TITLE OF BILL:
An act to amend the correction law, in relation to significant program-
matic accomplishments for limited credit time allowances
PURPOSE OF THE BILL:
This bill would amend the Correction Law (CL) to add four new advanced
skills programs to the list of significant program accomplishments that
would enable an inmate to qualify for the six-month limited credit time
SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS:
Section 1 of the bill would amend CL § 803-b(1)(c) to add four new
advanced skills programs as bases for the potential award of limited
credit time: the Division of Correctional Industries (Corcraft) Optical
Program, the Corcraft Asbestos Abatement Program, the sign language
interpreter program, and the Puppies Behind Bars Program.
Currently, CL § 803-b allows certain inmates, who are not eligible to
earn merit time pursuant to Correction Law section 803(1)(d), to earn a
possible six-month credit toward their sentence if they maintain a posi-
tive disciplinary record, have not filed a frivolous lawsuit, and
complete one of five possible significant programmatic accomplishments:
two years of college programming, a masters of professional studies
degree, two years participation as an inmate program associate, a
certification from the Department of Labor for an apprenticeship
program, or two years of work as an inmate hospice aid.
Under § 803-b, all eligible inmates with a conditional release date who
meet the criteria by successfully completing one of the five programs
are authorized to be released six months prior to their conditional
release date. All eligible inmates who are serving sentences with maxi-
mum terms of life who met the criteria by successfully completing one of
the five programs are accorded the potential to be granted discretionary
release on parole six months prior to their actual parole eligibility
date. For these inmates, release is discretionary, riot mandatory.
No inmate convicted of murder in the first degree or a sex offense
defined in article one hundred thirty of the penal law, or an attempt or
conspiracy to commit any such offense, is eligible for a limited credit
This is a new bill.
STATEMENT IN SUPPORT:
The limited credit time allowance law was enacted in April of 2009.
The original concept for a limited credit time allowance law was based
upon the work of the eleven-member Commission on Sentencing Reform,
which was established in March of 2007 by Executive Order.
The Commission heard several presentations and reviewed a substantial
amount of data on the DOCS merit time program, and discussed the expan-
sion of traditional merit time in detail in both its initial and final
The Commission noted that maintaining safe correctional institutions is
directly related to the balanced ability to punish negative behavior and
poor program participation and reward positive behavior and good program
participation. A correctional system that disproportionately relies on
one approach to the detriment of the other will not be nearly as safe or
successful as a system that relies on a balanced approach.
The Commission's Final Report also noted the following.
Current law does not provide a means by which offenders serving a deter-
minate or indeterminate sentence for violent felony offenses, or offen-
ders serving indeterminate sentences for non-drug Class A-I felonies,
can earn any type of merit reduction from their sentences. As a general
rule, many of these offenders tend to receive much longer sentences than
the typical non-violent inmates who currently qualify for merit time.
However, there is no institutional program to reward exceptional
programming and efforts by these inmates...Undeniably, many violent
felony offenders have committed egregious criminal acts that would argue
against eligibility for a merit time release. By the same token, DOCS'
experts point out that a number of these offenders have demonstrated
over a span of many years, a deep sense of remorse, recognition of the
harm they have caused, a strong determination to reform their lives and
a desire to serve the common good by becoming law-abiding citizens. In
some instances, these same offenders have made themselves available in
peer counseling programs at DOCS to counsel young, at-risk individuals
from making the same mistakes they made in their own lives...On balance,
the Commission finds that affording a merit time incentive to incarcer-
ated offenders with a past history of violence for participation in
programs likely to lead to a change in criminogenic attitudes and better
prepare them to lead law-abiding lives after release is a positive
public safety measure that should be implemented in New York. Further-
more, the merit criteria requiring that such offenders also refrain from
any serious disciplinary infractions will help to foster a safer correc-
tional environment for the more than 31,000 men and women who work with-
in DOCS' facilities, as well as the under-custody population of more
than 60,000 inmates...The Commission believes that in order to achieve
the desired public safety outcome, the requirements for an expanded
merit time program for offenders with a history of violent behavior must
be rigorous and designed to promote life-changing behaviors. In order
for an inmate to be eligible for the contemplated benefit, the Commis-
sion recommends that the program criteria should be significantly more
demanding than the present merit time criteria for non-violent offen-
ders...The Commission believes that the creation of a limited, but mean-
ingful, merit time program for the State's highest risk offenders will
significantly enhance institutional safety in New York's prisons and
improve the chances that eligible offenders will live as law-abiding
citizens upon release to the community.
