Governor Cuomo and NYS Legislators Announce Budget Agreement
That Includes A Commitment To A Fairer Criminal Justice System
PLS Executive Director Karen Murtagh speaks out on solitary
confinement in New York State.
PLS Executive Director Karen Murtagh speaks on the history of PLS and the work
it does on behalf of incarcerated New Yorkers.
PLS Executive Director, Karen Murtagh and PLS staff attorney Sophia Heller, joined by other advocates, speak with Assemblyman Weprin, Chair of Assembly Committee on Correction,
regarding DOCCS' policies on packages and visitation.
Indefinite Solitary Confinement in Canadian Prisons Ruled Unconstitutional
Pronged and indefinite solitary confinement, or what is otherwise know as Administrative Segregation, was found unconstitutional by B.C. Supreme Court Judge Peter Leask. "I find as a fact that administrative segregation … is a form of solitary confinement that places all Canadian inmates subject to it at significant risk of serious psychological harm, including mental pain and suffering, and increased incidence of self-harm and suicide." To read more see: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/charter-solitary-confinement-bc-ruling-1.4491526
Governor Cuomo Proposes Sweeping Criminal Justice Reforms Including Major Improvement to the Re-Entry Process
On January 3, 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo gave his State of the State Message unveiling 22 proposals. The Governor’s 22nd Proposal, entitled: Restoring Fairness in New York’s Criminal Justice System includes sweeping reforms to bail, discovery, speedy trial and asset forfeiture laws and procedures and improvements to the re-entry process to help individuals transition from incarceration to their communities. On the re-entry front, Governor Cuomo is proposing to lift statutory bans on certain occupational licenses, remove the mandatory suspension of driver’s licenses following a drug conviction, expand eligibility for merit release and limited credit time, implement “geriatric parole,” remove the parole supervision fee and allow for the adjustment of child support orders for those serving over six months in prison. To read more see: https://www.ny.gov/2018-state-state-proposals.
Governor Cuomo Proposes Expansion of Programs for Incarcerated Veterans
In his State of the State Message, the Governor proposed an expansion of programs for veterans behind bars (see full proposal below). PLS commends the Governor for including this reform in the 2018 Executive Budget.
In November 2016, the van Ameringen Foundation generously awarded PLS a two-year grant to support PLS’ Mental Health Project (MHP), for work on behalf of youth under 21 years of age and veterans who suffer from mental illness in New York State prisons. The goal of the project with respect to veterans is to assist them in obtaining mental health care, ensure that those with mental illness are not subjected to living conditions that will adversely impact their mental health issues and advocate for systemic changes with respect to mental health treatment, programming, education and housing.
In line with this goal, this past year PLS worked with incarcerated veterans and numerous other stakeholders to identify the current veterans programs available within DOCCS. We found that while DOCCS has Veteran Residential Therapeutic Programming (VRTP) available at some medium security prisons, the vast majority of DOCCS maximum security facilities do not have any veteran-based programs or support groups and none have dedicated housing units for veterans. PLS determined that the successes of the existing VRTP’s in medium security facilities indicated that replication of those programs would bring similar successes to incarcerated veterans serving long sentences and/or those currently housed in maximum security facilities.
As a result, in July 2017, PLS proposed to DOCCS the establishment of dedicated veteran-housing units with specialized programming for veterans, through a pilot program beginning in 2018 in three maximum security facilities.
We thank the van Ameringen Foundation for helping fund this project and DOCCS and the Executive for accepting our proposal and including funding in the budget to expand programming for veterans to maximum security facilities.
Governor's Proposal to Expand Programs for Veterans Behind Bars
Governor Cuomo is dedicated to supporting the brave New Yorkers who have served our country. He recognizes that incarcerated veterans represent a unique segment of the imprisoned population that merit particular attention due to the unique circumstances they face returning home from war, which can often make the duration of incarceration and the transition back into the community upon release especially difficult.
Through the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), the Governor implemented three Veterans Residential Therapeutic Programs at Medium Security Correctional Facilities that identify each veteran’s individual needs and provide them with corresponding services.
This year, the Governor will provide resources to expand the programs available and offer the programs in to Maximum Security Facilities for the first time. DOCCS will hire additional Licensed Master Social Workers, as well as a coordinator, and purchase a new professionally designed veteran specific curriculum that will broaden the scope of issues addressed, including conflict reduction and post-traumatic stress disorder and other relevant topics. Expanding the program will increase veterans’ successful reintegration into society once they leave prison and reduce overall rates of recidivism, aiding our veterans and improving overall public safety.
