A Message from Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell

Dear Neighbor,
Happy holidays! I hope that this season brings good fortune, health, and love to you and your families.
With the cold months ahead of New York City it is important to remember that tenants have the right to essential services. This is true for all tenants, regardless of the type of lease you hold. Heat and hot water are among the most important essential services. The law requires that hot water be maintained at 120 degrees throughout the year and twenty-four hours a day. Beginning on October 1st, landlords are required to heat their buildings at no less than 68 degrees during the day (from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m.) if the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees. In the night time hours, (from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.) apartments must be 55 degrees or warmer if the outside temperature falls below 40 degrees. If services are not maintained, my office staff are available to assist you. 
I am pleased to announce that my office will be hosting a reception to culminate the showcasing of Sara Bennett’s “Life After Life in Prison” Photo Exhibit, in conjunction with our annual holiday toy drive. “Life After Life in Prison,” a photography series by Sara Bennett detailing the lives of formerly incarcerated women, will be available for a final viewing and reception in my community office on Monday, December 12, 2016 from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. This photo series sheds light on the lives of formerly incarcerated women — people who are often overlooked in the criminal justice system. Along with viewing the photographs, you will also have the chance to speak with the women and learn about their stories. 

In anticipation of the holiday season, my office will also be hosting a toy drive in partnership with Angel Tree to collect toys for children with incarcerated parents. If you would like to donate, please bring unwrapped toys to the reception on December 12th. If you are unable to attend the reception, you may drop off your donation any day beforehand during office hours. For more information regarding the photo exhibit and toy drive, please skip to the events section of this publication.
Finally, toward the end of this month I will be preparing to return to Albany for the 2017-2018 Legislative Session. I will begin my eighth term, and am looking forward to continuing my advocacy on behalf of criminal justice reform, improved educational policy, and our community. As always, I remain fully committed to being your progressive, loud, voice for New York State.

Should you need assistance or information, my Community Office is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 AM – 5:30 PM. Feel free to call my office at (212) 866-3970 or email me at odonnelld@nyassembly.gov. I also encourage you to follow my official New York State Assembly Twitter & Facebook accounts to get exclusive insight into the work I’m doing in my district and for all New Yorkers by visiting twitter.com/dannyodonnellny and facebook.com/dannyodonnellny.

Very truly yours,

Daniel O’Donnell

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Grants Will Fund Job Training, Mental Health, Other Services for Individuals on Parole, Probation or in Court-Ordered Programs New State-Supported County Re-Entry Task Force Created in Queens to Help Individuals Transition from Incarceration to their Communities

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced more than $10 million in funding to support programs providing job training and other re-entry services to individuals currently under community supervision. Additionally, these grants will create a new state-supported County Re-Entry Task Force in Queens and allow 19 other existing Task Forces across the state to assist more people returning to their communities after serving state prison sentences.

“These investments play a critical role in ensuring those seeking to turn their lives around have access to the tools and resources needed to succeed,” Governor Cuomo said. “Expanding these services will be able to help more at-risk New Yorkers break the cycle of recidivism and incarceration, helping them to lead more productive lives and increasing the safety of our communities.”

The first $6.4 million in grants will be awarded to 13 agencies and non-profit organizations across the state to provide employment-focused services to individuals on parole, those supervised by probation or referred by the court to alternatives to incarceration programs. These grants will be distributed across the state and will allow services to be available for the first time in five counties, which include Ontario, Orleans, Steuben, Tompkins and Wayne counties.

The 13 organizations receiving funding will use evidence-based strategies to reduce recidivism and reliance on incarceration. These programs, which range in duration from three months to up to a year, include job placement services, as well as cognitive behavioral intervention and services to increase job readiness, including transitional employment. Approximately 2,500 individuals will be served by these programs annually.

The remaining $4 million in grants will create a new County Re-Entry Task Force in Queens and allow 19 existing Task Forces to hire a coordinator and serve more individuals in Albany, Broome, Bronx, Dutchess, Erie, Kings, Monroe, Nassau, New York, Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Orange, Rensselaer, Rockland, Schenectady, Suffolk, Ulster and Westchester counties.

The 20 task forces have a collective goal of serving approximately 5,000 individuals returning to their counties after serving a state prison sentence. These individuals have been assessed as needing coordinated substance abuse and mental health treatment; job training, placement and skill development; and cognitive behavioral interventions, which are designed to help individuals change thinking that contributes to criminal behavior, improve positive motivation and further develop social skills.

County Re-entry Task Forces are co-chaired by representatives from the county and the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and include law enforcement, community supervision, social services and mental health professionals, as well as victim advocates and substance abuse treatment providers.

The list of funded agencies and organization can be found here.

Division of Criminal Justice Services Executive Deputy Commissioner Michael C. Green said, “I commend Governor Cuomo for supporting and expanding these initiatives, which use evidence-based practices. These programs and services have been proven effective in helping people to have the best possible chance to break the cycle of recidivism and change the course of their lives for the better.”

Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Acting Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci, said, “I applaud Governor Cuomo for his visionary leadership in providing the resources to assist offenders along their journey to a successful reentry into the community. When an ex-offender obtains lawful employment not only is the recidivism rate lowered, our communities are safer and the tax base for New York is raised.”

During his tenure, Governor Cuomo has consistently worked to remove barriers faced by people with criminal convictions as they seek to reintegrate into society. At the recommendation of the state’s Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration, he has, among other things, instituted ‘fair chance hiring’ for state agencies and implemented uniform anti-discrimination guidelines in assessing candidates for occupational licenses — 94 percent of qualified applicants with criminal convictions have successfully obtained state-issued occupational licenses as a result. The Council’s work and these grant-funded programs also complement the state’s Work for Success program, which connects formerly incarcerated men and women to jobs through connections developed through Department of Labor career centers. Through the program, approximately 18,500 individuals across the state have found jobs.

About the Division of Criminal Justice Services
The state Division of Criminal Justice Services is a multi-function criminal justice support agency with a variety of responsibilities, including law enforcement training; collection and analysis of statewide crime data; maintenance of criminal history information and fingerprint files; administrative oversight of the state’s DNA databank, in partnership with the New York State Police; funding and oversight of probation and community correction programs; administration of federal and state criminal justice funds; support of criminal justice-related agencies across the state; and administration of the state’s Sex Offender Registry.

