 years and have been involved with for at least 15 years. It is called “Families With Loved Ones Incarcerated”. We meet twice a month….every 2nd and 4th Monday at 253 Mansion Street in Pough-keepsie, New York. It really is for family members. We do discuss prison issues but our main goal is for support. When a loved one is incarcerated, it totally impacts the entire family. We talk about how we are also judged by the outside world and how to deal with it. For first timers, we “veterans” help them get through the emotional impact…help them to get through process rules in the facilities etc. I always try to impress at our meetings that we need to keep a balance in our lives…..not to lose contact with family members and friends. We have developed great friendships over the years. If anyone who lives in Dutchess or Ulster County and has a loved one incarcerated, we welcome you to come to our meetings. I think it will make your journey a little less hard to deal with. For more information, please contact:
Flo Martinez, Secretary/Treasurer CURE-NY

Coming Home
Cheryl L. Kates Benman

I would like to share the story of my brother finally coming home. I must admit, working in the system for the last 15 years, clearly outlined for my family there was a chance brother was never coming home. Although I have freed hundreds, when life is on the end of a sentence, one never knows. To live in a so-ciety, a sub-culture where you are stripped of every human dignity even your name, without the hope of one day crossing back over to the real world is a very dismal reality. A dismal reality that scares even the strongest of people. Is he going to die in here?
Brother, when growing up didn’t have a chance. He grew up in a world where he was basically alone. Like many others, when you live in single-parent household, and your parent is struggling to make ends meet there isn’t much time left for you. Many succumb to spending their free minutes with a bottle in-stead of their child. The bottle can change even the sweetest one into a monster, an unrecognizable be-ing who spits fire slicing the heart of a child with their bitter words. So, you seek love elsewhere. Luckily, he was able to fill this void with my family. We were far from perfect. But we were there. Gram treated brother like he was one of her own and that is how it all started
The teen years were not very good for us. We jour-neyed down a path of no return. Trouble, it often calls you. Once you go too deep, it’s over. There’s no coming back. That’s what happened and now we’re living “you have a collect call from…”. At 17-years-old, I never thought I’d be travelling to Elmira on a bus to see brother and he would be locked in prison serving life. But that’s what happened. Fast forward 30 years. This was a life-time. He missed graduations, weddings, di-vorces, and a baby being born. He did his crime, so he had to do his time.
I can’t describe the feeling to see the one who left a young man, getting off a bus with gray hair, some wrinkles on his face covering up 30 years of living in hell. He was still in one piece. He learned quickly what it, meant to survive. Man up. Mind your business. And now he was home. To hug him on the other side of the wall, was something words just can’t describe.
After enduring 30 years behind bars in some of NY’s worst prisons, you would think one could go through anything. Being home presented its own challenges. Yes, you were free, I guess, sort of. We started off being told my address wasn’t suitable. Go figure. I live where the doctors and lawyers live. Why is my address unsuitable? A puppy and a security system. Wow. So, we start our first day of freedom in a half-way house. Surrounded by other struggling felons trying to all get back on their feet. To think, why on earth would this be more suitable then my castle? 30 years of prison and now the first night of freedom will be spent with absolute strangers.
Once the anger wore off, we quickly adapted and then settled in. It was hard to watch brother take it all in, the changes, the adaptation of society when thirty years passed him by. The first meal at Dinosaur Barbeque, to have this many choices for what to have for lunch. Just something this simple was overwhelming. This was the first time in forever, my brother was able to eat with a real knife to cut his food instead of a plastic flimsy one. Lunch was awkward. Periods of silence where it was troubling but even I didn’t know what to do. The first visit to parole. That was the worst. Family can’t come inside so this meant hours for me just sitting in the car. What could possibly be taking this long? Once brother emerged, he had a new piece of hardware. An ankle bracelet.
Now the anger really ripped in. An ankle bracelet was placed because someone called parole and said they were scared brother came home. Someone insignificant. Someone he has had no contact with for years. To think someone’s freedom could be tracked like a dog for no other reason
then someone called and said they were scared is simply disgusting. You are the last thing from his mind. To think instead of living your life you must infringe upon his. Why? How can this government agency get away with this? He did nothing.
First thing, after eating and checking in with big brother is a trip to the local Walmart. Brother wore his state greens home. He said they were more comfortable. I would think after being forced to wear greens for thirty years, green would be your worst hated color. Again, instead of being a comfort, Walmart was not a nice place but a bit overwhelming for brother. We needed t-shirts and underwear, He took one look and said “let’s hurry up and get out of here”.
When you first come home, I learned first-hand, it isn’t all bells and whistles because you are finally free. You must re-establish yourself in a world which is no longer familiar to you. Nothing remained the same. People have come and gone. What used to be there is no longer. Then add the world of technolo-gy. What phone to get? What is this beautiful thing called Facebook? What the heck is a fire stick? Why can’t I fill out a paper application? How do I access all the things without a tablet or a computer? What is a debit card? PayPal? These are all things we do on a regular. Think about it. This is all foreign to someone who has been in a prison for 30 years.
ID. All you have is a prison issued id. Now we need to think about a social security card, non-driver’s license, or license? How do you go from 88C-0688 back to I am a real person again? Your credit doesn’t exist. Basically, in thirty years you were obsolete. It’s like you didn’t exist out here. Your starting off from scratch. Its joy and pain. It takes a minute to adjust. Be patient with your loved ones they adjust but it is hard. Prison is not normal. It is far from normal. To return from the belly of the beast, and jump start your life back in society, it’s not an easy thing. They get there. It takes a minute. But they do.
This was just a glimpse of what someone goes through on their first day coming home. It’s a long process to re-acclimate. Re-entry is hard. My office prides in making these moments happen I am a parole defense attorney. This is what I’ve done since I graduated law school in 2002. This is what I will keep do-ing. There is no better gift you can give a person other than their freedom.