PLS' HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2017
PLS signs on to joint comments regarding American Correctional Association (ACA) proposed standards for the isolation of youth
See: FINAL2 Youth Justice Group Comments on ACA Proposed Standards - Separation for Youth .pdf You can find the joint Comment and the comparison chart on the dedicated page on the Stop Solitary for Kids website: http://www.stopsolitaryforkids.org/aca-proposed-standards-on-youth-isolation-2/.
Correctional Association Releases Report on "Solitary at Southport." On December 13, 2017, the Correctional Association of New York released its executive summary on "Solitary at Southport" finding that, among other things, New York State "subjects people to solitary confinement and other forms of isolation at rates above the national average and in a racially disparate manner." You can read the executive summary here: Solitary-at-Southport-Executive-Summary12-6-FINAL-FOR-WEB.pdf . You can read the full report here: Solitary-at-Southport-Final-Web-12-10-17.pdf .
Prisoners’ Legal Services Testifies at Joint Assembly Hearing on Healthcare in New York State Prisons
To read the testimony click: 2017 Testimony Medical Care Final October 27, 3 p.m..pdf
PLS Executive Director Karen Murtagh Co-Chairs NYSBA Conference: Redeeming the Pledge . . . ‘And Justice For All.’ This full day conference focused on access to justice issues including issues that arise in family court, housing, civil Gideon, pre-arraignment, wrongful convictions, solitary confinement, re-entry and immigration. To view a video of this full-day program click: https://vimeo.com/235937990
PLS Speaks Out on New Solitary Confinement Policy for NY Jails
CBS, News Channel 6 interviewed Karen Murtagh on Governor Cuomo's plan to reduce solitary confinement in the local jails. See link below for the entire interview:
Corrections Chair Weprin and Assemblymember Carmen De La RosaCall for 7-Day Visitation at NY Medium Security Prisons and Restoration of Free Transportation for Visiting
**PRESS RELEASE**Weprin De La Rosa Press Release on Visitation and Transportation.pdf
New York Bar Foundation Sponsors Immigration Fellows at PLS. For a second year in a row the New York Bar Foundation (NYBF) has awarded PLS a grant to employ law students as NYBF Immigration Fellows working either full-time during the summer or part-time during the school year, in PLS' Immigration Unit. Thanks to the NYBF for supporting the immigration work of PLS!
A Look Back Two Years After the Dannemora Prison Escape: Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York’s Executive Director, Karen Murtagh speaks on changes at Dannemora prison after the escape. http://wamc.org/post/look-back-two-years-after-dannemora-prison-escape
NYS ASSEMBLY CORRECTION CHAIR DAVID WEPRIN HOLDS PRESS CONFERENCE OPPOSING PROPOSED VISITATION CUTS AT MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISONS
Assemblyman David Weprin and Major Advocacy Coalition Stand Together to Oppose Proposed Visitation Cuts at Maximum Security Prisons. To read complete press release click here
Assemblyman David Weprin, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Correction, joined his colleagues on the Correction Committee, as well as other elected officials and prison reform advocates to stand in opposition to the proposed reduction of visitation days at New York State’s maximum-security prisons. The plan, part of the 2017/2018 Executive Budget Proposal for New York State, would reduce visitation at New York’s maximum security prisons from seven days a week, as is now, to three days per week. The reduction in visitation would also allow the state to save $2.6 million by eliminating 39 Full Time Corrections Positions.
In a bipartisan effort to have this cut removed from the final enacted state budget, Weprin and members of the Assembly Committee on Correction have authored a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo listing the benefits of prison visitation. The letter has been signed by each member of the Committee, from both sides of the aisle. Weprin also noted that the cut would be removed in the Assembly one-house budget resolution.
Speaking in the Capitol, Weprin noted the already high demand for visits as a reason to oppose the cuts, as well as past research which has shown that visiting helps to decrease recidivism and reduce violence at corrections facilities. He also voiced concern that the reduction would unfairly penalize the families of the incarcerated by limiting the days when families would be allowed to visit.
PLS SAVED OVER 61 YEARS OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT TIME, 19 YEARS OF GOOD TIME AND OVER 17 YEARS OF JAIL AND SENTENCING TIME FOR CLIENTS IN 2016 - Benefiting our clients, enhancing public safety and saving the state money.