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America’s Invisible Inferno Martin Garbus December 8, 2016 Issue Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement

If you look inside a solitary confinement cell such as the ones I have visited in New York’s Sing Sing prison, you’ll see a gray-walled, eight-by-eight-foot room with a concrete slab bed; it’s underground, more like a tomb than a cell. The light is always on. Usually there aren’t any windows, but there is a toilet (no toilet seat or paper) and a shower.
The solitary cell is home to a single prisoner, twenty-three or twenty-four hours a day; the extreme isolation and sensory deprivation imposed by the cell can last for days, months, years, or decades on end. Someone who visits a solitary cell might not notice the feces or the urine that leaks from the cells above, down the walls into a puddle on the floor. He or she would not be shown prisoners mutilating themselves or fighting guards or one another to the death, or men in their underwear, or naked, shackled by their hands to the bottom of bunks, deprived of books, paper, radio, pens, or pencils. I have represented a range of defendants in constitutional and criminal cases during the last fifty years, and my clients who have spent time in solitary consistently testify to having witnessed, or been subjected to, these abuses.
They describe being shackled to their bunks by their feet and hands, and moved from place to place like animals. They report being fed slop and also left without food in a state of extreme hunger. They tell me that hooded guards, armed with tasers and bats, in body armor and riot gear, extract prisoners from their cells and leave them lying on the floor, beaten, bruised, and unexamined by doctors. Once you see—and smell—a solitary cell, you will never forget it.
I first saw a solitary cell at Sing Sing in 1963, when I went to visit Fred Wood, an inmate there. (Mr. Wood, who had the odd distinction of being the next-to-last man executed by New York State, laughed as he sat down in the electric chair and said, “You are about to witness the damaging effect electricity has on wood.”) Since then, I have had many occasions to visit clients and talk with inmates in solitary cells in federal and state facilities throughout the country. Each of the many solitary cells I saw was an abomination.
Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement is a collection of seventeen essays by men and women who have been held in solitary confinement in American federal and state prisons. They were collected by Jean Casella, James Ridgeway, Sarah Shourd, and Solitary Watch, a national organization that opposes solitary confinement. For readers who have no sense of the nature of the punishment that is exacted in their name, this collection offers an unforgettable look at the peculiar horrors and humiliations involved in solitary confinement.
America’s prisons hold 2,193,000 people. That is more than the number of people who live in Manhattan. It is also more than the total number of prisoners in either Russia or China, the countries with the second- and third-highest prison populations. The United States shares with North Korea the distinction of having the world’s highest incarceration rate. With 5 percent of the world’s population, America houses 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
Approximately 400,000 people in our prison population move in and out of solitary, and many of America’s over two million prisoners know they can be put in solitary even if they are jailed for the most minor offenses. Between 80,000 and 120,000 men and women are held in solitary confinement every day. Every federal and state prison has solitary cells. More than 100,000 American children inhabit prisons in which solitary is considered a standard management practice. Men, women, and children can be put there for years on end, solely at the whim of a prison guard. There is no legal process that gets them there and no legal process that can prevent them from being put there.
“Cruel” and “unusual” are likely two of the first words most inmates—and most readers—would use to describe solitary confinement. But no United States court has ever held that solitary confinement violates the Eighth Amendment and its proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. It seems that few American judges have ever been inside a solitary confinement cell.
Hell Is a Very Small Place provides a harrowing guided tour of some of the country’s solitary units. The essays in the collection were written by inmates, some of whom have been confined for months to decades in solitary, as well as by one lawyer, two professors and legal activists, and two psychiatrists, including Stuart Grassian, a former Harvard Medical School professor who writes about the psychiatric effects of solitary confinement. Together these essays are both a condemnation of our prison system and an indictment of America. It is difficult to read this book without feeling shame.

The first American experiment in solitary confinement sprang from utopian ideals. In their introduction, Casella and Ridgeway observe that there are many historical accounts of people confined alone in towers and dungeons, and that, before the nineteenth century, many different societies used solitary as a way to torture and punish miscreants. But, they argue persuasively, “solitary confinement as a self-conscious, organized, and widespread prison practice” is a uniquely American creation.
The “penitentiary system” was introduced in the late eighteenth century in Philadelphia and was intended by its Protestant founders to quietly house “penitents” for as long as necessary in solitary so that they could have ample time to read the Bible, reflect, and change. Proud penitentiary supporters invited and encouraged important visitors from abroad to observe them; Casella and Ridgeway describe the appalled findings of Alexis de Tocqueville, Gustave de Beaumont, and Charles Dickens, who were among those who came to visit.
In their 1833 treatise on US penitentiaries, Tocqueville and Beaumont wrote that, from the very beginning, the whole system had gone horribly, murderously wrong:
The convicts had been submitted to complete isolation; but this absolute solitude, if nothing interrupts it, is beyond the strength of man; it destroys the criminal without intermission and without pity; it does not reform, it kills.
Charles Dickens visited the Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania in 1842, and the editors call him “one of the earliest—and still one of the most eloquent—critics of solitary confinement.” He described the penitents there as men “buried alive.”
In an 1890 case, the United States Supreme Court recognized the harm, cruelty, and inefficiency that Dickens and Tocqueville described, but nonetheless found solitary confinement lawful according to the Constitution. Now, more than one hundred years later, America uses solitary more often, and for longer periods of time, than any country in the world. The cruelty we impose in solitary cells is, for the most part, nearly invisible. The American government prohibits UN officials from visiting solitary cells. No president in office has ever visited a solitary cell; few judges or legislators have seen one.
The arbitrary power to send an inmate to solitary confinement does not belong to a judge or jury; instead, as Casella and Ridgeway observe, solitary is “a ‘classification’ that is handed down by prison officials” who have unchecked discretion and can subject inmates to this kind of extreme punishment for a range of infractions—walking too slowly, or too fast, or talking too much. Most systems have hearing procedures that do not have a semblance of legal process—the prison guards, usually a tightly knit unit, are prosecutors, witnesses, and judges.* More than 98 percent of prisoners’ complaints about solitary are denied.
Prisons provide jobs and revenue for the communities in which they are located, which have an interest in ensuring the facilities’ success. If something untoward happens to an inmate, it can—and often is—presumed to be the fault of the inmate rather than that of the revenue-generating prison. Mindful of this and of the very low number of prisoner complaints that are upheld, few of the inmates dispatched to solitary ever challenge their status.