The FY 2009-10 budget adopted all of the Commission's recommendations on
this subject, including the five current significant program accomplish-
ments that are listed in Correction Law Section 803-b. The four new
proposed programs that are identified in this bill would also satisfy
the Commission's charge that such programs be exceptional, rigorous and
designed to promote life-changing behaviors.
The Corcraft Optical Program is located at Wallkill Correctional Facili-
ty. Under this program, inmate participants grind lenses that are used
to fill orders for eyeglasses for the inmate population and for Medicaid
recipients in the community. The test for optician is offered once a
year in May at Wallkill, by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). The
fee for taking the test is $150, for which the inmate is responsible.
Certification is recognized throughout the United States in optical
establishments. An inmate who leaves prison with an ABO certification
has his chances of obtaining gainful employment significantly enhanced.
Once it is obtained, such certification is good for a three year period.
In order to renew the certification, the individual must have twelve
credits of continuing education classes. According to a representative
with the ABO, the passing rate for this challenging examination at Wall-
kill is higher than the national average.
The Corcraft Asbestos Abatement Program initially requires inmate
participants to undergo a 32-hour training program. Successful inmates
then receive an asbestos handling certificate from the Department of
Labor. Ultimately, this certificate can be converted to a license as a
civilian handler. Inmate participants in this program work as asbestos
handlers in the title of either Hazardous Materials Removal Worker or
Group Leader. Inmate asbestos abatement crews are assigned to asbestos
removal projects at buildings in DOCS as well as outside buildings of
the State or political subdivision of the State. This experience is
very useful for the pursuit of gainful employment by inmate participants
upon their release from prison.
The program to qualify inmates as sign language interpreters is located
at Wende Correctional Facility. Interested inmates with positive insti-
tutional records who are accepted into the program must take the course
curriculum of Signing Naturally Level I and II. This requires that they
have an extensive vocabulary, be knowledgeable of sentence structure,
and learn about other forms of non-verbal communication such as facial
expressions and body language. The curriculum also includes an in-cell
study component where the inmates learn about Deaf Culture and History.
Upon completion of the curriculum for Signing Naturally Levels I and II,
the actual Interpreter Training begins. The inmate must study the Code
of Ethics of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, and must also
study different interpreting situations, problems and solutions. Writ-
ten tests are then administered and the inmate must obtain a score of
80% or better to pass.
If the inmate passes these tests, he is then eligible to take the Mini-
mum Competency Screening Process (MCSP) Performance Examination, which
consists of three videotaped segments. The inmate must do voice to sign
interpretation on the first segment, and voice to sign and sign to voice
on the remaining segments. If the inmate then passes the MCSP Perform-
ance Exam, he is awarded an MCSP Certificate by DOCS which will allow
him to perform as an inmate interpreter within the DOCS system. The
inmate must then sign a contract and commit to working for one year as
The Puppies Behind Bars Program prepares inmates at Bedford Hills, Fish-
kill, Otisville and Mid-Orange Correctional Facilities to become puppy
raisers, handlers and trainers. The program is operated in coordination
with a privately funded, volunteer organization that relies on donations
and private funding. The goal of the program is to pair puppies with
incarcerated individuals, who will then train them to become potential
guide dogs and service dogs for disabled individuals in the community.
An eligible inmate must first be screened and then undergo an intensive
training program before having a puppy assigned to him or her. The
training sessions include lessons and homework assignments which contin-
ue for the duration of the program. An inmate who successfully completes
the lessons earns a Puppies Behind Bars certificate and also qualifies
for the vocational job title, Animal Caretaker. Inmates who wish to
continue their studies can take additional courses to become pet groom-
ers and trainers.
The puppies arrive at the correctional facility when they are approxi-
mately eight weeks old and require everything from socialization, to
house breaking and basic commands. They remain in the program for about
sixteen months, when they are then tested for future service, which
includes serving as companion dogs for veterans who suffer from Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder. During their stay with the inmates, the
puppies are also socialized by community volunteers, so the inmates also
learn to interact with members of the community who take the dogs out
for weekends to expose them to a variety of experiences.
The inmates acquire a unique skill and develop confidence and a level of
maturity as they learn to care for another living creature with the
ultimate goal of enabling a disabled individual to function independent-
ly. From the puppies, the inmates receive unconditional love. From those
individuals who are ultimately helped, the inmates often receive enor-
mous gratitude. This program has received considerable national and
local attention in the media and serves as a model for other programs
which seek to pair incarcerated individuals with animals.
It is anticipated that there will be some limited, budgetary savings of
approximately $100,000, by virtue of some number of inmates qualifying
for the limited credit time allowance who would not otherwise have qual-
This bill would take effect immediately.
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