Blog #29: Is the PBA Above the Law?

In Blog #16 (NYS Division of Parole: A Den of Iniquity???) and in Blog #18 (The Parole Board and the PBA: One and the Same?), I offered substantial explanations of one of the problems with the NYS Division of Parole. While there hase been a growing parole reform initiative in New York State, unfortunately, its weakness is in its divisions, and failure to concentrate on a single issue to demand immediate institutional change in parole policy. The calling for passage of the SAFE Parole Act, the calling for the development of a Community Parole Commission, and the calling for what is tantamount to a senior citizen amnesty (Release Aging People in Prison) campaigns all have merit. However, as is often the case in the New York State progressive reform community, energy, resources and people are divided among initiatives, reducing adequate strength to overwhelm opposition for parole reform.

One specific "special interest group" that opposes release of A-1 felons, especially those convicted of killing a cop, is the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA), aligned with Parole Commissioners who have backgrounds in law enforcement. This is a problem that none of the above-mentioned campaigns has sought to address. To use an old Sun Tzu maxim, "know your enemy, know yourself, a thousand battles, a thousand victories," should be considered by these groups. Unfortunately, it would appear they have failed to identify and counter an especially virulent opponent of parole reform.

A review of Blogs #16 and #18 informs of the PBA's standard philosophy of denying the rule of law. As a "special interest group," the PBA has the right to lobby for a change in the law that supports its position that a prisoner convicted of killing a cop should never be granted release on parole. However, it is argued that the PBA does not have the right to seek to impose its philosophy on Parole Commissioners when the law grants such prisoners release on parole.

Here is the problem. The coercive tactics of the PBA have yet to be exposed and challenged as illegal use of authority. For example, the last time a prisoner with a similar conviction was granted release, the PBA initiated a vicious media campaign vilifying and threatening the livelihood of the Parole Commission who granted release. They effectively censured one parole commissioner, and the other resigned, allegedly as a result of the PBA's media smear campaign. In the most recent granting of parole to a prisoner with such a conviction, the PBA launched a website specifically to influence the parole board's decision-making process, obtaining hundreds of thousands of signatures to support the PBA's "no parole" philosophy. That prisoner's parole was rescinded, and to this day he remains in prison, no fault of his own, after having originally been granted parole.

It is important to note that the PBA, as a "special interest group," clearly employs "bullying" tactics to impose its position over the parole board. This is something that has not been addressed by progressive parole reform activists. In addition, little has been said about the compositon of the parole board, heavily comprised of former law enforcement personnel, with no representatives of the communities to which the majority of prisoners will return.

Obviously, the PBA's position and bullying tactics skew the public perception of how the law should be applied. Their media campaign, haranguing of parole board members who voted for release on parole and threatening their livelihood, coercively denies the granting of parole to those eligible for release. In essence, such prisoner candidates for parole are effectively prevented from having a fair and impartial hearing before any hearing commences. Needles to say, a single prisoner is disadvantaged in any capacity to counter the PBA's website petitioning, and access to media to negatively impact public perception, ultimately undermining proper application of parole laws.

The PBA, as a "special interest group," should not be permitted to influence the parole decision-making process, especially when doing so is directly contradictory to the letter of the law. The inability of these prisoners, myself included, to obtain a fair and impartial parole hearing speaks volumes to the composition of the NYC Parole Board and its subjugation to the PBA's capacity to influence its decision-making process, despite what the law requires of them. I urge folks to review Blogs #16 and #18, and continue to support community efforts to reform NYS parole policies.

Yours in struggle,
Jalil Muntaqim
April 14, 2014