Analysis on Prison-Parole Reform Strategy by Jalil Muntaqim

jalilThis statement below is written by Jalil, if you want to write him or
read more of his writings please visit freejalil.com, or see more information on supporting parole reform in NY state.

Write to Jalil:
Anthony Jalil Bottom #77-A-4283
Attica Correctional Facility
P.O. Box 149
Attica, NY 14011-0149

Dear Friends and Supporters:

As many of you may have heard on June 17, 2014, I was again denied
release on parole for the 8th time. Obviously, efforts to change the
parole system is not gaining significant or measurable traction. This is
especially daunting when considering of the two dozen prisoners
appearing before the parole board on June 17, 2014, none were granted
parole. While there has been strides made to raise public consciousness
and interest in the need for prison and parole reform, it has not
translated into unified and uniform actions resulting in a substantial
change. It appears the myriad voices on the subject and the diverse “pet
projects” has weakened the potential for a statewide determination.

There is a need for a unified strategy that challenges the specific
problem of NYS recalcitrant parole policy. As an analogy of the diverse
“pet projects” activity, it is like treating someone complaining of a
migraine headache with heroin. The headache is anesthetized, however,
the treatment creates an addiction for perpetual “reformism.” The
diverse “pet projects” are treating the symptoms of the problem, and not
the problem itself. The misdiagnosed problem is the [person] is
suffering form a brain tumor that requires precise surgical excise of
the tumor to cure the reoccurring migraine headaches.

Therefore, it is important to review the problem of parole, of which in
my opinion is based on two dynamics: 1) The disparate and vague language
in Executive Law S259i(2)(c)(a); and 2) The composition of the parole,
top heavy with former law enforcement personnel.

1) Executive Law S259i, in pertinent parts read as follow:

“Discretionary release on parole shall not be granted merely as a reward
for good conduct or efficient performance of duties while confined but
after considering if there is a reasonable probability that, if such
inmate is released he will live and remain at liberty without violating
the law, and that his release is not incompatible with the welfare of
society and will not so deprecate the seriousness of this crime as to
undermine respect for the law…”

When statuary language is absent of “certainty” and “definiteness” it
can be categorized as vague. A quick reading of this language present
two specific concerns, the word “Discretionary” and “Deprecate”. Each
presents a problem of the lack of ‘certainty’ and ‘definiteness’ in the
parole decision- making process. For example, at what time or
circumstances does any “crime” no longer “deprecate the seriousness of
his crime as to undermine respects for the law?” The Record is replete
with decisions in favor of release for one inmate for the same crime,
same criminal history, similar circumstances and exact same sentences,
and denied to others. The question then is at that point does any crime
no longer deprecate the seriousness of the crime? The answer is left to
the “discretion” of parole commissioners. On this topic, in a criminal
appeal “People v. Stuart,” 100 N.Y.2d 412, the court made this
statement: “[A] ‘statute which either forbids or requires the doing of
an act in terms so vague that [persons] of common intelligence must
necessarily guess at tits meaning and differ as to its application
violates the first essential of due process of law'” (id. at 419, 765
N.Y.S. 2d 1, 797 N.E.2d 28, quoting Connally v. General Constr. CO., 269
U.S. 385 , 391, 46 S.Ct. 126, 70 L.Ed. 322 [1926]). A two-part test is
used to determine whether the statute in question is sufficiently
*Definite* to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that
his [or her] contemplated conduct is forbidden by the statute” and
“[s]econd, the court must determine whether the enactment provide
officials the court must determine whether the enactment provide
officials with clear standards for enforcement”. Given this
understanding of the law, clearly the language of this statute is
“vague”, whereby the mere application voids ‘certainty’ and
‘definiteness’. Since there is no certainty or definiteness in the
parole decision-making process, leaving decisions to the “subjective”
discretion of parole commissioners. As recently learned by the “Evan’s
Memo” fiasco, and the parole board ignoring the legislative intent to
amend the procedural process, in can be stated the language in the law
is by definition statutorily vague.