Good News for Peace and Development and CURE International call on all Human Rights activists, experts, prison administrators and reformers, academia, CSOs, NGOs, and delegates from international organizations from around the world to save the date from the 21st to the 25th of May, 2018 where we will advance thinking in the arena of human rights and prison reform.
Stay tuned for more information about this conference will be included in our next newsletter.

Deb Bozydaj

The JP5, is now on its way to the New York State population. Here is what we know so far:
JPay makes a tablet known as the JP5, which is specialized for prisons. The tablets will be on a secured network with access only to pre-approved apps and features and not a typical internet browser, according to the company. The tablets will connect to the email program through kiosks with secured lines in the prisons. The company pledged to install the needed infrastructure and perform maintenance on its own dime. The state is not set to make any money off the tablets, according to DOCCS. The tablets will, however, provide a potential revenue stream to JPay. Each will come pre-loaded with certain pre-approved books and educational materials. But incarcerated persons will be able to purchase certain add-ons, such as music, through JPay. The company didn’t say how much those extras would cost. In addition, they will also have to pay to send emails on the tablets, according to JPay. The company will keep the money; the state won’t be taking a commission.
“Similar to purchasing a song on iTunes or an online game, incarcerated individuals will have the same opportunity to purchase entertainment and media products and download them onto the JP5 device,” JPay said in a statement. “There are fees associated with those purchases, as well as sending emails.”
The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision entered into a deal with JPay that will provide all New York state incarcerated individuals with a tablet. JPay is a company that provides technology and services that help those who are incarcerated stay connected with people outside prison, according to the company’s website. Anthony J. Annucci, the department’s acting commissioner, called the development a “groundbreaking move.” Annucci said the tablets would provide inmates with “the ability to access free educational material.” Prisoner’s will also able to file grievances with the prison directly from the tablets. The tablets are free as part of a deal between the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and JPay. The department didn’t say when the tablet program would go into effect.
Other states have recently implemented similar programs. Both Georgia and Colorado have started programs that provide inmates with tablets. Georgia is also working with JPay. In a statement announcing the “alternative learning tablets” in Georgia, officials said the tablets will allow inmates to “maintain and enhance family communications; and assist with their re-entry into society.” Connecticut recently announced plans to implement a similar program in its prisons.
What we’ve found regarding these tablets capabilities are the educational materials were developed in conjunction with the Correctional Education Association (CEA) and works with content partners such as Ashland University, JPay’s Lantern is a cross-functional program that makes education accessible to incarcerated individuals through a Learning Management System, JPay tablets and inmate kiosks.
According to their website tens of thousands of incarcerated students have earned college credits, studied for their GEDs, and participated in other educational activities through JPay’s Lantern, and new state correctional systems adopt the program every semester.
KA Lite offers thousands of education videos that are created specifically for self-guided learning.. The program provides a variety of subjects, including math, science, computers, language arts and more. The videos are simply downloaded to the JP5 tablet from the JPay Inmate Kiosks. The eBooks from JPay’s library houses thousands of titles in a variety of genres.
JPay’s correctional email service is faster than regular mail, with incarcerated persons usually receiving emails within 48 hours. Each email requires a “stamp,” often available at more affordable rates than traditional postage, and can be purchased online and at JPay kiosks in the correctional facility.
What exactly will be the capabilities for NYS DOCCS is yet to be seen. While this is seen as a major step forward to introduce technology into our system here in NYS, we must remain vigilant that it is not used as a “gift” to take other services away, such as re-instating 4911a or to replace in person visits. We’re encouraged, yet cautious. Other states have been using the tablets for quite some time and I’ve found no negative feedback regarding their use. As with everything else, this service will be paid for by the incarcerated persons and their families. Let us hope this is happening for all the right reasons, to truly transform the lives of our prison population, prepare them for re entry and take our correctional system into the 21st Century or closer anyway.


