CURRENT DOCCS PRACTICES/PAROLE PRACTICES
Please be advised we are the Co-Presidents of CURE-NY. On behalf of our Board of Directors, we at CURE-NY would like to begin a conversation regarding possible solutions to the broken criminal justice system in NYS in regards to parole and corrections.
We as an organization do not think other reform efforts to this point would be something which could be implemented. Our Board represents diverse interests including members who are involved in Friends of Homicide Victims, Restorative Justice, alongside a former Parole Board Commissioner and with all whom we have discussed parole and correctional matters for several years trying to hash out a viable solution. Our organization as a whole is a state-wide chapter with national and international chapters.
We are a 501-(c)-(3) so we do not engage in lobbying but are examining the state criminal justice policies as a whole and are providing this position paper on our thoughts of how we can improve the criminal justice system, providing information to foster constructive changes working towards fairer policies for offenders while considering the safety of society working towards a positive and successful release process. We take this position because our organization as a whole is diverse and represents all sides of the criminal justice process making it very difficult to stay within our mission when working with other agencies or coalitions.
We believe at CURE-NY when working with other coalitions, no element of the effort taken can be contrary to any of CURE’s position as a whole or serve to promote another coalition’s broader agenda as a whole. To maintain the integrity of our beliefs and mission as an organization, we must divert from other reform movements currently in place.
Often reformers focus on the wording of the statute regarding “serious nature of the crime” as many Board decisions are modeled using the language of the NYS statute. We understand this factor is something which cannot be changed due to the necessity of citing the facts of the instant offense and one’s criminal history. We at CURE-NY believe a more viable solution is to examine the statute used by Corrections and Parole in comparison to other NYS criminal justice policies.
With this in mind, the analysis of the current process becomes much more troubling. If someone is released and then re-arrested, the criminal court can only review back ten years of criminal history to enhance a felon’s criminal sentencing. This is also the standard used in Rockefeller Drug Resentencing. Why then would it be appropriate for a Parole Board to consider and rule someone is a risk to society based on criminal histories which are 20, 30 and 40 years old. The system is implementing an inconsistent policy establishing the rule of thumb to review whether a person was rehabilitated using a ten year rule but then allowing a Parole Board to even rely on youthful offender crimes?
The current Parole Board represents a non-diverse Board with an emphasis on law enforcement. This is not allowing a fair Parole Board process. Representative serving as defense attorneys, rehabilitated individuals who meet criteria (ex-offenders) and people who were wrongfully convicted should be added to the candidates who are considered. CURE-NY applauds Connecticut for taking such a brave stand to implement diversity on their Parole Board.
We are deeply troubled especially in light of the current events in society surrounding law enforcement and the political agenda of the PBA and other interest groups having an undue influence over Parole Board members due to the backlash of releasing certain offenders.
Representatives are often punished for doing the right thing either politically or in the press and then fear whether their job will be in jeopardy. A way to limit the political interference and bias currently surrounding the Parole Board process is to impose term limits of Commissioners. Their term should be for 6 years without the ability of a Commissioner to become a career Parole Board Commissioner.
There is a common concern regarding accountability and accuracy of parole hearing transcripts. While the state transitions to the use of teleconferencing to conduct Parole Board hearings, people appearing before the Board have trouble hearing over the system and then when receiving their transcripts it does not accurately reflect what was said during the hearings. The DOCCS uses a cassette tape to record Tier Three disciplinary hearings. Why can’t the same procedure be used to record Parole Board hearings in addition to the transcript?
Often times, an offender is appearing before the Board and the ORC/DOCCS office preparing the documents for the Board are waiting too late to prepare the file. This results in offenders not being given the chance to review the documents these staff members prepared. There is often erroneous information in the record which leads to unnecessary appeals. The staff at DOCCS are not providing the offender’s an opportunity to review the documents prior to their appearance and there is no policy in place which forces DOCCS staff to correct their errors. They often do NOT even after being advised.
Currently, the Parole Board is taking between 10-12 months to rule on submitted parole appeals circumventing the right to challenge the actions taken and or the ability to seek court intervention due to the short statute of limitations on a parole denial being between 12 and 24 months. This is an aberration of due process.
Furthermore, disturbing is the length of time the Appeals Unit averages in ruling on parole appeals and the refusal to provide an expedited review process for those appealing parole revocation matters with a heightened due process and heightened liberty interest due to their original grant of freedom by the Parole Board.
In regards to the Departments adoption of new solitary confinement rules/ issues regarding mental health care, we applaud the efforts being made but it is not enough. The number of suicides in solitary/DOCCS this year is demonstrative evidence more must be done. In addition, the Tier Three disciplinary appeals process is conclusory. When the offender challenges his disciplinary placement and or files an appeal, the FOIL staff is not processing requests for hearing tapes in a timely manner and some not at all. In addition, when a decision is rendered it is simply a decision cutting affirmed or reversed. There is no detailed explanation for the review process taken or why the appeal was reversed or affirmed. Given the sanctions involved are issuing sentences to solitary confinement, there must be adequate due process afforded when these procedures are being appealed.
Corrections Law 71-(a) and NYS Executive Law 259 (c) (4) were enacted with rehabilitative /evidence based procedures in mind. The failure of the Department of Corrections to fully implement these procedures and comply with its own rules and regulations and Directive 8500 is disturbing. The NYS Board of Parole does not currently review the COMPAS Offender Case Plan as part of the parole interview process.
Our organization is also concerned with the untimely manner the NYS Department of Corrections/NYS Board of Parole processes Freedom of Information Law requests. The Legislature enacted the Freedom of Information Laws in order to allow for open access to the government. The untimely delays, in excess of a year’s time, in order to provide the public with documents regarding the operation of two administrative agencies, is completely unacceptable.
The people of the state of New York have a right to know how these agencies are functioning and to factual information regarding how the criminal justice system in New York is operating. Furthermore, when information is requested and vital to demonstrate the lack of due process being afforded incarcerated people simply points towards an agency trying to cover up their inefficiencies.
Ms. Kates tendered a FOIL request close to a year and a half ago requesting demographic information regarding the statistics of parole decisions from 2011-2013 in regards to race and gender. Additionally, she made a request for information regarding how the Appeals Unit was operating, including requests for factual information of how appeals were processed (quantity etc). This data is readily available and accessed on a daily basis. There is no rational explanation to define why there is over a year and a half delay in processing her request.
The importance of this data is vital to share with legislative bodies and or NYS courts to fully outline the inefficiencies of these agencies and the failure to provide a vulnerable population any due process.
Cheryl L. Kates Benman Esq.