Bebeto Matthews/AP Images

A solitary confinement cell at Rikers Island jail, New York City, January 2016
The racial breakdown of those confined in solitary cells is particularly shameful: though black and Hispanic prisoners constitute 60 percent of all arrests, they make up 80 percent of the country’s prison population and 95 percent of the inmates confined in solitary cells. Matters are not getting better: in the five-year period from 1995 to 2000, the most recent years for which data are available, the number of prisoners held in solitary confinement increased by 40 percent. As the prison population increases, facilities are overcrowded and harder to control, making solitary more appealing to those charged with maintaining order. The racial makeup of our prison population, and of our solitary population, reflects a system of criminal justice in which the scales of justice are heavily weighted against people of color.
The prison system has increasingly become a warehouse for juveniles and for the mentally ill. The Treatment Advocacy Center estimated that in 2012, more than 350,000 people with serious mental illness were housed in prisons and jails, ten times the number confined in state mental hospitals.
In August 2011, a committee chaired by Juan E. Méndez, who serves as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and contributes an afterword to Hell Is a Very Small Place, ruled that solitary should never be used for juveniles. Often, however, solitary is imposed on juvenile—and adult—inmates who are deemed unable to handle ordinary prisons. The suicide rate for juveniles in solitary is eighteen times greater than for juveniles in the general population.
Many of the contributors to this volume lived, for much of their lives, like caged animals. Yet their voices remain those of observant people with distinctive and varied responses to their confinement. This is precisely why the collection is so revealing and disturbing.
Judith Vazquez, age fifty-nine, the first female licensed electrician in Jersey City, spent over five years in solitary in a New Jersey state prison after she was convicted of first-degree murder. Confined in a tiny cell, with a “dime-sized piece of the sky,” Vazquez describes her thirst for air—an urge to breathe free. It was so intense, she writes, that she spent months scraping her fingernails against the rubber seal on the window frame in order to create a tiny hole. “I needed some air,” she writes. “I believe it took about six months of scraping and bleeding before I finally made a tiny little hole.” The hole was not large enough to admit a breeze, but Vasquez writes that there was room enough for her to put one nostril against the hole at a time so that she could breathe fresh air in. “It gave me a sense of being human again,” she writes.
Shaka Senghor, age forty-three, was eighteen when he killed a man in a fight involving drugs. He served twenty years of his forty-year sentence for second-degree murder in Michigan state prisons, including seven years in solitary confinement. After his release, Senghor founded the Live in Peace Digital and Literary Arts Project in Detroit, and since then was named a 2013 MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow and a 2014 W.K. Kellogg Community Leadership Network Fellow.
In 2013 he published a memoir, Writing My Wrongs. Senghor’s writing provides graphic testament to the brutal and deranging force of solitary confinement. In one passage, he recalls his early impressions of his fellow inmates on the cell block called Graves, because, he writes, inhabitants are “dead to everyone in the general prison population” and because the cells are so small that prisoners feel they have been “squeezed into a coffin.”
A lot of the prisoners at Graves do act like animals, or worse. They wage battle after battle against the officers and each other. Their weapon of choice is what’s called “Weapons of Ass Destruction,” feces-filled bottles hurled at anyone considered an enemy. Once squirted with a shit pistol, no matter how many showers you take, the thought and feeling of being drenched in another person’s defecation is not easily forgotten. The smell hangs in the air like a miasmic cloud for days, and stands as a reminder for everyone else to be careful.
My client Gerardo Hernández, who did six years in solitary while serving a life sentence at Lompoc, a federal maximum-security prison in California, once gave me a particularly vivid image of the twisted forms human invention can sometimes take in extreme circumstances:
Imagine prisoners can make killing weapons out of most anything—the cardboard within a roll of toilet paper, hardened by feces. One of the few things the prisoners have and can use freely is their feces. It’s also an element that the prison guards can “keep” in the cells and on cell walls.
Senghor’s description of a Latino prisoner’s efforts to end the pain and misery that were his life in solitary suggests the perverse logic that governs solitary housing units:
One night a Latino prisoner set himself on fire, so desperate for escape from this pain and misery he would rather end his life through immolation. After days of harassment about his sexual orientation by guards, he woke everyone up in the middle of the night reciting a chilling rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. The next day he set his cell on fire. The officers sprayed him with a fire extinguisher then took him to suicide watch where he set himself on fire again.
In the small world of solitary confinement, torture takes unexpected forms. Smell, noise, and temperature can all have terrible effects. William Blake, fifty-two, who is in his twenty-ninth year of solitary after he killed an officer and wounded another in an attempted escape during a court hearing, writes that for months the first thing he noticed when he awoke in the morning was the “malodorous funk of human feces, tinged with acrid stench of days-old urine, where I ate my breakfast, lunch, and dinner with that same stink.” Blake writes that he’d seen
days turn into weeks that seemed like they’d never end without being able to sleep more than short snatches before I was shocked out of my dreams, and thrown back into a living nightmare, by the screams of sick men who had lost all ability to control themselves, or by the banging of the cell bars and walls being done by these same madmen.
Five Mualimm-ak, forty, was jailed for twelve years for a series of drug offenses and spent five years in solitary in a New York state prison. Released in 2012, Mualimm-ak is a founding member of the New York State Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement. In his essay, Mualimm-ak describes an anarchic world governed by prison guards and their seemingly arbitrary rules, which they enforce by giving “tickets” that add up to special punishments:
In New York, guards give out tickets like penny candy. During my years in prison, I received an endless stream of tickets, each one more absurd than the last. When I tried to use artwork to stay sane, I was ticketed for having too many pencils. Excess pencils are considered sharpened objects, or weapons. Another time, I had too many postage stamps, which in prison are used like currency and are contraband.
One day, I ate an entire apple—including the core—because I was starving for lack of nutrition. I received a ticket for eating the core because apple seeds contain arsenic. The next time I received an apple, fearful of another ticket, I simply left it on the tray. I received a ticket for “refusing to eat.”
For parents, solitary confinement sometimes involves additional violence. My client Kathy Boudin was the young mother of a fifteen-month-old boy when she was put into solitary in the New York Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal prison, for participating in a robbery during which three men were killed. Acting on their own authority, prison officials refused to let him visit her. After a long court battle, the child was allowed to visit so long as he and his mother remained at opposite ends of a twelve-foot-long table and did not touch each other. If the child cried, guards ended the visit. Guards checked the boy’s anus and mouth for drugs and weapons whenever he came through jail security. The child howled. We tried to get the prison officials to stop this practice, and failed.
After a four-month battle, Kathy received court permission to touch her own child during visits. A maverick federal judge presided over her exceptional case. Most of the hundreds of thousands of women kept in solitary confinement who do not have access to lawyers are not able to have physical contact with their children.
The state rules against parents touching their children serve no apparent purpose; that the government (in this case US Attorney Rudolph Giuliani’s deputies) spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to keep a mother from holding her baby seems particularly irrational and despicable.
Is there reason to believe that testimony as graphic and as memorable as that collected here will bring an end to solitary confinement? Recent court decisions, legislative actions, and public outcries suggest a diminishing tendency to impose the punishment. And yet in May 2014, a federal appeals court in Denver found that Thomas Silverstein’s captivity for thirty years of solitary confinement did not violate the Constitution.
In the report on solitary confinement prepared by his UN committee in 2011, Méndez, who was held in solitary by the Argentine government in 1975 for filing writs and petitions on behalf of political prisoners, recommended ending virtually all prolonged solitary confinement practices around the globe. The committee defined “prolonged” as a period lasting longer than fifteen days and demanded that prisoners have available to them a legal process by which they can ask for release from solitary. With Amnesty International and other human rights groups, I introduced his report in a Florida federal court and its recommendations for changed public and legal procedures intended to produce a court ruling that solitary confinement violated the Constitution’s proscription against cruel and unusual punishment.
The Supreme Court had occasion to consider the lawfulness of solitary confinement last summer. In reviewing Davis v. Ayala, the 2015 case over a death sentence given to a Hispanic defendant by an all-white jury, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy agreed with the majority in upholding the conviction but noted that the defendant had likely been held for twenty-three hours a day during most of the past twenty years in a windowless cell no larger than a typical parking spot. Invoking Dostoevsky’s observation that “the degree of civilization in society can be judged by entering its prisons,” Justice Kennedy said that the conditions of Hector Ayala’s solitary confinement might have violated the US Constitution. Solitary “literally drives men mad,” Kennedy told a House subcommittee. He seemed to invite a case that would make the Court confront the constitutionality of solitary confinement.
Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg took note of the special brutality of solitary; however, most of the major recent court holdings, including one by the Supreme Court, suggest that we are a long way from abolishing a practice that degrades us all. Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement may provide a fifth vote to start restricting it.
Meanwhile, the prison-building epidemic goes on. A new $200 million supermax prison is set to open this year in Illinois that will double the number of federal solitary prison cells in the country. And powerful corrections unions continue to oppose any procedures that interfere with the total control of guards over prisoners.
Barack Obama, the first US president to visit a prison, has spoken out against solitary confinement and directed his attorney general to investigate the misuse of solitary in federal prisons. His recommendations include a complete ban on the use of solitary confinement for juveniles. This year, New York City officials decided to ban the solitary confinement of juveniles at Rikers Island. But other cities and states will not come to similar decisions easily.
Today’s forward progress is reversible. Solitary will end only when the public demands it. Franz Kafka wrote that “a book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.” This book may be such an instrument.