On the occasion of the 56th Session on So-cial Development, the Prison Partnership Program was invited to host its second Side Event at the United Nations on Thursday, February 1, 2018 from 3:00-4:30 pm.
The event was co-hosted by:
The Permanent Mission of Denmark to the United Nations
The World Council of Churches, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Presbyterian Church USA
The International Prison Chaplains Associa-tion (IPCA), which has about two-thousand members serving as Prison Chaplains in more than fifty countries.
Citizens United for the Return of Errants (CURE), which has thirty-nine chapters in the US and representatives in close to thirty countries. CURE engages in legislative prison reform efforts in the US.

Speakers included were:

Bikkhu Bodhi, President, Buddhist Association of the United States
Chris Burdick, Supervisor, Town of Bedford
Darren Ferguson, Minister and National Director of Public Relations, Healing Communities
Hans Hallundbaeck, Advisory Board, CURE-NY
Brian Fischer, Retired Commissioner, NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervi-sion
Ann Jacobs, Director, Prison Reentry Institute of John Jay College
Teresa Kellendonk, Vice President, International Prison Chaplains Association (Canada)
Bruce Knotts, Director, United Nations Office of the Unitarian Universalist Association
Doug Leonard, UN Representative for the World Council of Churches
Jean-Didier Mboyo, Vice-President, International Prison Chaplains Association (Congo)
Julio Medina, Executive Director, Exodus Transitional Community
JoAnne Page, President and CEO, The Fortune Society
Ib Peterson, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Denmark to the United Nations
Karen Shiel, Rehabilitation Through the Arts
Charles Sullivan, President, Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants

10th Anniversary of the Prisoner Family Conference to be held in Dallas, Texas, October 10th – 12th 2018

There are two creative arts competitions, Creative Writing and Fine Art and Crafts, please pass the fol-lowing information to your family members if you’d like to submit something for the conference. The deadline for submissions is August 15, 2018.

Important Information:
To encourage family & friend involvement, those having creative, talented loved ones in prison are asked to e-mail for entry guidelines to share with incarcerated writers, artists and crafts-persons.
Send them the guidelines, and encourage their participation!
Note: All requests to mail guidelines must include a self addressed stamped envelope (SASE)

Remember May 2018 is National Prisoner Family Month, “Closing the Empathy Gap”

It is this very lack of empathy that has remained a roadblock to criminal justice reform! After all, if society has no empathy for prisoners or their loved ones, why would society care about reform-ing a system they believe only affects those who are incarcerated?
In the words of Maya Angelou:
“I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for my-self and others like me”

