When I met Soffiyah Elijah about three years ago, she had just been appointed the first African American woman executive director of The Correctional Association of New York. I was taken by her enthusiastic commitment to carry forward the crucial work of the CA to reform the criminal justice system. It was clear that her experience as a practicing criminal lawyer and teacher at Harvard Law School make her exceptionally well qualified to lead the CA. The CA was founded in 1844 and really makes a meaningful difference in expanding programs in prison to rehabilitate and educate those caught in the criminal justice system and reduce recidivism. These goals are at the core of resolving poverty and inequity in our society.
The Correctional Association of New York plays a vital role in ensuring that prisons are monitored by the citizenry and does an outstanding job advocating for fair and humane treatment.
The Correctional Association's statutory authority to visit prisons has been used for 168 years to visit state prisons and to report to legislators and the public on prison conditions. It advocates for changes in the prisons that are based on the facts of prison life. Its reports on mental health, solitary confinement, drug programs and many other matters are based in significant part on interviews with inmates and observation of programs and facilities. These reports have been used as bases for important legislation and administrative reform. Its authority to visit prisons also opens a window on what is too often a closed and hidden world. This authority means that members of the public as well as professionals in the field can observe what happens in prisons and help improve conditions there. The presence of outside visitors, their questions and their observations help make prisons better places for inmates. From its origins in prison visiting, the CA has also taken on important advocacy roles in areas like juvenile justice and drug law reform which impact the criminal justice system. Its staff is knowledgeable and dedicated, with an executive director who represents the best the field has to offer. It is a first rate organization.
The Correctional Association of New York (the "CA") has an extraordinarilly talented and dedicated staff. They tirelessly advocate for improved prison conditions throughout New York State and provide a voice for those who desparately need it. The CA ably and effectively speaks on behalf of so many who are so often forgotten or written off, including the incarcerated youth, the incarcerated mothers, the incarcerated fathers and the incarcerated LGBT population. The work of the CA not only makes the world a better place for the forgotton, but for all of us.
Under Mayor John Lindsay, I was Chairman of the Board of Corrections, a voluntary group of citizens who monitored the prisons. In that role, I saw the work of the Correctional Association. It pioneered in programs teaching prisoners the responsibility of parenting; it pressed the need to read and write;it engaged the public health field; it introduced college educational opportunities for prisoners; it monitored conditions in the prisons; it understood and worked with correction officers and prison officials; the Legislature gave it the right and power to visit prisons and recommend changes; it set up programs to help prisoners being released to find jobs; it gave special care and attention to juveniles; it organized opportunities for women prisoners to learn new skills. It is the most respected organization in the State dealing with prisons and problems of criminal justice. It has passion for justice and common sense in meeting the problems of mental health, overcrowding, and community security.
I joined the board of the CA about five years ago because I thought that the work they do is extremely important. The true measure of a civil society is in how they treat those who fall through the cracks of society's mainstream mechanisms and rules. I have been amazed, particularly during the past two years as our new Executive Director, Soffiyah Elijah has brought her amazing energy, passion and quiet diplomacy to bear on major issues facing New York' prison system, at how much of a difference a well-led, highly motivated staff can make. I am proud to be able to play my part.
I have been a board member of the Correctional Association of New York for over 40 years. While the CA was founded nearly 175 years ago in 1844, the organization's real growth and impact on the criminal justice system has occurred directly and indirectly as a result of the infamous Attica prison riots in September, 1971. The key mandate of the CA is its legislative mandate to inspect the prisons of New York State and report its findings and recommendations for constructive change to policymakers and the public. When I joined the CA's board, its staff consisted of three members, a board of directors of ten and a budget in the $100,000 range. Today the CA has a board of over 35 members, a staff of twenty-one and a budget in excess of $2 million. Importantly, the CA has grown significantly over the past year and a half under the extraordinary leadership of its able new Executive Director, Soffiyah Elijah.