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Cuomo’s Commitment to Clemency Tested in 3 Murder Cases About New York By JIM DWYER NOV. 22, 2016

One year ago, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced a “clemency project” to breathe life into a power that has withered from disuse in the state and across the country: the granting of pardons and the commuting of prison sentences for people convicted of crimes.
Be careful what you wish for.
Among the people waiting to hear from the governor are three men, all convicted of murder, who have maintained their innocence as the years of their lives turned into decades in prison.
One is a 73-year-old man from Westchester County who had been in the sports memorabilia business at the time of his arrest. Another, 51, had been an auxiliary police officer in Brooklyn. The third, 41, was a teenager in Suffolk County, on Long Island, who had not yet finished high school.
Nothing in the American government system compares to the clemency power held by presidents and governors. One person can undo the findings of the judicial system; that person serves as a backstop against excesses, or as the repository of mercies that cannot be put into statutes.
Naturally, it is a power that scares the heck out of whoever holds it.
Beginning in the 1980s, the use of clemency plunged at both the state and federal level. Crime was climbing; mercy was politically dangerous. Since 2006, New York governors have granted clemency to less than one person for every 100 who sought it, with the exception of Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat, who used it for about three people in 100.
Until late last year, Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, had pardoned five people in about five years and had given no commutations. (A pardon wipes clean a conviction; the commutation of a sentence can make a person eligible for an earlier parole or immediate release.)
One big problem, said Alphonso B. David, the governor’s chief counsel, was that many prisoners did not understand how to ask. “We would get a single sheet of paper from a prisoner that said, ‘I would like clemency,’” Mr. David said. The governor and his staff needed to know if the person had made serious progress toward rehabilitation, had the ability to survive outside prison and would not pose a threat to public safety.
So the governor enlisted legal groups across the state to organize volunteer lawyers to prepare the prisoners’ requests. “It has been slow and it has been rocky,” Carol A. Sigmond, president of the New York County Lawyers’ Association, said. One revelation for the volunteers was how few prisoners were obvious candidates for clemency, such as people doing time for nonviolent drug offenses. New York has reduced the number of people it sends to prison by about 25 percent since 2000.
Last year, Mr. Cuomo commuted the sentences of two people convicted in drug cases, and pardoned two others who had long since finished their terms but faced problems because of their criminal records.
Those were the definition of low-hanging fruit.
So far, the new project has yielded six “robust” applications, Mr. David said.
“We have to think about giving people a second chance,” he said. “At the same time, we have to look at them also through a prism of not putting anyone at risk.”
The newer cases are politically harder than pardoning someone for an ancient drug possession charge. Of the six known pending applications, three were submitted on behalf of the men who were convicted of murder: Joseph Gordon, Felipe Rodriguez and Carlos Sanchez. All three are represented by Nina Morrison and Susan Friedman of the Innocence Project, who are collaborating with Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma on Mr. Rodriguez’s case.
Each has what appear to be plausible claims of innocence, but the cases lack the definitive proof that could get the men’s convictions overturned. What is uncontested are their strong prison records. Mr. Sanchez, arrested before he graduated from high school, will soon receive his bachelor’s degree in mathematics; Mr. Gordon, the former memorabilia dealer, works with inmates who are mentally ill or developmentally disabled; and Mr. Rodriguez is trusted with handling caustic chemicals and is credited by prison staff with rebuilding “much of our facility plumbing.”
They join a group that includes Judith Clark, who was convicted of three murders for serving as the getaway driver in the 1981 robbery of a Brinks armored car in Rockland County. After 35 years in prison, Ms. Clark, who is held in high esteem by prison officials as a counselor and teacher, faces decades more time.
Mr. Cuomo’s commitment to giving people a second chance will be tested.