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Judge tosses suit seeking to block parole of cops’ killer

ALBANY, N.Y. — A New York judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to block the parole of an ex-radical who fatally shot two New York City police officers in 1971.
State Supreme Court Justice Richard Koweek ruled Friday that the state Parole Board did not act irrationally or outside its bounds when it granted parole last month to Herman Bell after he served 44 years.
The 70-year-old Bell had been scheduled to be released this week before the legal challenge was filed by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association on behalf of Diane Piagentini, widow of one of the slain officers. Her lawyers had argued the parole board didn’t follow proper protocols.
In his ruling, Koweek wrote that the widow did not have legal standing to challenge the board’s decision. He also concluded that in order to overturn the Parole Board’s decision a court must find it acted with “irrationality bordering on impropriety.”
“Nothing that is supplied in this case persuades this Court that the actions of the Parole Board meet that standard,” he wrote.

In a statement, the PBA said it would appeal the ruling, which PBA President Patrick J. Lynch called “outrageous.” Diane Piagentini said her family is devastated that the judge “turned a blind eye to the Parole Board’s illegal actions.”

In this Oct. 10, 2017 photo provided by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, inmate Herman Bell is poses for a photo at the Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Shawangunk, N.Y. A New York judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to block the parole of an ex-radical who fatally shot two New York City police officers in 1971. State Supreme Court Justice Richard Koweek ruled Friday, April 20, 2018, that the state Parole Board did not act irrationally or outside its bounds when it granted parole last month to Bell after serving 44 years. (New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision via AP) (Associated Press)
“Not only have they compounded the pain and suffering we have experienced since my husband’s death, they have also put the safety of the public in jeopardy by releasing a vicious killer like Herman Bell,” she said.
The decision to parole Bell has been widely criticized by Republican state lawmakers. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that while he disagreed with the decision, the Parole Board isn’t not subject to his direct control.
“If I were on the parole board I would not have made that decision,” he told reporters. “The Parole Board is an independent board but I would not have made that decision.”
Supporters of the decision note that Bell was properly eligible for parole, and that continuing to incarcerate an elderly man was an unwarranted use of state resources.
Bell and two other members of the Black Liberation Army, a violent offshoot of the Black Panther Party, were convicted of killing officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini after luring them to a Harlem housing development with a bogus 911 call. Authorities say both officers were shot multiple times, with Piagentini hit by more than 20 bullets.

During Bell’s eighth parole hearing in early March, the state parole board approved Bell’s release from Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Ulster County, determining “his debt has been paid to society.” Board members took into consideration his stated remorse for killing the officers and the fact he had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees while in prison and counseled other inmates.
It was unclear Friday afternoon when Bell would be released.
One of Bell’s co-defendants has since died in prison while the other, Anthony Bottom, is serving 25 years to life at maximum-security Sullivan Correctional Facility in Sullivan County. Bottom, 66, is due for a parole hearing in June.

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CURE Conference video, Las Vegas 2017!AmWE0yZThnLUu1AVb8JY9WhCNpqK

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.”

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The Context for the Trump Phenomenon

