Thank you everyone for your incredible work these past few weeks. You made calls, wrote letters, and even visited your legislators on behalf of the movement for parole justice. The message we heard from many in Albany is that your voices were loud, clear and persistent.
We write with exciting news and an update on everything that has happened since the beginning of our recent advocacy campaign. Building off of the activism that so many people in prison and on the outside have done for years, we have accomplished so much together in the past couple of months, and we are so honored to be in this struggle with you!
BIG VICTORIES AND UPDATES!:
Out of the five Commissioners whose terms expired this year only two Commissioners were reappointed!: Otis Cruse and William Smith. While we celebrate the fact that only two Commissioners were reappointed, it is unacceptable that the Governor and Senate re-appointed William Smith. Appointed by Gov Pataki, Smith has been on the Board for over 20 years, and has a record of humiliating people and denying release to those who have served decades in prison, transformed their lives, and pose no risk to society.
Three Commissioners were NOT reappointed!: Ferguson, Ludlow and Julie Smith. Ferguson and Ludlow were both Pataki appointees, and all three frequently disregarded the humanity of people in prison and violated the law.
Additionally, Parole Commissioner Lisa Elovich resigned from the Board, despite the fact that her term does not expire until 2019. Elovich was also a Pataki-era appointee. We believe as a result of your advocacy efforts and continued calls to the Governor’s office and legislature, she felt pressure to leave the Board. Now, only one Pataki-era appointee will remain on the Board by the end of the year!
Five new Parole Commissioners were appointed for the first time!: Caryne Demosthenes, Carol Shapiro, Tana Agostini, Erik Berliner and Tyece Drake. While only time will tell whether these new appointees are our allies, many of these five Commissioners more closely reflect the identities and experiences of people in prison, and come from a broader range of professional backgrounds.
OTHER VICTORIES AND UPDATES!
We defeated Lorraine’s Law: As many of you know, a devastating bill that increased the time between Parole Board hearings from 2 years to up to 5 years for people convicted of the most serious crimes had a lot of support in the legislature. However, as a result of your efforts, it was narrowly defeated.
We profoundly shaped the confirmation process of new Commissioners, exposed the many injustices and cronyism inherent in the process, educated our legislators about the impact of parole on our loved ones, and for the first time, garnered serious opposition on the Senate floor. In an unprecedented moment, Senators on the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee that confirms the appointments, voiced strong opposition to the reappointment of William Smith. The opposition continued onto the larger Senate floor, where Senators dissented and 19 people ultimately voted NO on Smith’s reappointment! Although not enough to defeat his reappointment, such a public rejection of a long-standing Commissioner suggests a new and dramatic shift in parole policy. (See here, here and here for footage of the hearings).
WORK LEFT TO DO!:
While Ferguson, Ludlow and Julie Smith were not reappointed, the Governor is entitled to put them into an indefinite holdover period. This means that they can continue practicing as Commissioners and making decisions that impact the lives of thousands, without ever being reappointed. We’ve received word from the Governor’s office that these Commissioners will not be on the Board past December 2017, but we will need to keep the pressure on in order to ensure they are fired.
Gathering support from the media. While several powerful pieces were written by our allies throughout this campaign, we are still hoping for more pieces that will cement our story and further expose the injustices of the Board.
Resuming our fight during the next legislative session. Unfortunately, Lorraine’s Law and other devastating bills will be on the agenda for the next legislative session, which begins in January 2018. We will spend the fall strategizing for how to prevent the passage of these bills.
Continuing to grow our grassroots base and expanding the movement for parole justice. In addition to our loved ones inside, we know there are thousands of people in our communities across the state whose lives are directly impacted by parole and incarceration. We must continue to grow our movement, connect with all those who are impacted across issues, and mobilize to end these racists and inhumane practices of the state.
WHAT YOU CAN DO!
Educate and advocate in your community! Continue to educate others, including your elected officials, about the parole system in New York State. Hold workshops, trainings or teach-ins on parole. We have training curriculums available that we would love to share.
Connect with the media! If you know journalists or reporters, please reach out to them and encourage them to cover this story. We have lots of materials for you to distribute.
Come to our meetings and get involved! Joining our campaign and attend meetings in your area. If you are in the Capitol Region, join CAAMI’s (Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration) Parole Watch team who attend every public Parole Board meeting. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
Again, we want to thank you all for your powerful and persistent efforts these past few weeks. We are entering a new moment in the movement for parole justice. We have the attention of our legislators and Governor and we have each other!