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CURE-NY Summer/Fall 2016 Newsletter

PO Box 182
Hopewell Jct, NY 12533

Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants

Dearest CURE-NY Friends, As we end another beautiful summer, there are many things to look forward to in the upcoming season. Here at CURE NY, we also have a few changes on the horizon, both with leadership and content. Join us first in congratulating our hard-working Co-President, Cheryl Kates-Benman, Esq. for receiving the Thomas Empowerment Hour Radio Show’s (TEHRS) Humanitarian Award for 2016, along with CURE-NY Advisory Council Member and exoneree, Marty Tankleff. Also help us bid a bittersweet, farewell to Cheryl as she takes on other new ventures, in addition to growing her law firm. She may be stepping down from the rewarding, yet tiresome role helping lead the organization, but she will not be far, as she will remain firmly seated on our Board of Directors.

Be sure to see the return of the ‘His & Hers’ column, now written by CURE-NY’s Board Secretary, Angela Jackson, and her incarcerated husband, Jeff. You will also see photos from the recent picnic hosted by the online support group, Free Our Loved Ones, led by two loving wives of incarcerated men. Both have been integral in bringing this anticipated summer event for its third year.

We will continue to tap into the legal mind of Attorney Cheryl Kates-Benman, and also share what CURE-NY members are doing all over the state to advocate for reform.

In future issues, look for the introduction of CURE across the Nation, where we share stories from our sister chapters, and what work they are doing in this challenging fight for change.

Check out CURE NY’s twitter page which can be found at @curenewyork
Like us on Facebook: curenewyork

We are still working to improve the website, which can be found at http://www.curenewyork.info. Our blog can be found at http://www.curenewyork.wordpress.com where you can stay up to date on current criminal justice issues.

Justice for Samuel Harrell

On a chilly Saturday in April, Cure-NY joined family and friends of Samuel Harrell III, in a vigil to both celebrate his life and not only mourn his death, but fight for real justice for those responsible. Samuel, of Kingston, was killed one year earlier at
Fishkill Correctional Facility by officers who are accused of handcuffing him and shoving him down a flight of stairs. About 250 people joined to call for change, about 2 blocks from the prison. During the event, actors recreated the scene of his death overwhelming his sister with emotion. His father, Samuel Harrell Jr., told the crowd, “We have to keep pressing on; we will get justice”. In addition to CURE-NY, the event was attended by Black Lives Matter activists, as well as the group that organized the event, Beacon Prison Action. We will keep fighting for justice for Samuel, and the many others whose lives have been cut short, while only trying to make it home to their families after their period of incarceration is completed.

His & Hers

This column is co-written by Board Secretary, Angela Jackson and her incarcerated husband . They will explore issues as husband and wife, from the inside and out. This issue will begin the series with one of many challenges faced in everyday living for them both.


Take me with you! There are a lot of things I cannot see from behind these walls. I can’t see what my wife goes through being processed in or out of here. I don’t see her making shopping lists, getting the items, packing it in the car, to take it home and repack it, then carry it in, stand in line, and hope none of it gets rejected. I am glad I had the knowledge to prepare her, and to be considerate and thankful. Nevertheless, I cannot see any of it being done. I ask her for patience while she explains it all to me.
Then there are places and situations you may not think are important, but they are priceless to us. Photos or your typical day is only one example. When people send us photos from outside these walls, we are not just looking at the people; sometimes the most important thing is the background! The cars, the stores, the buildings. You all have a camera in your pocket. When you think of your family member, pull out your phone and start clicking!


Nothing brings me more joy than providing the things to make my husband more comfortable. Anything from a good meal to warm clothes for winter, I try to make sure he is good! Yes, it is a challenge to get a package to him, but I do not always want to tell him how hard it was, so he won’t feel bad.
Now about those pictures! Out here alone, it is hard to take pictures when I’m usually driving. In the moment, it is easy to forget how important those photos are, since where I may be is so insignificant. Once I realized how much he enjoys the streets, the buildings, the scenery…well it has become much more important to capture those shots, to ensure he can close his eyes and imagine the world outside his cell. The best invention, so says my husband, has been the selfie stick! Time to take advantage of mine, and send him some pictures…

Remembering John Mackenzie

All of us at CURE-NY would like to express our sadness and deepest condolences to John MacKenzie’s daughters and family on the loss of their loved one. Although most of us did not know John personally, his name has been forged in mine and CURE-NY’s purpose for many years.

John MacKenzie, at 70 years old served more than 40 years in the New York State prison system and was eligible for parole for the past 16 years. Mr. MacKenzie was a model prisoner with a perfect record. He earned degrees in business administration and the arts. He counseled other incarcerated individuals nearing their own release dates, and, with a $10.000 grant, he created a program to give victims an opportunity to speak directly to other incarcerated individuals about the impact of their crimes.