by David Gilbert (Written February 19, 2017) Published March 16, 2017
The bizarre and dangerous rise of Donald Trump did not just pop up out of the thin air. The very foundation of the U.S. is white supremacy. This country is, at its core, imperialist, patriarchal and based in a range of ways human beings are delimited and demeaned. Nor are the specific and terribly virulent politics of racial scapegoating brand new. Always a part of U.S. culture, that approach became more central in mainstream politics, with various ups and downs in the rhetoric, since the end of the 1960s. A stable imperialism prefers to rule by keeping the population passive, with large sectors at home placated by relative prosperity. But when the system is in crisis, those running the economy often resort to diverting anger by scapegoating the racial “other.” The sectors of the population who buy into that get the “satisfaction” of stomping on their “inferiors,” which is a lot easier than confronting the mega-powerful ruling class.
The eruption of mass protest against Trump has been exciting, and so far it’s been sustained. People seem to have a feel for the critical need for ongoing education, organizing, and mobilization. The movement also has to be prepared, both psychologically and in terms of legal and support networks, for greater repression, both state and extralegal.
The Democrats in blaming “those damn Russkies” are deflecting attention away from the real reason they lost: they represented the prevailing global capitalism and all the associated frustrations stemming from the decline of U.S. manufacturing and the erosion of job security. Trump spoke to those anxieties – in a totally demagogic and dishonest way. For example, during the campaign he railed against Goldman Sachs as the prime example of how Wall Street banks screw the working man; then, as president he selected seven of his top economic appointments from the ranks of Goldman Sachs. The Democrats could not provide a compelling alternative to this racist scam artist because they too are fully based in the long bipartisan history of white supremacy, capitalism, and wars of aggression.
Regardless of these questionable charges, Russia can’t hold a candle to the U.S. when it comes to interfering in other countries’ elections, let alone more intrusive and violent means of regime change. The big push by the Democrats and allied sectors of the security apparatus for confronting Russia is not only unjustified but also runs the risk of leading to a horribly destructive war. As much as we’re scandalized, and rightly so, by Trump’s more blatant racism and misogyny, we need to look at the continuities as well as the departures.
President Obama, with his kinder and more inclusive rhetoric, provided trillions of dollars to bail out Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. He presided over seven wars (drone strikes have killed hundreds of civilians and are acts of war under international law). His administration deported a record number of immigrants. In his last year, Obama sought to burnish his legacy around climate change and mass incarceration. He issued a record number of clemencies, but earlier took legal action to keep far more in prison. After Congress passed a law somewhat reducing what had been draconian sentences for crack cocaine, the Justice Department went to court to prevent any retroactive application, and thus kept some 6,000 people behind bars. Similarly, Obama issued a number of executive orders, most of which can be readily reversed, to modestly rein in greenhouse gases. But earlier his administration played a key role in sabotaging the 2009 Copenhagen Conference of Parties, which was the best chance to get a binding international treaty with some teeth in it, at a time when Democrats held a majority in Congress.
Recalling these dire problems is a reminder of how much the most basic issue is the very nature of the system. Nonetheless, there is something new and particularly threatening about Trump’s election: the way he has enlarged, energized and emboldened an active and aggressive base for white supremacy. Immigrants, Muslims, Native American water protectors, Black Lives Matter activists, women who’ve faced sexual assault, LGBTQ folks, those who can’t afford health insurance, and more all feel under the gun. The prospect of an unbridled pouring of more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is terrifying.
We can’t forget that an imperialism in crisis will turn to racist mobilizations to supersede obstacles to continued domination and expansion. The U.S. hasn’t yet reached that dramatic turning point, but it has been teetering in and out of economic and political crises since 1971. And on top of that, we now are on the brink of environmental disasters that can’t be resolved under capitalism.
As of this writing (February 2017) major sectors of the ruling class are still wary of Trump as too much of a loose cannon. They are making an effort at least to rein him in if not bring him down, although leading with the very dangerous push toward greater confrontation with Russia. It remains to be seen if Trump’s amalgam of billionaire businessmen and ultra-Right white nationalists can provide a coherent program or even hold together. Whatever happens with his presidency, we likely are in for a burgeoning of white supremacist movements. If Trump’s economic policies appear to be successful (possible in the short run of a couple of years but, if so, with giant dislocations and problems in the longer run), he’s a hero to those embittered sectors of the white working and middle classes who voted for him. On the other hand, if his administration implodes, millions of his fervent supporters will see it as the “elites” bringing down their champion. In either case our job, our challenge, is to build a strong movement that can articulate the real issues and clearly present humane, international and sustainable alternatives.
There’s been an outpouring of Left analysis on who voted for Trump and why. Some of it is very helpful about race, class, and the economy. From what I’ve seen there’s been very little that puts all that in the global context, with the U.S. as the premier imperial power but in decline. Nor has there been enough that has rooted Trump’s rise in the developments of the past 45 years. This is the challenge for our ongoing project of analysis and action.

David Gilbert #83-A-6158
Wende Correctional Facility
3040 Wende Road
Alden, New York 14004-1187

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