So, what is the remedy? Obviously, the law has to be change, or at
minimum the language amended to produce “certainty” and “definiteness”
that include equitable and just parole release decisions. Needless to
say, there is a plethora of material and statistic evidence that
provides the greater probability for decisions that informs, “if such
inmate is released he will live and remain at liberty without violating
the law, and that his release is not incompatible with the welfare of
society and will not so deprecate the seriousness of his crime to
undermine respects for the law.” Unfortunately , that information is not
being used by parole commissioners, as their “discretion ” is not guided
by such principles. Therefore, I propose a statewide unified
determination demanding the passage of the Safe Parole Act would
eliminate some of the vague language in Executive Law S259i. So, I will
here pose the question, why haven’t New York State parole reform
activist unite to forge a statewide strategy for the passage of the Safe
Parole Act?

2) The Second point is the composition of the parole board. It is well
known the parole board is top heavy with those whose former career was
to capture, prosecute and incarcerate criminals. For them to now be
deciding who will granted release on parole is a diametric
contradiction. It is analogous to having the wolf guard the hen house,
not a fox- a WOLF! When the parole board comprises such characters like,
the unknown “conservative” W. Smith, a former director of the Crime
Victims Board, coincidentally, who is alleged two terms on the parole
board has expired yet continue to preside; the former Suffolk County
prosecutor, E. Elovich, who consistently brandished her prosecutorial
demeanor in parole hearings; and Sally Thompson, a former NYPD officer
and detective, and current card carrying member of the Fraternal Order
of Police and the Detective Endowment Association, we should not be
surprise so many qualified candidates for parole are denied. This
reality speaks directly to the need for direct action demanding
revamping of the parole board.

In this regards, NYS parole reform activist should identify individuals
from the community who would be prime candidate to be parole
commissioners and actively/aggressively promote their appointment to the
parole board. Such NYC candidates may be selected form the Fortune
Society, Osborne Association, Correction Association, Center for
Constitutional Rights, Legal Aid Society, Prisoners’ Legal Services and
Riverside Church Prison Ministry. They and others should be considered
as qualified candidates, and from upstate New York, perhaps Buffalo
University Law Professor Theresa Miller, or Rochester attorney/activist
Cheryl L. Kates, or Syracuse attorney/activist Alan Rosenthal, may be
considered qualified candidates to be appointed to the parole board.

Here, I would urge the choosing of two NYC and two upstate candidates
for this purpose. For the parole reform community to vet such
candidates, and then formulate a campaign to persuade Governor Cuomo to
appoint them as parole commissioners. This also means it will be
necessary to identify State Senators on the Crime and Corrections
Committee, and persuade them to confirm these appointments. In this way,
the potential to shift the balance of the parole board to a more
equitable composition is possible. This direct action will ensure a more
fair and just decision-making body and process for parole release
considerations.

In NYS we are confronting a backward and archaic parole system. While
some activist with their “pet projects” are functioning on the periphery
of the problem, buy pruning their tree unable to see the forest, we
recognize their good laudable intentions. But for as long as the
language of Executive Law S259i remains the same, and the composition of
the parole board remains the same, like hamsters on the wheel, to the
dismay of those suffering from multiple denials, it is not expected they
will be going anywhere fast.

Under the prevailing circumstances, I felt compelled to offer my
insights into the general prison/parole reform efforts in New York
State. When the parole board can continue to deny parole to two dozen
prisoners, many with multiple denials and meeting all of the
prerequisites to be granted parole, with impunity; meaningful response
from the community opposing parole boards actions, it is time to
re-evaluate and reassess the tactical and strategic initiatives for
parole reform. It is time to stop treating the headache with heroin, and
make every effort to remove the tumor.

I ask these concerns are widely distributed and discussed. I firmly
believe you will agree, when there is a consolidated and united campaign
to challenge these two specific areas, the status quo will take notice,
and your efforts will not be ignored. I welcome constructive criticism
in order to ensure we all are on the same page, seeking to build a
unified and uniform statewide determination for prison and parole reform.

Respectfully Submitted,
Jalil Muntaqim

*Let’s Build NYS Coalition for the Passage of the Safe Parole Act!*

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