In the last decision, it was not mentioned that Mr. MacKenzie posed any risk to society, and made only a small reference to the letters supporting his release.

As we move forward in our efforts for criminal justice reform, we will remember the life and legacy of John MacKenzie and his contribution to all of us in the struggle.

Rest in Peace John, you are finally free, and you will not be forgotten.

Deb Bozydaj
Co-President, CURE-NY

CURE in the Community: Free Our Loves Ones—Annual Picnic

For the third straight year, wives of men who are incarcerated in NY joined forces and held a huge summer picnic in New York City. This year’s event, at St. Mary’s park in the Bronx, was held the Saturday before Labor Day. Led by Mrs. ‘Kiss’ Brown and Mrs. ‘Dia’ Butts, the team of ladies laid out food, fun, and gifts for the kids. Sixty backpacks filled with school supplies were
given away, and raffles for bus rides to upstate visits and Flikshop credits were held. A fun day was had by all, including brothers, mothers, and even out of state prison wives, in support of the annual event. The candy table was a big hit with the kids, as was the piñata for the adults. The picnic is a chance for the families who have supported each other through our social media group to get together.

We get to see the children growing up, and even chat with a few of the husbands who have returned to their wives. This gives those who still wait the hope to continue, knowing one day their loved one will come home to them. Meanwhile, we are anxious to begin planning FOLO 2017!
~A. Jackson


Please join us November 4, 2016 at 7:00 PM for the grand opening of Galleria La Muse; 1115 East Main Street, Suite 230, The Hungerford Building Rochester, NY. The world premiere of co-president Cheryl L. Kates’ movie “Happily Never After” will take place this evening Learn about how the NYS criminal justice system treats victims of domestic violence. Featured in the movie is CURE advisory committee member Michele Lennon. Michelle is in Taconic Correctional Facility serving a sentence of (20-Life) for killing her abuser. Michelle fits a unique exception in the law where because of being a victim of domestic violence she can apply for work release. NYS DOCCS is blocking her release on parole and work release because of the serious nature of the crime. The movie discusses issues such as the failure of the NYS Board of Parole to protect victims in the community, same sex couple issues, and a law enforcement perspective. You don’t want to miss this night. Live performances by Royelle and Rain Christi. There will also be a fashion show featuring Mary Terese Friel Models.


Candles for Clemency staged a protest on the lawn of the governor’s home in Mt. Kisko, NY. The group hopes their activism will influence Governor Cuomo in the upcoming year to exercise his discretionary power to grant clemency. A few months ago, corrections released a memo encouraging people to apply for clemency. There was indication the normal bars to clemency weren’t going to be applied (less than 2 years to parole board). This relief is expected around the Christmas holiday. There was an indication inmates were being called that down for review. Stay tuned for more updates!
Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) stages weekly rallies to continue to advocate for solitary confinement reform in the NYC area.

In Other News

Glenn Martin and Victor Pate have been leading efforts in marches to close Riker’s Island. Attorney Audrey Thomas is writing a book about her experiences with Riker’s. An event is being planned April 15, 2017 at York College in Rosedale, NY ( 4 pm).


On the night three years ago when Kevin Moore’s dreadlocks were ripped out and his ribs and facial bones were broken, a group of New York State corrections officers involved in a confrontation with him said that they were the victims, that Mr. Moore, a 56-year-old inmate, had attacked them.. Mr. Moore spent 17 days in the hospital, according to the indictment. The officers were suspended and eventually resigned, though one officer stayed on the job until last month. All have now been charged in the attack.

SUNY Bans the Box

NEW YORK – The Board of Trustees at the largest comprehensive public university system in the nation voted TODAY to give potential students with criminal histories a chance by moving its criminal history check box off of its current application process. The move comes after the Board of Trustees heard public testimony from formerly incarcerated students and advocates in May, organized by the Education from the Inside Out Coalition (EIO), to explain what barriers “the box” presents for applicants with a criminal justice histories.
Momentum has been building across New York State toward Banning the Box in higher education for years. Most recently, hundreds of students spent the spring rallying to make change at NYU, and SUNY campuses. The ground work was laid for these efforts as far back as 2010 by one of EIO’s leadership members, the Center for Community Alternatives. It was this research, along with an updated EIO and CCA 2015 report called “Boxed Out,” that laid the ground work for the federal guidance encouraging colleges and universities to go Beyond the Box. These new guidelines were announced in May by US Education Secretary John King, and both EIO Co-Founder Vivian Nixon and EIO leadership member Marsha Weissman were invited to the press conference at UCLA’s campus for the reveal. After its release, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher released a statement commending the move. “I myself, was boxed out of SUNY Old Westbury when I reapplied to college after getting out of prison, and I am so happy
to hear SUNY finally realized that we shouldn’t stop or deter anyone from bettering their life with education,” said Vivian Nixon, EIO’s Co-Founder, and Executive Director for College & Community Fellowship, a non-profit that helps formerly incarcerated women achieve a higher education. “I was able to finish my degree at SUNY Empire where I had completed a few courses prior to incarceration, and thus could return without reapplying. Others aren’t as lucky. I was so proud to represent EIO next to US Secretary of Education John King when he urged U.S. Universities and Colleges to look Beyond the Box back in May, and even prouder that SUNY has listened to our voices, our experiences, and will now give every potential student a chance to transform their lives with education.” The 2015 study conducted by EIO and CCA showed that nearly two-thirds (62.5%) of SUNY applicants who disclose a prior felony conviction never complete their applications, compared to 21% of applicants with no criminal history across all of its 64 campuses. The study attributed the number to a “chilling effect” caused by a fear of stigma, and a set of complicated, and sometimes impossible, set of supplemental requirements once the box was checked. “The research doesn’t lie. There is no empirical evidence that having a criminal history question on an application makes a campus any safer,” said Alan Rosenthal, Advisor on Special Projects for the Center for Community Alternatives, an organization dedicated to ending mass incarceration and mass criminalization. “The bottom-line is that this ‘box’ does nothing but deter qualified applicants in desperate need of a second chance. People who attend college are less likely to have further involvement in the criminal justice system, thus making our communities safer. EIO is proud that SUNY has decided to pave the way for other universities across the country who are still asking this harmful question of its applicants, under the false assumption that it keeps a campus safe.” The Education from the Inside Out Coalition helped write proposed legislation currently in committees of both houses of the New York State Legislature. The Fair Access to Education Bill (S969/A3363) would make it illegal for colleges and universities to ask an applicant whether they have been previously convicted of a criminal offense. EIO is hopeful SUNY’s decision to “move the box” will spur action on the issue and lawmakers will finally pass legislation to ensure every college and university in New York State bans the box in higher education. “Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, and EIO applauds SUNY for listening to our EIO members’ firsthand experiences with the box,” said Glenn E. Martin, Co-Founder of EIO and President of Just Leadership USA, which aims to cut the prison population in half by 2030. “We can only hope the news encourages lawmakers to pass current proposed legislation in New York State, which will permanently ban the box once and for all. Education is the key to building stronger communities, families, and future leaders in this country; nowhere should a person’s past solely define their self worth or future.

