In the midst of New York’s 23rd District race, a disturbing amendment allowing inmates to volunteer for non-profits was given the thumbs up from New York voters by an overwhelming 67 percent. According to the New York Times, the amendement would allow New York’s State Legislature to write a law allowing prisoners to volunteer at churches, social service groups, and other nonprofit organizations. As of December of 2008, around 60,000 inmates are currently serving time in the state’s correctional facilities, according to New York’s Department of Correction.
The Washington Times Water Cooler spoke to Queens Democrat Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, who chairs the Assembly’s Correction Committee, about the details of future legislation as a result of the amendment’s passing.
“It will set limits on how it’s used. This is the first step in passing the bill on how it’s used. Precautions were obviously [made], so that no inmate will be forced to provide such service…that it will stay totally volunteer based on the inmate’s desire. The Department will be assured of security when relating to these kinds of efforts. I would imagine that there would be some inmates based on their offense that may not be eligible to volunteer. That will obviously be something that will be written in, but that bill has yet to be drafted and something we will do when we go back into session in January.”
What about access to a group like ACORN, which has been tied to various voter fraud scandals in the past? Surely, an enterprise like ACORN should be the last group to have accesss to prisoners for volunteer work. Mr. Aubry’s answer to whether or not he was concerned about a community organization with a sketchy background having access to New York’s incarcerated was not incredibly encouraging.
“Well I imagine that we would instruct the Department of Corrections to do thorough research of any organization that is making application for the assistance from inmates. It would be something that would be required of the department to ensure these organizations have specific kinds of clean records, and we’d also be looking at the types of volunteer work the inmates would be capable of doing.
In the past that particularly has been physical labor outside in areas where they have able to clean up. Because of security issues, these individuals would be escorted by Department of Corrections employees. I’m not anticipating that there will be many instances where an individual would, if any, be in a position to do inside officework or counselling or any of those kind of things…not at the moment. That isn’t the kind of assistance that we’ve seen them give in the past, though I wouldn’t preclude it.”
It seems, Mr. Aubry is not completely abandoning the idea of allowing inmates to volunteer at community organization’s offices. A bill like this can essentially give political organizations the run of New York’s vast inmate population. Other applications of such legislation are unthinkable.
Both bodies of The New York State legislature are currently in Democratic control; however, the Democrats only have a slim majority in the state Senate. Make no mistake. The potential passage of this bill would not only affect New York residents but also other Americans nationwide, as community organizations from all over the country have the capability of enormous outreach beyond state lines.