PLS ensures that people's sentences are calculated accurately and that they receive all of the good time, sentencing credit and jail time to which they are entitled. PLS’ also represents incarcerated individuals on prison disciplinary hearings that can result in the imposition of solitary confinement. In 2016, PLS handled hundreds of cases where people were wrongfully placed in solitary confinement or had errors in their jail and sentencing computations. By doing so, PLS saved over 61 years of solitary confinement time, 19 years of good time and over 17 years of jail and sentencing time for our clients.
PLS' work in the area of solitary confinement not only benefits our clients, but helps enhance public safety and save the state money. A Washington State study found that people who were released directly from segregation had a much higher rate of recidivism than individuals who spent time in the normal prison setting before returning to the community: 64 percent compared with 41 percent. When people are released from solitary confinement they are able to participate in educational and other rehabilitative programs. Participation in such programs increases the likelihood of early release and, as demonstrated by the Washington State study, dramatically reduces the recidivism rate. In addition, if a person is in general population as opposed to solitary confinement when he/she appears before the parole board, release is much more likely. Finally, it costs over $60,000 a year to house a person in prison. By correcting jail time, good time and sentencing errors, and increasing the likelihood of release, PLS saves the state millions of dollars annually.
PLS WINS DISCIPLINARY CASE - COURT ORDERS EXPUNGEMENT OF THE CHARGES
Our client was charged with assault and given 270 days in solitary confinement. PLS filed a lawsuit asking the court to expunge the charges due to constitutional and procedural errors at the hearing. On February 9, 2017, the Appellate Division, Third Department issued a decision holding that our client was prejudiced at his prison disciplinary hearing because his employee assistant failed to interview requested witnesses and because the Hearing Officer denied our client's request for a witness based on the hearing officer's own speculation regarding the probable content of the witness’s testimony. The court ordered a reversal of the hearing disposition and expungement of the charges. Matter of Nance v. Annucci, #523293 (3d Dep’t Feb. 9, 2017)
PLS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR TESTIFIES AT 2017 SENATE & ASSEMBLY JOINT BUDGET HEARING ON PUBLIC PROTECTION
On January 31, 2017, PLS Board Member, Tom Curran and PLS Executive Director, Karen Murtagh, testified at the NYS Senate and Assembly Joint Budget Hearing on Public Protection. To read the testimony, click here. To watch the hearing testimony click on this link: http://nystateassembly.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=8&clip_id=4060 and go to the 10:43 mark.
PLS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR CHOSEN TO RECEIVE AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION IN THE FIELD OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES
The New York State Bar Association Criminal Justice Section has chosen PLS Executive Director, Karen Murtagh, as the award recipient for the Section's Award for Outstanding Contribution in the Field of Correctional Services. The award will be presented to Ms. Murtagh in May 2017 at the Criminal Justice Section's annual spring meeting in Seneca Falls, NY.
PLS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR CO-CHAIRS CLE PANEL ON PRISON LITIGATION
On November 16, 2016, PLS Executive Director, Karen Murtagh and Jack Beck from the Correctional Association, co-chaired a full-day CLE on Prison Litigation. Panelists included Steven Wu, Assistant Attorney General, Dori Lewis, Legal Aid’s Prisoners’ Rights Project, Professors Phillip Genty from Columbia Law School and Brad Wendell from Cornell Law School and S.D.N.Y. Judge Sarah Netburn. Over 800 individuals participated between in-person attendees and those who watched via webcast.
PLS AWARDED 2017 NYBF GRANT FOR IMMIGRATION FELLOWS
PLS was recently awarded a grant from the New York Bar Foundation that will enable PLS to hire two law students as Immigration Fellows for the summer of 2017 or the 2017 fall semester. The fellows will gain experience analyzing the immigration consequences of criminal convictions and representing immigrants in removal proceedings. Thank you to the New York Bar Foundation for supporting this project!
STATE ORDERED TO PROVIDE DISABLED PRISONER WITH MOTORIZED WHEELCHAIR
This case raised the issue of whether DOCCS' refusal to allow a disabled prisoner the use of a motorized wheelchair was discriminatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. The district court initially granted summary judgment in favor of DOCCS’ universal ban on motorized wheelchairs in prison. On appeal to the Second Circuit, Disability Rights New York, PLS and numerous other legal services advocates filed an amicus brief arguing that such a ban violated the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act.
The Second Circuit held that the Department of Corrections’ blanket ban on motorized wheelchairs violated both the ADA and the RA and that there was a dispute of material fact as to whether DOCCS provided the plaintiff meaningful access to DOCCS’ services or would be unduly burdened by allowing the plaintiff the use of his motorized wheelchair. The court vacated the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. Wright v. DOCCS, 831 F.3d 74 (2d Circuit 2016).