Second Chances

John Stossel, host of Fox Business Network, and columnist for Creators Syndicate, wrote an article for Poughkeepsie Journal on July 5, 2016, entitled, “Ex-offenders deserve a second chance in society”. He writes, “America makes it extra hard for ex-offenders to find work. Some states make it illegal. Illinois bans ex-offenders from more than 118
professions. The Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market group that tries to get these laws tossed out, reports that ex-offenders must give up trying to become a nurse, architect, interior designer, teacher, dietician, buyer of slaughtered livestock, etc. Who cares if a livestock buyer once served time? No one says that crimes these convicts committed don’t matter but punishing them forever doesn’t help. You went to jail, you paid your debt to society. Coming out, how are we going to treat you? Are we going to deny you work that keeps you…out of trouble? Some competing businesses WANT to hire ex-offenders, and when that works out, it is good. It is important to let employers and customers make these calls.” Let’s hope that our New York State politicians start seeing that these laws have to change.

Courtroom News By NINO CAMPOS:

I fought tooth and nail by way of oral argument in the Third Department Appellate Division regarding the statute of limitations for a prisoner to file a Claim or Notice of Intention re: “Wrongful Confinement”. During oral arguments, Chief Judge Karen Peters and all of the sitting Justices agreed with my argument that People vs. Davis (2011) is unconstitutional because it falls contrary to Supreme Court precedent
“Balisok vs. Edwards”, which demands that a prisoner who wishes to file a “Wrongful Confinement” lawsuit must first seek and obtain a reversal of their Tier 3, before filing a 1983 claim. They literally scolded and humiliated the Assistant Attorney General for arguing against my claim, since the “Davis” case states the opposite. The “Davis” Case – which happens to be Third Department precedent -requires a prisoner to file a Wrongful Confinement claim in the Court of Claims BEFORE a Tier 3 Reversal! Ninety days after you’re released from SHU, way before your Article 78 is even decided! My argument won like a Slam Dunk during oral argument, but 3 months later, they denied my appeal (on paper). I guess my case would open up a brand new can of worms and hundreds of cases might have had to be reviewed, or they just refused to reverse their own precedent? Either way, simply put, they have been doing wrongfully confined prisoners dirty since the “Davis” case. In my case, when they realized that Davis was utterly flawed they agreed with my claim…. But, when it came time to pay, they -with cold blood – changed their decision. Before this case, I always thought the Third Department was reasonably fair, because I had never lost a case there … until now: See, Campos Vs. State of New York (Feb. 9, 2016) (Oral Argument-Albany).

CURE-NY Spotlight

Martin Tankleff, a CURE NY Advisory Board Member has had a busy few months.

Over the summer, he sat for the Uniform Bar Exam and is awaiting the results. Hopefully, all goes well and he can become admitted to practice law in New York.
On August 18, Marty was interviewed for Jason Flom’s new podcast that interviews exonerees which will be premiering on October 4.

Then, on August 20, Marty received a Humanitarian Award from Audrey Thomas and the THERS legal group.

On September 14, Marty appeared on the Stephanie O show to speak about the criminal justice system and wrongful convictions. On September 23, Marty was party of a press conference on New York City Hall steps to demand systematic reform to the criminal justice system by passing laws that mandate all interviews and interrogations be electronically recorded. After the press conference, Marty testified before the New York City Council on these issues.

Most recently, he was part of a panel discussion on wrongful convictions at the Brooklyn Bar Association at an American Inn of the Court event. Days after that event, he was part of a two day meeting of the New York Innocence
University, Boston University School of Law, Nassau Community College, Touro Law School, Williams College, and several others. He has appeared on several major television stations and radio shows, such as CBS 48 Hours, American Justice with Bill Kurtis, ABC, WPIX, Channel 55, News 12, NBC, WBAI, WNYC, NY1, and others.

He regularly speaks at colleges, universities, and high schools. He has lectured at the NYPD training academy, he was the keynote speaker at the Nassau County Bar Association, the New York State Defenders Association, and he has spoken at Cardozo Law School, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Georgetown University, Boston University School of Law, Nassau Community College, Touro Law School, Williams College, and several others. He has appeared on several major television stations and radio shows, such as CBS 48 Hours, American Justice with Bill Kurtis, ABC, WPIX, Channel 55, News 12, NBC, WBAI, WNYC, NY1, and others.

The New York Chapter of National CURE
Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants
PO Box 182
Hopewell Junction, NY 12533

We are currently doing our annual membership drive and asking all current members to send in their 2017 dues now. A basic membership is $10. If you are incarcerated, you have the option to send a reduced membership fee of $2-$10, based on your ability to pay. Please send what you are able. Family memberships costs only $20. This ensures that both you and your loved one will get a copy of our newsletter.

We ask that you pledge to send this letter to 20 of your friends to help spread the word about CURE’s commitment to participate in criminal justice issues!

CURE-NY MEMBERSHIP: Individual : $10; Family: $20; (Visa/MC via PayPal, Facility check, money order)
Email:_________________________ _Twitter________ __________________
FaceBook_________________________Family Member Name/#: _______________________________
Incarcerated Member sliding scale $ 2.00-10.00 based on ability to pay (please enclose payment)

CURE NY is a 501(c)(3). Please consider making a tax-deductible donation, ask us how!

