In Blog #16 “NYS Division of Parole—A Den of Iniquity?,” subject to a New York Law Journal article by John Caher, I offered my take on his article abut the rift between NYS Division of Parole and the legislature. Essentially, NYS Division of Parole fails to fully implement new legislation providing Parole Commissioners “… with political cover if they release someone with a violent past, or someone whose crime resulted in the death of a police officer …” [quoted from NYS Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry]. The new legislation offered Parole Commissioners a new tool to evaluate a prisoner’s prospect to be granted release on parole and not recidivate.
Since then, NYS Division of Parole has ignored the “Risk Assessment” tool, especially as it pertains to prisoners convicted of assault or the death of a police officer. On November 26, 2012, John Caher published an article in the New York Law Journal titled “Ex-Parole Commissioners Decry Rescission of ‘Cop-Killer’ Release.” This time, Mr. Caher informs that six (6) former members of the Parole Board, including one former Chairman of the Board, filed an unprecedented Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court) Brief in support of two prisoners’ appeals to the NYS Appellate Court appealing their denial of parole.
Both prisoners were convicted in separate cases in the death of a police officer. One prisoner was granted parole after several denials. Then, a couple of days before he was to be released, the Parole Board rescinded his release due to concerted (late) opposition from the NYC Police Benevolent Association (PBA), The Daily News, and letters from the victim’s family urging the board to reconsider its decision.
On appeal, the former Parole Commissioners proclaim that the PBA has too much influence over the decision-making process of the Parole Board. The Amicus Brief is reported to state:
“The Parole Board cannot treat victims or prisoners fairly in an atmosphere that is easily sensationalized and conducive to improper influence.”
In response, PBA President Lynch holds the position that “cop killers” should never, ever get parole. Such a position is contrary to the ideal of fairness and justice according to the law. If a convicted person is not sentenced to life without parole, the presumption and expectation by law is that person can be granted release on parole. This presumption and expectation is based upon the prisoner’s behavior while serving the Court-imposed sentence, moving toward rehabilitation and redemption.
As an example, in the case of Simon v. Travis, 718 NYS 2d. 704, at 708, a prisoner convicted of killing his wife continuously proclaimed his innocence. Because he would not admit his guilt or show remorse for his actions, he was denied release on parole. The Court ruled: “However, the Board is empowered to deny parole where it concludes that release is incompatible with the welfare of society. Thus, there is a strong rehabilitative component in the statute that may be given effect by considering remorse and insight …” The Court further held that, “Additionally, if an individual has been convicted of a crime, it is generally not the Board’s role to reevaluate a claim of innocence, either by someone who maintains innocence in the face of a guilty verdict, or by someone who allocates to the facts (plea bargain) but later claims to be innocent.” Hence, the Court effectively establishes the Parole Board can deny release on parole to a prisoner who continuously proclaims his/her innocence despite the conviction, and that parole consideration should be granted if the prisoner shows remorse and has moved toward rehabilitation.
The two “cop killers” featured in the New York Law Journal article both had exemplary prison records and neither was the actual shooter during the crimes for which they were convicted. During their parole hearings they expressed remorse for their participation in the crime, and both had tremendous support for release on parole. Yet the PBA launched, in September, a “Keep Cop-Killers in Jail” web initiative, listing 64 prisoners that their members and supporters can oppose release on parole. Albert O’Leary, communications director of the NYC PBA, “said in the first two weeks of the initiative 300,000 opposition letters were electronically delivered directly to the Parole Board.” He is further reported to have said, “Our policy at the PBA is, if you are convicted of killing a police officer, we are going to oppose your parole forever, because we believe cop killers should never see the light of day …”
At my last parole, one Parole Commissioner had been a 20-year member of the NYC Police Department and a detective, and was currently a dues paying member of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Detective Endowment Association, and the other Parole Commissioner had been a Senior Investigator of the Crime Victims Board. As stated in Blog #12, the NYS Division of Parole is comprised primarily of former law enforcement personnel. All of which, unfortunately, makes it necessary to organize a continuous and persistent campaign for freedom. The Parole Board is no longer a quasi-judicial administrative institution, but has devolved into a political arm of law enforcement to decide how long a prisoner is to remain in prison despite Court-imposed sentences. For those convicted of the death of a police officer, the PBA’s proxy—the Parole Board—is imposing sentences of “life without parole” in a draconian act of political reprisal and retribution.
In this regard, I have asked friends and supporters, to initiate a monthly letter writing project, beginning in January 2013, directed to NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo and each member of the NYS Division of Parole listed on its website. These monthly letters should decry the PBA’s overwhelming influence over the NYS Division of Parole, and the failure of the Parole Board to adhere to its legislative mandate to make decisions subject to Risk Assessments and a prisoner’s efforts toward rehabilitation and redemption. To further urge that I be granted release on parole at my next scheduled parole hearing. While we may not be able to compete with the PBA’s web initiative, these continuous monthly letters will establish a persistent presence offsetting any backward notion of not having community support, or, in the words of the Court in Silmon v. Travis, “… release is incompatible with the welfare of society.”
The more we get folks to join in these monthly letter writings, the more of a positive impact for real change can be made. This is especially true for the eventual building of a “Community Prison and Parole Review Board with Ombudsman” as proposed in Blog #12.
In fierce struggle for freedom,
Jalil A. Muntaqim, Attica 12/25/12