On March 10, 2017, Northern District Judge Mae D'Agostino issued a decision on the case after taking evidence at trial. She found that DOCCS failed to show that there were such safety risks in giving Nathaniel Wright the electric wheelchair that they outweighed his right to have the device. "The court holds that the preponderance of credible evidence at trial established that plaintiff was denied meaningful access to benefits and services and the use of his motorized wheelchair in the DOCCS facilities would not unduly burden DOCCS," she wrote.
PLS AWARDED TWO-YEAR GRANT TO FOCUS ON YOUTH UNDER 21
PLS was recently awarded a 2-year grant from the Van Ameringen Foundation to open a Mental Health Project (MHP) specifically focusing on the needs of youth under 21 and veterans who suffer from mental illness because they are two of the largest segments of the prison population who are among the most vulnerable. Youth under 21 and veterans experience higher rates of mental illness than are experienced by other groups of prisoners. Through PLS’ MHP, eligible clients will be able to obtain the mental health care they need and PLS will works to ensure that they are not subjected to conditions, such as long-term solitary confinement, that will exacerbate their mental illness.
PLS WINS TWO IMMIGRATION MERITS HEARING
PLS recently won two merits hearings for non-citizen clients facing removal from the United States. In the first case, the judge granted Cancellation of Removal for a Lawful Permanent Resident from Jamaica whose family lives in Queens, New York. Our client is the father of two young U.S. Citizen children, for whom he will now be able to provide care when he is released from prison later this year. In the second case, PLS represented a refugee from Burma who belongs to a persecuted ethnic minority, and was granted relief from deportation under the Convention Against Torture. In both cases the clients were represented by Rosa Cohen Cruz, PLS' Senior Immigration Attorney.
ITHACA OFFICE HIRES NEW SECRETARY
Elizabeth Banks joined Prisoner’s Legal Services on February 22, 2016 as a legal secretary. She comes to PLS from Heritage Park Apartments, in Elmira, NY, where she was the Assistant Youth Project Director for The Heritage Park Apartments Resource Center. Prior to that position, she worked from 1991 to 2008, as a Legal Secretary for a New York City law firm specializing in construction law.
PLS PARTNERS WITH THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE TO PROVIDE TRAINING ON CLEMENCY APPLICATIONS
PLS recently entered into a partnership with the Governor's office to provide training to law students and pro bono attorneys on how to compile and file clemency applications. For information about the upcoming training click here.
PLS PARTNERS WITH DOCCS TO PROVIDE TRAINING ON EARLY PAROLE FOR CONDITIONAL DEPORTATION ONLY
PLS recently began working with New York State's Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) to develop and present continuing legal education training on the process for seeking Early Conditional Parole for Deportation Only (ECPDO) and Conditional Parole for Deportation Only (CPDO). For information about the upcoming training click here.
THE NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION WRITES MEMO OF SUPPORT FOR PLS
PLS is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1976 and is funded primarily by New York State. Every year PLS requests that the State continue funding PLS and, this year, in support of that request, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) submitted a memorandum in support of PLS to Legislative leaders. To read the memo, click here.
PLS SAVES OVER 82 YEARS OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT TIME IN 2015
PLS helps ensures that prisoners are not held in solitary confinement in violation of the law. We do this by challenging unlawful or illegal disciplinary hearings. In 2015, PLS’ work in this area resulted in a reduction of over 82 years of solitary confinement time for hundreds of prisoners.
PLS SAVES OVER 63 YEARS OF JAIL TIME, GOOD TIME AND SENTENCING TIME
PLS also ensures that sentences are calculated accurately and that prisoners receive all of the good time, sentencing credit and jail time to which they are entitled. In 2015, PLS’ work in this area resulted in over 63 years of jail time, good time and sentencing time being credited to prisoners’ sentences.
For every year of good time restored and jail time and sentence computations corrected, PLS saves the State at least $60,076.00, see: http://www.vera.org/files/price-of-prisons-new-york-fact-sheet.pdf.
PLS HIRES NEW IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY
We would like to welcome our newest addition to the PLS staff, Kelly Anderson, immigration staff attorney who was recently hired under PLS’ Vera NYIFUP Immigration Grant. Ms. Anderson was recently admitted to the New York State Bar. Please join us in congratulating Ms. Anderson on her admission and welcoming her to PLS!
PLS TAKES ON 40 IMMIGRATION CASES & WINS BOND HEARING
Over the past several months, PLS’ Immigration Initiative, funded through a grant administered by the Vera Institute of Justice and funded by the New York Immigration Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) has accepted 40 cases. Our Senior Immigration Attorney, Rosa Cohen Cruz was recently won a bond hearing in New York City on an immigration case. The client’s family was able to raise the $10,000 bond set by the Judge and the client is now home with his family.