Beginning with the first issue of 2017, non members will be removed from our mailing list due to budgetary constraints

Make checks payable to: CURE NY; Box 182, Hopewell Jct, NY 12533

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A Message from the International Prisoners Family Conference

There are 2 Primary Reasons Our Advocacy is Not Working.  
Perhaps this will shed light on what has eluded us for decades.
Despite all the outcries significant criminal justice reform has not happened.  Society doesn’t care, no matter how loud we bang on their door.
We all know it’s pure insanity to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.  Never the less, that’s what we keep doing.
It’s time we become WISER, not louder with our outcries.  That requires taking some steps BACKWARD to make greater strides in our advocacy! 
That realization has placed us on a new path to the success that has eluded us.
In all of our outcries WE HAVE IGNORED THE MOST CRITICAL PIECE required to ever achieve change.
OUR FIRST STEP should always have been to prove to society something we as advocates already know:  THE PRISON FAMILY IS FULLY DESERVING of respect; equity; inclusiveness—dignity.
We should not have to do that. Society should see the prison family as human beings like any other members of society.
They should.  But the fact we must face is:  THEY DON’T.  And, here are 2 reasons why:
#1.  All of us fear and avoid what we don’t know.  Society doesn’t know the REAL prison family, so they fear and shun them.
#2.  Society always looks for an easy scapegoat!  Sad, but true.  And the prison family has been an easy scapegoat; retreating instead of advancing.  As a result, society has easily built a lucrative prison industrial complex by discarding prison families as something less than human. 
Harsh, but true.  And, mass incarceration continues to destroy families and erode the quality of life in our communities.
It continues, because society as a whole does not know and therefore does not care about the REAL prison family—the intelligent, skilled, talented valuable people that they are. 
Instead, in fear and ignorance society hangs on to a false CARICATURE of the prison family based on grotesque myths and stereotypes that perpetuate unfounded fears.
The caricature they believe makes it easy for them to disregard; disrespect—DISCARD an entire population—MILLIONS OF HUMAN BEINGS.
The harsh reality is that we can shout and complain and demand change, BUT BEFORE we can expect any real change, society must come to know and care about the REAL prison family. 
If we we stop long enough to put a FACE on the prison family; if we introduce REAL PRISON FAMILY MEMBERS to society in a non-threatening way—no shouting; no rioting; no demanding; no whining; no complaining—if we simply put faces (and stories) of REAL prison family members before their eyes, fears will subside and society won’t so easily discard the prison family.
The “Faces of Mass Incarceration© documentary project is the crucial missing piece in advocacy. 
It is long past due. 
The proposed professionally and sensitively produced documentary has the potential to change society’s view of the prisoner and their loved ones. 
We’ve started it.  Filming of interviews with many prison family members took place at the 2016 InterNational Prisoner’s Family Conference.  Bold, courageous family members bared their hearts to tell their stories.
Now, we must have your help to complete it.
View the trailer.  If you agree the proposed documentary has the potential to change hearts and minds when shared liberally with the public—through social media; in community meetings; in college and university classrooms; via webinars, etc.—support it and share it with others.
If you agree the “Faces of Mass Incarceration”© documentary has the potential to open doors for our advocacy, click the link above and donate whatever you can.  $5, $50, $500—it all adds up and we will be able to complete the documentary and begin making the REAL prison family known across the country.
If you have any questions, please let us know.

Your support is needed.  Thank you.
With heartfelt thanks to those who have already supported the project,
Carolyn Esparza, LPC – Conference Chair  

Carolyn Esparza, LPC
Chair, InterNational Prisoner’s Family Conference
Co-author, The Unvarnished Truth about the Prison Family Journey

Phone: 915-861-7733
Visit Our Website     
Like us on Facebook  

The InterNational Prisoner’s Family Conference is a project of Community Solutions of El Paso, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

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State prison culture toxic

The brutal incident that led to indictments last week of three former New York state correction officers is only the latest case to suggest that abuse in state prisons has reached a crisis level.
The federal grand jury indictment alleges that, in 2013, correction officers at a state prison in Dutchess County viciously beat a prisoner from Coxsackie Correctional Facility. In an effort to conceal their crime, the officers injured one of themselves with a club to support their lie that the inmate had instigated the altercation, the indictment said. The inmate, Kevin Moore, was being held overnight, en route to testify at a hearing the next day. A repeat felon serving up to 20 years for burglary, he never made it to the hearing.
The officers “brutally beat (Moore) for an extended period of time with fists, boots and batons, causing many life-threatening injuries,” the indictment charges. He was left bleeding on the floor for hours and was eventually hospitalized for three weeks.
The Times Union and The New York Times have reported extensively on this and similar cases, including the situation at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, where two convicted murderers pulled off a stunning escape last summer. The case illustrates the breakdown in the discipline of staff that contributed to the successful break. Reports of inmates beaten during the investigation into the escape evoke an image of a third world prison or the supposedly less-enlightened prisons of our own past.
Numerous other cases across the system, including the 2015 beating death of a mentally ill inmate by a group of officers known as the “Beat Up Squad,” have been documented. The state seems unable to respond.
A major problem is the difficulty in firing corrupt or otherwise unfit correction officers. The disciplinary process under the contract with the powerful correction officers union requires most actions be arbitrated. Both sides must agree on the arbitrator, who knows from experience he won’t be called again to serve in this lucrative position if the findings result in too harsh a punishment, such as firing. Too often, to protect these gigs, arbitrators order only a suspension. So the abusive guard is soon back on the job for which he or she is unsuited.
Over time this fosters a perverse culture in which the rights of prisoners are ignored and correction officers get away with horrific treatment of inmates. The result is an environment not unlike that at Abu Ghraib, where revelations of prisoner abuses by U.S. servicemen, under the guise of “enhanced interrogation,” severely undermined our war efforts in Iraq.
When the rights of prisoners are ignored and they are subjected to such abuse, the most likely result is that they become neurotic, resentful, angry, and even more prone to violence than when they committed the crimes that put them there in the first place.
It’s foolhardy to think this passes for discipline, and it endangers us all to call it rehabilitation.

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