Join People’s Parole Watch Feb. 27

Dear Parole Justice Family,
 “The people must be able to remain informed if they are to retain control over those who are their public servants. “ NYS Public Officers Law Article 7 Section 100
 Join the Parole Watch Project of the Parole Justice Committee of Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration in witnessing the Parole Board’s monthly meetings. The parole board should not be allowed to do its dirty work in secret! The next Parole Board meeting is Monday, February 27th at 1:00 at the Correctional Services Training Academy, 1134 New Scotland Road, Albany.
We can’t be present at their Kangaroo Court parole hearings, but the Open Meetings Law says they have to allow us into their once a month business meetings – and that’s just what we’ve been doing! For the past three Parole Board meetings, a group of Parole Watchers sat in as silent witnesses. Apparently no one has ever done this before! The board started making the public part of their meetings shorter and shorter, and going into secret Executive Session sooner and sooner.
We did not believe that the Parole Board was following the rules for going into executive session, so we asked the Committee on Open Government for a legal advisory opinion. The Assistant Director of the Committee on Open Government, Kristin O’Neil, Esq., agreed with us. Ms. O’Neil sent the Parole Board a copy of her February 1, 2017 opinion. It stated, in part: “… the chair provided insufficient information to allow the Parole Board and the public to have the ability to know that there is a proper basis for meeting in closed session.”
It would be wonderful to have an even larger turnout at the next Parole Watch now that the Parole Board has been called out on their illegal conduct. You can find details for the meeting and a calendar for the remainder of the year at this link:
Please note that the calendar is subject to change, so please call the Parole Board (518) 473-9548) or Parole Watch (518-253-7533) the morning of the meeting to confirm that the meeting will be held. Be prepared to go through a metal detector.  Bring photo ID and your willingness to fight injustice!
In solidarity,
The CAAMI Parole Justice Committee

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State Withdraws Request for Medicaid Coverage for Prisoners, Funding for HIV By Josefa Velasquez  Politico  January 27, 2017

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has withdrawn its request to the federal government to provide Medicaid coverage for prison inmates and another request focused on New York’s effort to place newly diagnosed HIV patients on treatment.
With the looming threat of cuts to Medicaid from Washington, the state’s Department of Health said on Thursday evening that the state has “temporarily withdrawn” the waiver amendments and “will consider advancing them in the future.”
“We want to allow time for the state to have conversations with the new administration and to see where we may align on these issues,” the DOH said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Tom Price, President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, and House Speaker Paul Ryan favor Medicaid block grants, which would mean the states would receive a set amount of money to pay for the Medicaid program. Block grant programs typically don’t have waivers.
In April, Cuomo announced that the state would seek a federal waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to extend medical coverage to inmates who are leaving prison. Under the waiver, Inmates would have been enrolled in Medicaid 30 days before their release and have health coverage as they return home.
The announcement from the Cuomo administration, which mirrored a proposal put forth by the Democratic-dominated Assembly, came a day after CMS issued guidance to doctors stating that people on parole, probation or in-home confinement are not to be considered as incarcerated individuals and therefore can receive Medicaid benefits if they are eligible, opening up coverage for nearly 100,000 people.
The Cuomo administration had also asked CMS to authorize federal Medicaid matching funds to advance the governor’s initiative to end the AIDS epidemic by 2020.
According to the governor’s office, the amendment to its Partnership Plan Waiver could have brought in $45 million in federal funds for programs that would have provided access to testing, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
In December, the Cuomo administration received approval to extend its Medicaid waiver for five years, giving health policy makers solace that the state’s $7.3 billion Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment program couldn’t be upended by the new administration.

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Release Aging People in Prisons demand that New York State Bring Our Elders Home!