EXECUTIVE ORDER #150
PLS congratulates Governor Cuomo for signing Executive Order #150, which establishes correctional facilities within DOCCS exclusively for youth, requires that DOCCS consult with the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) regarding the treatment of youth, and mandates specialized training of DOCCS staff. In light of this Executive Order, PLS attorney, Maria Pagano negotiated an extension of the Cookhorne settlement (reported below) so that PLS will now be monitoring not only Coxsackie, Woodbourne and Green Correctional Facilities, but also the new youth facility at Hudson Correctional Facility scheduled to begin accepting youth this August. PLS’ monitoring has also been extended by three years.
PLS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR TESTIFIES AT JOINT LEGISLATIVE HEARING
PLS Executive Director, Karen Murtagh, testified before the Joint Legislative Hearings on Public Protection. Watch the testimony here: or read the testimony here:
PLS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SPEAKS OUT ON THE NEED FOR PRISON OVERSIGHT
PLS Executive Director Karen Murtagh testified before the Assembly Hearing on Prison Oversight. Read More
PLS BUFFALO AND PLATTSBURGH OFFICES MOVED INTO NEW SPACE
Please note their new address:
PLS - Plattsburgh PLS - Buffalo
24 Margaret St., Suite 9, Plattsburgh, NY 12901 14 Lafayette Square, Suite 510, Buffalo, NY 14203
PLS PREVAILS IN MEDICAL PAROLE CASE
In December, PLS, obtained the release of prisoner on medical parole so he was able to spend Christmas with his family. Thanks to the relentless efforts of PLS attorneys Samantha Howell and Lisa Weinstein our client was able to die at home with his loving family surrounding him.
PLS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR VOICES CONCERN OVER CLINTON LOCKDOWN
Read more See also Andrea Mitchell ABC interview of Karen Murtagh, PLS Executive Director on aftermath of Clinton escape. Andrea Mitchell Reports _ MSNBCW _ August 12, 2015 9_00am-10_01am PDT _ Free Streaming _ Internet Archive.html
PLS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SPEAKS OUT ON CLINTON ESCAPE
VIDEO ABOUT INCARCEATED NEW YORKERS
Sam Ferrone, a 14-year old, made a video about incarcerated New Yorkers for a school project. He interviewed advocates and currently incarcerated individuals. This video highlights the humanity of incarcerated individuals. Thank you, Sam, for making this video. We, too, hope it will raise awareness about the injustice of the prison system.
NYS ADVISORY COMMITTEE TO THE U.S. COMMISSION ON CIVIL RIGHTS URGES REFORMS TO SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN NEW YORK STATE
In December 2014, the NY State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, issued a scathing indictment of New York’s use of solitary confinement (known as special housing units or SHUs). Noting that isolation has a “devastating effect on youth,” the committee urged the U.S. Department of Justice to use its power to force NYS to immediately stop the placement of persons 25 years old or younger in the special housing units and to develop alternatives to solitary confinement.
You can find the full report here; the recommendations begin on page 59.
PRISONERS’ LEGAL SERVICES REACHES LANDMARK SETTLEMENT FOR JUVENILES
IACHR Conducted a Visit to New York, United States
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted a visit to New York, United States, from April 7 to 10, 2014. The visit aimed to gather information on the situation of persons under the age of 18 charged, tried, sentenced, and incarcerated as and with adults, and the detention conditions of youth in jails and prisons. New York is one of the two states in the United States that automatically excludes adolescents from the juvenile system at age 16, and tries them as adults. The delegation was led by the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child, Commissioner Rosa Maria Ortiz, accompanied by staff attorneys of the Executive Secretary of the IACHR from the Office of the Rapporteurs on the Rights of the Child and Adolescents and on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty.
To read more of about the Rapporteur’s visit click here
PLS joins other advocates in support of the Protect Our Courts Act
June 5, 2018: PLS Immigration Staff Attorney Halinka Zolcik speaks at press conference at Legislative Office Building in Albany New York in support of the Protect Our Courts Act (A11013A), sponsored by Assemblymember Solages. The proposed bill would exempt certain individuals from civil arrest while going to court. The purpose of the bill is to faciliiteate continued access to the justice system and courts by all members of the community without fear of immigration-related consequences. To read Ms. Zolick's remarks click: Protect Our Courts Act Remarks.docx