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Parole systems are supposed to give eligible incarcerated people an opportunity at release through a fair, transparent process. But state parole processes are often opaque, confusing, and offer limited due process protections. For example, in many states, people do not receive face-to-face hearings with the parole board, instead being interviewed by a single board member; people may not have access to legal counsel for their parole hearing or be afforded an opportunity to review or contest information presented to the Board, even though the decision has a substantial effect on their liberty. Parole Boards may use subjective criteria and write boiler-plate decisions that fail to give people insight into what they can do to improve their chances of release at a future hearing. And parole decision-making may appear arbitrary when focused on the crime of conviction rather than efforts at rehabilitation.
Community organizing interventions have emerged in various states to try to respond to these concerns. Join us to hear from organizers with New York’s Parole Preparation Project and Massachusetts’ Parole Watch to discuss their efforts to support incarcerated people to navigate the parole process and to advocate for more transparent, just, merciful, and effective parole release. We’ll discuss how organizing can fill due process gaps, how to improve transparency and due process protections for people going through the parole process, and how to shift parole policy.
Michelle Lewin is an attorney in New York State and a graduate of CUNY School of Law. Born and raised in Atlanta, Michelle has been active in anti-incarceration work since 2005. Prior to law school, she worked for the Fortune Society in their Alternatives to Incarceration program, and as a 1L she co-founded the Parole Preparation Project of the National Lawyers Guild. She is now the Executive Director of the Project, training hundreds of volunteers and working alongside people serving life sentences in New York State prisons in their struggle for parole release. She is the co-author of “Collaborating Across the Walls: A Community Approach to Parole Justice,” which was published in 2017 in the CUNY Law Review.
For the past three decades Anthony Dixon has helped secure the release of people serving long sentences in New York State. He has prepared people for their transitions home from prison, and supported them in the months and years after their release. His critical advocacy work includes pushing key policy reforms and building strategic partnerships. As an activist and organizer, Anthony is also a prominent national speaker on issues of long and life sentences. While in prison, Anthony received commendations for developing an anti-violence program, Breaking Free from Criminal Thinking, and a therapeutic anti-drug program called ASAP Life Areas. The former has had a zero percent recidivism rate in the last seven years. For his extraordinary efforts on behalf of marginalized groups, Anthony was issued the 2015 RISE Award by the Community Minded Organization. He is also a recipient of the 2018 Freedom Fighter Award issued by Citizens Against Recidivism. He is also a National Lawyers Guild distinguished scholar.
Lisa Berland has been a volunteer with Massachusetts Parole Watch since its formation in summer 2020, a civic group whose members attend public hearing for life-sentenced prisoners, collect data, and document observations about the Parole Board’s process. She also serves on the Steering Committee of the nascent Massachusetts Parole Preparation Project, a developing pilot effort to prepare people serving life sentences in Massachusetts prisons to go before the Parole Board.
Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, is the moderator of the Myths of Public Safety speaker series. Prior to joining PCJ, Katy spent four years as a legal fellow and then staff attorney at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, a research and policy institute at Harvard Law School.
The Myths of Public Safety speaker series is organized by Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, and Sandra Susan Smith, Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice; Faculty Director, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management; Director, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy; Professor of Sociology; and Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute.
Speakers and Presenters
Michelle Lewin, Executive Director, Parole Preparation Project | Anthony Dixon, Director of Community Engagement, Parole Preparation Project | Lisa Berland, Volunteer with Parole Watch Massachusetts | Katy Naples-Mitchell, PCJ Program Director (Moderator)
Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management