Adopt a common-sense approach of releasing elder inmates, who are aging in prison, have already served considerable time, and pose little or no threat to the public.
The state of New York needlessly confines thousands of senior citizens to cruel and degrading conditions in prison. Since 2000, the number of people over 50 years old in New York State prisons has increased by 98%.The risk of committing a new crime decreases as one gets older, and people over 50 who serve long sentences for serious felonies are the least likely to return to prison after release. Many of the elder populations who are in prison have records of positive achievement in prison and are praised by prison officials as peacemakers and role models. Despite these truths, the vast majority of seniors in prison are routinely denied parole and compassionate release by the state.
As this email comes to you, I am on my way to visit Herman Bell in Comstock prison in upstate New York. Herman, just turned 69 and has been in prison for 43 years, he is one of about 20 former Black Panther and Black Power Movement political prisoners aging in U.S prisons. Shocking, but not unique – he is among more than 10,140 people aged 50 and older in New York prisons.
The need to free Herman is what motivates me to ask you to sign this petition and support our goal to release aging people in prison, end not only mass incarceration but also the racist system of punishing people of color and poor people in perpetuity.
People imprisoned years ago, many due to political involvement and activism during the Black Power movement, are now turning gray. Some suffer from heart disease, hypertension, joint disease, and other age related illnesses. Prisons are looking more and more like nursing homes but with bars, metal detectors, and hyper security used against some of our most vulnerable and valuable populations- our elders.
The aging population currently imprisoned is beyond what the prison system can handle. This is why we are demanding that the state of New York adopt a commonsense approach of releasing older inmates who present no danger to the public.
In the state of New York it costs $60,000 per year to keep someone in prison, and older prisoners cost taxpayers even more—as much as two to four times that amount—due to added medical costs and the details of armed guards that accompany incarcerated people on trips to hospitals for tests and treatment.
As we know there are stark racial disparities in incarceration rates, with Black and Hispanic people arrested at a rate that is 2 to 3 times their proportion of the general population. The well-documented racial disparities in the criminal justice system are also reflected in the aging prison population. A vastly disproportionate percentage of aging people in prison are Black people, many of whom are political prisoners such as Mumia Abu-Jamal, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, and many more.
Join us in demanding that New York state release incarcerated seniors who have already served considerable time and pose little or no threat to public safety. Doing so will restore the harmony of our communities, fulfill our commitment to the human rights of ALL people, and save New York millions of dollars a year. Aging people returning from prison pose little risk to public safety and are prepared to contribute positively to the society. Together, we reject retribution and perpetual punishment as the drivers of our justice system.
Until our elders are freed,
Laura Whitehorn
Member of Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) and former political prisoner
Sign the petition

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Don’t Restrict Visits in NYS Prisons!

Governor Cuomo has just proposed to limit visiting at New York State maximum security prisons to 3 days a week instead of the current 7.
If passed, this measure will cause suffering and separation for thousands of imprisoned people and their loved ones.
PLEASE sign this petition and call Governor Cuomo TODAY at (518) 474-8390 to insist that the Governor retract this proposal.
Restricting visits is regressive, counterproductive, and cruel. Family visits are often the only ways people in prison can maintain connections with children, spouses, elderly parents or grandparents, and other family and friends. These ties are crucial for loved ones on the outside, as well as for people to survive their incarceration with their health and well-being intact and to successfully navigate their eventual return home after prison. Evidence has long shown that enhancing family and community connections is not only extremely valuable for people incarcerated and their loved ones, but also increases safety in prisons and improves people’s success after their release.
It is already incredibly difficult for family and friends to visit their loved ones in prison in New York. Governor Cuomo’s proposal to limit visiting at maximum security prisons to just the weekends instead of the current policy of visits on any day of the week will both restrict the ability for people to visit and impose unnecessary burdens on weekend visit days. Under the current seven day system, already visitors often wait two to three hours to see their loved ones – typically after traveling for hours. With reduced days, the wait will be longer, the visitor rooms more crowded, and the visiting days and hours even more limited. This will be terrible for everyone and impossible for many visitors.
While in other contexts the Governor claims to want to support compassionate policies and reduce mass incarceration, his visit reduction proposal will seriously escalate suffering and family disruption, as well as have a negative impact on prison safety and people’s success upon release. Governor Cuomo must withdraw this proposal, and instead take steps to further expand access for people to visit their loved ones in prison.
You can also write to Governor Cuomo opposing the cutback in visiting hours at NYS max prisons.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
New York State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224
This petition will be delivered to:
Andrew Cuomo

Read the letter

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The plunder of the American prison system

Mass incarceration is expensive in America — as might be expected from a system that oversees a similar fraction of the population as the Soviet gulags. But how much does it cost? Until today, nobody had attempted to estimate the cost of every part of this system.
Enter the Prison Policy Initiative. A new paper by Peter Wagner and Bernadette Rabuy makes the first systematic attempt to add up every part of the cost of mass incarceration. The total is eye-popping: $182 billion, every year.
As is well-understood at this point, mass incarceration was partly caused by racialized panic over the great crime wave during the second half of the 20th century. But this report details another cause — the political economy of incarceration. One major reason so many people are in prison is that the constitutional basis of the criminal justice system has been mostly abandoned in favor of self-interest.
The Prison Policy Initiative’s estimate is, of course, rather rough, as Wagner and Rabuy admit upfront. The reason is poor data. Sources on some factors are sketchy or out of date, as with food and utilities. Others, like the cost of the court system, do not break down the total into civil and criminal fractions, and so the authors were forced to guess based on other work. However, on the whole, the estimate is as good as can be done at this stage — and Wagner and Rabuy are careful to hedge on the side of caution, so it’s almost certainly an underestimate if anything.
(As an aside, I should note that it is a moral atrocity that we don’t have up-to-date data on these questions. The government ought to be maintaining and releasing such data on an annual basis.)
So how do the costs stack up?
The three largest categories are public corrections agencies ($80.7 billion), policing ($63.2 billion) and judicial and legal expenses ($29 billion). Within these categories we can identify sub-categories that serve private interests. There is the private prison industry (costs of $3.9 billion and profits of $374 million); and the cost of utilities ($1.7 billion), food ($2.1 billion), construction ($3.3 billion) and health care ($12.3 billion), which are typically contracted out these days.

Then outside these categories there is civil asset forfeiture ($4.5 billion) — in which police seize the property of those they arrest — and costs to families for commissary and phone calls ($2.9 billion). Finally, much of the money spent on police and corrections means public sector jobs and yet more business for private contractors, who operate much of the bail and probation services. This huge complex of institutions comprises a system dedicated mostly to its own self-preservation and profit.
On the other side of the ledger, there is only one sub-category of spending which is unequivocally dedicated towards due process for the accused: indigent defense — i.e. providing public defenders for the poor — which costs $4.5 billion.
Now, defense attorneys would no doubt also like to keep their jobs, and it’s impossible to disentangle exactly how much of the first bundle of stuff is dedicated to constitutional due process and how much is purely private self-seeking. But the number of different mercenary outsourcing operations within the incarceration system, and the yawning abyss between defense and imprisonment, makes it clear where the bulk of it lies.
The on-the-ground reality of the situation also speaks for itself. Well over 90 percent of all criminal cases are settled by plea bargaining. Many if not most jurisdictions use the hell of pre-trial detention and the threat of gigantic sentences to coerce guilty pleas from most of the accused, because it is literally impossible for the system to provide meaningful due process in anything like an adequate volume.
Constitutional due process is a difficult thing to maintain, particularly when it comes to accused criminals. Racism and Americans’ hysterical fear of crime undermine the empathy that a moral criminal justice system requires. But the profit motive also tends to dissolve moral considerations. Our system of mass incarceration needs a steady flow of prisoners to maintain itself, it doesn’t particularly care how it gets them, and so they are obtained.
Abuse is as predictable as the sunrise.

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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 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 and

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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